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Whatever Happened to Personal Responsibility

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There is an old adage which states that you do not know how big a tree is until you try and cut it down. Today, as cultural forces slowly destroy it, we are beginning to understand that the same thing can be said about personal responsibility.

Society no longer believes that people ought to bear their suffering with dignity and grace. Rather, it now believes that the problems of the individual ought to be made the problems of the community. Individual problems are no longer the consequence of individual decisions, but come as the result of race, gender, class, and so forth.

The result of this move towards collective responsibility has been the invention of victim culture. According to this culture, non-whites are the victims of racism and white privilege, women are the victims of the patriarchy, homosexuals are the victims of a heteronormative society.

The 20th century is a perfect example of what happens when responsibility is taken from the hands of the individual and placed in the hands of the mob. The twin evils of communism and Nazism – which blamed the problems of the individual on economic and racial factors, respectively – led to the deaths of tens of millions of people.

Furthermore, such ideologies led otherwise decent individuals to commit acts of unspeakable violence. Whilst observing the trial of Adolf Eichmann, a former SS soldier who had been one of the architects of the Holocaust, the writer, Hannah Arendt was struck by the “banality of evil” that had characterised German war atrocities. Arendt noted that the men who conspired to commit genocide were not raving lunatics foaming at the mouth, but rather dull individuals inspired to commit evil due to a sense of duty to a toxic and corrupt ideology.

The Bolsheviks taught the Russian people that their misfortune had been caused by the wealthy. And that the wealth was gained through theft and exploitation. Likewise, the Nazis convinced the German people that their problems could be blamed on the Jews. It is not difficult to see how this philosophy led, step by step, to the gulags and the concentration camps.

The same thing is happening today. The only difference is that those who play it have become more sophisticated. Today people are encouraged to identify with identity groups ranked by so-called social privilege. Then they are taught to despise those with more social privilege than them.

Under this philosophy, crime is not caused by the actions of the individual, but by social forces like poverty, racism, and upbringing. Advocates claim that women should not be forced to take responsibility for their sexual behaviour by allowing them to essentially murder their unborn children. Sexually transmitted diseases like HIV is caused by homophobia rather than immoral and socially irresponsible behaviour. And alcoholism and drug addiction are treated as a disease rather than a behaviour the addict is supposed to take responsibility for. The list is endless.

Personal responsibility helps us take control of our lives. It means that the individual can take a certain amount of control over his own life even when the obstacles he is facing seem insurmountable.

No one, least of all me, is going to argue that individuals don’t face hardships that are not their fault. What I am going to argue, however, is that other people will respect you more if you take responsibility for your problems, especially if those problems are not your fault. Charity for aids sufferers, the impoverished, or reformed criminals is all perfectly acceptable. But we only make their plight worse by taking their personal responsibility from them.

Responsibility justifies a person’s life and helps them find meaning in their suffering. Central to the Christian faith is the idea that individuals are duty bound to bear their suffering with dignity and grace and to struggle towards being a good person. To force a man to take responsibility for himself is to treat him as one of God’s creations.

You cannot be free if other people have to take responsibility for your decisions. When you take responsibility from the hands of the individual you tarnish his soul and steal his freedom.

Freedom from responsibility is slavery, not freedom. Freedom is the ability to make decisions according to the dictates of own’s own conscience and live with the consequences of that decision. Freedom means having the choice to engage in the kind immoral behaviour that leads to an unwanted pregnancy or AIDS. What it does not do is absolve you from responsibility for those actions. Slavery disguised as kindness and compassion is still slavery.

OUR OBSESSION OVER FOOD IS RIDICULOUS

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Sometimes a civilisation can become so sophisticated that it believes it can overcome truth. We have become one of those civilisations. As a consequence of our arrogance, we have come to believe that we can circumvent some of the most fundamental truths about reality. We blame inequality on the social structure even though most social animals live in hierarchies. We believe that primitive people are noble even though mankind in its primitive state is more violent than at any other stage. And we believe that we can change the way human beings eat despite the fact that it is making us unhappy.

