War as Reckoning

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“War itself fosters an impossible collection of opposites: murder, soldiery comradeship, torture, religious conviction, the destruction of the earth, patriotism, annihilation and even hope for immortal glory. Wartime seems to propel life to its most vivid, most meaningful level. Engaged in the activity of destruction, its soldiers and its victims discover a profound sense of existing, of being human. The mind withdraws from this paradox; it staggers at the task of unlocking the baleful, intoxicating and necessary force that is war. Instead, the bare fact that war has dominated human history since the earliest records and seems always ready to break out is ignored, condemned or lamented.” [1]

James Hillman — A terrible love of war, 2004

For a war to be consistent, the enemy must always be kept in mind[2]; Hillman adds that “the figure of the enemy nourishes the passion of fear, hatred, rage, revenge, destruction, and lust, providing the supercharged strength that makes the battlefield possible.”[3] However, “soldiers are not killers.” In World War I, one of the most significant problems infantrymen faced with incoming fire was that they wouldn’t return it. In World War II this situation was also present and alluded to the fact that even well-trained soldiers have an “unrealized resistance towards killing,”[4] which impeded the tactical fulfillment of specific engagements.

Combat, blood-war that is, is furthermore a contingency based on not only the psychological notion of otherness, i.e., the enemy but of the political state finding a source of unity within enmity. The United States is an example of such a state insofar that as many commonalities and freedoms where shared and secured by the constitution, all of them pre-supposed a condition of utter disagreement and grievances with the monarchy it was attempting to disassociate itself with. “Politics is the womb in which war develops”[5] says Clausewitz and “the enemy is the midwife of war”[6] completes Hillman.

War seems to be a condensation of peoples capacity to commit evil and aggressive acts together with the association of a political state pursuing their own interest, which then seemingly both co-opts and alienates the individual from their shared responsibility in the decision-making process. Of course, this includes the individual allowing for the body-politic to take over as an authority in decision making, which in itself is a choice, to begin with. As such, war is also the ultimate exercise in bad faith. The relevancy of war and its apparent “ubiquity” as Hillman says seem to present modern society with a query. Why war, essentially? Haven’t we already developed into a state of consciousness where we can do without this? The most realistic answer seems to be apparently no.

War is ruthless. It confronts our assumption and, in every sense, deconstructs the nature of reality. War is an uncomfortable paradox and a systemic and enduring fact. If we are to move beyond our prejudices and naiveté, there seems to be no other solution but to face the perpetual condition which produces the state of war, before it achieves its enduring conclusion: the finality of all those engaged in it.

The assessment of these perpetual conditions, however, appears to remain the issue. I.e., the gradual build-up to a state of war seems to proceed from the continuous dismissal, ignorance, and finally, denial of causational principles that, in most cases, are self-evident. One merely needs to look at the correlation between armed conflict and the procurement and ownership of resources in history. From Jerusalem to crude oil, either heavenly or otherwise — we are all involved in gains or losses of war. Legendary heroism awaits the victorious, humiliating defeat for the opponent; such goes the fantasy. An illusion to this day, Hollywood never ceases to perpetuate.

Buddhist psychology might add a fascinating insight into this conversation with the premise of impermanence and how the sense of self is constituted. Impermanence can is axiomatic from a particular interpretation[7] of Buddhist Dharma. Impermanence is a core constitutional element of human experience, along with the desire to avoid it. This defense-against-change is furthermore inherent to the origin of suffering in human experience. Buddhist psychology, much along the line of western phenomenology, states that the sense of self is a composite structure. I.e., it is not a thing existing, somewhere inside of us, but rather is an ongoing process that is in a continuous state of flux. Being in a constant state of flux goes against any fantasy to establish proof that one’s sense of self is solid, stable, and unchanging. That the sense of self is a composite structure and the fear that it’s not a fixed entity (and the related defenses against this fear) is understood to be the primary source of suffering.

But the individual’s sense of self is not a single process happening outside of existence somewhere. It is a symbiotic phenomenon occurring in the cohort with all the other similar operations around it. We are all in this together, like it or not. That much should be self-evident. As such, so is the desire to maintain the idealized image of ourselves. So terrifying and poignant is the desire to avoid change or challenge to our internalized self-notions and survival strategies that it becomes normative to emulate status quo principles, rather than test them. Even if this means war. Carl Jung concisely noted that:

“Even today people are largely unconscious of the fact that every individual is a cell in the structure of various international organisms and is therefore causally implicated in their conflicts. He knows that as an individual being he is more or less meaningless and feels himself the victim of uncontrollable forces, but, on the other hand, he harbors within himself a dangerous shadow and adversary who is involved as an invisible helper in the dark machinations of the political monster. It is in the nature of political bodies always to see the evil in the opposite group, just as the individual has an ineradicable tendency to get rid of everything he does not know and does not want to know about himself by foisting it off on somebody else. Nothing has a more divisive and alienating effect upon society than this moral complacency and lack of responsibility, and nothing promotes understanding and rapprochement more than the mutual withdrawal of projections.”[8]

War then, is the ultimate penance paid while also being the exhaustive conclusion of being oblivious to its reality (or ignorantly pretending to be — bad faith again). Its punishment is “secretly” needed to shore up the relative illusion of security and comfort society enjoys. Since the elimination of the outside threat also eliminates the need for any internal self-reflection or shift in consciousness. Hence civil society is supported by the sacrifice of the fallen, and the shadow cast by this exchange ends up being carried by those that end up wearing a uniform — whether they are aware of this or not, recruits, in particular, are not. The veteran must carry our collective burden for eschewing the responsibility on the matter from the outset.

It would seem then that our innate proclivity to support and sustain an idealized image of ourselves, is automatically involved in the larger “machinations of the political monster.” Since nothing is fixed (i.e., impermanent), it, therefore, doesn’t become too much of a gap to ascertain that the root causes of our suffering become tied to the root causes of war. We are all liable for our aggression and its corollary unconscious leakage.

The “withdrawal of projections” then becomes the ultimate act of defiance and self-reflection when confronted with the deceptive seduction of material pleasures and status-seeking. While being with one’s mind and emotions honestly and without repression, but rather integration, culminates in the ultimate act of freedom.

In conclusion, this freedom is not particularly comfortable, since it doesn’t attempt to sure up uncertainty. However, it certainly is more honest and conscientious, reflective of greater maturity and, in the end, a more humanizing outlook.

[1] Hillman, James. A Terrible Love of War. ( New York; The Penguin Press, 2004), 1

[2] von Clausewitz, Carl. On War.(New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1984)

[3] Hillman, 4

[4] Ibid, 5

[5] von Clausewitz

[6] Hillman, 6

[7] Hinayana/First Turning Ontology

[8] C.J. Jung, Selected Writings (New York: Book-of-the-Month Club, 1997), 195.

Thiago Leão, Therapist/Philosopher

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”Of the two witnesses choose the Primary One”

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