A Catholic-themed opinion blog about various topics, including theology, philosophy, politics and culture, from a Thomistic perspective.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Human War

Firearms have existed for over five centuries. Since their invention, they have quickly grown to occupy the preeminent role in all combat situations, both civilian and military. Particularly in the past century the world has witnessed an extreme rise in the complexity and destructive power of firearms and their offspring, explosive weaponry. And accordingly, the 20th century was the most deadly era of human history. Millions died on battlefields scorched by an endless rain of bombs and machine guns. Crime has increased exponentially, and the most devastating weapon ever made - the atomic bomb - was utilized, eradicating thousands and inciting half a century of weapon escalation in a macabre competition to determine the quality of a nation by its capacity for destruction.

However, the destruction wreaked by firearms and explosives since their implementation does not ignore the brutality of pre-firearm warfare. Uncounted millions have died by sword, arrow, club and horse. Their deaths are no less tragic and terrible than those caused by modern weapons. But war, while not inevitable, will in all probability continue to happen in the future, as it has throughout our history. Thus, we must strive to fight as morally as possible, humanely, civilly, and with as little destruction and unnecessary death as we can.

Tyranny has always existed, in the myriad forms people have devised over time, ranging from brutal chieftains and despotic warlords to communist dictators and terrorist regimes. In no form is tyranny ever good or justifiable. While tyranny was once enacted by the edge of blades and the quantity of soldiers, in modern times, it has become much easier to do and thus more common. Further, it has become more difficult to resist or change. Anyone can craft a melee weapon or even a bow and arrow. Even a simple farmer with a pitchfork can resist the most well-trained swordsman. But with firearms and bombs, there is no equality. Armament in modern society is determined by monetary resources and technological advancement, and so becomes accessible only to the wealthy and powerful - hence, the leadership, those who would be tyrants. A farmer can no longer resist even a single soldier armed with an AK-47 and hand grenades - not even an army of farmers.

Firearms and explosives require no personal involvement. The enemy is dehumanized, reduced to a mere target in a scope, destroyed with a pull of a trigger or push of a button from thousands of miles away. We have even now developed robotic airplanes, manned from tens of thousands of miles away and carrying bombs. Not only has warfare become easier and deadlier - it has become completely impersonal. No longer are soldiers required on a daily basis to wrench the very life from their enemy with their bare hands, and no longer are battles won by strength of arm and heart. Now, a child can slaughter their entire family with a pull of a trigger.

It could be argued that modern weaponry enables a higher ratio of enemy kills to the death of our own soldiers. While this is sometimes true, it takes little research to see the historical and contemporary effects of modern weapons on civilians and their lands. Entire regions have been environmentally decimated, whole populations eradicated by modern weapons. There is no honor in war, if there has ever been. Our enemies are often very willing to use civilians as human shields, on all scales of war, and this situation is even more difficult for police officers. Soldiers continue to report on the dangers of urban combat, made even worse by the use of human shields. The moral, qualitative conduct of combat must be considered before the practical, qualitative. Even the lives of enemies should be spared if at all possible, ended only as a last resort.

Nations of the world have grown considerably over the past century in financial and technological prosperity. We are now capable of things never before imagined. But the universal truths of life and human nature remain unchanged. The growth of power is directly proportionate to growth of responsibility and the call to goodness and truth. Rather than continue the endless escalation of threats, death and destruction we have witnessed, even the fear of the total annihilation of our race by the horror of nuclear weaponry, we must use our great fortunes and advancements to fight evil not with itself, but with good. By combating destruction with greater destructive power, we only continue the perpetual cycle of death and dehumanization without end. We must strive to develop non-lethal alternatives to weaponry, greater national defense and protection of individual soldiers and police officers, and more accessible humanitarian aid worldwide. If we are capable of developing nuclear weaponry, laser-guided missiles and ever-faster machine guns, there is no reason we cannot create more effective non-lethal methods and defense measures.

Like all human creations and activities, firearms and explosives are not inherently evil. I believe that the use of firearms purely for sport, collection, historical research or self-defense is not immoral. Nor is, in my opinion, the use of explosives for mining or other endeavors that do not cause extraneous harm to the environment or society. But when used in combat, particularly in large-scale situations or when other measures are possible, both quickly become corrupted.

World disarmament, while often discussed and even occasionally implemented to various degrees (usually only as concerns nuclear weaponry), has now become only a hope. But hope is sufficient. All people of good will and conscience must not forget, even in the heat of battle, the higher obligation towards the good of all mankind. Even now, weapons designers are working to develop new non-lethal technology, even for battlefield use. There is indeed hope, as there is always hope - without end.

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