It is our modern obsession over diet and exercise that I would like to focus on. This obsession has arisen from a society that is too safe, too free, and too prosperous for its own good. This is not to say that safety, freedom, and prosperity are bad things. Indeed, we should get down on our knees and thank God every day that we live in a country that has these things. However, it is also true that too much safety, freedom, and prosperity breeds passivity and complacency. The hardships our ancestors faced – war, poverty, disease – are no longer problems for us. Therefore, we lack the meaning that these hardships bring to our life. As a result, we have come to invent problems. Among these has been a tendency to render the consumption of certain food as something unhealthy, unethical, or both.

Our modern obsession with food is causing significant personal problems. On the one hand, the ease in which food, especially that which is laden with sugar, is causing a rise in cases of obesity. (Note: I am using the word ‘obesity’ as a blanket term for people who are overweight). It is a uniquely modern problem. Our ancestors never battled weight gain because they were only able to find or afford enough food to keep them and their families from starving. Now the quantity, cheapness, and, in many cases, poor quality of food means that the fattest amongst are also often the poorest. But obesity is less a problem that arises out of food and more of a problem arising from laziness and gluttony. (Naturally, I am excluding health problems and genetic disorders from this conclusion).

On the other hand, however, our obsession over being skinny or muscle-bound is also causing problems. I have seen plenty of people who are clearly overweight. In rare cases, I have even seen people who are so morbidly obese that it can only be described as breathtaking. However, I have also seen women (and it primarily women, by the way) who can only be described as unnaturally thin. It is as though our society, having realised that being overweight is healthy, has decided that its opposite must be good. It isn’t. Just right is just right.

And it’s not just individuals who are subjecting themselves to this kind of self-imposed torture. And it’s not limited to people in the here and now, either. In 1998, The Independent reported that many doctors in the United Kingdom were concerned that well-meaning parents were unintentionally starving their children to death by feeding them low fat, low sugar diets. These children were said to be suffering from the effects of “muesli-belt nutrition.” They had become malnourished because either they or their parents had maintained had become obsessed with maintaining a low-fat, low-sugar, low-salt diet. The article reported: “Malnutrition, once associated with slums, is said to have become an increasing problem for middle-class families in the past fifteen years. The victim of so-called ‘muesli-belt nutrition’ are at risk of stunted growth, anaemia, learning difficulties, heart disease and diabetes.”

Our obsession over diet is really a sign of how well-off our society is. Our ancestors had neither the time nor the resources to adhere to the kind of crazy-strict diets that modern people, in their infinite stupidity, decide to subject themselves to. It is high time we stopped obsessing over food and got a grip.

IN DEFENCE OF CHRISTIANITY

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In 2017, the online video subscription service, Hulu, embarked on the production of Margaret Atwood’s (1939 – ) 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. The story is set in the fictional, totalitarian state of Gilead: a society run by fundamentalist Christians who overthrew the previous secular state and set up a theocracy in its wake. For years, influential thought leaders and other arbiters of popular opinion have espoused the opinion that broader society would greatly benefit from the abolition of Christianity. It is my belief that such an occurrence would have precisely the opposite effect.

No group has criticised Christianity more than the New Atheists. Frequently deriding it as nothing more than “science for stupid people”, prominent New Atheists have ridiculed Christianity and dismissed its positive effects. Atheists and anti-Christians turn Christianity into a straw man by reducing it down to his most basic elements (they are helped, unfortunately, by those fundamentalist Christians who still assert that the earth is literally six-thousand years old). They then use this straw man to discredit the idea of faith. The philosopher, Sam Harris (1967 – ) argued in his book, The End of Faith that religious belief constituted a mental illness. More alarmingly, the British Scientist, Richard Dawkins (1941 – ) took things one step further by claiming that religious instruction constituted a form of child abuse.

The basis for much of Christianity’s negative portrayal finds its roots in the philosophies of the political left. A central tenet of the left-wing worldview is an adherence to secularism, which appears set to replace Christianity as the prevailing cultural belief system. (This is not to be confused with atheism, which denies the existence of a creator). On the one hand, secularism promotes both religious liberty and the separation of church and state (both of which are good things). On the other hand, however, proponents of secularism reject the knowledge and wisdom religious institutions can impart on the world. In a secular society, God can be believed to exist, but not in any sort of a productive way. God is something to be confined the private home or the sanctuary of one’s local Church. God is something to be worshipped behind closed doors where no one can see you.

