War is Hell, But…

Retired Staff Sgt. Bradley K. Gruetzner explains his prosthetic arm to servicemembers at Al Faw Palace, Camp Victory, Iraq, June 21. Greutzner, along with five other soldiers, have returned to Iraq to visit forward operating bases to witness the changes that have taken since their injuries. They are part of a pilot program, "Operation Proper Exit." Greutzner was injured May 26, 2007, by an improvised explosive device while traveling in a convoy 15 miles north of Baghdad. (photo credit:  U.S. Army)

Retired Staff Sgt. Bradley K. Gruetzner explains his prosthetic arm to servicemembers at Al Faw Palace, Camp Victory, Iraq, June 21. Greutzner, along with five other soldiers, have returned to Iraq to visit forward operating bases to witness the changes that have taken since their injuries. They are part of a pilot program, “Operation Proper Exit.” Greutzner was injured May 26, 2007, by an improvised explosive device while traveling in a convoy 15 miles north of Baghdad. (photo credit: U.S. Army)

He was a medic, serving with the U.S. forces in Afghanistan. He joined the National Guard soon after graduating from high school in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. On May 18, 2011, nine days before he was scheduled to return home, the blast of an IED mangled both of his legs and one arm. After a score of surgeries and 20 months in a rehabilitation facility, he and his bride got a “fresh start” in Bloomington, Indiana—the gift of a handsome house by a grateful nation, located in a pleasant neighborhood just three blocks from my home.

But it proved impossible to start over. The impact of the war on the Afghan children he had treated for burns troubled him. He became increasingly angry. His marriage failed. The pain from his wounds persisted.

He killed himself on April 22, 2014. (Herald-Times, Bloomington, IN, May 5, 2014).

Beyond a close circle of family and friends, Jacob Hutchinson is now another abstract casualty of war—a statistic.

Statistics make an easy case for war. A new book by Ian Morris, War! What is it Good For? (2014), argues that war has changed the human condition for the better. Morris concedes “war is hell” but insists it not only “has made us safer, but richer, too” (Washington Post, 4/25/14).

Here are his supporting statistics. In the Stone Age of small-scale killing, 10,000 years ago, 10-20% of all humans died from violence. In the last 100 years of civilized warfare, 100–200 million people have been killed, but that’s only 1–2% of the ten billion people who lived during that 100 years. Conclusion: we’re ten times safer than Stone Age people.   We are richer, too. Stone Age people lived on the equivalent of $2 per day to the age of thirty; the seven billion people on earth today live on $25 per day to age 67.

The process of progress, Morris admits, has been “brutal,” but war administered by large governments is the only way to create more peaceful societies.

From the perspective of mythology, there is nothing new about Morris’ statistical argument or his conclusion that war is the path to eventual peace. He is reiterating a basic mythic motif.

Joseph Campbell’s survey of war and peace myths identifies the Old Testament as one of the “greatest works of war mythology in the West.”   It has bred us “to one of the most brutal war mythologies of all time,” which is “still very much alive” (Myths to Live By, pp. 174-175, 178). Imperial methods, starting with ancient Persian kings, were grafted onto what became the reigning Judeo-Christian myth that “war (of one kind or another) is not only inevitable and good but also the normal and most exhilarating mode of social action of civilized mankind” (p. 198).

We have invested too little of our mythic imagination, Campbell concludes, in understanding how peace is mutually advantageous to adversaries. A fact casually noted by Morris—that war gamers in 1983 estimated a nuclear exchange between the U.S. and Soviet Union would eradicate a billion people in just a few weeks—should be reason enough to explore peace as the new civilizing norm.

RLI

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