Whenever we idolise or demonise there’s a problem.
We demonise Hitler and so we perpetuate a deadly enemy. When we want a new deadly enemy we resurrect the image of Hitler, and use it for Saddam or Gaddafi or, currently, Assad. These modern enemies (ours, though not others) aren’t in Hitler’s league, but it makes it much more easy to attack them and justify it to mass populations (and ignore whoever else suffers or dies).
But demonising Hitler, too, does injustice to the truth, to the history of what happened. We must understand how Hitler came to power in Germany, the poverty, the unemployment, the international debt oppression, the idolising of the state, the Aryan people, the nationalism, the racism and hate encouraged against various groups. Or it will happen again. It could happen here. It could happen elsewhere, even with our nation’s help.
Others we put on a pedestal. One of the easiest ways to justify war is to idolise the warriors, the fighters, the soldiers, those who kill and die, suffer and cause suffering.
The soldiers will say the same! Yes, there may be some who definitely carried out some heroic action (on whichever side!), but they don’t regard themselves as heroes either. Almost universally. Rather they know the reality of war: murder, suffering and death, like Harry Patch below.
This is important.
Especially after Iraq.
They’re not heroes. They’re victims. They die, they get wounded, disabled. Worse – they do that to others. The vast majority of victims of war today are civilians, 0ver 80%. But the soldiers are victims in other ways too: the things they do stay with them, maybe consciously, always subconsciously, always lifelong. That’s why, of just the soldiers, more of them kill themselves after whichever war, during ‘peace’, than died during the conflict. Certainly true of Vietnam, and the Falklands, and on its way to becoming true of Iraq and Afghanistan, as the suicides continue.
Kissinger called military men “dumb, stupid animals”. There just to do his bidding, the orders of the powerful, the elite, the Bushes, the Blairs, the Obamas and Camerons. Einstein said, Nothing will end war unless the people themselves refuse to go to war.
Our hierarchical societies are pyramids of sacrifice. We sacrifice our blood, and the blood of enemies, in order to what? ‘Make the world a better place?’ We so easily trot out some self-justifying description. Or we ask any critic, Well what would you do then, let the enemy win? But we studiously ignore the lives wrecked, or the advantages gained by the rich and powerful, in territory, resources, advantage over other countries. Oil. And we fall for what the same rich and powerful tell us through prowar propaganda from the media.
Kissinger’s right while any soldier thinks his only calling is to follow orders.
Because the soldier’s foremost duty is peace. It has to be. It’s the only way it can be ultimately justified. But this means we have to train them in the ways of peace, not just to kill! International law, Kellogg-Briand, Nuremberg, the Geneva Conventions, the treatment of prisoners, the rejection of torture. And, ultimately, the refusal to start a war. No matter how much the Blair’s of this world lie to us, to them.
Harry Patch, war is murder