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It’s absurd that war is just “declared,” whereas peace requires “negotiation.”
Peace, for some reason, always requires a “process.”
Sometimes you have to “sue” for peace. Taking someone to court, in a way, makes you an aggressor, so, in a way, litigating the end of a war turns aggressors into defendants, and defenders into plaintiffs.
Once achieved, of course, peace becomes “fragile,” as though war is the default state.
Peace as rhetoric becomes defined as an absence of war.
War brings “fog.” Peace requires a “roadmap.”
For most of recorded human history, peace is the space between wars. Peace interrupts war.
“Resting in peace” means you’re dead. So, then, “resting in war” must mean you’re alive.
Peace is passive; war is active.
War’s seduction is erotic, from the network-news money-shot first-strike explosion, to the post-war economic “stimulation” (war is how to have your Keynes and eat it, too). For many a freewheeling government (democratic or otherwise), war solves way more political problems than it creates.
Not only does war eliminate “enemies,” it staves off (or pulls a country out of) recessions and depressions, advances technology at hyper-speed, and offers convenient good v. evil rhetoric to use as a cudgel to keep people on board with state-sanctioned violence.
As a cherry on top, war coddles despotic daydreams to burn enemy firehouses.
War abstracts the world beyond war. War commands your full attention, whether you’re in the middle of it or just rubbernecking on Twitter. War survives because the idea of it – a total and final way to get your way – is alluring enough to risk its destructive reality and wanton abandonment of one’s humanity.
Taking its cue from evolution of the fittest, war is the mosquito of human folly. It always ruins a good time, in the backyard, say, or at the beach, or by the pool. Mosquitos get a heroin high from human blood, as does war. And like the nastiest buzzers, war may also breed around the tiniest drops of water, where little vampires will lie in wait, as little vampire eggs, for the perfect day to hatch as larvae or invasion plans.
Actually, it might be easier to eliminate mosquitos than stop war.
Whether planned for, or planned on, war becomes a social and economic vortex. Resources, technology, capital, creativity, energy – all the components necessary for a cohesive, prosperous, and progressive society – are wasted through military spending on abstract threats.
War eventually “breaks out,” as expected, and so treated like a bout of teenage acne.
Since war is always expected, we are left to resign violence as “inevitable.”
After it’s over, it’s often memorialized.
But why would we remember war? Wouldn’t we do anything in our power to forget war? Or at least make it a rule that winners cannot ever celebrate? After all, grave-dancing is a form of taunting in the end zone.
Still, most war goes on right around us, unflagged by refs, unnoticed, every day. Homeless junkies camped outside ATMs, for instance, are collateral damage of the Wars on Drugs and Poverty. That’s ok, though, collateral damage is always in the name of progress, yes?
Kurt Vonnegut, in his just-beyond-a-memoir A Man Without A Country, has an epiphany after a conversation with friend and jazz historian Albert Murray. During the American slave era, Murray told him, the suicide rate among slave owners was higher than the suicide rate among slaves. Murray theorized that in inventing a music to express their depression, “slaves could shoo away Old Man Suicide by playing the blues.” He concluded, “The blues can’t drive depression clear out of a house, but can drive it into the corners of any room where it’s being played.”
In this context, blues was a weapon against the very hopelessness and nihilism its stories convey. Imagine that – a weapon of enlightenment.
Back in Vonnegut’s memoir, reflecting on his interaction with Murray a few paragraphs later, Vonnegut articulates the true gap between foreign perception of Americans and Americans’ image of themselves. “Foreigners love us for our jazz,” he wrote. “And they don’t hate us for our purported liberty and justice for all. They hate us now for our arrogance.”
So, slavery, an awful and permanent red stain on the American identity, still managed to give the world the blues, which eventually gave us hip-hop, and jazz, and rock ‘n roll.
So, upstream, the question begs, “Would you rather the world never had slavery, or never had Dr. Dre, Miles Davis, and The Beatles?”
Further upstream, slavery and war branch off from the same absurd human authoritarian impulse to obliterate individualities, self-governance or sovereignty. Would that we could sign a global Emancipation Proclamation from war. That would, of course, require major constraints on “authority,” that would, in turn, re-write the notion of personal space.
What’s a tyrant to do?
Most modern moral guides - from the bible to the Qu’ran to the Magna Carta to the American Constitution to The Infinity Gaunlet - were written in the binary wartime context of winners and losers. To the extent all of our post-Rousseau definitions of freedom are drawn from experiences of having personal or community space restricted or denied, war confronts us with another vexation: “Would you rather the world never had war, or never had freedom?”
As in blues, down to the crossroads we go. War is a deal with the devil on any side of a conflict, including any side of neutral onlookers.
War exists in mythology (see: The Iliad), but also in small-talk (see: “The Comments”). Thousands of kilometers away, Russia v Ukraine becomes a UEFA debate to pundits and patrons in broadcast studios and local pubs that aren’t getting bombed.
Sticky Toffee: “Slag off, war’s just daft!”
Fish ‘n Chips: “But witHout miliTary R&D, we wouldn’t have tEh internet!”
On and on and on.
Wars are now social media vehicles for millions of squeezing-heart emojis, turning the war-time internet (when it’s not DDOS’ed and hacked into darkness) into a convenient containment zone for compassion and conscientious objections.
In any event, a steady drumbeat of low-level fear will condition a society to see any offensive action taken by their military as defense. “But they started it!” go hundred-year-old and thousand-year-old nations as if perpetual toddlers.
There is always a war in the news. This then de-sensitizes us to hyper-local violence. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Just because entropy and chaos are the default state of the universe, however, doesn’t mean the default human state is aggression.
Amazing how so many things making human life more enjoyable and more comfortable, started out as weapons.
Including music, it seems.
The truth is, we know so little about life, we don’t really know what the good news is and what the bad news is…
No matter how corrupt, greedy, and heartless our government, our corporations, our media, and our religious and charitable institutions may become, the music will still be wonderful.
If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:
THE ONLY PROOF HE NEEDED
FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
~ Kurt Vonnegut