Why “Military Solution” is an Oxymoron

There is something deeply irrational about human beings.  When people are miserable, they are tempted to do things aimed at expanding their misery so that others too become as miserable as they are.  The more miserable people get, the more likely they are to behave in ways that would increase other people’s misery.  In doing so, however, they do not succeed in ending their own misery; since all humankind is interconnected, it is impossible to decrease one people’s misery by increasing it for other peoples.  Those who think this way only increase the total amount of misery in the world, which sooner or later comes back to make them even more miserable.  The job of misery-making is a vicious circle.

There is no such thing as a “military solution” because a military is only good at one thing: creating misery.  When military force is applied to “solve” any problem, whatever it accomplishes in the short run is overshadowed by what it accomplishes in the long run.  The application of military force in the long run always, without exceptions, creates a whole lot of new misery for a whole lot of people who were already pretty miserable in the first place.

Military force does seem to “work” in the short run, but that’s more often an illusion.  When people suffer a new wave or new form of misery, they may turn their attentions to their own suffering for a while.  This creates the illusion of “peace,” which, in turn, gives rise to the further illusion that the “problem” has now been “solved.”  What  really happened, however, is that some group of miserable people have been made many times more miserable than they were in the first place, so it is now going to take them some time to get back to their job of misery-making.

If the original problem to which a “military solution” was applied had itself resulted from a people’s experience of misery, increasing their misery many times over is surely no “solution.”  Insofar as a people’s misery intensifies as a direct result of their being on the receiving end of a “miltary solution,” it is hardly surprising that they are soon going to create even more misery for others (and plenty for themselves), thereby requiring even greater and more intense forms of “military solution.”

Germany’s misery between the two world wars is a case in point.

We see this cycle in Palestine, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and in Pakistan, to name only a few miserable places that are currently in the news.  In each of these cases, the problem starts with a people who have suffered in one way or another and are therefore feeling quite miserable.  At the most basic level, they have suffered because the fulfillment of one or more of their fundamental needs or rights or interests have been obstructed, either by an external force or due to their own incompetence, but usually by a combination.  Irrespective of the cause, the bottom line is that some people find themselves in an undesirable situation and they respond by acting out in one way or another.  Their acting out causes undesirable consequences for others, as well as for themselves, and makes everyone feel quite rotten.  Pretty soon some wise guy decides that a “military solution” is necessary.  At this point the process does not simply repeats itself in a cyclical fashion, but it repeats itself at a higher level of intensity; in other words, the cycle now becomes a spiral.

ba1But contrary to what I said in the beginning, the fact that miserable people tend to spread their misery may not be as irrational as it appears at first sight.  On the other hand, it is the wise guys who make the decision to address a people’s misery by dropping bombs on them who act in an irrational fashion; or, to use a more technical term, they are the ones who are being idiots.  I suggest that politicians and bureacrats and military commanders would probably make more rational decisions if they coud only learn to pay attention to their, or other people’s, babies.

Babies have needs.  When a particular need is not met, the baby will express her misery by crying out loud, which, in turn, will make the parents miserable.  This, in fact, is the very purpose behind their crying.  Babies cry not because they are evildoers, or religious fanatics, or communists, or enemy agents, or unpatriotic, or liberals.  They don’t cry because they hate their parents’ freedom and civil liberties.  They don’t cry because they are jealous of their parents’ economic success and house-wide domination.  Babies cry because they are feeling miserable and need to have the cause of their misery removed as soon as possible.  The way they are programmed to do so is by making their parents miserables.  When the parents feel miserable, they seek to remove the cause of their own misery.  All parents know that the crying baby is not the real cause of their misery, and hence throwing the baby out in the dumpster does not count as a “solution.”  They know that the cause of their own misery is the same as the cause of the baby’s misery, e.g., a wet diaper or an empty stomach.  Hence, they seek to remove the problem that is causing the baby (and themselves) to feel miserable.  Notice that the baby’s misery and the parents’ misery end at exactly the same time, by exactly the same action, i.e., by changing or feeding her.

This simple parenting wisdom can go a long way in ameliorating many “complex” problems that many of the world’s top leaders are at a complete loss to even understand, let alone fix (or so it appears from their statements).  How do you “solve” a problem like Palestine or Iraq?  How do deal with the troubles in Afghanistan or Pakistan?  Think like a parent.  Approach the unrest in these places as a baby’s cry in the middle of the night.  Of course you want to sleep because you have a long day tomorrow.  Of course you don’t want to get up and address the issue.  But if the baby is crying, she is doing so out of the misery caused by her unmet needs that are, from her viewpoint, both urgent and serious.  You can end her misery and your misery at the same time.  All parents know this; most politicians do not.

On the other hand, if the baby is crying in the middle of the night, should the parent start crying too, and in a much louder voice so as to drown out the baby’s annoying noise?  Does any sane parent think like this: How dare she wake me up when I want to sleep?  She is jealous of my comfort, isn’t she?  I am going to teach her a lesson about who can scream the loudest!

Wouldn’t that be the most irrational thing to do?  Wouldn’t that cause many new problems and not solve the original one?  As a parent, you are surely many times stronger than the baby, and so, obviously, you can yell and scream much louder.  But no amount of “shock-and-awe” screaming at the baby is going to scare her into silence . . . as long as her needs are not met.  Yet, some of the “smartest” people in the world do think that that is precisely the right answer.  They seem to believe, judging by their actions, that if there is a fire you should deal with it by pouring gasoline over the flames.  If there are rockets being fired from Gaza, you should bomb the hell out of them until they learn to behave.  If there is unending violence in Afghanistan, you should send in more troops with new and more sophisticated weapons.  If the Iranians are building a nuclear bomb, you should threaten them with your own bombs and starve them by economic sanctions!

Just as a wet diaper or an empty stomach does not respond to the parent’s screaming, in the same way the term “military solution” happens to be an oxymoron.


  1. you can add Kashmir to the list of places where “military solutions” will not work – maybe I’m being optimistic but the international community seems to be realizing that

    1. Thank you, Shubh, for drawing attention to Kashmir. In the US, Kashmir doesn’t even make it into the evening news, apparently because it is not “our” problem and because the culprit in this case, the Indian government, happens to be an ally (whatever that means).

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