Of course, anti-Christian rhetoric has been a facet of popular culture since the 1960s. Today, finding a positively-portrayed devout Christian family is about as likely as finding a virgin in the maternity ward. Christians are routinely depicted as stupid, backwards, hateful, and extreme. By contrast, atheists are routinely depicted as witty, intelligent, and tolerant. In short, Atheism is deemed as good and Christianity is deemed as bad. And, of course, this attitude has filled some with a kind of arrogant grandiosity. During an interview in 1966, John Lennon (1940 – 1980) opined: “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue with that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first, rock and roll or Christianity.”

The mainstream media rarely discusses the persecution of Christians. Indeed, prejudice and discrimination against Christianity is treated with a type of permissiveness that prejudice and discrimination against other religions, Islam being a primary example, is not.

Christians are estimated to be the victims of four out of five discriminatory acts around the world, and face persecutions in one-hundred-and-thirty-nine countries. Churches have been firebombed in Nigeria. North Koreans caught with Bibles are summarily shot. In Egypt, Coptic Christians have faced mob violence, forced removals, and, in the wake of the Arab spring, the abduction of their females who are forced to marry Muslim men.

In China, Christian villagers were instructed to remove pictures of Christ, the Crucifix, and Gospel passages by Communist Party officials who wished to “transform believers in religion into believers in the party.” According to the South China Morning Post, the purpose behind the drive was the alleviation of poverty. The Chinese Communist Party believed that it was religious faith that was responsible for poverty in the region and wanted the villagers to look to their political leaders for help, rather than a saviour. (Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Chinese Communist Party looked at their own evil and ineffective political ideology as the true cause of poverty in their country rather than blaming it on religion?). As a result, around six-hundred people in China’s Yugan county – where about ten percent of the population is Christian – removed Christian symbology from their living rooms.

Popular culture and thought in the West has attempted, with a great deal of success, to paint Christianity as stupid, backwards, dogmatic, and immoral. It is the presence religion that is to blame for holding the human race back. It is religion that is to blame for racism, sexism, and all manner of social injustices. It is religion that is the cause of all wars. So, on and so forth.

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I strongly disagree with this argument. Indeed, it is my belief that the abolishment of Christianity from public life would have the effect of increasing intolerance and immorality. Christianity’s abolishment will have precisely this effect because it will abolish those metaphysical doctrines – divine judgement, universal and absolute morality, and the divinity of the human soul – that has made those things possible.

Christianity and Western Civilisation are inextricably linked. In the field of philosophy, virtually all Western thinkers have grappled with the concepts of God, faith, morality, and more. As the writer, Dinesh D’Souza (1961 – ) wrote in his book, What’s So Great About Christianity:

“Christianity is responsible for the way our society is organised and for the way we currently live. So extensive is Christian contribution to our laws, our economics, our politics, our art, our calendar, our holidays, and our moral and cultural priorities that J.M. Robers writes in Triumph of the West: ‘We could none one of us today be what we are if a handful of Jews nearly two thousand years ago had not believed that they had known a great teacher, seen him crucified, died, and buried, and then rise again’.”

The primary contribution of Christianity to Western civilisation has been to act as a stabilising force, providing society with an overarching metaphysical structure as well as rules and guidelines that act as a moral foundation. This shared metaphysical structure and moral foundation, combined with traditions and cultural customs, has the effect of bringing a country, a township, even a school or parish, together.

When Christianity lost its supremacy in society it was replaced by smaller, less transcendent and more ideological, belief systems. Where people had once been unified by a common belief, they have now become more divided along ideological lines. Religious belief has not been replaced by rationalism or logic, as the New Atheists supposed. Rather, people have found outlets for their need to believe in other places: social activism, political ideologies, and so forth.

The most prevalent contribution that Christianity has made to the Western world comes under the guise of human rights. Stories like The Parable of the Good Samaritan have had a remarkable influence on its conception. Human rights stem, in part, from the belief that human beings were created in the image of God and hold a divine place in the cosmos.  Christianity has played a positive role in ending numerous brutal and archaic practices, including slavery, human sacrifice, polygamy, and infanticide. Furthermore, it has condemned incest, abortion, adultery, and divorce. (Remarkably, there are some secularists who wish to bring back some of these antiquated practices).

