A Word on War

My thoughts today come inspired by the recent conflicts between Russia and Ukraine, but I’m not here to write about the devastation, the loss or who specifically I believe the “bad guy” is in all of this. Such issues are also important, and I’ve (vaguely) touched upon them where they’re relevant to this post, but I’d like to take a broader look and examine the role perspective plays in all conflicts.

When we think of war, we typically view it from one player’s point of view or the other’s – whichever we deem to be the heroes of the story. We adopt their narratives, their spin, while demonizing their opposition. We take sides, assuming we know enough of the full story to make educated assessments.

Reflecting Through a Black Mirror

I’m reminded of an episode of the techno sci-fi/horror series, Black Mirror, titled “Men Against Fire.” The episode is about a young man who signs up to fight in a war against vampire-like invaders the government has termed “roaches”; empathetic villagers have refused to exterminate them despite ongoing raids and heavy thefts. After one of the “roaches” manages to set off a device that affects the soldier, we learn that all the soldiers have been implanted with devices that make them merely see monsters in place of their very human targets.

Because, in war, humans ultimately must de-humanify other humans if they’re going to fulfill the “missions” they’re set out to do. They must justify murder in the name of freedom, victory, vengeance and so many other personal and divisive means, so they can live with the horrors they, too, have created. They must vilify the opposition, while deeming heroes anyone who fights and/or kills for their same cause.

In context to the current conflict, there are two major narratives:

  1. Putin is power-hungry and has convinced his military to invade an innocent Ukraine. Russia is the “bad guy.”
  2. Ukraine is harboring bioweapons labs, and Russian forces have set out to destroy them. Ukraine is the “bad guy.”

But consider the third possibility: A handful of elites hellbent on more power have spread propaganda that has led good, mostly innocent people to kill other good, mostly innocent people. Among the bulk of both peoples, neither Russia nor Ukraine is the “bad guy.” Both are casualties of someone else’s greed.

Regardless of what we choose to believe, it’s safe to presume either of the two extremes might be 100% correct (or at least correct enough) in the minds of whoever are receptive to them. Military personnel on both sides believe they’re fighting for noble causes. They view themselves as heroes, just as their enemies believe they’re fighting and killing for causes that are just and right.

In reality, both sides have been conditioned to see the other as “roaches.”

Wisdom From a Humanitarian Perspective

I recently came across an appeal from Austrian-born US politician, Arnold Schwarzenegger that illustrates the perspective with eloquence far greater than any words I might find:

Perhaps, if more people were willing to reject the spin that feeds the hate, we might realize a world in which soldiers refused to fight, perish and sacrifice the goodness in their souls for their leaders’ wars. If more of us stood up for unity and kindness, goodwill and community across borders, maybe we could reject war altogether.

Too idealistic? Maybe. But remember: There are just as many good people out there as there are bad ones, and all it takes is for one person to stand up for the right cause to change the world for the better.

Of course, tyrants will always exist; we cannot expect the world to foster truly good people without also balancing itself out with chaotic players. But I believe peaceful coexistence is still possible. Maybe we can brainstorm some ideas?

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