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OPINION | ART HOBSON: Humans continue irrational march toward more war

Why is cooperation so difficult? by Art Hobson | May 17, 2022 at 1:00 a.m.
A view of Ukraine's national flag waves above the capital with the Motherland Monument on the right, in Kyiv Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022. Some airlines have halted or diverted flights to Ukraine amid heightened fears that an invasion by Russia is imminent despite intensive weekend talks between the Kremlin and the West. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

This is my sixth, and hopefully last, consecutive column about Ukraine. War, in particular the irrational (on both sides) conflict in Ukraine, is the most depressing topic I can think of. Imagine: Humankind devotes its marvelously evolved brainpower to figuring how to kill large numbers of its own species, plundering national economies and Earth's resources to make clubs, spears, arrows, crossbows, catapults, knives, swords, pistols, muskets, bayonets, cannons, rifles, machine guns, poison gas, grenades, mines, mortars, tanks, bazookas, flame throwers, artillery, bombs, torpedoes, rockets, atomic bombs and thermonuclear weapons.

Recently, I attended one of the always wonderful concerts by the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas at Fayetteville's Walton Arts Center. At the beginning of the performance, it was announced the concert would open with Ukraine's national anthem. As the stirring hymn rang through the auditorium, the crowd spontaneously rose to its feet.

I remained rooted in my seat. From my restricted vantage point, I could see no others who remained seated. Suddenly I understood how Colin Kaepernick might have felt as he "took a knee" in protest during the U.S. national anthem.

National anthems, flags and patriotism are exhilarating, and can be positive influences in connection with national goals such as peace, education, ending poverty or health care. But is it necessarily good to stir up nationalist passions? Was it beneficial for rebel states to spark Southern pride with "Dixie," the unofficial anthem of the Confederacy? Since many Americans still cherish it, should this song be performed today at public events? Is it a good thing for the human race when Russian pride is bolstered by their national anthem in honor of their heroic suffering during World War II and, by the way, in support of the Russian invasion of Ukraine? What about the patriotic fervor leading up to America's invasion of Vietnam and Iraq and then Iraq once more? The all-time epitome of national pride probably occurred in connection with the Nazi national anthem, "Die Fahne hoch" (raise the flag high).

Today the world stands on the precipice of nuclear war. We are armed with enough nuclear weapons -- 6,000 on each side -- to destroy civilization many times. A single U.S. missile-carrying Trident submarine would probably be sufficient to end what we are pleased to call "civilization." Over millennia, warfare has destroyed myriad cities and nations, but we are speaking here of something qualitatively different, the destruction of the happiness and well-being of all people on Earth, including you and your family, today and perhaps forever. It's all too easy to imagine Russia launching tactical nuclear weapons against Ukraine. What if Russia launches a nuclear demonstration over the Black Sea, or a "small" nuclear weapon against NATO transportation hubs carrying U.S. armaments to our Ukrainian allies? Will we respond in kind? And what then?

Please pause.

The human race has "progressed" from hand-to-hand combat to rifles and machine guns to massive air raids such as the U.S. firebomb raid that incinerated 100,000 civilians in one terrible night in Tokyo that was the single-most destructive bombing raid in human history, and finally to nuclear weapons that can ruin everything for all of us forever. Will we never learn the real lesson: That humankind is one family, and that differences within this family must always be treated with kindness, understanding, and rational diplomacy on behalf of the future happiness of the entire human race rather than in service of narrow national interests or patriotic anthems?

I supported U.S. aims during World War II (I was 7 to 11 years of age) and when we went to war following the 9/11 attack. But today I distrust even those allegiances because militarism itself has become the threat, especially in America. All nations, including our own, must get beyond nationalism and see that our true allegiance is to the planet. All nations must treat all other nations with kindness, dignity, self-restraint, and respect, even when--or rather especially when--we disagree with them.

Where is U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright when we need him? The great Arkansas Democrat led congressional opposition to America's misadventure in Vietnam. His leadership helped build popular resistance to the war, leading to America's departure and saving untold lives on all "sides." I have frequently argued in these pages that the Ukraine war is even more dangerous than our previous mistakes. Instead of shipping weapons that will only prolong the killing, we should work to end this war on terms that both sides can live with.

Print Headline: The irrationality of war


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