Sunday, 26 April 2009

The Idealism of War

I just finished watching an incredible and thought provoking documentary on the Spanish Civil War of 1936 - 1939. After the fall of Spain's Monarchy and abdication of King Alfonso XIII in 1931, the different factions of Spain's diverse population struggled for power and dominance in the newly formed Republican Government. The Government was fragile from the beginning, formed from factions of Fascists, Communists, Socialists, Liberal Democrats, Monarchists, Catholic Conservatives and some Anarchists. The winds of war and spilling of blood was inevitable, as it was only a matter of when not if.

In 1936, the military, who remained under the sway of the fascists, monarchists and Catholics revolted against the Republican Government in Madrid. Soon Gen. Fransisco Franco came to the fore as the leader of the Fascists and lead a bloody and relentless campaign against the government. A loose confederation of Communists, Anarchists, liberal democrats, socialists, and foreign volunteers put up a staunch defense of the Republic and in the beginning of the conflict seemed to be able to withstand the fascists forces. But as the conflict progressed, internal fighting between the different factions of the Republicans along with military aid from Hitlers Germany and Mussolini's Italy turned the tide of the war, and the Republicans crumbled.

After the war, Franco carried out a viscous and cruel purge of any remaining opposition in many little known Spanish concentration camps. In some cases, Francos men resorted to outright public executions. This story is not somehow special or different and has been told thousands of times in thousands of conflicts over the course of human history. Before the war, they were just Spaniards, then the war caused by nothing more than ideology and a sense of righteousness turned Spaniard against Spaniard.

No one ever stopped to ask how ideas, only different ideas and beliefs were more important than the lives of their fellow countrymen. Most wars have this fog that settles over the populations, dividing humans into ideas, splitting our species into violent sides based on the illusion of infallibility.

Abraham Lincoln in his first inauguration address, in an attempt to stem the tide of Southern revolt in 1861, said:
I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Unfortunately for that Civil war and many like it, our better angels remained as silent as the dead that littered the battlefields of so called glory.
It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it. ~Robert E. Lee

I am not naive enough to think violence and war will not continue. With regret, I can not even say I see some war, some violence as unavoidable. Such is our ability to produce a few humans of unimaginable ignorant hate and unbridled insanity, who will not cease nor reason until forced to. I merely echo the words of John Lennon, "All we are saying is give peace a chance."

I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. Each of us must learn to work not just for oneself, one's own family or nation, but for the benefit of all humankind. Universal responsibility is the key to human survival. It is the best foundation for world peace. ~Dalai Lama

Whoever said idea's don't kill?


  1. Surely the "loose confederation of Communists, Anarchists, liberal democrats, socialists, and foreign volunteers" was united by ideas and ideals? Just as Britain and the US were united by certain ideas and ideals which empowered them to resist the march of fascism across the world? It wasn't just about ideas. It was about human lives.

  2. I do not disagree, and like I said, war and force will be a necessary thing at times. My point is not of the moral right or wrong in war, my point is how often, as humans, we value our own opinions and ideas over that of others, to the point of killing. It was Hitlers idealism that started WW2, Franco's idealism that fought the Spanish Civil war and the Southern States idealism that created the American civil war.

    Some southerners lynched blacks because of their ideals. The IRA bombed British targets because of ideals. Stalin killed over 10 million of his own people over ideals.

    It is both about ideas and human life. Until one is seen for what it is, the other will always be in danger.

    Thanks for the comments! :)

  3. Funny, I just read this today in Bhikku Bodhi's "In the Buddha's Words":

    The Origin of Conflict"The brahmin Aramadanda approached the Venerable Mahakaccana, exchanged friendly greetings with him, and asked him: "Why is it, Master Kaccana, that khattiyas fight with khattiyas, brahmins with brahmins, and householders, with householders?"

    "It is, brahmin, because of attachment to sensual pleasures, adherence to sensual pleasures, fixation on sensual pleasures, addiction to sensual pleasures, obsession with sensual pleasures, holding firmly to sensual pleasures that khattiyas fight with khattiyas, brahmins with brahmins, and householders with householders."

    "Why is it, Master Kaccana, that ascetics fight with ascetics?"

    "It is, brahmin, because of attachment to views, adherence to views, fixation on views, addiction to views, obsession with views, holding firmly to views that ascetics fight with ascetics."

    (AN 2: iv, 6, abridged; I 66)

    The Buddha also said that elaborated perceptions and notions leads to thinking, which leads to desire, which leads to liking and disliking, which leads to the "bonds of envy and stinginess" that bind beings so that beings who wish to live without hate and hostility, yet live in hate, harming one another. (from Sakkapanha Sutta)


    "Thus, Ananda, in dependence upon feeling there is craving; in dependence upon craving there is pursuit; in dependence upon pursuit there is gain; in dependence upon gain there is decision-making; in dependence upon decision-making there is desire and lust; in dependence upon desire and lust there is attachment; in dependence upon attachment there is possessiveness; in dependence upon possessiveness there is stinginess, in dependence upon stinginess there is defensiveness, and because of defensiveness, various evil unwholesome things originate- taking up clubs and weapons, conflicts, quarrels, and disputes, insults, slander, and falsehood." (from Mahanidana Sutta)

    Food for thought. JG

  4. King Alfonso XIII did not abdicate. He left Spain in 1931 to avoid civil war. The King's sacrifice was in vain. Civil war broke out five years later anyway.

    King Alfonso XIII died in 1941 in his Roman exile.

  5. radical royalist - My apologies for our different interpretations of the word abdicate. This word, like all other words have different meanings to different people. I think for the same reasons you posted here, to correct my mistakes, are the same reasons people begin to take sides, draw lines of right and wrong, good and bad, like and dislike. Perhaps, it is not that we must always agree nor live in a world without words or principles, but maybe just understand that it is only our thoughts and interpretations that separate us.
    Thank you for your comments!

    Jamie - I remember reading that awhile back and I forgotten about it. Thanks for posting it, definitely food for thought. Thanks!