The Myth of War

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July 10

The Self-Righteous Empire

Today it's back to another war myths topic, since I realized that I have not really applied my thinking and findings about the psyhological underpinnings of war to various cultures, most relevantly my nation in present times.

According to my Random House Webster's School and Office Dictionary, an empire is "a group of nations, states or peoples ruled over by a powerful sovereign."

Self-righteousness is defined as "confident of one's own righteousness; smugly moralistic."

It isn't difficult to recognize the attitude of the United State's government in these definitions, whether one happens to be a citizen of the United States or not. Historically, it appears to me that there is a consistent pattern of nations rising to international military prominance, which leads to becoming a self-righteous empire. The sequence usually begins with good political organization and most importantly, advanced technology compared to other cultures of the time, which seems a common outcome of having a well-structured society. This results in domination of other cultures culturally, technologically and by example. However, technological capabilities lead to advances in military technology as well, and such cultures cannot resist the temptation to dominate other nations not only culturally, technologically, or by example, but militarily as well. The final step necessary to create an empire is the justification process. This is the psychological step the underpinnings of which have been presented in the Myth of War series. Eventually, each empire overextends itself, especially militarily, and ultimately collapses. It seems clear to me that teh United States currently is in this stage of overextension and decline.

To summarize the psychological processes which allow the justification of a military empire:

1. There is a feeling that one's people, and one's culture, is superior to that of others. From Aryan purity to Roman, Japanese, or American snobbery, this is a consistent theme;

2. Groupthink processes are enacted which permit self-assurance regarding the dominant group's superiority and prevents serious questioning of the selected course of empire building military action. Groupthink is basically a conformity process in which an apparent, but not actual, consensus occurs. Those who have doubts regarding the consensus are afraid to speak out, and even when they do, are derogated. Also, information which contradicts the view of those in power is suppressed;

3. Cognitive dissonance results in a psychological need to justify the actions and efforts of those in charge of the empire. Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfaortable feeling when two cognitions are inconsistent with each other. Being a dominant world power is inconsistent with feeling one has reached one's high position through mere luck, or worse, greed, aggression and selfishness. It is consistent with a sense of moral, intellectual, and biological superiority; believing these things eliminates cognitive dissonance;

4. The self-serving attributional bias contributes to a sense of superiority, as well. The self-serving attributional bias is the tendency, especially common in men and so-called westerrn cultures, to take undue credit for any successes, but blame failures on external factors or other people. In other words, people tend to think they are superior, and any failures to achieve goals are not their own fault;

5. There is an elevation of leadership to a superhuman status, whether it is the need for the Egyptian Pharoah to build a huge tomb inside of a pyramid, accompanied to the afterlife by scores of slaves, the proclamation of the Chinese emperor that he is the "Son of Heaven," the decision of successful military leaders such as Julius Caesar of Napoleon Bonaparrte to declare themselves emperor even when a democracy had existed there, or the attitude of American Presidents that they are above the law;

6. Military personnel are given elevated status by the government; this is clearly seen in the United States, but is also the case in past empires as well;

7. The culture creates a mythology which justifies their world position from a historical point of view. The people are propagandized and trained to believe that they are somehow a special or chosen people; they are the people of the Samurai (Japan), the Central Kingdom (China), the pure ones (Germany), the true and natural world leaders (the Romans and Americans);

8. The government skillfully uses propaganda to justify its actions, saturating society with pro-government and pro-military messages. They claim to be forces of progress and doing the world good by using force to civilize barbarians (the Romans and early Chinese), convert heathens to their religion (England, Spain, possibly the United States), or make foreign peoples know the wonders of democracy in their own image (the United States),

9. It is worth noting that such cultures are generally male-dominated, masculine cultures. Male chauvanist attitudes are used to justify both male domination of women, and aggressive, militaristic actions.

The difference between the United States and other empires of the past, such as ancient China, Rome or Egypt, the European powers of the Industrial Revolution (England, Spain, Portugal, France), twentieth century militaristic societies (Germany, Japan), is that the United States has a more complete world dominance than these past cultures. The dominance of the United States has been technological, economic, cultural, and military, not only in one part of the world, but worldwide. Nothing like this has ever existed before. But like previous empires, the United States is overspending and overreaching, especially militarily. This is bringing the United States down, quite possibly with a huge thud, in terms of economics, technology, and most importantly, in terms of a sense of cultural superiority. The story of the end of empire has played out in one way or another with each of the previous ones, and it is now playing out in the United States. Even though many well-informed citizens of the United States are fully aware of these events, and know that we need to willingly give up aspirations of world hegemony, our government has not fully appreciated the scope of what is happening. Although it is good to hear Barack Obama, who was supposed to be the "Peace President," giving speeches about how the United States needs to lead by example, not by force, a message with which I wholeheartedly agree, we have yet to see his administration take serious steps to genuinely put those words into action. We also like hearing Obama talk of his aspirations for a world without nuclear weapons, but see no movement in this direction, only continued threats of military and other actions against unfriendly nations which insist on building nuclear weapons of their own. These issues are of great concern to us. We are worried what the future, not only of our nation, but the world, holds if the United States does not scale down its military drastically. Barack, are you listening?

June 7

The Future of Peace Part 3: When We Have Learned Our Lesson

Well, I have nearly run out of war critiques, at least for now. If anyone who has seen these posts has not guessed by now, this is the raw material for a book I hope to complete in the not-too-distant future. Meanwhile, I will continue posting here on other topics, and perhaps, on more war-related topics which could add more material to my future book. Since today is Sunday, I would like to finish with a more spiritual look at what war means to humanity.

Monotheistic religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam have it all backwards. (My next planned book, by the way, is on Rational Spirituality.) They start with a creation myth in which humans and God were initially in communion, living in an earthly paradise. Then, people got greedy. They attempted to become God-like, sought knowledge which only God was privy to, which was a mortal sin -- the original sin. For this, they were thrown out of paradise, became unhappy and war-like, saw their lifespans shortened, and they lost their direct connection to God. From that point onward, people in monotheistic religions were thought to have a sinful nature, and were made through generations to suffer for the "Sins of the Father."

As a creation myth, this Garden of Eden tale may help to solidify the bonds among tribespeople, but as an attempt to explain the origins and nature of humankind, I find it absolutely revolting and ridiculously untrue. In fact, what I have come to realize as a student of nature, human nature, and history, is that the big story is one of evolution -- biological evolution, cultural evolution, and spiritual evolution. We did not fall from paradise; rather, we have a chance to gradually build something of a paradise. We did not lose contact with God; rather, we are gradually learning to make contact with God. We were not handed instructions from God regarding how to behave; rather, we are gradually learning to read those instructions. We were not handed information about the nature of God; rather, we are gradually struggling toward a better understanding of that which is called God. I contend here that the growing peacefulness of humanity over many generations is an outcome of humankind's cultural and spiritual evolution. Ultimately, we are more good than bad, and the more we learn, the better we become. If that makes us more God-like, which I suspect it does, then so be it.

War has left the pall of a sad legacy over humanity. How many lives have been wasted in wars over the millenia, nobody knows. Those who are apologists for war, those who do not truly hate war, those who have not really thought carefully about the effects of war, claim that no life is wasted in war. If that were true, we would have learned long ago not to engage in war, because the lessons we would have learned from the war dead, would have taught us not to have wars, and how to avoid them. They died for our leaders, and our leaders were human beings much like the rest of us, with great ambitions and not too much knowledge, but too little knowledge. The war dead have died not for us, but because of us, because the human race has been too stupid, egotistical, shortsighted, and selfish to realize that we are all part of one interdependent family. They died because of ignorance, but our ignorance lessens with each succeeding generation as lwe continue on our path of cultural and spiritual evolution. The war dead have died not for our sins, but because of our sins -- sins which we gradually learn to repent and not to repeat. Their lives were wasted, but someday, when the entirety of humanity has learned to stop making war, perhaps we can say that we have learned our lesson, that those great many lives were not wasted after all.

The lesson of history shows us that, over time, human beings gradually have learned how better to avoid war. Ultimately, if we are to succeed, we must create a peaceful world, before we destroy ourselves and this planet. There is no magic road to world peace. It will take a great deal of learning and applying what we have learned, culturally, spiritually, and politically. Nonetheless, I believe that time when there are no more wars will come. The history of the world is not a history of war. Let the ultimate history of the world be a history of peace. Here's to the future of peace. And Edwin Vorin Whan, who died in Vietnam, this one is for you.

June 4

The Future of Peace Part 2: For Those Who Really Hate War

I dealt with this topic to some degree before in the "Redefining War" post. Now, I plan to expand upon this topic and discuss how we should view and feel about war.

The overriding theme of war is that it represents a breakdown of social order. It is organized mayhem. However, the mayhem is organized and spearheaded by political interests. Without political gamesmanship, there would be no war. Therefore, one should view war as a period of chaos, in which military force represents the only organized community. Politicians direct the military; war gives great power to politicians, which is one of the main reasons for war's existence. Even when politicians join existing wars in order to help other nations, such as the United States did during World Wars I and II, the glorification of the President and increased power of the Presidency is a major motivation.

War makes victims of citizens while it helps politicians, at least in the short term, and for the winners, long term. Of course, it is easy to say that we abhor war, but even people who start wars claim to abhor war and claim that it is used as a last option when there is no other alternative. Such people say they hate war, but really don't hate war. Remember, there are always alternatives. We should always exercise those alternatives. The proper attitude is to truly abhor war. If one truly detests war, there will always be other options. If one truly hates war, one will not honor war or the concept of war. If one truly finds war anathema, at the very least, one must question the role of one's nation in wars it has participated in. If one truly is against war, one will live a lifestyle which promotes peace. If one truly abhors war, one will pray to whatever powers that be for peace, or wish for peace if one disbelieves in higher powers, and one will grieve over war's victims.

The blame for war rests squarely with the politicians. When politicians see that war will not benefit them, politicians will stop starting wars. We need to make politicians around the world see that war ultimately benefits no one. On this 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, we need to be mindful that this also extends to domestic use of force against a nation's own citizens. Citizens need to work in concert with politicians. The power distance (in Hofstede's terms) between the people and the power structure needs to be reduced, so that there is not such a separation between the interests of the people and those of the politicians. And the cultural distance between nations also needs to be reduced. We must let cooperation between nations prevail over competition among nations. That is why international governing bodies such as the United Nations (where Thom Hartmann is broadcasting from as I write this) are so important. There is now serious international talk of ridding the world of nuclear weapons, for instance, a goal endorsed by Barack Obama and even John McCain. We know it won't be easy, but we must work toward that goal.

For those of us who truly hate war, these are actions we must play our little part in undertaking. Together, we can create a peaceful world. Obvioiusly, there are many good peace-loving people around the world who are working toward peace, but we must all do our own small parts in promoting peace.

June 1

Pity the Soldier

A dilemma which inevitably seems to occur when a person expresses antiwar sentiments is how to feel about the combatants. War supporters inevitably accuse war detractors of "not supporting the soldiers" and undermining their efforts. This was a major issue in the early days of the Iraq occupation, and before the occupation, when protests against invading Iraq were common. There are a couple of good responses which were given by the protesters, but none of these exactly expresses my attitude toward military personnel in a situation such as this. One response is that a person can be against a war, but still support the soldiers. An even better response is that we are supporting the soldiers best by preventing them from going to war, so they won't be needlessly risking life and limb. I agree with both points, and in fact, remember my parents as well as others saying both.

To me, however, the most sensitive issue is how one really feels about the military. I have thought a considerable amount about this issue over these past several years. As a result of my concern with this issue, and aided by insights afforded me by doing this series of posts, I have come to the realization that military personnel are basically people to be pitied, throughout history. Wars are not the ideas of soldiers, nor are occupations. In some cases, soldiers willingly go along; in others, they are coerced to perform their soldierly duties. But in either case, they are fodder for war -- pawns in a game of political chess whom politicians are willing to let be wiped off the board to further their own selfish agendas. From childhood, it is not unusual in many cultures for boys to be inculcated with war propaganda in order to make them more pliable in the hands of politicians and their generals. In families with a military tradition, which currently includes a great many families in the United States, pressures to join the military can be considerable, as well as the psychological and tangible payoffs. Such factors help prepare young men in the dawn of adulthood for war.

It should be pointed out that as with other groups, it is far too easy to stereotype soldiers. The fact is, soldiers come in many varieties. Some behave heroically, others, atrociously, still others, somewhere in-between the two extremes, or some of each extreme. But in any case, these are people who are placed in dire circumstances due to politics, and as such, they are political victims, either willing or unwilling. Because war places people in extremely dangerous circumstances, war has a tendency to either bring out the best of the worst in people -- sometimes both in the same person. There is much about soldiers that I can say bothers me. But these are overgeneralizations. I remember my friend David Cassie, for whom I served as best man at his wedding, saying that something about the military seemed to make couples unfaithful to each other, an observation of David's after spending a weekend doing his duty as a member of the military reserves. In addition to macho sexual misbehavior, it seems to me that rates of various "externalizing" psychopathologies or bad habits are relatively high in the military. These are macho "acting out" behaviors, such as domestic abuse, alcoholism, smoking, and sometimes violent behavior, including suicide. Divorce rates among the military are relatively high as well.

But I still remember the kind man I knew when I was a child, Lieutenant Colonel Whan, who was killed in Vietnam. I have met other military personnel during the course of my teaching, as well as my backyard neighbor Gary, all of whom basically seemed like good, well-intentioned people. If they had any psychopathology or bad habits, chances are good that their military experience played a role in forming those. Being a soldier is a life-changing experience, especially when it involves being in combat. It can destroy a person's sense of humanity, although it can also bring out the humanitarian in a person.

Some critics of antiwar movements have been correct in pointing out the mistreatment of military veterans by the public. There was misplaced anger on the part of some during the Vietnam War toward returning soldiers, for instance. Anger over the occurence of wars should be directed toward those who create the wars --politicians, and possibly Generals, but not the soldiers who are hapless victims of other's ambitions. They deserve our sympathy and empathy.

May 31

The Ripple Effect

A society is a collection of individuals. The attitudes of individuals have impacts on the larger society, like ripples from a pebble thrown into a lake. Peaceful attitudes lead to peaceful actions, and peaceful actions facilitate others' peaceful attitudes and behavior. Of course, no one individual can control the behavior of another, but one can create a beautiful ripple effect in one's own lifespace, which emanates toward others. As I understand it, this is the meaning of karma, which refers to the consequences of a person's actions. From a social psychological perspective, people tend to be conformist, so that when they see peaceful attitudes as being the norm, most people will adopt such attitudes.

What are some specific attitudes and actions which can promote peace?

The following are suggestions for practicing peace which I was able to think of today. As usual, I keep thinking of more, so this is not an exhaustive list. Perhaps I will think of more; perhaps you will too -- the more the better. Some ways of practicing peace are direct; others are more indirect, but all that we do has a ripple effect, so all is relevant.

1. Discuss issues of war and peace with family and friends in such a way that makes clear the costs of war and benefits of peace.

2. Contact politicians, telling them of your objections to the aggressive and prohibitively costly use of military forces.

3. Discourage young adults you know from joining the military. Wars cannot be fought without willing combatants. People who join the military make many sacrifices, including risking their lives, in order to become fodder for war and victims of misguided policies. Also, the effects of military experience on a large portion of those who join, even voluntarily, are devastating. Common problems among veterans include, I believe, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (for example, my former backyard neighbor Gary, or the soldier in Iraq who killed several other Americans at a counseling center recently), depression, difficulty controlling anger or aggressive impulses, broken marriages, addictions to drugs, prostitutes, cigarettes or alcohol, distressing behaviors all. The military experience tends to rob people of their innocence.

4. Emphasize nonviolence in your personal actions. Do not provoke or promote conflict, but rather, be a mediator and peacemaker when confronted with disputes. If another person chooses to behave aggressively toward you, try to be understanding of this hapless person's misguided feelings, and do not respond in kind. In the terminology of Developmental Psychologists, "bend and bond" rather that "fight or flee." The "bend and bond" response is the typical feminine response to stress, and is helped by the hormone and neurotransmitter oxytocin. It refers to cooperation and mediation between parties in a dispute. However, males can also learn to use a "bend and bond" response to stress, and also have some oxytocin, although not as much as females. We guys need to learn from the gals.

5. Do not respond with automatic anger (the fast kind which is mediated by the limbic system) when upsetting events occur. Give yourself time to think things over and assess the situation. Do not use vile, profane, aggressive or aggression provoking language, but rather, use considerate, thoughtful compassionate language.

6. Protest when governments (one's own or others) are involved in planning a military invasion.

7. Cooperate with others to create a peaceloving atmosphere. For example, one can join community activities and conflict intervention programs.

8. Read about peace, join internet discussions promoting peace or write blog entries promoting peace. (Yeah, that's me.) Even the act of writing this makes me feel more peaceful. Hopefully, reading it does also.

9. Also take a peaceful attitude toward other lifeforms. Do not unnecessarily kill or show aggression toward them, and model peaceful, respectful attitudes toward all life for others.

10. Get over the past and move on. Practice forgiveness with others and yourself when punishment would serve no purpose.

11. Practice tolerance of each other's differences. Present your point of view and beliefs, but do not insist that others adopt them. Do not be sure that yours is the only correct way of thinking; recognize uncertainty and practice the tolerance of uncertainty.

12. Practice the Golden Rule; Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

13. Practice the highest level of morality which you are capable of, always keeping in mind the greater good. This means always using your reason and caring to guide your behavior to benefit the world around you. The highest level of morality in Developmental Psychologist Carol Gilligan's stages of moral development is the Morality of Nonviolence.

14. Practice acts of random kindness. For example, twice, my parents had their meals paid for them at restaurants by strangers. In turn, sometimes my parents send us random checks with the flimsiest of rationales.

15. Be a role model of peace, love and understanding.

Those who practice actions such as these will create a peaceful ripple effect which reaches those around them, and has positive effects on society at large. Don't expect yourself or any one person to do all of these things, but practice those with which you are comfortable and motivated to do. I certainly have not done all of these things, but probably would under the proper circumstances. (I have been practicing 10 of them by my count.) Remember, anything positive you do helps create at least a few little peaceful ripples.

May 20

The Future of Peace Part 1: International Cooperation

Now I am approaching the end of my psychological examination of war (I think). It is time to take a look at the future of war and peace. As a species which basically runs the planet, worldwide cooperation is needed to create a peaceful and productive future. The following are points relating the role of international cooperation in the future of peace, some of which have been mentioned in previous posts:

1. The historical trend is that society has gradually become more peaceful in the sense that invasions, wars, and occupations have become less common;

2. With the advance of technology, weapons have become more destructive, and thus, wars, when they occur, have greater destructive potential than in the past;

3. Wars not only kill people, but also wildlife and cause destruction to environments and ecosystems which leave lingering damage;

4. Thus, our survival and wellbeing as a species depends in large part on our ability to end the phenomenon of war, as well as our ability to maintain a sustainable living environment which having a peaceful society facilitates;

5. International cooperation is crucial to ameliorating conflicts, both between nations and within nations. This means there needs to be an international organization which governments agree to let mediate disputes. The United Nations attempts to be such an organization, but it needs more authority in order to increase its effectiveness. Conservative, hegemonistic elements in the United States, for instance, tend to reject the authority of the United Nations. We need a worldwide agreement that cedes certain authority to the United Nations or a similar organization;

6. Culture effects attitudes toward war and violence. So-called Masculine cultures, including the United States, Germany, and Japan, as defined by Hofstede, have much greater proclivities toward violence and military invasions than do so-called Feminine cultures. We need to pay particular care that masculine cultures submit to international authority;

7. International moral authority is a very powerful force. International outrage, pressure, and sanctions can usually prevent or minimize wars or genocide;

8. If moral authority does not prevent of stop a conflict, more active involvement by the United Nations may be effective. United Nations peacekeeping troops, and possibly even takeovers of unstable governments by the United Nations, have often been used effectively and can help minimize, if not eliminate, war. Given a greater role, the United Nations could be even more effective as an instrument of peace;

9. We need to promote a culture of peace. Social science can take a leading role in this process, by doing research on conflict resolution and promoting ideas which work to avoid war and enhance peacefulness. An example is the nurturing of empathy in children, a key component of emotional intelligence, by emphasizing the importance of other people's feelings, and giving children the opportunity to care for others, such as pets. People who are empathetic generally do not do bad things to other people. In fact, they engage in prosocial behavior and even altruistic behavior.

Next time, I will discuss what we can do as individuals to promote peace.

May 18

I Went to Hiroshima in My Mind

I had a friend named Hiroshi when I went to Pitzer College. We lived on the same corridor, in fact, when I was a freshperson, and was one of the first friends that I made at Pitzer. Hiroshi already had a Bachelor's Degree from Japan, but also wanted a degree from an American University as well. As the years went on, his communication in English -- spoken or written -- had improved, but regardless, we always seemed to communicate well. I often wondered why he was named Hiroshi, which was, in fact, a fairly common Japanese boys' name. Hiroshi was a handsome fellow with tan colored eyes and fair complexion, probably a legacy of Japan's mixture of Ainu people with orientals who migrated from China and Korea in the settling of Japan. I wondered whether the name Hiroshi was meant to be a reminder of the atomic bomb that was dropped there, and if so, I wondered why. Hiroshi once sent me a card to my parent's house in Riverside, CA while I was living there and going to graduate school. In fact, it arrived on the day of my dissertation defense. In it, Hiroshi mentioned that he was now married and had two little boys. I had to wonder how in the world he even knew my parent's address. I must have written it down for him at some point. Unfortunately, I was preoccupied at the time, and never replied.

I have never been to Japan, either. My wife Eunice and stepdaughter, Isabella, went to the northern island, Hokkaido, a few years ago, which was already cold and snowy in November. On the other hand, my next door neighbors are from the southern end of Japan, Okinawa. But when I think of going to Japan, I think with a twinge of sorrow, of going to Hiroshima to pay homage to the many thousands of civilian people whose lives were suddenly cut short there. I think of how there is a memorial where the bomb stuck ground and exploded. I think of how it vaporized nearly everything in a circle hundreds of yards in diameter, including people. I think of how their images were sketched on the concrete, as I saw one show about the bombing of Hiroshima explain, as though engraved by some cosmic force of unfathomable significance. I think I would go there, kneel down, and find myself immersed in the immensely sorrowful presence of this force. I would feel perhaps, a sense of collective guilt over my nation's actions, much as the Japanese do, but really know that this tragedy was not my fault, just as it was not the fault of the average Japanese citizen. I was not even born yet, after all, and had I been, would not have approved of the intentional use of an atomic bomb to kill people, much less masses of innocent civilians. Mostly, I would feel the sorrow of the living for those who should not have died. I think of the predominant religion of those who carried out the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and that of those who were its victims. Was this a modern day crucifixion of an entire city -- a city in another part of the world, with another culture and a different religion -- by the followers of Jesus? How ironic! I wonder what Jesus would have thought of that. As did Jesus, they died, not for our sins, but because of humanity's sins. The best we can do is to learn from the entire tragedy and try to do better in the future, and the future is now here. I imagine Japanese people would approach me, and offer me words of kindness and encouragement, as they have done for me so many times before. Then, I would snap out of my state of grief. The past is the past. We can revisit it on occasion, but should never try to live there.

I thank the powers that be, that we human beings are resilient. Both the United States and Japan have long since put World War II behind them. Our societies have rebounded, and we have rebuilt what was destroyed, which took far more doing in Japan, admittedly, than here in the United States. The Japanese internees were quickly released from their "concentration camps," as my 91 year old Okinawan neighbor, Mr. Tamanaha, called them. Our two nations have long since become allies, with no hint of resentment, and now, we are ready to share this world in peace. It is humanity's essential goodness, resilience and ability to learn from experience, that will ultimately allow us to build lasting peace around the world. For goodness' sake, let us keep the peace. I would like to visit Japan someday, as a friend of Japan, and see my old friend, Hiroshi.

May 9

Unnecessary Wars Part 5: Is Any War Necessary?

I think it's pretty clear where I am going with this current line of thought: No war must be considered necessary; every war could have been avoided, likely with much better results in the long run. Of course, wars are for the short run; they are for the impatient and those who stand to gain politically.

The most troubling aspect of peaceful resistance is when one people or army insists on commiting genocide. In such a case, fighting for survival may be the only alternative to letting a people be slaughtered. But such cases -- German death camps, Cambodian killing fields, Rwandan and Sudanese massacres, genocide in the Balkan states -- are occasions for international outrage and ostracism. Furthermore, I would argue that the only justification for such atrocities which can motivate people to commit them involves previous violent conflict such as World War I, the Vietnam War, or long-standing ethnic or religious conflicts -- previous wars and conflicts which may cause a people, encouraged by a barrage of propaganda, to believe mistakenly that another group of people are a threat to their lives or their "sacred" identity and "way of life." Such cases call for insurgencies or international help of one form or another -- preferably United Nations peacekeeping forces.

