Love of War
Richard A. Koenigsberg
Dear Colleague,

People claim that they would like to put an end to war. But how can war end when it is considered a good thing?

People say they would like to achieve peace. But how can peace be attained if people love war?

War is loved because it provides the occasion for sacrificing lives to rescue a sacred ideal. The proof of the pudding is in the dying and killing.

If sacrificing one’s life for a sacred ideal is good, how can war be bad? Sacrificing one’s life for society’s sacred ideal constitutes the essence of goodness.

Hitler is considered an anomaly. Yet when he said, “We may be inhumane, but if we rescue Germany we have performed the greatest deed in the world,” he articulated the structure of thought underlying most forms of collective violence.

“We may be inhumane, but if we rescue (X), we have performed the greatest deed in the world.” Nearly every case of societal mass murder fits this equation. Can you think of a single case that does not? War and genocide are undertaken as the performance of inhumane acts in the name of defending or rescuing a sacred ideal.

It is the “X factor”—the sacred ideal—that acts as a releaser: transforming violent acts into forms of goodness. The sacred ideal is the moral imperative justifying any and all actions: liberating individuals from all other forms of morality.

Each society is founded on a sacred ideal that it wishes to defend, protect and promulgate. Warfare constitutes a devotional activity. War revolves around this X factor: “Something to kill and die for.”

I’ve studied hundreds of concrete political and historical situations. It always come down to the same dynamic: societies feel they are obligated—believe it is their duty—to die and kill in order to rescue a sacred ideal.

Unwillingness to wage war thus becomes immoral: revealing that one doesn’t love one’s country enough. He or she who opposes war becomes a heretic, or an apostate.

War is good because sacrificing one’s life for one’s nation is good. A nation incurs casualties in order to demonstrate its devotion. Death in warfare is the “pledge of allegiance” in its most radical form. As one commentator put it on the Fourth of July, “The basic hero is the dead soldier.”

A journalist during the First World War recalled meeting a wounded Canadian soldier in pain. He reports how he tried to console the soldier:

As I looked into his face and saw the look of personal victory over physical pain, I gripped him by the hand and said: “My good man, when you go back home to Canada, back to your home, you need not tell them that you love your country, that you love your home—just show them your scars.”

Being wounded functioned as a testimonial: demonstration of love. In war, the good (the sacred ideal) and the bad (violent acts) are fused into one.

One cannot perform acts of societal violence in the absence of a sacred object. The leader can act to kill—and to require dying—only in the name of a sacred ideal. The ideal provides the rationale or reason. It is by virtue of a sacred object—one’s devotion to this object—that war becomes “just.”

Of course, we conceive acts of violence as necessary and just only when these acts are performed in the name of our sacred ideal. When the other society performs acts of violence, they seem brutal and ugly. Only dying and killing for our sacred ideal seems “beautiful.”

Pulling away from any particular political or historical situation, one may postulate a law of sacrifice. Societies perform acts of violence as the vehicle for demonstrating devotion to a sacred ideal. This ideal might be called “preserving the Union,” or “Great Britain,” or “France,” or “Germany,” or “the people” (Chinese communism), or Allah, or “freedom and democracy.” In our heart the dream remains the same.

One may consider a particular ideal “good” or “bad”: everyone has an opinion. However, there is a common principle or dynamic: that for which we die and kill becomes real. Killing and dying validate the truth of the ideal.

Why do people love war? Because it provides the occasion to demonstrate one’s devotion. We love war because it allows us to prove that we love our country.

Best regards,
Richard Koenigsberg