The other day my brother and my wife were arguing about war. One felt that war was something to be understood and managed, a sort of necessary evil that often achieved positive ends. The other felt that war was never justifiable or desirable. One pointed out that, in the case of the second world war, simply not fighting and allowing Hitler’s Nazi party to run amok was unthinkable. The other pointed out the horrors of war itself, the deaths and injuries and hatreds stirred up.
I offered that I was anti-war in the same way that I was anti-earthquake. Both are bad, unpleasant things to be avoided whenever possible. But suffering through earthquake is an inevitable consequence of living on a tectonically active planet – the movement of the continental plates, the eruption of earthquakes, the constant rebuilding of mountains and recycling of minerals from the centre of the Earth, creates the conditions that make life possible. And in a similar way, war is an inevitable consequence of the human condition. We care for our own more than we care for “The Other”, so that it is easy to stir a population’s sentiments against foreigners, or Jews, or any other group that we can identify as outsiders. And our leaders have a duty to put their countries interests ahead of any other’s, so that we create trade barriers that favour our own farmers to the detriment of farmers from other countries. We amass military might in case we need to use it to defend ourselves, because we know that it takes longer to build an army than it does for friendly countries to become enemies.
Earthquakes are inevitable. So is war. Better to understand how they work, and learn to recognise the signs that trouble is coming, than to pretend that we can somehow make these things stop happening.