As I have stated before, when one's nation is invaded, I cannot blame its residents for fighting back -- using force to fight force -- but even then, unless there is unrestrained genocide happening, there are more patient alternatives. Even when an invasion turns into an occupation, the occupation ends sooner or later, usually sooner. Occupying nations tire of the excessive costs of occupation. They become spread too thinly, broadly reviled, and politically weakened, just as has has the United States in recent years. Any technique which increases the psychological, social, economic, or casualty costs of an occupation help move the occupier toward withdrawal. It merits pointing out that even in cases of self-defense, the war -- or occupation -- was started by an aggressor group. If the world community can show potential aggressors that starting a war, or an occupation, will not benefit them, when all of these costs are counted, their is little chance of seeing another war started.

The most subtle of the non-violent techniques for resisting an aggressive rival is passive resistance. This is a technique of purely peaceful movements, and does not even require public protest. It may even be difficult for the media to realize or characterize, but passive resistance could include quiet sabotage of the occupier's efforts by refusing to work efficiently for them, or making it difficult for them to accomplish anything. Passive aggressive persons are very familiar with such techniques, which frustrate people as intended, and are effective.

Another, somewhat more active technique is peaceful protest. This is the technique of the Indian independence movement, the South African anti-apartheid movement, the American Civil Rights movement, all of which were successful, as well as the current Tibetan independence movement. Leaders of such movements include Mohatma Gandhi, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and the Dalai Lama, all of whom I believe, have won Nobel Peace Prizes.

A third nonviolent technique to avoid war and end occupations, is to allow or encourage factions among the occupiers to disagree amongst themselves, and essentially self-destruct, or at least, deflate the motivation behind the occupation. This has actually played a major role in the United States' decision to disengage from Iraq. The internal debate over Iraq in the United States has helped lead to Barack Obama's election and his commitment to bringing U.S. troops back from Iraq in the near future.

Of course, a combination of the above factors may take place, as well as perhaps an armed insurgency or underground movement. The bottom line is that wars may be politically and socially convenient, but are not necessary under any circumstances. Remember, society changes, occupations are temporary, national boundaries shift, political ideas and technology progress; all things political pass. Is trying to hold onto that which ultimately cannot be preserved worth killing each other over? Is trying to overthrow that which is ultimately doomed to failure worth slaughtering each other over? I say no. Peaceful methods of opposition work, and peace produces the climate in which freedom and good ideas can florish and create progress. Peace is worth the effort. Let us preserve and enrich life, not political glory.

May 8

Unnecessary Wars Part 4: The American Revolution

Now, I continue the deconstruction of the United States' national mythology. Yes indeed, it is my contention that the American Revolution was wholly unnecessary, and that history demonstrates this to be the case. The American Revolution is integral to American national identity. The national myth says that our brave patriots, opposed both by the autocratic monarchy of Great Britain and the loyalists among the colonies, forged a completely new nation the only way possible, by throwing off the yoke of colonialism by force, and going our own new and improved way. All of this is far from the truth. The fact is, most of the democratic ideas of this nation's founders, and some of its greatest supporters, such as Thomas Paine, came from England. The idea of democracy was neither new nor unique, although these ideas were refined to some degree during this nation's founding. On the other hand, the United States continued to hold onto autocratic, hierarchical ideas even after founding. The United States was the last bastion of slavery. Also, the founders of this nation were concerned that the "common man" (women did not count) would hold too much power. As long as one was a white male adult, one got to vote, but the Senate and electoral colleges (still with us), for example, were designed to help the elite rich, who by the protestant work ethic, presumed themselves to be chosen and naturally superior people, with more than their share of power. Also, for purposes of voting, each slave counted as 3/5 of a person, but only the slaves owner got to vote in their lieu, so that slaveowners' votes counted as more than one vote, even though their interests were in opposition to that of their slaves.

The idea that the Revolutionary War was the only possible way to form a new nation is equally false. Around much of the world are nations which used to be colonies of European powers, which were freely granted their independence, without going to war. India, Canada, and virtually all of central and south america consists of nations which were released from colonialship when colonial powers realized that keeping them under their control was not worth it. Colonialism is another example of a failed ideology whose time came and passed. Thus, the independence of the United States was only a matter of time, especially given the distance and size of the American British colonies, and the time it took for people to get from one to the other or even to communicate in past centuries. It was inevitable that the colonies would develop a somewhat different culture from their mother country. We even sound different when we talk. Most likely sooner, rather than later, the colonies would have been granted their independence. Perhaps a peaceful course of action could have been negotiated between independent, democratic-minded colonists and the government of Great Britain.

It is interesting to consider, however, what might have happened, had the colonies not been granted their independence, and had remained colonies. For one thing, since Great Britain banned slavery well before the Civil War, slavery presumably would have been banned in the colonies as well, effectively preventing the Civil War from occuring. Since the colonies were expanding, and were already larger in area than Great Britain from the beginning, the political power of the colonies would have had to soon be recognized. Eventually, there would have been more citizens in the colonies than in the original Great Britain, whose rights would have to be recognized. Furthermore, as Great Britain moved toward democracy, citizens residing in the colonies would have to be given voting rights, giving them a majority voice in government. I do not think this scenario would have happened, though, given the history of colonial powers willingly relinquishing their control over their colonies. Either way, this part of the world would have become an area in which democratic rule, aided by independent-minded colonists, would prevail, in an English-speaking culture with British roots. Creating a new, progressive democratic society was in the cards long ago for this part of the world, especially given the particularly large number of migrants from Europe to the "New World" who brought progressive ideas with them, and given the presence of their their intellectually talented descendants in the colonies. Would it not have been better to create this new society without the wars? Given the destructive consequences of war, I vote for the peaceful alternative.

May 3 Again

Ghosts of World War I

Yesterday, I asked my father to provide me with a summary of his father-in-law's World War I experiences, and today, he provided me with the following account. (My father is into writing more than my mother is, so even though my mother was Roy Thompson's daugther, it was my father who put this account together.)

As back ground the book The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman is a good introduction to the causes of WW I and the initial month of the war. Wikipedia on internet has a site for this book, with good summaries of the chapters. I just looked at them and they are worthwhile reading.

Your grandfather, Roy Thompson, was born May 10, 1889, by report in a sod hut on a wheat farm in northern North Dakota. His father Fountain Thompson became a successful wheat farmer, business man and attorney. Roy grew up in a house they had in Cando N. D. Fountain served an interim appointment term as a US Senator fron N, D. in 1909-1910. We have a picture of US Senate at the time, in the upstairs hallway. Roy's mother was Fanny Flournoy Thompson.

Roy went to University of North Dakota 1908-1911. Completed BA in English at USC 1913. Attended Boston University, School of Theology, 1915-1916, but became disenchaned with organized religion, althouigh remained basically a religious person. Master of Arts major English, Harvard 1917.

US Army 10/4/1917 to 4/19/1919 . Was in the 91st Infantry Division mostly of North Dakota farm boys or ex farm boys. Most had grown up hunting and fishing and were crack shots wilth guns.. Roy was a top marksman himself. Many were friends with each other from boyhood. The unit was moved to France by transport and convoy and unerwent some additional training. Roy participated in the battles of St Mihiel and the Muesse- Argonne. He was wounded by shrapnel in a small recaptured village on 9/29/1918. The wound tore a hole in his right shoulder. Your mother said years later it looked like a 4 inch long 1 inch deep concavity, but he never complained about it and he worked hard in the yard building rock walls and terraces for his prized Camellias in Glendale, California.

In a personal communication with Roy, he told me the day he was wounded ,he was in the village square, in front of a church and hit by a shrapnel fragment. At a front line aid station, he was bandaged up and classified as "walking wounded". He was directed to follow a certain road to a field hospital. On the road he saw a column of walking wounded as far ahead and as far behind as the eye could see. How long he walked and how far is not clear to me, but he said to me that when he got to the hospital, there were maggots is his wound. The doctor there told him they had probably saved his life by cleaning up dead tissue and peventing infection. Roy was in hospital for months recovering.

Roy was a note taker from about age 9. I have a copy of some of his notes written before and during the Argonne offensive. They are written in a cramped, tiny handwriting on pieces of Red Cross paper and are hard to read, but I will try to quote from a few directly as best I can, some excerpts.

Before the battle: " Sept 25, 1918 at about 8 o'clock in the evening we made a final gathering of all our gear, & put ready in our respective groups, for the move forward, shelter halves, blankets, extra shoes .....light packs only, although by the time we had our extra bandaliers of ammuntion. etc. they were petty heavy......Sept 26, 1918 about 10 o.clock it was whispered along the line to "fall in",....then began a slow, the interminably slow march through the woods...we were in sloppy mud...but we got to a road,,,,where every advance was followed by a long, trying wait....once we stood on a slope and listened to the big shells come...the road below us ...and oh the groans and moans that came from the wounded. ..and our guns did begin...and they filled woods, shook the earth & lit the sky with increasilng din...word came that Si Holle, whom everbody in the battalion admired and loved had been killed in a lane of wire...first thing I knew I was alone in the dense fog...then I found some F co, men and some engineers...quite a commentary on the "scattering" we had....I now found myself in a German communications trench and observed with satisaction the effect of our shells. Remained here awhile with half a dozen others...when along came a Lt. I told myself we had better follow him, and the others thought likewise, so we turned in back of him and made our way into the fog. The Lt had a compass go forward to the front, but it was difficult in the fog & uneven ground.....then we stepped into a narrow trench, well hidden in the brush, & followed the winding course for some 15 minutes. it seemed strange to see signs posted in German...we marched through there with fixed bayonets....Down the shaded forest path we went for some hundred yards then halted. Heavy shells began falling down the path, indicating the enemy barrage had caught up with us. was a matter of rushing a short distance, then dropping into a shell hole or depression. The big shells were lighting on both sides of us ....they sounded as though they were landing right among us...we were now over a long open plateau....when I saw a large body of American troops climbing a hill in was apparent we were in reserve....Presently I saw my first German lying wss not long before a group of 20 or 30 prisoners came in sight, going to the rear All looked haggard and discouraged....I was soon to have first taste of one of the most diabolical forms of modern warfare. I had just climbed through a wire entanglement when I heard a great crackling sound sweeping up from the rear&saw two or three of my comrades duck into a nearby ditch. It was another sign of my war naivete that I didn't realize that I was being fired upon by a German aeroplane---but as it came nearer and I heard the zone of crackling bullets gradually moving up on me...I crouched in a little niche in the bank of a ditch & on came the machine; the bullets falling all around me now, deafening ears. The Boche was following up the little string of men in which I happened to be-&was flying very low...we opened fire open the Boche with our rifles---that is after he had passed."

There is a lot more to Roy's narrative and I did leave out the part at the start of the story where the German shells decimated and scattered his company right at the start of the march toward the German lines. There was also a time when a shell fell right behind Roy and did not explode, but the shell cap flew off and hit Roy in the ankle. This was the first day of battle. Roy was an idealist and a firm believer at the start of the war in Woodrow Wilson's utopian ideas that the war was the war to end all wars and that democracy and freedom would prevail everywhere. The war disillusioned Roy although he remained all his life in the firm belief of the Greek ideal of individual freedom. He had Christmas 1970 with all his family, including you and your brothers and me and Lois and your uncle Richard's family and he died a few days later. But that Christmas day in the afternoon, he told by memory for all of us a segment of Beowulf so vividly and dramatically that the hall with the sleeping Danes, soon to be assaulted, became real. Love Dad

May 3

Unnecessary Wars Part 3: United States in World War II

The European front in World War II was a direct result of World War I. The Germans, who were the main aggressors during World War I, felt humiliated, and the majority of them clung to anything which could return their national pride, including Hitler, the hatred of and scapegoating of the Jews, and ultimately the genocide of the jews and the conquest of neighboring nations. The Japanese, meanwhile, were busy going through with their own imperialistic plans in Asia, which had actualy been in progress since shortly after 1900, at least in China. However, their military conquests accelerated about the same time as Germany's, probably aided by the distraction Germany provided to the rest of the world. It is worth noting again that these are two of the nations that psychologist Geert Hofstede describes as being among the most masculine ones in the world, and so is the United States, which has become an imperial power in its own right.

It is true that World War II resulted in the end of the German and Japanese expansionism. It is also true that it accelerated the United States' own expansionism, and its support of any ruler who did not oppose the United States' political positions, no matter how vile and autocratic that ruler may have been. Once again, the main question here is what would have happened, had the United States not joined World War II -- a war which was in large part shaped by World War I, and quite posssibly exacerbated by the United States' involvement in World War I, which helped add to Germany's sense of humilation. Once again, one cannot blame the nations which were invaded, attacked or occupied for fighting back. In fact, I suspect they would have defeated their enemies eventually. Whether getting into one of these killing matches that politicians call war was the best course of action remains questionable, but time and moral authority were both on the side of the occupied countries.

In my thinking, the ultimate answer to the question of how best to handle foreign aggression leads back to the reasoned conviction that people are drawn to good ideas. People want to see progress; they want to support ideas which work to the benefit of society. People eventually "weed out" the bad ideas. This process is inevitable and occurs without requiring violent conflict. Clearly, German and Japanese fascism and imperialism were wrong-minded ideas from the beginning, nationalist ideologies which were doomed to failure.

One way to ensure their failure was the way of political glory, the path of redemptive violence, as it has been called. This is the path that was chosen. Politicians chose to sacrifice millions of human lives, and countless animal and plant lives, while destroying the environment and infrastructure, and creating a future filled with insecurity and weapons of mass destruction.

Another path would have been peaceful resistance and working to change the system, a path which would take longer, but most likely, in the end, yield far less violence and destruction, and better results. Examples of such change are provided by communist giant China and former communist giant Russia. Mainland China still has a relatively autocratic government that in particular, is intolerant of criticism, but it is vastly improved compared to the way it operated when Mao Zedong was alive. Mainland China continues to have gradual reform, and most likely, some day, will undergo a peaceful democratic transformation. No invasion or conversion to democracy at the point of a gun is needed, nor will that work. What will work best is to let nature take its course, and let the Chinese people work out for themselves. a better system of government for all of its people. Russia has already undergone a peaceful democratic conversion, although elements of the old autocracy are still powerful (one might even say in power), and unregulated capitalism, combined with the hangover -- metaphorically and literally -- from its communist days has caused Russia to have more than its share of problems.

A third path would be some form of loosely organized, armed resistance against the occupation, perhaps combined with political pressure. This is what is happening in Iraq and Afghanistan, only this time, the United States is the occupier. Presently, the United States is planning, of course, to vacate Iraq militarily. In fact, we elected President Obama in large part in order to just that. Hopefully, our military will divest themselves from Afghanistan soon afterward, although President Obama's stance on Afghanistan is not very promising. He needs to rethink his policy toward Afghanistan, giving their people more autonomy to determine their own future. Of course, one of the seductive aspects of military occupation, from the standpoint of the United States, is that there is a tendency for politicians to delude themselves into thinking that the military they are in charge of is there at the behest of the occupied nation, and is only there to help. If that is so, why do the great majority of their citizens want our military out of there?

Regardless of which of these three paths is chosen, the end result is that the ideologies of the aggressors, if not the aggressors themselves, will be defeated, and their form of governing abandoned in favor of government which serves the people better. Had the United States not joined World War II, Germany or Japan might have been able to occupy neighboring lands a while longer, but sooner or later, most likely sooner, they would have to go. Even if they did not go, governments, and even national boundaries, are transformed over time, faster than we realize, so that the political landscape becomes one which earlier generations would not recognize, something better which earlier generations would have loved to see.

May 2

Unnecessary Wars Part 2: United States in World War I

My father's father was a young medic during the aftermath of World War I. These days, we have people in a panic over the Swine Flu, but during those days, in Europe, there was a flu epidemic which dwarfs any that have happened since then. My grandfather went to Europe to treat its victims. Fortunately, he did not fall prey to the epidemic, but he also did not have to live in the war zone during "The Great War." This experience was life-changing for my grandfather. He came back to the United States to marry his tuberculosis-stricken sweetheart, my grandmother, who recovered and lived to have 2 children, be a school teacher, and live to 89 years of age. My grandfather also went on to become a radiologist in the early days of this profession. But the fact that the epidemic occurred in Europe immediately follwoing World War I was not a coincidence. War creates famines, epidemics, and destruction of the environment and societal infrastructure. Stressed people, having lived in a war zone, are far more vulnerable to infections and other forms of disease, as well as psychological disorders. Several million Europeans, the large majority of them civilians, died during this epidemic, as though the war itself was not bad enough.

The United States' involvement in World War I was a turning point politically for the United States. The President at the time, Woodrow Wilson, had honorable intentions, and resisted sending Americans to fight in Europe, but eventually made the plunge, with the notion that this would be "The war to end all wars," which would "make the world safe for democracy." Wilson's big dream for the post World War I world was the League of Nations. We all know what happened. The League of Nations fizzled, although it helped lead to the United Nations, World War I led to the second one, and wars continue to this day. Meanwhile, the idea of making the world safe for democracy was an insincere attempt to justify what happened. Many parts of the world were already safe for democracy, including the United States, while other areas still are not democratic. Although democracy has increased around the world, it is a cultural phenomenon, and a sign of a certain level of cultural evolution, in which those who wield power are willing to transfer it to others based on popular will, rather than using any means to hold onto power, and are willing to be responsive to the will of the public while in power. Some cultures have not reached this state yet, some have reached it in principle, but in fact, remain something of an oligarchy, while others have a truly representative and responsive democracy. The United States itself, rather than being the leader in democratic practices, is in danger of becoming something of an oligarchy -- actually, a "moneygarchy" where the corporate rich rule.

The "Moneygarchy" trend in the United States has been present for many years, dating back to the late 1800s. However, World War I accelerated the ascension of the United States as a military and economic superpower. This was the first time that the United States "rode to the rescue" of foreign nations, immensely helping its international standing. The militarism which grew out of World War I in the United States has continued to this day, with military technology in the U.S. keeping up with the times. Recently, however, many historians have questioned the wisdom of the United States' involvement in World War I. An application of reasoning which I have presented before can show us why.

First, the addition of the United States' military to the war mix in Europe may have exacerbated the carnage of World War I, as well as its aftermath.

Second, the nations involved in World War I were in the process of developing democracies. Elements which were resisting the democratization of Europe were largely to blame for the war. However, the democratization of Europe was inevitable, regardless of the reluctance of European authorities to do so. World War I probably was not a factor in helping Europe become more democratic, and if it was, it only quickened the pace of democratization that was already happening in Europe.

Third, the fascist forces which were "the bad guys" in World War I were doomed to failure ideologically and politically, regardless of any military successes they might have had.

Fourth, Europeans, as have people throughout history, would have resisted occupation by fascist forces, until they were defeated and forced to retreat, even without involvement by overseas armies, an event which is evidenced over and over again in history.

Thus, the United States benefited politically from its involvement in World War I, but, although we do not have the benefit of knowing the course of history had the United States not sent soldiers to Europe during World War I, it is quite likely in my estimation that the world would have been better off today without the United States' involvement in World War I. Of course, the cost of World War I to the United States, especially to its young men, was enormous, and it was never necessary for the United States to become involved. That was purely a political decision. The larger issue, however, is the welfare of the world, and particularly, Europe, for which World War I represented an interruption in its societal evolution to a democratically governed region.

My mother's father, who was the son of a wealthy farmer in North Dakota, had planned to become a pastor, but somehow became disillusioned with organized religion while attending the University of Boston, School of Theology. Afterward, he obtained a Masters Degree in English from Harvard University in 1917, then joined the army, as surely one of its most well educated and idealistic members. He was subsequently sent to Europe as a soldier, where he had many harrowing experiences and was fortunate to have survived. He suffered a wounded shoulder during the war, which left a permanent scar, and had great difficulty obtaining help for his wound. Eventually, he was rescued, went through a long recovery period,, came back to the United States, and went on to become an English professor at USC. I never knew him very well, since he died when I was 11 years, old, I believe, and he never talked much about World War 1 apparently. It seems to me that former soldiers either are very proud of their contributions to the war effort and talk incessantly about their experiences, or lock their war memories away in their memory attic of unpleasant memories, and rarely talk about them. My grandfather I believe was the second kind. Of course, there is a third kind of reaction to having been a soldier, one that is known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, people who continue to be traumatized and never get over their war experience. I am thankful that my mother's father was not one of those people, although I suspect that in some ways less obvious than PTSD, he never did fully recover from his war experience.

April 29

Unnecessary Wars Part 1: The Civil War

When I was a teenager, my father had a friend who was part Native American, from Oklahoma, perhaps Cherokee. My father knew him through a poetry group to which they both belonged. For reasons that I forget now, but which probably related to their poetry, my father's friend started talking about the Civil War. My father's friend I recall, said "The more I think about Civil War, the less necessary I think it was." Our nation could have prevented a huge tragedy by allowing the rebel states to secede, so Lincoln was wrong to pursue a war to put down the rebellion. I remember that conversation because it struck a chord in me, as though I had just met someone who thought the way I did, but was older, and farther along in the process. I realized that my father was also like-minded, given his agreement with his friend.

Since that time, as tragic and honorable as the story of Abraham Lincoln was, I have always felt that his decision to forcefully put down the southern rebellion was a mistake. This is not something racist at all. In fact, open slavery as practiced in the states which attempted to secede already was anachronistic at the time of the Civil War. Very likely, slavery soon would have been eliminated in these states even had they been allowed to secede. Moreover, the resentment over the Civil War would not have existed, so perhaps Blacks would have been treated better and the "South" would have been more progressive. In the end, either we would have had a separate nation which would have been relatively backward and poor, but without slavery, much as the southeastern part of the United States is now, or they would have changed their minds and asked to be readmitted to the United States.

As with other wars, it is difficult to estimate the cost of the Civil War, but it was enormous. Over 600,000 people died as a result of the Civil War, mostly young, White males. Blacks were treated with special brutality during the Civil War, and afterward as a result of the Civil War. Much of the nation's infrastructure was ruined, especially in the states that attempted to secede, and the environment took a major hit. A great many other persons suffered wounds with lasting effects, such as lost limbs, bullets which could not be removed, and so forth.

There is a question which cannot be answered, but only guessed at with regard to past courses of actions. That is what would have happened, had a different deision been made. This becomes a philosophical question, since we are not given second chances -- except in fiction -- to change the past. However, we can make some reasonable inferences and educated guesses about what most likely would have happened. That is what I did above regarding the Civil War. We know that slavery officially had been eliminated everywhere else in the world by 1860. Slavery naturally was on its way out, historically speaking. The historical trend was unmistakable and irreversible. The states which attempted to secede from the United States were aberrations, agrarian, somewhat backward places in which the wealthiest elements had become utterly dependent upon the institution of slavery. However, this practice was already viewed as unacceptable everywhere else in the world, including the other states. People were no longer being captured for the purpose of enslavement, or being bought and sold. It is clear that these places would have had to wean themseles of their slavery institution, and give Blacks their freedom, as had been done elsewhere with slaves.

Regarding the reason initially given by Lincoln for going to war against the rebellious states, the preservation of the union, that is a relatively specious argument. We must ask ourselves, is it worth slaughtering our own countrymen to prevent them from forming their own nation? Furthermore, the United States itself had seceded from England, which was a much easier task, since the United States and England were separated by the Atlantic Ocean. Thus, preventing the secession of the so-called southern states seems hypocritical. From history, we know that nations with a common cultural and ethnic origin, as the United States and Confererate States would have been, quickly become close allies. We can assume the same would have been true of the United States and the Confederate States. Further, we know that there is nothing sacred about national boundaries -- although that is a common myth! National boundaries shift fairly frequently, historically speaking, and new nations form, or even merge. Given the commonalities among the various states, chances are high that the confederate states would eventually have reunited with the other states. Whether or not that were to happen, our cultural commonalities would have outweighed our differences, and obviated the need to necessarily force all of the states to act together as a unit. Imagine that a state -- such as Texas -- were to seriously attempt to secede from the United States now. How many of us would be willing to go to war in order to prevent the secession from taking place? Not very many, I hope. We know intuitively that creating such a war would only lead to unnecessary destruction, and would never be worth the price. If a state wishes to secede, I wish it good luck, with confidence that we will be allies and engage in constructive cooperation and relations.

My parents showed me the old, Civil War era black and white photo of an ancestor's brother decked out in his Union Army uniform. His last name was Holmes, and he was a very handsome looking young man. The note on the back of the photo says that he died in a Civil War prison camp, as did many soldiers. I think it said he died in Andersonville, the most notorious of the Confederate prisons. I just stared at the photo in poignant sadness, feeling the tragedy which unnecessarily cut so many young lives short, called the Civil War.

