Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Economics of War

There is an old saying, "God was in every foxhole." Brother Bob, who knows something about war and God, said the opposite, "There is no God in war." I'll stick with Bob on this one. The problem today is that people often think of God as something. Bob, I'm sure, never thought that. (He also said the best thing you can say about God is that God doesn't exist.) So for today's society, Bob's pronouncement about war may be best translated as, "There is no humanity in war." And that is what is so frightening about both the specifics and the overreaching generality of war: it is the loss of humanity.

Things like the Geneva Conventions are our attempts to mitigate the total lack of humanity. The results, of course, have limited success. Often the victors can pick and choose what part of inhumanity they wish to publish about their enemy. But these attempts to re-instill a bit of humanity into war often result in philosophical conundrums or even black comedy.

Afghanistan officials understand the philosophical quandary of war and are doing their best to make lemonade out of it. From the Washington Post:

An escalating dispute between the Afghan government and the United States over customs procedures has halted the flow of U.S. military equipment across Afghanistan’s borders....The Afghan government is demanding that the U.S. military pay $1,000 for each shipping container leaving the country that does not have a corresponding, validated customs form. The country’s customs agency says the American military has racked up $70 million in fines.

They couldn't stop us from going in (without obtaining valid custom forms)—that was war—but perhaps the inhumanity of war has reached a civilized point now that they can evoke legislative tariffs. I would advise, however, that Afghan custom officials stay close to the shipping containers. We still have drones.

1 comment:

Big Myk said...

I think the phrase that Jim wants is "There are no atheists in foxholes." Meaning that, in times of great stress or fear, people turn to God. There are variations on this proverb, such as: There are no atheists on a sinking ship. Or -- my favorite -- There are no atheists in probate court.

The phrase has been expanded to include other unrelated circumstances. Based on the conservatives complete willingness to bail out the banks back in 2008 to the tune of some $400 billion, Paul Krugman remarked that, "There are no libertarians in a financial crisis." And then, given the noticeable increase in size and frequency in wildfires out west, it is now said that "There are no climate change deniers on a fire line."

The post, however, accurately quotes Bob, at least from my memory. And the profundity of the statement is that it refers both to the absence of religion or any religious converstion or discussion among soldiers, and to the total absence of grace or any sense of God's presence at all. Whether or not the citizens of Dover, Pennsylvania voted God out of their community, as Pat Robertson claimed, He was certainly absent from Vietnam.

Kurt Vonnegut, who has been mentioned in this blog before and saw his own share of military action (he was captured at the Battle of the Bulge), included this passage in his book, Hocus Pocus :

“The sermon was based on what he claimed was a well-known fact, that there were no Atheists in foxholes. I asked Jack what he thought of the sermon afterwards, and he said, 'There’s a chaplain who never visited the front.'"