Mommy, Why Do We Have Wars?
A Memorial Day in which we attend parades and celebrate soldiers while waving flags is a Memorial Day in which we forget what war is really all about. Soldiers are often wrecked by wars, and we should have compassion for them because of that, but we should remember the victims of soldiers as well. We should remember the destruction caused by war, which often continues, as in the case of Iraq, for years after wars officially end.
To broaden our collective memory, people are sharing a meme through their social media accounts this weekend. It’s a picture by David Avocado Wolfe, showing a mother talking with her young son. The son asks, “Why do we have wars?” The mother answers, “Because we are ruled by an elite group of psychopaths who own the banks that control the governments and media. They fund both sides of war for profit and they manufacture the consent of the public through the propaganda of the media.”
The people who share this meme seem to be sincerely motivated to offer an interpretation of Memorial Day that is more peaceful than the Support Our Troops model of holiday celebration that has become dominant. Yet, as much as the mother in the image uses sophisticated vocabulary, I can’t help but think that her reasoning is almost as simple as what we would expect from her young son.
The mother’s answer to the question “Why do we have wars?” is essentially that “There are powerful bad guys, and they make us have wars.” A kindergartener would understand this reply, but having lived through a few wars, and participated in efforts to resist them, I can’t agree with the mother’s argument.
I have quibbles with the details of what the mother in the picture says to her son. For one thing, if an “elite group of psychopaths” really controls “the media”, why has this social media meme been allowed to spread, as its own form of propaganda? For another thing, the small model of human psychology that proposes that consent can be manufactured, like a consumer good in a factory, isn’t in accord with how people actually make decisions.
Real human beings are more psychologically complex than this meme gives them credit for, and that’s what bothers me most about it. It reduces people to the status of dull-minded herd animals in order to portray them as victims. It diminishes the American people into passive tools, and it does so in order to avoid a genuine examination of our own collective responsibility for war.
I propose the following alternative: When our children ask us, “Why do we have wars?”, we can avoid easy answers that deflect moral responsibility, and say something such as, “There isn’t just one answer to your question. It’s because of different choices we all make every day.”
Why do we have wars? It’s because Mommy and Daddy drive a big SUV that uses a lot of gasoline – even to go short distances that we could walk.
We go to war because those cute little sandals you are wearing are made in overseas sweatshop factories, and Mommy and Daddy didn’t want to pay a fair price for them, so with our money we choose to pay for an international system of trade that exploits people and sets off conflicts around the world, though no individual has exactly planned it that way.
We go to war because Mommy and Daddy start to feel uncomfortable when we look for news independently, and so we stick with the easier messages that are provided for us by a few big powerful television networks.
We go to war because Mommy and Daddy gain a strange kind of warped sense of security by maintaining a hypervigilant belief that bad guys are constantly on the verge of invading the United States.
We go to war because we feel sorry for people like your Uncle Steve, the weird one that we try not to let you talk to for very long at family picnics, who have never been the same since they came back from war, and Mommy and Daddy don’t want to confront the fact that the war is the reason Uncle Steve drinks too much, and isn’t married any more, and can’t hold down a job, so we wave our flags, and say “Support Our Troops”, and pretend that the wars we’ve fought had something to do with preserving freedom, which just makes it all the more easy to go to war again the next time, creating more people like Uncle Steve.
We go to war because, although Mommy and Daddy sometimes have doubts, we don’t want to seem unpatriotic. What would the neighbors say?
We go to war because, sometimes, it makes us feel excited to feel like we’re part of a big struggle for something important, even though we really just sit back in our living room watching news broadcasts about it.
We go to war, and applaud as the terrible things that happen during war are done in our name, not because there are any psychopaths controlling us as puppets, but because Mommy and Daddy and all the other grownups that live in our country have a part of them that sometimes gets sick of playing nicely, and working through problems in a slow, methodical, difficult way, so that every now and then we just want to reach out and hit somebody very, very hard. That doesn’t make us psychopaths. It’s a part of being human, but it does make us dangerous when we don’t control that urge, or when we redirect it onto an international stage through our political decisions.
We go to war because Mommy and Daddy always vote to elect the political leaders who, like Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, have loudly supported going to war in the past. We reward the war-loving politicians, and teach them that the easiest way to retain a grip on power is to take the nation into war. We consent to these wars with our votes, and that consent isn’t manufactured. It’s something we choose to give.
We go to war because Mommy and Daddy and most of the other grownups across America don’t have the moral courage to stand up and speak out against war, and don’t make individual choices that will lead to more peaceful alternatives to what we see in our culture of adulation of the military.
Now, why don’t we get ready to go to that parade? They’ll be throwing candy!