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‘Everybody Is Against Everybody – Somebody Has To Be For Them’: the message behind this Amnesty International poster is ultimately a pessimistic one – war is so endemic to the human condition that we can’t hope to eradicate, only to alleviate it.

That rather hobbesian world view is underscored by this world map composed of soldiers, warriors and fighters of every colour, creed and continent, a veritable United Nations of War, all placed as geographically correct as possible: from loinclothed tribes armed with long sticks or bows and arrows make up much of South America, while the north of the continent is lined with belligerents in Pilgrim dress, Revolution-era garb, Civil War uniform and even the Ku-Klux Klan costume. And so on for each continent, mutatis mutandis.

The map depicts many recognizable masters of war, among whom just three of the previous century’s bad boys stand out: Hitler, Lenin, Mao. The arsenal depicted ranges from stone-age sticks through medieval armor to ironclad battleships and tanks… The longer I look at this map, the more depressed I get. What is it about war that makes it both undesirable and unavoidable?

Here are some ‘pro-war’ quotes that extoll, or at least excuse some of war’s qualities:

  • “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things.  The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse.  The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.” (John Stuart Mill)
  • “It is well that war is so terrible – otherwise we would grow too fond of it” (Robert E. Lee; statement at the Battle of Fredericksburg, 13th December 1862)
  • “The art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can, and keep moving on.” (Ulysses S. Grant) 
  • “Against war one might say that it makes the victor stupid and the vanquished malicious. In its favor, that in producing these two effects it barbarizes, and so makes the combatants more natural. For culture it is a sleep or a wintertime, and man emerges from it stronger for good and for evil.” (Friedrich Nietzsche; ‘Human, All Too Human’)
  • “War alone brings up to their highest tension all human energies and imposes the stamp of nobility upon the peoples who have the courage to make it.” (Benito Mussolini)
  • “Everyone’s a pacifist between wars.  It’s like being a vegetarian between meals.” (Colman McCarthy)

  • “The object of war is not to die for your country, but to make the other bastard die for his.” (George Patton)
  • “We are going to have peace even if we have to fight for it.” (Dwight D. Eisenhower)
  • “The quickest way of ending a war is to lose it.” (George Orwell; ‘Second Thoughts On James Burnham’, 1946)
  • War and culture, those are the two poles of Europe, her heaven and hell, her glory and shame, and they cannot be separated from one another. When one comes to an end, the other will end also and one cannot end without the other. The fact that no war has broken out in Europe for fifty years is connected in some mysterious way with the fact that for fifty years no new Picasso has appeared either.” (Milan Kundera, ‘Immortality’)

Is war a ‘natural’ state of things? Not according to everyone. There are those who see it as an aberration, only possible through lies, (self-)deception and the suspension of common sense:

  • “In war, truth is the first casualty.” (Aeschylus) 
  • “A day will come when a cannon will be exhibited in museums, just as instruments of torture are now, and the people will be astonished that such a thing could have been.” (Victor Hugo)
  • “War: first, one hopes to win; then one expects the enemy to lose; then, one is satisfied that he too is suffering; in the end, one is surprised that everyone has lost.” (Karl Kraus, ‘Die Fackel’, 1917)
  • “Naturally the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” (Hermann Goering)
  • “History teaches that wars begin when governments believe the price of aggression is cheap.” (Ronald Reagan, 1984)
  • “If we let people see that kind of thing, there would never again be any war.” (Pentagon official explaining why the U.S. military censored graphic footage from the Gulf War)
  • “War-making is one of the few activities that people are not supposed to view ‘realistically’; that is, with an eye to expense and practical outcome. In all-out war, expenditure is all-out, unprudent—war being defined as an emergency in which no sacrifice is excessive.” (Susan Sontag, ‘AIDS and Its Metaphors’)

Maybe war is so constant and universal that all we can do is limit it, or lament it:

  • “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” (Plato)
  • “War never takes a wicked man by chance, the good man always.” (Sophocles, ‘Philoctetes’)
  • “As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular.” (Oscar Wilde, ‘The Critic as Artist’)
  • “Was it for this the clay grew tall?” (Wilfred Owen, Soldier-Poet)
  • “The most persistent sound which reverberates through men’s history is the beating of war drums.” (Arthur Koestler, ‘Janus’) 
  • “I would like it if men had to partake in the same hormonal cycles to which we’re subjected monthly.  Maybe that’s why men declare war – because they have a need to bleed on a regular basis.” (Brett Butler)
  • “War is not nice.” (Barbara Bush)
  • “I think war might be God’s way of teaching us geography.” (Paul Rodriguez)

Yet even if the propensity for conflict and violence is a constant in human nature, the art of war has been perfected to such a degree that it has become unaffordable. 

  •  “Battles, in these ages, are transacted by mechanism; with the slightest possible development of human individuality or spontaneity; men now even die, and kill one another, in an artificial manner.” (Thomas Carlyle, ‘The French Revolution’)
  • “The expendability factor has increased by being transferred from the specialised, scarce and expensively trained military personnel to the amorphous civilian population.  American strategists have calculated the proportion of civilians killed in this century’s major wars.  In the First World War 5 per cent of those killed were civilians, in the Second World War 48 per cent, while in a Third World War 90-95 per cent would be civilians.” (Colin Ward, ‘Anarchy in Action’) 
  • “War does not determine who is right – only who is left.”  (Bertrand Russell)
  • “The way to win an atomic war is to make certain it never starts.” (Omar Bradley)

  • “The basic problems facing the world today are not susceptible to a military solution.” (John F. Kennedy)
  • “We have failed to grasp the fact that mankind is becoming a single unit, and that for a unit to fight against itself is suicide.” (Havelock Ellis)
This map was sent in by Derek Jensen. Quotes on this page were taken from Quotegarden, the Quotations Page, and other citational resources.