From the Archive – The Failure of War

If you have not read Wendell Berry (or even if you have read him, but perhaps not recently), this is a marvelous example of his writing at its best. This article predates the onset of Operation Iraqi Liberation Freedom by a few months. rdj

The Failure of War
by Wendell Berry

If you know even as little history as I do, it is hard not to doubt the efficacy of modern war as a solution to any problem except that of retribution — the “justice” of exchanging one damage for another.

Apologists for war will insist that war answers the problem of national self-defense. But the doubter, in reply, will ask to what extent the cost even of a successful war of national defense — in life, money, material, foods, health, and (inevitably) freedom — may amount to a national defeat. National defense through war always involves some degree of national defeat. This paradox has been with us from the very beginning of our republic. Militarization in defense of freedom reduces the freedom of the defenders. There is a fundamental inconsistency between war and freedom.

In a modern war, fought with modern weapons and on the modern scale, neither side can limit to “the enemy” the damage that it does. These wars damage the world. We know enough by now to know that you cannot damage a part of the world without damaging all of it. Modern war has not only made it impossible to kill “combatants” without killing “noncombatants,” it has made it impossible to damage your enemy without damaging yourself.

That many have considered the increasing unacceptability of modern warfare is shown by the language of the propaganda surrounding it. Modern wars have characteristically been fought to end war; they have been fought in the name of peace. Our most terrible weapons have been made, ostensibly, to preserve and assure the peace of the world. “All we want is peace,” we say as we increase relentlessly our capacity to make war.

Yet at the end of a century in which we have fought two wars to end war and several more to prevent war and preserve peace, and in which scientific and technological progress has made war ever more terrible and less controllable, we still, by policy, give no consideration to nonviolent means of national defense. We do indeed make much of diplomacy and diplomatic relations, but by diplomacy we mean invariably ultimatums for peace backed by the threat of war. It is always understood that we stand ready to kill those with whom we are “peacefully negotiating.”

Please read his entire piece here.

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