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Seek Not Conflict, Cause No Harm

by Andrew Johnston 6 days ago in travel

Why does it seem like people are so eager for a war with China?

So Henry Kissinger has emerged from his perch in the deeper shadows of history to remark upon our current situation with China:

Former US national security adviser Henry Kissinger has warned that strains between Washington and Beijing pose “the biggest problem” for the world, and a failure to improve them risks a “cold war” between the world’s two largest economies.

“It’s the biggest problem for America; it’s the biggest problem for the world. Because if we can’t solve that, then the risk is that all over the world a kind of cold war will develop between China and the United States,” Kissinger told the McCain Institute’s Sedona Forum on global issues.

This tells me two things:

  1. That Kissinger is still alive tells me that the blood of the innocent really does extend the lifespan.
  2. That Kissinger seems to be the adult in the room tells me that we're in a scary place.

Which isn't to say that there aren't points of criticism here - Kissinger can come across as almost wistful for the Cold War, nostalgic for the age when he was at the height of his fell Machiavellian powers. So, too, is there a hint of the neo-Luddism that has captured the Western media, with fearmongering over "artificial intelligence" as though we were dealing with Skynet rather than a later iteration of the same algorithms we've been using for decades now.

But despite all of this, and despite my reluctance to praise anything that a man like Kissinger might say, there is some level of wisdom in comments like this:

Kissinger said US policy toward China must take a two-pronged approach: standing firm on US principles to demand China’s respect, while maintaining a constant dialogue and finding areas of cooperation.

“I’m not saying that diplomacy will always lead to beneficial results,” he said. “This is the complex task we have … Nobody has succeeded in doing it completely.”

One thing you can say about Kissinger is that he's a pragmatist, and pragmatists don't eagerly embrace war.

I'm hardly in a position to judge the decision-makers in Washington (or Beijing, for that matter) - I can only hope that the people making those calls are at least a bit calmer than the rabble. As of late, I've noticed a certain belligerence among people when China comes up, an idle chatter about war disguised as a thought experiment. It's always What if the U.S. and China went to war? - but there's this childlike eagerness behind it, as though it's been a struggle for them to wait.

And God help us all, some of those decision-makers are at least anticipating this as well:

Kissinger’s comments come at a time when President Biden’s administration has vowed to pursue “stiff competition” with China. On Friday, the US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, also warned that “the way we fight the next major war is going to look very different from the way we fought the last ones”.

Why would anyone crave war? We're about to wrap up a conflict that's been going on for close to two decades - who would be mad enough to start another one? But there's another question there: How did we manage a twenty-year war in the first place? In an age of total war, with conscription and rationing and war taxes, this couldn't have happened - there would have been riots on the homefront. But most Americans forgot about the war, and we forgot because most of us weren't impacted all that much. It's easy to keep a good war going when it doesn't disrupt your daily routine.

A lot of American pundits have been terribly bored this last year. Sure, there was disease and everyone was thoroughly frightened, but that fear was boring. Decades of bad fiction taught us to expect gangs of marauders murdering people for supplies. And what did we get? A lot of people recording themselves making bread or quietly getting drunk in their apartments. It was dull - and in a society where, increasingly, nothing is worth doing unless it's entertaining, this was critical.

If you're far enough from the front lines, war can be terribly entertaining - like the Super Bowl, but better. You get to play armchair strategist over drinks, banter and bicker over the latest government pronouncements, and call the odds over future maneuvers. True, there are those killjoys reminding you that people are dying, but no one in the club likes them anyway.

Yes, I am suggesting that belligerence is born from a sociopathic boredom, but that's not all. Part of it is also a lack of creativity - many people just assume that any conflict between nations must be settled by bullets and bombs. And then there's xenophobia.

The people most invested in conflict - whether that's war, or something less fatal but no less destructive - tend to be those with a xenophobic worldview. They view themselves at odds with some outside force that they don't understand and don't wish to understand. There's something very primal about that, this urge to destroy that which is not familiar - and while the decision-makers might be beyond coarse warmongering, no one is beyond that primal impulse.

I'm not naive enough to think that I can somehow defeat that impulse, let alone with anything as trivial as a half-hour documentary short. I am merely one peon, alone in a world full of Westerners eager to capitalize on distrust and bigotry and ignorance, shouting to anyone in earshot that we're all people here. There is no brainwashed legion ready to destroy your culture, ruin your economy, or wipe out the species (as Kissinger suggests). Wherever you go, you find yourself - a different version of yourself, perhaps, but one fundamentally the same.

I'm not one of the Serious People. I'm just another random commenter telling you that War Is Bad and cooperation is always better than hostility. I'm just another person with a keyboard, and a camera, and a silly notion that I can make things better. But when I hear things like this:

Speaking on a trip to the Hawaii-based US Pacific command, Austin called for the harnessing of technological advances and better integrating of military operations globally to “understand faster, decide faster and act faster”...

...“We can’t predict the future,” Austin said. “So what we need is the right mix of technology, operational concepts and capabilities – all woven together in a networked way that is so credible, so flexible and so formidable that it will give any adversary pause.”

And, against all odds and devoid of all irony, I find myself saying "You should listen to Henry Kissinger," well...maybe the world could use more of those silly notions. They seem better than what we have now.

Andrew Johnston
Andrew Johnston
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Andrew Johnston

Educator, writer and documentarian based out of central China. Catch the full story at

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