Remembrance Day

Every year on this day, I post on the futility of war, arguing that wars and armed revolutions are almost never justified. I haven’t convinced anyone, and there are probably more wars, frozen conflicts and insurgencies now than there were when I started blogging.

And I realise I haven’t even convinced myself. Intellectually, I know that wars will always turn out badly, but still when a new conflict erupts, I find myself picking sides and cheering for the good (less bad) guys.

Why do we fall for the spurious appeal of a simple, violent solution to complex and intractable problems? And why is it so hard to end a war once it has started? I have some half-formed ideas, but I’ll leave it to others to discuss.

In the meantime, Lest we Forget.

59 thoughts on “Remembrance Day

  1. Yeah, but you said exactly what I was criticising in your initial comment:

    It is human nature to be peaceful and human nature to be warlike.

    Well, wrong. It doesn’t matter whether you are talking current war or traditional war in the Papuan Highlands. War, killing and maiming others for one reason or another, demands warriors who require an immense amount of acculturation in a specific type of masculinity, the warlike, for which type of masculinity the planet is now too small.

    Being warlike is not the other half of human nature. The sheer amount of human cooperation and collaboration, across all elements of social life, far and far outweighs the sum total of human acts committed in the cause of war.

    Your argument is that war is inevitable. Well, that’s my point: it is if voices like yours go unchallenged.


  2. @jungney

    It is not my argument that war is inevitable. I didn’t write that and I don’t mean that. I did not write that the invasion of the Chathams was inevitable, and I don’t take that view; I did not write that the invasion of the Congo was inevitable, and I don’t take that view. What I did say is that it is not within the power of people who have been the victims of invasion to choose for the invasion not to have happened. People who are the targets of violence have it in their power to choose not to respond to it with violence, they can choose their own actions, but they can’t choose the actions of those who attack them.

    As for you other point, I agree that warlike behaviour is the product of acculturation, but so is peaceful behaviour; all human behaviour beyond the simplest infant level is the product of acculturation; it is human nature to be acculturated. If it’s true that human beings engage in cooperation and collaboration more than they do in competition and conflict, it may also be true that they are acculturated to engage in cooperation and collaboration more than they do in competition and conflict. Incidentally, the waging of war is also a cooperative and collaborative activity; one person alone does not wage war.

  3. @jungney
    I agree with you, Jungney, it is that kind of warlike – hierarchical, competitive, prepared to follow orders blindly – masculinity that war depends on, and that is created in the patriarchal societies Weber described, as in my previous comments.

    The interesting issue is what alternative kinds of masculinity can we imagine in peaceful, egalitarian societies? Maybe I’m too optimistic, but I think I see it already in my sons-in-law and nephews – still quite ‘blokey and jokey’ but very caring and nurturing, and not putting women down. Let’s hope I’m right.

  4. And also you are right about war being a cooperative endeavour in itself – it requires dualism and blind allegiance to the ‘team’ against the ‘enemy’, but on your ‘own’ side, there has to be a lot of cooperation.


  5. before ww2 denmark did not have conscription. the officer corps were recruited from old danish families with history of military service and as it transpired with professional & familial ties with germany (remembering schleshwig-holstein). during ww2 denmark was taken without difficulty, because, while the bulk of the army was massed for battle at the border, the germans using speed boats took the undefended capital by sea. incompetence? after ww2 denmark decided to introduce conscription.


    honest to god: i can’t wait to see what happens with official war/nationhood hagiography when we get to the centenaries of the conscription referendums and the railway strike.

    imho, the two conscription referendums were as much an expression australian national character at the moment of its forging, as rallying to the empire had been 1914. to extoll one as exemplary without the other is basically dishonest. i wonder if anyone’ll think to interview dr metherell, after all, he did his phd on the conscription referendums and greiner’s been rehabilitated and has nothing to offer the centennial of ww1.


    perhaps if the versailles negotiators had been allowed to discuss the race equality declaration in 1919 there may have been a speed bump or detour on the road to ww2. but certain parties got it taken off the agenda. -a.v.

  6. @J-D
    I agree with you that ‘warlike’ is a natural expression of our species being. The normalization of organized conflict among (usually) men is a part of a ‘natural order usually precedes the gambit of arguing for war as a steady state. Its pretty much what has happened in the US and in Australia since Howard went for the khaki election back then. There is a deep politics around ascribing any human characteristic to nature, as you’d know. It usually acts as some form or another of ideological justification, the appeal to nature.

    Otherwise, your rebuttal of what I stated is accepted.

  7. It occurs to me that it’s easy to go through history and list people who chose to make wars because they thought it would get them what they wanted — and they were right. I think of Tiglath-Pileser III, Alexander the Great, Caesar, Charlemagne, Jenghiz Khan, Timur, Henry Tudor, Frederick the Great, Bismarck — the wars they waged were bad for other people, but good for them.

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