Starting a War Is Easy…

It is easier to lead men to combat, stirring up their passion, than to restrain them and direct them toward the patient labors of peace.

André Gide

Andre Gide (1869-1951) was a French author and winner of a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1947. He was noted for his significant writings about human problems and conditions. It is important to understand that Gide lived in Paris, France, during both World War I and World War II – two of the most horrendous armed conflicts in history to that date. Within this context, I consider his words about war and peace.

I was tempted to restrict my reflection to armed conflict on a national or international level; in other words, keep the focus on organized warfare between civil factions or between nations. In light of the sheer numbers of individual people slain by lone gunmen or other kinds of attacks in recent weeks and months, I choose to widen the scope of my remarks to include this kind of combat.

What struck me most when I read Gide’s words, is that he claims that going to combat is easier than creating a sustained peace. As I look back historically at warfare between nations, I can’t argue his point. In order to maximize the possibility for victory, governments set out to mobilize public opinion, to incite its citizenry to outrage and fury against the identified enemy. This is and was done by manipulating and manufacturing information. Clearly, with a literate citizenry and the mass media tools available, this task is much easier to accomplish today.

Yet, even in western nations of a century ago, the daily newspapers were effective propaganda tools. As a high school History teacher, I recall showing students examples of political caricatures, editorials, government sponsored posters – all published in the newspapers for local consumption. There were drawings of evil monsters in German uniforms raping, pillaging and murdering innocents. These images incited the masses to: enlist in the armed forces, open their billfolds to finance the war and volunteer in other ways to help the war effort. It was easy to hate.

Fast forward to the present day and we see examples of mayhem loosed upon unsuspecting citizens around the world by radicalized terrorists. The response? The War on Terrorism, of course. Government agencies hunt down terrorist leaders and attempt to execute them – with popular support. In these cases, governments don’t need to resort to propaganda, since the horror perpetrated by terrorist acts serves as ample motivation to support government efforts.

For me, the most upsetting violent events happening today are the police shootings of black citizens in the United States and the retaliatory shootings of police in Dallas and Baton Rouge. In the past, the killing of black suspects by white police officers have resulted in few prosecutions of the officers involved. Now we are witness to cases where enraged black shooters have killed a number of police.

In both of the cases cited above, the black shooters were former US military personnel. They were trained to kill, served their country in conflict areas overseas, then returned to civilian life. It was very easy to train them to kill efficiently with assault weapons, but what about retraining them to fit peaceably into civilian society at home? Did they receive psychological support and job training? Not likely – that’s too costly. Statistics suggest that visible minorities make up the majority of America’s armed forces, yet very little effort is made to ensure they can re-enter society and be self-sufficient, successful citizens. Instead we have well-trained, ticking time bombs in a society that discriminates against visible minorities and where the procurement of deadly firearms is relatively easy. As Gide states above, preparing citizens for war or violence is easier than training them in the ways of peace.

It may sound like I’m taking America to task. Every country faces this same dilemma. My country, Canada, has radicalized citizens who have perpetrated deadly violence – even in our nation’s capital, Ottawa, in 2015. The terrorist threat is universal. The violence that results from injustice threatens to shred our social fabric beyond repair. This is not an exclusively American problem. The Internet, global satellite telecommunications and social media have made us truly a global village. What happens in Dallas, Minnesota, Paris or Brussels, is of great concern to people around the world.

Humanity has turned warfare into an exact science in many ways. Now it is time to put our collective knowledge and skills to work to turn peacemaking into a fine art. We have the lessons of the past to school us and there are countless people of good will in every country on this planet we all call home. Let us take the longings and dreams of peace from our hearts and minds and make them real. Humanity has proven again and again that there is no problem that can’t be studied and solved. It is really a matter of choice and determination. The ball is in our court.


About John Fioravanti

Author, John Fioravanti writes non-fiction as well as fiction in the sci-fi genre. He's a retired secondary school educator and a lifelong learner. He considers himself a work in progress and welcomes the opinions and insights that others may have about his work. He prizes dialogue about meaningful topics, so please leave your thoughts!

