No war ends in victory, but there are many losers. In this series, I shall explore how wars happen, and why we all are part of them, even if we are not participating.
Miles away from Ukraine, I lay in my bed wondering what is happening to those innocent people who are affected by the vagaries of war. It is hard to dismiss it as a distant event just because I am unaffected by the bombs and bullets.
I am torn between blaming Russia, who are the aggressors, and the Western World, who despite being within their control to avoid this situation, allowed it to happen. Ukraine, of course, is the victim, and the bone of contention between two powerful sides.
Many lost lives later, people will once again settle down around a table to discuss matters – this we know.
I come from a land that has morphed into a democratic country from being a potpourri of kings, with its fight for freedom leaning on non-violence. So I understand the thought process of violence that is needed to sometimes preserve democracy. Yet my country, India, also has fought 3 wars with its neighbors, and we did not see any wrong then. So why do we create a hullabaloo over war happening elsewhere? I am not going to discuss the politics around this war, but war at large.
War is always a product of somebody’s greed. For the few who want something at any cost, there are the many who have to pay with everything that they have. In fact, some claim that war is necessary for peace. Let us explore how a war comes upon us in a chronological order.
Historical Back Story:
Take any piece of history that culminated in war.
There is need and there is greed. There is freedom and dignity, and on the other hand, oppression. Need for survival and dignity rank in that order, and when people take sides on defining others’ need and greed, it leads to conflict. This conflict is fueled by vested interests and biases, and the fault lines emerge.
People within groups think alike, and therefore when ‘herds’ are formed, their thinking becomes monolithic. This monolithic thinking is fueled by emotions, this colored, single-track thinking evolves into a closed mindset and belief becomes powerful, even dogmatic. Dogma is the bane of thinking – it shuts down minds, like pressure cookers without valves, and emerges as a powerful, high-pressure ‘group-ism’.
We have seen such extreme, high-pressure positions emerge in nations, religions, and races. Almost inevitably, the leadership is patriarchal, with a clear code of conduct, containment of information flow, and chain of command for such groups. The leader becomes a messiah, and the group becomes a cult. Cult is deep belief and superstitious – often dogmatic and combative.
This is always the historical back story, as a rule, that a leadership emerges from the fault lines based on history.
There is a history to such high-pressure points and fault lines, and they fester one day at a time. The open-minded and non-dogmatic of the lot normally dismiss the festering, or more often, ignore the demands or views of this dogma.
Dogma also needs ears, and when countered by patient logic, backed by emotionally intelligent dialogue, backed by the luxury of time, vanishes or becomes more malleable.
Festering means there is no vent and no opportunity to let out or be heard; there is no meaningful response from the open-minded groups. Dismissing the dogmatic as villains introduces bias in conversations, and such engagements almost die down. It is because even the open-minded don’t understand the language of dogma, but treat it as gibberish.
In fact, dogma is not gibberish. There is a historic imbalance and it has grown into a cult status only because there is no early intervention to establish balance. The more one allows the dogma to fester unattended and unheard, the more it becomes emotional and aggressive.
There was a logic once in the place where dogma is today. But because it was allowed to fester, it has grown into a matter of survival and the need to be heard or attended to, is now overwhelming. Here is where lines are crossed, mostly without the stakeholders’ notice and each line becomes a point of no return, as things become more serious.
Then there is the luxury of time, which in retrospect, is the most precious commodity. The more one defers the engagement with dogma, the less luxurious time becomes. Such engagements need time and delay means disaster.
The credibility of the stakeholders also matters in many cases. If there is only preaching and no practice, the value of the words is lost, and that leads to erosion of trust.
Lastly, by painting the dogmatic people as villains, there is a bias in the conversation that even the open-minded stakeholders carry. This bias creates a ‘holier-than-thou’ position that makes the conversations untenable.
“War is what happens when language fails.”
― Margaret Atwood
The festering period is the last chance for sanity and resolution through dialogue.
Volcanoes explode when the pressure beneath them goes beyond a critical point. This ‘inflection point’, if we may call one such, is because there is a threshold that one side can sit on the table to reason and see the logic. Beyond that point, the pressure is overwhelming that it bursts out, like the volcano.
The explosion itself is furious and aggressive, and the group (read nation, religion, race, etc.,) crosses the point of no return. War. This threshold is a moment of insanity that conversations and viewpoints don’t exist, and the decision on war is unilateral.
This dogmatic group is often the aggressor because the world has seen them as villains already. One might actually think that the war starts at the flashpoint. However unpopular, most wars are started as a matter of last resort, however illogical it may seem. It is not to justify the position of the aggressor, but it is logical to the aggressor, that having not heard or unable to resolve their needs (read needs, not wants), they take to violent means.
It might happen that both sides are dogmatic – and that could be because of the history between them and the new festering that is more recent; but if there were open-minded stakeholders, it bears down upon them to keep the dogmatic players on the table. The reason, is they are the only ones to see and exercise reason.
Cultural and historical factors become important because some want to light the incendiary up, then these elements are potential triggers to push.
Wars extend to land and sea, air and cyberspace these days. A war is a series of battles with one battle influencing the other often.
Both aggressor and the aggressee take brave positions, including rhetoric. Their stance itself is driven by false hope or vanity, but to placate or provoke their camps and galleries, the actors shall act brave.
The attacker aims to capture and hold, while the defender aims to hold and defend. Boundaries of humanity and human dignity are tested, as attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure are par for the course these days.
The fallen during the initial stages of the war will be remembered, but once the initial attack and response happen, there is a phase of ‘getting used to’. People either leave or migrate to other countries as refugees, and those who stay, either die or get injured, losing family and friends, or live to tell a painful tale.
Each side will claim their victory and spoils, but eventually, either it is a race to a quick finish or a prolonged, painful affair.
Stock markets, banking, local commerce, currencies, logistics and trade, medical and food supplies, humanitarian help, and aids – every aspect of modern life would go haywire.
The course of war could play out differently than intended because of weather, supplies, arms and ammunition, human will and enterprise, and some sudden event of God. As they say ‘no plan survives the contact with the enemy’.
In short, a course of war is entirely unpredictable, and there are always surprises galore. We just hope that we are not the ones on the wrong side of the barrel.