An Ode to War

“I am going to explain to you why we went to war. Why mankind always goes to war. It is not social or political. It is not countries that go to war, but men. It is like salt. Once one has been to war, one has salt for the rest of one’s life. Men love war because it allows them to look serious. Because it is the one thing that stops women from laughing at them. Night fell again. There was war to the south, but our sector was quiet. The battle was over. Our casualties were some thirteen thousand killed – thirteen thousand minds, memories, loves, sensations, worlds, universes – because the human mind is more a universe than the universe itself – and all for a few hundred yards of useless mud.” — John Fowles, “The Magus”
“[Writers dwell on war], I had believed it is our way of “working through” the trauma we know as war, trying to contain its blood in our words: writing as sublimation. But now I recognize the fascination, the delight in recounting the dreadful details of butchery and cruelty. Not sublimation, the sublime.” —James Hillman, “A Terrible Love of War”

As a teacher of National Security Policy, I anxiously awaited the release of the Baker-Hamilton report on Iraq – to use as a policy example for my students. The night before its release, ’twas not visions of sugarplums that danced in my head, but these thoughts: “Will the group’s recommendations finally help focus this country on international policy? Can we finally agree on the important issues we must band together to solve?
I awoke early to get the newspaper. Coffee fueled, I scanned the headlines – moving the Intrepid, spammers find new ways to penetrate e-mail folders, New York City bans trans fats … What the …?
I couldn’t believe it. In the midst of one of the nation’s most difficult crises, New York City (of all places) was media saturated with trans fats!
Don’t get me wrong: trans fats are important. I, for one, would be mortified if my favorite food – French fries – morphs into something inedible once the new law goes into effect. Will they be soggy? Too crispy? Change shape? What about the taste? These are vital questions!
My chemically modified life will never be the same. What’s next? Chocolate? I can’t bear the thought.
Mayor Bloomberg says not to worry, “We are just trying to make food safer.” Whew! That’s a load off my mind. Of course, it does concern me (slightly) that some trans fats are natural to certain foods. I hope the “cuisine constables” take into account that trans fats occur naturally in, say, lamb and beef, before arresting my favorite restaurateurs.
What really worries me is that so many Americans readily acquiesce to these “pater patriae” (father of the fatherland) dictums. First the government allows establishments like McDonald’s to stuff food with chemicals and poisons, selling them for billions, until said chemicals are absolutely, positively proven to cause health problems. Then, after a few major lawsuits, the government outlaws these foods for our own good. In other words, first pater knows best and let’s the market decide; then pater decides to save us from ourselves, because the market won’t. Thank you, Daddy.
Meanwhile, those of us trying to locate international policy announcements are surprised that (yet again) the news is dominated by Big Daddy prohibiting this or that – for “our own sake.” I can’t wait for the day when “Twinkie speakeasies” crop up across America, where people can gorge on fat-drenched, cream-stuffed pastries in dimly-lit rooms after giving the bouncer the “secret password” at the door.
In the real world, the biggest life-threatening problem is war. More toxic than trans fats, more addictive than nicotine, we keep waging war no matter how many lives are destroyed, and no Big Daddy ever steps in to stop the madness.
In the words of James Hillman, world renowned Jungian psychologist, “”There are more wars in recorded history than there are years in recorded history.” And the number of wars keeps climbing.
After the Iraq Report came out this week, it took about five seconds for leaders to start squawking. James Baker, Lee Hamilton and company tried hard to tell Washington that they need to band together – period. More important, they urged our country to “get it together,” since it’s now been at war for more than five years.
It appears, however, that Congress missed that point. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) stood up and said, “If the President is serious about the need for change in Iraq, he will find Democrats ready to work with him.” I guess if he isn’t serious, Congress will just stand down. Might I remind Democrats that many of them voted for this war, and that they are also accountable.
Before the report came out, the President decided to change course by ridding us of Rumsfeld, but Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Jim Bunning (R-KY) decided to vote against Rumsfeld’s replacement because the new Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, agrees that to achieve peace you must talk to people you don’t like – e.g., Iran and Syria. Santorum and Bunning didn’t like that: they’d rather leave the door open for another potential enemy, in case we need to wage another war. (For some people, life’s just too boring without enemies.)
Our British ally, Tony Blair, now sees an opportunity for peace. He’s ready to start talking, but the Israelis aren’t. Prime Minister Ehut Olmert would rather be at war too. “We’ve tried to talk to Syria before and it got us nowhere.” In other words, his view is, “Done that, can’t win, don’t try.”
Addiction to war is nothing new. In some regions, like the Middle East, people have been at it for centuries. The Balkans has fought internal racial battles for ages. In Africa, the war in the Congo killed over 3.8 million people in just six years. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health estimates that the casualties in Iraq have passed 600,000.
Here on U.S. soil, we continue to build our massive war chest. The Department of Defense budget is reaching upwards of $600 billion. Any peace dividend President Clinton inherited was scrapped by doubling arms sales during his first year of office. Arms Trade Resource Center at the New School reports that “Between 1992 and 2003, the United States sold $177.5 billion in arms to foreign nations.” These arms are supporting wars. These and other statistics show that we are definitely not addicted to peace.
In James Hillman’s book A Terrible Love of War, he begins with this paragraph:
One sentence in one scene from one film, Patton, sums up what this book tries to understand. The general walks the field after a battle. Churned earth, burnt tanks, dead men. He takes up a dying officer, kisses him, surveys the havoc, and says: “I love it. God help me I do love it so. I love it more than my life.”
“Unless we understand this love, we can never comprehend its pull,” says Hillman. “We go to war to understand the madness of its love.”
This same dynamic pulls us toward other dualities, like the love of foods that are chemically altered to kill us. In this case, there’s a lack of strength or discipline to keep our bodies healthy. Facing these shortcomings is imperative, or we will never stop poisoning ourselves with toxins in foods or the toxicity of war.
Harvard School of Public Health researchers found, “that removing trans fats from the industrial food supply could prevent tens of thousands of heart attacks and cardiac deaths each year in the U.S.” (Trans fatty acids and cardiovascular disease. N Engl J Med. 2006 Apr 13;354(15):1601-13).
Removing war from the world would save hundreds of millions of lives.
So … now that we have trans fats under control, let’s make a New Year’s resolution to work on the real dangers facing us in this world – such as figuring out a 12-step program for kicking our dependence on war. In reality, that’s what is leading us to massive destruction.

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