Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Rememberance Day/Veterans Day Thoughts

In light of recent and on-going events, a few things struck me as we remember the sacrifices made by previous and current generations of military folks:

  • The improved technology of medicine means that many soldiers are surviving incredibly debilitating wounds.  There is much good news in this, but we tend to forget how many lives are irrevocably harmed by war because we focus on deaths and not other casualties.
  • For instance, the largest cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (to outsiders, that is) will be the next fifty years of disability payments and medical care.
  • Also, the media only counts deaths, which both under-counts the sacrifices being made and perhaps distorts the operations on the ground, as contingents may operate only close to base to minimize deaths but not casualties.  
  • There will be talk of "war no more" but we can use a variety of IR theories to argue that war will be with us for quite some time to come.
    • Structural Realism focuses on the absence of hierarchy in international relations--that anarchy (absence of government) serves as a permissive condition that allows war to take place, and that causes competition and insecurity that make war more likely.
    • Liberalism focuses on the patterns of interest.  While one can hope for a harmony of interests among everyone, the reality is that there will always be conflicts of interest, including some worth fighting for.
    • Constructivism has many different approaches, but will war be seen as unthinkable and entirely inappropriate down the road, like piracy or slavery?  Ooops, both of those still exist.  Plus there is always competition among different values and norms, so that we face important value conflicts between peace and justice.
    • Then we can move to those arguments focused on individual cognition--that we always make mistakes about others' intentions and capabilities and even more perhaps about our own intentions and capabilities (and yet more about what everyone's allies are going to do).
    • And onto domestic politics, where politicians usually have incentives that point them towards the short-term, which can often lead to destructive behavior.
While we will mourn the costs of war today as it marks the end of "The War to End War," one of things we need to mourn are the casualties to come.

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