I just finished The Proud Tower and am halfway through rereading The Guns of August in that context (I'd read it before but years ago) (as an aside, I realized last night that now I want to know more about the pre-Proud-Tower period, and especially the war of 1870, which apparently set the stage for much of what led to WWI).
Years ago I worked as a peace activist, and spent a lot of time thinking
about pacifism. My conclusions then resonated with the conclusions of Joe, below, from Not Geniuses, who came up with the listed conclusions after reading the same two books above, plus some others. I'm not
sure I remember my conclusions fully, but they were something to the
1) There is something attractive about violence, at least to men, at least in our society.
2) There are times when violence is a justifiable response - to protect a child from others' violence, for example.
3) Much of the violence that is performed results from ego or the desire to keep what you have. Those two were the most troubling to me.
- War is an inefficient and unproductive tool for creating positive change, especially for the party who instigates it.
- War is, and always has been, extraordinarily intoxicating.
- All wars have unintended consequences that can last for generations.
- War will always be exploited by those who seek to profit by it.
- War, once begun, becomes its own justification.
- Diplomacy is always better than war.
- These rules apply to all nations, which means that war will always exist.
- War is only acceptable and necessary as self-defense or to stop genocide.
- Nonviolent resistance is the most effective way to revolt against oppression.
Joe's thoughts felt so familiar that they crystallized some very similar conclusions about war that grew out of the thinking about violence on an individual level that I've done, and which still are consistent with Joe's conclusions:
- War is intoxicating.
- War is acceptable as self-defense (to protect existence, not "way of life") and to stop genocide.
- War becomes its own justification.
The other conclusions I don't disagree with, but see as deriving from these. I'm not sure of that last point, it feels right, but I'll have to think about it some more.
Anyway, during the period when I spent so much time thinking about pacifism, I was looking for how to be, and how to relate to others. The most surprising thing that I learned from thinking about and paying attention to my own behavior was how entrenched violence is in our society, and not just in the obvious ways.
The violence to protect property is one where I suspect I diverge
the general public the most. I think it is very rarely justified, while
I suspect that most people think it is not just acceptable, but right.
things that it would enrage me to have stolen (my laptop, for example),
but that doesn't mean that violence to protect it is acceptable. I'm
not in any way justifying the act or motivations of someone who would
steal it, but only violence as a way to protect it.
But the most entrenched and ubiquitous violence is that to protect ego. Watch interactions of a group of people, and there will inevitably be violent language or mock-violent acts among members of the group. In response to a joke that makes fun of a person, no matter how gentle, people often throw or pretend to throw something, or pretend they're going to hit the joker. Nearly every relationship I've had has included swats on the butt or arm in response to humor or other things (OK, so my past relationships may not be a good example...). I still see it today, although I'm not concious of doing it anymore. Look for that in your own lives - I'd be interested in hearing your experiences and thoughts about it.
That "violence to protect ego" is entrenched at all levels of our society, at the individual and at the national level, too. Look at the war in Iraq. Our identity as a world leader required us to smack down the insolent Saddam. While we know where to lay the blame for the war, the level of violence that permeates our culture is ubiquitous. While the current march towards Fascism is certainly helped by the right wing propaganda machine, the level of violence is something that each of us needs to look at in our own lives, and take responsibility for changing.