War and Peace
by Ted Miller
(originally published in Tumbleweird December 2018)
One hundred years ago we fought the “war to end all wars.” The war was devastating. Over ten million people died and many times that number were injured in what was then known as the Great War. New weapons like poison gas, tanks, and aircraft made killing more efficient than ever before. The horrors of that war were so grim that many thought mankind would never go to war again.
This sentiment was summarized by H.G. Wells in The Daily Newson August 14, 1914 when he wrote:
“This is already the vastest war in history. It is a war not of nations, but of mankind. It is war to exorcise the world-madness and end an age… For this is now a war for peace. It aims straight at disarmament. It aims at a settlement that shall stop this sort of thing for ever. Every soldier who fights against Germany now is a crusader against war. This, the greatest of all wars, is not just another war—it is the last war!”
How wrong we were. The war that ended on Armistice Day a century ago was just another in the long history of wars among men. We even had to rename the Great War when just a few decades later we were in the midst of World War II.
I have always felt that a strong military promotes peace by acting as a deterrent to war. As a submarine officer on patrol carrying nuclear ballistic missiles, I believed that if we ever had to carry out the orders we were trained to execute, it would mean our mission of deterrence had been an utter failure. Success was the avoidance of nuclear war. Success meant peace. Success was met through strength.
As I was preparing to commemorate the centennial of the World War I armistice at the Bells for Peace gathering on November 11, I reflected on my thirty-year career in the military and my thoughts on war and peace. Did military strength really ensure a lasting peace? That certainly hasn’t been the case in my lifetime. I realized that the horrors of war do not alone lead to a lasting desire for peace.
Hundreds of millions of people have died as a direct result of war in the last century. Hundreds of millions more have been displaced. Today, the wars in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Iraq continue to destabilize the world. Armed conflict is ongoing in Africa, Mexico, Asia, and Eastern Europe. And the United States is at least partially involved in every one of them.
We are currently fighting the longest war in U.S. history. Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, we invaded Afghanistan to fight Al Qaeda and have been at war in that country ever since.
We have become so inured to the war in Afghanistan that it barely makes the news. We celebrate our veterans, but forget the fact that we are still at war. Fewer and fewer Americans serve in the military and the majority of us are insulated from the reality of war.
War is expensive, not only in lives, but in dollars. The wars in the Middle East have cost U.S. taxpayers $5.9 trillion since 2001.[i]Those costs will continue to grow well in to the future as we care for veterans and pay for ongoing obligations in the region.
Is the cost of war really worth it? If the goal of war is indeed peace, perhaps there are other ways to achieve it.
I know that peace isn’t easy. I know that evil exists in the world and that we must protect ourselves from those who would do us harm. I agree that we should be ready to use our military strength to defend our allies and ensure stability in the trouble spots of the world. But I also think that we can use our strengths and resources to combat the things that lead to war.
Poverty, hunger, social injustice, and a lack of education tend to lead to civil unrest that spills over into violence and war. War, in turn, leads to more human suffering. Breaking the cycle can reduce the tendency towards war and help usher in an era of peace.
We should be promoting peace through humanitarian efforts backed up by our economic, diplomatic, and military strength. Our resources can be better spent helping others instead of funding the military industrial complex for an endless cycle of war. I’m not anti-military, I’m pro-peace.
We need a strong diplomatic corps to promote peaceful solutions. We need to work with our allies to resolve conflicts. War should be a last resort.
On November 11, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation to commemorate the first Armistice Day with these words:
“To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”
If only we could promote peace and justice around the world without going to war to do so.
[i]“Costs of War,” Neta C. Crawford, Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs, Brown University, November 14, 2018.