Social "Wars"

Wars in the modern age are fought to preserve and protect the ability of a nation’s population to pursue its own purposes rather than the purposes of its enemies. The Nazis thought their way of life was endangered by the Jews and the governments they controlled and the Soviets thought their country was threatened by the capitalist world that engulfed it. That is different from previous times when wars were fought to expand territory or capture natural resources. In fact, international law now holds a war of aggression to be illegitimate, while wars of self defense are legitimate. What counts is whether decisions people make as to their vocations or how they are subject to criminal law are matters which their own nation controls. We fought World War II to allow fans to call the umpire blind, though I don’t know that German soccer referees were not subject to similar abuse.

We also fight social wars, which means campaigns to allow people to continue with their ordinary way of life, getting up to go to work and take a vacation in the summer, without the intrusion of disease or crime, much less foreign invasion. That is the case with homeless shelters, which are referred to as programs rather than as wars, though they share with other social wars, such as the War on Poverty or the War on Cancer, the idea that resources will be mobilized so as to confront a problem or a threat to ordinary life that will eventually be overcome. Smallpox was eradicated, as was polio. Homeless shelters allow people to negotiate what is for them the very burdensome task of making it through the day, no other purpose able to supplant that one, while most people can take their households to be the site from which they can negotiate their purposes rather than their sole purpose becoming the maintenance of a household.

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