Christianity placed an intrinsic value on human life that had not been present in pre-Christian society. As the American Pastor, Tim Keller (1950 – ) wrote in Reasons for God: “It was extremely common in the Greco-Roman world to throw out new female infants to die from exposure, because of the low status of women in society.” Roman culture was well known for its brutality and callousness. Practices of regicide, gladiatorial combat, infanticide, and crucifixion were all common. Seneca (4BC – AD65), Nero’s (AD37 – AD68) chief advisor, once stated that it was Roman practice to “drown children who, at birth, are weakly and abnormal.”

Christian morality has had a notable effect on our views on human sexuality and has helped to provide women with far greater rights and protections than its pagan predecessors. Christianity helped to end the hypocritical pagan practice of allowing men to have extra-marital affairs and keep mistresses. It formulated rules against the cohabitation of couples prior to marriage, adultery, and divorce. Unlike the Ancient Greeks and Ancient Romans, Christians do not force widows to remarry, and even allowed widows to keep their husband’s estates.

The Christian faith has been instrumental in the enactment and promotion of public works. The instigator of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) championed the idea of compulsory education and state-funded schools. Similarly, the Lutheran layman, Johann Sturm (1507 – 1589) pioneered graded education. Christianity has been the source of numerous social services including health-care, schooling, charity, and so forth. Christianity’s positive belief in charity and compassion has lead to many orphanages, old-age homes, and groups like the Sisters of Charity and Missionaries of the Poor, the YMCA and YWCA, Teen Challenge, the Red Cross, and numerous hospitals and mental health institutions being founded by the faithful.

One of the frequent criticisms levelled at the Christian faith, particularly the Catholic Church, has been that it has stymied scientific and technological development. In truth, Western science and technology have been able to flourish because of the influence of Christianity, not in spite of it. This is because the Christian belief that God created everything lends itself to the idea that everything is worth contemplating. It is certainly true that the Catholic Church has been hostile to those discoveries that do not conform to its doctrine. Galileo, for example, was forced to retract his claim of heliocentrism because it challenged the Church’s doctrine that the earth acted as the centre of the solar system. For the most part, however, Christianity has been largely supportive of scientific endeavour. Christian scientists have included Gregor Mendel (1822 – 1884), Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 – 1543), Johannes Kepler (1571 – 1630), Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642), Arthur Eddington (1882 – 1944), Isaac Newton (1643 – 1727), Blaise Pascal (1623 – 1662), Andre Ampere (1775 – 1836), James Joule (1818 – 1889), Lord Kelvin (1824 – 1907), Robert Boyle (1627 – 1691), George Washington Carver (1860s – 1943), Louis Pasteur (1822 – 1895), Joseph Lister (1827 – 1912), Francis Collins (1950 – ), William Phillips (1914 – 1975), and Sir John Houghton (1931 – ), and more.

The forces behind the stratospheric success of Western civilisation has not been its art or music or architecture, but the ideas it has built itself upon. It is notions like the rule of law, property rights, free markets, a preference for reason and logic, and Christian theology that are responsible for making Western society the freest and most prosperous civilisation that has ever existed. It cannot survive with one of its central tenents removed.

CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS

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Next Monday will mark fifty-five years since the Cuban Missile Crisis. For thirteen days, the world held its collective breath as tensions between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics reached boiling point. Whoever averted the crisis would be glorified in the annals of history, whoever escalated it would be responsible for the annihilation of life on earth.

Our story begins in July, 1962, when Cuban dictator Fidel Castro (1926 – 2016) and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev (1894 – 1971) came to a secret agreement to deter another US-backed invasion attempt (the US had previously backed the disastrous Bay of Pigs operation, and were planning another invasion called ‘Operation Mongoose’) by planting nuclear missiles on Cuban soil. On September 4th, routine surveillance flights discovered the general build-up of Soviet arms, including Soviet IL-28 bombers. President John F. Kennedy (1917 – 1963) issued a public warning against the introduction of offensive weapons in Cuba.

