A World Without War, And Its Tragically Untapped Potential
By David Metcalfe
June 13, 2019
War Is Mass Murder, But Legal, So That Makes It Ok
It seems so simple: “How do soldiers killing each other solve the world’s problems?” After all, it’s been the primary way, for the entirety of humanity, that we’ve attempted to solve our differences. A different nation, a different religion, a different race, a different way of life- whatever it is- is commonly “solved” by old men sending young men to murder each other in mass amounts.
In Conway Henderson’s 2010 book, “Understanding International Law”, he says,
“It is no wonder that many pragmatic policy-makers have concluded humankind has always suffered war and always will. One source claims 14,500 wars have taken place between 3500 BC and the late 20th century, costing 3.5 billion lives, leaving only 300 years of peace. Consequently, most efforts have been on containing force by emphasizing laws during war, leaving the outlawry of war to the idealists.”
War has been justified on many grounds in both the past and present- that it develops courage, that it creates national unity, that it’s the only way to prevent otherwise unsolvable problems, that stronger nations have a right to dominate weaker ones, that its God’s “righteous” judgement on sinners, and so on.
My response to such pathetic attempts at justifying mass murder are summed up well by Voltaire, that, “It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished, unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.”
A sickening distinction in the supposed “morality of war” is the arbitrary one drawn between soldiers and civilians. It is said that “war is ok, so long as civilian casualties are reduced.” Apparently, giving a 20-year-old a gun and sending him to the front lines means that his murder, or the people he is ordered to murder, becomes acceptable. If human life has value, it is a tragedy for anyone’s life to be taken short- much more so if the means is a voluntary, pre-meditated one. Whether the individual happens to be a soldier or a civilian has no distinction on the value of the life itself, or the trauma their families are forced to endure from their passing.
It might be rightly said, that in the face of evil opposition, righteous self-defence, or the defence of helpless others, may justify war. This is, of course, only for the defending side, and by no means makes the war as a whole a good thing, but rather that self-defence is an unfortunate and sometimes necessary evil to be inflicted in the least amount possible. I like what Gandhi said about so-called “just wars”,
“What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or in the holy name of liberty or democracy?”
And with modern warfare becoming more and more advanced in its effectiveness at killing massive amounts of people, and the ability of nuclear bombs to literally explode everyone in the world, war is increasingly becoming an existential threat to human life itself. After the nuclear bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Albert Einstein said,
“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
This is all to say: it seems like war is a really terrible thing- maybe even the worst thing. It is counter to human progress, good morality, rational sense, and the value of human life itself.
Our Missed Potential
War comes at an incredible cost. I already mentioned the billions of people murdered as a result of it, but we should also consider the missed potential, not only of those lives taken, but of the sheer money and time wasted toward its efforts.
The Lives Taken
Back in 2007, Bill Gates gave a speech to a large audience in Saudi Arabia, where he said, “If you’re not fully utilizing half the talent in the country, you’re not going to get too close to the top 10.” (in reference to their limitations on female work and education). He’s right- if a huge number of people are left out, who knows what potential discoveries, innovations, and contributions you are excluding?
The same thing could be said of war. How many people who died needlessly in war could’ve done something great and contributed their talents to the world in a meaningful and positive way? How many Leonardo Da Vincis and Galileos and Einsteins have we missed out on because they got stabbed or shot when they were 20?
In his iconic, best-selling book, “The End Of Poverty”, economist Jeffrey Sachs says that it would cost about 175 billion dollars per year to entirely eliminate extreme poverty. It seems like a lot, right? But consider this: the United States’ yearly military budget alone is over 600 billion dollars per year. The entire world’s budget is nearly 2 trillion dollars per year. (https://comptroller.defense.gov/Portals/45/Documents/defbudget/fy2019/FY2019_Budget_Request_Overview_Book.pdf)
By the dollars, no one in the entire world has to go without clean water, food, shelter, and basic healthcare. It is because of our inability to get along, and our obsession with threatening to kill each other- or actually killing each other- that we can’t do it. A little more co-operation, combined with a little more compassion, could end extreme poverty right now.
And consider all of the things we could fund with 600 billion dollars. Dr. Margaret Cuomo, in her book, “A World Without Cancer”, mentions that over 2 billion dollars is spent on cancer research, treatment, and prevention, but they could always use more. Well, what about 100 billion dollars more? How much faster would cancer be cured then?
How many more people could have access to healthcare? How many more teachers could be hired, and schools given better facilities? How many more police could be hired for crime ridden areas? How many more libraries, rec centres, community programs, food stamps, etc. could exist with that money?
While many of the greatest scientific minds in the world are focused on how to create things to blow people up better, or send bullets through more people, imagine if that same time and energy were spent towards more noble pursuits.
Imagine a world where the 1.3 million Americans in the military were instead focusing solely on humanitarian projects in America and abroad, or worked as public servants, or built infrastructure, or any number of things that are so desperately needed. The sheer man-hours of the military in America and throughout the world is staggering. And while they do some humanitarian work, a huge part of their job is making, practicing, and using weapons and other equipment designed specifically for the monitoring and possible killing of other people. But there’s so much more noble potential!
A world full of war is brutal, violent, painful, ruthless, and terrifying. Unfortunately, we don’t have to imagine it- it’s been a reality for far too many people historically and in the present day.
A world without war is one that meets the right to life of all people in providing their physical needs, their personal freedom, and their safety. It’s one that can eliminate- or at least significantly reduce- poverty, disease, and suffering. It’s one that allows human ingenuity and innovation to be cultivated toward helping people, rather than finding new ways to murder them.
But the common stupidity shared among the various nations- a mutually destructive one- is not going away anytime soon. Some say war is intrinsic to humanity. But people said that about slavery, racism, and misogyny as well, and those have all been virtually extinguished in first world countries in the modern day. I, for one, believe in the potential of humanity to rise above itself; above its destructive selfishness, its unreasonable divisions, its petty feuds, its callous disregard for the sanctity of human life. I believe there is the potential for co-operation and common ground despite our differences, for universal and inalienable rights to be acknowledged, for a universal empathy for all people, and for each individual and nation to become “citizens of the world.”
I’ll leave you with this quote from Martin Luther King Jr.,
“If we are to have peace on earth…our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.”