News Stories

Endless War

When we read or listen to the daily news, it seems like war is a never ending condition of life: new wars start and old ones never end. Sometimes even the players stay the same: The TV show 60 Minutes recently interview Bob Woodward about his new book State of Denial, Bush at War, in which he reveals that Henry Kissinger, the mastermind behind the Vietnam war, is now briefing the Bush White House weekly about the war in Iraq.

Of the twenty major armed conflicts waged around the globe during 2005, nearly half had been in progress for 10 years or more and a quarter were more than 25 years old. Are there common features to these intractable conflicts? Discovering this is the goal of a unique three-year study by psychologist Peter Coleman, who plans to build computer simulations to look at long-term, self-perpetuating conflicts through the lens of complex systems theory, using techniques normally used in biology, physics and medicine. He says, "We can use the computer simulations to ask, 'If we change one thing in a conflict, what happens in five years? If we change two things, what happens?'"

Coleman's team is especially interested in conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. He says, "We want to see in a real-life setting how intense conflict spreads into everyday aspects of life and, as conflict de-escalates, retreats from life." One example of a seemingly endless war that finally ended is Mozambique, a country that experienced 16 years of a bloody civil war and then suddenly embarked on a period of sustained peace. Coleman wants to learn why this happened, so the tactics that were used can be applied in warring states elsewhere.

Despite our own government's seemingly endless appetite for war, Americans are rejecting war as a tool of national policy in unprecedented numbers. Sociologist Paul Joseph has concluded that, "The public will now support military force only where it appears to be in the self-defense of the U.S. or against perpetrators of human rights violations on a massive scale."

Joseph finds that 50% to 60% of Americans now exhibit what he calls "Type 2" opposition to war: They are less likely to accept war as its costs become apparent, but they do support war under certain circumstances. Between 15 and 20% of Americans are "Type 1" opponents, who reject war out of principle, and 25 to 30% are "hawks."

One striking indicator of this change is the treatment of photographs and casualty statistics. During the latter years of World War II, images of dead or wounded servicemen routinely appeared in major magazines. Today, images of military caskets or funerals are tightly controlled, and public tallies of those killed are discouraged. If the war in Iraq were being fully supported, Joseph says, the Pentagon would be more willing to acknowledge the sacrifices of U.S. troops and their families. He says, "The effort put into management of the public implies that if the administration showed the war transparently, if costs were explicit, then the public would turn even further against war."

Joseph thinks the American public appetite for war has diminished DESPITE 9/11, and says, "September 11 brought a wave of patriotism and initial support for war in Afghanistan and Iraq. In five years, and without visible political leadership, the appetite for war has shrunk dramatically. The public has taken diet pills and is now undergoing war liposuction." One reason for this is that "?decency and defendable sacrifice are becoming harder to find in war itself. Wars must be fought with honor or they will lose support. World War II was fought with honor even though it was very messy. Iraq is also messy but without honor."

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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