Resisting the Glorification of War
The truth is that any German conscripted into the Wehrmacht had no choice (and this has been true for draft-age men of most countries). The punishment for refusal to serve was decapitation. It didn’t matter how much or how little one loved the Fatherland or hated the Nazi government, he still had to serve the purpose of an industrial elite and an elected madman. And this coercion was supplemented by a sense of ethnic superiority cultivated over generations, contemporary propaganda that Germany was the victim, anti-semitism, and religious leadership that blessed the war effort — — the standard uniform of a soldier of the Third Reich included the Gospel of John and a belt buckle inscribed with “Gott mit uns.” (God is with us)
But for Reagan and most political leaders, and for all who are limited to what they’ve learned from family, schools, church and other agencies of socialization, “my country right or wrong” is the definition of patriotism. And patriotism, we are taught, is a most noble quality.
Why? Because nationalism, the illusory unity of all classes in a country, is a larger scale version of the racial identity scam that the American ruling-class has encouraged (and enforced) since 1619 to prevent working-class whites from uniting with people of color who share their class position and oppression. The greatest threat to the wealthy and the power-brokers of the world is the international unity of poor and working-class people. Tribalism, nationalism, and religious identities prevent this unity and “justify” the wars that are fought in their name. War is a small price to pay for preserving these false collective identities. In fact, it’s no price at all. The ruling class profit from wars.
When I consider the futility of America’s wars I am struck first by the “American Revolution,” which was certainly not a revolution — the class structure remained untouched. If we call it instead a War of Independence, we have to ask, independence for whom? Despite the deaths of approximately 25,000 American forces and a similar number of British regulars, the new nation preserved slavery and a rapacious appetite for land already inhabited by the Indigenous people of the continent. In Great Britain (and Canada) slavery would be outlawed in 1833, twenty-two years earlier than in the U.S. and without the horrendous bloodshed of a Civil War. It’s conceivable that slavery would have ended earlier in the U.S. if independence hadn’t been achieved in the 18th century.
And what could have happened if non-violent resistance to the Imperial power had been pursued instead? Despite the differences in eras, how can the Indian independence movement help us understand how non-violent resistance might have worked in the American context?
The Civil War killed over 600,000 soldiers. Although most Americans view the Civil War as a righteous struggle that freed the slaves, twelve years later elites in the party of Lincoln traded the rights of freed slaves for an electoral college victory for Rutherford Hayes, and ushered in another form of slavery for three more generations of African-Americans. It was the non-violent resistance of the Civil Rights movement that brought about the more profound changes.
War leads to more war. WW2 is the “good war” in U.S. history, even with the 80 million global casualties. We are taught that this war of necessity justified even the carpet bombing of cities such as Dresden and Tokyo and the still unimaginable annihilation of 100,000 civilians, including tens of thousands of children, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the agonizing death of 100,000 more from radiation poisoning.
This war would not have occurred without another world war just twenty years earlier, the causes of which have been trivialized in our history books as the assassination of some duke. No, the cause of the war was imperialism — a struggle for the power to exploit the resources of developing nations. This was also literally a contest between relatives in ruling families of Europe who had the little people to fight for them.
So when I am reminded to honor the fallen of our country’s wars I say instead, let’s make sure that we take care of the living veterans of those wars and work well to heal the physical, psychological and spiritual wounds that afflict them. Let’s be honest about war — that it is hell and that it is almost always fought on false premises and in the interests of the ruling class.
To stand against nationalism and unreflective patriotism is difficult but we can take some inspiration from Thomas Paine who wrote, “He who does not offend cannot be honest,” and “The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”