While merrily browsing my way through reddit, I stumbled upon this image:
At first I thought very little of it other than “oh, interesting”, shared the link with some friends, and moved on to “funny” and “pics”. But it nagged me. Without even knowing why I had already gone back to the image and stared at it for a little longer. All right, I’ve seen pictures of war. Of devastated cities, mass graves and even freshly burned corpses. During a particularly dark period of my personal IB art experience I collected hundreds of photos of the aftermaths of war and violence. So why, after looking through countless pictures of actual human remains and destroyed lives am I so stuck on some random artist’s rendition of a classic child’s toy?
It took a few good minutes for me to realize the reason.
First: background information. You already know I’m a moderate video gamer. I’m also an economist. Not professionally, mind you, but give me basically any situation and I’ll analyze the keynes out of it. Cost-benefit analysis, rational consumers, supply curves, utility functions – for me, all of these ideas become super imposed over reality and every remotely important decision. Even more so with war. Sure, the human in me thinks “oh woe is the loss of life and destruction of the beauty of the world” and what not. I believe these things, and honestly the darkness of war isn’t lost on me.
But what I think and feel and breathe is “How is this country optimizing its resources? What is the limit of loss before the operation becomes irrational? What combination of aggression and defense can be combined to maximize gain?” The list goes on, the thoughts continue, and I break down the concept of war into tiny pieces until it fits nicely into a neat little game theory square.
Place this alongside my video games, and international relations essentially becomes an RPG with decision branches leading out towards war or peace. I gather resources in order to have bargaining power. I upgrade weapons to protect valuable assets. I attack bandits weaker than me on the road to get their goods with no repercussions. I gift and befriend specific allies to gain their skill sets.
This is what dragged me back to the above image. This mentality that war is nothing but a game, that we, our leaders, and our civilians are merely children with a bucket of plastic soldiers playing in the sandbox, leaving them in the dirt when we’re called home for dinner. That I personally devalue the lives of the people who not only abruptly die in battle, but who die slowly at home after the war is long over. But this alone isn’t ground breaking or all that new. There has never been any argument that war doesn’t cost lives, doesn’t depend on the sacrifice of (relative) few for the many. It would be one thing to completely ignore them. However, it’s so much different when you realize that in the regression models of war, not only are they taken into consideration, they are considered simply x. We are telling them: We’ve taken your lives, and it is only worth 3(b+y), or p^2.
While constantly looking at the big picture and the large scope of the battlefield, we fail to look at the broken toy soldiers littering the sandbox. We’ll raise memorials for them, give them minutes of silence and shiny medals, but the sand crusted, bent and broken plastic pieces are ultimately thrown back into the bucket all in a big clump to be used another day, or thrown out, or forgotten.
I still believe some wars have purpose. I still hold to the idea that our very world was, and continues to be, shaped both negatively and positively by wars; that some sacrifices are worthwhile and some difficult decisions must be made. It’s just that now, when I mentally draw out the equations of battle, x will be a much higher value.