The Glories of War

Remembrance Day: the time of year when we argue about honouring the service of our nation’s soldiers.

I’ve written about this before. I figure I’ll write about it every year until I’m gone. In any case – although I tried mightily hard to avoid doing so – here’s this year’s two cents. It isn’t really about Remembrance Day, actually. It’s really a rather nuanced take on whether or not war is glorious and why it seems that Remembrance Day is always accused of glorifying it.

At least it is in brief. Really, this came from a comment I wrote over at the Commons. I suggest you check out that awesome blog. Here are my words:

How come no one wants to glorify war any more? It’s so boring to all be singing from the same hymn book (Onward Christian Soldiers anyone? anyone?).

It seems the objection – raised via nationalism and militarism – is that war is too easy to glorify. All it takes is a few dozen poppies and a marching band.

But perhaps the nagging nut of truth behind the protestation is that war *is* glorious.

Think about it, if it weren’t glorious in some way, why would men (and women) worldwide sign up for it every year by the millions? Why would we continue to year-after-year (for thousands now) smash armies together?

Is it so unfathomable that there might actually be some sort of beauty in the massing of men thusly? In the countless acts of courage? In the severest of adversary overcome? Or not, and death comes – as it surely does to us all – but comes not with a cancer diagnosis or with a speeding bus, but with an explosion, or bullet, or blade. Could it really be that there is nothing of substance in the him-or-me existential moment of hand-to-hand combat?

The capacity for violence is just as much of human nature as empathy. Castigating out of hand the storied history of that violence is to misunderstand it.

Much like the Victorian disdain for sex, or the Temperance Society’s attack on booze, the pacifist’s assault on war works against human nature, not with it.

I submit the (counter-intuitive) assertion that the odds of peace would be much improved if the peace movement acknowledged – embraced even – the glories of war. To paraphrase Sun Tzu: know thy enemy.

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