War Is A Lie: The Charge of the Light Brigade

hith-charge-of-the-light-brigade-british-attack-ABThere is a theme I try to carry through the year when I am teaching United States History.

The theme is about the futility of war, because as a historian, I believe that the evidence on this is very clear.

War is futile, and wastes lives and treasure for very little benefit, if any.

Modern war is even more obviously a waste, yet this established fact goes unacknowledged. As a historian I believe that it is the duty of the historian to proclaim the lessons of history in his day to the society in which he resides. Failing to teach the lessons of history is to betray the calling of the historian. This is my philosophy, of course, and many people will disagree with me.

As a teacher, I teach that war is futile.

This gets me into hot water because those who support war see it as biased. To them I am supposed to leave it open as to whether war is a waste, and then watch as my students and my country throw more lives away.

download (1)To me it is like I am telling my students not to hit themselves in the head with a hammer, and being accused of bias, because it should be open to interpretation whether hitting one’s head with a hammer is a bad idea.

I suppose if they play a patriotic anthem and the President tells you to hit yourself with a hammer then it is the right thing to do. I disagree, but some might think they should not reason why, just obey.

There is a great poem on this subject.

The Charge of the Light Brigade. Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote it after the final charge of a British horse cavalry. They were ordered to ride out on their horses, swords drawn, and into enemy fire from three sides.

Most died.

Futile, patriotic.


Tennyson wrote:

“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Someone had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

His poem was intended to immortalize the heroism of the Light Brigade. A modern read would see it less heroic and more dimly.

This charge changed little.

The war is mostly forgotten. The poem lives on to inspire new generations to make futile heroic charges in the name of king and country, however.

In this, I see the problem of history. War is a lie, but it continues to be celebrated with a heroic narrative because it is essential for nations to maintain the lie that war is productive and noble. It insures young lives available to serve in the military, a plaything for petty politicians and dictators. Wars are not natural, nor are they inevitable.

Wars, as I read history, are the product of the nation state system, that pits people against people in the name of a conquests masquerading as defense.

Why defense?

Because no one would volunteer to fight as an aggressor.

Every war is sold to the masses as in their national defense, and therefore noble. Even when it is obvious that the war is a war of choice and one of aggression, the same of old lie it trotted out to serve the interests of the state.

This is the first post in a series on war. “War Is A Lie” will lay out examples from history of how war is never really as it is presented to us, and often is divorced from any real truth.

Please look for more in this series. In the next I will explain how war is a lie as seen in another great poem, “Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori.

Author: historydojo

I’m a National Board Certified Teacher with nearly twenty years of experience teaching high school history. I blog about teaching, history, current events, the law and social justice.

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