In What Sense Is War a Drug and Who Are Its Peddlers?
The majority of people believe that war is a horrible thing. Wars bring millions of deaths and devastation of the land, they separate families and turn friends into enemies, and they change the course of life in the whole countries and continents. However, there have always been people who wanted to start wars and who wanted to win them. The motives of war may be slightly different in every particular situation, but the basic driving force has always been the desire of one side to take away something from the other. The second side’s purpose is, consequently, the wish to defend its property.
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War is compared to a drug in the sense that it has the power to engage even those who at first consider it wrong and unacceptable. Gradually, under the influence of propaganda and close people’s opinions, a man can change from a pacifist into a soldier who is ready to deprive others of their lives. In the story “Editha” by William Dean Howells, we can see how the main character, George, “seemed to despise it [war] even more than he abhorred it” (Howells 1). However, under the impact of his fiancée Editha, he decides to enlist. When he tells his girlfriend about his decision, he remarks, “It’s astonishing how well the worse reason looks when you try to make it appear the better” (Howells 4). Just like drug addicts justify their behavior, this character is trying to persuade himself that he has made the right choice.
If we consider war a drug, there is a need to identify its peddlers. Generally, they are some ideas or ideals which people rush to defend when governed by their own principles or by propaganda methods. While approved by some people, the drug of war is strongly opposed by others. The movie Paths of Glory (1957) is one of the best examples of the absurdity of war. Another film, MASH (1970), ridicules the very essence of war although it has a sad context at its core. These two powerful pieces of cinematography are just a drop in the ocean of great examples of the idiocy of war. Unfortunately, not everyone understands that war is not noble but catastrophic. Too many people are still under the influence of the war “drug.”
The Positions and Actions of the Weather Underground
“The Company You Keep” by Neil Gordon describes the activity of an organization called The Weather Underground which aimed at overthrowing the US government as it considered the government’s actions wrong. While there is something noble in their purpose (for instance, they emphasized that they wanted to make the people’s life in the US better), I cannot agree with their methods.
The main character says that “every single day” the situation “has gotten worse” (Gordon n. p.), and the nation needed a change. However, I do not think that radical actions threatening the lives of people can be considered positive. The Weather Underground employed some terroristic approaches, which contradicts my pacifistic views. It is indeed good to fight for equality and life improvement. Still, I prefer more peaceful methods.
When James expresses his position that “all Weather was saying was that this government should follow what the Constitution says” (Gordon n. p.), Rebecca contradicts him. She says that the Weather is morally responsible “for encouraging the lefties that did kill” (Gordon n. p.). I support her opinion as I am convinced that promoting others to kill is not less a crime than killing. Throughout the book, some characters are trying to convince us that the activity of the Weather Underground was beneficial and would lead to positive changes in the country. However, I think that nothing positive can arise from the deaths of innocent people who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Defending his organization, James says that the Weather was not just “a bunch of spoiled brats who survived only by the grace of the FBI’s incompetence” (Gordon n. p.). He emphasizes the wisdom of the members and their outstanding loyalty to each other even after many years. He says that even though not all of them liked him, they never justified against him. James tells his daughter, “find me another group of former friends, anywhere, who has never betrayed each other” (Gordon n. p.). While I like this particular feature about the Weathermen, I am opposed to the organization’s activity in general. They did have a noble aim, but they failed to reach it with peaceful methods.
The Sense of Self-Identification in Slavenka Drakulić’s “S. A Novel about the Balkans”
When depicting the tortures which the women had to undergo during the Bosnian war, the author states that “each of them had ceased to be a person” when the soldiers came, and that they have been diminished “to a collection of similar beings of a female gender, of the same blood” (Drakulić n. p.). The author then remarks that “blood alone” bears significance: the soldiers’ “right” blood against the women’s “wrong” blood (Drakulić n. p.).
However, Drakulić notices that not only the women have undergone a significant change with the arrival of the war. She says that the soldiers “are no longer people either,” only they have not realized it yet (Drakulić n. p.). By this statement, the author means that there is no personal identification for those who have become the raping and killing machines, without any feelings, or at least display of feelings. The women see the soldiers as “dangerous envoys of a suprapersonal power which is forcing them to do what they are doing” (Drakulić n. p.). The main character of the book, S., understands that the soldiers are also captives, and they have no face or individuality. They do not own themselves – their willpower and their bodies are governed not by them but by “somebody else – the army, the leader, the nation” (Drakulić n. p.).
The author’s opinion is that the soldiers are not entirely aware of their position. She states that they merely do what they are told, “obey and execute the orders” of those who they are scared of or “in whom they believe” (Drakulić n. p.). Those who do not have their own will and the right to make decisions by themselves are not free to be called people. The soldiers do not realize it; they think they have power and they “are something else” (Drakulić n. p.). When they are standing in front of the “women’s room,” just before entering it, they think for a second that they are the “masters” of the situation (Drakulić n. p.).
The main character is wondering whether the soldiers realize that they are also victims of the war: they cannot “run away” or “hide,” they can be murdered any second, and they are not humans any longer (Drakulić n. p.).
The Demoralizing Power of War
One of the characters of Shakespeare’s “Troilus and Cressida” describes war as an act involving “too much blood and too little brain” (Shakespeare 172). At the same time, it has often been mentioned that even those who begin a war with honorable intentions are eventually corrupted by it. War inevitably changes people, and the change is usually for the worse. Whether it is a physical pain or mental ache, greed or depression, disappointment or eagerness to kill more, the outcomes of taking part in a war are always adverse.
