Philosophy of War and Fighting

When one thinks of fighting, many images come to mind. Most of them are unpleasant and likely violent. Humans have been fighting each other since the dawn of their existence. The reasons for this fighting are too many to enumerate. But, we can imagine that before the wars over religion, politics and ideas became a staple of our existence, that perhaps much of the earlier fighting and wars were over resources necessary for survival. Food, water and shelter are always a necessity. Some believe they should have more than others out of fear…or often times out of greed. Up until this point in human history, we have “accepted” fighting, violence and wars between people as inevitable or part of our existence. So, a code or philosophy of engagement evolved. The human psyche needs a way to digest the grief, sorrow and spiritual/mental carnage of fighting.

If you were to survey human culture from inception to present, you would see a philosophical foundation for fighting existed in every time and place. This philosophy was not (and still is not) uniform. Like political systems, religions and economic systems the philosophy of fighting was directly influenced and formulated by the morals and beliefs of the people who created them. These philosophies range from “there are no rules” to very elaborate forms of engagement. Some cultures even developed rules and rituals for deciding whether to fight at all, when to fight and how to accept or reject an opponent’s (or nation’s) invitation to fight. Whether Spartan, Zulu, Viking, Knight, Samurai or Native American, each group of warriors had some sort of philosophy that if adhered to could result in reward when followed, or severe punishment including the possibility of death if not followed.

What purpose could a philosophy serve for such a brutal endeavor? In my opinion, it exists primarily to protect the innocent and non-combatants. If we were to indiscriminately allow fighting between people and nations, only chaos would exist. Unfortunately, we have had plenty of examples in history illustrating what happens when a sword has two blades and no handle. Even today, with all of the various protocols in place to prevent or manage whole-scale war and fighting we see innocent people killed. Terrorism has added a completely new layer to this whole problem. When we witness innocent people being attacked in the street and beaten there is something in most of us that cringes unless they hold certain biases, prejudices or hatred toward that person or what he or she represents.

In military academies and training centers across the globe, scores of individuals are practicing choke-holds, fighting techniques, shooting, bombing and many other ways to kill people. Presently, no-holds-barred cage matches have become an extremely popular form of “entertainment.” These events are by no means new. As gruesome and brutal as they are, they are actually far more tamed than what the ancient Olympics or the days of the Coliseum looked like. As far as modern martial arts schools are concerned, the spirit of a philosophical standard still exists. In what are called traditional arts or Budo, we can thankfully still see a philosophical vibrancy that is well and alive.

The use of force in and of itself is not wrong in my estimation. Even as a practicing Buddhist, if I were attacked by someone, I would defend myself to the full extent available to me. Nor do I believe that fighting or war is always wrong. That said I admit that the aftermath of any war or fight rarely feels fully satisfactory…not to mention the societal, emotional, psychological and karmic debt that is incurred. I don’t think it’s due to the lack of theory or legislative processes that war still happens. I think that the “regulation” must begin with each one of him/herself. Presently, we see Trump and Kim Jong-un acting as though they are two children on a playground threatening one another. Meanwhile, millions of lives potentially hanging in the balance if more mature individuals don’t step in to intervene. Their behavior is reprehensible and irresponsible. Almost any man can tell you that when two men start exchanging heated words in public a fight becomes a high possibility. Fortunately, when it comes to nations agitating each other there are far more considerations (e.g. nuclear war) that can restrain both sides.

Is this just a matter of human evolutionary process? Have humans just not evolved to the level of ideas we have created. For example, we have the concept of ahimsa (non-violence) and many other similar ideas and practices that exist. Yet, none of these so far has been able to completely discourage one to act on the impulse to pick up that brick and throw it through a window…to punch another person in the nose…or drop a bomb on other souls. Quite disturbing…


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