Is This War Necessary?

Do we secretly yearn for a war we know how to win? Is this war driven by oil? And is war ever moral?

She sailed from San Diego early in January. If she knew her destination she did not share it with her friends. She has been meticulously trained to fly a helicopter. In recent weeks she has mastered the skill of landing this wobbly craft on a ship. She has also engaged in urban warfare training.

Who is this young woman? She is an officer in the United States Navy, the daughter of a very close friend of mine, a person I have known since she was a child and for whom I have great affection. For me she has become the single face who invades the eye of my mind when I think about my nation's relentless march toward war.

Undoubtedly, this young officer is headed for a military conflict. My government has determined that she, along with countless other men and women in our Armed Forces, are to be placed in harm's way. In carrying out her duties she may well be engaged in the act of killing other people. That is the reality of war. She may also become a victim of someone else's military purpose. She might even wind up a prisoner of war. In the culture of Iraq, where women are treated shamefully, this is the specter that fills me with the deepest sense of dread. My knowledge of this young woman has changed the nature of my questions about this war. They are no longer academic. They are now deeply personal and existential.

Is Iraq a cause worth the sacrifice of her life or others? Is war itself any longer a legitimate means for solving political disputes? Can an alternative not be found?


There is something about war today that seems so primitive. It seems to be the activity of creatures caught in an evolutionary time warp, contending over the same bone or defending their clearly marked turf. Human beings seem to sense this irrational quality and feel compelled to develop high sounding rhetoric to justify inhumane actions. World War I was "the war to end all wars." World War II was the war "to make the world safe for democracy." The Korean and Vietnam conflicts were packaged as wars "to contain the spread of communism."

Yet the power of these slogans diminished as the 20th Century rolled on. The Vietnam War could never be properly perfumed. It ended in a sea of disillusionment and defeat. It produced no heroes of note, no political ambitions that would catapult a victorious general into the White House and no romantic songs to promise that someday there would be "Bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover." Nations contemplating war today sound like testosterone-filled little boys proclaiming "my old man can lick your old man." Even the guns and canons we use to kill our enemies are but thinly disguised phallic symbols, and the bombs, falling from the mid-sections of B-52s, look like illustrations from an eight-year-old's toilet talk. Human beings now contemplate cloning, genetic engineering and stem cell research, yet we still settle conflicts with childish war games. We clearly have not evolved beyond the mentality where might is assumed to make right.

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John Shelby Spong
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