Monday, May 2, 2011

Wars and Rumors of Wars

War should be avoided when possible. It causes an awful lot of pain and misery, destroys lives, and disrupts families. While it is happening, most people, especially those to whom it is happening, would prefer that it go away. But we have been promised, on no less authority than the Bible, that it will not go away as long as we and our ancestors are in charge of the affairs of this earth.

So, since we seem to feel that it is necessary, we must not paint it only in shades of grey. When the immediate pain of war has passed, or when we can experience it at some remove, it is actually quite stimulating: to our minds, our emotions, and our economy.

Songs, poems, novels, plays, movies, have all benefitted from the horror, pathos, glamour, and heroism that wars create. Our media would be hard pressed to maintain their schedule of 24/7 “must see” programming without the images their war correspondents produce. Natural disasters can fill in to some degree, but they are not as predictable or sustainable as a good war. Besides, how can one demonize a hurricane or an earthquake? Curse it, perhaps, but not declare war on it and devastate its homeland.

A large share of the toy market, especially as it relates to toys for boys, depends upon the glorification of war to generate a demand for its products. Our youth spend hours fighting simulated wars on their computers, X-boxes, and iPhones. Many of our sports resemble war games. Our politician even invoke the language of war in their campaigns, targeting their enemies and building war chests amounting to millions of dollars per campaign.

More jobs in the national economy that we can imagine are dependent upon our past, current, or anticipated wars. Many of the medical and technological marvels we enjoy are unanticipated benefits of wartime innovation. In short, it would be difficult to maintain our current standard of living without a huge defense industry to fuel a major part of our economy. And let us not forget that wars draw us together: create common enemies and foster a bi-partisan way of viewing the “national interest.” Wars and rumors of wars are good for the economy.

World War II is credited, by some scholars, with ending the Great Depression. The austerity imposed by rationing and price and wage freezes, is thought to have spurred the great growth that occurred in our economy in the years following the war. Pent up demand for goods, not available during the war, combined with the unspent earnings of millions of men and women who could do little but save their dollars until the war ended, combined with the need for housing and consumer goods for the thousands of service men returning from the war, drove the economy into high gear.

The war wreaked havoc on those areas of the globe unfortunate enough to host its major battles. The U.S. sailed through those years almost entirely untouched, actually thriving as factories, idled by the Depression, were reactivated and new ones built to supply the needs of our armies. When the war ended the United States was positioned to make millions of dollars rebuilding the ravaged areas that our weapons had, only a short time before, destroyed. In a couple of decades our enemies had become consumers of the products our factories poured forth.

Ribbons were distributed to war widows. Memorials were built to commemorate those who had paid for the war with their blood. Historians, novelists, songwriters, and movie producers earned good livings reimagining the events of those years. Americans unthinkingly reaped the benefits of war.

That is not to say there were no hardships. The aforementioned rationing, and price and wage freezes, forced changes in lifestyle on the home front, as well as a temporary return to simpler ways of doing tasks that many had assumed were lost forever. Horses once again pulled trolleys through the streets of some cities, powered delivery wagons on their routes, even plowed fields as motorized tractors sat idle, awaiting the day when gasoline would again be abundant. Citizens tilled victory gardens, walked or peddled bicycles instead of driving cars, drank Postum in lieu of coffee, canned fruit with less sugar or none at all, and saved all manner of recyclable metals, glass, and paper. Nearly every purchase of foodstuff required a rationing coupon or token in addition to the price of the goods.

Times were tough for those who abided by the rules. Times were tougher for those caught evading the rules. But home front sacrifices paled compared to the rigors the soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen endured. And rationing and shortages were minor nuisances when compared to the losses in other parts of the world.

War should definitely be avoided when possible. It causes an awful lot of pain and misery, destroys lives, and disrupts families. But what a different world it would be without war. Nothing else, absolutely nothing else that man has devised is capable of creating the prosperity, glory, and solidarity that war does. It is no wonder that Jesus declared that “wars and rumors of wars” would persist until the end of time.

Thank God he also pronounced a time – beyond our time – when, under his rule, war would be no more. It is intriguing to speculate about the changes in human nature, and human culture, necessary for mankind to live and prosper in such a “Peaceable Kingdom.” We have seen an economy driven by the making of “swords.” What would an economy look like, that was built on the production of “plowshares?”

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