Is war a necessary evil?

By | October 22, 2003

Imagine India launching a nuclear missile over the Himalayas into China, or Pakistan laying waste to Nepal with an atomic bomb. Think of Israel, besieged by a continent of enemies, levelling Lebanon.

None of these scenarios is politically plausible, at the moment. Technically, however, all all-out nuclear war between nations has become an unsettling possibility. Many countries not only possess the much-maligned Weapons of Mass Destruction, they also have the means to deliver them.

But has the killing fellow inhabitants of Planet Earth become our favourite pastime? Or have we fallen back into the command-and-conquer days of the Middle Ages? What’s driving us to drive ourselves to the brink of mutual destruction?

In many ways, possessiveness – the passion to have and to hold – is the source of conflict between nations. At present, every nation claims absolute sovereignty, not only in regards to its internal affairs, but also in regards to its external actions. This claim leads it into conflict with similar claims on the part of other nations. Such conflicts at present can only be decided by war or diplomacy, and diplomacy is in essence nothing but the threat of war.

The claim to absolute sovereignty is, in effect, a claim that all external affairs are to be regulated purely by force, and that when two nations or groups of nations are interested in a question, the decision shall depend solely upon which of them is, or is believed to be, the stronger. This is nothing but primitive anarchy – the war of all against all.

It seems likely, then, that we are entering a new age of synthetic tolerance, involving wars between rival ideologies, philosophies, and creeds. With the progress in weapon technology, wars, when they do occur, are bound to become increasingly destructive. Whether one is black, white, brown, yellow, or somewhere in between, ideologically left/right/centre/unsure, philosophically sound or unsound, there can be no winners in modern day warfare.

For example, the eight-year war between Iran and the now-occupied Iraq left behind a frightening legacy. It changed, perhaps forever, the nature of conflict, introducing chemical weapons and missiles as decisive elements, with death toll ringing close to one-and-a-half million.

This protracted war also had a bad effect on public morality in Iran. Drug trafficking increased, so did the abuse of the “muta” – a practice that allows a man to marry a woman for a fixed period of time. During the war, the period was cut to hours in some cases – a thinly disguised form of prostitution.

Neither was Iraq better off in any way. So adversely affected was the country, politically and economically, that it was some time before the recently ousted Saddam Hussein could do anything to modernise the country, despite the fact that Iraq is sitting on what may be the world’s second largest oil reserves.

In the case of the Iran-Iraq war, at least both sides eventually agreed to a resolution, even though the cease-fire was prompted by weariness of an inconclusive war rather than rationality. The aftermath of most wars, however, is seldom as “favourable”.

Surely, war must be recognised as an evil by an immense majority in every civilised society; but this recognition does not prevent war. Does that mean war is a necessary evil then? I don’t think so, unless you believe it’s necessary to bludgeon the burgeoning population on this planet to death.

Fortunately, there is a continual increase in the practice of submitting disputes to arbitration, and in the realisation that the supposed conflicts of interest between nations are mainly illusory. Even where there is a real conflict of interest, it must in time become obvious that neither party concerned would suffer as much by giving way as by fighting.

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