Shohei Ooka’s “Fires on the Plain” as a Manifestation of War’s Destructive Power
The book “Fires on the Plain” by a Japanese author Shohei Ooka depicts the horrors of World War II experienced by a Japanese soldier in the Philippines. Many of the destructive impacts of war are represented in the book: Private Tamura fights exhaustion, starvation, dementia, and self-perception. The book describes the gradual decline of feelings after experiencing too many war atrocities. If in the beginning Tamura “felt a shock of fear” (Ooka 22) and was “easily frightened of anything new” (Ooka 79), by the end of the book he is no longer shocked by seeing the random body parts of his mates (Ooka 179).
There is an example of how unneeded the soldiers become when they cannot fight any longer: “the only concern of the doctors was how to get rid of their patients and save food” (Ooka 31). This case shows the unacceptable treatment of the government – the power encouraging people to enlist. It, too, is an adverse impact of the war: people give away their lives for the country and then are left to cope with the problems by themselves. However, Tamura mentions that even in the worst circumstances the native land is better to meet the hardships. He says, “in our own country, even in the most distant or inaccessible part, this feeling of strangeness never comes to us” (Ooka 18).
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The soldier’s contemplations being him to the conclusion that he has no right to enjoy the world’s beauty but only needs to consider it from a professional standpoint. Tamura says that an infantryman should view “a gentle hollow in the ground” as “a shelter from artillery fire” and the “beautiful green fields” as “dangerous terrain” (Ooka 19).
Shohei Ooka’s book is a powerful illustration of the demoralizing power of war. It shows how war can irrevocably change a person and how unnecessary it is.
The Abhorrent Pictures of War in Slavenka Drakulić’s “S. A Novel about the Balkans”
It is difficult to understand the motives of the soldiers going to war, but they can be explained at least somehow. What cannot be justified, however, is the lot of the women during a war. Having no sufficient strength to take part in the fighting, the female part of the population is left without any support or defense, exposed to many dangers beginning with the attacks and ending with horrific raping and cruelty of the opposing army. Drakulić’s book “S. A Novel about the Balkans” describes this side of the war: outrageously merciless treatment of Bosnian Muslim women by the Serbian soldiers.
The description of the terrible things done to the women makes the blood run cold. The main character is used “to the pain of being hit by a rifle butt, slapped, tied up, to the dull pain of her head being banged against the wall, or being kicked in the chest by a boot” (Drakulić n. p.). At the beginning of the book, S. is at the hospital after giving birth to a baby whose father was an unknown soldier who had raped her. Such cases were not rare in those years: S. became so used to brutal treatment that she “no longer had a will of her own, it has been replaced by something else, as if a robot has taken control of her body” (Drakulić n. p.).
The central theme and the details of this book emphasize the atrocious character of any war and remind us that it is necessary to be humans. The war has the power to turn people into animals, heartless creatures who forget the primary aim of defending their country’s interests and destroy everything and everyone in their way.
“The Company You Keep” by Neil Gordon: Is a Good War Better than a Bad Peace?
Gordon’s book is dedicated to the Weather Underground – an organization which claimed to have people’s interests as its priority. However, the means employed by its activists were far prom peaceful. Therefore, a question arises: is it worthwhile to gain peace and a better life for the country by killing people? Gordon’s character James Grant is trying to persuade his daughter (and the readers) that they were trying to do a good thing. While writing to his daughter about “the bad people murdering each other horribly from Sierra Leone to Bethlehem” (Gordon n. p.), he does not consider his organization guilty of several deaths and other crimes.
I do not think that radical organizations like the Weather Underground deserve to be called democratic. If they employ force in their activity, they cannot say they want to ensure peace. James argues that “if this country had made the three central ideas of the Port Huron Statement – anti-war, anti-racism, and anti-imperialism – the law of the land, today we’d be living in a safe, just, and prosperous society” (Gordon n. p.). However, I believe that they could have chosen a more pacifistic way to show their dissatisfaction with the government.
As we can see from numerous examples in the books and movies, war has the power to corrupt and irrevocably change people. Even if they enter it with noble intentions, they end up becoming either too much hurt and depressed or too much cruel and ready to destroy. Whichever direction we may consider, it will be a bad one. War alters people, it destroys their physical and mental health, and it undermines the good that had been in people’s minds. Shakespeare’s character was right saying that war involves “too much blood and too little brain” (Shakespeare 172). If people were wiser, they would realize that war is the worst method to achieve their plans. The Machiavellian principle of the aim justifying the means is not suitable here. In my opinion, war cannot be justified by any aims.
Drakulić, Slavenka. S. A Novel about the Balkans. Penguin, 2001.
Gordon, Neil. The Company You Keep. Pan MacMillan, 2013.
Howells, William Dean. “Editha.” Washington State University, Web.
MASH. Directed by Robert Altman, performances by Donald Sutherland, Elliot Gould, Tom Skerritt, Sally Kellerman, and Robert Duvall, 20th Century Fox, 1970.
Ooka, Shohei. Fires on the Plain. Tuttle Publishing, 2000.
Paths of Glory. Directed by Stanley Kubrick, performances by Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou, George Macready, and Wayne Morris, United Artists, 1957.
Shakespeare, William. Troilus and Cressida. Filiquarian Publishing, 2007.