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What’s The Point of War?

What will it take to prevent the next war? Can’t say I know exactly, but, like how many others in the same boat, I keep writing about it anyway.

I just received in the mail the elegant new second issue of The Point magazine, out of Chicago, which includes my essay “The War at Home.” It’s available only in print currently, so you’ll have to buy the issue, which includes work by Martha Nussbaum, Robert Pippin, and many others. Here’s some of the stuff in my piece:

For the moment, my parents’ lessons and example had caught up with the martial fantasies. The kid who loved his toy rifle gave way to the one who’d channeled Buddha on the playground. I began turning back to the spiritual traditions they had exposed me to as a kid, in the course of their own explorations, and I wandered into some new ones of my own. I read the books of mystics and philosophers. I found friends who would sit around forever and talk about ideas‚ and in those good, late nights the prospect of peace could overwhelm the allure of war. I became enchanted with the notion of truth I found in Gandhi’s writings, a substance of absolute sacredness borne by friend and enemy alike. Reading them offered me new way of seeing the world: a living firmament of people, each with their righteous claims on truth and justice. Destroying any of them is, or should be, tantamount to defeat.

There is no sense pretending, though, that this turning point would last me for life. Such moments of decision repeat themselves perpetually. The transformative logic of weapons and the banality of violence always offer to reinvent the game, to insist that, this time, to kill and be killed is not murder. No: it is defense, it is honor, it is duty, it is right. Gandhi, for one, lived a life of obsessive vigilance against these creeping temptations. In diet, family life, community, and politics, his writings reveal a constant anxiety that violence might weasel its way through. Reading Gandhi’s Experiments with Truth, one can grow exhausted with the endless efforts at self-purgation. His ascetic impulses sometimes do little more than replace harming others with harming himself. But if the answer to violence were simply a feat of deprivation, it would be as much a denial of life as killing. I cannot simply cut off these militant organs, for I’d probably die in the process.

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