On Civil War

There is a war taking place today in Oregon. Sides have been chosen, and changing sides is tantamount to treason. Uniforms have been donned, and participants have geared up for battle. And like other recent wars, many will watch this war from the comfort of home on a TV set, far removed, and numbingly remote, from the reality.
This “war” is a college football game here in Oregon, between two rivals, called a “civil war.” I hate the term “civil war” when it is used to describe something as trivial as a college football game. It trivializes the true horrors of war itself. To anyone who has actually been in combat, or lived in a war zone, it’s no game. There’s no buzzer sounding the end of “play.” I admit that “civil war” sounds catchy, but there has got to be a better term than this. It’s insensitive and socially irresponsible.

Frankly, we continually trivialize war in our culture. We declare war on drugs, crime, poverty, and homelessness, but it hasn’t gotten us far. It seems when we “declare war,” there’s an implication that the “experts” (soldiers) are in charge, leaving us to cheer them on. There is no sense of societal responsibility. Compare the concept of “declaring war on poverty,” to “working together to end poverty,” or even “to eradicate” or “to dismantle” poverty. We don’t change norms or better society in any way by “declaring war” on anything. All that does is declare that it’s bad, not proactively work together to fix it.

As George Carlin accurately observed, “we are a warlike people.” Some tribal societies that we smugly refer to as “primitive,” are far more peaceful than we. Even the games their children play are based more on cooperation than competition because they understand that working together ensures their survival. In our society, we not only win, we “beat” the other person or team, we “kick ass.” We crush, kill, annihilate, destroy, and defeat the other team. I bet you can come up with at least a half dozen violent verbs of your own. That mindset of might seems to permeate our foreign policy as well.  As a result, other than a few isolated terror incidents, we are the aggressors. We spend more on weapons of death than all other countries combined, and attack other nations with impunity. We also have tens of thousands of handgun related deaths annually in our country, as compared to a few dozen at the most in other countries. It’s not the guns that are the problem; it’s us.

It’s easy to trivialize something that isn’t in our faces on a daily basis. Right now we are at war in the Middle East. For the majority of Americans, it’s entirely possible to tune out this fact, other than brief (and slanted) updates on the evening news. After all, our houses are not being bombed; our loved ones are not being killed with drones, and generally we can send our children to school in the morning with a reasonable expectation that they will not be killed in a school bus bombing that day. Our houses are not being razed, and loved ones not being dragged out in the middle of the night and detained. Nope, that’s all happening somewhere else. That makes it very easy to see war as something much smaller than it is, even as we fund the carnage with our tax dollars.

As for the Civil War, after which these college rivalry games are often named, there is no history book or movie that can adequately describe its horrors. Men died at the end of bayonets held by their own brothers. It is arguably the most shameful, grisly, horrific period of U.S. history, along with the slave trade which characterized that era. A disproportionate number of those fighting and dying were poor, many of them newly freed slaves. Referring to any game as a “civil war” glorifies this national tragedy, while trivializing its lasting impact. War is not a game, and a game is not war.

It’s a slap in the face to our veterans, to survivors of war crimes, and to those who have been killed, maimed, displaced, raped, orphaned, or trafficked because of war. I’ve studied this topic extensively, enough to be ashamed at the minimization of the suffering by the mainstream media. If everyone saw the pictures, and read the stories of the magnitude of the human suffering caused by our need to dominate, we would not be calling anything war that isn’t war.  And don't even get me started on video games that glorify war, and desensitize kids to violence.

I realize that some will read this with rolling eyes. This may be seen as some liberal, overly sensitive, overly PC, whining rant. If that is your perception, I would like to remind you that where the REAL war is happening, there aren’t party snacks and tailgate parties, no “after-game” celebrations. Just the groans and screams of the wounded and the grieving, and the silence of death.

War is Not a Game by Bill Durston

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