War. For a word with only three letters, it sure packs a wallop. War. There is nothing even remotely pleasing to the ear in the sound it makes when you say it. War. Supposedly it’s the state or condition that humans work hardest to avoid but seem to be the most comfortable using as a means of conflict resolution.
We are at war. Four-one syllable words that change everything. With those four words, thousands of years of intellectual evolution can be erased and humans immediately revert to primal beings that react to me-good, you-bad stimuli.
There’s the internal debate within the country that goes to war that brooks no compromise or middle ground. You’re either for us or you are the enemy. Those against the war are just as stringent in their opposition as their opponents are in their support. Listen to the voices of those for and against a conflict — not the words, the voices — and most of the time, you can’t tell them apart.
For something that most of the world’s religions and philosophies preach against, war is awfully popular among us. We create myths around our warriors and our generals, we invoke the attributes of the warrior when we want to praise someone, and the word itself is one we can all instantly identify with.
Why else would our governments continually utilize it when they want to give the impression of action? We have wars on everything now: poverty, child hunger, famine, debt, drugs, and even war. The only times we don’t seem to have war anymore is when we are actually involved in armed conflict.
We have police actions, military interventions, occupying forces, peacekeepers, and peacemakers. They all involve the movement of troops, the firing of weapons, the destruction of property, and the loss of life the same as war does, but technically speaking, none of them are a state of war.
As much as I hate doing this, I do have to cede Mr. Bush the point that, technically speaking, his announcement that day on the aircraft carrier that the war was over was correct. If you adhere to the definition that war is the existence of a state of conflict between two sovereign nations, then the war in Iraq has been over since that day.
Once the Americans became the official occupiers, they granted themselves the legitimacy that goes along with being the government of a country. This gives them leave to call anyone who continues to fight against them insurgents and terrorists instead of enemy soldiers. (Which also means none of them need to be treated according to the terms of the Geneva Convention governing the fair treatment of enemies captured during conflict, but that’s another story.)
One can question the legitimacy of the American-backed government until one is blue in the face, but it doesn’t prevent it from being. Much like the American-backed government in South Vietnam in the sixties and seventies, the only reason the one in Iraq is able to exist is because of the presence of American military power.
Once again, although I don’t agree with his rosy assessment of the situation’s timeline, I have to give Mr. Bush credit for admitting this truth. He makes no bones about it: American troops are there to stay until Democracy is established or the Iraqi troops can handle the dissidents on their own. (That this scenario could lead very easily to the return of a Saddam Hussein-type strongman in power either hasn’t crossed his mind or it’s not something he likes to mention in public.)
Aside from the idolatry we have granted military figures throughout human history, our connection to war comes through in the way our language is replete with its idioms and parlance. Why do we call a successful sexual encounter a conquest? If we weren’t so fascinated with military life, would we refer to everyday activities as “camouflage” or a woman’s make up as “war paint?”
We have advertising campaigns and political minefields. Every corporate executive sees him or herself as a general sending troops into battle against the bottom line and exhorts them to take no prisoners in their war for profits. Even as children we are told to keep in step and not march to the beat of a different drummer.
For all anybody talks of peace, there are very few examples of language that would serve as a reminder of tranquility used in today’s vocabulary. We are even told to avoid using the passive voice as it weakens our writing.
That is the heart of the matter right there: war is strong and peace is weak. When Mr. Bush or any politician wants to lessen the impact of an armed struggle, he won’t refer to it as war but something less aggressive. Peacemaking or peacekeeping sounds so much gentler than war.
Even a police action conjures up visions of a state trooper walking down the main streets of Baghdad, not a Marine. Nobody believes for a second that that is the reality, but it’s a comforting image to hold onto.
Gentleness is considered weak. Being kind and considerate doesn’t get you the recognition that fighting off a burglar does. I don’t care how anti-war you claim to be, until we learn to change the manner in which we think, war will still be the primary emotional force of our society.
Conflict and confrontations are everyday occurrences in most of our lives. Have you ever considered what it would be like to have one day when you didn’t confront one person or react in anger to something you heard? Can you even picture a day like it?
Anger at actions done to you on a personal level is healthy. But we live in a society that is constantly angry, that’s constantly utilizing the language of conflict and war to define itself. That’s not healthy. Not for us, not for our children, and not for the world. Perhaps it’s time we did something about it.