Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Monday, May 28, 2018

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Blowing Things Up

Today is Memorial Day, which is meant for remembering those who died in military service. It's also a good day to reflect on war in general.

Back in May 2017, John Quiggin of Crooked Timber made a good observation about Trump bombing Syria and the pundits this impressed. Quiggin:

Blowing things and people up is seen as a demonstration of clarity and resolve, unless someone is doing it to us, in which case it's correctly recognised as cowardly and evil. The most striking recent example (on "our" side) was the instant and near-universal approval of Trump's bombing of an airfield in Syria, which had no effect at all on events there.

Last month, Quiggin wrote a follow-up about "another round of bombing from Trump, and yet more instant applause." These dynamics aren't limited to Trump, of course; they have a long history in the U.S. and other nations.

Some wars may be necessary. Others definitely aren't. In theory, every pundit or government official and most citizens should have heard the saying that "war is hell" and should know the truth behind it, thanks to schooling, listening to veterans, and all the good documentaries, feature films and books on the subject. Anyone who wants a war is an idiot or a scoundrel. Yet even when military action is pretty clearly a bad idea or at least pointless, some people who should know better will still cheer it. They'll hail it as a sign of leadership or being decisive or tough or manly, while virtues like wisdom and careful thought are ignored if not vilified. (And many in this crowd will try to claim patriotism while they do it.) Surely one of the points of Memorial Day is that we shouldn't add to the numbers of the dead unnecessarily. But our national political discourse, on matters of war as with most everything else, is too heavily influenced by idiots and scoundrels.

It makes sense for Memorial Day to be a day of reflection or getting together with friends. But maybe it can also spur some civil engagement later in the year, whether it's working for veterans or food banks or some other worthy cause, such as registering people to vote and getting them to the polls. It's relatively easy to blow something up, and generally both harder and more worthwhile to build and sustain something positive with others.

People talk about Iwo Jima as the most glorious amphibious operation in history. I've had Iwo veterans tell me it was more similar to Peleliu than any other battle they read about. What in the hell was glorious about it?...

My parents taught me the value of history. Both my grandfathers were in the Confederate Army. They didn't talk about the glory of war. They talked about how terrible it was.
– WWII veteran E.B. "Sledgehammer" Sledge (1923–2001)


Brewlord said...

My father told stories about his time on Midway after the battle. As far as I remember he had no battle stories from WW2. He served in Korea, including the Battle of Chosin. He never spoke about it, I only found out about it after his death

Anonymous said...

neither my father (Korea), nor my grandfather (WWI) ever spoke about their respective experiences other than to fellow vets. neither of them thought it was a particularly "glorious" experience. they did it because they saw it as their duty and obligation to their country (Dad was a career Marine), not because it sounded like it would be fun. the basic obligation the country owes to our military, is to use them wisely, only putting them in harm's way when there is absolutely no other reasonable option. anyone who openly cheerleads for war should be automatically suspect, and certainly not be put into a position where they can make that happen.

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Burr Deming said...

My uncle, after whom I was named, served in World War II. My step-son served in Afghanistan. Neither they, nor others who came back from combat, preferred to talk about war experiences. It seems you are correct about war. It is far from glorious.