The Fog of War

Weekly Debates

January 28, 2016

Kicking off Merrick season, the Society returned to the Philodemic Room to debate Resolved: The Romanticization of war is morally permissible. On the Affirmation, Ms. Annie Aleman (SFS ’16) of California was up against Mr. William Hallisey (Col ’16) of Connecticut.

Ms. Aleman took to the stand in demonstrable fashion, evoking the terrible and inevitable nature of war before defining romanticization as making something more appealing than it actually is. She described war as a tool of policymakers to resolved unsolvable problems and that ultimately, the aim of war is to win. Quoting the strident General Patton, she emphasized the importance of morale to winning any war. “Morale comes from a nation’s desire to live,” and thus it is essential to romanticize war to keep up morale and win the war. In stark terms, Ms. Aleman made a case for the morality of romanticizing war as essential to changing perceptions of war that are crucial for victory.

In a somber mood, Mr. Hallisey spoke of war as a “terrible aspect of our humanity” that has been glorified throughout history. Countering Ms. Aleman, he said that war is romanticized because we have let ourselves see it in a better light to hide its cruelty, normalizing war and “numbing us to its horrors.” This practice inherently obscures reality in a dishonest and morally bankrupt fashion. Instead of romanticizing war, Mr. Hallisey argued that we need to recognize violence and overcome it – the access to the brutal truth will show the nature of violence, helping us surmount our inner demons. To him, real understanding means more peace, and he closed confidently saying that ‘mankind can take the truth.’

Firing off facts in a rapid assault, Mr. Shaughnessy took to the floor claimed the necessity of romanticization to get soldiers to fight, to motivate decisive victories and end long-running conflicts. Additionally, romanticization situates fighters in a tradition which forces them to think about ethics and honor. Mr. Schafer countered by focusing the question on whether combat itself should be romanticized, not concepts like honor. To him, idealizing war robs people of the means of realizing our brokenness as humans. Mr. Ma asked the floor to consider it not as a justification of war but as a way of fighting, of self-discipline in a tradition that motivates ethical conduct. In response, Mr. Tu said that praise will not make someone fight more virtuously, training will, and for that, the truth is key. Taking a different approach, Mr. Eisen asked the floor to put on its ‘Kant hats’ and consider a world where war was not romanticized – saying that wars would still need to be fought but soldiers would be utterly demonized for their participation. “Tell these men they are not the monsters you think they are.”

On the negation, Ms. Logan evoked the huge costs of the lives lost and forgotten in the course of romanticizing wars while Ms. Ludtke made a case for the benefits of propaganda in war, saying it is good because it ensures good treatment for soldiers coming back, as after WW2. Vice President Little asked the floor to consider how romanticization functions on the battlefield, demanding if we wanted to romanticize war to extent that we fail to limit it at all. Stepping down from the dais, President Thanki brought up the intertwined nature of combat and religious stories in the Bhavagad Gita, a Hindu religious text telling the tale of war between Good and Evil. Ultimately, romaniticization is part of the stories we tell ourselves, perhaps nationalist in nature, but deeply caught up in our society. Ms. Griffin followed up on President Thanki’s topic of religion, arguing that romanticizing war has led many religions to pervert their peaceful beliefs to justify war. In response, Mr. Hinck described the religious honoring of the bodies of returning soldiers as the ‘Noble Lie’ essential to keeping society whole, of looking away from the horrors of their corpses, which we deeply fear.

On the negation, Mr. Harden replied that romanticization is not necessary to honor those who have fallen, that it pushes us to look at a gray world in terms of black and white. In response, Ms. Burke compared going out to romanticizing war – usually disappointing, but why not live in a world where war is great and heroic? Ms. Cuppari answered that because war is not life – refusing to romanticize it breaks the spell of its heroic nature and stops deceiving ourselves – and perhaps will caution us against war in the future. Yet Ms. Kurek questioned the terrible nature of war, arguing that in the past war was less violent while nowadays it is necessary to romanticize war to get people to accept sending their family members off to fight it. Ms. Hernick decried the consequentialism of the affirmation, saying this debate should be about morality, and that our values should govern our decisions to go off to fight a war, not our romanticization of war.