Another surveillance flight on October 14th discovered the existence of medium-range and immediate range ballistic nuclear weapons in Cuba. President Kennedy met with his advisors to discuss options and direct a course of action. Opinions seemed to be divided between sending strong warnings to Cuba and the Soviet Union and using airstrikes to eliminate the threat followed by an immediate invasion. Kennedy chose a third option. He would use the navy to ‘quarantine Cuba’ – a word used to legally distinguish the action from a blockade (an act of war).

kennedy-khrushchev-pKennedy then sent a letter to Khrushchev stating that the US would not tolerate offensive weapons in Cuba and demanded the immediate dismantling of the sites and the return of the missiles to the Soviet Union. Finally, Kennedy appeared on national television to explain the crisis and its potential global consequences to the American people. Directly echoing the Monroe doctrine, he told the American people: “It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.” The Joint Chief of Staff then declared a military readiness level of DEFCON 3.

On October 23rd, Khrushchev replied to Kennedy’s letter claiming that the quarantining of Cuba was an act of aggression and that he had ordered Soviet ships to proceed to the island. When another US reconnaissance flight reported that the Cuban missile sites were nearing operational readiness, the Joint Chiefs of Staff responded by upgrading military readiness to DEFCON 2. War involving Strategic Air Command was imminent.

On October 26th, Kennedy complained to his advisors that it appeared only military action could remove the missiles from Cuba. Nevertheless, he continued to pursue a diplomatic resolution. That afternoon, ABC News correspondent, John Scali (1918 – 1995), informed the White House that he had been approached by a Soviet agent who had suggested that the Soviets were prepared to remove their missiles from Cuba if the US promised not to proceed with an invasion. The White House scrambled to determine the validity of this offer. Later that evening, Khrushchev sent Kennedy a long, emotional message which raised the spectre of nuclear holocaust and suggested a resolution similar to that of the Soviet agent: “if there is no intention to doom the world to the catastrophe of thermonuclear war, then let us not only relax the forces pulling on the ends of the rope, let us take measures to untie the knot. We are ready for this.”

Hope was short-lived. The next day Khrushchev sent Kennedy another message demanding the US remove its Jupiter missiles from Turkey as a part of any resolution. That same day, a U2 Spy Plane was shot down over Cuba.

Kennedy and his advisors now planned for an immediate invasion of Cuba. Nevertheless, slim hopes for a diplomatic resolution remained. It was decided to respond the Khrushchev’s first message. In his message, Kennedy suggested possible steps towards the removal of the missiles from Cuba, suggested the whole business take place under UN supervision, and promised the US would not invade Cuba. Meanwhile, Attorney General Robert Kennedy (1925 – 1968) met secretly with the Soviet Ambassador to America, Anatoly Dobrynin (1919 – 2010). Attorney General Kennedy indicated that the US was prepared to remove its Jupiter missiles from Turkey but that it could not be part of any public resolution.

On the morning of October 28th, Khrushchev issued a public statement. The Soviet missiles stationed in Cuba would be dismantled and returned to the Soviet Union. The United States continued its quarantine of Cuba until the missiles had been removed, and withdrew its Navy on November 20th. In April 1963, the US removed its Jupiter missiles from Turkey. The world breathed a sigh of relief.

The Cuban Missile Crisis symbolises both the terrifying spectre of nuclear holocaust, and the power of diplomacy in resolving differences. By forming an intolerable situation, the presence of nuclear weapons forced Kennedy and Khrushchev to favour diplomatic, rather than militaristic, resolutions. In the final conclusion, it must be acknowledged that nuclear weapons, and the knowledge and technology to produce them, will always exist. The answer, therefore, cannot be to rid the world of nuclear weapons but learn to live peacefully in a world that has them.

THE RIDDLE OF INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY

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On November 20th, 1945, twenty-four leaders of the defeated Nazi regime filed into Courtroom 600 of Nuremberg’s Palace of Justice to be tried for some of the most reprehensible crimes ever committed. Over the next ten months, the world would be shocked to learn of the depth and extent of the Nazi regime’s mechanised horrors. By the end of the trial, twelve of the defendants would be sentenced to death, seven would be sentenced to periods of imprisonment, and three would be acquitted.

Contrary to what one may believe, the perpetrators of the Holocaust were not psychopaths, sadists, or otherwise psychologically disturbed individuals. Rather, their actions arose, as psychologist Gustave Gilbert (1911 – 1977) concluded, from a culture which valued obedience. The observation that mass-horror is more likely to be committed by normal men and women influenced by social conformity would later be categorised by Hannah Arendt (1906 – 1975) as the ‘banality of evil.’

