A Terrible Love of War
Author: James Hillman
Reviewed by David Bryen
This book by James Hillman will never be everyone’s cup of tea. It is not easy reading. It is dense. It is complicated. He uses words and concepts that are not for the weak-minded. But it is one of the most profound books I’ve read in the last ten years. Not the easiest, but one of the best! Hillman has written this book in hopes he will stimulate a “contriteawakening” to our hypocrisy regarding peace and war. Of course, humanity has a universal and righteous condemnation of war yet war still dominates our world. Why? The author steps back to get underneath how humanity functions, to explore the undercurrents of our collective behavior and to offer some sort of explanation.
Hillman looks at the compelling force of war and in so doing requires us to stop hiding behind our naiveté and observe the hypocrisy of our belief systems. He makes the reader come face to face with the following realities: 1. Human society has been and still is compulsively fascinated by war. 2. War makes us inhuman and its atrocities violate the sanctity of beliefs we hold dear during peacetime. 3. When war frenzy takes over, we become war’s ambassadors. 4. War requires an enemy that must be dehumanized. 5. War cannot exist without a monotheistic deity and corresponding belief system to which we are allegiant. 6. We are naive in our insistence that any war will end all war.
Hillman says: “war is governed by something like a collective force beyond individual human will. The task then is to imagine the nature of this collective force.” To address this archetypal force, he uses the Greek/Roman god of war, Ares/Mars, to exemplify the divinity that imposes allegiance, as all tyrants do, to implement a bellicose agenda. This force sweeps the entire world into its vortex, defines the scapegoats, dehumanizes humanity and hides its presence and its reality by creating the enemy that must be destroyed. Yes, WAR is presented as a personality (yes, a Deity) that has the capacity to exercise its agenda throughout human history regardless of human desire to end war
What we cannot see, we cannot understand, and Hillman wants us to recognize Mars/Ares in our chief perpetrator of warring activity. He wants us to see that the Western world is deeply Christian, and that these war gods are hidden in the roots of our Christianity. It is no secret that all wars have been fought in the name of the one God, the one Truth, the one Sacred Scripture and the divine right to protect the property the divinity granted. The major paradigm of our whole Christian culture is based on a war, the war between God and the Devil, between good and evil. Every war we encounter has been fought to end all wars, all threats of danger, all evil. Hillman relentlessly puts our hypocrisy in front of our faces. The claim to exclusive truth, divine rights given by the deity, is the one common thread that feeds humanity’s justification of war.
“Without understanding the power of the war gods, we have no hope to humanize what is not human but has entered the human world.” Hillman leaves us with the sobering truth that though we cannot stop war, we might at least slow its start. Prudence has disappeared and, according to Aldous Huxley, “Moderns have been able to add only one sin to the traditional Seven Deadlies: Haste.”
He concludes, “The real satanic seducer is our willful ignorance, arrogant stupidity, the coward’s retreat from awareness.”
Hillman wants people to understand this archetype and claims that if we understand its intentions and internalize its meaning in our own lives, the fate of the world might be more positive. I wish Hillman had gone further to point out how each of us has our own personal love of war. How much do we enjoy demonizing people with differing political convictions? How much of our current political debate expresses our individual vestiges of our own wars? How easy it is for us to demonize neighbors we do not understand. Human beings always have a group or an individual they can vilify, as if we cannot ourselves exist without our own war. We are unconsciously addicted to that war. Hillman’s contribution is to help us recognize that we have met the enemy and the enemy is us. I think he did a profoundly successful job. To this end Hillman has accomplished his task and troubled us all.