"No leader should put troops into the field merely to gratify his own spleen; no leader should fight a battle simply out of pique. But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again into being; nor can the dead ever be brought back to life. Hence the enlightened leader is heedful, and the good leader full of caution."
~ Sun Tzu
The latest in a series of undefinable wars being proposed is the war on obesity. It would be laughable if it weren't for the fact that the U.S. government has a track record of declaring such wars and following them through to monstrous results.
When a people allows the state to assume responsibility for their welfare, it becomes in the best interest of the state to reduce the cost to "itself," no matter how great the price – even to insane proportions, using violence, force and any means available, in the pursuit of ridding society of the source of those perceived costs.
If that sounds like an illogical run-on sentence, then you have grasped the mindset of the state. For once the state is given the ability to perpetuate itself, its goals and needs take precedence over the people who created it. The very idea of the state levying taxes to fund a bloated bureaucracy, and others like it around the world, ignores the "welfare" of its own citizens. And it will go to the outer reaches of fiscal irresponsibility and violence to achieve its own aims.
There are two things that cause me to shake my head in amazement and wince in disbelief. The first is the ease of which the state finds itself involved in war, democide and atrocity. The second is the tendency of a population to focus on a single, isolated event, all the while ignoring a much larger, more destructive event occurring at the same time.
State of War
Political scientist R.J. Rummel calls democide "the murder of any person or people by a government, including genocide, politicide, and mass murder." (Source: Wikipedia)
War has been defined as everything from armed combat against an enemy to a campaign to end something that is injurious. But my favorite definition of war is "an active struggle between competing entities." With this definition, one starts to understand how governments throughout history have committed self-sponsored murder over and over again, and called it justifiable.
When you consider that an entity is "that which is perceived or known or inferred to have its own distinct existence (living or nonliving)," you see how Pandora's Box has been opened and the rationale for war expanded. Once war becomes a struggle against an entity, it can be twisted and shaped to include not only a country's people, but also intangibles such as poverty, drugs and terrorism.
Terrorism has many definitions. But when you boil it down to mode and motive, terrorism can be defined as the use of violence for political purposes. Some try to qualify the word by adding "criminal" and "unlawful" to the definition. But criminal and unlawful are matters of perspective. When one feels victimized by violence and uses "terrorism" as a response, who is the real terrorist? Is it the initial aggressor? Maybe. Or is it the reaction to violence with violence that gets labeled terrorism?
In order to see examples of how irresponsible the state, any state, can be, one need only look at the numbers of deaths caused by state-involved war and atrocity. The very sad fact of researching this article is that I have limited the figures to include only the highest numbers of deaths and only the events of the last century.
For the sake of brevity, this list does not include any event under 600,000 deaths – and there are hundreds. Even if the time period were expanded to include the American Civil War, it wouldn't make the cut at an estimated 558,052 killed. Recent events like the international embargo against Iraq resulted in the deaths of 350,000, again, too "small" to include.
It is hard to even comprehend these numbers as they tend to minimize the lesser events in terms of deaths. They make the Soweto Uprising an almost insignificant number at a mere 600 killed by police in South Africa. But ask the victim's family members of it and the word "insignificant" would be the last word to come to mind.
In the twentieth century, an estimated 188,000,000 people have been killed due to war, revolt against and abuse by totalitarian regimes, and conditions resulting from these. This number includes about 6,450,000 people killed in events considered "lesser unpleasantries" that aren't listed below. (Source: Historical Atlas of the Twentieth Century)
Congo Free State
World War I
China – Warlord Era
Russian Civil War
Soviet Union under Stalin
China – Nationalist Era
World War II
Eastern Europe Post-War Expulsion
Chinese Civil War
1948 to present
People's Republic of China under Mao
1950 to present
Vietnam War (including Vietnamese, Laotian & Cambodian internal conflicts)
Rwanda & Burundi
Cambodia, Khmer Rouge
1983 to present
1998 to present
State of Ignorance
The mentality of the general populace is to glance over statistics such as these and ponder the likelihood of Jasmine Trias making it to the next round on American Idol. Our fixation with isolated events completely beyond our influence and control, captivate the mind and cause us to take a stand in the Terri Shiavo case or any number of insta-celebrity news items. At the same time we are medicated and numbed to any sense of reality. Our perspective is that of the child clapping its hands at the circus clowns, completely oblivious to matters that we as voters indirectly participated in – regardless of whom you voted for.
Maybe it's because there is a sense of lost hope. Better to find entertainment than look around at the current state of affairs. Sadly I fear it is just plain ignorance and apathy.
We have conceded the political arena to "professionals" and left it to them to decide our fate by regulating our basic choices and functions. For most, this is an accepted way of life.
Terrorism has been the political buzzword since the highjackings that occurred in 2001. It has been used to sponsor draconian legislation and a war with no end. These measures have severely crippled the Constitutional freedoms of the citizens it was supposed to protect and killed thousands of those it was supposed to liberate. The state has not only thrown out baby with bathwater, but has declared all bathtubs illegal and any baby caught in one subject to jail time.
Once again, we have deferred to the state to be the answer to our needs. We feel scared and threatened, so we look to the state to protect us. Since the state is dependent upon war to survive, it sanctions it everywhere possible – even upon its own. This is the logic of one who is faced with the task of taking responsibility when the hammer of violence and coercion is the only tool in the toolbox and everything looks like a nail.
Add to this a series of nebulous wars on behavior and you can see that the end result in all cases is a political machine whose sense of justice and self-restraint tends to leave a mass grave full of dead bodies and an overcrowded prison system.
We are asleep at the wheel in this country. We have given the task of driving to our alcoholic Uncle Sam and he has chosen the only path he knows: a narrow switchback road with the gas pedal on the floor and an empty bottle of Mad Dog 20/20 on the seat. But thank god he has us wearing our seatbelts.
War has taken enough of a toll on humanity during the past one hundred years. It is time to pack up our toys of war and aggression and head home to our families. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – now that sounds like a good place to start.
Peter Christensen [send him email] is a commercial aircraft parts broker and does freelance marketing consulting. He lives in Minnesota and loves hockey, horseracing and fishing.