War is Hell. It is absolute Hell. Anyone who tells you anything otherwise is either a liar or simply deluding themselves.
War is Hell.
The situation we have in Middle East is the result of many co-factors. There are the long histories of Christianity-Islam relations and Arab-Jewish relations to be sure. But in our time, it is the modern history that seems most pivotal to understand. When all is said and done, the Western orchestrated overthrow of the Iranian regime in 1953 probably is the historical beginning of the chain of dominoes that most recently fell in Paris. For the better part of seven decades, the West has pursued policies in the Middle East that were either driven by the ambition for global hegemony or by overly academic abstractions that failed to see the reality on the ground for what it was - the rise of ISIS being the most recent example.
War is Hell and the past is prologue. The West, with the US leading the charge, prosecuted an unprovoked war in Iraq. From the ashes of what was once the fourth largest army in the world (and one of the most efficient killing machines in the upper echelons of the Baath party), rose the entity known as ISIS. Behind the propaganda that lights fires in the minds of men, it seems the hidden power in this same Baath party are ultimately guiding ISIS.
If the press conference in Vienna is any indication, the events of the last two weeks have alarmed Russia and the United States enough to consider setting aside the ideological feud that has been raging the last few years and co-ordinate a response to the events in Syria. The fact that is was explicitly stated that the Syrian government has ostensibly agreed to negotiate with the opposition and that aggressively dismantling ISIS is a top priority seems to suggest that the realization has set in that we cannot expend energy chasing after political agendas. ISIS will in theory be the direct target. Even France has said as much.
Yet the above only serves to re-enforce how hellish war really is; not only hell, war is more often than not the prime example of the most cynical manipulation of people. The constant victims of war are the people who had no say in the matter. The conflict wasn't their choice and they had little to no opportunity to reject it. The images of these victims are almost always fleeting. The girl who was gang raped in the midst of the bedlam. The parent who holds the lifeless mangled body of his son in his arms, crying for the little boy who will never come back. Or the exchange student eating at a restaurant while studying abroad. A musician working the leg of tour for a major American band. A journalist covering the venue. Or a woman who just happened to head for a soccer match.The victims of war, the people whose lives are held accountable by fate, are almost always ordinary people. Even if we factor soldiers in as victims, the story is still the same. The victims are almost always the people who had no say in the matter. The powers that bring us to war are rarely held accountable. True, we may have our Nuremberg moment where we bring surviving heads of a defeated army to trial, but how often to the men whose political maneuverings set the stage for a conflagration find themselves having to give account for what they have done and failed to do? Will Bush or Obama or any of the complicit EU statesmen be brought before some juridical authority to make some atonement for the horribly misguided policies that brought us to this point? Highly unlikely. What will happen should we eventually fight ISIS head on is that the casualties will be massive. The people who had no say in the matter will be the most brutalized by the fighting. We may or may not get our man, but the statesmen who facilitated the situations that lead ordinary people to ruin (with no choice of their own in the matter) will likely never be held accountable. Will the French hold accountable the politicians who advocated for a refugee policy that could not possibly vet all of the incoming flux migrants? Probably not. Meanwhile, the innocent people who had no say in the matter, who couldn't care for global politics, they will continue to be war's victims.
War is Hell. In fact, it is such hell that we had to think of rules for it, less we devolve into a beast of our more violent impulses. There is nothing good or humane about it, though eventually it may always be identified as the only option left. But after the dust has cleared and the enemy defeated, where is the justice for the innocents who had no say in the matter. Where is the justice for the father holding the mangled remains of his son, or the parents of a college student who was gunned down at a Paris cafe`? When do they get to see the political leaders whose action or inaction brought things to this point held accountable for what they have done or failed to do? It is then that one hopes that there is someone who will hold us all accountable on the other side of the eschaton. Maybe that will be the day the powerless who are herded into wars not of their own choosing are finally vindicated.
War is Hell, but it is the evil that must be done when it is the only means of preserving the greater good. After the deed is done, a question emerges that requires an answer and be acted upon with more fervor than war is fought: who will reach out to the victims of war and provide them with a vision of their dignity and restoration?
Update: See Fr. Chadwick's very poignant "What Would We Die For?" In words both elegant and insightful, he provides a window to the complexity and, to be blatant, horror of the situation we find ourselves in.