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The Purpose of War
As the world turns, humans kill each other. When we manage to forget that, we fall away from the limits of struggle and the discipline of truth. So at the top of Twitter yesterday before the massive Russian invasion of Ukraine was the news that we have been pronouncing Lindsay Lohan’s name incorrectly. This is to be expected. Facing struggle and truth are difficult matters, but in life it is never too late to turn and face monsters. There remains only the question of timing and preparation.
This morning somewhere people are still moaning about how much carbon yacht owners like Larry Ellison are putting into the air. This morning, my brother Doc let me know that his Ukrainian girlfriends are safe in Germany and Italy. He is in Turkey. I suspect the drum will beat in the prior set as they calculated how much carbon Russian tanks and warplanes pump into the atmosphere. Meanwhile the jet setters will use common sense and common carriers and get the hell out. Imagine if they might have missed their flights or could not afford them owing to a regime of climate control taxation.
Yesterday I watched an Antifa protestor take the mic away from a police officer at a press conference in Portland. She called him a White Supremacist for not intervening in their armed assault on the home of someone Antifa deemed a White Supremacist. The homeowner shot back.
Yesterday my last tweet was “The road to hell is paved with polls, percentages, and public policy.” It was in response to a political call for Democrats to take advantage of a poll that decreed that “75% of people support teaching history that causes discomfort.” The subtext of course was that the Other Party was banning books.
Today is a whole new world, and a whole new narrative is being crafted together from the same old gerontocracy of Boomers whose every privilege was won by the generation who made the world safe for our experiment in half-assed empire. Don’t get me wrong, we put two dozen men on the moon and nurtured everything that is Rock & Roll. We kept the sea lanes open for trade and we integrated generations of immigrants to enjoy the greatest infrastructure the world has ever known. But now all of those superhighways and natural gas pipelines are crumbling and under political threat from the grandchildren of privilege. We have demonstrated, in our liberty, our willingness to blame our own government for the existence of microbes that are killing us softly. Canada is experimenting with authoritarian government and calling it civil rights, and everyone in our two countries is prepared to discriminate on the basis of sexual positions, which is very important because Lindsay Lohan.
By the way, the 1200sf house my father purchased in 1966 for $177/mo now lists on Zillow for $925,000. The Russian military is demonstrating an impolitic but effective way of eliminating student loan debt, simply bomb the institutions holding the notes. Anybody want to live rent free? Join the Russian Army. They are, this very moment, creating Lebensraum.
One needn’t be cynical about human nature to understand the reasons for war, one simply needs to acknowledge all of it. Our politics is war by other means, and our populism is the prototype for fascism as it is anywhere. A Stoic evaluation of history reminds us that those with the courage of their convictions will press conflict to the point of victory over the trampled bodies of the timid. This is what is happening in our universities. All of us should be aware if not attuned to America’s growing illiberalism, self-censorship and government by push-poll. Andy Ngo is the eagle eyed witness to the double standards we endure in our proclamations in support of ‘mostly peaceful’ protests. If you saw the press conference yesterday, you would have heard Antifa shouting his name with scorn. We dismiss that which is mostly peaceful for the reasonable excuse that most people are not peaceful but harmless. Blessed are the peacemakers. Making peace is an endeavor we are failing, by and large. The world spins without such a guiding hand from America because we are engaged in our own cultural fratricide. “But it’s only political.” No, it is ideological.
People will say that Putin is crazy, but they will not understand his ideological purpose. People will say that violence never solves anything, but they will be blind to the solutions desired by those ordering tanks engagements and warplane sorties. As the affluent friends of Doc will find solace in Germany and Italy today, will they be protected by NATO tomorrow? Some of that will depend on Germany’s dependence on Russian and likely Ukrainian natural resources and the pipelines that deliver them to a Western Europe that has been seduced away from Atoms for Peace. We Americans have no hand in the energy security of Western Europe because nobody the Washington Post ever bothered to poll put such questions to the public. Remember when the City of Berkeley outlawed the use of natural gas? The price of oil just surpassed $100/bbl. Tanks don’t run on wind power. Have no doubt that Putin will bomb any solar panels he may find in Ukraine as targets of opportunity. Have no doubt that the sanctions crowd will call for sanctions. Have no doubt that the US will sweat over pushing the big red button that allows sanctuary for the refugees to come.
We don’t think enough about war and peacemaking. We’re losing our facility to do it well. That’s because, like Steven Pinker, we wish to be ruled by our disarmed better angels. We are constantly surprised by ‘senseless violence’ because we do not seek to counter it through an accurate understanding of its purpose. We tend to believe, we Americans, that a bitter pill of an accusatory historical revisionism is sufficient to drive a politically correct narrative and that everything is going to be alright. Just as long as X percent get a job at Google or are represented in a heartfelt portrayal on Netflix, or get to dance at the Super Bowl halftime show, or get listed on Thrillist for their authentic ethnic restaurant, or get to compete in a sport with the class of their declared gender. The Culture War is not war, it is children cheating at cards.
The purpose of war then is to restore human faith in cause and effect. It is to remind us that life and death decisions are part and parcel of our thinking. It is to set our eyes on the ultimate truth of human conflict and struggle and to remind us that shit gets real. It is to familiarize ourselves with the reality of the smell of shit and death and keep it close enough in our minds so that it is never far from our agenda of peacemaking. Today we are close enough to see, but not hear, taste, smell or feel. The very least you can do is keep your eyes open and think a bit more.