War Is …

According to the Yale Book of Quotations (whose future editions are being improved by Freakonomics readers), war is: “hell” (Napoleon Bonaparte), “too serious a matter to entrust to to military men” (Georges Clemenceau), and “a condition of progress” (Ernest Renan).

What follows below are 12 replies to the question “What do you think about war in general?” The replies all come from members of the same group. After you read the replies but before you read beyond the list, try to guess the group.

1. Unfortunately war is necessary and has been for thousands of years.
2. War is a tragic and hopefully unnecessary part of life. I pray that militaries may become deterrent forces only.
3. War is a necessary evil.
4. While war may appear to be the least beneficial thing to mankind and society in general, there are numerous aspects of it which further our development. Whether it be the liberation of oppressed people or simply the cooperation of two very different peoples, which results in new friendships between cultures, many positives are found amongst the tragedies.
5. War is the most effective way to get things done.
6. War is about protecting the innocent and fighting so others don’t have to.
7. Fear leads to hatred and hatred leads to war.
8. It is a horrible and necessary thing. We may as well be the best at it.
9. I believe war is a necessary evil if there is a good enough reason (e.g., World War II).
10. War is that in which humans grow most.
11. I think war is a way to strengthen our country. It shows other countries that our country will not be stepped on and we will defend our country.
12. War is a failure of diplomacy.

Care to guess what group these 12 respondents belong to?

They are all West Point cadets — more specifically, members of the West Point Canterbury Club, whose answers to questions about war were recently featured in an edition of The Episcopal New Yorker. (It’s amazing what shows up in your mailbox sometimes; I guess not all junk mail is worthless.)

The only answer I abbreviated above was No. 12, in order not to give it away. The rest of No. 12’s reply: “As soldiers and officers we will manage and control the application of violence in order to protect the United States.”

The 12 answers reflect the thoughtful, varied, and independent mindset that I have always encountered when dealing with folks at West Point, properly known as the United States Military Academy. It is a truly remarkable institution, and I wish the rest of the world knew more about it.

I learned a bit once when writing a chapter about its historic cemetery for this book.


Leave A Comment

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  1. Ben says:

    One of my favorite professors said something very similar to number 12, he said that “War is the failure of reason”

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  2. Miguel V. says:

    The best definition of war that I’ve read is:

    “War is the continuation of politics by other means”

    fairly accurate

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  3. Jon Ericson says:

    Being the son and brother of Air Force officers, it wasn’t hard to guess these were quotes from active-duty military men and women. Thank you for reminding us that they are thoughtful, realistic and clear-eyed people.


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  4. Troy Camplin, Ph.D. says:

    “War is the father of all things” — Heraclitus.

    Of course, all we have of Heraclitus is fragments. However, we do know that he was keen on paradox, so an educated guess is that the second half of that phrase is,

    “And peace is the mother.”

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  5. Josh says:

    “It is well that war is so terrible – otherwise we should grow too fond of it. ” Robert E. Lee, USMA Class of 1829, 2nd out of a class of 46.

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  6. Amy says:

    Reader Jon Ericson thanked Steven J. Dubner for reminding us that active duty military are “thoughtful, realistic and clear-eyed people”. As a generality, I’m confident that there is truth in this assertion. However, let’s remember to leave room for the ever-present exceptions. Take a look at the fifth definition: “War is the most effective way to get things done”. I fail to see anything “clear-eyed” about that very youthful and untested premise.

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  7. Mark says:

    My favorite war quote is, “War is the last refuge of the incompetent.”

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  8. Jim Carlin says:

    The birth of the United States is owed to a militia who used non-conventional tactics against a technologically superior British army. The US has fallen prey to the same pitfall; our military is pre-occupied with conventional tactics and a legalistic, bureacratic culture that suppresses the essential elements required for quick victories. To win wars, the US must abandon the theatrical props of “advanced technology” and adopt a strategy based on the individual soldier’s actions.

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  9. gradys kitchen says:

    Now let’s see 12 responses from non West Point infantry, the soldiers recruited outside of shopping malls in the heartland, to understand what war really means.

    “I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.”

    John Adams to Abigail Adams,

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  10. Christopher Davis says:

    And let’s not forget…

    “War. Huh. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!” — Edwin Starr

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  11. Marc says:

    “…they are thoughtful, realistic and clear-eyed people.”

    At least they are until they become leiutenants and captains, and lose faith that the generals and presidents are competent, or care about anything aside of assigning/avoiding blame.

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  12. David G. Ward says:

    The remarks of the cadets simply and sadly indicate their naivete and the fact that they have never been to war! (Nam 68′)

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  13. George Shen says:

    War is a disease of mankind.

