Preventing War, From Caracas to Kabul

Preventing War, From Caracas to Kabul

Miami – When we speak of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the war that Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, wants to start with Colombia, one gets the impression that we are talking about something inevitable, as if we were confronted with some all-powerful force that annihilates all other ideas and impulses and leaves them in its wake. For this reason, the following question is crucial: Is there any possible way to free human beings from the supposed inevitability of war?

This question was sent in a letter from the famous scientist Albert Einstein to the founding father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. From the subsequent correspondence between these two men, there emerged a marvelous exchange of ideas. This took place in 1932, but the issues raised regarding the inability of humans to prevent war are just as valid today as they were then.

Let’s begin with Chavez, who is, without a doubt, one of the most colorful and dangerous characters in our hemisphere. Several weeks ago he addressed his army, telling them that they “must not for a single day lose sight of their principal mission: preparing for war and helping the people of Venezuela prepare for war.”

Chavez believes that the presence of US soldiers on seven military bases in Colombia poses a grave threat for him and for his country. But the reality is that there have been American soldiers in Colombia since long before Chavez came to power.

The real threat in that region is Chavez himself, and his willingness to give refuge to FARC rebels in Venezuela and provide them with support across the border in Colombia.

This, plus the alliance with Iran to create nuclear material in Venezuela, the multibillion-dollar weapons purchases and the tendency of the Venezuelan president to insert himself in the affairs of other countries, makes Chavez the principal proponent of war on the continent.

Why might Chavez be looking for war with Colombia? Chavez is, first and foremost, a soldier. Dialogue and diplomacy are not his forté. Beyond that, a conflict with Colombia would be a way for Chavez to exploit the intoxication of nationalism and distract Venezuelans from their real problems: rampant crime and the corruption of impunity, shortages of water and electricity and persistent, crippling poverty in a country blessed with enormous oil reserves.

In one of his letters, Freud told Einstein that in order to avoid war, it is necessary for a society to have a “cultural antiwar mentality and a well-founded dread of future wars.” Chavez does not have this mentality. He is trained to fight and kill. He is on the hunt for his war, and it does not matter to him whether or not he destroys Venezuela in the haze of his egomaniacal zealotry.

Former President George W. Bush was also hunting for his war, which he found in Iraq. British officials have confirmed that Bush was bent on sacking Baghdad even before the Twin Towers fell on September 11. Bush invaded Iraq in March 2003 on a platform of lies. Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, and he had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks that killed 3,000 Americans. No matter.

Bush invaded Iraq and lost the world. And far from making the United States a safer nation, he generated much hatred which, with tragic irony, multiplied the risk of terrorist actions against the citizens he was sworn to protect. Bush, like Chavez, also lacked a “cultural antiwar mentality,” and he did not know how to gauge the negative consequences of his decisions as commander-in-chief.

Now it’s President Obama’s turn to change course, and to become the president of peace, not the president of war. During his campaign he told everyone that he preferred diplomacy and dialogue to the use of force. He proposed speaking with enemies of the United States. But Obama has not been able to halt the inertia of a country engaged in two wars, a country with a long history of war.

Yes, Obama may have set a date for pulling American combat troops out of Iraq. But the United States is still stuck in Afghanistan, and sending more troops there will only prolong the conflict and increase the number of deaths and terrorist acts.

Why can’t we leave Afghanistan? There has to be an alternative to war. Where is it? Who would dare to dream it? I don’t hear it anywhere. Washington is silent.

War is a failure: of diplomacy, of dialogue, of human intelligence. It’s been 77 years since Freud and Einstein lamented our inability as a species to restrain ourselves from the impulse to kill and destroy one another. It’s clear now that we have learned nothing since then.

Translation: Ryan Croken.

Ryan Croken is a freelance writer and editor based in Chicago. His essays and book reviews have appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Z Magazine and ReligionDispatches.org. He can be reached at ryan.croken@gmail.com.