In A Society Built On War, We Must Do More Than Just Prefer Peace
American activist Angela Davis once said, “In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.” Our responsibility to truth and justice isn’t fulfilled by merely witnessing the perverse tendency in western society toward white supremacy without participating in it, any more than our responsibility is fulfilled by merely witnessing but not participating in a gang rape. Simply choosing not to participate in a grave injustice while giving it our tacit permission to continue is insufficient, especially if the color of your skin gives you an advantage resulting from that injustice. This injustice must be forcefully opposed.
The same is true of war, which is the glue that holds together the empire which dominates our society.
There is a painfully common notion among leftists and progressives that it is perfectly acceptable to focus on domestic policy while de-emphasising the importance of foreign policy, or even ignoring foreign policy entirely. Politicians can generate immense support for themselves simply by promoting decent domestic policies while maintaining foreign policy that is not terribly distinct from the CIA/CNN mainstream consensus. I’m not as familiar with right-wing political circles, but I gather that libertarians and other right-leaning anti-interventionists often encounter a similar deprioritization of sane foreign policy.
War is the worst thing in the world. In terms of death, destruction and suffering caused to human beings, nothing else comes close: it’s just the absolute worst thing. It is worse than economic injustice. It is worse than racism. It is worse than sexism. It is worse than homophobia and transphobia. It is worse than draconian drug policies and immigration policies. All of those things are bad. War is worse. The politics of anyone who claims to care about people should reflect this.
If you don’t think that war is the worst thing in the world, it’s only because you haven’t looked closely enough at exactly what it is and how it works. Wars always necessarily involve not just mountains of human corpses, but lives ruined forever, bodies ripped apart, brains permanently destroyed by neurological trauma and minds permanently destroyed by psychological trauma, millions displaced from their homes, rape and slavery and human trafficking rising exponentially in the chaos, extremist factions rising to power and inflicting unspeakable evils on people. The suffering that is inflicted by every one of these military operations which get promoted by middle-aged men in DC think tanks in a casual tone of voice with the occasional joke mixed in, the suffering is literally unfathomable.
We live in a civilization that was built by war. A civilization that is currently propped up by war. A civilization that has its future mapped out with war as its career and war as its retirement plan. The political and economic system which dictates the way our society moves and operates has its roots sunk deep into the soil of war. The only thing separating us from the wars our government is waging in our name is physical proximity.
In such a society, it is not enough to merely not be a warmonger. It is not enough to simply have a preference for peace. Our responsibility to truth and justice does not end in our non-participation in warmongering, because the wars go on regardless. In fact, those who are responsible for keeping the wars going would much prefer that we didn’t think too hard about them. Because they know that if we thought with lucid intellectual honesty about the horrors that our civilization is unleashing upon the world every single day, we would find this entire system intolerable.
It is the responsibility of anyone who wants to be a good person, anyone who wants to be a just person, anyone who wants to be a truthful and authentic person to stand in ferocious opposition to this system. To look closely at what’s being done by your government and its allies overseas, to learn as much as you can about it, and to oppose it loudly and forcefully. This is more important than any other political agenda you could possibly fight for. If you don’t undertake it you have no basis on which to call yourself a good person, a just person, or a truthful or authentic person. You’re just another tacit facilitator.