This shouldn’t be as too much of a surprise. After all, human beings are hard-wired to obey orders from people they deem superior to themselves. In 1961, Yale Psychologist Stanley Milgram (1933 – 1984) carried out a famous experiment which explored the conflict between authority and personal conscience. Milgram’s experiment was inspired by an interview with the Commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss (1900 – 1947). Höss was asked how it was possible to be directly involved in the deaths of over a million people without suffering emotional distress. Chillingly, Höss answered that he was merely following orders.

The process of the experiment was simple. Two participants, one who whom was actually a researcher, would draw to decide who would take the role of teacher and who would take the role of student. (The system, needless to say, was rigged to ensure the actual participant took the role of teacher). The teacher and student were then separated, and the teacher was taken to a room with an electric shock generator consisting of a row of switches ranging from fifteen to four-hundred-and-fifty volts.  Supervising the teacher was an experimenter in a grey lab coat (an actor in reality). Through the experiment, the teacher was to ask the student questions and administer an electric shock every time the student got a question wrong. As the experiment continued the student would deliberately give wrong answers. As the shocks got more and more severe, the student would scream and beg for mercy. When the teacher expressed concern, however, the experimenter would insist that the experiment continue. By the end of the experiment, Milgram had concluded that all participants would continue to three-hundred volts whilst two-thirds would continue to full volts when pressed.

The Nazis were able to create such obedience through a well-calculated propaganda campaign. Hitler outlined the principles of this campaign in Mein Kampf:

  1.  Keep the dogma simple. One or two points only.
  2.  Be forthright and powerfully direct – tell or order why.
  3.  Reduce concepts down to black and white stereotypes
  4.  Constantly stir people’s emotions
  5.  Use repetition.
  6.  Forget literary beauty, scientific reasoning, balance, or novelty.
  7.  Focus solely on convincing people and creating zealots.
  8.  Find slogans which can be used to drive the movement forward.

Similarly, Hitler’s speeches also followed a very specific and calculated formula:

  1. Hitler would unify the crowd by pointing out some form of commonality.
  2. Hitler would stir up feelings of fear and anger by pointing out some kind of existential threat.
  3. Hitler would invoke himself as the agent of a higher power.
  4. Hitler would present his solution to the problem.
  5. Hitler would proclaim the utilisation of the solution as a victory for both the higher power and the commoners.

In essence, the Nazi propaganda machine facilitated feelings of group identity and then used conformity to gain control over that group. They gambled that the majority of people preferred being beholden to a group than identifying as an individual.

If there is any lesson which can be derived from the Holocaust it is that the distance between good and evil is shorter than we like to believe. As clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson is fond of pointing out, if the Holocaust was perpetrated by ordinary people and you’re an ordinary person, the only logical conclusion is that you too are capable of horrendous evil. It is not enough to be critical of those in powers, eternal vigilance means being critical of our own need to conform and obey. Our freedom depends upon it.

THE CONSEQUENCES OF WAR

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This week we will be examining Sir Peter Paul Ruben’s (1577 – 1640) 1639 masterpiece, the Consequences of War.

In 1638, Rubens wrote a letter to Justus Sustermans (1597 – 1681), the court painter to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinanda II de Medici (1610 – 1670), explaining the painting’s meaning:”The principal figure is Mars, who has left the open temple of Janus (which in time of peace,

