The Only Winning Move

Today’s post is about the seeming bent of humankind towards its own destruction. I just finished watching the movie War Games with my 13-year old daughter, Desiree. She had never seen the film before, and since it was playing on cable, I thought I’d introduce her to a movie that I first came to know and love while in college (the dark ages of the 1980s).

War Games was made and released during the height of the nuclear disarmament movement (1983). Starring Mathew Broderick in his second film role, War Games, for those of you who don’t know, is the story of how Broderick’s character almost, albeit innocently, starts World War III by hacking into the Defense Department’s system to play a computer game. The computer initiates a countdown to launch nuclear weapons, which is only stopped when it “learns” that global thermonuclear war is a game that is ultimately unwinnable. I know that I am a big old softee, but the ending of the movie always brings tears to my eyes when the computer announces: “A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.”

As I watched the film, recent wars and conflicts came to my mind — the recent Israel-Hezbollah game/conflict in Lebanon being one of them. In the case of this event, there are few innocent parties. Hezbollah deserves condemnation for their strategy of launching rockets from Lebanese civilian neighborhoods into Israeli civilian neighborhoods, Israel should be castigated for bombing Lebanese civilian targets, and the citizens of both Lebanon and Israel deserve some blame for their current situations given their support of governments which promote policies that led to the last flare-up in this continual conflict. Of course, the children who were killed or maimed by missile strikes and other military interventions have the most valid claim to innocence, but it is clear that none of the parties involved in the latest round of hostilities gave the children much thought at all when devising their military strategies. And as was the case in the film War Games, there were no winners in this last conflict, regardless of the various claims being made.

The military/civilian/death toll ratio in this latest round was astounding. The newest stats I could find stated that there were around 300 military deaths on both sides versus over 1200 civilian deaths, more than 1100 of whom were Lebanon’s (a ratio of 1 to 4). Of course this ratio is similar to or pales in comparison to the military/civilian ratio in Iraq depending upon whom you believe. There have been over 10,000 military deaths (63 % Iraqi), but at least 40,000 civilian deaths, with some estimates running as high as 100,000. And regardless of which figure you accept as accurate, the number of civilian deaths in Iraq continues to mount. More than 110 Iraqis were killed per day in July, with at 3,438 civilians dying violently last month.

I bring all of this up just to say this: humankind’s desire for destruction knows no bounds. After many millenia of existence, we still haven’t figured out a simple truth – war seldom if ever settles anything. It just begets more hatred and more war and more death. And in the case of most wars, “the only winning move is not to play.”

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