This past Sunday evening I was catching up with my dad. It turned out both of us had seen a little bit of the annual show PBS does to honor the military. My dad is a life-long conservative. He and my mom were very involved in trying to get Barry Goldwater elected. Even though I was young at the time, I still recall them going off to a dinner party/fundraiser for Goldwater at the Camelback resort.
In any case, my dad who served as an officer in the Navy during WWII is sick of war. And so am I. Both of us had to turn off the PBS special not because we don’t want to honor the soldiers, but because we don’t want to honor war. And the former many times seems to bleed effortlessly over into the latter. War is hell. Those three words are pregnant with meaning. Interestingly, it seems the ruthless William Tecumseh Sherman is responsible for coming up with the saying. Here is one version of the quote. It comes from an address Sherman gave in 1879 to the Michigan Military Academy:
“I’ve been where you are now and I know just how you feel. It’s entirely natural that there should beat in the breast of every one of you a hope and desire that some day you can use the skill you have acquired here.
Suppress it! You don’t know the horrible aspects of war. I’ve been through two wars and I know. I’ve seen cities and homes in ashes. I’ve seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is Hell!” (per Wikiquote)
It seems another General living about a century after Sherman ought to be considered more in these discussions. I speak of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower raised concerns that the amount of money and power involved in making war greatly colors our judgment.
Yes, some wars seem unavoidable. And yes, some seem to fit various moral criteria, but are we too quick to pick up arms when other means have not been properly considered? I think it is safe to answer in the affirmative.