“The principal figure is Mars, who has left the open temple of Janus (which in time of peace, according to Roman custom, remained closed) and rushes forth with shield and blood-stained sword, threatening the people with great disaster.  He pays little heed to Venus, his mistress, who, accompanied by Amors and  Cupids, strives with caresses and embraces to hold him. From the other side, Mars is dragged forward by the Fury Alekto, with a torch in her hand.  Nearby are monsters personifying Pestilence and Famine,  those inseparable partners of War.  On the ground, turning her back, lies a woman with a broken lute,  representing Harmony, which is incompatible with the discord of War.  There is also a mother with her child in her arms, indicating that fecundity, procreation and charity are thwarted by War, which corrupts and destroys everything. In addition, one sees an architect thrown on his back, with his instruments in his hand, to show that which in time of peace is constructed for the use and ornamentation of the City,  is hurled to the ground by the force of arms and falls to ruin.  I believe, if I remember rightly, that you will find on the ground, under the feet of Mars a book and a drawing on paper, to imply that he treads underfoot all the arts and letters. There ought also to be a bundle of darts or arrows, with the band which held them together undone; these when bound form the symbol of Concord.  Beside them is the caduceus and an olive branch, attribute of Peace; these are also cast aside.  That grief-stricken woman clothed in black, with torn veil, robbed of all her jewels and other ornaments, is the unfortunate Europe who, for so many years now, has suffered plunder, outrage, and misery, which are so injurious to everyone that it is unnecessary to go into detail.  Europe’s attribute is the globe, borne by a small angel or  genius, and surmounted by the cross, to symbolize the Christian world.”

ON WAR

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The evolutionary psychologist E.O. Wilson referred to war as “humanity’s hereditary curse.” It has become infused in our collective and individual psyches. The Iliad tells the story of the Trojan War, Shakespeare’s Henry V is centred around the Battle of Agincourt, and All Quiet on the Western Front tells of the experiences of young German soldiers on the Western Front.

The purpose of war can be split into two fields: philosophical and pragmatic. Most modern wars are fought for ideological, and therefore philosophical reasons: capitalism versus communism, fascism versus democracy, and so forth. Richard Ned Lebow, a political scientist at the University of London, hypothesised that nations go to war for reasons of ‘national spirit.’ Institutions and nation-states may not have psyches per-say, but the individuals who run them do, and it is natural for these individuals to project the contents of their psyches onto the institutions and nation-states they are entrusted with.

Rationalists, on the other hand, have another perspective. War, they argue, is primarily used by nations to increase their wealth and power: allowing them to annex new territories, take control of vital resources, pillage, rape, and so forth. Bolshevism arose in the political instability and food shortages of World War One Russia. The Nazis used the spectre of Germany’s humiliating defeat in the Great War and its treatment in the Treaty of Versailles as a stepping stone to political power. In the Ancient World, Sargon of Akkad (2334-2279BC) used war to form the Akkadian Empire, and then used war to quell invasions and rebellion. Similarly, Philip II of Macedonia (382BC – 336BC) used war to unify the city states of Ancient Greece.

Another explanation may be that we engage in war because we are naturally inclined to. War speaks to our need for group identity, and to our deep predilection for conflict. And it should come as no surprise that the two are not mutually exclusive. Our strong predilection towards our own group not only makes us more willing to help other members of that group, it makes us more willing to commit evil on its behalf. Chimpanzees have been known to invade other congresses of chimps and go on killing sprees. The obvious intention being to increase territory and decrease intra-sexual competition. Similarly, our own evolutionary and primitive past is fraught with violence and conflict. It should not escape our attention that history is abundant with examples of invading soldiers slaughtering men and raping women.

Like all the profound aspects of culture, war conceptualises a facet of a deeper truth. It has been central to our history and culture capturing both the more heroic and the more frightening aspects of our individual and collective psyches. We both influence and are influenced by war.

THE PROBLEM WITH PACIFISM

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Otto Von Bismarck, the great Prussian Statesman, once observed that it is better to profit from the misfortunes of others than to learn from one’s own mistakes. With the current threat from North Korea, it would perhaps be wise to learn from the annals of history, and not repeat the mistake of following a pacifist agenda.

We like to see nature as a wise and fair judge which rewards the good, protects the weak and punishes the wicked. In reality, it is a callous and unpredictable maiden.  It should come as no surprise, then, that history shows the human-race to be inherently blood thirsty, violent, and cruel.  This violence is derived not only from competition over resources and mates but also from our social natures. This is an aspect of our character we share with our primate cousins. A team of researchers at Yale University, headed by psychologist Laurie Santos, revealed that primates treat outsiders with greater suspicion and disdain than members of their own group. This trait can also be observed in modern humans, as Santos observed: “one of the more troubling aspects of human nature is that we evaluate people differently depending on whether they’re a member of our ‘ingroup’ or ‘outgroup.’ He went on to explain how this leads to violence: “pretty much every conflict in human history has involved people making distinctions on the basis of who is a member of their own race, religion, social class, and so on.”