April 25

The Home Front Part 5: Wimpy California Beats Macho Texas

While traveling through the Mohave desert last week on the way to Aha Quin, I could only find one radio station, which had conservative talk on it. The host was interviewing a guest who was a loyal Texan and advocate of all things Texan. Meanwhile, Texas, the state which foisted George W. Bush upon the world, has talk about seceeding from the union, conservatives are already holding "tea parties" in which they claim "taxation without representation," and these topics have become a major conversation stimulus on Thom Hartmann's message boards. All of this gave me the idea to follow up my international comparison with a comparison of my home state, California, the environmentalist-run land of fruity people and wimpy hippie-like peaceniks, with macho, bigger-than-life Texas. I was fairly confident that California would win the comparison on quality of life measures, and I was correct. I feel that California and Texas make a good comparison because they are the two most populous states, and both have relatively diverse populations with a similar ethnic mix. I would remind the reader at this point that this is still a myth of war topic, a point which I will further investigate later.

However, first, allow me to take a look at the statistics I found on the internet comparing California and Texas. According to, on the issue of life expectancy, California rates 10th, at 78.2 years, while Texas rates 30th at 76.7 years. Apparently, that Texas barbecue and chili isn't doing their citizens any good. We Californians and our high-fruit, veggie and seafood laden diet is more sucessful, along with other factors which I will belabor shortly. Just for curiousity's sake, Hawaii, with its largely Asian population and copious seafood, ranks first in life expectancy among the states with a life expectancy of 80.0 years, with another "blue state," Minnesota second at 78.8 and Mormon-dominated (low tobacco and alcohol use, healthy lifestyle), Mormon-socialist, federal government phobic Utah in third at 78.7 (although Utah has a relatively high rape and suicide rates). The states with the worst life expectancies are Lousiana, at 74.2 years, Mississippi, at 73.8, and Washington D.C., ironically enough, last at 72.0, although it is not a state. These places with the worst life expectancy have in common that all of them have high rates of poverty. Another recent comparison of states involving health, at, examined obesity, smoking, binge drinking, helath instrance coverage, air pollution, infectious disease rates, crime levels, and immunization coverage. On this study, California ranked 24th, but Texas came in 46th place -- in other words, the fifth unhealtiest of the 50 states. The healthiest state was Vermont, while the same states with the highest life expectancies, as well as northeastern"blue states" such as New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Maine were also among the healthiest states. The least healthy states were dominated by southeastern, "red staate" including the same states with the worst life expectancy, as well as other "southern" states.

Regarding mental health, I felt that suicide rates are the most reliable statistic, since the diagnosis of depression and other psychological disorders is rather haphazard, depending on many factors affecting the social climate, people's willingness to seek treatment, and the availability of treatment. Also, the only statistics about psychological disorders which I could find were on depression. Regarding suicide, Texas had a somewhat higher rate than California, at 10.6 persons per 100,000, annually, ranking 38th highest. California ranked 42 highest, with a rate of 8.9 persons per 100,000 annually. Thus, both California and Texas rate fairly well on suicide, but California does better. The states with the highest suicide rates are Montana, at 22.0 per 100,000 annually, Nevada, at 19.9, and Alaska, at 19.7, a rather independent minded, capitalistic, fairly "red-looking" group of states, although I think Obama won Nevada. The states with the lowest suicide rates were Rhode Island, at 6.6 per 100,000 annually, New York, at 6.2, and New Jersey, at 6.1, northeastern "blue states" all. Strangely, the Disrict of Columbia had the lowest suicide rate at 6.0 persons per 100,000 annually, despite having the lowest life expectancy. These statistics were from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Although the reporting of rape is also haphazard and unreliable, there is at least some consistency in rape reporting methods throughout the United States. Thus, I decided to do a comparison of rape rates by state, which overlaps mental health and violent crime issues. There was a very large difference in rape rates between California and Texas, with California having an annual rate of 26 per 100,000 residents, while Texas had an annual rate of 37.2 persons per 100,000, according to The lowest rape rate was for Puerto Rico, which isn't really a state, at least not yet, at only 4.3 rapes per 100,000 residents annually. New Jersey is second lowest at 13.9 rapes per 100,000 persons, with West Virginia third at 17.7 per 100,000 persons. The worst rape rates were for Michigan, at 51.3 persons per 100,000, New Mexico, at 54.1 per 100,000, and male-dominated Alaska, by far the worst, at 81.1 per 100,000. Keep in mind that rape statistics are quite unreliable, but the rape rate comparison does favor California.

The one area in which Texas performs relatively well is in crime rates, which surprised me. At Easter dinner, my brother Bruce mentioned how he had gone to Texas in the early 1990s, and happed to talk with Texans who were afraid of carjackings and freeway shootings in California. Bruce said that he looked up homicide rates in Texas and California, and found that the homicide rate in Texas was about twice that of California. The most recent crime statstics I found comparing different states were for 2006, at, and at that time, Texas did relatively well. Overall violent crime rates were 532.5 per 100,000 residents in California, 516.3 per 100,000 residents, in Texas. The homicide rate for California was at 6.8 per 100,000, and 5.9 per 100,000 for Texas. Robbery rates for California were at 194.7 per 100,000 residents, while they were at 158.5 per 100,000 for Texas. However, forcible rape rates in this statistical comparison were similar to the other one, with California's rate at 25.3 per 100,000 residents, and that of Texas at 35.6. Also, California had much lower property crime rates than Texas, with California's rate at 3,170.9 per 100,000 residents, while that of Texas was at 4,081.5 per 100,000. Perhaps Texas puts a relatively high emphasis on crime prevention, which seems to be working reducing rates of overall violent crime, homicide, and robbery, but not in preventing rape or property crime.

The final comparison that I made was that of personal income. Of course, income affects the rates of these other outcomes, but in turn, income is in part a result of a state's political system, and in particular, in the United States, attitudes and regulations involving capitalism. In turn, capitalism relates to the masculine versus feminine distinction of Hofstede, in which masculine places, such as Texas, favor big business, personal glory and wealth, and living to work instead of working to live, while more feminine places, such as California, favor smaller, ground-up businesses, contributions to the general welfare of the public, and working to live instead of living to work. Masculine places such as Texas, also favor military emphasis over a domestic welfare emphasis, as discussed in my previous post, an emphasis which can be seen in the attitudes of George W. Bush and company, as well as the majority of Texans, while California is basically the antiwar headquarters of the United States. Thus, personal income does have a tie to militarism. According to, which shows per capita income statistics, California consistently has higher personal income than Texas. The most recent year reported, 2006, shows that the median per capita income of Californians was $39,626, while that of Texans was $35,166.

This comparison highlights differences between California and Texas, although I noticed that the "red-state," "blue-state" comparison as well, generally favors the progressive, "blue states." An argument may be made that the differences in health, mental health, and crime rates are all related to poverty, and poverty is more common especially among southern, "red states" and rural western "red states." From a psychological perspective, the reason that poverty results in so many mental and physical health problems is that it increases stress, which makes people vulnerable to both mental and physical disorders. The counterargument to that position is that poverty rates largely reflect the politics of a state. States which do a better job of taking care of its citizens generally have a better quality of life, less poverty, and people who can truly enjoy what life has to offer. States which do not do such a good job of taking care of its citizens tend to have militarism, heavy-handed political tactics, and greater exposure to life's sources of misery.

Thinking of Texas in historical terms, it has a past which included slavery, and an attempt by early Texans to form a separate nation. Its recent history includes the pillaging of California by "W"s buddies at Enron, which gave Republicans the opening they used to blame California's problems on the Democrats, remove Democratic governor Davis from office, and get their superhero, muscleman Arnold Schwarzeneggar elected as his replacement. Thus, if I seem to harbor a wee bit of California-style antipathy toward Texas, it is with good reason. With all due apologies to my namesake cousin who lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, if Texas wishes to secede from the United States now, I would let it. It is not worth having a civil war over. Anyway, my cousin and his family are welcome to come here and live with us in sunny, progressive California.

Information Sources:

U.S. States Ranked by Life Expectancy

Vermont Named Healthiest State, Louisiana Last

American Society for Suicide Prevention

Crime Rate by State, 2006

Rape Rate by State

Per Capital Income by State

April 18

The Home Front Part 4: The Cause and Effect Issue

In statistics, which was a minor of mine in graduate school, and which I have taught, there is a saying that "correlation does not imply causation." Thus, even if i find statistically meaningful correlations among nations' military spending, homicide rates, and cultural masculinity, these statistics cannot provide proof that love of things military, military spending, or military emphasis of a nation actually cause homicide rates or other forms of violence to increase. In order to show a causal relationship directly, one would have to perform an experiment, which would require manipulating the suspected causal agent, attitudes toward the military in this case. Obviously, that is not possible. However, there are some ways in which one can narrow the possibilities using logic.

In examining the issue of military spending's relationship to homicide rates, there are three possible causal relationships. One is that military spending causes increased homicide rates (in most cultural groups of nations). The second is that higher homicide rates cause increased military spending in these same groups of nations. The final possibility is that a third variable causes both higher homicide rates and increased military spending. Thus the possibilities are fairly limited. Actually, my thesis is that a third variable, favorable attitudes toward the military, plays a causal role in both higher homicide rates and increased military spending. Of course, the issues and variables involved here are complex, and there are other causes as well, but it makes sense to me that favorable attitudes toward the military are one of the causal factors leading to higher homicide rates and military spending.

What evidence can be used to strengthen my case? One type of evidence is the consistency of the findings across nations. If we find that military spending and homicide rates correlate across nations, at least within a culturally similar group of nations, there appears to be a causal link between the two variables, perhaps in the form of the third, attitude variable (Note to myself: check internet to see if I can find international data on attitudes toward the military.) Another type of evidence involves changing crime rates over time within a nation. When military spending and international tensions increase, do homicide rates also increase? Another relevant question is whether the causes and effects can be mutual.

On the question of consistency across nations, there seems to be fairly supportive evidence for my thesis, although there are a number of anomalous nations. Perhaps when their exact circumstances are better known, they will turn out not to be so inconsistent with my thesis, either. On the questions of whether favorability of attitude toward the military actually predicts military spending and homicide rates, or whether trends over time are consistent with my thesis, doing this post has made me realize that I need to gather evidence on these topics -- clearly a topic for another post. On the question of mutual effects, unfortunately, from the standpoint of simplicity and parsimony, as usual things are not so simple. Military spending and government propaganda can promote, and I suspect has promoted for example in the U.S., more favorable attitudes toward the military. Another complication is that sometimes military spending may occur in response to social unrest and increased homicide rates, but that is relatively uncommon. Basically, when this does happen, these are nations which use the military to put down rebellions, which also gives them an excuse for using force to stay in power. Regarding the possibility that high homicide rates lead people to view the military more favorably, this requires a belief that the military can act as a deterrent to homicide. Since nations normally depend on police, not the military, to protect us from crime and to solve crimes, it seems unikely that the public would feel safer from domestic crime in various nations around the world when more government money is being spent on military uses, except perhaps in those same nations which use the military to put down rebellions. Thus, nations in which major social unrest and rebellion are evident may not follow the same pattern as other, more stable nations.

The point of today's exercise is to provide perspective and caution in interpreting the data, as well as to remind ourselves of clues that might help us to better understand the causes and effects being dealt with regarding these issues. One of the greatest temptations of scientists, espeically social scientists dealing with real-life issues which cannot be experimentally manipulated, is to jump to unwarranted conclusions that support the researchers' own theory about the causes of thoughts, feelings, or behavior. I know that I cannot provide strong evidence of a specific causal link with the data available to me, but if successful, I should be able to show that there is some sort of link among the variables as hypothesized, and that my explanation for the link seems the most plausible one.

p.s. An internet search for information on attitudes toward the military across nations or across time failed to find any useful information. A second note is that humanitarian uses of the military may also result in improved attitudes toward the military, but such efforts by the military are usually very temporary and conducted in response to disasters. Meanwhile, many other agencies also are involved in humanitarian efforts. Moreover, the helpful efforts of the military could either be conducted by soldiers from the same nation as those being helped, or from other nations, as in U.N. efforts, and such efforts probably have no particular relation to increases in military spending.

April 17

This has been Spring Break Week, and I have been busy with "vacationing," fishing, and relatives, but that is a story for another day. I have also spent hours in further research of the topic of how military spending relates to domestic violence and cultural masculinity, enough time to have written several blog posts had I not been finding and poring over international numbers.

The Home Front Part 3: Military Spending, Homicide Rates, and Masculine Culture

If my thesis is correct, a cross-cultural comparison of military spending as a percentage of Gross National Product (representing military emphasis), violent crime rates, and the masculinity of a culture should show a positive correlation. That is, as one goes up, so should the other variables. Moreover, the United States should be toward or at the higher end of all three variables -- percentage of military spending, violent crime rates, and cultural masculinity.

I looked up information on these variables. I also looked for information on rates of domestic abuse in different nations, but apparently none is available. I also looked up international rape rates, but they seem unreliable, as such rates typically are. Also, the information on cultural masculinity versus femininity basically comes from one author Geert Hofstede, whose determination of masculine and feminine cultures seems fairly subjective and only mentions eight nations in the review. However, I find this information rather useful, so I will discuss it.

Examples of nations listed as masculine by Hofstede include Japan, the United States, Germany and Mexico. Nations he lists as Feminine include Finland, Sweden, Costa Rica, and Thailand. Hofstede seems to employ an Industrial Psychology point of view primarily, not a personality point of view. Thus, his criteria for mascuilnity and femininity are not personality based, and thus, not based on ideas such as Sandra Bem's concept of psychological androgyny, as compared with psychological masculinity or femininity, which looks at personality characteristics. Despite this difference, Hofstede's discussion of cultural masculinity and femininity are indeed often confused with Sandra Bem's work on psychological androgyny, masculinity and femininity. Characteristics of masculine cultures include living to work, emphasis on salary over work hours, preference for larger enterprises, lack of permissiveness in attitudes toward drugs, prostitution, and divorce, and a need for recognition of accomplishments as opposed to satisfaction over helping others. Members of masculine societies typically feel that a performance-based society is ideal, and tend to harbor relatively rigid and autocratic ideas oppressive of women regarding family, school, work, politics, and prevailing ideas. Members of feminine cultures tend to work in order to live, not the other way around. They favor a welfare society which, in terms of political systems, is called democratic socialism. In contrast to masculine cultures, members of feminine cultures tend to favor convenient and relatively short work hours, smaller business, permissive attitudes toward social issues such as drugs (at least so-called soft drugs), prostitution, and divorce, and prefer feeling good about helping society over recognition of personal accomplishments.

Examining the nations listed, it seems clear that militarily, the masculine nations tend to be aggressor nations. Japan, Germany, and the United States have all invaded numerous nations over the past century. Only relatively hapless Mexico has not done so during this period. Among the feminine nations, none has shown any international aggression whatsoever over the past century, or their entire histories for all I know. According to my stepdaughter Isabella, who also includes Hofstede's theory in her MBA thesis, Hofstede also includes the world's most populous nation, China, as a relatively feminine one. China has never shown international aggression, either, although it has been a victim of other nations' aggression. Thus, if we take Hofstede's assessment of masculine and feminine cultures as being accurate, the linkage between cultural masculinity and international aggression is very clear. However, looking only at these nations in trying to find a link betweeen cultural masculinity versus femininity and domestic homicide rates, the picture appears muddled. For example, Japan has a very low murder rate, and Germany's is fairly low as well. Meanwhile, Thailand has the highest murder rate in Asia, and Costa Rica's murder rate is also high.

Thus, I expanded my search to various nations worldwide, focusing on the relationship between military expenditures as a percentage of gross national product, with homicide rates, for which fairly reliable data exists. The available data is rather haphazard; many nations are missing data either on military expenditures, or hommicide rates, especially the smaller nations. Most of the larger nations, however, have data on both variables. Unfortunately, I do not have a statistical program on my computer. Isabella does, however. SPSS, the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences, so there may be a chance for me to use it to compute some sort of correlation between military expenditure percent and homicide rate.

Even without the official statistical analysis, I have discovered a very interesting trend in the data, one which largely supports my thesis, but with a caveat. When I divided the world's cultures into six different groups based on cultural similarities, I noticed that among each cultural group of nations, there seems to be a pattern. It appears that for most cultural groups, higher military expenditure rate does indeed correlate to a moderate extent with homicide rates, as predicted. For example, among the English speaking nations, the United States has the highest military expenditure rate, 4.06% of GNP, 27th highest in the world, and the highest homicide rate, 5.6 per 100,000 persons annually, ranked the 50th highest homicide rate in the world. New Zealand, on the other hand, has the lowest rates of both military expenditure, 1.0% of GNP, 139th in the world, and homicide rates, 1.20 per 100,000, 107th in the world, among this group of nations.

The following summarizes my results in comparing the highest and lowest spending nations in terms of percent of GNP on military expenditures, with homicide rates for each of the six cultural groups of nations.


Highest Military Expenditure % of GNP Rank Homicide Rate Rank | Lowest Military Expenditure % of GNP Rank Homicide Rate Rank


United States: ...........................4.06% ...27th.........5.6..........50th | New Zealand:........................ 1.0%.....139th...........1.20.......107th


Russia: .....................................3.9%......29th.......16.5.........20th | Iceland:.................................. 0%.......173rd (last)..1.03........117th


Swaziland: ................................4.7 %.....21st........13.63......21st | Madagascar:........................... 1.0%.....135th...........1.75.........97th

Asia (Orient)

Thailand: ..................................1.8% .....90th.........8.47......32nd | Japan:..................................... 0.8% ....149th..........0.5..........134th

Latin America

El Salvador:.............................. 5%........18th........49.1..........4th | Costa Rica:............................. 0.4%.....164th..........7.68 ........37th

Middle East ("Muslim States")

Oman: ....................................11.4%.....1st............0.59......133rd | Iran:........................................ 2.5%.....66th..........2.93.........66th

I did not know where to include India, the world's second most populous nation, by the way, since culturally, it seems to stand in a category of its own, although I did notice that it has moderate rates of both military spending and homicide. Furthermore, relatively "feminine" China, the world's most populous nation, had relatively low rates of both military spending and homicide.

Examining the table, it shows that the hypothesized pattern of a positive correlation between military spending as percent of GNP and homicide rate, appears to occur in every cultural group of nations, except the Middle East, in which the opposite pattern occurs; in the Middle East, the nations which spend the greatest percent of their money on their military, actually have the lowest murder rates. The two nations shown are not an anomaly, either. For example, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have the second and third highest rates of military expenditure, respectively, but both have very low murder rates, among the lowest in the world. In general, military expenditure rates were highest among Middle Eastern nations, but many of them had very low murder rates, except for Iraq, which has the highest murder rate, presumably due to the chaos caused by the occupation of Iraq by the United States. Moreover, among both African and Latin American nations, murder rates tended to be very high, with military expenditure rates moderate to low, but for the most part, those with the higher military expenditure rates had the higher murder rates, among the highest in the world. European and Asian nations both tended to have moderate to low military spending rates, with relatively low murder rates, with the higher military expenditure rates corresponding for the most part with higher murder rates. English speaking nations had variable rates of both military spending and murder, but among these nations, the pattern of correlation between military spending and murder rates was evident.

Why the Middle East is different I can only speculate about, but my guess is that the combination of Masculinity, domination of these nations by Muslim ideology, and authoritarian government tends to lead to a situation in which the influence of the military acts to actually suppress the aggressive tendencies of men in these nations, thus lowering murder rates. The Middle Eastern nations which are more lax about military spending perhaps also tend to be those which do not do as much to thwart the aggressive tendencies of men. However, in most of the rest of the world, a military presence acts as more of a stimulus to provoke aggression in males, rather than suppressing aggression. The exceptions, from my rather subjective perusal of the available data, seem to be the more authoritarian regimes around the world, where brute force, rather than socialization, act to suppress aggression. In most of the world, however, it is socialization that prevails over brute force as a means of regulating men's behavior.

Of course, murder rates are also affected by social unrest, poverty, national culture, and other factors, so that it is difficult to "tease out" affects of the military on homicide rates from these other factors. Also, it is likely that social unrest and independence movements in some nations cause both murder rates and military spending to increase, so that the social unrest or independence movement may be the cause of the higher murder rates seen in such countries. However, this does not appear to be the case in any of the nations in my comparison above, except possibly Thailand, and seems to be a relatively minor factor in the overall picture. Another possibility is that it is the military that is doing much of the murdering within the nation, if the nation has a large military component. This may also be the case in a few nations, but murder is murder, and the fact that military personnel are commiting murders of their fellow citizens would do nothing to refute my hypothesis.

Given all the possibilities and differences among nations as mentioned above, I actually find it surprising that the international trends, with the exception of the Midddle East and certain other highly autocratic nations, support my thesis so well. Even the exceptions appear to be instructive. A peaceful society can either be achieved through oppression and brute force, it seems, or through appropriate socialization of its citizens. Clearly, socialization and kindness are preferable to oppresion and brute force.

Information Sources:

Masculinity and Femininity: The Taboo Dimension of National Cultures

List of Countries by Military Expenditures

List of Countries by Intentional Homicide Rate

April 9

The Home Front Part 2: Going Postal or Going Military? (Or: This Doesn't Happen in Vietnam)

This topic has been practically burning a hole in my brain for several days, but I have not had a chance to post an entry in that time. With the recent epidemic of mass shootings in the United States, gun control was the main topic of the day on the Thom Hartmann show. I had already taken the topic a step further in my mind and was making connections between gun violence in the United States and military culture.

A parole violator in Oakland kills four policemen before police kill him. A gun-loving young conservative in Pittsburgh is afraid that the Obama administration will take away his guns, which somehow becomes his excuse for killing three policemen. A disgruntled, discouraged, and likely paranoid schizophrenic immigrant from Vietnam walks into an immigration center in Binghamton, New York, and kills 13 people with guns, wounding many others, before taking his own life. (There is also the tragic death of Angels rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart and two of his friends by the actions of a drunken driver last night, but that is a different topic.) Guns don't kill people; people kill people, so the saying goes. Actually, people kill people with guns, and guns make it far too easy for one person to kill other people, a sad result of humankind's millenias of developing better and better weapons.

It seems clear that violence in modern societies has a great deal to do with guns, but what is the connection to the military? For one thing, take a look at the clothing that these people wear while commiting their acts of mass murder. It is not unusual for the perpetrator to be found wearing military apparel. While the common vernacular for such acts has become "going postal," I have yet to see a mass murderer burst upon the scene wearing a postman's uniform. Secondly, look at the demographics of perpetrators of gun violence. The great majority of such crimes are commited by young men, the same demographic that dominates the military. Third, and most importantly, when rates of gun violence around the world are compared, the United States looks very poor in this regard. It's murder-by-gun rate is about 7 times higher than that in other industrialized nations, as well as much higher than that in most unindustrialized nations, I believe. The only nations which rival the violence of the United States are nations at war or in which there is considerable internal strife, such as our neighbor to the south, Mexico, with its many years of conservative rule, extreme disparity of wealth, desperate people who depend on the illicit drug trade for money, and its consequent drug wars. The United States shares some of Mexico's problems, but in contrast to Mexico, enjoys a much greater standard of living. Yet, the United States is still is plagued by high murder rates.

In order to make a case for my thesis, I will need some statistical evidence, and it is my plan to look for that in the near future, and present it on this blog. However, to state my thesis clearly does not require that. I postulate that several factors actually contribute to the high rate of violence, whether by guns or otherwise, in the United States. One is a tradition of gun ownership. Another is a tradition of "rugged individualism." But a third is a history of war and military violence. Cultures differ in masculinity or, in other words, their "macho factor." The United States is one of the more masculine cultures. (Thus, we have still been denied the privilege of having a female President, for instance.) More masculine cultures tend to have higher rates of violence, and also tend to be more miltary-oriented, as well as more likely to invade vulnerable nations. For example, Japan is a relatively masculine nation compared to its Asian neighbors, such as China, and thus in the early 1900s Japan invaded its neighbors. Mexico is also a rather "macho" nation. In fact, Mexico is where the term "macho" originated. Thus, it is plagued by high levels of violence, although it is too weak as a nation to muck about in other nations by invading them militarily, as does the United States. On the other hand, violence rates are very low in China and in the Scandanavian nations, which are psychologically relatively "feminine" nations.

The second part of my thesis, concerning homegrown violence in the United States, is that the United States has grown "too big for its britches," so to speak, especially since it's overseas adventures in World Wars I and II. As mentioned in previous posts, our military has become a source of great pride for many Americans. Whenever a nation must depend upon its military to provide a sense of pride, I stipulate that such a nation is in great trouble, and that is what has happened in the United States. Americans have become egotistical, in my opinion, in a militaristic and hegemonistic way. There is a spillover effect from military life into civilian life. Such military-fed attitudes affect the behavior of those who are most vulnerable to such messages, such as young men whose lives have been failures. Perhaps they have accomplished little in their lives, and perhaps done much wrong, but at least they can be proud to be Americans. And if they need people to blame for their failures, other than themselves, they can always find a gun and a scapegoat at which to take aim. To these murderers, I suppose it seems much like pretending they are in the army, shooting their enemies during time of war.

