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Is War Primarily a Way of Reducing Population? - nhpeacenik
Is War Primarily a Way of Reducing Population?
One of the participants in today's peace vigil said "War is just a way of getting rid of surplus population." I'm not sure who she was paraphrasing, but I know I've heard this assertion many times. If there is any truth in this, it raises a lot of questions about the basic values of people like me who want to promote peaceful conflict resolution. If we want to end war, are we really just advocating for more disease, risky behavior and environmental catastrophe (the big three other ways of reducing population)? Was Malthus right? Is death from Mad Cow Disease or dysentery or being drowned in a flood better or worse than dying from an IED or a gunshot? I think we really aspire to a world where the number of people supports living in harmony with the earth and its other inhabitants, and where people don't kill each other.

Most of us in the anti-war movement are equally, if not more, concerned about the fate of Gaia, Mother Earth, and all the animals and plants we share her with, as we are with the murderous human activity called war. We are aware that human activity is destroying the beauty of the Earth and its carrying capacity. A lot of us eat local vegetarian food, buy free trade goods, walk or drive energy-efficient vehicles in hopes of cutting down the burden we place on Earth. Some of us have chosen to limit our procreation, as two-child or one-child couples, or by remaining childless. In doing these things, I think we are pulled along by a sense of rightness rather than driven by a sense that an intolerable horror is breathing down our necks.

So isn't it curious that we can imagine the horrors of war and feel a visceral need to end them forever, but we think of overpopulation as something abstract, and the solution as a mechanical process of "reducing surplus population," whatever that means. I think the mode of thought and emotion may be due to the fact that war is an active choice of some very identifiable human beings, while the other population-decreasers seem to be beyond human choice.

The British folk-rock group Seize the Day (http://www.seizetheday.org/) perform a song called "Temples of Rain" in which they ask:

What was the most beautiful thing you ever saw,
Did it move you like you've never been moved before?
Did it make you move mountains? Did it make you try?

In another song, "I am Dust", they conclude with an emotionally powerful demand "give us back our fields and our oceans and the clean air so we can breathe!"

The human beings who are continuously making the decisions to destroy that "most beautiful thing" are less easily identified than the ones who periodically send us to war, but, to paraphrase Utah Phillips, they have names, addresses and phone numbers. We need to remind ourselves and others that the move toward ecological disaster is not an inexorable impersonal process but more like the process of war-making and war propaganda. Removing warfare from human experience and saving the natural world both require recognizing the source of the life-denying pressure, exposing it, confronting it, refusing to lend it our bodies, and changing the governance systems that put these specific human beings and their agendas in the "driver's seat".

Then there's the question of the expanding human population and the fact that it is about to exceed the carrying-capacity of the planet. Since it's one world, there needs to be a solution that serves all the people of the world. People everywhere need to be able to forego procreation in the secure knowledge that they won't need a large number of children to support them in old age. People everywhere need to identify the beautiful thing or place that they could not bear to lose forever and devote their efforts to saving it. The rich must be made to "disgorge their booty" in such a way as to provide for the needs of the poor in the long term, to eliminate extreme poverty and wealth. Learning from countries such as Japan, that have developed cultural patterns that mitigate the conflict-generating effects of crowding, and learning from customs and policies that have kept human and non-human nature in balance in some parts of the world will be essential. If we think of "surplus population" we don't imagine the term as referring to us and our children and parents. Our goal must be to live within our means and maximize the possibility of beauty and happiness for future generations, and to bequeath a culture that will support the next generation carrying this way of life forward into the future.

Current Location: home on a snow-covered day
Current Mood: thoughtful thoughtful
Current Music: "I am Dust" by Seize the Day http://www.pondlifestudios.com/

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From: (Anonymous) Date: March 15th, 2007 09:20 pm (UTC) (Link)

Reducing surplus population

I don't know who else used this phrase, but Dickens' character Scrooge, in
"A Christmas Carol" said of the poor: "If they won't go to the workhouses, they had better die and decrease the surplus population". This happens at the start of the story, when Scrooge refuses to contribute any of his wealth to help others. I think the phrase has been used many times, and Dickens may not have invented it.

Thanks for your thoughtful piece. It's a bit difficult writing with a cat on my lap, but comforting, as you mentioned.

In peace. A fellow Quaker.
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