The war imperative of men
WASHINGTON — As leaders on both sides of the latest Middle East crisis strut and fret during their hour upon the stage, one wonders when humankind will recognize that the dominant-male model has run its course.
One might have made the same query centuries ago, but today’s potential for calamitous and global consequences makes this moment especially urgent. When, precisely, do we begin to think outside the rust-encrusted box of an eye for an eye?
Simple answer: When men quarrel with themselves rather than each other and wrestle control of their animal nature.
Even simpler: Let women run the world.
When private-citizen Barack Obama suggested as much last month, saying that women could solve many of the world’s problems, most of which were caused by men, he wasn’t taken very seriously beyond a few headlines. But the man made a serious point worthy of our consideration.
I can see eyes rolling and thought clouds forming: Yeah, but President Obama made a few big mistakes of his own, such as moving his own red line in Syria.
Though his usual impulse to wait things out earned him the contempt of many hawks and pundits, I found his overall approach to problem-solving refreshing. In fact, I wrote a column about it, saying that if Bill Clinton was our first black president, then Obama was our first female president.
Now, I meant this as a compliment, meaning that he was thoughtful, cautious and disinclined to stomp around beating his pectorals like some presidents we know. Obama later informed me that Michelle was not amused by my characterization, but, again, I was trying to highlight his philosophical, chin-stroking nature. Waiting is often a virtue, if not often practiced.
We note that our “enemies” these days are quite good at waiting, which seems to be more common among ancient peoples who measure time by centuries rather than by seconds. We Americans aren’t so good at biding time and consider waiting an insult to our social status. At the risk of inciting great consternation, I would aver that women are more naturally inclined toward patience and benefit from a communal wisdom accrued through the refined gestures of watching and listening. While men rev up their rockets to plant a flag on the moon, women bide their time in sync with the moon’s cycles and the ebbs and flow of nature’s tides.
President Trump, perhaps needing to flex his military muscle, created a quid pro quo of a deadly order by authorizing the killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Early Wednesday, after a few days of deliberation, Iran began to retaliate, firing missiles at U.S. bases in Iraq. Now Trump will have to follow suit until … what?
At what point does the madness stop?
There’s nothing new about the absurdity of war — despite inarguable moral imperatives in certain cases — but the National Museum of Health and Medicine offers several reminders. During a visit a several years ago while the museum was still housed on the grounds of Washington’s Walter Reed Army Medical Center, a particular exhibit took my breath away: a display on how methods for identifying military casualties have evolved from war to war. In the Civil War, families wandered battlefields in search of their loved ones’ corpses. Later, dog tags and teeth records aided the task. Today, we have the forensic miracle of DNA matching.
My immediate reaction was wonder: Do not such sophisticated methods for identifying the dead argue for equally sophisticated ways of avoiding war, altogether? As an evolutionary matter, our mental capacity for reimagining conflict seems limited to improving our methods of warfare. The United States, after all, killed Soleimani with a drone.
War, alas, seems built into our DNA to accommodate what anthropologist Robert Ardrey identified as “The Territorial Imperative” in his 1966 book titled the same. Ardrey wrote: “War may be the most permanent, the most changeless, the most prevalent, and thus the most successful of our cultural innovations, but the reasons differ not at all from the prevalent success of territory. … We have few other institutions to rival them.”
Since territoriality is primarily a male trait, it seems that war will always be with us. Or, as seems just as obvious, women could rule the world.
Kathleen Parker is a Creators Syndicate columnist.