By Estanislao Zuleta

He is a distinguished but virtually unknown thinker of the Spanish-speaking world. An autodidact, philosopher, literary critic and strong advocate of Human Rights in his native Colombia. This short essay, published during the Falklands War, argues for a different kind of pacifism

1. I think what is most urgent when one tries to combat the idea of war is not to have false illusions about the character and the outcome of that combat. Above all, not to be opposed to war, as has been the case until now with almost all pacifist trends: a kingdom of love and abundance, of equality and homogeneity, a social entropy. In reality, the idealisation of social cohesion under the name of a god, of reason or of anything else always leads to terror and, as Dostoevsky said, its full motto is Liberté, egalité, fraternité… de la mort. To fight against war with a remote but real possibility of success, it is necessary to start by recognising that conflict and hostility are phenomena so intrinsic to the social fabric as interdependency itself; and also that the notion of a harmonious society is a contradiction in terms. The removal of conflicts and their dissolution into a warm coexistence is neither an achievable nor desirable goal, whether it be in the life of an individual -love and friendship- or a collective one. On the contrary, what is needed is to construct a legal and social space where conflicts can emerge and develop without the opposition to others leading to their suppression, to reducing them to impotence, silencing them or killing them. 

2. It is true that overcoming the “antinomic contradictions” between social classes and the power of domination among countries are very important steps. But they are not enough and it is dangerous to think they suffice. Because then inevitably one will try to reduce all differences, all oppositions and all confrontations to only one difference, one opposition and one confrontation; to try to deny internal conflicts and reducing them to an external one, with an enemy, the absolute other: the other social class, the other religion, the other country. This is the most intimate and most effective mechanism for fighting because it generates the joy of war. 

3. Different forms of pacifism speak amply of the pains, woes and tragedies of war -that's all well and good yet although nobody ignores them-; however, often they remain silent about that other aspect which is as decisive as it is unspeakable: the joy of war. Because if we wish for man to avoid his destiny of war, one has to start by confessing serenely but faithfully the truth: war is amusement. The amusement of a community at long last united by the most endearing of bonds, that of the individual finally dissolved in the community and free from his solitude, his uniqueness and his desires, capable of giving it all, including his own life. A celebration where he can justify himself without shadows or doubts in front of a perverse enemy; foolishly believing to be right and, even more foolishly, that we can still offer a testimony of truth with our blood. If this is not taken into account, most elements of war will seem irrationally extravagant because everybody knows beforehand the existing disproportion between the worth of what war wants to achieve and the value of what one is prepared to sacrifice. When Hamlet reproaches his own indecision of a supposedly clear course of action like the one he was facing, he utters “..while to my shame I see the imminent death of twenty thousand men that for a fantasy and trick of fame go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot whereon the numbers cannot try the cause, Which is not tomb enough”. Who ignores that this is often the case? It must be said that those great solemn words: honour, country, principles are used, almost always, as a way of rationalising the wish for submitting to that collective act of drunkenness. 

4. Governments know this and in trying to deny their dissent and internal difficulties, they impose on their citizens unity by showing them, as Hegel said, the figure of the absolute master: death. They ask them to choose between solidarity or defeat. It is sad, without doubt, to see the death of young Argentinians and the pain of the bereaved and the demise of young British men and their bereaved. But maybe it is even sadder to witness the short lived joy of the Argentinian people united behind the figure of Galtieri and the British behind Margaret Thatcher.

5. Should anyone contradict me by stating that prior acknowledgement of conflict and differences (of their inevitability and convenience) would risk paralysing us in our decisions and in our enthusiasm for our struggle for a fairer, better organised and more rational society; I would reply that for me, a better society is one that is capable of having better conflicts, one that recognises them and contains them. A society that lives not in spite of them but productively and intelligently within them. Only people who are sceptical about the joys of war and mature about conflict are already mature enough for peace. 

Estanislao Zuleta (1935 – 1990) was a Latin American philosopher, writer and professor from Colombia. His work includes important analysis of Colombia’s violent history as well as insightful philosophical and literary essays. He is currently being reevaluated, reprinted by Grupo Planeta and now, albeit slowly, starting to be translated into other languages.

Estaniaslo Zuleta, Sobre la guerra. All right reserved. Heirs of Estanislao Zuleta, Grupo Planeta. Its reproduction in any format is forbidden. Translation: Juan Toledo