Tuesday, February 01, 2005

War of the Worlds

Khodadad Rezakhani*
khodadad21 [at] yahoo.com

As I am starting to write this piece, it occurs to me that it is rather absurd to write about the evils of war in this day and age. Maybe it is because I am a historian, but I really thought we all have gotten the idea that war, or military action, really gets us nowhere. Haven’t we all seen those films about wars and massacres? How many times are we to be reminded of the pain that war brings, and the issues it does not solve?

It is redundant and superfluous to state that war has never brought any change for the better. Even those wars that are glorified -- Punic Wars, Agincourt, Austerlitz – brought just pain and suffering. As “modern” human beings, we imagine that this simple fact is universally known. We imagine that as a species, we have grown to a stage where we realize that offensive military action does not solve anything. It goes with other values we think to be universal. In the same way that we think inquisition and racial extermination are wrong and humanism and open-mindedness is right, we also imagine that war is evil and unnecessary. It is the wrong way to do things, although it might sound like the easiest way.

However, it sadly seems as if some of us are still mesmerized by the glory of the war. We still think that the power that war brings is what we need. We think that if we have the power to wage war, then we have a responsibility to do so, and of course, we are the ones who decide when the appropriate time to enact this responsibility is.

This is when those values we took for granted – humanism, open-mindedness, etc. – suddenly start to crumble down. All of a sudden, we realize that all of those values and “achievements” of our modern mind is just arbitrary. We sadly realize that whatever Socrates, Avicenna, Averroes, Erasmus, Francis Bacon, John Stewart Mill, Jean Jacque Russo, Thomas Jefferson, Nietzsche, and other founders of our modern humanistic “civilisation” did was just a vulnerable house of cards. All that the humanity has achieved by going through trials and errors, by resisting pressure and persecution, by innovating and inventing, all that we hold dear, is at the end just a set of ideas. Ideas that exist in theory and their survival depend on the agreement of the whole humanity. As a result, when one part of this humanity, the one that has the real, physical, military power, refuses to accept these ideas, it means that they cannot be held strong any more.

Now, we are at the critical juncture of just such challenge. A lot of us are aware that the world is not the perfect Utopia of Plato and Thomas Moore, and it probably will never be. However, we believe that ideas such as freedom, equality, and pursuit of happiness are universal. We believe that these ideas and values are inherent in all human beings, and they are not novel, rare ideas that have sprang-up in one part of this world of us humans. We also believe that these ideas are powerful enough by themselves and they will manage to penetrate even the most stubborn of situations. After all, they managed to break through 1000 years of Dark Ages and persecution in Europe and change the lands of Inquisition and Nazism. As Voltaire said, “Nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has arrived.”

However, we also believe that people will never forcefully adopt any ideas and that the mindset that imagines ideas can be forced is fundamentally flawed. After all, those who developed these ideas, “Our Forefathers”, were exactly fighting against the idea that values can be forced. Consequently, that section of world which naively believes that democracy and freedom can be “taught” by invading other lands and forcing people to learn democracy is making a mistake. Not only are they mistaken in thinking that democracy is a value limited to them, they are also gravely miscalculating their ability to “teach” these values. People of Iran, indeed people everywhere, do know about freedom, equality, and pursuit of happiness, and like all others, they are striving for it. However, they will never want to be force-fed the sweet nectar of freedom. Democracy that is bombed on the people and their land, a land they keep very dear, will be duly rejected.

War in not the answer.

* Khodadad Rezakhani is a PhD Student of Medieval history at UCLA and a lecturer in Santa Monica College