The summers of my 16th and 17th years, decades ago in the last century, I worked on a farm, watched the farmer kill a steer, whom he had given a name as if human, with a 22-caliber rifle and a bullet between the eyes. The steer immediately collapsed. An hour or so later he asked me to help him cut up “John” for the freezer. I also later visited a slaughterhouse, and watched animals being butchered in much less merciful ways. From crying sheep to bellowing cows and squealing pigs, all died violent deaths – sold to people convinced on the value of red meat in their diet. The farmer told me he hated slaughterhouses. I understood yet I questioned why he gave the animal a human name only to kill him. He didn’t answer. My experiences led to changing my habits of diet and conscience and questioned when I would perfect my moral sense.
A decade later I was living in Japan, then later Hong Kong and India among other places in the Far, Middle, Near East, North Africa, Europe and eventually experiencing Central America. I witnessed protests by hundreds if not thousands of students and citizens in Tokyo and Paris among other places. I recall avoiding tear gas descending into a subway to get to my next destination. I spoke with students who also entered the train who wanted to practice their English with me. It wasn’t about me the individual but about an uncontrollable power over their lives, be it government or corporate or some enigmatic broker of influence.
Who are the beneficiaries of conflict and war? Identity is immersed in war and conflict at home, work or in service to country. Abuses of power and people are a genetic inheritance I suppose dating to ancient men and women finding different paths for the sake of survival. War and conflict create no ethical winners except in the minds of the winners. The cost to the human conscience is another matter. The efficiencies of war are often debated and conscience may become a piece of philosophical cold meat during a dinner conversation.
“There’s a lot of money to made off of war, win or lose, makes no difference to me,” a contractual mercenary told me while sipping a drink in a bar in Tel Aviv. I heard similar messages in Bangkok, Istanbul, London and Panama.
Who stands to gain from the control over others? What institutions and people benefit the most from war, beyond its “politicized moralizing” value? Who has the corner on ethics? Who owns the economic debt of the individual and the nation? What is the role of fear “of the other” that creates a dogmatic belief to justify killing? When is revenge no longer a viable response?
Endless volumes have been written on the subject. War may be entertainment for those not directly involved in life and death battles but find time to sermonize or play video war games or diversions of capturing the other’s king, without knowing what it feels like to kill another either in person or remotely through a drone or topple a pawn on the chessboard of life. How is the conscience and identity affected by such deeds?
I witnessed a man murder another man and a woman in the name of a belief during my treks. What causes such anger? Is it the loss of self-worth, self-respect and dignity and the desire for power or just “merely evil”? The man saw me from across the way and fired a couple shots in my direction, but I had already dived into a nearby muddy ditch. A truck came into view and the killer ran off towards a vehicle waiting for him. What desensitizes us to others? How much ravaging can the conscience endure? The fireworks in the mind can be deafening. And journalistic coverage of conflict and war is best when factual and not biased. Disinformation is dangerous to all. And, experts may appear ubiquitous outside the line of fire.
I wonder if conscience is still evolving only to be repeatedly crushed during such events as the World Wars, from Flanders Fields to the Holocaust to the false dichotomy of a domino theory in South East Asia, and the endless international and regional conflicts including small arms shipments to help tribes, clans, and families? The list is incredibly long. Military minded lobbyists send money to politicians affecting their votes and bankers and brokers of influence look at the bottom line, for money appears to transcend any given issue, still what ultimately happens to the human mind and heart when conscience is continuously mutilated, dismembered and cleansed?