09 September 2015

Allocating War’s Advantages to a Future of Cross-Cultural Activism

In Paul Saint-Amour’s introduction to Tense Future, he depicts a disheartening view of what many imagine to be peacetime prosperity by imposing on it the terrible ramifications of war: a communal, never-ending fear of death and destruction, thus asserting that the mere existence of past war-related trauma inevitably refutes any future public declaration that peace—an impossible “refuge from anxiety and history”—will ever arrive (Saint-Amour 10). Indeed, relying on Lewis Mumford, he insists that anticipating future violence is comparable to dying “a thousand deaths” (qtd. in Saint-Amour 7). Furthermore, Saint-Amour expands upon his conclusions of peacetime’s ultimate bane: “The warning is the war; the drill and the raid are one” (Saint-Amour 13).


Nevertheless, whereas Paul Saint-Amour analyzes war’s harsh, long-lasting ramifications in transforming the idealist conception of peacetime prosperity into an elegiac pre-war preparation, Helen Graham specifically highlights war as a catalyst for positive social change in The Spanish Civil War: A Very Short Introduction. Within her enumeration of the Spanish Civil War’s grave consequences are the many humanitarian and technological gains from that same time period, such as the appearance of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, the first integrated American military unit; the flood of foreign medical volunteers who would soon both finance new medical supplies and discover more efficient medical techniques for blood transfusion; and the—albeit hushed—welcome of a nouveau working class composed of women and young people, eliminating some of the sexism and agism existent in Spanish militaristic and commercial life for centuries (Graham 44-55).

Thus, borne from the combination of these sources is an inherent dichotomy in humanitarian pacifist ideology, that war, despite its obvious, overwhelming disadvantages, may lead to a net growth in global society. This begs a few powerful questions: How might war’s potential to instill more widespread policies of racial and gender-based inclusivity, along with catalyzing technological innovation, counterweight its mortiferous repercussions? Can war be worthwhile? And, what techniques can pacifists use to bring about similar humanitarian and technological breakthroughs, while avoiding the painful consequences of war?
Although the uncountable intricacies of war merit more than a simple response, I contend that the answer for humanitarian pacifists to the overarching question of how to isolate war’s potential for growth from its undeniably awful environment lies in practicing what I call pragmatic empathy: both the global desire to assist disenfranchised peoples across all boundaries and the motivated efficiency and effectiveness in doing so promptly, via engaging the global populace in cross-cultural volunteerism and philanthropy, as well as promoting conversations of governmental and intergovernmental policy across all peoples—in which nearly all of the positives from the Spanish Civil War were rooted. Although these discoveries began from much more than mere goodwill, each of the isolated cases of humanitarian and technological growth throughout the Spanish Civil War could have been traced back to otherwise even more powerful examples of humanity’s ultimate triumph, benevolent accomplishment from interpersonal interaction, a concept far greater than international militarism, for which we all must eventually strive.

Works Cited

Graham, Helen. The Spanish Civil War: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. Print.

Saint-Amour, Paul K. Tense Future: Modernism, Total War, Encyclopedic Form. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

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