April 4

The Home Front Part 1

Yesterday Time magazine, to which I subscribe, came. Among the articles was one about how there has been a relative epidemic of army recruiters who have committed suicide in recent months. In particular, the article described how one recruiter told the wife of another, that he was okay, but tired, when she expressed concern for him. That evening, he hung himself. Six weeks after his funeral, the woman's army recruiter husband also killed himself. Moreover, suicides among military personnel have skyrocketed to all-time highs, which is particularly distressing since the military is now all-volunteer. If young men were being drafted, presumably the suicide rate would be even higher.

Suicides among military personnel are thus a growing problem, but actually that is not really what this blog entry is about. The larger question here is how a military culture of war, which has emerged in the United States, effects the behavior of people not at war, or occupying another nation, but civilians and military personnel here in the United States. In the same issue of Time, in a sort of Karmic coincidence, there is a psychologically oriented article about techniques that behavioral researchers have learned are effective in shaping people's behavior.

To summarize the article, there are 4 techniques which greatly influence people's behavior:

1. Good Information and Clear Directions: These help people to make better decisions;

2. Making it Easy to do the Right Thing, such as making what people should be doing the default option: People tend to be mentally lazy and full of inertia, cognitive mizers to use the term coined by Social Psycholigist Shelley Taylor;

3. Make it Popular: People are largely creatures of conformity, so that if they think it is "what everybody is doing," they are more likely to join and do the same;

4. Make it Mandatory; If the other techniques don't work, people with their mental inertia tend to not only accept mandates, but allow them to shape their attitudes to match the mandates. For example, when people are all required to recycle, they come to think of recycling as a proper and important thing to do.

Of these techniques, the first two have essentially no downside. Making something seem popular, on the other hand, may seem duplicitous, and furthermore, seems to encourage conformity, something that in my opinion, should not be encouraged except to the extent that people need to communicate and cooperate in order for a society to run smoothly. However, the make it popular approach definitely works. The final technique, making something mandatory, may seem draconian at times, but there are some behaviors which should be mandatory, or others which should be banned; these are called laws.

What does all of this information have to do with the effects of militarism on United States' culture? If we focus on behavioral change technique number 3 for a moment, it becomes clear that support for military activities has become a popular attitude in the United States, and in fact, has been for quite some time. In fact, the military has become so akin to the sacred cows of Hindu culture, that one must be careful about what one says about the military. A great many Americans, especially those who have family members serving in the military, are very sensitive to any sign of criticism of the military. Critiquing the military is somewhat akin, for such people, to referring to an African-American by a racial slur. Thus, the United States has become a nation of conformists when it comes to supporting the concept of a strong, internationally active, inordinately expensive military force, while not always in favor of specific military ventures, particularly the situation in Iraq. The politically correct thing to do is not to criticize anything else about the military, other than such political missteps in the use of the military by our leaders. This entire series about war is a politically incorrect, but morally correct attempt to encourage the adoption of a new paradigm about war and the military. Looking at techniques one and two, these also have favored military expansion as a part of the United States' culture. Information about the military is often kept secret for the sake of "national securiy," or just because military personnel and political leaders become paranoid and are afraid to disclose information. Even media coverage of what the military is doing is usually skewed and biased in favor of the United States, especially during critical stages prior to and during the early period of a conflict. Thus, the public typically lacks good information about the military's activities, making good decision making difficult. Regarding technique number two, making it easy to do the right thing, it has not been easy to do the right thing, when the right thing is protesting against government policy. When people have to make large signs, show up at rallies, and speak out bravely and loudly to speak their conscience, it becomes quite a chore. This is civil disobedience, which is considered a sign of a high level of moral development, but it is not an easy thing to do. Nor is it easy to risk social rejection or even being ostracized and shunned by complaining about the structure of society in regards to the military, or complaining about how large a part of our culture the military has become.

Next time, in The Home Front Part 2, I will discuss the role of the military in violent crime occuring in the United States.

April 3

Mr. Tamanaha

I previously mentioned my neighbors from Okinawa. Five people live next door, Doreen and her husband, Ben, Doreen's parents Shin and Mabel Tamanaha, and Doreen's brother, Charlie. Shin (probably short for Shintaro) and Mabel are from Okinawa, in remarkable health for their age. Shin is 91 years old, while his wife Mabel, is an "older woman" at 92 years old. As it turns out, all of them went to Las Vegas today, except for Shin, Doreen's father. Shin said he doesn't like gambling. (I am pretty much with him on that one.)

Due to his age, Doreen asked Eunice and I to watch over Shin and keep him company. A while ago, Eunice and I went over to Shin's house -- well, yard, actually, where he was sitting on a stool, preparing leaves for composting. My wife, Eunice, greeted Shin in Japanese, since Eunice knows some Japanese, pointed to Shin's ear, and joked "long life, you see, long ears." I asked Shin about how he came to the United States, thinking he was born in Okinawa. "No" Shin informed me "I was born in Hawaii, but when I was a child, I went back to Okinawa with my family, and went to school there." But he related to me that the war came, and had he turned 19 in Okinawa "they would have put me in the army." Thus, when we was 18 years old, he went back to Hawaii. Since he is 91 yrears old, Shin would have been born around 1918, and returned to Hawaii around 1936 to avoid being conscripted into the Japanese military.

Six years later, when he would have been approximately 23-24 years old, Pearl Harbor was attacked. Shin related to me that "December 8, the police came and interrogated all of us. Which side are you on? Who do you want to fight for? They asked all sorts of questions. They wanted to test our loyalty."

"Did they ever send you to an internment camp?" I asked. "No, we got an exemption. We worked on the sugar plantations -- farming you know -- so we were lucky." Apparently Shin was referring to his family. "But every year 1 or 2 people I knew were deported to the concentration camp -- teachers, doctors, more educated people."

"Why were they singled out?" I asked. "Did the police not like the answers to their questions?"

"That's right; the police suspected they were disloyal," Mr. Tamanaha told me, sounding puzzled. Isn't it tragic how the most educated always seem to be singled out, even in the United States, as malcontents and traitors? Echoing Shin's terminology -- concentration camps -- I concluded "That's such a shame they put those people in the concentration camps."

It wasn't only the well-educated who were sent to internment camps (as the U.S. government calls them), though. According to my mother, when she was growing up in Glendale, California, there used to be many Japanese-American gardeners, but they all suddenly disappeared shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, apparently sent northward to Manzanar Internment Camp, in the Owens Valley just East of some of the tallest mountains in California.

Since our little interview seemed to be over, Shin said "Wait a moment. I can give you some of my brother's cookies." Usually, it is Shin's wife Mabel who brings cookies, cake, Japanese crackers and sushi, and homegrown fruit and veggies to our house, but not this time. Shin got up from the stool, went inside, and soon returned with a bag full of cookies. "My brother made these himself." I wondered how old Shin's brother was, but thought better of asking that. I thanked Shin for the cookies and we continued to talk about a variety of topics -- the Salton Sea, Tilapia, Hawaii, Las Vegas, gambling, gardening. Then Eunice and I took a tour of the yard with Shin. There were many plants which were doing very well, mostly in pots. Shin pointed up the dry hill behind his family's house, and informed us that he had cleared the brush and weeds from almost two acres. They live on a sloping area at the base of a mountain, with a wilderness park behind their property. It is remarkable to think of all the work this 91 year old man has done on his family's property. Even at his age, Shin seems focused on the present and the future, not the past.

I can't help but think that but for a fortunate accident of birth, that is, the fact that Shin was born in Hawaii, he probably would have been conscripted into the Japanese army. He would have been an "enemy" soldier, and perhaps killed or maimed in the fighting, another victim of the second World War. As it was, he moved back to Hawaii just to escape the war. But the war followed him there. And all there years later, here is this kind old man, my friendly and generous neighbor, Shin Tamanaha. I also can't help but think that the vast majority of the people that Americans have fought, were no more my enemy than is Mr. Tamenaha. For that matter, the vast majority of so-called "enemies" in any war are in all likelihood, not really enemies, but rather, victims of circumstance. Thus it has always been, and thus it always will be.

P.S. I asked Mr. Tamanaha's permission to put his story on the internet, to which he graciously agreed.

April 4 Postscript

Eunice and I spoke with Mr. Tamanaha a short while ago, once again in his garden where he was working again. In the course of the conversation, Mr. Tamenaha mentioned that he and Mabel got married in 1940. "Then the war came," he added. "We had to turn all the lights off every night. Otherwise, maybe the Japanese airplanes would see and bomb us. We called that the careful time. We had to have a police escort if we went out between about 7 at night and 7 in the morning."

"Did everyone have to stay inside at night, or just Japanese?" I asked referring to people of Japanese descent. "Only Japanese" Shin replied. "Everybody else could go outside at night."

Meanwhile, our beautiful Calico cat, Gorjilina, approached Mr. Tamanaha and started "talking" cheerfully as though she wanted to join the conversation, what my mother would refer to as "cuting off" (as in showing off cutely). Mr. Tamanaha petted her and she was rubbing against him and presumably purring, a scene of domestic tranquility.

April 1

Let me see. Where was I in my series before I got sidetracked? Now I remember...

The Arms Race Problem

Much of the history of war amounts to a history of weapons innovations. One of the great temptations to start a war, in my opinion, results from the development of new weapons. Ironically, many weapons have been developed for defensive purposes, or hunting purposes, in the past, but once they exist, they give leaders reason to think that a war campaign will be successful. That is because the side with the best weapons generally "wins" a war. For example, small bands of European men with guns, such as Cortez, were able to defeat large armies of Native Americans, enslave Africans, and so forth, who were not in possession of such weapons. More advanced weapons far outweigh the effects of experience, bravery, morale, motivation, et cetera in determining the outcome of a conflict. Arrows best clubs, Horses beat foot soldiers, guns beat arrows, bombs beat guns, vehicles beat Horses, airplanes beat motor vehicles, unmanned airplanes beat manned ones, and, nuclear weapons destroy everything. In fact, the idea that "good fighting men" make a huge difference in war is yet another war myth. Such factors may make a difference when the combatants have relatively equal weapons technology. When the combatants' weapons are relatively similar, such as during the Civil War, is also when the greatest carnage is likely to occur.

On the other hand, over time, distressingly, weapons have become more and more lethal. Yet the temptation to use them, or at least to use massively destructive weapons as a sort of bargaining chip, remains. Every time the United States becomes involved in a conflict, with its active weapons invention and production programs, there seem to be a wide variety of new weapons and military devices which are used for the first time. The United States military is sort of a massive playground for military technology. The more the nation is involved in military actions, the more effort goes into military technology, and the more effort that goes into military technology, the greater the temptation to find a situation in which to use it. Thus, the great arms race continues, with the United States leading the way, and our government becomes stuck in the vicious cycle of the arms race. Somehow, the arms race must end; it is an unsustainable process.

How, precisely, are we to end the arms race, and the temptation to use advanced weapons? In short, our politicians will have to learn to restrain themselves to avoid giving into the temptation to expand the American Empire and use their potential new military toys. We are going to have to put the emphasis on disarming ourselves, not on preventing other nations from arming themselves. As long as the United States is armed "to the teeth," there will be other nations which view us as a threat, or claim to in order to justify their own militarization. Nations such as North Korea use nuclear weapons as bargaining chips, Israel as a threat to Arab nations, and so forth, all enabled by the massive nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia. In order to achieve a world without nuclear weapons, we will need to make sincere efforts to disarm our own arsenal, linked with other nations' own disarmament of their nuclear weapons, and with well-regulated, internationally coordinated and organized verification processes. Otherwise, the United States will continue to be hypocritical when talking tough about preventing nations such as Iran from developing nulear weapons, or asking North Korea from ridding themselves of theirs. If a rogue nation or terrorist organization were to secretly develop nuclear weapons, it would first, draw worldwide condemnation and coordinated efforts to deal with the problem, and second, if need be, it would not take long for a nation such as the United States to build more nuclear weapons, since American scientists already know how to make them. However, I would not recommend that any nation make more nuclear weapons, including the United States. That would probably only initiate another arms race. If we are to create a world without war, we ultimately must learn to trust other nations, and trust that the leaders of every nation know that their own aggression would only end up hurting themselves.

March 22

The Priorities Argument

There is something I don't understand about nationalism's link to war. When people mention their priorities, most people appropriately mention several other priorities above nation. In fact, one's nation comes pretty far down the list. Many people list God as their first priority. Other, more secular sorts list humanity as their first priority. Family-oriented people often list their family as their first priority. And of course, "me first" people tend to list themselves as their first priority, as in "looking out for number one." Some people would even list the environment or helping animals as their first priority. Whether a person's top priority in life is thought of in macro terms, such as God, humanity, or the environment, or more micro, personal terms, such as family or self, one's nation is usually not a top priority. We talk about national issues a lot, and the well-being of our nation is of some importance, but it not as macro as God, humanity, or the environment, and not as personal as family or self.

I suppose this is the reason why justifications for war often range into God territory. No politician or aspiring politician can argue that war is humanitarian without sounding crazy. Nor can they argue that being uprooted and risking one's life by going to war is good for oneself or one's family. War is invariably and wantonly destructive to the environment, plant and animal life. This only leaves appeals to Godliness and nationalism as potential justifications for war, among the above options. A potential war is framed as either something that God wants -- the "God is on our side" quip -- or needed to protect one's nation somehow. There are other justifcations which have been given for war. For example, the preservation of a "way of life" argument was used more or less during the American Revolution, and more explicitly by the South during the Civil War, but this is a special subcategory of nationalism used to help create a new nation. Joining a war already in progress in order to come to the aid of allies was done by the U.S. in World Wars I and II. Such an argument also evokes high-minded rationales to the effect that it is God's will that the nation go to war. George W. Bush's administration even argued that by invading Iraq, they were preventing Iraq from going to war against other nations such as Israel, and deploying its "weapons of mass destruction" against them, an argument that turned out to be ludicrous. In any case, there always seems to be nationalism and/or religion behind calls to war.

My counterargument, then, is that, if we are honest, humanity, Godliness, family and self come ahead of nationalism as individual priorities. Politicians attempt to distort people's priorities when they ask people to go to war. Who would choose to die for one's nation over dying to benefit humanity as a whole, or because one thought it was God's will? When nations go to war, make no mistake, it is the nation that soldiers are fighting for. Both sides may see their cause as noble; both sides may think that God is on their side, and that their actions will benefit humanity as a whole. This is a great irony of war. Both sides cannot be noble; both cannot have God on their side, and war cannot benefit humanity by destroying it. In fact, it is politicians and their nations which create war, and it is politicians and nations for which soldiers fight. It is time to finally get our priorities straight, and not let politicians lead us down the deceptively rosy path to war. Just as even conservatives agree that bad ideologies should be ultimately doomed to failure, as discussed in the previous post, conservatives can generally agree that their are higher priorities than one's nation, priorities such as living a Godly life, helping humanity, or even working for one's family. People of all types of political convictions should be able to agree on these issues, and help humanity end the scourge of war.

March 21

Good Ideas: How the World Really Changes

This is a topic which I have written about before, but not spefically applied to war. I suppose there is a debate among historians about whether it is ideas or events which drive world history. There is also a debate about whether events are essentially random or not.

I have expended considerable mental energy thinking about these issues. It seems to me that the universe operates in a fundamentally diferent way on the micro and macro levels. On the micro level, there is a seeming randomness and even chaotic nature to events. For example, subatomic particles randomly vibrate, according to string theory, go one way or the other, or both at the same time, curve when they are suposed to go straight (such as light going through two small holes which illuminate 3 places, one directly behind each hole, but also one spot halfway between the two holes). Atoms and molecules seem to randomly move around in air or liquid, faster when there is more kinetic energy (higher temperatures). There is an order to things at the micro level, but what one sees is mostly chaos. Events in the life of a human can be viewed the same way. On a day to day basis, we experience a myriad of random events. Furthermore, some of the events which have the greatest impact on our lives are random. One may meet one's future spouse as a result of a random event. Accidents and tragedies which end lives or negatively impact lives often seem random. Even our existence, as opposed to some other potential human being, seems random. Why did a particular sperm join with that particular egg, out of all the potential sperm or eggs of your parents, which resulted in you? Unless one is a believer in a divine micromanager, that event seems random. There are many believers in a divine micromanager, especially among fundamentalist Christians, and especially when it comes to human events, but an examination of the facts reveals divine micromanagement to be an impossibility. The simplest two ways to put it are that: 1. There would be no free will if God decided everything, and 2. Nothing bad would ever happen; there would be no genetic diseases, devastating accidents, and so forth, because a good God who controls everything and makes everything happen, would not make such things happen.

Clearly, we have free will, and bad events, as well as good ones, happen. In my mind, the randomness of micro events is linked to both free will and the variety of good and bad outcomes which occur, although I am not sure of the exact nature of that link. I do know that randomness allows us room to operate and exercise free will, to choose one path or another at one's own whim. At the macro level, however, there is a much greater order to the universe. There are the seven universal constants, without which, the universe as we know it would not exist. There are galaxies, stars, and planets in generally orderly arrays obeying orderly principles. Chemistry, physics, and even biology seem to obey orderly principles when viewed at the macro level. Human lives also obey orderly psychological principles at the macro level. We generally seek happiness, reward, comfort, achievement and recognition, and generally avoid misery and punishment. Even though human relationships may seem to begin randomly, they develop their own order. At the cultural level, people organize themselves according to divisions of labor and innovations which promote the survival and harmony of the group.

Thus, this observation of micro chaos but macro order applies to human history as well as nature. There is a progressive orderliness to human history. There is technological (scientific), cultural, spiritual, and biological evolution. Scientific knowledge continuously progresses, human rights are better supported as time goes on, people ask more and more fundamental spiritual questions, and begin to come up with tentative answers, and we continue to biologically adapt, breed and hybridize in our rapidly changing world. What drives the change we observe in our world? I assert that the scientific, cultural, and spiritual progress of humanity is driven by ideas. Furthermore, although more biological evolution may be occuring than we realize among humans, we are in a period dominated by scientific, cultural and spiritual evolution, more so than biological evolution. Scientific, cultural, political, philosophical, and spiritual ideas drive our progress. Good ideas ultimately win out over bad ideas.

When we apply this thinking to the issue of war, we can see that: 1. War has become a less common state of affairs over time; war is generally a bad idea; 2. Wars are often started over political, religious, or cultural ideas; however, since good ideas are destined to eventually become the norm, spreading flawed, lousy ideas through war may lead to temporary success, but ultimately, is doomed to failure; 3. For similar reasons, the use of military force to stop the spread of doomed ideologies is also likely to be a destructive and ultimately useless exercise, since poor ideologies will eventually collapse on their own. While the use of force to stop hated ideology is tempting, and may be power giving and emotionally satisfying, as in the case of the United States interventions in the two world wars, and may stop bad ideology more quickly than other methods, it is ultimately a (randomly) destructive and unnecessary activity, with unfortunate, harmful long-term consequences.

I cannot overemphasize these last 3 points. In large part, they are the crux of the argument I am making regarding the futility of war. My next post will address what I call the priorities argument.

March 18


According to my Random House Webster's School and Office Dictionary, pacifism is the "opposition to war or violence as a method of settling disputes." Before I? saw this, I was ready to write I am not a true pacifist. However, this definition is so broad that anyone who does not agree with the notion of military solutions. That makes me a pacifist. As has often been pointed out, if no one ever started a war, there would never be any wars. Starting a military action is never the best course of action. It ends up leaving more problems than there were in the beginning. However, a nation does have the right to self-defense. When invaded, when the victim of aggression, and when its citizens are dying at the hands of foreign armies, the only choices are passive resistance, or actively opposing the violence with violence of one's own. In this case, no one can blame people for defending themselves. Even so, some people insist on engaging in only passive, non-violent resistance. It is therse people who lead to the misperception of pacifism. This refusal to engage in self-defense is a more extreme form of pacifism, much as veganism (the refusal to eat anything that came from an animal, including milk, cheese or eggs), is a more extreme form of vegetarianism.

As stated above, I am not opposed to self-defense. Passive resistance may ultimately work, but obviously, it takes longer than active resistance. Although I suspect that passive resistance eventually works better, the question of which works better is an empirical matter, which sadly, has not really been answered, since cases of passive resistance are so rare. The passive resistance to the occupation of Tibet by China is the best current example that I can think of. This is a strange example, in that, China has a long history of granting autonomy or semi-autonomy to various regions and ethnic minorities. Why the Chinese government is so intolerant of Tibetan culture is puzzling. Perhaps it has something to do with the dominance of Bhuddism in Tibetan culture. Bhuddism is also the driving force behind Tibet's passive, as opposed to active, resistance to Chinese occupation and governance of Tibet. Clearly, Tibet has gained considerable international sympathy and support. I suspect that eventually, the situation will be resolved peacefully. However, the situation has not improved much over the years. There are still frequent reports of Chinese persecution of Tibetans, and even the murder of those who try to flee Tibet.

There is also the question of human nature. The answer to this question is not as simple as it seems. To individuals who grow up in a culture with a history of violence, it seems that responding in kind to violence is natural. However, that is not necessarily the case. In fact, people very commonly endure great injustices and even violence. Examples are numerous. The history of slavery shows that people can be kept under total control by others. So does the history of sexism and the abuse of women. Some cultures avoid violence at all costs. Who is to say that these cultures are less natural than warlike cultures. Tibet is one example. The native Hopi culture of the American southwest is another example. Even the relatively civil behavior of people in a democracy such as that here in the United States, shows a tolerance of uncomfortable conditions in favor of using democratic processes to effect change. If vehement disagreement with government policies were cause for violent protest, the United States would have been engaged in a civil war these past eight years. Fortunately, citizens of the United States have managed to resolve the situation peacefully.

Another question is that of whether nations should join wars which are already being waged in order to support their allies. Once again, this suggests that some sort of superior military solution can be attained by military intervention. I would suggest that the same arguments in favor of passive resistance apply here. I will detail this argument further in future posts. Basically, such intervention results in the escalation of conflict. This is how we got World War I and World War II. Yes, enemies were quickly defeated, but at enormous human, environmental and economic cost. In fact, it was World War I which led to World War II. Thus, contrary to conventional thinking, I would argue that military intervention by the United States was a colossal mistake, one which miltarized the United States and turned our nation into an empire which oppresses people's around the world. Again, I will detail my reasoning, which agrees with the recent conclusions of a number of historians, in future posts.

A related question concerns the difference between a war and an occupation. My dictionary defines an occupation as "the seizure and control of a territory by military forces." Occupations are military actions which empires engage in. Occupations are actions which the United States engages in. If there is active resistance, they are mislabelled as "wars" by our government, but the situations in Afghanisan and Iraq are clearly occupations, not wars. Either way, starting a war, or an occupation, is never justified, and implies a belief in military solutions. The presence of the United States' military bases around the world are another, less extreme form of occupation. Nonetheless, it represents a form of control over or at least influence over foreign nations in the guise of offering military protection to these nations. It winds up in oppressing foreign citizens, at the same time our government hypocritically claims to be promoting freedom around the world. At one time, the presence of such military bases may have seemed to serve a function of protecting certain nations from invasion, but such times have long passed, yet the bases are still there. Nations with no U.S. military bases have not been invaded -- my wife's home nation of Taiwan, for example -- even those which suffer the greatest potential threat. These bases are clearly there to influence other nations through fear so that they do not oppose U.S. policy. If some nation were invaded, and the U.S. government were commited to protecting that nation, it would not take long for the U.S. to send airplane, ships and troops from the U.S. to the affected region. However, diplomatic and moral support would most likely be a more appropriate response. I will continue this topic in future posts.

March 16

I Think I'll Sit This War Out

I have a confession to make: I would make a terrible soldier. Actually, I have written somewhat about this previous, but now, I am being explicit. Trying to make a soldier out of me is somewhat akin to strapping a bat to the head of a deer, putting in in a batter's box, and calling it a baseball player. The thing is, I feel the same has been true historically of most military conscripts. They didn't really belong there. In fact, even with the current all-volunteer army, I suspect this is true of many people. I mentioned previously how studies of soldiers during World War II found that most of them never fired their guns at the enemy; they were basically trying to survive. Now, military recruits receieve extensive training to ensure that they have no qualms about using their weapons; without such training, many of them most likely would still avoid using their weapons. Thus, my reluctance to engage in agression -- I've never been in a fight, although I have successfully dealt with bullies by showing them my disapproval -- is not unusual.

