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War Fantasies

Reading war dispatches for the last two months – years, decades, centuries – one is filled with an unnatural excitement for what radical women used to dismiss as “boys and their toys.”

Speaking as a boy, I will admit to the implication. Boys were programmed by God, it seems, to better appreciate toys and their invention. We also have a propensity to war, and more largely, to getting things done by force. This is what I was formerly told; though the opposite seems now to be in fashion.

Writers on war are under a compulsion to make their stories exciting, even for the war-loving girl. The most predictably journalistic will try standard tricks, even of punctuation, to announce the desire to entertain – far away from the muddy trenches. But of course, the entertainment will often include horror, which can be contrived anywhere.

Perhaps the greatest challenge of war reporting is to convey the truth of life near the front line, at the leading edge of a military bureaucracy. It is very boring. Unless the soldier carries a book in his knapsack, he’ll have nothing to read.

Hollywood does a better job of holding our attention, when it edits out the tedious bits. Their best efforts to insert dramatic continuities result in lies.

For truth, as well as high-density entertainment, the contemporary “armchair general” consults YouTube, for “documentaries” on the latest helicopters, &c.

One could binge upon such works, and I find only self-disgust is a reliable antidote to them.

But they were, for a brief period, a welcome relief from the COVID reports, especially in my situation – for I was surrounded, in urban Canada, by media-fed neuropathy in the general population. I sensed the longing for a war, or some other break in the repetitious “coverage” for all the locked-down people. Surely war would offer more interesting visuals than another press conference of medical officials.

The rewards for binge-watching have never been lower, and I begin to appreciate why war is such a popular alternative. This is a hard fact of modernity. Deprived of the simplest excitements from normal life, people long for action. This makes them, potentially, a danger to themselves.

Alas, modernity has been like that for a while, and growing crime and violence are partially explained by it. Also, the interest in foreign wars, such as the one in distant Ukraine.

The downside of war is that people get killed. But the background reality, reflected in statistics, is quite another thing. Ghastly injuries are more common than easeful death, and lifetimes with the physical consequences.

But the idea of planes and missiles flying very fast, and blowing targets away, puts one in the mood. So far as it is boyish joy, it needn’t be sophisticated. Firecrackers work as well as missiles, if they make bright flashes and enough noise.


The more sophisticated armchair general will not be satisfied with this, however. He may even drone on about logistics, and though he is neither a businessman nor Marxist, he may rattle on about the cost/benefit of an otherwise gratuitous invasion.

From the first night (as a boy), I was trying to imagine how to contrive a Ukrainian victory. I had not yet engaged my Christian habit, of sparing a thought for the other side. It frankly shows good military sense, to limit casualties on BOTH sides. Maximizing enemy losses is thuggish.

But winning is still more important, in this game. And all the technical questions must come up, when planning for victory, rather than extinction.

My Christian thought, when contemplating contemporary battlefields, insists upon technical improvements.

In general, precision bombing has been the technical advance that has moved us farthest in this direction. It is no longer necessary to pulverize a city, to eliminate a small military target. Nuclear weapons tend to stand against this happy development, but observe: “nukes” are now old hat. Their expense is out of all proportion to the good they do (in warfare).

Note, too, modern accountancy requires constant financial review. One of these Mach-speed jet fighters, for instance, costs a fortune to avoid over-heating. A single modern tank, that will have difficulty beating the highway speed limit, will absorb millions of dollars and need constant repair. And that’s before we attach the (disposable) weapons.

But the right sort of angelic, or should I say, extra-terrestrial weaponry, would not be fitted with explosives at all. It would exploit the electric fields of pricey airplanes, tanks, and ships. Just as advanced fighters muck into enemy radar reception, we need a device that can spread electronic mischief.

Let us propose something mobile, that can fritz out the power of enemy craft. Imagine the enemy plane that does not take a hit, or even a scratch from its paintwork, and remains (momentarily) airborne. But all its thrust and controls have blanked out.

The pilot has plenty of time to parachute. He may use his cell-phone on the way down, to surrender to the “good guys.”

A society of danger-loving explosive experts may still be required, to disarm the scattered munitions. The attacker will still find his aggression was exorbitant, especially when he must buy back the prisoners of war, as we used to do with the Arabs.

Imagine the whole ex-Soviet intercontinental ballistic force to be grounded, by satellite-based cybernetics. With some science-class genius, whole fleets may be rendered supernumerary, and many trillions of dollars saved. Beating swords into ploughshares might become an environmental necessity.

I wouldn’t draw excessive optimism from this scenario, however. For even if “peace in our time” was made thus available, some other act of technological brilliance would fill the military-industrial types with hope once again, and they’d be back to war in less than a century.

Our Lord designed the world to require constant moral intervention. Things may be fixed, but they don’t stay fixed for long.


*Image: A Ukrainian child’s drawing from a handout photo obtained by Reuters [@uakids.today/REUTERS]

You may also enjoy:

Robert Royal’s Ukraine, the Political and the Personal [1]

Randall Smith’s Ukraine for the Long Haul [2]

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: davidwarrenonline.com.