Opening non-member speaking time, Ms. Sarah Fisher (Col ’18) brought up the role of class, arguing that war is only idealized when rich people go off to fight, so instead we should give all people that comfort. Mr. Ben Zuegel (Col ’19) countered several points on the affirmation, saying that romanticization glosses over the issues of war and that its burden should be spread throughout society. Mr. Andrew Boling (SFS ’18) evoked the necessity of war and that romanticization is a way of dealing with war’s inevitability. In response, Ms. Elizabeth Bujwid (SFS ’18) denounced the prevalence of violence in the media, saying that by romanticizing war, we forget the importance of peace. Mr. Bryan Karas (Col ’19) compared romanticization of war to marketing, saying it would be unrealistic for our society to always give the full truth about anything.

Resuming member speaking time with a measured pace, Chancellor Ringwald told us that conduct in war matters, and in countries consumed by civil wars, no one needs to romanticize war to get people go fight, yet in America war is romanticized to convince people to fight wars of choice overseas. Mr. Willis responded by describing the narrative nature of consciousness – that everything we experience is a story, and war is just another one of those stories. It is thus acceptable because it is the only way we understand the world. In bombastic fashion, Mr. Whelan took to the floor saying, “Morality should not be our necessity – it is our destiny.” Imploring the floor to be idealistic, he said that morals should be what we strive for; he decried the necessity argument of the negation. Taking strong issue with Mr. Whelan, Ms. Grace sought to counter him on moral grounds, arguing that the true costs of war are not borne by those who fight it, and so to not romanticize war would leave our soldiers with nothing but the horrible costs of policy. Returning to Ms. Cuppari’s plea for a more peaceful vision, Mr. Graff gave a heartfelt speech for the art and literature produced by the losers of war, reciting a poem by Bertold Brecht.

Never to be outdone on history, Mr. Musgrave took to the floor to ask how we live in our broken world, citing the good situations of romanticizing war when it honors those who fight in it. Mr. Kleinman passionately destroyed the ‘strawman’ that being on the negation means you are a pacifist, saying that sometimes wars are not fought out of necessity, yet the romanticization that we value glorified honor of participating out of necessity, not the violence of war. Ms. Oster claimed the utilitarian stance, asking about the value of patriotism, saying that working for one’s country may involved going to war. In response, Mr. Perez-Reyes offered ‘Authenticity,’ saying that romanticizing war is the privilege of looking away from its horrors. We need to look at the authentic situation of warriors and truly consider it – not look away. In the final floor speech of the evening, Mr. Ernst attacked another strawman – that of honor. To him, honor does not exist outside of war – it consists of acting out of necessity yet within constraints – romanticizing brings up what it means to sacrifice.

Returning to the stand, Mr. Hallisey praised Mr. Shaughnessy’s speech then immediately set out to tell us why he was wrong. He emphasized that those who are fighting need to be told why they are fighting – the truth. Evoking the Athenian army, he described how Socrates refused to romanticize Athens’ wars because it obfuscated the truth. And, despite the ugly nature of the truth, we need to face it, that it is too important to living a truthful life. Ending his speech, he claimed the side of straight truth for the negation.

Ms. Aleman denied that romanticizing war was lying, rather simply holding up a better image than its reality. Recalling Dumbledore in Harry Potter, she argued that he withheld the whole truth because it had to be done. Ms. Aleman maintained that while no one wishes for war, it happens and we must decide how to act in unclear situations. Romanticizing war sets up a type of ideal, a moral action, and that by participating in something bigger a soldier is doing something good. If we fail to romanticize war, then we essentially leave our soldiers out cold, with no support in search of higher ideals.

The Society then voted to award Merrick points to the most eloquent speakers of the evening:

  • Chancellor Whelan and Mr. Graff – 1 point
  • Mr. Musgrave – 2 points
  • Chancellor Ringwald – 3 points
  • Mr. Kleinman – 4 points
  • Mr. Shaughnessy – 5 points

Huzzah for a great first Merrick debate!

With a vote of 27 affirming, 1 abstaining, and 30 negating, the resolution was negated!


Garrett Hinck

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