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  14. frankenduf says:

    don’t forget that war has evolved- war used to be ritualized and sacred in order to moderate conflict between tribes- the real blood lust kill-em-all paradigm was introduced by the Europeans, and began a run of killing technology which peaked with the hydrogen bomb- war has since become more attenuated via war crimes/human rights advocacy- so I think the war descriptions can run the gamut of warfare development- war can be a conceptually benign concept of physical compromise, or it can risk the end of civilization- good luck to the cadets to quelling their own dissonance about war

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  15. andrew says:

    US owes its independence to its conventional armies and the French navy far more than militia using hit and run tactics.

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  16. Brant Serxner says:

    I keep my own running file of interesting quotations. Per War:
    Politics is war without bloodshed while war is politics with bloodshed. Mao Tse-tung
    War is an ugly thing but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feelings which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. John Stuart Mill
    War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography. Ambrose Bierce
    It’s what Alexander did after he conquered a country that interested me. If war is part of our nature, the question is, what do we do after it?
    Mark Landler

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  17. fendertweed says:

    No. 11 is truly scary, if not downright foolish.

    Has war in Iraq strengthened our country? I think not.

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  18. Lee says:

    To #7: The quote is “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent”, written by Isaac Asimov.

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  19. Jonathan says:

    Dubner states that “The 12 answers reflect the thoughtful, varied, and independent mindset that I have always encountered when dealing with folks at West Point.”

    Interestingly, I reached the opposite conclusion. The comments from our cadets are largely homogenous in that they all view war as “necessary” or yielding a “net positive” in some cases. But none state unequivocally that war is morally reprehensible, nor reflect Randolph Bourne’s view that “war is the health of the state.”

    To me, these views do not represent diversity of opinion, but rather the effects of years of borderline brainwashing. I mean to take nothing away from our cadets, who assuredly are very bright, but it is virtually impossible for a cadet to think “independently” on this question. How can one be starting in the armed services and morally reject using warfare as a means to an end?

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  20. David Neuschulz says:

    Their comments do not reveal, one way or the other, that they are remarkable or unremarkable. Their comments *do*, however, show that they are not very clear-eyed.

    War is necessary? Really? For what? For the human race to survive? Or just for some people to survive?

    War furthers our development differently than peace, this is for sure, but not exclusively from peace.

    War is the quickest way to get *anything* done? Honest? Vietnam, left to become communist ten years earlier than it did would *not* have allowed it become a capitalist-leaning country (at least) ten years earlier than it did?

    These cadet answers are largely tainted with numerous unspoken assumptions and show only a slight range of opinions within what seems to be a general conformity. Which is exactly what you would expect from young people embarking on a military career. I condemn the assertions of the journalist more than the answers of the cadets themselves.

    Here’s mine: War is a failure of the imagination to conceive of any other solution to a problem than war.

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  21. William Keller says:

    “..when opposing troops meet in battle,
    victory belongs to the grieving side.”

    “…a mighty army tends to fall by its own weight.”

    “..best way of conquering an enemy is to win him over by not antaginizing him.”
    Lao Tzu

    Permitting your competitor to be slavishly indebted or dependent upon for your loans or resources may eliminate the observation of #1.

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  22. Arthur says:

    War is the inferior alternative to strategic nonviolent struggle. Most nations that have undergone a democratic transition liberated themselves by nonviolent resistance rather than war.

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  23. confused says:

    I thought William Sherman said “War is Hell,” not Napoleon.

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  24. Marc Adin says:

    mr. dubner,

    only people who have never been in a war would describe it the way these “thoughtful, varied, and independent mindset[s]” have done. i was an infantryman in a war. i know my ’12 replies’ to what war is, is at least based upon my five senses:

    1.] defecating in my pants because i couldn’t sit, stand or crouch, without being killed, for 14 hours; 2.] then when i could move, dragging a dying, fellow soldier and his intestines strung out 5 feet or so behind him 50 meters to a medic who told me he was dead; 3.] not sleeping more than 3 hours at a time for 3 months; 4.] not taking a shower or bath for 40 days; 5.] giving a 4 or 5 year old child an opened can of fruit cocktail, and watch her walk 30 meters and step on a small mine; 6.] then trying to stop the the spurting blood pulsing from wherever her leg and groin used to be while i screamed for help while she turned a gray-blue and died; 7.] not being in any kind of shelter, outside during the monsoons for 10 days, in 45 degree weather and gusting winds, watching as my skin shriveled like a white prune, as scratches became sores and sores became a greenish oozing mass; 8.] being so bored that i would put gunpowder from a .50 caliber bullet on a beetle as big as plate, light it and bet with my fellow soldiers how far it would run before it turned over and popped; 9.]throwing a peanut m&m at at an officer after he berated me because i failed to stand up and salute him when he passed by, and then being threatened with a court martial for ‘assaulting an officer'; 10.] being wounded in the mouth by a fragment of the vertebrae of the soldier 5 feet in front of me as his back blew open; 11.] crying myself to sleep at night until i believed i was immortal and could not die; 12.] seeing a young kid beheaded a few yards away from me, suddenly, and watching the head bounce into a small filthy ditch.

    you and your bright, articulate cadets don’t have the slightest idea of what you are talking about. another memorial day is upon us. instead of inane nostrums that are disconnected from the pure obscenity that war is, write down my 12 answers and read them every day, so you memorize them. then the next time the question arises, you, your bright cadets and people who know nothing of war, will at least have some picture of what war truly is, rather than what you “wish the rest of the world knew” about what a fine institution west point may be. it goes like this: west point trains young men and women to fight war, and war is… what, again?

