If you search on the internet for “the stupidest idea in the history of the world” you’ll come away thinking that maybe a top contestant is the invention of Youtube. Who knew so many idiots could do so much damage to themselves with so many motorbikes and diving boards and flame throwers?
If you survey the span of human history a little more seriously, some big ideas jump out, beginning with the creation of history itself. Maybe if we’d stayed unhistoric, hunted, gathered, and existed eternally as part of nature we wouldn’t have gotten into such a mess. But that’s too easy an answer, and way too much for people who ride surf boards off their roofs — and film it — to think about.
Other ideas are in the running, I think, from industrial farming, to religion, to racism, to fossil fuels, to science at any cost, to the creation of the United States Senate. And yet, one idea stands out for its wild improbability, creativity, long-lasting destruction on an enormous scale, and insidious ability to turn even people who don’t own video cameras and catapults into champion unwitting masochists.
The idea I’m talking about, and my nominee for Stupidest Idea in the History of the World, is the idea that any ordinary person should ever support a war.
While it’s undoubtedly true that the war propagandist is the world’s second-oldest, and least respectable, profession, he or she is a product of history who wasn’t needed in prehistoric times. Nobody needed to be sold on the idea of hunters fighting off lions and bears. It’s when they ran out of lions and bears and decided to keep their jobs by starting fights with other tribes of humans that persuasion became necessary.
Why in the world would people want to support fighting and killing other people and having those other people fight and kill you? What’s to be gained? A thrill? If you want a serious and useful and communal thrill these days you can do nonviolent resistance to fascist governments. Or you can join a fire department. If you want a useless and pointless thrill, you can jump off a 100-foot bridge with a 100-foot (but all too stretchable) bungee cord and a video camera. Back then, you could go hunting or exploring, or try to discover gravity or surgery. Never was the only thrill available war.
And yet, down through the ages, war has popped up again and again, here and there, around the globe. And where it takes hold in a culture it carries with it the false belief that it’s always around in every culture. Thus people manage to find that they support the stupidest idea ever for the stupidest reason ever, because supposedly they have no choice. Yet, choosing to support war because you have no choice in the matter remains a feat which people with developed brains find challenging.
The stupidest idea ever is a marvel of simplicity, and in its simplicity answers every challenge. Why should people of tribe A be willing to go to war with the people of tribe B just because the tribe A chiefs want to steal some stuff from tribe B? The answer is easy if you’re a certified idiot who juggles flaming torches on Youtube: Anyone in tribe A who opposes waging war on tribe B is, by magical definition, in favor of tribe B winning a war against tribe A. Or, as modern sophisticates like to put it: Either you’re with us or you’re with the terrorists.
OK, so that’s a nifty trick, but the stupidest idea ever must be more comprehensive. It must surprise us in its ability to destroy in new areas, to pass unseen behind the backs of its moronic supporters, and to gain partial support from the partially informed, limiting its actual opponents to the barest minority of freaks and misfits. I offer for your consideration, once again, the idea of supporting war.
Observe: the nations that wage the most war claim that they are under attack for no good reason and are forced to wage war to defend themselves, even as their wars make them more and more hated and less and less safe. While the nations that wage the least war have the fewest enemies threatening them in the world. But people who’ve begun supporting war will readily believe that sending killer robot planes over the homes of poor people thousands of miles away is defensive, and that when it creates hatred and hostility the answer must be yet more weapons.
In fact, the same people support manufacturing tons of weapons and selling them to other countries against whom theirs will later fight wars, and they support this as a jobs program even though it actually sucks jobs out of their society rather than creating them. That is to say, war-related jobs cost more per job than do jobs created by spending on just about anything else, even tax cuts. So, people support weapons-making because they have been misled into supporting war, and they support war because they have been misled into supporting the weapons industries, and then they just support both out of sheer stupid habit — which is, of course, the single most powerful force in the universe.
But the stupidity of war doesn’t end there. People who support wars can be brought to believe that wars are good for their victims. They think of each war as building better nations where it’s fought, even though that’s never actually happened. They talk of humanitarian wars even though humanity suffers. They imagine war is a solution to genocide, even though war kills more people and those people are just as disproportionately helpless innocents from one group in a war as in a genocide.
A recent U.S.-led war on Iraq destroyed that nation and killed some million people there, leaving behind chaos, violence, and environmental ruin; and war supporters think of Iraq as having benefitted. Someone explain to me how that’s not stupider than cleaning your loaded gun on Youtube or praying for god to make the other football team lose. And it gets even stupider when you hear how Iraqis supposedly benefitted. They benefitted by being given freedom, because wars bring freedom, even though — during the course of any war its supporters end up with fewer and fewer actual rights, due to restrictions justified by the war, even thought the war is justified by the cry of “freedom!”
How stupid can you get? War gets even stupider. It is the leading destroyer of the natural environment, but environmental groups will hardly touch it because they wouldn’t want their concern for the earth to interfere with their blind stupid loyalty to a tribe. And human rights groups and civil liberties groups are the same way. They want to have war without murder, torture, rape, or imprisonment — but opposing war would be unacceptable. Never mind that the atrocities increase in direct proportion to the war spending, they want to oppose only the atrocities. The war spending that generates the wars is viewed almost universally as an insurance against wars.
In the U.S. there are those who will object to murdering a U.S. citizen with a missile from a drone — and some will object even if the president does have a secret memo he won’t show us but which he claims re-writes the law and makes murder legal. Some will even object to murdering non-U.S. citizens with drones if they’re civilians. Some even extend their concern to militants suspected of fighting on the side in some local war opposed by the far-off and unthreatened United States. And some, the true radicals, will object to all killing of human beings outside of a proper war zone.
But try pointing out to them that murdering people remains cruel and evil, immoral, impractical and counter-productive, and in violation of laws like the U.N. Charter and the Kellogg-Briand Pact regardless of where you declare there to be a “war zone,” and you’ll run head-first into the brick wall of the Stupidest Idea in the History of the World.
That’s a powerful force to challenge, but it can be challenged, and it can be brought down, brick by brick.
You can get involved at WarIsACrime.org