Tuesday, August 5, 2014

It needs to be said

"...it needs to be said that...the intellectual community has not been silent on the problem of war... Never as on this occasion have people felt all the horror and ambiguity of what was happening. Apart from a few lunatics, no one had ideas in black and white. ...What has happened to war is what has happened to crimes of passion or the lex talionis: people still do these things, but the community now considers them to be evil, where it once judged them to be a good thing. ...There is a more radical way of thinking about war: in merely formal terms, in terms of internal consistency... the conclusion being that you cannot make war because the existence of a [modern and global] society...has made war impossible [to win] and irrational [to wage]. War is in contradiction with the very reasons for which it is waged. ... The most likely outcome of war is [further] 'tilt'. ... Modern warfare is...an autophagous game...in our century it is the politics of the postwar period that will always be the continuation (by any means) of the premises established by war. No matter how the war goes, by causing a general redistribution of weights that cannot correspond fully with the will of the contending parties, it will drag on in the form of a dramatic political, economic, and psychological instability for decades to come, something that can lead only to a politics 'waged' as if it were warfare. Have things ever been different?.. To conclude that classic wars produced reasonable results—the final equilibrium—derives from a Hegelian prejudice, according to which history has a positive direction. There is no scientific (or logical) proof that the order of the Mediterranean after the Punic Wars, or that of Europe after the Napoleonic Wars, corresponded perforce with a state of equilibrium. It could have been a state of imbalance that would not have occurred had there been no war. The fact that for tens of thousands of years humanity has used warfare as a solution for states of disequilibrium has no more demonstrable value than the fact that in the same period humanity learned to resolve states of psychological imbalance by using alcohol or other equally devastating substances. ... we have perhaps reached the point in which humanity has become aware of the need to proclaim war a taboo. ... It is therefore compatible with intellectual duty and with common sense to announce the necessity for a taboo... It is an intellectual duty to proclaim the inconceivability of war. Even if there were no alternative solutions. What struck some as the silence of intellectuals about war was perhaps their fear of talking about it in the media in the heat of the moment, and this for the simple reason that the media are a part of war and its paraphernalia, and so it is dangerous to think of the media as neutral territory. ... However, even when [intellectual duty] opts for tactical silence, in the end reflection on war requires that this silence must eventually be articulated. ...our first duty is to say that war today annuls all human initiative, and even its apparent purpose (and someone's apparent victory) cannot stop what has become the autonomous game of weights caught in their own net. War cannot be justified, because—in terms of the rights of the species—it is worse than a crime. It is a waste."

—Umberto Eco, "Reflections on War" (published in 1991, in protest of the Gulf War) in Five Moral Pieces [Cinque Scritti Morali, 1997], Alastair McEwen, transl. (Harcourt, 2001) p5-6, 14-17.