“Only the dead have seen the end of war.” –Unknown

This was possibly the most somber Memorial Day in my memory. There were no ceremonies due to the lockdown and the dreary weather was a match for the country’s mood.

There were the usual admonitions that Memorial Day is not Veterans Day. The latter is a day to honor living veterans who have worn their country’s uniform. The former is to honor those who died in it.

And because my mood matches the weather I’ve been musing over the most depressing things I can think of about war. And because misery loves company, I’m going to share them with you.

And why would I do that, other than sheer sadistic glee?

Think of it as a test. I once created a short quiz to determine whether a person can really think. I’ll write about that another time, but I can reduce it to one question.

That question is, “Do you believe anything to be true that you wish with all your heart were not true?”

(And no, “Everybody who disagrees with me is stupid, evil, and messing everything up,” doesn’t count. That’s self-soothing, not thinking.)

So here are a few observations about war that make everybody sad and uncomfortable.

There will not be an end to war in the foreseeable future.

Nations go to war when they think they can get something out of it and the cost is acceptable.

War is not an aberration in human affairs but a normal consequence of human nature. Other cultures recognize this and think it odd that we do not.

Whenever a nation starts to think war is unthinkable anymore, they fall prey to those who dare think it. Declaring your unwillingness to fight makes you a target for those who are willing.

Not all cultures are compatible and we cannot share a world in peace with everyone. There can be no permanent compromise between freedom and slavery. Those who believe in the supremacy of their race, religion, or ideology will always hate and seek to destroy those who idealize the brotherhood of Man.

When two sides go to war, both think they can win. They are wrong fifty percent of the time.

Victory can be as costly as defeat. “Another such victory and we are lost!” said King Pyrrhus of Epirus, giving rise to the expression “a Pyrrhic victory.”

While weapons technology has advanced, so has medical technology and our ability to save even the most gravely wounded. This has resulted in horrors, as more of our youth come home to us living, but maimed.

Because of the huge disparity of force between potential enemies, war has increasingly come to cities rather than open spaces in between them, where great but indiscriminate firepower cannot be used without inflicting as much damage on oneself as an enemy might.

It is said that no war is truly won until your enemy has become your friend. And this is true. We’ve seen it within the lifetime of our oldest veterans.

But the only way we’ve found to make that happen is to wage total war, accept nothing less than unconditional surrender, and only then show great magnanimity in victory. What I call, “The Lincoln Strategy.”

Now let me end these depressing musings with a quote from the Byzantine general Flavius Belisarius, considered by some the greatest field commander in history.

“All men with even a small store of reason know peace is chiefest of blessings.”

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