In 1942, C.S. Lewis published the essay “why I am not a pacifist.” For Lewis, the question of pacifism was a moral one. Take murder, for example, no one can intuitively argue murder to be wrong under all circumstances, but it is possible to make such a claim using rational arguments. Pacifism, then, is the irrational belief that violence can only be used for evil, and never for good. If this is the case, defeating a tyrannical power like Imperial Japan or Nazi Germany is evil because it necessitates the use of violence, stopping a man raping a woman is evil if doing so requires the use of physical force, and executing a serial killer is immoral because it violates his right to life. Any individual who takes such a position is not a moralist, but a coward and a fool. This type of peace is that of “Ulysses and his comrades, imprisoned in the cave of the Cyclops and waiting their turn to be devoured” (Jean Jacques Rousseau, a Lasting Peace Through the Federation of Europe and the State of War).

When Patrick Henry, an American attorney and politician, gave his famous “give me liberty or give me death” speech, he asked: “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?” Pacifism presents nature as passive and just when, in reality, it is unkind, capricious, brutal, unforgiving, ruthless, bloodthirsty, and cruel. With the threat of North Korea looming over our heads, it may serve us to remember that those who do not conform to the laws of reality are always destroyed by them.

US TO STAY IN AFGHANISTAN

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President Trump has gone back on his campaign promise to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and has instead decided to commit more troops the war-torn country. The change in policy came after a months-long campaign by members of the National Security Team to convince the President not to withdraw troops from the country.

The President, who was forced to admit that the office of the Presidency has changed his worldview, said in his Afghanistan speech:

“My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like following my instincts, but all of my life I heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval  Office.  So I studied Afghanistan in great detail and from every angle.  After many meetings,  over many months, we held our final meeting last Friday at Camp David, with my Cabinet and  Generals, to complete our strategy.  I arrived at three fundamental conclusions about America’s  core interests in Afghanistan.  Our nation must seek an honourable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made.

The consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable… A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists – including ISIS and Al Qaeda – would instantly fill, just as happened before September 11th.

I concluded that the security threats we face in Afghanistan and the broader region are immense.”

A spokesman for the Taliban in Afghanistan has responded to Trump’s tweet by stating that “Afghanistan will become another graveyard for the superpower.”

Democrats have expressed their concern with Democrat Congressman from Washington, Adam Smith, criticising it as a copy of the Afghanistan policies adopted by President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama. Smith said in a statement:

“This is not a plan. The President has announced that he is committing to an open-ended war effort in Afghanistan without clearly explaining to the American people or the service members he is sending into harm’s way what he wants and how intends to accomplish his goals. That is inexcusable.”

Similarly, Democratic Senator from Rhodes Island, Jack Reed, the leading Democrat in the Senate Armed Services, has criticised Trump’s policy for being too vague. Reed commented that “the President’s speech was short on the details our troops and the American people deserve.”

President Trump has, however, received support from members of the Republic Party. Republican Congressman for Texas, Mac Thornberry, referred to the policy as a “reasonable way ahead”, whilst John McCain called it a “big step in the right direction.”

PRESIDENT TRUMP THREATENS NORTH KOREA

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Donald Trump has warned North Korea that it would be met with “fire and fury” if it continued its sabre-rattling. Trump stated:

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal statement. As I said, I said  they will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”

North Korea has responded to Trump’s threat by threatening to strike the US military base in Guam.  Unsurprisingly, Trump’s warning has many people concerned that a potential standoff between the two countries may devolve into a war. According to a CNN poll, seventy-two percent of Americans feel uneasy about potential conflict with North Korea. Despite this, the same poll shows that sixty-percent of Americans feel North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons is a threat that needs to be contained.

Defence Secretary Jim Mattis has warned that a full-blown war with North Korea would be “catastrophic“, commenting that it would be “more serious in terms of human in terms of human suffering than anything we’ve seen since 1953.”

A war with North Korea is unlikely, however. President Trump would need to seek the approval of Congress before he could launch an attack on the rogue nation. As Republican Senator for Alaska, told Erin Burnett on Out Front:

“One of the options that they’re looking at that would eventually materialise is a preemptive war on the Korean Peninsular launched the US. Well, that would clearly in my view require the authorization from Congress.”