Those words became well known, once released by Motown in the song “War” by Edwin Starr in June 1970. Within a month, it was the number-one hit on the Billboard chart. It was probably the most-played protest song of the near-end and post-Vietnam era. The song speaks of the tragedy of any war and is timeless in its message.
I served three tours in the Vietnam War. I can assure you that over the decades since, I have spent time ruminating on the purported rightness, causes, and aftermath of war. Unlike previous wars in American history, that conflict caused vast numbers of citizens to question the validity of our involvement. The American people had never so strongly doubted or questioned their government up to that point on the subject of armed conflict.
Wars have been waged for many reasons, from the earliest of times when groups of humans came into contact. How many could have been avoided, or actually were, by some extra effort on the part of the leaders involved, we will never know, but can only speculate.
Recently, I overheard a statement to the effect that if we spent as much money on diplomacy and negotiation as we do waging war, we could avoid most armed conflicts. I believe that point has some validity. However, it is not just a matter of direct and plain communication. It is more a question of diplomatic strategies, well-planned tactics and maneuvers, and other various tools as if one were conducting an actual military campaign, but through peaceful means.
Perhaps the best solution could lie in truly understanding the reasons a country or group might consider war a necessity, and formulating a remedy that solves the problem, preferably having the offended party feel it was in their best interest. Tools to prevent war should be as varied and highly skilled as our complex war machine is.
We might have prevented our entry into the conflict and continued military presence in Afghanistan long ago. Due to the actions of Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson, and the influence placed on him by Texas socialite and businesswoman Joanne Herring, we armed the Mujahideen guerrillas in their fight against the Russians. We provided weapons and support to the tune of billions of dollars, along with some allies in the area.
When the Soviets retreated, a vacuum of power was left in their wake, along with a devastated country. We had the immediate opportunity to step in, with a fraction of the billions already spent, rebuild infrastructure, schools, and hospitals, and give aid to people desperate for help. Instead, we backed off. As a consequence, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban rose to power and gave the population the help they needed. We have spent billions of dollars fighting them since. The details are depicted in the Hollywood film, “Charlie Wilson’s War,” starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.
How often have we sent our armies to fight, only to make a situation worse and created more enemies in the process? What if we formed an army of peacemakers instead? Spend billions on peace? Not a concept endorsed by the military-industrial complex.
Imagine movies gaining popularity, not about the glory of war, but the hidden skillful activities that occurred to prevent wars and conflicts. Could such be made exciting enough to attract audiences? Could we not be as thrilled by the successful avoidance of war? If the reason war movies are popular is our basic desire to see good defeat evil, would not an avoidance of war be a greater defeat of evil?