Something to Live and Die For

Paris attacks. An unnamed man brings his portable grand piano and plays John Lennon's Imagine by the Bataclan, Paris, one of the venues for the attacks in the French capital. (Credit: John Walton/PA Wire)


I was born in the sixties, which means when I was grown up enough to be aware of philosophy and war and the big stuff of that kind, the world was full of very bad ideas.


Admittedly the world is always full of very bad ideas, but it is not every era that produces the magnificently boneheaded masterpiece of “Imagine,” a small part of whose undying wisdom is this:

Imagine there’s no countries

It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace… You…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

 There is more stupidity contained in those two stanzas that in any decent universe it would form a black hole of stupidity and start sucking the brains of everyone around.

Apparently in Lennon’s world, if there were no countries (or, as an afterthought, religion), there would be nothing to kill or die for.  This ignores the tens of thousands of years before the inventions of kingship, or perhaps even of tribe, when loosely bound small familiar bands of humans must have roamed the landscape bashing each other over the head with stone hammers.

Do we know for sure that there was no kingship or tribe?  No.  But we’re fairly sure there were no countries, as we understand them, as human bands, as far as we can reconstruct from pre-history, tended to be nomadic and mobile.  There certainly was no country that fits the understanding of “country” in the modern world.

As for bashing each other over the head, we’ve found way too many human and hominid remains whose bones bear the marks of having been butchered like prey to doubt that.


Now it is entirely possible that these hominids and early humans were killing each other because one band thought the divinity of fire was a god, the other thought it was a goddess, and the derpy tribe around the corner insisted the divinity of fire had thirty-five genders and would describe them to you at such length that they never hunted and insisted you share your catch with them.

However, I doubt that was the majority of wars between bands.  More likely they had the same motives to fight as chimpanzees do: the tasty fruit on a tree; the leavings of a lion kill; perhaps even the right to the waterhole.

Truth is, I don’t know what species John Lennon was familiar with, but it wasn’t humans.  Humans fight.  Humans fight wars.  It is part of who we are and what we do.  A world without countries or religion is not a world without war.  It’s a world of micro-wars, every day, of everyone’s hand against everyone else’s world without end.  That “Brotherhood of Man” would only be such in the sense that my kids are brothers and once upon a time we had to watch them like hawks to prevent their killing each other.

Mind you, I was born (it’s hard to believe it) less than twenty five years after the end of World War Two, and the people who were making stuff like “Imagine” popular as I was growing up were the children of people who’d fought – and died – in World War Two.

So the belief that pacifism was viable was a defect of thought that was excusable in children whose parents brought them up in the hopes they’d avoid the abattoir of European war.


It was still a defect.  What it meant, in fact, in most of the world, in the Seventies, was letting the Soviets (who wanted peace under their rule, the peace of slaves) have it all their own way.

The retreat of the western world into Lennon’s peace dreams consigned most of Africa and much of South America to de facto, if not de jure, Soviet rule and exploitation. But the Europeans, safe beneath the umbrella of American military protection, could dream of pacifism and hate on the Americans who kept them safe.

Into this, shattering the paradigm that surrounded me, came Robert A. Heinlein.  He said things like “The plowshares must always be beaten into swords.  The other was a dream of old maiden aunts.”

But he also told stories that made you understand what military service was about – and that it wasn’t baby killing – and the honor there was in dying for your country, your family and your way of life.

He explained that in every great ape society, the young males can either defend the tribe or tear it apart.  He also mentioned in passing how no man with enough testosterone to sire a child can actually be a pacifist.  When it’s favorable, the “pacifists” will hoist the pirate flag and start slitting throats.  Weirdly, that was the one that got to me first.  You see, I’d seen it so often.  The guys my (much older) brother’s age, who let their hair grow and talked about peace and harmony, were the ones most likely to knife you when your back was turned.  (Just like the ones who talked about the rights of women were not the ones you wanted to be around unchaperoned.)


I started really reading Heinlein around 1976.  The picture he gave of our species was so different from what I’d been told in school and by the culture as to be a completely different world.

Thing is, I’d been taught that war was the result of capitalism – which would make ancient Greek city states capitalist? – and that without young men being “forced” to fight there would be no war – but I knew young men and… no – and that if we all held hands and sang kumbaya there’d be no war.

It’s amazing how many people believe this.  It’s like all the idiots who say to teach men not to rape, and hold one man’s bad actions against all men. This would make perfect sense if all men had one single brain and nervous system.  As is, men being individuals, you can’t “teach” men not to rape.  Decent men don’t need to be taught, and bad men can’t be taught.

In the same way the brotherhood of men and nations works great, supposing that every country is rational and peaceful and led by people with everyone’s best interests at heart.

The left solves this problem by pretending this is true, by pretending people like Woah Fat in North Korea are as sane and decent as our own leaders, and want peace as we do; by pretending the mad mullahs of Iran wouldn’t nuke Israel given half a chance.

Only Heinlein, who’d seen one of the most civilized nations in the world – Germany, center of the arts and of industry – go insane twice in a century, knew it wasn’t possible to “teach all nations not to be rabid rats attacking everything around.”  Sooner or later, something would wind up a nation to war.


And the other nations would need to defend themselves.

At which point nothing is deserving of higher honor than a man who will fight for his nation and his homeland.

Somewhere along the line most of the civilized world decided that wasn’t important.  Somewhere along the line, most of the civilized world decided that war was the worst thing.

Without the Pax Americana I’m not sure there would be a civilized world.

To the young men (and some women) who died to keep the Pax Americana; who let neither the Germans nor the Russians engulf the world — we salute you.  And we do what we can, in what capacity we can, military or civil, to make sure you didn’t die in vain.

We’ll remember that a world with “Nothing to kill or die for” is effectively a world with nothing to live for, a world in which nothing is important enough to demand the ultimate sacrifice.

We’ll remember always that war is a bad thing, but not the worst thing.

And we’ll remember the blessings of prosperity and liberty you won us were hard paid for, in the only true coin, your own blood.

We shall not forget.


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