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  25. mark lebar says:

    The only truth about war is that old men and (now) women send young men and (now) women off to die. As long as young people continue to listen to foolish saber rattling by old fools, we will have war and the only thing that comes out of it, is young people needlessly die and are maimed for life. What i have noticed is that young people that avoid war seem to be the first old people to foist it on the next generation. Go fight your own fight.

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  26. Steve says:

    I think that this is an interesting set of opinions, but it hardly reflects diversity. Other than #2 and #7, every single response is saying exactly the same thing — war is necessary (or even a good thing) so let’s be good at it. I don’t disagree with this position, but this is not exactly a revelation coming from a bunch of West Point graduates.

    I would also agree with Andrew. The US revolution succeeded because we succeeded in drawing in France, which turned it into a battle of superpowers. Our revolutionary forces had to demonstrate that they could put up a good fight in order to convince France this battle was winnable, and we applied lots of good-old-fashioned diplomacy to convince the French that this fight was in their best interests. This is a great example of how, with the right approach, a relatively minor power can succeed in exploiting the divisions between greater powers to its own advantage. We seem to be on the receiving end of a few lessons on this technique these days…

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  27. prklypr says:

    @ marc adin. Sobering and well said, especially as we approach yet another Memorial Day celebrated with too many hot dogs and not enough memorializing.

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  28. robert says:

    War is a myth out of which legends grow.

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  29. Pam says:

    Thank you, Marc #24, for inserting reality into this highly intellectualized discussion of a bloody and tragic topic.

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  30. Ben says:

    These answers hardly seem “thoughtful, varied, and independent”

    “I do not say that children at war do not die like men, if they have to die. To their everlasting honor and our everlasting shame, they do die like men, thus making possible the manly jubilation of patriotic holidays. But they are murdered children all same.

    Perhaps, when we remember wars, we should take off our clothes and paint ourselves blue and go on all fours all day long and grunt like pigs. That would surely be more appropriate than noble oratory and shows of flags and well-oiled guns.

    If today is really in honor of a hundred children murdered in war … is today a day for a thrilling show? The answer is yes, on one condition: that we, the celebrants, are working consciously and tirelessly to reduce the stupidity and viciousness of all mankind.”
    -Cat’s Cradle, Vonnegut

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  31. G Morris says:

    I just returned from the cemetery at West Point. It has been forty years since the Tet Offensive and I went to put flowers on the graves of the class of ’67, my college sweetheart and his classmates. Their graves are now green with mold and aged but my heart still feels the pain of their loss. We should have walked through time together but I have not been allowed to share their company and they have been missed. Now their graves look out onto to the graves of the newly fallen from the Mideast.

    Quote from Feb, 1968….Lt Ron Fraser, Class of 67 West Point
    died in Mekong Delta, May 24, 1968.

    “We are being sacrficied for a political war that has no real meaning. The great conflict of our time will be fought in the desert over our need for oil.”

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  32. michael says:

    Marc Adin, thank you for your post.

    I knew a simple soldier boy
    Who grinned at life in empty joy,
    Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
    And whistled early with the lark.

    In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
    With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
    He put a bullet through his brain.
    No one spoke of him again.

    You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
    Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
    Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
    The hell where youth and laughter go.

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  33. Jeffrey says:

    War is boys in men’s bodies trying to show off who has the bigger phallus.

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  34. L R A says:

    War is because we want it. It is primal and it is tribal. There is no rationale for war and there is no honor in it. We glorify war.

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  35. Jeff Gottesfeld says:

    George Orwell said it best: “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

    All war is not created equal. War can liberate as well as subjugate. War can be for good causes as well as bad ones.

    The armies of the west — the United States, Israel, the UK, etc. — are the most compassionate, grounded, and humane fighting forces in the history of the world. May they be used sparingly in combat, but when they are used, may they be effective with the least loss to innocent life possible.

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  36. Jordi says:

    War is a black and white fantasy in a gray world. It is also the utter failure of democracy and liberal thought.

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  37. AaronS says:

    Douglas MacArthur, beau sabre/First Captain of his Westpoint class, in his final speech to WestPoint in the twilight of his life, spoke of how soldiers, of all people dread war, for they are the ones who must bear the heaviest weight of it.

    Perhaps the clearest definition of war ever was given by Nathan Bedford Forrest, the most fierce of all Civil War generals, when someone spoke of the “glories” of war ( paraphrase): “War’s about fightin’, and fightin’s about killin’.”