Soldiers are the most common victims of war. They are forced to engage in acts of violence against people such as themselves -- people they really have nothing against except that they happen to belong to the opposition by accident of birth. This is not natural in the state of human affairs, even though it has been going on for a long time. Ask any policeman who is likely to be the perpetrator of a violent crime against some victim, and the policeman, or policewoman, will tell you the perpetrator is very likely someone who knows the victim and has a personal grudge against the victim. In fact, the perpetrator most likely is someone who knows the victim very well, most likely a relative. Violence by strangers is relatively rare. Other than the actions of serial killers, or criminals who impulsively shoot people during the commission of a crime, attacks on strangers are unusual.

I tried to look up psychological characteristics of soldiers, and found that basically, there is little to separate them from their non-soldier compatriots. The only thing I could find was that a study found that male fighter pilots tended to have higher levels extraversion and lower levels of agreeableness than males who were not fighter pilots. This study give over 1300 fighter pilots the NEO questionnaire, which is the questionnaire which measures Costa and McCrae's Big Five Theory of Personality -- Extraversion vs. Introversion, Neuroticism vs. Emotional Stability, Openess to Experience vs. Closed Mindedness, Agreeableness vs. Disagreeableness, and Conscientiousness vs. Irresponsibility. This is the trait theory which has gained the most traction in recent years among personlity researchers. Other links I saw mentioned no major differences found in personality between civilians and military personnel. Some of these studies used other measures of personality rather than the NEO. Thus, although perhaps the proper personality characteristics to differentiate the person who wants to be a career military member from one who would never want to join the military might have yet to be found, it appears that there is indeed little difference between the personalities of military personnel and that of civilians, even military personnel in an all-volunteer military.

The more I think about that, the more sense that makes. People are enticed to join the military for a variety of reasons, including among others, patriotism, family history, exposure to military propaganda, and the need for a job in an economy which may have few options for many young people. Basically, though, military personnel are just like the rest of us, except they tend to be young men. When they are put at risk, as well as when they are made to do things that, outside of war, one would associate with violent criminals, they deserve our sympathy, and even pity. During situations such as the present overseas military engagements of the U.S. soldiers at the very least, have their lives disrupted, and at the most, a soldier may come home dead, maimed or psychologically scarred for life.

Finally, I would add that we should feel the same way toward the opposition -- those who are compelled to fight our mighty military forces, and even more so, those civilians who happen to get in the way of the fighting, the innocent bystanders whose lives are ruined or ended -- those who become part of the collaterol damage. We need to treat all human beings with dignity and compassion, soldier or civilian, countryperson or foreigner. Given the destructiveness of war, I would suggest the appropriate attitude toward war, unless under immediate attack, to be "I think I'll sit this war out."

March 14


Vengeance is an emotion which movie-makers consistently take advantage of. Yesterday the last episode of a Chinese series my wife watched, "Beyond the East" was shown. It was about a Chinese family in northern China in the early 1900's. Of course, I would often watch it, too, and practice my Chinese as there were no subtitles. This was actually one of the most engrossing Chinese series Eunice has seen over the years. If we went somewhere, as we did yesterday when we went fishing, Eunice was always anxious to get home before 7 p.m. when "Beyond the East" started, while enduring numerous jokes about how "urgent" we were to get home.

The series included lots of topics; sometimes there was fighting, but it was not a show about war. However, during the final episode, the focus was on the invasion of northern China by the Japanese. In the episode, the family's son, Tong-Wu, was a soldier fighting the Japanese invasion. Fatally wounded, he managed to throw a grenade beneath a Japanese tank and blow it up. Later, while the family was mourning the death of Tong-Wu, a group of about 6 Japanese soldiers came to Tong-Wu's house to confiscate it and their belongings. The family had prepared for this event, so Tong-Wu's fiance came out of the house and shocked the Japanese by shooting and killing several of them, using various fancy athletic maneuvers to avoid their return fire. Finally, one of the men shot the Japanese officer, the head "bad guy," who is always the last to go. Eunice remarked that he was "very evil," so it was very satisfying to see him get killed. So it is with vengeance on film. Of course, the fact that the Japanese leader was "very evil" did not mean all of the soldiers who served under him were as well. But when we portray war, we paint with a very broad brush.

The story somewhat mythologizes what happened during the Japanese invasion of China, and is thus very misleading, a theme which I have noticed before. It is as though the Chinese wish to rewrite history so that they win against the Japanese this time. This rewriting of war history is a very common occurence worldwide, I believe, so I am not singling out the Chinese in this regard. In fact, American filmakers are probably the worst offenders in this regard, since the United States has the largest and most experienced film industry. I could write an entire series just about the portrayal of war, or violence, on film, and someday I believe I will, but that is not my purpose at the moment.

As an objective accounting of history informs us, the Japanese were successful in taking over and occupying China, for several decades. They did meet resistance, but their losses were relatively minor; otherwise, they never would have been able to occupy a much larger nation such as China. The fact is, the power struggle among the Chinese, between the imperial forces, the Kuomintang who represented the democracy movement, and the communists, as well as Chinese concerns over European domination, all acted to make China very vulnerable during this period, and distracted the Chinese from having an organized response to Japanese aggression. Scenes of Chinese soldiers beating back the Japanese, much less ordinary Chinese women slaughtering Japanese troops, is a vengeance fantasy which rarely, if ever, occurred in reality.

As citizens of the world, we need to question such movie-making tactics, or similar propagandistic efforts by governments. We also need to examine our own feelings, including our vulnerability to the satisfying emotion of vengeance. We need to ask ourselves, who is really being made to suffer? How many innocent lives are being lost or permanently scarred in order to exact a toll of vengeance? When we do so, we find that acting out of vengeance is not worth it. In my view, what happened in the U.S. following 9/11 also reflected a President and his administration giving in to the need for vengeance, with the approval of the majority of a vengeful nation, although myself, family and friends were not included in that bloodthirsty majority. When the circumstances are the most dire, there is the greatest need for reason, to calm down and rationally assess the situation, and to use diplomacy to target those responsible for the harm done to us. And we must continue to be persons guided by compassion, not vengeance. Perhaps if Hollywood had not found vengeance to be so profitable, perhaps if movie producers were not so consumed with vengeance, our nation would not have been so vengeful, either. As does war, movies also paint the world with far too broad a brush.

March 13

Redefining War

I have presented the background material for my thesis which redefines war from a psychological perspective. Now, it is simply a matter of drawing conclusions and redefining war.

To be blunt, war is government sponsored murder and mayhem. There are a variety of factors which make war acceptable and even popular in the eyes of citizens. Among these are:

1. Tradition;

2. Stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination directed against a nation's opponents;

3. Cognitive dissonance, especially effort justification making people overestimate the benefits of war;

4. Nationalism, which creates national pride but also allows the derogation of foreigners and a sense of competition among nations;

5. National creation and strength myths based on war victories;

6. Religious creation and strength myths also based on war victories;

7. War advertising, including government propaganda or various kinds;

8. Media complicity, fueled by the profitability of war movies which perpetuate the national creation and strength myths;

9. Honoring the military and military service, creating a cult of war in which military institutions thrive;

10. The government sponsored myth that "Freedom isn't free;"

11. Appealing to peoples' need to "prove themselves," particularly young men;

12. Tangible benefits of conquest, the so-called "spoils of war" that go to the victors.

All of these factors create a psychological aura concerning war which justifies war as a unique process independent of normal life, one in which reality is suspended in a sense, and the usual rules of life do not apply. Killing the enemy is perceived as a good thing. It is not perceived as killing, but rather some sort of just punishment of evil persons. Even the killing of innocent civilians who of the same nationality as the enemy is viewed dismissively. War represents a breakdown of any semblance of civility. Not only does war cause people to disregard the decent treatment of human beings; it also results in disregard for the decent treatment of the environment, plant and animal life. In short, war makes everyone suffer, including the soldiers who are wars' main victims.

I repeat, war is government sponsored murder and mayhem. Participants in war are allowed to kill and maim other humans, while destroying the local environment, all with nearly complete impunity. Governments want their soldiers to do their government's dirty work, with impunity; otherwise, they would never be able to sell their wars. The word "war" itself is a psychological redefinition of aggression and destruction. Now is the time to actually undefine war, redefining it in terms of its essential elements of raw aggression.

Coming up will be discussions of how to feel about war and soldiers, and what to do about war.

March 11

I have been sick with the flu these past several days, so it has been difficult for me to get anything done. Fortunately, I am now greatly improved.

The Employer of Last Resort

For ages, the military has been the employer of last resort, especially for young men. In order to get soldiers, governments have either conscripted young men into the army against their will, or offered them incentives to join, either financial, or the spoils of war. Often, people with shady backgrounds, who most likely would not be welcomed into other professions, find the military a ready employer.

Things really haven't changed much in this regard over the millenia. Examining the situation in the United States over the past several years shows this to be the case. Since the U. S. has an all volunteer army, young citizens of the United States need to be convinced to join the military, in order to keep it fully staffed. Actually, our government has had difficulty attracting recruits over these past several years. I suspect the fact that they are liable to be sent to Iraq or Afghanistan where they will become targets of homemade bombs has something to do with that. Consequently, our government has taken several steps to maintain its level of military forces.

1. The government has lowered it standards for recruits, allowing people with criminal records, for example, to join the military.

2. The government has used incentives such as free education and extra pay for people to join the army reserves, in exchange for military service one weekend per month, except that the government can call them into active duty at any time if needed. That is exactly what has happened to a great many members of the army reserves, as they have found themselves being shipped off to Iraq or Afghanistan for long tours of duty. In fact, I believe, most U.S. casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan have been such "weekend warriors" who never expected to be put in such a situation at the mere discretion of the President.

3. The government has made it difficult to people to leave the military, taking stop-gap measures to prevent people from discontinuing their military service, such as claiming that the current situation is an emergency, so that soldiers are not yet allowed to retire.

4. Pay for military forces has increased substantially. In fact, that was one of George W. Bush's campaign promises in 2000, perhaps the only one that actually involved more government spending.

Additionally, the current economic recession, if not depression, has reduced employment opportunities for young adults. Whenever the economy is poor, employment opportunities are lacking, especially for potential new workers. The one employer that is always willing to hire new bodies is the military branch of government, so young men and women, partly out of desperation, partly of of patriotism, find their way into the military especially during difficult economic times such as these.

Despite all of these factors, the U.S. military seems barely able to maintain its troop levels. In my view, that is actually a good thing. It means that the notion of a military career has lost some of its appeal for young Americans of the current generation as opposed to previous generations. The fewer soldiers available, the less mischief our government can create with its military, which still, I repeat, spends more on military expenditures than all other nations combined. If nothing else, perhaps the ultimate limiting factor on the use of military force in general, and that of the U.S. in particular, will turn out to be the limited power of the government to convince young people to join the military. This is a topic which I will discuss in more detail in another post.

Since the U.S. government seems thorougly commited to maintaining an all-volunteer army, the prospect of reinstituting the draft seems remote. The last time young Americans were conscripted into the military was during the Vietnam War, and that didn't exactly turn out well for our government. Some politicians have suggested national service for all young Americans for a two year period following high school, which will give yoiung citizens a choice between some sort of humnaitarian service, such as the Peace Corps, or military service. If enacted, such legislation would likely result in a huge increase in the number of young Americans who join the military. Once in the military, some young people who otherwise would have never considered a military career will ultimately decide to become career soldiers. Thus, this might be the next tactic for recruiting more soldiers. On the surface, then, such legislation calling for national service seems noble and humanitarian, but its primary effect may be to increase the size of the United States' military forces, allowing for the U.S. government to flex even more muscle around the world than it already does. Furthermore, it would compel people who are just out of high school to change their plans one way of another, even those who choose a humanitarian effort, and make people serve not out of noble motives, but out of necessity, which would feel like an unjust jail sentence to many people. It would be better to make humanitarian service options known to young people, perhaps even encouraging them to join, without making it a requirement. Thus, I would be wary of any such plan by politicians which would attract more people to the employer of last resort. Let us help young people pursue their first options, of education or career, rather than taking away their options until military service is the only one left.

March 8

The Ultimate Form of Discrimination

Stereotypes are generalized beliefs about people based on some demographic characteristic such as ethnicity, race, religion or nationality. Prejudice is how one feels toward a group of people belonging to a particular demographic group, based on stereotypes. Finally, discrimination is behavior directed against people who are the objects of negative prejudice.

Wars often include these ugly elements, whether admitted to or not. The two sides usually differ in at least one, and most likely more than one, of the above mentioned demographic characteristics -- ethnicity, race, religion, or nationality. In fact, it is striking how often civil wars break out between neighboring rival groups who seem to differ only in ethnic identity and/or religious tradition. It's the Christians versus the Jews, the Hutus versus the Tutsis, or the Bosnians versus the Serbs. To an outside observer, it seems ludicrous and incredibly disturbing how two groups of people who originated from the same stock, not so long ago, come to engage in genocide one against another. War is the ultimate form of discrimination.

The current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the so-called "war on terror" being engaged in by the U.S. have strong religious overtones. American politicians, being very sensitive to issues of prejudice, are careful to state that they are not religious conflicts. However, such claims are really not believable. Muslims certainly don't believe that, for the most part, nor do most Americans, I wager. In fact, fundamentalist Muslim beliefs provide the rationale for Muslim terrorists, so there is no denying that religion plays a role. Whether we admit it or not, the gap between Muslim and Christian world views exacerbates both sides hatred and fear of each other. There are radical Christians within the United States who would turn our nation into a society that tolerates nothing but fundamentalist Christianity, but our government basically seems unconcerned about them. Timothy McVeigh and his friends were such people, who commited an agregious act of terrorism, but that did not spark a "war on terror" against such people, merely -- and appropriately -- the prosecution of those responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing. By the way, McVeigh's actions were based on a fictional book called "The Turner Diaries," in which Christian fundamentalists took over the United States by commiting acts of terrorism and throwing our government into chaos.

Even when ethnicity, race or religious differences do not underly a conflict, governments resort to villifying their enemies on the basis of nationality. The Germans resembled American politicians in race, ethnicity and religion, but they were still portrayed as evil during World Wars I and II. The Japanese, however, did not resemble American politicians on any of the relevant demographic characteristics, so innocent Japanese Americans legally living in the United States were interred in prisons for the duration of the war, and those living in Japan were subjected to American bombings aimed at terrorizing Japanese citizens by killing civilians, culminating in the use of atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Had the Japanese been white people, I doubt the atomic bomb would have ever been used.

The ugly truth is that war allows free reign to the worst elements in human nature, allowing people to kill each other over their ethnic, racial, religious and national differences. Whatever excuses are made to justify such campaigns, and whatever consequences or lack of consequences are faced by those who design such campaigns, it still results in the victimization of the innocent, in this most extreme form of discrimination.

March 7

Let's Get Over It

Yesterday, on another trip to Oceanside Harbor, I was reminded of something when I saw the Pearl Harbor memorial sign near the fishing pier. The sign has always been there, but I usually do not pay attention to it. The sign was what one would expect, with the date December 7, 1941 on it. It reminded me of the various war cries over the years. Remember the Alamo! Remember Pearl Harbor! Remember 9/11! While we are at it, don't forget Memorial Day and Veterans' Day. We even still have occasional new movies about World War II to contend with. Seeing this war memorial also reminded me of the irony of such war messages to which we are all exposed.

Currently, one of the most common and troubling psychological disorders around the world is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In an earlier post, I recounted the story of my backyard neighbor, Gary, who was on disability for PTSD because of his experiences in the Vietnam War. People with PTSD have problems because they cannot forget their own Alamos, Pearl Harbors, or 9/11s. Their pasts depress them, and their futures make them nervous. Depression and anxiety are really symptoms of psychological distress, with depression being past oriented, while anxiety is future oriented. If only they could forget these events, they would be much better off. In fact, drug researchers have been busy trying to produce drugs which help people forget traumatic events.

Why is it, then, that we are asked to remember our most traumatic national experiences? Doesn't that put us at risk for a sort of national PTSD? The only clear explanation for this seems to be the obvious one -- it is a way of manipulating public opinion to be supportive of the government's war efforts. How sad -- and ironic -- that we are asked to remember the worst national events, war related ones. Why is there is no national holiday celebrating our science achievements, for instance? Arguably, we do celebrate civil rights, with Martin Luthor King Day and Presidents' Day. But these holidays honor individuals, not our national achievements.

It seems to me that we should have a world history, as well as a national history, based on progress, not war. What we learn about instead, in school, is largely a history of war. We should be learning about scientific progress and human rights progress as a matter of history. Even progress in spiritual matters, such as religious tolerance and overcoming superstition, are part of our history.

I submit once again that it is not war that fundamentally changes society; rather, it is new and better ideas which result in fundamental progress. It is true that we are exposed to some of this while studying history, but it tends to get overshadowed by the study of wars. We should not forget things, including wars. We need to learn from wars as examples of societal breakdown and dysfunction. However, we should not obsess over them. Rather we should get over them. Shortly before Eunice and I got married, she asked my mother, who has been married to my father since, well, shortly before the end of the last ice age, I believe, what their keys to happiness were. My mother replied, "a good sense of humor and a lousy memory." She wasn't suggesting that we should be forgetfull, literally, but rather, that we should be able to "forgive and forget" so to speak, so that we can get over the bad events in our lives and move on. I would suggest the same is true of marriage, life, and our cultural attitude toward our past.

March 2

The Subtle Power of Conformity

As I like to say, nobody admits to being conformist, but most people are. In many ways, we need to be conformist in order to function as a society. We need to speak the same language, in order to communicate, and follow the same traffic rules, in order to avoid accidents. In addition, conformity is needed to smooth interactions. People give each other common greetings, and common courtesies, for example, and shake hands with their right hands, even those who are left-handed (although my brothers and I have been known to give each other left-handed hand shakes, since all of us are left-handed). We dutifully go to work on time, take children to school on time, and usually use socially sanctioned methods of letting our opinions be known, such as by voting. In a very real way, the essence of culture is a set of norms which members of the culture conform to. Although conformity to basic norms is needed in order to make a society run smoothly, conformity can take many destructive forms.

Conformity pressures also influence attitudes, including attitudes toward war. In fact, I would not be surprised if the best predictor of behavior in public settings is the social conformity pressure which results from watching what others do. There is some well-known evidence for this, in fact. Recently, I mentioned the obedience research by Stanley Milgram. Conformity research as well as research on helping behavior find similarly powerful effects. A recent study found that groups tend to conform to whoever is the most talkative in making decisions, such as solving math problems, even when the answer suggested by the most talkative person is wrong, and even when the most talkative person does not have the best qualifications for solving such problems. In addition, the talkative person tends to become viewed as a group leader. Research on helping behavior consistently shows a strong effect called the "bystander effect." The bystander effect is that when more people are present during an emergency, they are less likely to help. In fact, this effect is so strong that people who are in need of help are less likely to get any help, from anybody, when several other people are present, than when only one other person is present. One explanation for the bystander effect is diffusion of responsibility, which is when people feel less personally responsible for taking action. Another explanation, however, is more directly linked to conformity. This second explanation is called social comparison. People who are in an unfamiliar situation, in particular, generally have been found to observe each other for cues about how to behave. When they see other people failing to take action, they do likewise. In fact, one of the most successful theories in modern psychology is Albert Bandura's Social Learning Theory, which is based on the principle that people learn by observing and imitating the behavior of others. Among the topics to which this theory has successfully been applied are aggression, sexual attitudes and prosocial (helping) behavior.

Clearly the issues of aggression and attitudes both apply to the topic of war. People feel out of step with others who do not share their views. Perhaps it is easier to agree with them, than to risk constant arguments. Such agreement is made all the more effective when the person actually does agree, rather than merely feigning agreement. Then the person does not have to experience cognitive dissonance, the uncomfortable feeling when one's overt behavior does not match one's beliefs, or more generally, when two cognitions contradict each other. Convincing oneself that the attitudes of those around us are indeed the correct and proper attitudes to have makes everything run smoothly within the group of one's close associates -- that is, family and friends. Of course, the same cannot be said of groups with opposing views, but in part for this reason, people tend to confine most of their interactions to a small in-group, and avoid expression of strong opinions when dealing with less familiar people. Consequently, people who are bombarded with war mythology from media sources, and in most cases from their own families as well, tend to conveniently accept these views as being the truth. Such is the subtle power of the conformity pressures which impinge upon all of us.

March 1

Bush and Obama: Two Commanders-in-Chief

Different Presidents have very different approaches to the military. One thing each President has in common, is that he is the Commander in Chief of the U.S. military. At no time in my life, and perhaps at no time in history, has the difference between different Presidents' approaches to the use of the military been more evident than during these previous eight years while George W. Bush was President. When we was running for President, it was clear to me from his attitude that if elected, he would get the United States involved in overseas miltary actions, most likely in the Middle East. He did become President, and he did get the United States heavily involved in overseas military actions.

It can be argued that the unpopularity of the Bush administration's military policies lead directly to Barack Obama's election, although the economy and 28 years of control of our government largely by conservatives played a major role as well. Barack Obama made his initial national reputation as an opponent of the conflict in Iraq, and clearly, Obama remains commited to ending U.S. military involvement in Iraq and has a much more limited view of the miltary's role than does George W. Bush.

To what may we attribute the difference in attitude between Bush and Obama toward the role of the military? Basically, my perception of Bush is that he bought into the entire myth-of-war ideology, as did the people he surrounded himself with. He also bought into the idea of American exceptionalism and the neoconservative notion of exporting democracy by the use of military takeovers of non-democratic nations. This created a disastrous situation for the United States, and chaos and increased violence in Afghanistan and Iraq. Basically, the Bush Administration adopted a cult of war, and isolated itself as a group of true believers in U.S. military intervention, creating a strong groupthink situation. Groupthink is when a group of power in power are convinced of their superior morality and the correctness of their course of action, blinding them to any sort of evidence that they may be wrong. In addition, in groupthink, members of the team experiencing groupthink find ways to discount evidence which does not support their position, or ignore it, while manufacturing or exaggerating evidence which supports their viewpoint. Obviously, these people in the Bush administration never studied much psychology. If they had, our nation and the world most likely would be much better off now.

An encouraging characteristic of the new Obama administration is its openess, in contrast to the Bush Administration. Openess helps greatly to prevent groupthink. Add to this Obama's more limited view of the military's role, and the current economic situation in which the U.S. government is in such an economic bind, largely as a result of military expenditures, that it is clear to the Obama administration that military spending needs to be cut significantly.

However, I feel that the power of being commander-in-chief of the United States carries with it great temptations. Obama has been listening to both sides (a characteristic of those not prone to groupthink), but that also presents dangers. Being relatively young and inexperienced in foreign policy, his decisions may be unduly influenced by the views of conservatives and military leaders. A related issue is that Presidents who have experienced war personally, historically have tended to be more reluctant to engage in the use of military force. I am concerned Obama is too commited to pursuing a military solution to the problem of Al Qaeda and the Taliban's presence in Afghanistan, when in fact, he would be much better off leaving them alone, and letting them self-destruct as they are likely to do in the absence of a foreign enemy. We need to keep reminding Obama and his administration that he is the peace President, and not let him buy into the ideology of the cult of war. We need to remind him who elected him, and more importantly, why the world needs him. He has no need to prove that he is tough on our opponents. Rather, he needs to make it clear that he is intent on changing the course of American politics, both domestically and in regard to foreign policy.

February 28

The Cult of War

We all know what cults are, right? They are where a bunch of people with crazy beliefs isolate themselves from the rest of the world. Wrong! A previous series of posts that I wrote "This is the Way We Wash our Brains," examined how various institutions to which so-called normal people belong often become cults. Chief among these were churches and the military.

Following are a list of cult characteristics I found on the internet which were posted in the series on cults. These are potential characteristics of a cult. A cult does not need to have all of these characteristics; in fact, few cults do. I put a star by the ones which apply to the military.

1. Hypnosis (repetitiveness, music, voice patterns, airy rooms)

2. Peer Group Pressure*

3. "Love Bombing"

4. Rejection of Old Values*

5. Confusing Doctrine

6. Metacommunication (emphasizing key words)*

7. Removal of Privacy*

8. Disinhibition (encouragement of childlike obedience)*

9. Uncompromising Rules*

10. Verbal Abuse*

11. Sleep Deprivation*

12. Dress Codes*

13. Chanting or Singing*

14. Confession

15. Financial Commitment

16. Finger Pointing (at the sinful "outside world")

17. Isolation*

18. Controlled Approval*

19. Change of Diet (by fasting or reduction in important nutrition)

20. Games (with obscure rules)

21. No Questions*

22. Guilt

23. Fear (threats of physical beatings or spritiual damnation for even the slightest undesirable thoughts, words, or deeds)*

The military includes 14 out of a total of 23 possible cult characteristics, according to my count.

Additionally, there are three principles of Re-Education:

1. Repetition*

2. Activity Pedagogics (being kept too busy to critically analyze what is really going on)*

3. Criticism and Self-Criticism

The military uses two of these three techniques.

