The Dreadfulness of War

Confederate dead at Antietam, 1862, photo by Alexander Gardner (National Park Service)
Confederate dead at Antietam, 1862, photo by Alexander Gardner (National Park Service)

In our media and our culture today, there’s an unfortunate tendency to see military service as uniquely efficacious and ennobling, and to see war as necessary and even to view it as antiseptic (notably our so-called “surgical” drone strikes).

But real war is dirty.  It’s as likely to infect us, to spread sepsis through our bodies and souls, as it is to ennoble us by calling forth sacrifice.

This dark reality is captured in this quotation by the cultural critic Louis Menand:

War is specially terrible not because it destroys human beings, who can be destroyed in plenty of other ways, but because it turns human beings into destroyers.

Think here of Staff Sergeant Robert Bales in Afghanistan, who plead guilty to the premeditated murder of sixteen Afghan civilians.  Think here of the atrocities committed by American troops in Vietnam, harrowingly documented in Nick Turse’s recent book, Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (2013).

The point is not to condemn American troops, who generally serve honorably under challenging, even horrendous, conditions.  The point is to condemn war.

War warps.  War corrupts.  War murders.  It warps men’s souls, corrupts their morals, murders their innocence.

Let’s never forget the dreadfulness of war.

W.J. Astore

2 thoughts on “The Dreadfulness of War

  1. But of course, Sgt. Bales was welcomed home as an “American Hero.” Ditto for every last sorry company clerk, broom-pusher, motor pool mechanic, etc. who arrives home and gets displayed on the local TV newscast. This atmosphere, designed to discourage the public from questioning US foreign policy for even a nanosecond, has rendered the word “hero” UTTERLY MEANINGLESS. [The commenter is a veteran of US military, and thus entitled to use a phrase like “sorry company clerk”–sorry, fellas!]

    Like

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