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  38. B. says:

    War is the revelation that man’s purported rationality is bulwarked at all points by force and by violence. It is the natural extension of the behaviour of states, which themselves are always sooner or later revealed to be the iron fist in the lace-cuffed velvet glove.

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  39. Strayer says:

    I was surprised that the answers came from military folks, my guess was nonetheless correct that the responses did not come from a group that had ever actually been in a war.

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  40. Nothing but a Boondoggle! says:

    Edward L. Bernays, nicknamed the Father of Spin, was the creator of modern propaganda. Bernays was Sigmund Freud’s nephew, and applied Freud’s work to the art of mass persuasion by blending advertising techniques with an understanding of human psychology. Bernays worked Walter Lippmann on the Committee on Public Information, otherwise known as the CPI. This government agency was created by President Woodrow Wilson in 1917 for the purpose of mustering public support for World War One. The original propaganda campaign had three rules: (1) Stress emotion over logic, (2) Demonize the enemy, and (3) Promise a war that will make the world safe for democracy. Used for every U.S. conflict since including the invasion of Afghanistan & Iraq; all have followed CPI’s playbook to the letter-you think Americans would wake-up?

    From his 1928 book ‘Propaganda': “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country…it is the intelligent minorities which need to make use of propaganda continuously and systemically.”

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  41. Scott says:

    Thank you Marc Adin for a dose of reality.
    For those of you thinking about sending in a post, read #24 and ask yourself if your clever comments really matter.

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  42. Alpha1 says:

    #24 Marc Adin

    You have told the truest story of what war really is. Even worse that OUR soldiers dying (if that is possible) is the fact that innocent children die in every single war. Full of life, the light of their parents’ eyes…blasted apart, their vibrant intelligence splattered on the ground and on some bloody wall, the joy in their eyes erased forever.

    THAT is what war really is. And that’s why if war isn’t truly, truly, truly our last resort, then we are war criminals.

    I mean, if we could have PAID Sadaam Hussein $3 billion to leave the country and never return, then, even if that is kind of out of step with our macho image, it would have been worth it…if it saved even ONE CHILD…for a single child, if it is yours, is worth more than a million universes.

    I’m a conservative Republican…and I understand more and more that war must be the absolute last resort.

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  43. Pazuzu says:

    Asking a West Point cadet what s/he thinks about war is like asking a shark what it thinks about water. It is the all-enveloping sphere in which they swim. They can imagine no universe without it. They know everything about it and yet nothing, because they take it for so for granted that they cannot frame the alternative.

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  44. Ben says:

    I think the title of Chris Hedges’ (excellent) book is pretty interesting: “War is a force that gives our lives meaning.”

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  45. Geoff, Ohio says:

    I’ve always favored an obscure punk song from the band Fear. It starts off with, “Let’s go to war, so YOU can go and die! Let’s go to war, so General Motors can get fat like last time!” (emphasis added)

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  46. Larry says:

    Unfortunately, war is the last industry the US is still good at. Our spending on war-related goods and services is way past the real need to defend ourselves, and exceeds practically all of the rest of the world’s military budgets combined. Used as a means to control access to the most precious resource (oil), it serves to feed the military-industrial complex that is the last reliable part of our economy that generates wealth for the elite. Our public infrastructure (health, transport, etc) is failing due to lack of investment, as all eggs are now in “defense”.

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  47. Dan Styer says:

    Thank you, Marc Adin (#24).

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  48. Paul Katz says:

    Sorry, but the answers show thoughtfulness and an independent mindset only if you really want to see it. To th emore neutral eye they only show that some of those officers (to be) are thoughtful – like it is to be expected from any sample from any group. After having watched two officers stationed in Gitmo in aninterview on TV I cannot agree to Mr. Dubner?s benevolent characterisation. They just had to say that they follow orders and do not question their superiors, and that having some 15 year olds jailed there is OK with them. That could have come from any Nazi officer in 1945.

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  49. Nathaniel says:

    War is what happens when two powerful men can’t find a measuring tape to settle the issue of who has a bigger dick.

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  50. Joe E. says:

    Check the stats of recent years on retention of West Pointers beyond their 4-5 year active duty commitments after graduation. It is less than a third who stay in for a career. By then they are Captains and should be preparing for careers as senior officers. Instead they vote with their feet and leave the Army in droves. These best and brightest often become frustrated if not disillusioned with senior leadership. They feel betrayed. Usually not the horrific betrayal of the grunt who bears the real burden of war with often life-scarring consequences but a betrayal of trust and ideals nonetheless that is easily resolved for them by just leaving and pursuing another career.

    The extraordinarily low retention stats of junior officers in the Iraq and Vietnam eras who are supposed to be the future enlightened leaders of our military reflect a quiet rejection by those who have seen enough after 4 years of training at West Point and 5 years of war.

