Thursday, April 7, 2022

If war is HELL, then why do we celebrate in the history books?

In another lifetime, while sitting in the bleachers at Hart House at U of Toronto, while attending a basketball coaching clinic conducted by the infamous former Indiana Hoosier coach, Bobby Knight, I heard, for the very first time, the title of a book that he referenced as an integral foundation of his basketball coaching philosophy. The title of the book, The Art of War, is attributed to the Chinese military strategist, Sun Tzu. An ancient (likely 5th century BC) piece of writing, the book has influenced countless military and other leaders around the world for centuries. It is thought to have influenced Mao Tse-Tung’s own On Guerilla Warfare, and includes Mao’s quote: We must not belittle the saying in the book of Sun Wu Tzu, the great military expert of ancient China, ‘Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a thousand battles without disaster.’

The book is used as training at West Point, and one quote attributed to Colin Powell, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, National Security Advisor and Secretary of State: ‘I have read The Art of War by Sun Tzu. He continues to influence both soldiers and politicians.’ The strategy of deception from The Art of War has allegedly been widely used by the KGB…especially the concept of deception as expressed in a pithy quote: ‘I will force the enemy to take our strength for weakness, and our weakness for strength, and thus will turn his strength into weakness.’

Movies and television shows such as Wall Street, James Bond and The Sopranos, have been developed and produced based on the book’s inordinate influence. Sports coaches like Bill Belichek acknowledge their admiration and reliance on the book. Concentrating on strategy and tactics, the book is not considered as important in the study of the philosophy of war. And, currently, much public debate, discussion and political policy focuses on strategies and tactics, especially in the middle of the current invasion of Ukraine.

Juxtaposed with ink infused and television images of human carnage, corpses in the streets, bodies in plastic bags in open mass burial sites, and now rumours of transportable crematoria to burn bodies and leave no trace of their lives, all of which transfixes millions of empathic, and very disturbed people around the world, there is the desperate former KGB manipulating people, tanks, planes, missiles and, like a Hollywood movie director/producer, all of the elements of his own personal war. The KGB itself has a KGB Alpha Team Training Manual: How the Soviets Trained for Personal Combat, Assassination, and Subversion by A.I. Dolmatov.  The history books are crammed with wars fought by various Russian regimes for various purposes, all with an eye on preserving and enhancing Russian hubris.

Nikita Khruschev’s great grand-daughter (Nina L. Khrushcheva), speaking on MSNBC this week pointed out one of the central and essential elements of the character of Russia, as if she (Russia) were a human being: inferiority complex. As far back as February 1, 2021, she told  the BBC: Putin sees himself as the latest in a long line of Russian ‘greats’ like Peter the Great or Ivan the Great.’ However, Putin’s life (born in 1952), including his family of origin, is stained with the impact of war. A brother, Viktor, born in 1940, dies of diphtheria and starvation in 1942 during the siege of Leningrad by Nazi forces. His father, a conscript to the Soviet Navy, transferred to the army and was severely wounded in 1942. Putin’s maternal grandmother was killed by German occupiers of Tver region in 1941, and his maternal uncles disappeared on the Eastern Front in the Second War. (

A man, inflicted with an inferiority complex, steeped in the blood and death of war, mostly at the hands of the Nazi regime, trained in the techniques and tactics of espionage, attempting to engrave his proudest ambition in the annals of Russia’s history indelibly, commanding massive numbers of military personnel, with unlimited and unchallenged authority over military and foreign policy, who has not only a ‘chip on his shoulder’ but, as the vernacular has it, “perhaps the whole tree”…this is not a man with whom rational premises and conversations based on a shared reality is either conceivable or able to be envisioned. And the parallel with the former U.S. president, who also, for different reasons, was never going to be a participant in conversations based on shared premises and reality, is stunning.

Clinical diagnoses are neither feasible nor relevant. What is relevant is that this war is spinning out of control. The people of Ukraine are traumatized, if they are still conscious and alive. The world, too, is traumatized, and in danger of becoming “glazed over” in disbelief, and inevitable detachment, just in order to go on doing whatever chores need to be done. Trauma, even vicarious trauma, among empathic people, cuts deeply, moves us inexorably and leaves psychic scars that can be only a faint facsimile of the psychic scars on Ukrainians.

Categorizing weapons, as to WMD (chemical, biological, nuclear) for example, as being more heinous and more illegal, including those ‘rules of engagement’ for military conflict, seem a trifle hollow amid this carnage. Legal jargon, while necessary for the purpose of attempting to establish some form of order on this tanker of mercury called “war” which can neither be cognitively nor emotionally wrestled into any kind of countenance of consciousness, and all of the instruments, training, industry and history of the aftermath of military slaughter…none of these things, the subjects of dispassionate war-room strategy sessions, will erase, or even moderate the deep wounds of a generation of Ukrainian children.

There is literally, figuratively, metaphorically, historically, morally/ethically, spiritually or psychologically any cause, purpose, goal or ambition that qualifies as adequate warrant and justification for this carnage. Without even a bare minimum of rationale, even from a Russian perspective, this invasion, like the war in Iraq back in 2003, is without adequate or even modest justification. Trouble is, the first in 2003 can and will be used as just comparison for today’s Kremlin. And American history, itself, is replete with accounts of what is termed ‘the domino theory’.

