War and Death

A friend asked flippantly of my last blog on the social media why I had not condemned the Russian invasion on Ukraine but could see it fit to talk about Church matters in the same breath, to which I responded by reflex why no one seemed to have seen it fit to condemn the US-led invasion of Afghanistan which had lasted for 20 years with untold deaths and human sufferings.  He deleted his piece together with my response shortly afterwards, which prompted this blog.

No, I think it would be pointless to condemn people for anything, unless one is in a position of power and authority to stop what one sees as unjust, unnecessary or wrong. Thus, anyone who is not happy with a situation inflicted on him is free to seek redress, depending on where he is, the resources he has or has access to and perhaps the most important of all, who he is against. For example, my friend Mike Rowse did not like a decision inflicted on him by the Government. He sued the Government and won. More pertinently, I have learnt to become more mindful, by not passing judgments. I actually believe in, judge not or thou shalt be judged, or, vengeance is mine, I shall repay.

As regards wars, they were there from time immemorial and probably as old as civilization. Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939) was generally revered as the founder of psychoanalysis. By 1900, with the publication of The Interpretation of Dreams and his other writings, he was already a rather respected character not only in Austria but also in Europe. Shortly after the outbreak of  World War I, around 1915, he published an article under the title, “Thoughts for the Times on War and Death” which was said to be full of wisdom, with some valuable insights on wars and human nature, but which apparently might be too wise for most and hence was not too popular. In any case, Freud was not the most loved individual in his time. The Germans on the one hand had set high standards among Europeans and in the world in civilization in general, including music and art, scholarship and philosophy, and arts and sciences, but on the other hand, the world did not in general love the Germans, whom they remembered as descendants of the Hun, renowned for being primitive, barbaric and savage, and who had conquered Europe from the East and destroyed the Roman empire. Freud’s point then was that civilization had been an illusion and that people were not really very good at heart, adding that, “Man is a wolf to man.” On death, Freud argued that while people might deny death’s existence, they were only too aware of it. Thus, people would like to see the death of their enemies, are ambivalent about the death of their loved ones, but fear their own deaths and at the same time never really believe it would happen. Freud’s conclusion, “If you would endure life, be prepared for death.” He also made the point that while people could easily and safely deny death at peacetime, it would be impossible to do so in war when death would force into everyone’s life in a most irritating and unbecoming manner, which according to Freud, was not a bad thing.

Freud also tried to explain the causes of war, and appeared to be saying that men needed war to work off the intolerable burden of civilization. He even suggested that without war, people could become neurotic, as individuals or as groups, which would in turn lead to destructive consequences. We seem to have just heard said somewhere. Freud went on to suggest that people could not go on indefinitely acting as if they were civilized. Dreams alone could not render adequate outlets; action would also be necessary. War appeared to be an irresistible though dangerous temptation. One must bear in mind that Freud wrote his piece after WW I started. Then came WW II when Freud fled Austria to escape from the Nazi. He died shortly in UK, in exile.

Someone suggested another cause of war in general, and why the 1914 war in particular had begun. It was simple. People were bored. Charles van Doren (1926 – 2019) was an American writer and editor, whose father was a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and whose mother a novelist, and who himself was extremely well read and cultured, holding down some important jobs including a vice-president of Encyclopedia Britannica, and wrote, edited and published many books. He was however involved in a quiz show scandal in the 1950s, which is another fascinating story in itself. He published A History of Knowledge: Past Present and Future in 1991 which San Francisco Chronicle then hailed it as “Fascinating… No less than the summation of the entire experience of the human race from the bird’s eye view of a tremendous, encyclopedic intelligence.”  Van Doren suggested that boredom had led to the start of WW I in 1914. I recently picked up his book for a re-read, initially on the parts relating to democracy and governance – an area I had said I might re-visit and develop further, maybe in my sequel. He also suggested boredom had led to the fall of the Roman Empire of the West during the fifth century, referring to it as “a deep, incurable ennui that ate like acid into the soul.” I cannot resist quoting some of what he wrote on this. He said, “The empire had endured for five hundred years, but its problems had never been solved. It had not found an effective, let alone a good, way to chose a ruler, and almost all of its emperors had been monsters – stupid, ignorant, and cruel – with a few exceptions during the golden age of the Antonines. The rich had become richer, the poor poorer, but the rich were no happier than the poor. Therefore, when the barbarians came, as the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy (1863 – 1933) wrote, “At least they were some kind of solution.””

I tried to imply in my last blog that there is nothing an average person anywhere can do to prevent a conflict between two states except through prayers or trust in God. We had wars from the beginning of time as told in the Scriptures. Indeed, it appeared that God at times took sides resulting in one tribe winning over another or many others at great odds. The stories in the Bible require careful reading and divine guidance. There are many examples which illustrate how God may seem to have worked in strange ways, to have a tribe or a nation defeated his people who had lived in sins for too long, to have Israel losing their country and land and the people being exiled or taken captives. Well, a frail and defenseless creature would never be able to fathom his creator’s wisdom and God’s vast eternal plan. Another corollary is that God being all powerful can produce good and positive results out of any disaster and vice versa. It is therefore not for a mortal to question God’s will, but to pray for the Faith that I spoke of in the last blog.

Even as I am typing away this blog, President Xi Jinping and President Joe Biden would have been having a virtual meeting. The ministries on both sides have already traded barbs and insults which are not exactly helpful. We would find out later.

Until then, I wish you all well and safe

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.