Our Wars
By R. D. Flavin


Drawing of dead individual from Lascaux, France, ca. 25,000-15,000 BCE.

     Such questions as “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” necessitate bemusement after a few pints of Guinness (answer: egg), though pondering when the first human died could easily be determined with an agreed upon date as to when the first human lived.  Oh, right; such an answer would require defining what it means to be human.  We didn’t start writing until relatively recently (ca. 3500-3200 BCE in Sumer [modern Iraq]; with intriguing examples of “proto-writing” produced in Neolithic Europe between ca. 6000 and 4000 BCE), there are lots of bones that scientists continue to argue about whether they should be considered ‘human’ or not, and then there’s the Upper Paleolithic European (“Ice Age”) cave art, but even with those ancient masterpieces we’re not sure what’s actually represented.  Death is as certain as life and our wars have been going on for a very, very long time.

     Prof. David Lewis-Williams (University of Witwatersrand, Professor Emeritus of anthropology) has published a disturbing thesis, The Mind in the Cave, that homo sapiens neanderthalis had a consciousness or intellectual ability akin to certain animals and that modern humans (homo sapiens sapiens) in Europe, often referred to as Cro-Magnon, may have regarded Neanderthals as ...animals.  The above drawing from the Lascaux Cave in France is exceptionally rare in that the vast majority of Ice Age cave art consists of animals and there are only a few representations of humans.  Very few...  Is that dead guy a hunter who went off with an ancestor of Vice President Dick Cheney?  Is it a drawing of a guy on drugs?  Or, if Lewis-Williams is correct and early modern humans thought of Neanderthals as animals (and animals are unequivocally the prominent theme in Upper Paleolithic European art), I must ask if that drawing is of a dead human or ...a dead animal?  Does Prof. Lewis-Williams believe that one of our earliest wars were against our Neanderthal cousins?  War has always been with us and usually the reasons behind those wars reveal the worst of what makes us human.

     When I was a youngster, my father told me that more wars had been fought over salt than anything else.  I consider Dad’s words a personal concern and I won’t attempt to prove or disprove his comment, though there is some evidence he may have been correct.  As to what war is and means, the Oxford English Dictionary explains ‘war’ as:

I. 1. a
. Hostile contention by means of armed forces, carried on between nations, states, or rulers, or between parties in the same nation or state; the employment of armed forces against a foreign power, or against an opposing party in the state.
  For civil, intestine, etc. war, see the adjs. war to the knife [after Sp. guerra al cuchillo], see KNIFE n. 1b; war to the death, see DEATH n. 12c.

1154 O.E. Chron. (Laud MS.) an. 1140, {Th}er efter wæx suythe micel uuerre betuyx {th}e king & Randolf eorl of Cæstre. a1225 Leg. Kath. 20 Ah se wide him weox weorre on euch halue [L. bellis undique consurgentibus]. c1290 Holy Rood 336 in S. Eng. Leg. 11 Seth{th}e {th}are cam an Aumperour {th}at hiet costantin; In weorre and bataylle he was so muche {th}at {th}are-of nas no fin. 1297 R. GLOUC. (Rolls) 1321 {Th}e..king nis to preisi no{ygh}t {Th}at in time of worre as a lomb is bo{th}e mek & milde, & in time of pes as leon bo{th}e cruel & wilde. c1375 Sc. Leg. Saints vii. (James Minor) 462 Iosaphus, prince wes & als ledare of {th}at towne, bath in pese & vere. 1377 LANGL. P. Pl. B. XVIII. 226 Wote no wighte what werre is {th}ere {th}at pees regneth. 1421 LYDG. Horse, Goose, Sheep 425 in Pol. Rel. & L. Poems (1903) trs. 33 Thou Causist werre and seist thu louest pees. c1449 PECOCK Repr. V. x. 537 Whanne therupon hangith ceesing of greet werre and making of greet pees. 1462 in Eng. Hist. Rev. (1914) Oct. 720 The said Erle shal haue the iijrds of all wynnyngs of werre won or gotten by the said Cristofre. c1480 HENRYSON Test. Cres. 196 Ane horn he blew..Quhilk all this warld with weir hes maid to wag. 1513 MORE Rich. III Wks. 36/2 Richarde Duke of Yorke..beganne not by warre, but by lawe, to challenge the crown. 1573 Reg. Privy Council Scot. II. 218 Except sic change and fortoun of weare as salbe commoun and alike to bayth. 1593 SHAKES. 3 Hen. VI, IV. vii. 36 These Gates must not be shut, But in the Night, or in the time of Warre. 1613 J. SARIS Voy. Japan (Hakl. Soc.) 54 The prince of Tidore, whoe had beene out in warr, and was retorned with 100 Ternatans heades. 1648 MILTON Sonn. to Fairfax 10 For what can Warr, but endless warr still breed, Till Truth, and Right from Violence be freed. 1690 LOCKE Govt. II. iii. §16 The State of War is a State of Enmity and Destruction. 1697 DRYDEN Virg. Georg. IV. 810 Mighty Cæsar, thund'ring from afar, Seeks on Euphrates' Banks the Spoils of War. 1728 RAMSAY Lochaber i, The dangers attending on wear. 1759 B. PORTEUS Death 179 War its thousands slays, Peace its ten thousands. 1765 BLACKSTONE Comm. I. vii. 250 In order to make war completely effectual, it is necessary with us in England that it be publicly declared and duly proclaimed by the king's authority. 1846 Congressional Globe 14 May 808/1 It puts it in the power of any military squad..to put this nation in a state of war. The killing of people is not war. In order to constitute war between nations, that killing must be sanctioned by the war-making power. 1857 BUCKLE Civiliz. I. viii. 551 Formerly religion had been the cause of war, and had also been the pretext under which it was conducted. 1871 MOZLEY Univ. Serm. v. (1876) 101 War is one of these rights, because under the division of mankind into distinct nations it becomes a necessity.

