What Is War Good For?

Aurini has been on fire recently, with some excellent videos and a great recent posting on Libertarianism being an effect, not a cause. That said, i believe I have to address one question he asked:

War is distinct from other necessary evils that all societies must provide for – fire departments, for instance. Firemen produce nothing of value, and yet they’re an expense that must be paid to mitigate the damage done when fire inevitably breaks out. Courts, lawyers, and police officers are similarly unproductive, and yet equally necessary. Even on the individual level, we pay for insurance, we stock up for lean times, and we maintain a basic level of security on our homes, even though none of these create benefit – all they do is mitigate risk.

But war is something different.

500 years ago you could have made a case for it; once upon a time, there was some profit to be found in it. The infrastructure was less sensitive, and easier to rebuild. The disparities of wealth allowed for substantial loot and plunder. Installing your own tribe as the new rulers was a distinct possibility, with concrete benefits. Granted, very few wars proved to be profitable for anybody, even back then – but at least there was a argument to be made for those pursuing rational self-interest.

That is no longer the case today.

War has not been profitable for anybody, for several centuries at least. Borders have barely changed because of it, political advantages have been temporary at best, and no matter how decisive the victory, the victors have come out of it in worse shape than when they entered. All victories are Pyrrhic victories in the modern world, and almost everybody knows this – and yet war still remains.

It is senseless, destructive, it benefits no-one, and we’d all be better off if we stopped waging it – and yet war still remains.

OK.

Of course the short, flippant answer any good leftist is “nothing”. And it is of course all too easy to find neocons, closer to the truth, arguing simplistically about “protecting freedom”

Like Davis, I was in the military, and I was also a Marine brat. I’m also currently in a job position that is basically glorified overhead. I’m not paid to produce anything, I’m paid to keep the tools the producers use running.  And I think in differentiating Firemen, etc. as risk mitigation, and Aurini as not, he’s wrong – or vastly oversimplifying it to the point of being so.

Firemen come and put out a fire. Insurance deals with unforseen accidents and loss. They sometimes deliberately break things to do their job. Firemen break walls, doors, or burn strips of forest to make firebreaks. Surgeons cut people open to remove, repair, or add. Even in doing damage to save people and what they’ve built, warriors are not alone.

Let’s step down to the lowest level. The individual. Yes, killing is bad. Yet we distinguish between types of killing: murder, manslaughter, self-defense (or defense of others).

Even in self defense, you are taking a life, and unless you are a sociopath, that will come back to haunt you. Yet I would argue that if someone is lining up my family for execution, ready to put a bullet in them one by one, loading the weapon, I have every right to take them out. Even if they have not yet fired a shot.

Killing, war, is destructive. It marks the soul, it tears down, even when used for defense. But there are indeed things that cost more, materially and spiritually, than the death and destruction that comes with war. And just like more individual violence, there will always be people and polities that are willing to use force to compel, even on the larger scale of using others to kill, and die. Without the willingness and readiness to go up against them, the only option is surrender.

War is what you use to vanquish an existential threat to hearth and home, your people, your soul. It inherently scars, but it is sometimes the only tool that will stop someone else from taking your life, your family, your dignity.

When asked why they named their album that includes the awesome cover of “Bad Company” War is the Answer, the band Five Finger Death Punch pointed out that everything in life is a struggle. Getting food is a struggle, even if we are so distanced and cocooned from the every day reality of killing plants and animals for sustenance.

Sometimes, war is the only answer.

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