February 23, 2023

War, Violence & Human Nature: Why Won’t We Learn?

I’ve been thinking a lot about war the last few days.

War. Violence. Human nature.

Between the Russia-Ukraine war and so much else I see in the news and two movies I watched in the last couple of days (“Ghandi” and “Apocalypse Now“), I’ve noticed a lot of thoughts and feelings moving through me.

At my core, I’m an idealist. I would love to see peace and nonviolence in the world. But then there are “realities” that create a conflict within me. Aren’t there times that we must defend ourselves, or stand up for something greater?

What about Hitler? Shouldn’t he have been stopped?

Shouldn’t Ukraine defend itself against Russia?

Aren’t there times when as humans we need to stand up for something greater? Aren’t there times when we should step in and say that something just isn’t okay?

And yet yesterday when I thought these thoughts, I had another thought as well. The inner conflict within me deepened because even as I thought that to myself, I also thought: but the reality is also that those who will go fight will be traumatized and changed forever. Soldiers are the ones who will fight. They will do things and see things that most of us will never be able to imagine. So, how can we say that there are times when we should fight, when we’re not the ones fighting?

And yet, it still seems that the reality is that there are.

I had some of this conflict within me last year when I wrote an article here on Elephant. I wrote (and felt) that NATO should go into Ukraine and help. But while I felt that way, I still at the same time also wondered how I could feel so strongly when I wouldn’t be the one fighting. How can we feel so strongly when we’re sending other people off to fight and die?

It’s something I’ve thought about more these last few days. When we think of “war,” it’s so abstract. As an abstract idea, yes, I can say that (unfortunately for the idealist at my core) there are times that we have to defend ourselves, where there may be situations that call for action. (For example, if the country I lived in was being invaded or attacked, I’d hope that my country defended itself—and me.)

But the reality is also that those who do the actual fighting will be the ones who are traumatized and changed for life.

So, what’s right?

I’ve noticed that when I have this train of thoughts, I feel a frustration, a disappointment, and even a resignation at humans. We never learn. We like to think we’re so advanced, but we’re not. We still fight and kill for power and land and control today just as we have always done. The only difference is that our weapons are “more advanced.”

The League of Nations was created after World War I to prevent the outbreak of another such war; then just around 20 years later, World War II started. Clearly, it was ineffective. Then after World War II, the United Nations was created for a similar reason, and yet here we are today—war and violence all over.

There seems to be ongoing conflict all over—never ending, no one learning.

When I think about all of this, I zoom out and view the globe in my head, the land and the itty bitty humans all over—fighting for land and power and control. Blips on the scale of the world’s history, the history of time and space.

Humans are stupid. We act like land is ours, but it’s not—it was here long before us and will be here long after us, and the way it looks now, in terms of which countries “control” what parts, will also change.

The land will shift and change and countries will too. If they don’t change hands in our lifetime, they will in the future. It’s the common current of history.

The British Empire at one time was huge. The Roman Empire lasted for over 1,000 years. The Ottoman Empire lasted for more than 600 years. (Just to point out a few.)

At 246 years old, the United States is a baby in the history of the world, yet most Americans (especially those in power) act as if  its “dominant” status is inevitable, as if it will last forever. It’s not inevitable, and it won’t. Just look at history. (Also, as a reminder, it’s only a country because we slaughtered Native Americans and stole their land.)

When I feel the most frustrated, I withdraw inward and breathe. I remind myself that this is human nature (at least part of it) and that I have no control.

We also have goodness and light and that’s important to remember, but as is evident with the violence all over, humans will continue to fight and create wars for land and power and control.

When I was reading about World War II recently, I saw that there are some conflicting opinions on when the war actually officially started. Many historians believe it was when Germany invaded Poland; that’s when France and the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. But there are other historians who cite the Spanish Civil War or the Second Sino-Japanese War or others.

As I read this, I thought: who’s to say we’re not already in the beginning of World War III? What if Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is the beginning of a much broader conflict that will unfold over time?

We can’t see the beginning of something when we’re in it; it’s only in retrospect that we can see how something started.


Read 8 Comments and Reply

Read 8 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Lisa Erickson  |  Contribution: 231,845

author: Lisa Erickson

Image: The New York Times/Twitter

Relephant Reads:

See relevant Elephant Video