Perceptions of institutions as a cult depend on 4 conditions:

1. Labeling : Cults are identified by the general public as "cults."

2. Isolation: Cults typically put more effort into keeping its members separate from the rest of the population, something which contributes to their being identified as cults.

3. Autocracy: Those groups identified as cults tend to rely on the guidance of one "charismatic leader." This leader often claims superhuman powers and some fantastic cosmic purpose for the group, which it must by destiny fulfill.

4. Lack of Government Sanction: Groups labelled as cults lack government sanction.

Like publicly recognized cults, the military is isolated to an extent from the public (military bases, deployments, etc.) and autocratic in its organization. Unlike publicly recognized cults, however, the military is government-run, and therefore, government sanctioned and not labelled as a cult. Nonetheless, based on the resemblance of the military's characteristics to a cult, I consider the military to be a cult of sorts -- a public, government sanctioned cult.

Tomorrow, I will discuss the role of the executive branch of government in the cult of war.

February 27

The Nimitz

There is a little pier in Oceanside, CA where I go fishing sometimes, inside the harbor. Oceanside is adjacent to Camp Pendleton, a large Marine Base. Thus, many of the residents of Oceanside are members of the United States Marines or their family members. Some of them are also retired Marines. I remember one time I went to this pier in 2003, shortly after the invasion of Iraq. There was a flamboyant former Marine fishing on the pier near me. I had seen the same man several times. He used to say things such as "all of my exes are in Texas," referring to his several failed marriages. I suppose he was originally from Texas. He also talked about his several Vietnam War wounds. Meanwhile, he was chain-smoking. I felt sorry for him, and figured he was probably on some sort of disability pension.

This time, we could see a large aircraft carrier in the ocean just offshore. The Vietnam Vet, whose name was Jim, I believe, seemed enthralled by the sight. Perhaps the sight brought back "good" memories for him. "That is the Nimitz. I recognize it. They are going to war!" he exclaimed excitedly. How sad that it took the activation of a great war machine to excite him! The fact that people on both sides would be dying, injured, or having their lives shattered one way or another did not seem to faze him. His life had already been shattered, long before.

Actually, Jim was a friendly person, and aside from his military experiences and militaristic tendencies, plus his smoking, we got along well. Later that same day, I went to the restroom across the street, leaving a line in the water temporarily unattended. When I came back, Jim was motioning to me that I had a fish on the line. Sure enough, my pole was bent over, and after picking it up, I managed to land the largest Spotfin Croaker I had ever caught, about 1 1/2 pounds, I would say. Jim was congratulating me, even though I really caught the fish pretty much by sheer luck. I would not be surprised if Jim hooked it for me, as well. Otherwise, it must have hooked itself. I continued to see Jim for another year or so at Oceanside Harbor Sportfishing Pier, but after that, he disappeared. I still don't know what happened to him. Perhaps his old wounds finally got to him, or perhaps the ghosts of Vietnam got to him.

Oceanside has definitely taken a hard hit from the invasion of Iraq. Many of its residents have been killed, wounded, traumatized, or bereaved due to this invasion. I do not know what role the Nimitz had in the invasion of Iraq, but I suppose it was carrying a large number of Marines to Iraq. I wonder how many of those Marines on the Nimitz came back safe and sound, and how many did not.

February 26

Are We Made for Obedience?

During the early 1960s, a psychologist named Stanley Milgram did a series of studies which attempted to recreate, loosely speaking, a military paradigm in which participants were asked to do obey the experimenter even when doing so lead to great distress. These studies have never been replicated, due to ethical concerns. In fact, Milgram's studies were one of the catalyzing factors in the development of human subjects review commitees which ensure that research is done ethically. However, Milgram's research remains an important series of studies which suggest that obedience may be part of human nature, at least for most people.

In Milgram's studies, the basic protocol was as follows. A man who answered an advertisement to be a paid participant in a research study showed up at a laboratory, where he was met by the researcher (actually Milgram's assistant). He was also introduced to another man who was presented as another participant, but was in fact, an actor working for Milgram. They were told that the study was testing the effects of shock on learning, and that one of them would be designated the "teacher," the other, the "learner." Then there was a rigged drawing in which the true participant was designated to be the "teacher." After this, the "teacher" began the process of testing the "learner" on word pairs. The "learner," however, made numerous mistakes. After each mistake, the "teacher" was asked to shock the "learner" with a stronger shock than the previous one. The "teacher" sat in front of a large panel with many different shock levels ranging up to 450 volts. He pressed the next lever in the sequence of levers each time he administered a shock, following which, the lever remained depressed. After a while, the "learner" began to yell in pain. Later, he complained of a heart condition, and demanded to be released from the study. Eventually, he stopped responding altogether. In fact, there was no shock being administered, but of course, the true participant did not know that. And in fact, the purpose of the entire study was to investigate how obedient the true participant would be in shocking the actor. The participants in this study showed considerable distress, yet most of them continued with the shocking procedure until the researcher said the study was finished. In Milgram's original study, in which the actor was in a different room from the participant and communicated through an intercom (actually playing a tape recording), 65% of the participants were fully obedient. Milgram subsequently replicated the study under numerous other circumstances, largely designed to find out how much he could decrease the obedience level of the participants. He did the study in run-down buildings. He did the study with a researcher who was casually dressed and informal acting. He did the study with a setup in which the particpant physically had to put the actor's hand on a shock plate in order to "shock" him. No matter how he conducted the study, at least around half of the participants were fully obedient.

After the study was finished, the participant was shown that the actor was actually okay, and the study was explained to him. Participants were generally greatly relieved when they found out that no one had been harmed. Also, participants were given some follow-up questionnaires to ensure that they did not remain disturbed by the study. In addition to conducting these studies, Milgram asked many psychologists to estimate the percentage of participants who would be fully obedient. The average estimate was about 1% of participants who would be expected to be fully obedient, presumably representing individuals with sadistic tendencies. Obviously, that is not what happened. In fact, most participants, despite having no sadistic feelings whatsoever, and despite feeling very worried about the actor, continued to be obedient, even though the researcher held no real power over the participant. The only encouragement to continue given by the researcher to the participant was to say "the research requires that you continue, sir" if the participant expressed a desire to quit the study.

Potential reasons why participants showed such high levels of obedience include:

1. Diffusion of responsibility -- the participants presumably thought that the researcher would be held responsible for any harm done to the actor;

2. Threat of social disapproval by the researcher -- the researcher held no real power over the participant, but perhaps would show disapproval of him for quitting;

3. Socialization -- we may be programmed to conform and obey authority from childhood onward;

4. Genetics -- perhaps people are genetically programmed to be obedient to avoid possible reprisals for failure to cooperate.

This research by Milgram is relevant to the present topic, because it shows that when authorities -- government officials, military personnel, and politicians -- urge people to cooperate by going to war, people are likely to comply and do so. Furthermore, once in the military, they are likely to obey any order, even orders which ask them to commit atrocities. It bears mentioning that war, being a real situation, is in fact, far more compelling than the research situation created by Stanley Milgram and his research team. As I often mention, nobody admits to being a conformist, but when tested, most people are. The same is true of obedience, with unfortunate consequences in the case of war. In a real sense, war can turn normal people into monsters.

February 25

War Myths

Now we start getting to the nitty gritty of the myth of war. Some of these have already been touched upon, but not others. Therefore, I will list the myths of war.

Myth 1: It is an honor to die or fight for one’s country.

The concept or war honor is a part of socially constructed reality. Individuals involved in war may behave honorably or dishonorably. But the fact is that war is destructive, and there is nothing more ethically problematic than taking another human being's life, which is troubling at best, and abhorrent at worst. War is destructive, a breakdown of social mores, and there is nothing honorable in that. It doesn't matter whether the people being killed, maimed, or psychologically scarred or on one's own side or the side of one's opponent. Nationality is largely an accident of birth.

Myth 2: War fundamentally changes things.
Bad ideas and bad ideology are doomed to failure. Despite that, wars to thwart such ideology are commonplace in recent world history. If we really believe in the superiority of our way of life, we should have the patience to let time take its course and allow the failure of such ideas to naturally occur. History gives us these sort of examples, as well.

Myth 3: The greatest heroes are created by war.

The greatest heroes, in my humble opinion, are those who advance culture in a progressive way, dedicated researchers, teachers, parents, and conscientious politicians.

Myth 4: God is on our side.

God, Goddess, the entity or entities, energy or energies behind this reality, the powers that be, whoever is listening out there, the loving intelligence of the universe, however we wish to think of the nature of reality, it most certainly does not want war. It wants peace, love and understanding for all of us. It does not favor one sidce of another in war. If anything, it disfavors both sides. It wants peace.

Myth 5: The enemy are subhuman and deserve to die.

Part of the political rationale for war involves stereotyping and dehumanizing one's opponents. Dehumanizing the enemy makes it possible, or easier, to kill them.

Myth 6: Governments engage in war for the benefit of the people.

Governments engage in war to benefit themselves, not to benefit the public. Wars are started by politicians or revolutionaries, who calculate a political gain to be the most likely outcome of the war. I further assert that politicians of other nations who decide send troops to join an existing war, do so not because they feel an imminent threat, but because they also perceive political gain to be the likely outcome of involvement. A rise in international prestige and power results from successful intervention in a war by a foreign nation. This happened to the United States during World War I and again during World War II, which set our nation on its current militaristic path.

Myth 7: Our freedom is the result of war and its heroes.

This is the myth that "freedom is not free." Actually, nothing is more restrictive of freedom than war and regimented military life. There are two types of freedom, behavioral and psychological. Also, behavioral freedom can occur at the micro level or the macro level. Nobody but you can take away your own psychological freedom. No culture is so controlling and draconian as to be able to take away every person's personal freedom to choose his or her daily activities, for example. Freedom at the macro level, the freedom to choose one's own course in life -- career, mate, etc -- can be diminished or taken away by controlling, restrictive cultures or governments, but it is the collective will of the people who determine that. War is one way for people to express their collective will and their anger at existing, repressive government, but so are elections, strikes, protests, and civil disobedience. Saying that we owe our freedom to war is like saying the only way to socialize a child is through corporal punishment. In fact, as mentioned under myth number 2, the same people who repeat the "freedom is not free" meme, also believe, as I do, that inferior ideas and ideologies are ultimately doomed to failure, without the need for war. Thus, with patience, it is inevitable that ideologies which promote the undue restrictions on people's freedom will ultimately fail. However, we must also not forget that freedom is never absolute for us mere human beings, nor should it be. Laws and regulations provide restrictions on our freedoms. Good government does so in such a way that people are prevented from violating the rights and restricting the freedoms of other individuals, which gives the greatest net freedom to the greatest number of people, while providing an environment in which people can thrive, progress, and enjoy the process of living.

Myth 8: War suspends normal reality so that events which happen during war have a special meaning.

War is not an event that creates a suspension of normal reality. Rather, it represents a societal psychopathology which results in wholesale destructive behavior. War is not a movie or a video game. It is real, and it is in its essence, a crime committed by politicians, using their citizens to fight their opponents' citizens, for the glory of politicians -- a crime which unfortunately is likely to have no legal consequences.

All of these myths are weapons of mass deception which help to incite, promote or continue war.

February 23

Weapons of Mass Deception

In early 2003 my friend Benjamin and I were talking in our car while on our way to a fishing spot. At the time, the Bush administration was doing everything it could to garner support for the invasion of Iraq. One of their main tactics was to claim that Iraq had so-called "weapons of mass destruction," ignoring the fact the the United States and a few other select nations were the ones that really had the weapons of mass destruction.

"They'll never find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq" Benjamin told me, "because there aren't any." I concurred with Benjamin, and the conversation continued. We talked about how the Bush administration's intentions had been obvious from the beginning, and how these so-called experts seemed to know less than us novices. Perhaps it is because both Benjamin and I are psychologists that we could see these guys were off their rockers, but I don't think it took a psychologist or an expert to figure out that our government filled with deluded, paranoid people who were lying to the public. In fact virtually everyone that I knew, as far as I knew, was of that opinion, Republicans included. Yet, at the same time, polls were showing overwhelming support for the intended war. How could that be so? Who were these people being polled, if there were really any actual polls being conducted? Meanwhile, Congress, including many Democrats, had overwhelmingly sanctioned the use of force against Iraq, giving Bush what he wanted. Things just were not adding up in America. It may be a little late for this now, but I feel a deep sense of anger at our politicians over the Iraq War and current occupation, and I want our politicians to know that. (No, the current situations in Iraq and Afghanistan are not wars; they are clear and classical occupations, regardless of what we here politicians and newscasters call them.)

Of course, the invasion went ahead, Iraq quickly was overtaken by the overwhelming force of the U.S. military, and no weapons of mass destruction were found. Perhaps Bush and others in his adminstration truly expected them to be found. They were clearly paranoid and delusional. But even if Iraq had such weapons, it really didn't matter unless they had imminent plans to use them. A nation having weapons of a certain kind is no excuse for invading it. It seems clear to me that Iraq neither had such weapons, nor would they use them if they had them. The United States, on the other hand, was a whole different matter.

Given the initial popularity of the invasion of Iraq, at least according to the suspect polls at the time, and members of Congress, it was weapons of mass deception that were being used, not weapons of mass destruction. Apparently, at that time, at least, most Americans were naive enough and trusting enough of their government to back this insane venture. To be perfectly honest, the prescience of myself, my family and friends, regarding the Bush administration's actions and the results of their actions, combined with my knowledge as a Social Psychologist, is what initially motivated me to write this series, although it has taken a few years to come to fruition. In fact, I could see the shape of George W. Bush's entire Presidency pretty much before it even happened. I am not claiming to have been psychic; I just got a very strong sense of who he was from hearing him speak while he was campaigning, perhaps aided by my experience and intuition as a Social Psychologist, and it scared me. Actually, I can't rule out that there may have been a psychic element involved on my part as well; my sense of him and where it would lead us as a nation was eerily accurate.

In any case, the entire experience of Bush administration's invasion of Iraq demonstrated to me the various psychological principles which make war all too tragically common. I feel it is my duty to convey those principles to as many people as I can, educating them about the nature of war, so that we may begin to make this insanity of international proportions a thing of the past.

February 18

The Myth of War Part 16: The Propaganda Machine

Propaganda is any politically motivated attempt to influence public opinion. As time goes by, technology makes propaganda easier and easier to propagate. The so-called "information age" has multiple formats available, including older ones such as newspaper, radio and television, and now, the internet. However, the term "information" is misleading. In many cases, what is being spread is in fact disinformation, which is actually propaganda. This is true of newspapers, radio and television shows by and large, while the internet so far, remains relatively free of propaganda. However, if internet neutrality is not maintained, and corporate and government interests take over the internet, it will become another forum for propaganda, as well.

Together, corporately owned and government influenced newspaper, radio, and television shows which purport to disseminate information, constitute a humongous propaganda machine. In regard to attitudes toward war, both major political parties actually play a role in making this happen, since both parties benefit politically from the power which war permits them. However, most media owners are conservatives, despite conservative talking points about the so-called "liberal media," and conservatives are the greatest proponents of military action.

What forms do pro-war propaganda take? Propaganda can take many forms, often in the guise of being informative, and can be so subtle and insidious that people are not aware that they are being influenced by propaganda. The following are some examples.

1. Holidays honoring veterans -- Veteran's Day and Memorial Day, along with their resultant news coverage. Why do we have two holidays honoring participants in prior wars, but no more than one holiday regarding any other topic? To me, that is suspicious;

2. Documentaries, such as the Ken Burns documentaries about the Civil War and World War II. These documentaries are interesting, engrossing even, and are presented through the eyes of participants as a sort of informational documentary, but ultimately tend to glorify war;

3. Political speeches and speech which consistently honors service in the military, and labels members of the military as heroes;

4. Newspaper editorials, even those which purport to be neutral, which accept conservative memes regarding national defense as including overseas military actions;

5. Conservative talk radio which mimics militaristic political talking points;

6. Discounts for members of the military and obligatory "thanks" given them.

7. Political speech directly related to plans for specific military actions, seeking to increase support for a planned war or military action.

Basically, the more "information" is being shared, the more opportunity for misinformation to be shared. This makes propaganda increasingly invasive and dangerous as communication technologies improve. However, communcation also has the potential for being educational, countering the effectiveness of propaganda. As a society, we need to make sure that the education of people regarding propaganda does indeed outweigh the influence of propaganda. People need to be taught and exposed to critical thinking skills, as any critical examination of propaganda reveals it to at best skewed and distorted views, and at worst, blatant attempts to manipulate and control public opinion. The role of skepticism is to shield the individual against undue influence by others.

February 17

The Myth of War Part 15: Is Nationalism Human Nature?

It has occurred to me that some people would argue that nationalism cannot be prevented, because, in their view, it is part of human nature. The argument goes that we have a psychological need to identify with a nationality and a particular nation. For example, social identity theory says that every person has an identity based on the groups to which the person belongs. One's social identity is considered a source of pride, according to social identity theory. A consequence of social identity is prejudice against people who are not "in-group" members. Were that true, prejudice would be unavoidable, as well as nationalism.

However, it is my contention that nationalism is no more a part of human nature than is, for instance, speaking the English language is. Rather, nationalism is something that would not exist were it not nurtured by society, nor would prejudice, for that matter. Our ancestors in the very recent past, as measured by geological or evolutionary criteria, in fact, did not have nations. They were social creatures, and presumably had a group identity, but nations are a very new phenomenon. If any group identity has a biological basis, it would have to be family or clan. However, even this assertion has a flimsy biological basis. Rather, it seems we identify with those we grow up with, just as adopted children normally identify with their adoptive parents, or pets and their people identify with each other. We all need family. Biological relatedness has little to do with it. We just need to be loved and cared for.

If biology does not provide a basis for nationalism, what does? The answer to that question is relatively simple. There are people and institutions who stand to gain by fostering nationalism in the citizens of a nation. Chief among these are politicians, especially politicians who are in the process of sending people to war. Second is any institution which benefits in status or financial gain from nationalism. Chief among these are the various branches of the military, but the entire military-industrial complex depends on nationalism. The private companies which produce war materials, such as airplanes and various weapons, get a free pass from the public when nationalism prevails. They can soak up massive amounts of government money without being subject to much scrutiny.

Nationalism is also a source of pride for many individuals, who socially transmit nationalistic ideas to their children and friends. Thus, indivdidual members of society do much of the work of fostering nationalistic pride in future generations. One of the most basic techniques of propaganda is to get the propagandized to do the work of conveying their attitudes to others. The use of propaganda to create more positive and accepting attitudes toward war will be my next topic.

Human beings are remarkably resilient. We are also in large part products of our environment. Attitudes such as nationalism, prejudice, and bloodthirsty desire for war are far from being part of human nature. Rather, they are part of an individual's acceptance of, and adaptation to, the social environment in which he or she grows up. However, those individuals who apply rational thought and ideals of fairness to these topics inevitably reject such attitudes. We have the power to change our social environment, both on a personal level, and collectively, on a societal level.

February 16

What's been going on? Grading, more grading, preparations for spring semester, Valentine's Day (several entries on Dolly-Verse), the first anniversary of Dolly=Verse, and a Chinese banquet -- that's what.

The Myth of War Part 14: Nationalism versus Internationalism

I turn now to the second factor breaking down resistance to war: nationalism. Earlier, I wrote a blog entry questioning whether nationalism was a good thing, and concluded that nationalism is more of a bad thing than a good thing. Conventional wisdom is that it is a good thing for people to love their countries above other countries. To promote and defend one's nation over others is encouraged by one's own culture. The first problem with that kind of thinking is that it leads to nationalism, and nationalism leads to international conflict, including war. The second problem is that it creates prejudice. In fact, I consider nationalism to be among the worst and most abhorrent forms of prejudice. It is nationalism that allows people to dehumanize people of other nationalities, as well as contributing to racism and religious conflict, and it is dehumanization that allows people to slaughter each other.

Nationalism being a problem does not mean we should not love our nation. After all, each of us is a citizen of one nation or another, as far as I know. People who live together and share a common culture should cooperate and take care of each other. But that does not mean that one should treat members of other nations unfairly, much less villify them. No one nation should be considered an exception; we all share a common humanity. No one nation should be considered to be superior to the rest. Rather, we should strive to treat all of humanity with love, respect, and dignity. As a man who is married to a foreign born woman, I can vouch for the fact that all people share a common humanity, human intellect and feelings, and share a common destiny together. Thus, we should share a common goal as well.

In my opinion, the answer to nationalism is internationalism, not the kind in which international corporations find ways to increase their fortunes by exploiting those willing to work for less, going to nations with fewer taxes or fewer regulations, and polluting the environment in the process. The type of internationalism to which I refer is true internationalism, internationalism in which peoples and governments around the world cooperate to create not only a better nation, but a better world. A good example of this is the European Union, with its common currency, the Euro, and considerable international cooperation. An even more important institution is the United Nations, the modern version of Woodrow Wilson's vision of a "League of Nations." The United Nations needs to have a greater regulatory role than it currently does, and greater power to enforce its regulations. Of course, evangelical Christians and devout nationalists (who are often the same people) become alarmed by the rise of the European Union, and the very existence of the United Nations. This reflects the delusional nature of their world view, in my opinion. These people need to wake up from their fantasy and see reality.

This should come as no surprise, but I will make it clear that I dream of a world without nations someday, a world with different levels of well-meaning representative, democratic government, from the local, to regional, to the equivalent of national, to the world-wide level. International conflict and exploitation would become a thing of the past. Different regions would have some autonomy, perhaps different languages and cultures even, but there would be a set of worldwide laws, cooperation, and government which supercedes the more local levels. The big question which needs to be addressed with this model is how to prevent the worldwide government from becoming corrupt. That is why it is so important to have an educated, involved worldwide citizenry, which chooses a representative democracy. If the government is not doing what it should, it can be replaced with a better one, much as we have recently done in the United States. The other question is how to coordinate activities around the world. However, in the modern era of nearly instantaneous communication, and relatively fast transport, this should not be so much of a problem. This type of coordination would have been impossible in the past. Different regions were more isolated from each other, which resulted in many of the significant differences among poeples of the world -- the formation of nations, languages, ethnic groups, religious groups, and even races. But such is no longer the case.

Of course, all of this is "pie in the sky thinking" at this point, and I do not expect the world to move greatly in the direction of worldwide oneness in the immediate future. But on the other hand, few people living in past centuries would have predicted the amount of change and progress humanity has experienced as centuries pass. We need great visions, dreams and goals in order to keep us moving forward.

February 12

The Myth of War Part 13: Why Young Men?

The use of young men as warriors is another historical/cultural aspect of war. Perhaps historically, young men have made better warriors because of superior strength and greater aggressiveness. However, the use of modern weapons often has little to do with strength and the soldier's training allows him/her to skillfully deploy a weapon regardless of his/her desire for aggression. In modern warfare, killing people often becomes like a video game, especially when carried out from airplanes, and the aggression is purely instrumental. Thus, adolescents, women, and older men could just as easily serve as effective soldiers in many capacities, as could young men. However, it is young men who historically have been fodder for war.

With the exception of strange male fantasies about tribes of large, strong warrior women known as Amazons (not to be confused with tribespeople living in the Amazon basin), the image of a soldier has always been that of a young male, barely old enough to be called an adult. This image and exposure to war propaganda allows a desensitization to the idea of young men going to war. Somehow, young men going to war is not thought of the same way that sending children would be, although most of them have barely finished their childhood. And it would be anathema to send women to do the fighting, even though women are eagerly accepted into noncombat positions in the United States' military. Sending old people to risk getting killed would seem to make some sense, since they have already enjoyed a long life, but that just won't do for any military institution.

Perhaps we would stop having wars if that meant sending children to their deaths, or women to their deaths. Perhaps we should raise the legal age necessary to be a soldier from 18 years to, let me say, 80 years. Perhaps then nobody would want to pull the war trigger. Maybe older people would find it easier to resolve their disputes without resorting to violence.

Somehow, the death of young men in war is more acceptable, universally across cultures, than children, women, or even older adults. Perhaps people think that the deaths of young men in war do not "count" the same way as other deaths would. The young soldier who is a casualty of war is a hero, after all, in the minds of the public. I guess that makes being killed in the dawn of adulthood worth it. Perhaps going off to war is seen by the public as well as the young soldiers, themselves, as a grand rite of passage. Naturally, the people who start wars are usually middle-aged and elderly men, and these are the ones who stand to gain politically from the war. The tradition of sending young men to war simply makes their exploitation all the easier for the public to accept.

I say it is time to start thinking of soldiers as human beings, whose lives are as valuable as those of any other human being. It is time to start seeing the casualties of war -- all of them, including "ours," "theirs," and civilians -- as victims of war, no more, no less. After all, human is human and dead is dead.

