on Just War

on Just War.

I do not enjoy talking about my Active Duty Army days. In this I’m similar to an overwhelmingly vast majority of former military combatants. Indeed, I feel so strongly about this matter that it is one of the few subjects I refuse to talk about with even my own children. However I believe this topic needs to be brought into view where it can be examined by everyone with a conscience, so I’m making this exception.

Why am I so reluctant to speak about my military past? For reasons I’ll attempt to articulate here. For reasons I suspect are the same virtually every other ex-combatant doesn’t like talking of their past.

We all want to believe we are fundamentally decent people. Sadly when we’re on active duty in a combat role we encounter an enormous problem with being “decent people”. “On active duty in a combat role” doesn’t mean you’re sitting in a base-camp is some foreign country listening to distant gunfire and the occasional explosion. “On active duty in a combat role” means you are physically out in the field of war, you are going to have contact with the enemy, somebody is going to die, and you fervently hope that somebody isn’t you.

And that is the fundamental problem right there. You fervently hope that somebody isn’t you…

There is no such thing as a just war.

It doesn’t matter that you are on the side of right and the enemy are on the side of wrong, because to them it is you who is on the side of wrong and they who are on the side of right. Wars are not fought by enemies, they are fought by people. And what decent person can ever justify killing another person they do not know, and about whom they know nothing? The enemy are not nameless, faceless, inhuman entities. They are individuals like you and me. That person you hope will die that you might live is someone’s child and is quite possibly somebody’s parent as well. Yet as an active duty combatant you find yourself in a situation in which your most ardent desire is to kill that someone.

Time passes, you look back on those days from the vantage granted by time, experience, and reason and realize it was all for nothing.

It was all for nothing.

I fought in a war to keep my country free, but my country was lost anyway. Zimbabwe is the ruins of Rhodesia. Rhodesia, a country once described as the “breadbasket of Southern Africa” has turned into a place of widespread starvation in which people routinely tolerate grotesque injustice every day. So what did my fighting in the so-called “liberation war” accomplish? Isn’t it peculiar how history is written from the victors perspective?

I ask again, what did my fighting in that war accomplish?

It accomplished nothing. Nothing. Nothing, except the deaths of a whole lot of sons, and I am ashamed to say, the deaths of some daughters too. Tragically, those deaths are not nothing. Those deaths are the unwritten somethings of the forgotten heroes of a rewritten war.

A terrible mistake is for people to imagine they know what it is like to be on active duty in a combat role. Until you have personally been there you don’t have a clue. Not a single clue. People extrapolate war into cute little sound bites like, “It is for the greater good.” Utter nonsense. The only people war serves are those immoral enough to profit from said war.

Who profits from war? Those who sell weapons. Those who hold onto power by whatever means possible. Those who attempt to wrest power from whoever currently holds it, also by whatever means possible.

There is no such thing as a just war…

How can any situation in which it is tolerable and acceptable to kill other people simply because they are on the other side ever be just? It cannot. How can it be just to suspend all universal laws of moral decency and encourage the willful, intentional murder of people you don’t even know? It cannot. That one side in a war is unjust does not grant the other side the right to suspend morality. Suspending morality does not make one side just – it makes both sides unjust.

Never forget wars are not fought by lifeless machines. Wars are fought by human beings. That nameless, faceless, inhuman entity you are encouraged to murder without conscience is not nameless, faceless, or inhuman. They are a person, they have a name, they have a face their parents and children love, and they are no less human than you. They deserve better than to be murdered simply for being on the other side of an unjust war.

Perhaps this is why the war is off limits to conversation with my children. I want my children to think I am a good person. How do good people get involved in such terrible affairs as war? How can a decent person do things that are fundamentally unconscionable? How can a decent person ever forget their indecent deeds?

I grow weary of people assuming war is a glorious affair.

I volunteered for military service about a year before I would have been conscripted. I did so because I wanted to serve my country. And I did serve my country. But for what? Ultimately for nothing except the death of a whole bunch of people I never knew, but all of whom had mothers and fathers, and many of whom probably had children too. Such memories do not make me feel good about myself. That I was young and gullible should not be an excuse. It really should not. It is not an excuse sufficient to ease my troubled conscience. Not even a little.

Perhaps these are the reasons former combatants are so reluctant to speak of their roles. Perhaps they are just people like me who look back on their deeds and know they are not just. Perhaps society demands our silence, but our conscience does not.

There is no such thing as a just war…

Credits: This post first appeared in a wonderful online publication called Hellbent Magazine. Visit their website and browse around, you’ll find the original post at this link.

About C.G.Ayling

Musing misuser of words, lover of lyrical literature, author, occasional contrary thoughts. An honorable man’s name, in memoriam.
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11 Responses to on Just War

  1. Adam says:

    I’m not here to start an argument, so please don’t respond to this comment. I want to respect your deeply troubled past as well as I can by not dragging it into some frivolous discussion online. I simply want to point out a question I was left asking myself after I read your piece, and which I worry detracts from your position somewhat to be left unanswered:

    What is the relationship of in personal defense against an unknown attacker to the same defense against an unknown attacker when serving in a military capacity? Can one be logically just while the other cannot?

    I can’t imagine looking into the eye of a mother who killed a man trying to kidnap her child and telling her the deed was unjust, but of course perhaps this has no relation to serving and killing in a military capacity. That is something, thank god, I have no personal insight with.

    • C.G.Ayling says:

      Thank you for taking the time to write, Adam. Although you asked me not to reply the point raised in your questions deserves to be addressed.

      You asked “What is the relationship of in personal defense against an unknown attacker to the same defense against an unknown attacker when serving in a military capacity? ” – I believe there is a profound difference. In the former the issue is of self-defense against a direct assault against our individual person. In the latter it is of an assumed attack against an issue, not an individual. To me the difference is stark.

    • Adam Wykes says:

      Yet as you yourself said – wars are fought by human beings, not issues. Soldiers shoot each other, not ideas. In All Quiet on the Western Front, the veteran-author Erich Maria Remarque describes how in WWI, you killed soldiers who attacked you because otherwise you were going to die. Come to think of it, if you haven’t read All Quiet on the Western Front in a while, you should give a go again. It’s not a long read, but it’s pertinent for you, now.

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