“War does not determine who is right – only who is left.” Bertrand Russell

“A great war leaves the country with three armies – an army of cripples, an army of mourners, and an army of thieves.” German Proverb

“There is something ineluctably male about coalitional aggression – men bonding with men to engage in aggression against other men.” Rose McDermott

“Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.” Ernest Hemingway

“In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.” José Narosky

“To kill a man is not to defend a doctrine, but to kill a man.” Michael Servetus

There were so many quotes to choose from I could do nothing except leave this; http://www.quotegarden.com/war.html

This blog’s a bit more personal than some, but at the same time it’s all to do with a universal theme, something that many people can and do recognise. When I was a child, I played “war games” with friends, we’d pretend we were soldiers or fighter pilots and we’d be fighting against each other, running around the school playground, “shooting” each other. We thought it was “cool” and we sensationalise war, thinking it was “cool” and somehow “fun.” Another friend of mine didn’t want to play because he felt it was wrong, his granddad fought in World War II. I just thought “but it’s not real war,” and “my granddad was in the army too. So what?” Well, as I reveled in the “fun” of it all I told my granddad, something along the lines of, “You were in the army right? With tanks and guns and stuff. Wow, cool!”

My granddad was a stretcher bearer in WWII serving with the Gordon Highlanders. He was too old to take part in the fighting but young enough to go out to war and help in some way. This means he saw some of the worst parts of war, all of what comes after the killing. He saw dead people, dying people, insane people and other things that don’t need to be gone into, you can probably imagine. He even took a bit of shrapnel in his leg that he had embedded in him for the rest of his life. But I don’t know exactly what he saw, because he never spoke of his war experiences to anyone. No, not because it was so gobsmackingly “cool” and “fun”, very much the opposite! The psychological trauma of his experience made him shut up about it, as has happened with many others that have experiences war first hand. Unsurprisingly he didn’t want to relive the experience nor allow anyone else to be exposed to it.

But that didn’t help me much, at least not back then. I can’t imagine what was going through his head when an innocent little know-nothing-about-war boy, his own grandson, used words like “cool” and “fun” alongside war. And he didn’t even react! He sat in his chair silently not even able to bring himself to set me straight, just to talk to me and share a little bit of his wisdom. But now I’m older, and hopefully wiser, his silence has more of an impact on me than if he’d said anything. No pleasant reasoning, no angry shouting, not even an ashamed or mournful tear. His inability to speak speaks volumes that I can only understand now in my adulthood.

Recently I cried. I was watching a film that was showing some of the results of war. It showed inexperienced nurses being faced with all sorts of injuries, and one of them hid herself away to cry. It included old historical footage of soldiers waiting by a train, smiling at the camaraderie of it all, but completely ignorant about what will happen. Some of them just spotty boys that won’t even pull their trigger once before they’re shot. I imagined my granddad there with them, and I cried. His silent lesson really hit me then. I cried for him and the lesson of his hidden suffering behind his silence and for other people with less innocent experiences of war.

What I understand is that, when all is said and done, war is not about winners or losers, attack or defense, proud patriotic duty, little boys and their real or imagined toy guns, nor the sensationalisation of war and guns that is so prevalent in the media. At one end of the scale, if no one had fought the Nazi’s we’d be looking at a Nazi world. At the other, no matter how we may “justifiy” it or think it “necessary” war happens because all other options have failed. And here I must repeat Ernest Hemingway’s quote, “Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.”

Ultimately it’s about death and suffering. It’s about innocent youths getting killed before they’ve lived, it’s about never seeing friends and family ever again and it’s about seeing people so physically or psychologically damaged they’re never fully human again. Maybe if war was seen along these lines we’d try harder to find other, more creative, solutions to resolving conflictive situations, instead of sending soldeirs to kill or be killed. As Dorothy Thompson says about Peace; “Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict — alternatives to passive or aggressive responses, alternatives to violence.”

I felt bad for what I’d said as a kid, but more importantly I have learnt better since then.

“In nature there are boundaries. One man spent the last 13 years of his life crossing them.” Caption of the film-documentary Grizzly Man

“I will die for these animals.” Timothy Treadwell

“One should always keep an open mind, but not so open that one’s brains fall out.” Bertrand Russell

This film (Grizzly Man) I think is important for the consideration of Ecopsychology. Where Ecopsychology talks about how the human mind has become disassociated with the ecology that it depends upon and how we should become reidentified (reunited) with it, this film shows the importance of respecting the natural boundaries and limits that are within nature.

For instance, in the forest surrounding my house there are wild boar and if we don’t fence off our vegetable patches, our hard work gets eaten. Also we have chicken that supply us eggs, if we don’t fence them, predators will kill them and eat them. Or in the case of the film, if you keep trying to mix the human world with the bear world, you can get yourself, others and even the bears killed.

Bertrand Russell´s quote mentions an open mind but perhaps a broad mind is more appropriate. Our minds’ identity should be broad enough to encompass our interdependence with Gaia, but it should never forget the boundaries that define it, especially the common sense boundary of what’s dangerous and what’s safe.

Our physical and psychological unity with Gaia doesn’t mean she’ll give us preferential treatment or won’t be hostile to us. Even our own bodies can be hostile places; at times they can be vicious war zones against alien forces, fighting malign bacteria and viruses. Even more benign aliens, like transplanted organs, run the risk of being identified as alien and being attacked. So it happened with the “Grizzly Man,” Timothy Treadwell, he approached the bears as though he were one of them defying an ancient evolutionary boundary that separates our two species and his “alien” presence in the bear’s territory became an invitation for his death.

His work to increase consciousness and compassion in protecting bears may be inspiring and his skill at surviving for thirteen years face-to-face with bears is no mean feat. But for all his compassion, enthusiasm and skill he had little common sense or fear for his life. I think part of the reason for his fight for bears was an escape from his personal “human” issues. He detached from his humanity and pursued bear issues to forget his own, going so far as being willing “to die for these animals” as a martyr to their cause.

I think the film shows the dangers of running away from humanity and using nature as a compensation for “human” issues. I had it when I was a child, I saw no hope in humanity and the only place I thought sanity existed was nowhere near human civilisation. Also I idealised nature, thinking that animals can understand and be understood like humans, that nature was “nice,” and not tough or dangerous. I remember thinking simplistically that killing was bad and asked my mum why filmmakers of nature documentaries didn’t stop predators from killing prey, to which she replied “It’s nature, and the predators have to eat or they’ll die.” From then on I started to idealise nature less and see the importance of the predator-prey relationship. I’ve also reconciled myself with my humanity, embracing it is as a healthy source of hope rather than hating, escaping from or being ashamed of it.

Students of Ecopsychology, or indeed any nature-based psychology, therapy or spirituality, would do well to watch Grizzly Man to know that nature is complex and capricious and that opening yourself to it and being “at one” with it, if we do not have within ourselves the right boundaries and terms to relate with it properly, can be as detrimental as it is beneficial.

The challenges from this film for Ecopsychology are, when is nature escapism and when is it really therapy? And how can we reunite our humanity (psychologically) with nature without losing our humanity?