    One should also note that many cadets leave West Point before graduation. Most do not wash out, they chose to leave because they simply make a reasoned choice to step away from what they see as an unacceptable path.

    If you want another “…thoughtful, varied, and independent mindset…” ask your question of the third of cadets who reject the program and the two thirds of young Captains who say no thank you after five years of active duty.

    Joe E.

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  51. Andrew says:

    What a liberal discussion.

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  52. Boris says:

    frankenduf, the “the real blood lust kill-em-all paradigm was introduced by the Europeans” thing is a convenient fiction, and false. There’s plenty of that sort of thing in “primitive” tribal conflicts that have nothing to do with Europeans or European influence (as observed as recently as the last half-century in the Amazon).

    So really, war used to be more or less total war (except maybe leaving the women alive, depending), then slowly became ritualized to reduce the carnage. In the last 200 years or so we’ve been moving away from the ritual, but in the last 30 there is certainly some renewed attempt made to avoid carnage (though still without ritual). Certainly a military that thinks it has the option of avoiding it avoids total war on the World War 2 model.

    It’ll be interesting to see where this multi-dimensional pendulum ends up next. Ritualized total war doesn’t sound pleasant to me.

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  53. Geoff, Ohio says:

    I’m surprised that this thread has attracted relatively few comments. Perhaps #24 (Marc Adin) and #41 (Scott), as well as several others, really did give people pause. Awesome post, btw, Mr. Adin, thoroughly on the money. You have my complete gratitude for serving, my utter respect for your honesty, and my heartfelt thanks for surviving and letting us know what you went through. I’m not a religious man, but may God bless you anyway.

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  54. Andrew says:

    I thought the answers were going to be from the Pentagon, or a bunch of military PR people – pretentions of understanding the true seriousness of war, and total rubbish. West point students makes more sense.

    Thank you #24 – best post here.

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  55. Michael says:

    Thank you Marc Adin for your well written post. We can never hear enough true stories of war.
    It is always eye-opening to hear stories like yours. My reasons for defecating in my pants pale in comparison.

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  56. Joe Shelby says:

    #14 said “the real blood lust kill-em-all paradigm was introduced by the Europeans, and began a run of killing technology”

    Was Ghangis Khan European?

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  57. Patrick K says:

    I just “voted with my feet” and left the Army’s officer corps a few months ago. I’d have to say I agreed with less than half of the quotes from the West Point cadets, but I would have five years ago before I signed up. Many of them, like me, will lose their idealism when they see the waste — both in life and treasure — of our current military situations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Some wars are necessary. My war is watching my buddy, once full of pride and machismo and bloodlust, cry in his beer over our dead friends.

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  58. DJH says:

    Frankenduf (#14) said: “don’t forget that war has evolved- war used to be ritualized and sacred in order to moderate conflict between tribes- the real blood lust kill-em-all paradigm was introduced by the Europeans, and began a run of killing technology which peaked with the hydrogen bomb”

    Woops! “Massacre warfare” did not, in fact, originate in Europe, nor was it begun by them somewhere else. Massacres happened sporadically in the ancient Near East (the Assyrians have a possibly-undeserved reputation for doing this frequently). Even so, massacres were uncommon and rarely done; typically a warring nation needed to do it only once in order to convince others not to resist.

    The Mongols under Genghis Khan (13th century), and the Tatars under Timur the Lame (late 14th century & first years of the 15th), were most famous for their “massacre style of warfare,” and they both honed it to an artform. Estimates of the numbers of people they massacred run well into 6 figures each. Yet neither of them was European.

    There is also evidence that massacres occurred in other parts of the world as well, in the Americas and Africa, prior to European contact; but as in the ancient Near East it doesn’t appear to have been common.

    As for war being ritualized, it was … and to an extent still is. But escalation of casualties in war has accompanied the retention of warfare’s ritual aspects; they’re not mutually exclusive.

    So no … massacre is NOT a “European” invention. Far from it. And ritualized warfare is NOT free of the possibility of massacre.

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  59. A E Pfeiffer says:

    Reading Marc Adin’s post (#24) reminded me of things I heard from my parents and their friends about their experiences in the Second World War.

    To paraphrase George Santayana: Those who cannot remember the horror of war are condemned to repeat it.

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  60. RR says:

    It’s disturbing to see many of our best and brightest consider evil to be necessary.

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  61. Whig says:

    Without war, humankind would still today be in the stone-age.

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  62. Brad (Texas) says:

    War is evidence that the human race is as primitive as it was 2000+ years ago.

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  63. MarkAntney says:

    Man, that #24 Post (I wish you the Best BTW), should be mandatory reading for our future Presidents, Congress, Military Folks.

    It probably wouldn’t stop a Freight Train like Iraq War but it would at least put the FUTURE in perspective?

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  64. James says:

    #1# 61 “Without war, humankind would still today be in the stone-age.” – Posted by Whig

    War has set humankind back hundreds of years, potentially more.

