Soccer and Peace: War, fútbol and moral decay

Jul 8 • FEATURE SIDEBAR, NEWS & VIEWS, Op-Ed, ViewsNo Comments on Soccer and Peace: War, fútbol and moral decay

was a little down after the U.S. soccer loss. A friend suspected I was suffering from moral decay. To check out this armchair diagnosis, I invited Ann Coulter to watch some of the remaining World Cup with me at The Harp. I figured over a perfectly pulled pint of Guinness she could teach me, the soccer moms and rowdy Hammerhead crowd about moral decay. Although I disagree with Ms. Coulter on a lot, I admit that in general she is a fine model of moral decay.

Ann hasn’t answered yet.

It seems her revulsion is because soccer isn’t enough like war; there aren’t enough injuries or opportunities for individual heroism. There are more than enough opportunities for individual heroism in soccer (Tim Howard). There always will be heroes under fire, but the age of the individual mythic hero Achilles ended when Pickett’s Charge up Cemetery Ridge announced our era of high-tech mostly anonymous carnage. In the 1935 pamphlet “War is a Racket!” Medal of Honor recipient and war critic General Smedley Butler noted that in the future: “Victory or defeat will be determined by the skill and ingenuity of our scientists.” Achilles is now cannon fodder in Kevlar or flying drones from a Colorado console. 

Ann is irritated that too often soccer matches end in a draw; again unlike war. Sure, a fair amount of soccer matches end in a draw. (Our own Hammerheads have six ties in 12 matches.) That seems more consistent with modern warfare. Long after the rockets’ red glare and strains of Taps fade into memory, who really wins? The difference is, in a soccer tie, nobody wins everything. In war, everybody loses something. I prefer soccer.   

Prior to the 4th, I went for a humidity-free treadmill jog at the local gym in front of a bank of monitors. Some monitors showed soccer highlights. Others showed news. Iraq. ISIS. Afghanistan. Taliban. An older, fit-looking gentleman wearing black US Army shorts stepped off the treadmill next to mine. “What a racket! I know what these young guys are feeling. Same as Vietnam. I mean, for what?” I shrugged. If Ann Coulter can have her say, this ancient warrior can have his. He wiped sweat and built steam.“Vietnam? For what? JCPenney sells shirts made in Vietnam. Ten years of blood, sweat and tears and Iraq is going to the dogs. It all seems so senseless.” 

His comment echoes thousands of other veterans from World War I on the modern era of technologically driven slaughter. In the 2005 book “War and the Soul,” Edward Tick notes the comment of a World War I veteran interviewed decades later. He said: “The older I get, the sadder I feel about the uselessness of it all.” 

Sound familiar? 

My warrior friend sighed and continued apologetically, “Don’t get me wrong; it’s not that I’m against war, but…” He trailed off, shook his head, and walked briskly out of the cardio room. The monitor above me showed a patriotic young man raising his rifle high in the air in Syria. He resembled a picture I’d seen of a young Gavrilo Princip. Exactly 100 years ago this patriot—this nationalist—fighting for Serbian unity killed an Austrian Archduke and his wife, which started the First World War. Four years later, the war would be called “The War to End War,” because some idealists figured we’d learn our lesson. 

My ancient warrior friend reminded me we haven’t—worse, it remains un-American to be truly anti-war. Dissent about the merits of a specific action is reluctantly tolerated. To assert that war itself is the problem, and that you oppose it under all circumstances, makes you an enemy of the state and less electable than an atheist. 

No amount of Guinness at The Harp will convince Ann to love soccer and hate war. The next time anyone prefaces their moral concerns about a military conflict with, “Don’t get me wrong; it’s not that I’m against War but…,” I will respectfully refuse to accept their apology. I will ask: “In the name of all you consider holy, why aren’t you against war?”

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