8 thoughts on “Starting a War Is Easy…

  1. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Shirley Harris-Slaughter

    July 20, 2016 at 4:14pm

    I am really at a loss of words to adequately state how I feel about the whole issue of guns and killings. John, I think you articulated the problem very well. We saw 2 black men get executed by the police and it went viral. Of course, the shooting of police officers was bound to happen. Its amazing it didn’t happen sooner. I do know that last year 2 radical KKK members (a husband and wife) executed two police officers eating lunch in a restaurant and nobody made a big news splash out of it. So it was happening, but only it was white people doing it. I wonder why there is such a double standard. Guns shoot and maim no matter who is pulling the trigger. It’s all just too awful to comprehend.

    • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

      John Fioravanti

      July 20, 2016 at 4:35pm

      I agree, Shirley, this is an awful topic. For those of us who lived through the riots of the 60s, I fear that we’re headed back in that direction. Thanks for visiting and sharing your thoughts!

  2. Permalink  ⋅ Reply

    Gwen Plano

    July 20, 2016 at 3:13pm

    This is a topic close to my heart – both because it was the focus on my research and because it brings me to my knees. The issues are complicated. There are those who profit from racial disparities and unrest; their livelihood depends on impoverished and underserved communities. When they fly into these areas, what is achieved? Only they fly out enriched; what about the communities?

    If we are to have true change, it will be grassroots — through the efforts of unsung heroes in the neighborhoods. When I give, I give directly to them — not to any outside group. I agree with your statement about “manipulating and manufacturing information.” A difficult problem can become an impossible problem by manufactured “facts” and there are plenty of false “facts.”

    As you mentioned, it is “time to put our collective knowledge and skills to work to turn peacemaking into a fine art,” and there are many who long to do so. But, getting through the veils of anger and misinformation and prejudices and, and, and….is not easy.

    Those of us with no financial ties, with abundant hope, and with visions of peace need to step forward. For indeed, “the ball is in our court.”

    Thank you for spotlighting this concern.

    • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

      John Fioravanti

      July 20, 2016 at 4:39pm

      Gwen, you hit the proverbial nail right on the head. The solution is clearly not going to come from the top – from government leaders. It will be the grassroots citizenry that must spearhead the movement for change. I pray that the necessary change won’t bring more bloodshed. I appreciate your visit and your contribution to the discussion, Gwen!

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    Teresa Radford

    July 20, 2016 at 12:18am

    The war machine is a great money maker. The American gun culture will never allow restrictions on guns & ammunitions. I feel,personally, that there’s no hope for the USA.

    • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

      John Fioravanti

      July 20, 2016 at 10:41am

      Thanks for stopping by, Teresa! Yes, you’ve identified two major stumbling blocks at work in the USA, but I pray that you are wrong. The entire situation is very sad. I ask myself, are we not better than this?

      • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

        Jan Hawke

        July 20, 2016 at 12:10pm

        We surely should be by now, John – but it seems our responses default to confrontation and attack always fall into equal or far greater aggression… 🙁

        The opponents of Darwinism seem to have triumphed after all – when it comes to morals and acquisition we seemingly cannot and will not evolve, even on an individual level in some respects. Animal instincts can be mastered if we are intelligent, but more importantly, empathic and compassionate.
        My late husband and I were Friends of a zoo in Kent, UK, where they specialised in breeding Lowland Gorillas. On a hot, busy summer holiday weekend, we walked past the gorilla enclosures where peace and sleepiness reigned, and compared that with very different, noisy, clamouring behaviour on the other side of the fence as parents strove to keep their tempers and over-excited kids under control – no doubt as to which was more ‘civilised’ Great Ape that day, despite their reputation (wrongly applied) for brute strength!
        I’d certainly prefer to have a monkey as an Uncle than a totalitarian despot any day! 😉

        • Permalink  ⋅ Reply

          John Fioravanti

          July 20, 2016 at 1:20pm

          Thanks for this story, Jan! It certainly does seem that we are a lot less civilized than many in the animal kingdom. We can choose to continue, as we have done in the past, to follow the path to self-destruction, or we can choose a different path.

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