What good is war anyway?

War is not the answer! –a popular bumper sticker

“Violence has settled more issues in history than any other factor, and contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst. Breeds that forget this basic truth have always paid for it with their lives and their freedoms.” –Robert Heinlein

War has never solved anything except for ending slavery, fascism, Nazism, and communism. –another popular bumper sticker

No one in their right mind wants war and other forms of organized violence to be the solution to a problem, whatever the causes of the problem might be. Yet, it is a reduction to the absurd to believe that war and other forms of organized violence, as tragic as those mechanisms might be, are never the appropriate response.

War and violence represent the point where the rational and diplomatic attempts by people with radically different views have finally broken down. People reach that state when they reach a critical mass of disagreement, anger, and aggression toward one another that prevents dialog from having any further purpose in the conflict. While war and violence are never the optimal solution to any problem, they sometimes represent the option with the greatest chance of securing a future return to peace.

War and violence are horrible acts. No one, even members of the military, debate that fact. War and violence cause harm that reverberates for decades, if not centuries, and labels those who prosecute it for the remainder of history. War and violence have consequences that people and nations must deal with, even if the reasons for them were justifiable when people entered into it.

Yet, for all of its horror and consequence, war and violence have their place in the fractious and flawed nature of human society. There are times in history when war and violence are inevitable, no matter how much the people of the time may want to avoid them. There are times when they are the only moral and just answer to the problem at hand, and for that reason alone people must engage in them.

I understand that there are people who will recoil from this rationale and who will dismiss the facts of my argument as a result, but I want these people to consider something: do you also reject the potential—such potential often being exercised in fact—for violence exercised by law enforcement in an effort to keep you and your family safe against criminals? Do you then reject the potential for the use of force by law enforcement to apprehend even non-violent offenders?

The violence exercises by law enforcement is just a subset of the violence exercised by militaries in war, yet even the most ardent opponents of war will not reject the potential for violence by law enforcement, in direct contradiction of their own position.

This state of affairs reveals the nature of war and violence themselves. They are mechanisms to for people to use with the greatest deliberation, with the most judicious application, and for the shortest duration possible. They should be reserved for those circumstances when no other options exist and they should end when better options present themselves.

Even then, war and violence may not be good, but they can be right, but before anyone uses them, they must be sure.


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