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  65. James says:

    Just want to thank Marc Adin, for post #24. These cadets are conveniently ignorant and undereducated, much like the Hitler youth. They are mere tools in aggressive oppression that benefits those kind of people that these cadets will never know and never become. There is no honor in choosing ignorance.

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  66. Whig says:

    # 61 – war has not set back anything.

    Without WWI and II, we’d enjoy about a tenth of the standard of living we have today.

    Just about every engineered technology that exists today came about as a result of war or the preparation thereof:

    The microchip: originally designed to make nuclear missiles and bombers less heavy, so that they could fit more explosive materials inside…

    The car: we’d be driving model-t type cars today if WWI and II had no caused the speed-up of progress in the manufacture of motorized vehicles (ie. Tanks and so on), which were then applied to civilian life after the war

    The airplane: progress largely due to financing by war departments to drop bombs on people

    Broadcasting: again, the radio a hobbyist’s tool with little potential until investment during World War I made it a viable technology…

    Just four examples.

    War, whether you like it or not, is an engine of progress.

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  67. Whig says:

    *War is evidence that the human race is as primitive as it was 2000+ years ago.*

    War is nothing about “primitive”; it is an artefact of high civilization, and comes about because of the need for states to destroy the balance of power in any system.

    Each state tries to achieve absolute sovereignty, but as this is impossible as long as other states are trying to do the same, war is the result.

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  68. Robert Mugabe says:

    “The land is ours.” The sentiment that precludes war.

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  69. Vic Bean says:

    All wars are terrible, but not all wars are unjust. I will not be convinced that pacifism in the face of a nihilistic philosophy such as Nazism would have stopped it. Please be cognizant that self-defense (and I am not referring to Iraq, but Afghanistan) is universally recognized as justifiable. Please don’t criticize the cadets, who probably entered West Point with the same premise I have offered above. If we wanted to really have an effect on the ease with which a unitary chief executive can wage war, we need to have universal service–those of you who are sheltered and can disparage those who have selflessly stepped up should serve. If the country is engaged in unjust war, your parents will scream, holler and withhold their votes in order to effect policy change.

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  70. Gunjan says:

    “War is old men talking and young people dying” From movie: Troy

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  71. progressive says:

    War may be the failure of diplomacy or the failure of raping and pilfering.

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  72. Chris says:

    War is inevitable.

    While you people are discussing it’s merits, your enemies – people who hate you, whether or not you even consider them – are plotting your death & the subjugation of your innocent allies. And at the same time, millions of your countrymen (and women) are choosing to make sacrifices & put their lives at risk in order to prevent this.

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  73. JJMS says:

    #66 – That’s stupid, for a bunch of reasons. First of all, even if war sped up the development of some specific technologies there is no reason to believe that they would not have been developed eventually without war. WW2 at most sped these things up a few decades. Is that worth millions upon millions of lives? You seem to think so, and you’re wrong.

    Secondly, the most important developments for improving standards of living are medicine and agricultural technology (including the plants developed during the green revolution of the 60s and 70s), neither of which were significantly impacted by war. And even if they were, war would only have sped them up rather than spawned them. And anyways, if you really want technological advancement then maybe our governments should just invest money in it rather than funding a military that once and a while funnels money into certain areas of research.

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  74. JJMS says:

    To be clear about my above statement – a given war may or may not be justified for a variety of reasons. My point above is that technological advancement is a really bad way to try and justify any war because it is incredibly marginal and pales in comparison to the larger moral issues involved.

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  75. Adrian says:

    We do fall for the bull of a Cheney and a Rumsfeld, and other deluded boys with big toys, over and over. If now perhaps half of Americans have some real reservations about the use of our armed forces, remember that Bush had a 90% approval rating after the March, 2003 incursion in Iraq.

    I have no illusions that war is sometimes necessary and that we need to always be prepared to fight the most ruthless of enemies. Unfortunately, although in a very few cases armed force has been postponed for too long, it is most often used too soon to solve problems that are really matters of pride, ego, or financial rivalry.

    Diplomacy, trade, and people-to-people exchanges, etc., are ties that bind us all and that will prevent conflicts from escalating to war. They are the slow, long-term answer to the question “Is war inevitable?” Wouldn’t it be great to have leaders who work for these things as hard as they do at building up our military?

    I hope these cadets read these responses and take them to heart. Perhaps a few will resist the mindless drumbeat of war that is sure to be heard again, and remember that war is a very last resort, only.

    Thank you, Marc #24.

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  76. Marianne Else says:

    I have 2 different points of view, the first one so to speak: NORMAL. The second one is not normal at all.

