War and Peace

This is the fourth article in a series of General Paper revision topics that we have prepared for you at Basecamp.

If you want to see what real suffering is, go to Syria. That is a civilisation that lies in ruins, a society torn apart by tears and blood, and a place where men die in hoards like flies every day. When a nation is at war, everyone – from the 80-year-old grandma who only has a few more years to live to the tiny toddler who has only lived a few years – will feel the impact of war. 

Heart-breaking: Mistaking a camera for a gun. “Don’t kill me” is this Syrian boy’s silent plea.

It is easy to look upon the horrors of war and generalise as Benjamin Franklin did that “there was never a good war, or a bad peace”. However, things are never black and white. Sometimes, failing to wage war can be the greater of two evils.

In 1994, the Rwanda genocide happened. Although at that time, no nation actually called it a genocide because they fear being bound by the 1948 UN convention to prevent and punish all acts of genocide. So the only way to avoid getting dragged into this “messy affair” was not to acknowledge that in a tiny nation named Rwanda, the ethnic minority, Tutsis, were being mercilessly stamped out by the ethnic majority. As the days went by and the dead bodies piled up, the world simply watched on. This atrocity was only stopped 100 days later, when the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a trained military group, usurped the government and took over the country. By then, close to 1 million Tutsis have been already been slaughtered.

In the words of President Barack Obama, military intervention will produce the quickest results and in matters of life and death for entire communities, “inaction tears at our conscience.” Never mind that he backed away from actualising his red line threat to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Yet, however justified, war promises human suffering. Collateral damage always accompanies military intervention. This is especially true in the case of a civil war, where civilians bear the brunt of the fighting. For instance, the war between South Sudan and Sudan (which were originally one country) lasted years and the death toll hit 2 million people.

Additionally, if not handled well, war will only create new and more complicated problems. This is because a war is a perfect breeding ground for extremism. The more a situation deteriorates, the more likely it is for extremists on both sides to go into overdrive. People also tend to lose their moral high ground under extenuating circumstances.

During the Vietnam war, there were many instances of when American soldiers – supposedly the good guys – tortured and raped Vietnamese civilians. In July 2014, three Israeli teenagers were found dead and their deaths were blamed on the Palestinian militant group Hamas. In retaliation, a few Israelites kidnapped a 16-year-old Palestinian, tortured him and then burned him alive. It makes us wonder whether humans are really capable of such atrocities when emotions run high. The answer seems to be affirmative. No wonder German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche warned that when dealing with a monster, one has to be careful, lest one turns into the monster himself.

Moreover, war is not conducive for long term peace. Military victory generally necessitates a certain level of violence that will destroy the institutions required to stabilise a country. Bombs, while capable of destroying the enemies’ fortresses and troops, will also destroy nearby roads, houses and schools.  We see this in Syria, where the civil war has destroyed almost all institutions, caused massive unemployment, resulted in an outflow of refugees, and will set the country back by a few decades.

Because there are so many pitfalls related to war, it is always better to take a cautious approach to it. If the enemy is still bridled by international laws or at least willing to talk, diplomacy is preferable over waging war. This is to ensure that thoughtless acts of aggression, such as the Iraq war which eventually contributed to the rise of ISIS, will be reduced. The victory that is the Iran nuclear deal proves that concerted diplomacy is workable.

Yet at the end of the day, what can we do about the violence that is happening all around the world? The easier choice is simply to avert our eyes and pretend that all is well. This spares us the heartache. But no, denial does not change the heart-breaking fact that somewhere in the world, at this time, there is someone dying prematurely, in absolutely horrid ways that strip them of all dignity.

So what can we do? If 20 years down the road, you are placed in a position of power, make sure you do not commit cold blooded murder like the world leaders did in 1994, when they washed their hands clean of Rwanda. Instead, you should do all you can to alleviate human suffering.

But for now, it is enough to keep your compassionate heart beating. 

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