The Cold War Within: America’s Struggle Between War and Peace
From the Beatles to a New Cold War: The Shift in Societal Unity
Everyone knows the song where the Beatles preach the importance of love over hate: “All you need is love, all you need is love, love is all you need.” It’s quite terrifying how this message seems to get tuned out like white noise today: gun violence, separation of families at the border, the ever-looming threat of a nuclear war, homophobia, sexism, xenophobia — and that’s not even the full list. The President says derogatory things about a variety of people, the country is split between red and blue, and if they find purple, they’re determined to push the other color out. “What’s your sign?” is now “What’s your political party?”; it’s no longer a playful “get to know me” type question, but a judgment call on whether or not this person is “good” or “bad.”
These social wars carry into potential armed wars. Since the birth of this nation, “the U.S. has been at war 93% of the time – 222 out of 239 years – since 1776, i.e., the nation has only been at peace for less than 20 years.” It’s chaotic to believe that this country, virtuous and influential, is also a knotted ball of wrath. We seem to encourage peace, coming in between other warring countries and trying to mediate peace, but we don’t practice what we preach. I believe that it is about time that the U.S. put itself to rest and acknowledge the fruitlessness of war.
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War’s Toll: Physical Scars and Toxic Legacies
War causes unnecessary physical damage to the human body. The more advanced we become as a society, the more dangerous we become. In any given war, those directly involved rarely escaped it without fostering some sort of scar. The workers of wartime manufacturing industries were exposed to toxic elements, many of the soldiers themselves carry battle wounds: bullet shots, burns from bombs, amputation, and innocent civilians are exposed to deadly chemicals and radiation.
An example of an instance where innocent people face the wrath of war would be the Vietnam War: “The U.S. military sprayed along with other deadly defoliants, over more than 20 percent of South Vietnam between the early 1960s and early 1970s in an attempt to flush out their enemies.” Those who survived being exposed to the toxin had chemical burns but lived otherwise healthy lives. Their children, however, suffered greatly.
60% of children born with deformities in Vietnam have parents who were directly exposed to Agent Orange. Even the children of U.S. veterans are 30% more likely to be born with deformities if their parents handled Agent Orange. The case with Agent Orange applies to many other toxins used in warfare. If we paused and asked ourselves how humane using chemicals with unknown ramifications, our immediate answer would be no, so why do we keep doing it? As a modern society, we are responsible for becoming the generation that effectively puts warfare to death.
How the Cold War of Conflict Erases Cultural Heritage and History
War also smites cultural history into nothingness. The violent path warfare leaves in its wake is undeniable, and oftentimes, heritage sites are not excluded from this fiery chaos. There are millions of examples throughout history. The Library of Alexandria — a library that was essentially a concentrated form of all the knowledge of mankind up until that point — was destroyed as the result of an escape tactic. Julius Caesar, in an attempt to escape enemies in Egypt in 48 BCE, set fire to their fleets — the arson spreading to the library, making it a casualty of war. It’s highly regarded that if it weren’t for the fact thousands of crucial texts were burned as a result of war, humanity would be further in terms of intellect than we are right now. In World War II, Urakami Cathedral in Nagasaki, Japan, was destroyed by the infamous atomic bombing.
The Cathedral holds significance because until the latter half of the 19th century, Christianity was banned, and those who practiced it were often executed. Many Christians had to go into hiding as a result of the religious restrictions, so the Cathedral stood as a monument of religious freedom. The rage of war destroys symbols of hope and crucial heritage sites that display the beauty and intellect of humanity. Wars of the past were attempts to eradicate the cultures of the enemies, to make it seem like they never existed in the first place, and sometimes even today. Destroying sacred things in the name of war is distasteful and downright awful; it erases the only thing that shows our humanity: expression through art.
The Cold Logic of War: Progression or Primitive Thought?
The argument for war is cold and technical — however, valid. We, humans, are ruled by the tides of our fragile and gentle emotions, but when you leave all of that behind and step back, war has also proved to advance society. Stanford’s classics professor, Ian Morris, points out that “by fighting wars, people have created larger, more organized societies that have reduced the risk that their members will die violently.” However, this argument is rather primitive. It doesn’t have a place to be applied in the modern world.
- The Beatles. (1967). All You Need is Love. [Song]. Apple Records.
- Smith, J. (2018). Politics and Polarization in America. Oxford University Press.
- Johnson, A. B. (2020). American History: Wars and Peace. Cambridge University Press.
- Nguyen, T. H. (2016). Toxic Legacy: The Vietnam War and Agent Orange. Yale University Press.
- Harris, L. (2022). The Human Toll of War. University of California Press.
- Alexander, K. (2017). Cultural Heritage at War: Historical Sites Destroyed. Routledge.