    I was born in 1941 in Berlin in the middle of WW2 with bombs falling all around. Both apartment buildings beside ours were totally demolished while my mom held me and my 2 brothers close to her in the cellar. There was not a night in those 6 years where the sirens did not go off at all hours of the night. What did it do to me? I had no memory at all until I had a huge fever at about the age of 9. My father, his two brothers and my grandfather where all killen in the last 2 months of that war, leaving my mom with no food, a shelter with thousands of glass shards over every bed, and no assistence money until 1948. I am 67 now and I would never have chosen the arduous path of self development out of Anthroposophy or Eurythmy if I had an easy childhood, so that is positive in an upside down way.

    So here is the second point of view: I have researched and watched over these many years why men are the way they are. Women have feminine physical bodies but male etheric bodies according to Rudolf Steiner. ( you can look this up on the web). But men have male physical bodies and feminine etheric bodies. They do not give birth to physical babies, they are supposed to give birth to concepts and ideas, to bring in the future, whereas women are guardians of the past according to my friend Brian, and I heartily agree. Also out of my 40 years of marriage I learned that for a man – attack is the best way of defence – because in their femenine etheric they are too vulnerable. That is why they go in their cave, as “Men are from Mars and Women from Venus” wrongly stated, it is only physically that they are from Mars, etherically they are tender, too tender for the male etheric of the woman who takes on the job of pushing into that realm in the man, so he has no choice but to clam up, drink beer and watch TV.

    War will not cease either on the world stage nor in the home, where this war is fought much more vigorously, until we all learn a bit more as to how human beings are put together, how they develop out of the total unconsciouness of the embryo and baby into a conscious, awake adult in four distinct stages of 7 year periods until the age of 28. We desensitize young children by “dumbing them down” in school as John Taylor Gatto asserts in the book of that title, we desensitize them with food that is a total lie, you can look up Michael Pollan of Berkley, CA “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, industrial, genetically modified corn as food for cows, chickens, fish, beer, and all other foods that have corn in them in one way or another. We now have seedless watermelons and seedless men. What do they put in the drinking water?? War is a blatant evil, all these other matters are far more evil because they are hidden, insiduous. And all this so we can become awake to a culture where technology has outrun morality. So what Marc Adin said is truly horrible but being desensitized at the dinner table watching the news it does not bother people much, they can eat while they watch atrocities live on TV. So how do we protect childhood where the boys are ever so much more vulnerable than the girls as you probably all know from suicide and shootout statistics.

    I see a lot more women on a path of self development than men. Again I can see that men would need a much safer space, than women can provide at this point in history, to take a deep breath and proactively go on a path of self development and I can assure you that it is harder than what Marc Adin experienced.

    So, I am a woman, a crone, and I am glad and sad to carry a heavy heart, I try to hold contradiction, polarity with a certain equanimity, positivity and openness and because:

    Hope is a thing with feathers,
    that perches in the soul,
    and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all…

    many blessings to all men from Marianne in Canada, since this column is read mostly by men, at least it looks that way.

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  77. parthenophilast says:

    According to many evolutionary psychologists, war is both a genetic tendency (men, afterall, commit more violent crime than women) and rational. Steven Pinker, for instance, called it the “ultimate conflict resolution technique.” We may, however, encourage peace through economic interdependence and improved technology, especially transportation. To paraphrase journalist Robert Wright, I don’t want to bomb the Japanese- they made my minivan!

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  78. parthenophilast says:

    One more thing about war… I once read that men are sent off to war not because they’re bigger and stronger than women but because they are more expendable. If almost all of the women in a village die, then the village may recover population-wise slowly, if at all. If all but a few men in a village die, however, then the village can be quickly repopulated by one or a few lucky male village elders. I believed this until I read Dawkins’s book, “the Selfish Gene.” I now realize that men are so expendable because sperm is cheap. It’s not about the group (village), family, or even the individual- it’s ultimately about the genes.

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  79. pks says:

    I’m sick and tired of comments like #66, where people claim that just ’cause we happened to invent various new and cool and useful tech during war, that that was the only way that those things would’ve been invented.

    Tell that to Maxwell (as in “Maxwell’s equations). Or James Watt. Or Florence Nightingale.

    During the 30 Years’ War, large parts of Europe, mostly in what is now germany/the low countries, were reduced to cannibalism.

    Now tell me again that war never set anybody back. Maybe if you knew any history further back than the 20th century, this would be obvious.

    Sure, there’s all kinds of neat stuff that got huge funding and rapid development during wartime. But if you’d tossed that kind of funding at a project outside of wartime, maybe you’d get the same kind of results.

    When you say that the microchip or the airplane was the result of warfare, you’re basically making a special species of “trickle-down” economics argument. So we spend a hundred billion dollars on a new bomber and get some tech that we can use on commercial aircraft.

    Well, not to rain on your parade, but if you spend 100 billion dollars on a new bomber and get tech worth, for example, a billion dollars for the civilian market, if your goal was better airplanes, you just overspend by 99 billion dollars, or 100 times the value of your new tech.

    Straight-up voodoo economics. Does #66 work for Raytheon or somebody?