February 9

The Myth of War Part 12: The Language of War

Language in large part represents our past. It is sort of a historical record of the thought of past generations and how their thoughts were expressed. In that sense, language represents tradition. Given that, the language of war shows us that war has been around for a long time, and the acceptance of war as a fact of life has become ensconced in our language.

I am not an expert on cross-cultural linguistics, but it seems to me that war has its own distinct terminology in most, if not all, languages. The very fact that there is a separate word for war gives it the appearance of an independent existence, a sort of special status independent of other human activities. In fact, books have been written about war for a long time, starting with "The Art of War" in China, by Sun Tzu. In English, the fact that "war" is such a short and widely used word indicates an important role for the concept of war. In addition to the word "war," we have a variety of terminology relating to war which has evolved over the centuries, rather euphemistic terminology such as "casualties," "civil war," "prisoners of war," "war zones," "theatre of operations," "collaterol damage," "friendly fire" and more recently, "enhanced interrogation." Political spin machines have a field day with the euphemization of war.

The effect of all this language is to make the concept of war an acceptable fact of life. People go to war, some become casualties, some become prisoners of war, some are victims of friendly fire, and of course, some non-participants become collaterol damage. All of these terms deflect the harsh reality of war. They make it seem as though instead of being killed, maimed, or arbitrarily held hostage, people involved in war are some sort of players in a game, much like chess pieces which get eliminated until there is an eventual winner. It all becomes a game, with strategy determined by chess-playing generals and other military leaders.

There is another set of war-related terminology relating to the soldiers. They become "war heroes" if they are on your country's side, but villains if they are members of the opposing side. They are "freedom fighters," or "fighting for our freedom" and "fighting for our country" if they belong to one's own nation, but are "terrorists," "guerillas," or "insurgents" if they oppose one's nation. Thus, we are compelled to "support our troops" (whatever that means), while vowing to rid the world of "terrorists," "guerillas" and "insurgents," even though these same opponents usually consider themselves to be freedom fighters who are fighting for their own people's freedom. Despite this obvious contradiction, people in the United States tend to accept the government position, aided and abetted by the media, that opposing soldiers must be motivated by selfish wishes somehow foreign to and incompatible with patriotism, freedom and self-determination. Perhaps, people in the United States have been so thoroughly inculcated in its own war mythology, that they fail to see that citizens of other nations tend to view their own troops or underground fighters in the same way that Americans are taught to view troops of the United States of America. It is true that in the worst instances, such as the Germans or the Japanese during World War II, there were bold-faced power grabs going on, but such is seldom the case. The truth is that people around the world are pretty much the same. We share a common humanity, and thus, people tend to view their nations, their soldiers, and their soldiers actions in a positive light, a view which includes the good of the nation, the good of humanity, even, by fighting evil forces, as well as freedom and self-determination.

As a result of these traditional positive attitudes toward soldiers, many young people are attracted to the military. Since the United States has been involved in so many wars these past several decades, and has had so many military personnel, a tradition of serving in the military has built up in many families -- families of those who survived previous wars, anyway. Serving in the military serves as a source of pride for many, whether or not their fathers had served in the military. This pride is encouraged by the "war heroes" attitude bestowed upon them by the media (especially FOX news), and the obligatory "thank you for serving our country" attitude they are greeeted with. Thus, many young people are willing to undergo the great sacrifices asked of them as well as the great risks they are asked to undertake, in order to become part of the military institution.

It is noteworthy that positive attitudes do not always prevail in the treatment of a nation's own military personnel. During the Vietnam War, a large portion of the public derogated Vietnam Veterans, adding to their psychological problems. I was too young to remember much of that directly, but I heard about that. This was unfortunate, especially considering that most of these young men had been unwillingly made to go to war. However, it was an expression of the public's anger over the Vietnam War, and the harm it was doing both to the United States and to Vietnam. Since the Vietnam War, the United States' largely conservative-controlled media has gone the opposite direction, toward the exaltation of soldiers, while the government has eliminated the draft. The exalted position which military currently enjoy in the United States is also unfortunate. I suggest that they should be viewed as people who are often put in tough and dangerous circumstances, and are paid to do so. I further suggest that when asked to go to war, they are victims, as well, and deserve our sympathy. But we cannot generalize about individual soldiers; a soldier's conduct may be heroic, atrocious, or somewhere in between. After all, as do people in general, soldiers come in all kinds. War can bring out the worst in people, or it can bring out the best. Only when we stop using language to sanitize the concept of war and discontinue the stereotyping of those involved, can we see war for what it is.

February 8

The Myth of War Part 11: The Political Profit Motive

How do wars begin? Who starts them? Why do they start them? These questions resound in our minds when we begin to examine the phenomenon of war. Of course, there are different kinds of war. There are civil wars, guerilla wars, and wars between nations. Wars, whether civil, guerilla, and between nations, often take the form of ethnic, racial, or religious conflicts. However, I am not in favor of the generalization of the war concept to include wars on drugs, wars on poverty, or even wars on terrorism. This is a misuse of the word war. In fact, if anything, we should be using the word "war" less, not more.

When I think of these genuine forms of war, civil wars, guerilla wars, and wars between nations, one thing they have in common is a political profit motive. In other words, someone stands to profit politically from the war by gaining power and prestige, if the war is successful. Namely, the political leader or leaders, or would be leaders, are the ones who wish to benefit politically from the war, and it is those same people who start the war. I cannot emphasize this point too much. This is a crucial part of my entire "myth of war" thesis.

People who begin wars wish to gain power (become the king, prime minister, or president) through war, add to their territory, benefit economically by taking others' resources, or be viewed and idolized as national heroes. It all comes down to these motives for a very few people who are in a position to start a war. Although some others may benefit from the war, overall, war is a losing proposition for the people, even the people of the so-called "winning" side -- loss of life, loss of freedom at least while the war is taking place, loss of mental and physical health, loss of environmental health, loss of relationships. Of course, for the losing side, the consequences are even worse, at the very least, humiliation and considerable loss of life, at the most, utter devastation and loss of freedom.

The question then becomes, why do people agree to participate in war? And why do non-participating citizens support the war? The answers to these questions will be discussed in upcoming posts. These include: 1. Tradition; 2. Nationalism; 3. Propaganda; 4. Myths and Muddled Thinking about the Benefits of War; 5. Threat of Reprisal for Failure to Cooperate; 6 Psychological tactics Producing a Cult of War; 7. Conformity Producing Social Pressure; 8. Rationalizations for War, including Ethnic, Racial and Religious Excuses for Engaging in War; 9. Financial Incentives. Politicians and those who study war tactics are often very adept at using these strategies to their benefit, and they are the people who are in a position to implement these strategies. Think about that the next time you hear some politician or general trying to start the next war, whoever the combatants may be.

After discussing why people agree to participate in or support war efforts, I will discuss the fallacies of common beliefs regarding war and engage in a redefinition of war in a way divests ourselves of common delusions about war and sees this phenomenon honestly and accurately, as opposed to common conceptions of war.

February 7

The Myth of War Part 10: Cognitive Dissonance and the Military Machine

The United States spends more money on its military than do all of the other nations in the world combined. I repeat that: The United States spends more money on its military than all of the other nations in the world combined. This is not a good thing. In my opinion, it is the result of conservative mythology combined with the military success of the United States in the first half of the 1900s. With all of this military spending, is it any wonder that our economy is crashing?

The theme of today's post, however, has to do with the insidious effects of military spending on the military itself, particularly the role that cognitive dissonance plays in encouraging military interventions. Much of the money spent on the U.S. military is for developing and building weapons. Weapons are a classic example of a non-productive use of resources. Once a bomb is dropped, it can never be used again. The bomb does not produce anything, it can only destroy -- people, buildings, plants, animals, the environment. Yet the government of the United States of America spends many billions of dollars every year developing new weapons and building weapons both new and old. Also, much of the money spent on the United States' military is for training of military personnel how to use these weapons. Additonal money is spent maintaining overseas military bases, military bases in the United States, recruitment, and preparation of military personnel for military action.

The result of all this effort and preparation is a push for military action. Political leaders and military leaders alike think "Why go to all of this trouble, if we are not going to use our military?" Not using our military might would be a great source of cognitive dissonance. Similarly, lower ranking military personnel experience a need to feel useful. The feeling of just being a deterrent to other nations or an idle threat does not satisfy the psyche of the soldier; only being in actual military situations, with real opponents, can do that. Unless their effects can be seen, either in peacekeeping missions, or war-making missions, soldiers feel somewhat powerless, and cognitive dissonance develops over their role in life.

Furthermore, top people in government, including the President and Secretary of Defense, as well as military personnel, tend to feel an urge to use their latest and most advanced equipment. Such was the case in World War II, and such is still the case in Iraq and Afghanistan. Harry Truman eagerly ordered his military pilots to drop the first atomic bombs on the people of Japan, in particular the unfortunate people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a decision which he later regretted. These bombs did help end the war, and may have saved many other lives by ending the war sooner, but I have never understood why the decision was made to drop these atomic bombs on major cities. Could not these bombs have been dropped in unpopulated areas of Japan, or in the ocean, with fair warning, as a threat in order to convince the Japanese that their cause was hopeless? I suppose the same racist ideology which brought us internment of Japanese Americans during World War II (but not German Americans), and the intentional killling of over one hundred thousand residents of Tokyo through bombing raids, also brought us the horror of the sudden destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, people, buildings, and all.

More recently, so-called "smart bombs" have been used for the first time by United States military personnel. I don't care how "smart" the bombs are, personally; bombs are still basically indiscriminate killers and destroyers. Night vision devices, stealth bombers, unmanned drones which drop bombs on people and kill them, and many other innovations have also had their first use in recent years by the U.S. military. I am sure that there are many other war devices into which massive amounts of have been drained, which have seen their first use in recent years. Unfortunately, once built, cognitive dissonance requires it. The best way to stop the tempation to use these devices on some hapless foreigners, as well as to stop our government's financial hemorrhaging, is to stop making them. If we use that money, we should use it for building, not destroying. We should use it for investing in the future, peacefully, which will bring dividends worth far more than what is spent. As it is, it appears that far too much of our future efforts will need to be spent recovering from the destruction of the past and the present.

My neighbor and friend, Doreen, is from Okinawa, and now, her parents, both 91 or 92 years old, live with Doreen, her husband Ben and her brother Charlie next door to us. Doreen's parents must have lived through World War II while on Okinawa, I think, which had a very high civilian casualty rate toward the end of World War II. I wonder what their experiences were, how they survived and came to the United States, and what they think of the use of the atomic bomb. They have never shared those experiences with Eunice or myself, and I would not know how to ask. But perhaps it is karma that people from Okinawa now enjoy one of the longest, if not the longest, life expectancy in the world. My neighbors, Shin and Mabel, who are Bhuddists and thus presumably believe in karma, are no exception. They are very active, doing yardwork and so forth, very healthy for their age, very friendly, and we often talk to them. In fact, Eunice has become very good friends with Doreen's mother, Mabel.

February 6

The Myth of War Part 9: The Role of Cognitive Dissonance

I believe it was not until I was in graduate school that I first heard the term “socially constructed reality.” My social psychology professor was Howard Friedman, and all of the students in his class were in graduate school to earn Ph.D.’s in social psychology. This, at least Dr. Friedman seemed to believe, made this class the most important thing that any of us had ever done, or probably would ever do, for that matter. He glared menacingly at any student who had a different advisor than himself. I was included in that group. In fact, he seemed to stare at me more than any of the other students, perhaps because he did not care for my advisor, perhaps because he had misperceived me as weak-willed and easily intimidated. He more or less taught us that we live our lives according to the whims of our social environment, yet, ironically, he was perhaps the most adamantly opposed to excuse-making by any of his students of any professor that I have encountered. Nonetheless, I did learn something very important during that course – that people, as a society as well as individually, define the reality that they live in, construing, or misconstruing events in their environment according to their needs.

Another important idea to which I was exposed as a psychology student was that of cognitive dissonance. Basically, the idea is that a person never likes to be wrong, so if a person has two thoughts which are inconsistent with each other, that person feels uncomfortable, psychologically, and tries to do something to regain consistency among his or her thoughts. The predictions made by this theory can be rather vague at times, but have never been refuted. One of the best applications of cognitive dissonance theory is that of effort justification. That is, if one exert much effort to attain a goal, the person is motivated to believe that the goal was a worthy one, and the effort must have been worth it, regardless of any objective evaluation of what was actually gained through one’s efforts. “I worked so hard, and sacrificed so much to get to this point, it must have really been worth it,” seems to be the mantra running through the minds of those who have put forth their best effort.

Whenever I listened to George W. Bush or members of his administration justifying their invasions and continuing occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, I had thoughts of cognitive dissonance and effort justification run through my mind. The mantra of the Bush administration was "We have come this far, and sacrificed so much, we must stay the course and not let our efforts go to waste. We must ensure that all the Americans who died over there, did not die in vain." This warlike thinking is all part of the Great Republican Mythology, in my opinion. The idea that bloodshed is worthwhile, as long as it is directed toward an enemy, and that so-called "freedom" requires bloodshed is a myth propagated by the political system of the United States, especially the Republican Party, but acceded to by Democrats as well. This notion has been labelled the myth of redemptive violence. John McCain's Presidential Campaign continued this myth in an effort to reduce his own cognitive dissonance over the Vietnam War, I believe. The same applies to other political "hawks" in our nation who bitterly remember our government's abandonment of the Vietnam War, in my opinion, including so-called "Chicken Hawks" such as George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld who gleefully led our military into the current conflicts in the Middle East, and probably would have invaded Iran as well by now, had they not run out of popularity and soldiers.

I shudder to think what would have happened had John McCain won (or stole) the election last November. Fortunately, most of us Americans were either against the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq from the beginning or since have grown sick and tired of them. Perhaps cognitive dissonance has run its course. Eventually, people get tired of constant effort with no payoff, and change their plans. We can see that now in American politics. However, for individual soldiers and their families, and others who are committed to a military solution to the problem of Muslim extremist terrorism, effort justification remains a potent factor. People do not want ot believe that their family members have sacrificed their lives, limbs, or prime years for a counterproductive cause.

Maybe I am just retarded when it comes to fighting. There are some things I just don’t get. Perhaps the part of my brain that is supposed to make me want to fight does not work. At least I have an excuse. I was born a month late, and was supposed to have been retarded. I remember hearing sayings such as “live by the sword, die by the sword” and “do unto others as you would have then do onto you” when I was young. One of the earliest songs that I learned in school was “last night I had the strangest dream,” an antiwar song. In the song, everyone agrees to outlaw war. I guess my teacher was a war protester, unbeknownst to me. I had opportunities to fight when I was young. In fact, on several occasions, other boys tried to goad me into fighting. It did not work. A boy – I suppose he would be considered a bully – would hit me. Upset, I would just stare at him in return. A few days later, he would try again. Then he would stop trying. This scenario repeated itself three times, twice in elementary school, once in middle school. The idea of fighting seemed alien to me. I quickly realized, though, that the bully wanted to exert control over me, either out of jealousy of because he found me a meek, convenient target, and thought he could do so by hurting me, or the threat of hurting me. When he hit me, he wanted me to react by crying, running away, or attempting to fight back. When I did not react as hoped, he would quickly give up. I soon realized that if I had fought back, the incidents would become protracted and the fighting would have most likely escalated. Showing my disapproval by glaring at the offender, without reciprocating by fighting, was the appropriate response. It worked for me. But like I said, maybe I am retarded, or perhaps I just grew up in a different world from some other people.

 February 5

The Myth of War Part 8: Gary

Here is one more personal Vietnam-related entry, a relatively recent one, showing long-lasting psychological problems caused by war.

A few years ago, we had new neighbors move into the house behind ours (on another street). The way our yard adjoins theirs, it is easy to talk to the people living there. In fact, this house's backyard is directly behind our greenhouse/cat shelter area (The "Kitty Palace"). Shortly after they moved in, I met the new neighbors. The husband was a man named Gary, a Vietnam War Veteran. When he found out that I was trained in Psychology, he quickly began opening up to me about his Vietnam War experiences, and particularly, his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Gary had been drafted into the army shortly after finishing high school, as was the policy of the U.S. government during those years, if an 18 year old male could not avoid Vietnam by college scholarship, medical problems, or a lucky "draft number" based on the person's birthday. Gary was not so fortunate, so he was quickly sent to Vietnam. Actually, Gary did not tell me much about his actual expeirences in Vietnam, but he did not have to. He did tell me that every year around Thanksgiving, he tended to do something "crazy" (to quote Gary). Something traumatic (unspecified) had occured around Thanksgiving while he was in Vietnam. Thus, he would get depressed, run away from home, attack someone, and generally engage in destructive behavior at this time of the year. Gary had no job; he was on disability for PTSD. He did have some tools in the backyard and worked on some home projects, so at least he was able to do something productive at times. Gary and his wife had 2 little grandaughters who often visited their home. Thus, some aspects of their lives were in good order. I don't recall specifically whether Gary ever told me about his marital history, but it seems to me that he told me that he had gotten divorced once, probably due to one of his Thanksgiving escapades.

While Gary was my neighbor, we were given two kittens, little brothers, by Isabella, my step-daughter. We named them Maxwell (after Maxwell Smart) and Goldy (for his color). Ironically, Gary and his wife also turned out to have a male cat they called Goldy. While they were still kittens, Maxwell and Goldy went to play in Gary's yard. Another neighbor had a large, Great Dane type dog they aptly had named "Trouble." Trouble was a great jumper, and had managed to jump over Gary's fence, then caught and killed Maxwell. Both Gary and I made complaints to the animal shelter after that incident, so that, ever since, Trouble has been confined to an enclosure. (I often hear him howling still.) Gary had witnessed this incident and thus was incensed by the killing of my kitten by this dog. He seemed to take it very personally, and got a BB gun with which he shot Trouble or shot at Trouble on several occasions.

A few months later, I stopped noticing Gary in his backyard. At first, I thought that perhaps he was inside or shopping somewhere, so I did not happen to see him. After a few weeks of Gary's absence, it became obvious that Gary was gone, although I still regularly saw his wife. (She was not talkative, and I did not feel like broaching this sensitive topic.) I suspect that Gary had suffered some sort of mental breakdown. He was probably in the psychiatric wing of the local Veterans' Hospital. In any case, he never returned. About a year later, his wife moved out, and some different people moved into that house.

Gary's sad case is typical of the many veterans with PTSD who never get over the trauma experienced during war. Whether they volunteer to go to war, or are drafted against their will, few young men seem to realize what they are really getting into. I recall Gary telling me that his Vietnam experience was about survival for him and his buddies, not about winning the war, or killing those people who were designated as their enemies. I find that statement to be typical of the attitudes of young men who find themselves caught in the death and destruction of war. This tells us a great deal about the nature of war from the perspective of those who are in the war zone. It is politicians and military leaders who want to win wars and kill enemies, not the average soldier. The average soldier is just another victim of war.

February 2

The Myth of War Part 7: John Le's Wedding

During my junior and senior years of high school, in the years 1975-1977, refugees from Vietnam began showing up in Riverside. By the end of high school, most of my friends were Vietnamese. It was in my nature to take "the new kids in town" under my wings, so to speak. My best friend was John Le, an ethnic Chinese from Vietnam. He also had a younger sister named Gigi who went to school with us. John's family were Seventh Day Adventists, and his father was a psychiatrist who worked at the famous Seventh Day Adventist school, Loma Linda University. All of us were also good friends with the Truong family. I remember the Truongs as an exceptionally nice family, consisting of mother, father, 3 sons (the 3 older children), then 3 daughters (the younger children). The older sons, Chau and Ly, were around my age, while the next son, "Toy" the spelling of whose name I was never sure of, was a couple years younger than myself. All of us would generally play Frisbee and talk during lunch period every school day. Also, there were many home visits, especially during summer vacations.

After graduating, I went to Pitzer College in Claremont, about 40 miles away from my home. I was the only student from my graduating class who went there. John, Gigi and the Truongs went to other colleges such as Loma Linda and Cal Poly Pomona, so we largely lost touch. However, several years later, John Le sent me an invitation to his wedding, and pre-wedding get togethers, although he had changed his name to Kenneth for reasons unknown to me. At the first pre-wedding social, I was pleased to see John and Gigi, as well as Chau and Ly. Chau was working for the post office, and had a Vietnamese girlfriend. Ly, who was an especially handsome and appealing Vietnamese fellow, was in an engineering program, I believe, and also had a girlfriend. However, "Toy," their cute little brother, was noticeably absent. Finally, I asked why "Toy" was not there. The answer was not what I would have wished. "Toy" had developed lung cancer, and had already passed away. The strange thing about that was that nobody in the Truong family smoked. Whenever I was at their house, it was clean and smoke-free. Upon reflection, I thought of the effects of Agent Orange, the defoliant used by the United States' army in Vietnam, which turned out to have carcinogenic effects. The Truongs were from the city of Hue, along the central coast of Vietnam, and near where much of the fighting took place. Chau and Ly's father, in fact, was the captain of a large ship, as I recall, which carried a great many refugees out of Vietnam. After leaving with the entire family, they knew they were not welcome back, so they wound up in the United States. Ever since I heard of "Toy's" tragic early death, I have suspected that Agent Orange was the cause, or at least a contributing factor, although that would be impossible to prove. Nonetheless, in my mind "Toy" was just another unjust victim of an unjust war.

Eventually, John/Kenneth would have a couple of children (a girl and a boy, I believe), and become a pharmacist after completing his education at Loma Linda University. In fact, he still lives and works in this area. In 1986, my first year as a Teacher's Assistant at U. C. Riverside, I encountered a very attractive, familiar looking young woman named Tan Truong who was in the Introductory Psychology class for which I was an assistant. I made an educated guess and asked her if she was one of my friend's younger sisters that I remembered meeting at the Truong's house. The answer was yes. Later, Tan was working at U.C. Riverside part-time while going to school. Meanwhile, according to Kenneth, Gigi had gotten married and had a couple of kids as well, which I found strange, given that in high school she used to say that she never wanted to get married. Perhaps that was due to the fact that her parents were divorced, however, so apparently she got over that, as the Truong family got over the loss of their brother and son, "Toy," and as the nation of Vietnam has gotten over the Vietnamese War. As far as I know, despite language limitations, all of my Vietnamese high school friends, from the Le family and the Truong family, have done quite well in their lives, a tribute to their resilience. I hope I served them well in their adjustment to life in the United States.

January 30

The Myth of War Part 6: My Father Saw the Devastation

After seeing the previous post from my father with my comments, my father sent me an additional email about post WWII Asia. Also, he sent me an email saying that his father wanted him to be a medic in the navy, so that my father would not be asked to shoot anyone. I am sure my father did not want to shoot anyone, either. I asked my father about the wording of his statement that he turned "antiwar, except in defense after an attack," given that politicians tend to play semantic tricks in order to frame every war as being a matter of self-defense or defense of some other nation following an attack. My father indicated that he meant self-defense following a direct attack. The so-called Iraq War, for example, was neither done in self-defense nor following an attack. The same is true of the invasion of Afghanistan by U. S. military forces. My father's second email follows:

I didn't write details of destruction in the first note, because the note might be too long. When we arrived in the Yellow Sea on our way to Korea in Feb 1946, we saw ships in the shallow part of the water than had been bombed or struck aerial mines that we laid down. Some were on their sides and rusting. When we anchored off shore near Inchon to unload the occupation troops on board, the fishing boats and junks would gather in the evening around our ship and wait for our cooks to dump our garbage. Korea was a poor but proud country then, not like the current industrial giant it is now.The boat people evidentally did not have enough food and sometimes would fight over the pieces of food in the garbage. One bright moonlight night some of us were watching from the flying bridge and we saw a young woman pushed overboard during a fight for food and no one tried to help her. Actually the water was so cold that a person could lose consciousness in 2-3 minutes and die. The woman must have had a baby, because we heard it crying most of the night.

In Japan in about early June 1946, we docked at Yokahama and about a block from the dock was a big famous department store the service men and women liked to go to and shop. The back of the store was blown away and sealed off. Sgt Joe Levin and I took the train from Yokhama to Tokyo to sight see. All along the rail tracks buildings and factories were destroyed. Sometimes only a chimney was left. At one place we saw an old woman squatting in a pile of rubble looking for something. If you think of Tokyo Bay as somewhat equivelent to San Francisco Bay, it was as though there was destruction from San Francisco down toward Palo Alto or maybe San Jose. The part of Tokyo near the Imperial Palace was largely intact, including the famous hotel where General MacArthur had his headquarters.

