A SURVEY OF OVER-RATED ITEMS, NO. 666:
by Papa Redcloud
As a service to humanity I am continuing my list of objects and experiences that are over-rated. I shall persist in sharing with you the fruits of my research and analysis. The items on this list all have some quality--had they no merit at all they surely would never have become over-rated. What characterizes the truly over-rated icon is that its reputation is all out of proportion to the enjoyment, satisfaction, or benefit that can be, or commonly is, derived from it.
I used to find it fun to play with toy soldiers. I enjoyed painting them and then setting them up in formations. I liked assembling the materials of miniature war: airplanes and tanks which I had myself assembled and decorated, artillery, boats, and fortifications. The enjoyment was largely in the preparation. But I was often ill-prepared for the harsh realities of plastic warfare. To see one's beloved soldiers toppled over at the end of a battleor even a skirmishis to realize that plastic war is not all molded glory, but is in its largest part polystyrene suffering and H.O. scale grief.
Imagine if we knocked over real people in that fashion! People not fused to bases who cannot be picked up an instantly put to rights. People, who once made dead, cannot be reanimated for the next battle. Not bits of plastic that only suffer through the pathetic fallacy, but real flesh and blood that can be crushed and spilled with real nerves that can feel pain and individual minds and hearts that are each unique and irreplaceable. Onto the battlefield marches a horde of hopes, fears, dreams, loves, plans, and ideas. When the clash is over, what remains is mutilated and charred flesh, and nothing with a mind or feelings at all.
Of course there are some, even most, who escape death in any given clash. But what has happened to them? How have they become transformed inside? Many are left damaged in their souls and minds, sensitively conscious of what war has done to them and of what war has caused them to do to others. They still stand on their feet, but a piece of each of their spirits lies wounded or even dead. And how is it with the rest? All too many have been transformed into sociopaths, knowing neither good or evil, by their unquestioning loyalty to the partisan cause.
All right, war has its costs. But, in the end, do we not gain? Is it not a sacrifice for the greater good? Let us examine the rewards of war and weigh it against casualties, in both soldiers and (especially nowadays) civilians.
First of all, in any war with a decisive result, one side loses. All of their sacrifices are for nothing. Less than nothing actually, since there are usually additional penalties attached to the losing of a war. One could, of course, store up the sacrifices and apply them towards the account of the next time, when the result may be reversed. But this means that the result of losing the war is as follows: 1) heavy casualties and loss of property and cultural material, 2) the imposition of war reparations and the indignity of having one's leaders tried for "war crimes," and 3) more wars. It is a very bad deal to be the loser in a war.
Many wars do not yield a decisive result. In this case, both sides sacrifice much for no gain. No sense of completion is arrived at. Mutual hatred persists. And the desire upon both sides to prepare for yet another, hopefully more decisive (read bloody) war. Basically this makes both sides nearly equivalent to the losers of a decisive war. They merely avoid the reparations and the trials.
In sports the saying is: "A tie is like kissing your sister." For war the saying must be modified as follows: "An indecisive war is like kissing your sister, and she is dead."
All that is sacrificed for must therefore accrue to the decisive winners. To the victor goes the spoils. Let us examine the precise nature of those spoils.
1) Though we have sustained many casualties and much other loss, presumably we have sustained at least marginally less casualties than our opponents. Does this difference, large or small, make us feel good? And if we do feel good about this what does it say about us? I think this is a rather small, petty, and morally dubious gain. We had better look elsewhere for unspoiled spoils.
2) We can use our unopposed strength at the end of the war to exact revenge and to make our prostrate opponent bend to our will. Revenge, however, as most find out who take it, is a rather cold fulfilment. It does not make one feel good. It injures the soul, instills guilt, making oneself morally weak. This does not bode well for a future war, and, believe me, if we take revenge there will be a future war. Therefore it is clear that revenge ensures only further war and a probable future loss in war. It is only loss postponed.
3) On the other hand, we could make use of our liberty to legislate terms to arrange a new system of justice and prosperity in the world. In prospect this certainly seems an improvement upon revenge. There are just two difficulties with this. i) How do we know that we are really restoring the world according to our lofty principles? It is very easy under these conditions for selfishness and self-interest to creep in and set themselves up as ideals. As interested parties we are not in a very good position to tell the difference. ii) The other parties involved-the loser and any bystanders-may not agree with our principles. A form of justice that is not agreed upon by all parties is no justice at all. The result in the end will only be a resentment sharper and more indignant than that caused by naked revenge. For as victors we will be supposed to have taken our vengeance but to have compounded our sin by clothing it in hypocrisy and deceit. More war will follow and it will be a holy war, the worst possible. A total loss may be postponed, but only at a very high cost in victories of diminishing decision.
There is apparently not much gain in war, except in that moment when the enemy cries "uncle." Once you remove your foot and the enemy gets up, brushes himself off, and draws a free breath, he is planning your overthrow. Each victory that a country celebrates is part of an increasing account of suffering that its enemies will be determined to collect.
I have been speaking in generalities. I know that everyone is thinking of that vastly over-rated war, World War II (q.v., over-rated for its goodness). That story is worth some detailed consideration that I cannot give here, but defer unto another occasion. I ask you, nevertheless, to consider the fruits of that conflict, in the wars, hot and cold, that have followed in its wake. And though we have, on this continent, so far, been relatively untouched, we must consider that we have been and are living under the sword of Damocles (aka Oppenheimer and Teller). And we have a heavy account to settle. Had we not better negotiate a settlement instead of getting further and further into arrears?
The argument against war does not depend upon having pacifist principles. It requires only a sense of self-preservation, common-sense, and a disinclination to make important decisions using the reptilian portions of our brains. Just imagine how powerful it would be if we had principles as well.