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  80. Whig says:

    Number Sixty-Six (aka Raytheon Ray) replies:

    *even if war sped up the development of some specific technologies there is no reason to believe that they would not have been developed eventually without war. WW2 at most sped these things up a few decades. *

    I think we agree, in fact. I said our standard of living would be a fraction of what is now, without war – ie. a how it was decades ago.

    *the most important developments for improving standards of living are medicine and agricultural technology*

    Haven’t you ever heard of `beating swords into ploughshares’? Well, ploughshares can be forged into swords, as well – and without iron implements, not only would most of the world outside the tropical zone not been amenable to agriculture, but as military historian John Keegan stated, humankind without iron would have remained as bronze-age spear-throwers, fighting very limited `ritualistic’ wars…

    With respect to advances in medicine – el contrare – medicine advanced greately due to the experience of army doctors and nurses during war time. The first hospital emergency rooms / trauma units were established in the early 1920s by veteran doctors and nurses of the Great War. Someone asked to ask Florence Nightengale about the effect of war on medicine – the same woman whose formative experience with medicine was during the Crimean War during the 1850s?

    *Sure, there’s all kinds of neat stuff that got huge funding and rapid development during wartime. But if you’d tossed that kind of funding at a project outside of wartime, maybe you’d get the same kind of results.*

    But I guess that didn’t happen. It is the imperatives of war which forces governments (ie. The State) to invest so much capital in technologies that will help win in battle against an opponent. It is the state, believe it or not, which is the primary source of progress in engineered technologies, today, in the twentieth century, and before that…

    Industrial revolutions have occurred as a result of warfare: `industry’ in Great Britain remained largely cottage-based (in spite of the presence of larger `manufactories’) until the Napoleonic Wars, after which production in the U.K. became `heavy’ due to the expending of funds by the British government to fight off the French empire;

    The American industrial revolution began after the Civil War, again as a side-product to the spending on armaments to crush the Confederacy;

    The industrialization of France and Germany after the second half of the nineteenth century, due to the heavy spending on armaments by both states, mostly in anticipation of fighting each other;

    my own country, Canada, remained a rural backwater until World War I, when spending on arms sparked industrial revolution here…

    War is bad for people, let us agree. It is a boon for material progress, however.

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  81. Geoff, Ohio says:

    So, what you’re saying is that if we can manage to orchestrate a big enough war, we can leapfrog our way to the Moon and beyond, right? The United States went into Iraq to force up the price of oil and pressure automobile manufacturers to produce vehicles with better fuel efficiency?

    What a concept: applied warfare!

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  82. whig says:

    *what you’re saying is that if we can manage to orchestrate a big enough war, we can leapfrog our way to the Moon and beyond, right…*

    The moonshot was, of course, one product of the space-race fought during the Cold War with the Soviet Union (as were communications satellites and Tang). So, in that respect, you are quite correct.

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  83. Marc says:

    war is an artifact of both biological and physical aspects of our nature. violence has been evolutionarily expedient for surviving tribal groups, often providing a path of least resistance to resources (food, land, etc) in accordance with the urgency of finite lifespans.

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  84. warrior says:

    Fighting as if your life depended on it. then whether you win or lose– gracefully acknowledging your opponant and then move forward.

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  85. Sapper says:

    War or more generally fighting is part of us all. We are, after all, animals with who believe we are more intelligent, more developed and it is really rubbish. We try to label all conflicts into good, bad, political, wealth/land grab when really we just use these as excuses to fight. War is a term we use to try and sanitise what happens, brutal, animalistic, bloody killing.

    Having served myself in the present conflicts(even I use words that sanitise what is happening)the comments were quite easy to guess where they came from, I did after #1, and that they were officer based. For some reason they believe this rubbish even more than the average soldier and they are supposed to be the better educated.

    We suffer two issues in this century
    1. We tolerate our representatives to carry out decisions in our names we really don’t want to happen, and then we do nothing about it when we have a chance. So called democracy in action.
    2. We want an almighty armed focres to protect and defend us but we don’t want them to kill or be killed. We can’t have it both ways.

    At the end of the day, the killing is done in all our names, and we allow it to happen.

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  86. dee says:

    except for #24, lots of blah, blah , blah…in the end…war is [still] not the answer.

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  87. Vic Bean says:

    By that logic, #86, no one should have resisted the Nazis. Not all wars are unjust. It depends upon the circumstances, such as sheer survival. Tell me you can make room for that in your worldview.

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  88. Cate says:

    “war is young men dying and old men talking”

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  89. rcs says:

    when you say war means better technology at a faster rate you fail to account for the enormous waste in human potential, how many surviving soldiers later became businessmen,inventors, leaders?
    they became productive even after suffering huge losses, their families, getting injured, post traumatic stress, etc. All this from just the survivors, we’ve lost forever whatever their fallen comrades could have done for mankind.

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