Seven Words – War

Reading notes on Merton, Love and Living, “Seven Words”


  • Almost everyone would agree “that [war] is our greatest single evil” but despite this near universal notion, “there is little significant resistance to it except on the part of small minorities who, by the very fact of their protest, are dismissed as eccentric.” (129)
  • The human dismay at the prospect of war is “inefficacious;” our fear and disavowal of war (in words) is rarely followed by creative avenues of non-violence in order to avert war. We fear war and the consequences but are impotent at doing anything differently.

War represents a vice that mankind would like to get rid of but which it cannot do without. Man is like an alcoholic who knows that drink will destroy him but who always has a reason for drinking.

  • War, violence, is an addiction of the human person on an individual level, but also on a collective level (societies).
  • Merton finds the argument that wars are necessary to create peace utterly irrational and “perfect nonsense.” Despite this, people still voluntarily go to war, “they even go so far as to sacrifice their lives and their human dignity and to commit the most hideous atrocities, convinced that in so doing they are being noble, honest, self-sacrificing, and just.” (129)

The only possible conclusion is that man is so addicted to war that he cannot possibly deal with his addiction. (129)

  • Merton then uses the bombing of Dresden by English and American air forces during World War II as an example for his discussion on the irrationality of war and the nonsense of going to war for peace.
  • War-markers are not reasonable and thus appeals to reason to stop a war from being started are pointless because the war-makers do not use reason themselves in make their decision to go to war. “…war is, in fact, a complete suspension of reason.” (131)
  • War is often said to be the “last resort” after all negotiations (reasoning efforts) have failed. But because the use of force is said to be the last ditch effort once reason has been exhausted points to the irrationality of war.
  • Moreover, Merton argues that reason “inhibits itself…(in all the trivialities of political and military [games]) in order that it may break down, and in order that resort to force may become ‘inevitable.'” (131)
  • What war boils down to is the human instinct for violence.

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