We were back in Japan again in about early Sept 1946 and one of my fellow Army friends on board met some Japanese girls attending a Christian Academy or College not far from the Yokahama docks. The girls invited him and friends, including me, to a party at one of the girl's apartments. The girls all spoke very good English and were very proper and polite. We sat on the floor of her second floor apartment and just talked and had tea and refresments. There was absolutely no alcohol or sex. We were just a group of college age kids from different countries. They were nice and nice looking and I remember thinking at the time, how could our two counries have fought each other in a bitter war? The thing that was interesting about the girl's living room, where we had the party, was that the outside wall facing the street was blown away and still not repaired a year after the war was over. As we sat there talking we could look out this big hole in the wall at the city and the wrecked building across the street where the bomb had landed. Love, Dad

January 28

The Myth of War Part 5: In My Father's Own Words

I asked my father yesterday about his army experiences. I also asked him for permission to put this information on this blog. I was hoping for more about what he saw in Asia which influenced him to be antiwar, but that is okay. The actual email includes my father's recollections of his army experiences. I think some of his experiences seeing his friends and shipmates and needlessly die or be maimed, even in peacetime, also influenced my father to detest war. The following is the response he emailed to me. The story it tells is very affecting. Thank you, Dad! Here is your post:

In either February or March of 1945, I am not sure of the exact dates, my friend Dick Poisall, from Danville, Illinois and I, accompanied by my father, Marine Ruffner Warden, traveled to the Chicago by train. Dick ( Richard ) and I were 17 and seniors in Danville High School. Our purpose was to volunteer for the Navy at the Naval Recruiting Station. Dick passed all the tests and was inducted. I failed the physical, because of my eyes. My father then talked to the medical examing officer and explained he had trained me in summer times in many aspects of x-ray technology and that I would be of value in the Navy Medical Corps. The medical officer said he couldn't break the criteria rules. I went home and Dick went to a Navy boot camp, not sure of exact location, possibly in Illinois. An epidemic of meningitis developed in the Navy barracks and Dick contacted it. He died on Easter Day, 1945. Dick and I had been friends from grade school, Garfield School in Danville. He and Jim Wolter and Oliver Mann and I were in a barbershop quartet in high school. Dick was the tenor, Jim was the alto, Oliver was the baritone and I was supposed to be the bass, but some considered I was the monitone. Dick had a marvelous tenor voice and sang in the choir at our church, First Presbyterian Church of Danvile. His rendition of the 23 Psalm in solo voice, I still recall. He could possibly have been a famous singer, if he had lived. In early August 1945, I volunteered for the Army and was accepted. I was sent home to be called up when they needed me. The date I was accepted was the day the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. I was called to active duty on Sept 18, 1945, about 2 weeks after the official surrender of Japan. I never went to basic training camp, but was sent almost immediately to a type of administraive training to assist discharging soldiers. This was at Fort Ogelthorpe , Georgia. This lasted 6-8 weeks, then I ended up in something different as a clerk typist in the Army Transportation Corps, Ship's Complement Division in Seattle around Thanksging. From Fort Lawton Seattle I was assigned in late January or February 1946 to the troop ship, SS Marine Devil. I was a clerk typist in the ship's administrative office. The ship was leased by the Army from the Merchant Marine and had a Merchant Marine Crew of 122 and about 22-24 Army assigned permanently to take care of all the administrative needs of the troops. Marine Devil was about 15-16 thousand tons, 600 feet long, could carry 2200 troops and equipment. I was youngest person on board and was called Marine or "kid" or "lightning". My best friend on board was Joe Levine, the chief Army medic. There was an Army MD on board and several other enlisted medics like Joe. There was a communication Army officer who ran things like ship's newpaper, an oficial Army officer photographer , Transport Commander of Col rank, who supervised troops we carried and us and because of his title outranked any other Army officer on board for decsisions regarding the troops. We had an Army Major who was a Pesbyterian Chaplain and an officer in charge of entertainment like movies and boxing matches etc. He was actually the same as the photographer. There were also two Army nurses.The Merchant Marine crew was headed by the Captain Anderson, who had total command of ship when we were are sea. There was Chief Mate, bravest man I ever knew in storms, etc. Many deck hands, mess boys, cooks, Chief Engineer and many other engineers. My favorite engineer was a guy called Jock, who made ships in a bottle. There was a Merchant Marine sujply officer, in charge of all supplies and food each voyage. Captain Anderson was the most skilled seaman/navigator one could imagine and saved our ship a couple times by stopping in fog in the China Sea ,when other ships barged ahead and so forth. Our job was to carry the occupation troops to Japan and Korea and bring back the combat troops. I made 4 trips to Asia and one to Hawaii. On our first trip we ran into a fierce storm just after leaving Seattle and lost 3 men overboard. Chief Mate made a heroic effort to rescue them, but failed. On the was back from Korea that trip, we had an explosion in the engine room that totally wrecked one turbine and badly damaged the other. All power failed when the accident happened and we drifted aimlessly. The radio wouldn't even work for a distress call until a portable generator was brought into action. The Navy then sent a message that we were a hazard to navigation and they would send a sea tug to tow us back to Japan. Captain Anderson replied by radio, " Don't send us any Damn Navy tug. Send a hospital ship instead". The accident happened in the late afternoon. Luckily the sea was calm. A large Navy ship with a good hospital arrived that night and the worst injured engineers transferred, by cable sling, among them Jock, who had lost a hand. I never saw him again. Our engineers repaired the one turbine not totaled and we proceeded to San Framcisco at half speed. We had forward and no reverse, which caused us to hit the side of the wharf one of the docks at Fisherman's wharf. Our ship was drydocked for engine repairs at Hunter's Point, S. F. for about 6 weeks. I made 4 more voyages after that and there was no other problem that serioius. I was discharged from the Army late Dec 1946, after spending time in an Army hospital with pneumonia contracted in Japan. So, the Navy didn't take me, but I spent more time at sea than several of my current MD friends who were in the Navy in their youth. I wrote down a lot of the things I saw at sea in a notebook, but didn't write enough about the brave and wonderful men I knew on the ship. I wish I had. The destruction of the war that I saw in Asia, after the war, made me anti-war, except in defense after an attack. I never had a shot fired at me or saw combat. I rose to the rank of T/5, approximately corporal. When I was in Medical School at Northwestern, Lois and I met Joe Levine and his wife at their Chicago appartment. When I was in practice in Radiology In Riverside, I met Tom Horsley, our ship's MD, who was then working at Riverside County Hospital. After our accident at sea, while we still had no power, Tom had taken care of the injured on the open deck, until the portable generator started and he could work in the ship's operating room. When I developed pneunonia at sea Dr Horsley took care of me in the ship's hospital and I awoke one night and found him there by bed, watching me. Dad

Addendum: at this late date I'm not sure if Dick Poisall actually came with my Dad and me or just happened to be at the Navy Recruiting Station at about the same time. More about "Jock", the engineer I Iiked. He and I used to play chess on quiet sunny days up on the open flying bridge, one deck above the Captain's bridge. He was the Second Engineer, just below the Chief Engineer. His cabin was full of ships in the bottle and tools for making them. Just before our engine room accident, he promised to make a ship in the bottle for me. Like a lot of the older men on board, either Merchant Marine or Army, they treated me like a younger brother or other young relative, since I was the youngest person permanently on board. And Captain Anderson, whose skin looked like tanned leather from years at sea and who spoke with a growl and had a pipe always clenched in his teeth, invited several of the Army to his cabin on Sunday afternoon for tea and cake, if all was calm. He would invite any regardless of rank, officer or enlisted, including some of the times me.

January 27

The Myth of War Part 4: Good Parents Don't Send Their Kids to War

The more I write about the Vietnam War, the more I remember. I should call this group of posts "Ghosts of Vietnam," although this is just the beginning of the Myth of War.

My parents were vehemently opposed to the Vietnam War. My father wrote letters to congress complaining about the war. They were also determined to prevent their sons from being sent to war. My eldest brother is 6 years older than me, meaning he was born in 1953 and turned 18 years old in 1971, while the Vietnam War was still going on. He was subject to the draft. Unfortunately, his draft number was 16. Each day of the year had a different number, from 1 to 365. Those young men whose 18th birthday was the day chosen number 1, for example, would be the first to be asked to enter the army. Thus, my brother with his number 16 would be relatively likely to be drafted into the army. My eldest brother, Craig, was a bright young student about ready to go to college at U.C. Riverside, but he did not have a scholarship. Thus, he was likely to be drafted. My parents were mortified. My brother Craig, who never fought and "wouldn't hurt a fly" was ready to declare himself a conscientious objector to the war. My parents, being medically savvy, wanted to make sure that Craig had a thorough physical exam, which might turn up some reason for Craig to be medically disqualified from the military. As it turned out, the situation was defused when Craig was found to have scoliosis of the spine, a condition he shares with my mother. This condition did indeed disqualify Craig from the military. Thank God for spinal scoliosis!

That was the closest any member of my immediate family came to being sent to fight in the Vietnam War. The next member of my family, Bruce, turned 18 in 1974, when the war was winding down, and had a very high draft number, over 300. By the time I turned 18, the Vietnam War was over. Moreover, since I was born in 1959, I never had to register for the draft, but when Reagan became President, he made those who were born in 1960 or later, register for the draft, even though it has never been used since the Vietnam War.

Wars affect not only those who are soldiers, but their families, and any civilians who happen to be in the way. Although I had no direct experience with the Vietnam War, my indirect experiences make a true study in the war's indirect effects. Virtually our entire society was affected by the Vietnam War. Different people may adopt different attitudes about war as a result of their experiences, but everyone is affected. Some become more pacifist; others, humiliated by previous failures, seem determined to win a different war. I have heard it often said that the civilians in a war zone suffer the most. I think that is true. The recent incursion by the Israeli military into Gaza is an example of that. Most of those who died were civilians, many of them women and children killed by indiscriminate bombing. (Bombs by their very nature are indiscriminate, no matter how sophisticated their makers may claim they are, or how carefully aimed they are.) As a result Israel's already poor international standing has plummeted even further.

Wars are the most destructive human activity. Not only do people suffer, but so do animals, plants, and the environment as a whole. Modern weapons such as bombs kill everything in their way. Even military exercises cause pollution. In the United States, many of the worst polluters are military bases. War, and even military exercises, burn massive amounts of oil, and use massive quantities of our resources, not for constructive purposes, but for destructive purposes. Wars and their aftermaths often result in famines and epidemics with high mortality rates. Following World War I, there was a massive epidemic in Europe which killed millions of people. My father's father, who was a doctor, helped to treat some of those people, and fortunately, did not get sick. The fastest way to set back the progress of humanity is to engage in war. However, political leaders, the military, and the public rarely seem to consider the collateral damage caused by war while contemplating going to war. They should, but they don't. People seem to be stupid that way.

My father joined the army the day that the first atomic bomb was dropped -- bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. Thus, he did not have to serve during time of war. The war was over by the time my father actually was in the army. My father had tried to join the navy several months earlier, but was rejected. However, the friend he went with to join the navy was accepted, caught meningitis during boot camp, and died. Such are the misfortunes of war. War is an all-around tragedy. Once in the army, my father was sent to Asia on an army ship. This was during the aftermath of World War II, so he saw the devastation that had occurred in Japan and Korea. He says those were the worst two years of his life, and I heard him call himself "the original I hate the army guy." His experience in the army pretty much turned him into a pacifist, a phenomenon which is not unusual, actually. The same thing happened to a friend of my parents who was an army medic during World War II. After being in the army for two years, my father went to college on the government subsidized program for military veterans, married my mother, then went to medical school, and in the following years, had 3 children with my mother. Quickly starting a family was a common experience among young Americans during that era, creating the "baby boom."

Thus, even as a form of population control, war is a failure. Following a war, there is typically a "baby boom" among the survivors which fills any gap in the population rather quickly. I am a baby boomer myself. In fact, the year in which I was born, 1959, was the year in which the most children of the entire post World War II baby boom were born.

January 25

Today is Chinese New Year's Day. Xinnian Kuaile! Gongxi Facai! Hongbao Na Lai! That means "Happy New Year! Congratulations on having a lot of money! Please give me some!" Eunice greeted me this way this morning, which is the traditional greeting of children to parents or a wife to her husband on Chinese New Year's Day.

The Myth of War Part 3: The Mists of Memory

The account of my friend's father's death in Vietnam which I included in yesterday's blog entry was substantially different from the impression I had while growing up, but some aspects are similar. I was told that he was basically helpless when killed, which appears to have been the case. Apparently, the entire group, including some high ranking officers, was ambushed after landing their helicopter and walking into a village to take part in strategy planning with local Vietnamese allies. All of them were shot dead quite suddenly, it appears, with little or no chance to defend themselves. And my friend's father was indeed a Lieutenant Colonel, as I had been told. There, the story parts from what I thought had happened. Somehow, I thought or had been told that my friend's father was a high ranking medic, and that they were unarmed and evacuating wounded people when Vietcong troops fired on them anyway and killed them. I had imagined my friend's father heroically trying to load patients unto the helicopter when he was shot. I also thought that he was probably killed in Laos, because he mainly had contacts with the Hmong people. Clearly, these things were not true. My friend's father was a soldier and military historian with a master's degree from West Point, but definitely not a medic. Perhaps my parents had some misinformation about him. It was not until I did some internet research in preparation for this topic that I discovered that my friend's father was actually a military historian, and saw the official account of how he and nine others died. Strangely, a different helicopter with two soldiers had touched down in the same location less than an hour before this group was killed, while looking for another American, were greeted with friendly waves, but when their colleague did not show up, quickly left without shutting down the helipcopter's engine. This happened during the Tet Offensive being carried out by the Vietcong in 1968. Tet means Chinese New Year in Vietnamese. From the description of the incident, it seems that the victims could have been taken hostage, but that did not happen.

Memories are not all they are cracked up to be. People get misinformation which they believe, and memories get elaborated on and embellished, as has been well-established by memory researchers. Fortunately, there are sometimes pictures, videos, and fairly accurate eyewitness accounts which are written shortly after an incident has taken place. Without these, our past would be lost in the mists of memory. As anthropology teaches us, pre-technological cultures soon (within a few hundred years) forget their origins and make new and utterly fallacious creation myths, evolve a new culture and language, and most likely, begin having wars with and killing those peoples from whom they had only recently become a separate entity. What a sad state of conditions human civilization was born under!

Thus, war has been a periodic and unfortunate state of the human condition thoughout the history of civilization, one that requires large scale government organization, but also a degree of ignorance and self-centeredness. We are raised with the concept of war. In the history of the United States, we had the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I, and World War II, not to mention various other, “smaller” wars. Of course, the war of the moment was the Vietnam War. God only knows how many other wars there have been worldwide throughout history. War was something to be capitalized. It was something which made history. It was something which started and ended societies. The good guys were supposed to win wars, and the bad guys, lose them. As proof of our national superiority, one only had to look at all the wars our nation had won, and naturally, we were the good guys.

However, as soon as I was mature enough to examine the concept of war, I began to question virtually everything that I had been taught about it. Perhaps it was my upbringing (my parents are both inclined toward pacifism, and my father had written to his congressman to protest the Vietnam War, for which he believes he got his taxes audited). Perhaps it was my budding personality. Perhaps it was my experience that day at my friends house. It may have been a combination of all of these things which made me so skeptical of the assumptions that others seemed to be making regarding war. I found myself asking questions like these: Why is it murder when one person kills another, but not murder when one combatant kills an enemy combatant during war? Who decides when one is at war, how does one do so, and what would make the judgment that one is at war valid or not? Is war really necessary? Would we have not achieved the same goals eventually without war, with less strife, less killing, more harmony, more happiness? And finally, most recently, is there really such a phenomenon as war, or is it merely a convenient label applied by one government in order to convince (some of) its citizens to fight, kill, or maim those of another government?

I realize that we are all born with different genes – except for identical twins, are raised by different parents – except for siblings, and each of us has a unique set of experiences in life from which to draw information – even identical and siblings. We cannot expect others to perceive the world in the same way; each one of us has a unique perspective. I can only write from my perspective. Nonetheless, I am confident that my own perspective on war does have merit.

Shortly after the death of my friend’s father, I began to have mystical, spiritual experiences. I remember standing in the middle of the playground at my school, totally oblivious to the other children around me, fully engulfed in the presence of a higher power. Another day not long afterward, I began to walk home, went about 50 feet, and stopped when I was overcome once again by the same sensation. I looked up into the sky, and I could feel that I was being watched, and protected, and that my life had true purpose. At that moment, nothing else seemed to matter other than the overwhelming sense of love that I received from the spiritual realm. Although the nature of these experiences are open to questioning, I felt not only a universal consciousness, but also the spirit of my friend's father. This was the beginning of my spiritual awareness which has continued to develop since that time.

The Vietnam War continued until I was in high school. In fact, the last or one of the last Americans to be killed in the Vietnam War was the father of a classmate of mine named Valerie. She did not outwardly show depression, but showed a great need for male affection and had lots of boyfriends. (I was not one of them, by the way; I really did not know her well.) I think this behavior by Valerie was a sign of her attempt to cope with the loss of her father. Growing up in Riverside, California, we lived near March Air Force Base. Bombers took flight from there, flied all the way to Vietnam, dropped their bombs, killed people, and returned to March Air Force Base, all in one flight. Valerie's father was one of those bomber pilots. When I found out what was happening at the airbase so nearby, I found it disturbing, but so was losing another classmate's father. The presence of March Air Force Base was also why my friend's father lived in Riverside, since that was a major transport center for taking troops and supplies to Vietnam. Thus, many top military personnel lived in the Riverside area. Now, March Air Force Base has become March Air Reserve Base, so its role in the U.S. military has been substantially reduced, but everytime I go by it, I think of the tragedy of the Vietnam War.

January 24

The Myth of War Part 2: A Military Historian is Killed in Action

I found the following quote of the day yesterday on Thom Hartmann's website, after I had uploaded yesterday's post on this blog.

"My first wish is to see this plague of mankind, war, banished from the earth." George Washington

I have never been to the Vietnam War Memorial, or even to the city named after George Washington, but I have often envisioned going there to see the name of my friend's father, so vividly that it feels as though I have been there. Today, I looked up the history of the incident in which my friend's father died, and found the following. There is really no need to link directly to it, since this is the entire page, but it was on I left out the names, since I have not had contacted any of these people to ask their permission to use their names. However, this record is in the public domain. Obviously, I do not know what the politics of my childhood friend or other remaining members of his family are now, nor their views about war. I only speak for myself. The following is what I found concerning the incident during the Tet Offensive in which my friend's father and several other Americans were killed, with the names removed. A total of six Americans and apparently four South Vietnamese soldiers were killed in the incident.

War Story:
This is from the 134th AHC History Page. On 7 February 1968, the 134th suffered it's first combat casualties. An entire crew and aircraft were lost while on a MACV support mission at Phu Bon near Cheo Reo. The aircraft flew MACV senior advisors and local commanders to a village that was to have been secured earlier in the morning by nearby PF (Popular Forces) ground troops. On arrival over the village there was no radio contact with the ground unit supposedly at the site but smoke was popped by someone on the ground and the crew landed. However, the PF troops had not yet arrived and the village was occupied by VC who had taken it over the previous night. After landing and shutting down the aircraft, the crew and six others were ambushed and killed. The aircraft was set on fire and destroyed. This was a very traumatic experience for everyone in the unit since the 134th was a close knit group and everyone knew the lost crewmembers well. The war hit home to all in a very personal way. After this, aircraft from the 134th were not allowed to land in remote locations without establishing radio contact with ground personnel or positive identification. In a bizarre twist, less than an hour before the ambush of the crew, two other troops had been searching for a MACV advisor with the PF troops and had landed at the same village after smoke was popped on the ground. However, they did not shut down or get out of the aircraft. They saw what appeared to be local troops, waved to them (their waves were returned) and realizing their intended passenger was not there, they took off again. One of our crews from the 92nd AHC, picked up the bodies and flew them back to Cheo Reo.

According to my parents, my friends father was a true intellectual with a Master's Degree. He had learned to speak the Hmong language, according to my parents, and was a leader in helping garner cooperation of the Hmong people in Laos with the U.S. military efforts. Additionally, my internet search revealed that he was a military historian who had published several scholarly works on military history in the years prior to his going to Vietnam. Apparently, he was in Vietnam when killed, although he had been working closely with the Hmong people in Laos. Of course, as a child, I only knew him as a kind, sweet man, and my friend's father, not someone involved in the business of war. In fact, if one examines the history of politics, it is those with the most experience of war, such as George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower, who tend to be the most opposed to war, presumably because they have witnessed it's horrors firsthand. My experience with war cannot compare to theirs, but neither have I been inculcated in a culture of war.

January 23

The next post along with several others about the myth of war were originally written by me several years ago, in preparation for the time when I would present them in updated and revised form on the internet. The parts in italics are my true experiences, while the non-italic parts are my current understanding of the concept of war which has developed as a result of my personal search for understanding combined with my training as a Social Psychologist. Consequently, I will present a radically different world view from the prevailing one, a world view which is wholly incompatible with the concept of war. Now that Barack Obama is President, I want him to consider this information before he involves any of our military personnel in foreign conflicts, including Afghanistan.

The Myth of War Part 1: Where it All Began

I only met him once, but he left an indelible imprint on my life. He was a graduate of West Point, a Lieutenant Colonel, and his son was my good friend. He was cleaning the family aquarium. He had come all the way back from Vietnam, and there he was, cleaning an aquarium. Some people are more willing to do the dirty work than others. Perhaps I should know; I am that kind of person also. At least I have been since that time.

War is a political and cultural phenomenon. On a cultural level, it historically must be one of, if not the most, popular activities that human cultures engage in. Every time a political leader there are calls for war, it seems, the leader experiences a sudden surge in popularity, and droves of young men line up, eager to go to war. Perhaps it is because we are taught that war eliminates old problems, and lays the groundwork for progress. Perhaps it is because young men are eager to be heroes, having seen the adulation and credit rained on veterans of previous wars, at least those which are considered to have been successful. Perhaps they are afraid of being viewed as cowards or unpatriotic. Given the popularity gains enjoyed by wartime leaders, and their often exalted place in history books, it is not surprising that wars erupt from time to time. If the only consideration a politician had in contemplating going to war was his short term popularity, wars would most likely be even more common than they are. However, the nearly universal popularity of wars when they start does not always extend to their finish. Witness the dismal approval ratings seen by George W. Bush toward the end of his presidency.

One study found that only 15 percent of American combatants in World War II actually fired a weapon. That makes the other 85 percent either conscientious objectors, or perhaps more interested in self-preservation than injury to their opponents. However, the United States military, since that time, has endeavored to make its soldiers react to the presence of the enemy in combat situations, by firing their weapons automatically. That is, they have been trained to make shooting the enemy “second nature.” This strategy has been highly effective in increasing the percentage of combatants who actually participate in the hostilities. Accordingly, the militarily minded would expect the United States to have been extremely successful in its military ventures subsequent to World War II. A quick check of recent military history reveals the opposite to be the case. We have had the Korean War, a stalemate, the Vietnam War, a loss, and the Gulf War, which has been followed by the invasions and current occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. In my opinion, the current situations in Afghanistan and Iraq are really not wars, although politicians and the media are fond of calling them wars. What they really are, is hostile takeovers of small, impoverished nations, using overwhelming force, followed by occupations.

In fact, according to talk show host, author, and true friend of humanity Thom Hartmann, whose best friend commited suicide after being drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War, and sent to boot camp, where he realized that he may be asked to kill other human beings by our government, the United States has about 800 military bases in foreign nations. The government of the United States basically uses three excuses for the use of military force to imperialistically extend American influence around the world. First, the United States considers itself the world's self-appointed "policeman." Second, the United States' government promulgates the fallacious notion of using military means to spread democracy. Third, the government of the United States makes the highly specious and disingenuous argument that foreign military interventions are needed in order to combat imminent threats to our nation by hostile foreign governments, and especially in recent years, by Muslim terrrorists. As a consequence, the United States government spends more money on military spending than all other nations combined, and the lives of thousands of Americans and even more thousands upon thousands of foreigners, including civilians, continue to needlessly be lost as a result.

I was at my friend Pat’s house at the time. As an eight year old, I knew about the Vietnam War, but I knew nothing of the “Tet Offensive.” We were in the front yard when I saw an official-looking car drive up in front of the house. A large black man in a uniform got out of the car, and went to the front door. A moment later, Pat’s mother called us in. She was sobbing inconsolably. To be honest, I had never seen anything like it before nor since. She did not have to give us the news; we already knew. I still remember looking a few feet to my left and seeing Pat’s blond-haired two year old sister, looking dismayed and puzzled, not knowing what to do. I told my friend I would make things better, not knowing what that would entail, or how I would do that, in the naive thought process of an 8 year old . Now, almost 41 years later, I am ready to try.

My relationship with Pat was never the same after that. In his grief, I am sure he withdrew, and in my confusion, shyness, and inexperience, I withdrew as well. I have always regretted that, but I realize now that one cannot expect an 8 year old to show the perspective and understanding necessary deal with such a tragic situation, even when that 8 year old is oneself.

I stopped playing with toy soldiers after that day.