In a conversation with Robert Sheer recorded for, January 10, 2020, in a piece entitled: “Noam Chomsky: America Has built a Global Dystopia,”           the noted linguistic scholar and eminent critic of American foreign policy, Noam Chomsky, in discussion the “domino theory” of American foreign policy says this:

‘The idea was put nicely by Henry Kissinger: when there’s a virus that spreads contagion-the virus is independent development, out of control of the Unite States. If that spreads contagion to others, we’re in trouble. Others will follow the same rule; the system of domination and control will erode. How do you deal with a virus that’s spreading contagion? Well, you kill the virus and inoculate the victims to they won’t be infected. That’s exactly what we don’t in Vietnam. Vietnam was smashed. It’s not going to be a model to anybody.  Surrounding countries were inoculated by imposing vicious, brutal military dictatorships. No infection there; they’re going to be controlled.

As a role model of international power, the United States has much to atone for; and as a model for atonement, the U.S. is derelict in public considering atonement. After years, this week, the Pope publicly apologized, asked for forgiveness and expressed deep sorrow for the abuse of indigenous children in Canadian residential schools for decades. A coterie of indigenous leaders travelled to the Vatican to elicit the apology, and many have returned to Canada seeking the Pope’s actual presence in this country, to meet with the survivors of the multiple tragedies, and to steep himself in their pain even further.

The question of identification with the victims of war, regardless of whether that war was begun by any power, is one with which the world is again trying to grapple. Punishment, accountability, and even revenge, on the part of the war victims, especially in a case where there is no apparent and legitimate cause that provoked the conflict, is bandied about by journalists, asking, as Andrea Mitchell did on MSNBC to Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, “Will Putin be prosecuted for these war crimes?” And, of course, Blinken paused and affirmed that he would, but it would take time. Others have pointed to previous judgements of war criminals up to two decades after they committed their war crimes. Obviously, the pace of public culture has quickened and the pace of justice has not kept pace.

Identification with victims, horror, fear and profound anxiety will not bring Putin to his knees. Legal investigations, gathering of copious evidence, especially through social media, and the extensive prosecutorial process of interpreting and then assigning responsibility to specific individuals….that is a very long process. And the perpetrators could well be dead before the process has gather full strength, and certainly before a judgement is rendered.

We can see evidence that Putin is undeterred, given the multiple American examples of unjust war, deception about those unjust and unjustified wars, not to mention the ‘topsy’ size and speed of the growth of NATO, immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union. That is not to offer any support or justification for what Putin is and will continue to do in Ukraine. Nor does it offer any hope that his ambition will be stopped at the Polish-Ukraine border.

War not only produces “no winners” but also produces imitative models, justified in manners that were previously used by others of history’s so-called heroes. It is the glorification of military conflict, and the lengths to which the world, and that includes all of the various corners and compartments of human civilization (previously excepting Switzerland, which has abandonded her historic neutrality following the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces) that the people of the planet have to come to terms with. And we will not do that, so long as American and  others, continue to manufacture and market and sell and distribute military material around the globe, as an integral component of her Gross National Product. Pride in the latest, the most lethal, and the most speedy, and the most technologically superior missile, drone, fighter jet or even missile defence system, and all of the sub-systems, including recruiting of innocent young men and women, and the concomitant “training” in the tactics and strategies and the need for war (of course, as protection of our national security) as well as the military build-up that will inevitably follow this latest bloodshed….these are all normalized and conventionally inculcated into our shared unconscious, as a part of our delusion into thinking that we are more and better protected.

Watching the invasion of Chernobyl, and the potential occupation of other nuclear sites in Ukraine, by Russian forces, is just another ‘red flag’ without Putin having even to open his mouth in threatening terms. Similarly, the casting of responsibility on Ukrainian forces for the dead bodies in the streets of serval cities, following the exit of Russian forces, is just another of the many toxic examples of lies, deceptions and deviations, inherent to all snakes.

There are so many “weapons” in any war, that to concentrate primarily on those of steel and iron and electronic chip and supersonic fighter jets, and missiles, while eye candy for war-watchers, is another potential path of diversion. Admiral Stavridis, former NATO Allied Commander, has been predicting for weeks, that Russia could easily and probably will, begin a cyber-war chapter in this campaign. Such a campaign, fitting into the broader landscape of the war that has American weapons being operated by Ukrainian professionals, could and would only be expected as another elevation in this war and it could feasibly impact American corporations and public facilities. That kind of ramping up of conflict, completely denied by Russia as definitely ‘not the work of the Russian state’ would fit nicely into the narrative that beset the presidential election campaigns of both 2016 and 2020.

We need more Noam Chomsky’s and more attention paid to the full accounting of war responsibility and the elevation of the war-military-attitude-mind-set-and-heroism into the cultural stratosphere. We need to advocate for conflict resolution campaigns, strategies, tactics, negotiations, mediations and arbitrations, all in a spirit of ‘restorative justice’. It is not only our prisons that are too full; it is our mind and conventional cultural attitudes that need emptying of the “glory of war” and the heroism that magnetizes many recruits to seek its power and its adulation.

If war is indeed “HELL” then why is history so full of its rhapsodic celebration?….how perverse! 


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