     However, though the Oxford English Dictionary is an exacting resource for the history of the usage of English words, it often fails to provide an etymology which would allow someone interested in how a word or term came about and to help provide our best understanding of its origins.  The Online Etymology Dictionary offers for 'war':

late O.E. (c.1050), wyrre, werre, from O.N.Fr. werre "war" (Fr. guerre), from Frank. *werra, from P.Gmc. *werso (cf. O.S. werran, O.H.G. werran, Ger. verwirren "to confuse, perplex"). Cognates suggest the original sense was "to bring into confusion." There was no common Gmc. word for "war" at the dawn of historical times. O.E. had many poetic words for "war" (guð, heaðo, hild, wig, all common in personal names), but the usual one to translate L. bellum was gewin "struggle, strife" (related to win). Sp., Port., It. guerra are from the same source; Romanic peoples turned to Gmc. for a word to avoid L. bellum because its form tended to merge with bello- "beautiful." The verb meaning "to make war on" is recorded from 1154. First record of war time is 1387. Warpath (1775) is from N.Amer. Ind., as are war-whoop (1761), war-paint (1826), war-path (1775), and war-dance (1757). War crime first attested 1906. War chest is attested from 1901; now usually fig. War games translates Ger. Kriegspiel (see kriegspiel).

“There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell.”
Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-1891) addressing the graduating class of the Michigan Military Academy, June 19, 1879.

“Currently, half the countries emerging from violent conflict revert to conflict within five years”
From: In larger freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all (Report of the Secretary-General; UN, 2005).

     For an excellent overview of the history of war, WarScholar.com presents a fine introduction.  Today’s political and religiously based wars (and “conflicts”) are another matter....  Recidivism seems as likely for nations at war as many prisoners in U.S. jails.  Please pardon me moving on from ‘war’ in my overreaching definitions and not addressing aggressive tendencies in all life-forms, but this column is about Iraq and America’s decision to do something right.  Feces comes in contact with a rotary device designed to circulate air throughout a room and... again, America went to war.

     Money may be used as a Weapon of Mass Destruction and Saddam’s payments of $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers was criminal.  Those who killed Israeli civilians and foreign tourists (including Americans) on buses, sitting in outdoor cafes or simply stepping out for a stroll down the street were fanatical murderers, not heroes.  In America, we experienced the homicidal psychosis of Timothy McVeigh, a decorated Gulf War veteran, who turned anti-government terrorist and killed many office workers and children.  Innocents are only “collateral damage” if a military target is somehow nearby or involved.  McVeigh was a sick punk and anti-Israeli suicide bombers who have killed tourists instead of attacking military targets were cowards.  Saddam was a tyrannical supporter of terrorism.

     And, paraphrasing Gen. Sherman (see above), War is Hell.  An October 2006 study published in the medical journal, Lancet, estimated the total death toll as over 655,000.  Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) were forced to leave Iraq in 2004 because their safety couldn’t be guaranteed.  Over 139 journalists and media-support (e.g. video and audio technicians) have died, some brutally.  Civilian and military contractors have lost their lives in significant numbers.  Yeah, the Halliburton situation is an embarrassment, but so is having France win the contract to provide meals to U.S. Marines.  Though I’m mightily tempted, at this point the less said about the French (and Germans) as far as Iraq is concerned, would be proper.

     In my Nov. 2002 column, "Slam Saddam," I wrote:
"Bush should cowboy Saddam most expeditiously."  The situation in Iraq, as horrible as it is, must be concluded responsibly.  A little more than a year ago, Frans van Anraat, a Dutch trader was given a 15-year sentence in December 2005 for selling the chemicals Saddam used to commit genocide against the Kurds.  The Sunni gangsters and the Shiite fundamentalists can do what they want to one another, but the Kurds deserve our protection;  the northern portion of Iraq is their homeland (Kurdistan) and no amount of obfuscation will change that.  Apparently, even Israel tried to help the Kurds for a short time, until threats from Al-Qaeda unnerved them.  With a kill tally of nearly two million, last week Saddam was executed, yet Operation: Iraqi Freedom continues.


Corpse of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti (1937-2006).

The number of Iraqi insurgent and so-called “foreign fighters” deaths are estimated between 20,000 and 60,000.
As of December 29, 2006, the day before Saddam was executed, 2,989 American military personal have died as a result of Operation: Iraqi Freedom; this number will be well over 3000 when this column is released.   Following is a table of coalition military personal who have also died:

127 Britons
32 Italians
18 Poles
18 Ukrainians
13 Bulgarians
11 Spaniards
6 Danes
5 Salvadorans
4 Slovaks
3 Latvians
2 Australians
2 Dutch
2 Estonians
2 Romanians
2 Thai
1 Fijian
1 Hungarian
1 Kazakh

     Our wars will likely continue for a variety of reasons.  America could avoid domestic conflict by honoring its treaties with Native Americans, give Hawai'i back, come to terms with the Alaskan secessionist movement, and perhaps pay attention to Puerto Rico.  PBS has some wonderful advice for parents on how to talk to their kids about war; if only such material were available for adults to talk to other adults about our wars.

Related columns:
#80  12-4-98  The Taliban Tempest
#218  Nov. 2002  Slam Saddam
#223  March 2003  The Chore of Babylon
#224  April 2003  Kurds in the Way?
#225  April 2003  Tossing the Baby out with the Ba'ath

Mixing it up,
Rick


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