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necessary war September 20, 2007

Posted by xenothrone in Philosophy, Politics.
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Ken Burns, in reference to his new film about WWII simply called “The War”, talks about the concept of a “necessary war.” WWII was one. The war in Iraq is not. He thus unwittingly reveals the utopian idealist underpinning of his populist work and thought.

All war is necessary. When wars are over it becomes the prerogative of the prevailing survivors to judge them as “good” or “bad”, “necessary” or not. It hardly needs to be said that if the Germans had won WWII they certainly today would view it as necessary and judge it to have been a good war.

Go back as far as you can in written history and you will find humans heatedly debating the nature of war. The pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus declares that creation and destruction are essential components of the operating system of the world. Look around you. All things are built up and then destroyed. War is a natural part of life, part of its destructive phase. So he reminds us: when things are destroyed the path is cleared for the new to take hold and grow. Without war there would be stagnation.

In Plato’s utopia, The Republic, there is an essential place for the warrior class. Indeed, the Greeks understood the fundamental need and the inevitability of war (which explains their endless appetite for it.) The idea of a world without war seems to be a relatively modern one, a product of the Enlightenment where the power of reason is first heralded as the salvation of mankind. Today science has placed powerfully destructive technology into the hands of the irrational. Reason itself, as a product of the human mind, has a more that even chance of going extinct.

Would that be a tragedy? We humans look upon previous mass extinctions as necessary and good. The dinosaurs that once ruled the Earth were wiped out by a Zeus-like thunderbolt thus making way for the mammals and their crowning evolutionary achievement: humans. Perhaps, in another millennium or so, another species, pondering the archaeological remains of human civilizations, will look back upon our extinction as necessary and good.

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