We are at War with Ourselves and Neither Side is Winning

Several months ago, I suggested that the world would be a better place if every culture would embrace the concept of mid-career “mandatory volunteerism.” I argued that the oxymoronic concept be expanded well beyond the idea that conservatives seem to embrace: that recipients of public assistance should be required to “volunteer” their time in order to qualify for benefits. In my view, I wrote, a mid-career “volunteerism” break should be required of everyone who is not exempted from such service for some legitimate reason. I equated the concept to Peace Corps or AmeriCorps. But I proposed an international program; I envisioned a program wherein membership in ANY international or multinational organization would require participation in this mandatory volunteerism program.

Over time, my thinking on the matter has evolved. Every country should replace optional (and compulsory) military service with compulsory humanitarian service. The size of all nations’ militaries should be diminished dramatically in a fashion that would provide military forces only enough resources to defend against attacks, but not enough to initiate them.  Humanitarian services, on the other hand, would be dramatically increased. The discipline and structure that is now so much a hallmark of militaries would become the hallmark of humanitarian service organizations. The top-level generals and admirals who command military forces would transition to humanitarian forces.


I appreciate that people who serve in the military can, under circumstances none of us want to experience, protect the rest of us from invasion, attack, etc. But the reality of our political landscape is that we’re the ones who invade, attack, etc. I still appreciate that people in the military do what their countries ask; I just don’t like what we ask the military to do. I cannot bring myself to say “Thank you for your service” when thankful is not what I’m feeling. Sure, I appreciate the military when it is involved in humanitarian efforts and I gladly express appreciation for that. But not for standing at the ready to launch attacks that should never have been launched.

Those who can win a war well can rarely make a good peace, and those who could make a good peace would never have won the war.

~ Winston Churchill ~

Utopian ideas. Wishful thinking. Fantasy. Gullibility. All legitimate terms to throw at the ideas. Tilting at windmills is a waste of time and effort, I’m afraid. No matter how much time I give to ideas with no possibility of being realized, the ideas will not be valuable or valid. My ideal world does not correspond to ideals held by people far more powerful than I.

Why does my idealism call on people to “volunteer” at mid-career, rather than from the outset of adulthood? I think mid-career people better understand the world than wet-behind-the-ears kids who are just doing what the generals and admirals tell them. Maturity and experience tend to plant the seeds of wisdom, too; the discipline of blindly following orders might morph into the discipline of following orders with a full understanding of the consequences of doing so.


I have no business commenting about the pros and cons of military service; I’ve never served in the military. But I have seen the consequences of military service when used by politicians and a cudgel or a club. I’ve seen the sacrifices of life and limb by people who were commanded to engage in unnecessary battles that serve only political aims. So, I suppose I have as much business commenting on military service as I have commenting about the presidency or decisions of the local school board; I have no experience as president nor as a member of the school board, but I have a stake in what they say and do.

If everyone fought for their own convictions there would be no war.

~ Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace ~

We are at war with ourselves and neither side is winning. We’re battling vaccinations and masks. We claim the right to “live free” at the expense of others’ deaths.  Somewhere, while sipping champagne and eating caviar, the political hacks are laughing at the dimwits who fight so fiercely against the dimwits who fight so fiercely. There’s money to be made and power to be consolidated in pitting one against the other. We are the dimwits and we know it. Yet we battle on, convinced we will win an undeclared war against an enemy in the mirror.

All warfare is based on deception.

~ Sun Tzu, 5th cent. BC, Chinese general & military strategist ~

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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