On Wars

“I don’t even know what we’re fighting about,” Mrs. Bowman said with a sigh.

“Neither does anyone else,” said Mr. Magundi. “For the first year or so, a war is usually about something—a disputed territory, or a principle, or some other thing that people feel strongly enough about to fight over. But after it’s been going on for a while, the war is about the war. The original cause, in fact, may be entirely forgotten: we just keep fighting because there’s a fight. A few years into the American Revolution, the British offered peace on terms that acceded to every demand the colonists had gone to war for; they were refused, because the war wasn’t about those demands anymore. By the end of the Civil War, the Confederacy was offering liberty to any slave who would fight, and most prominent Southern politicians had acknowledged that slavery—the original occasion of the war—was dead as an institution. Most of the Arab world has been in a declared state of war against Israel for long enough that every single politician who was active when the war was declared is dead. The United States has been at war through a complete change of governments, and if you ask the current administration why we are in this war, you will receive the candid and infuriating answer that we’re in it because we can’t get out. So we fight because there is a fight. The war is about the war.”

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