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I'm Too Old for War

David Cowles

Oct 11, 2022

“So that’s it for me; I’m done. I’m too old for war now, period. Put me down on your list as…no longer compliant.”

I’m too old for that! What child has not said this, or at least thought it, many times:

  • I’m too old for time-out.

  • I’m too old to be grounded.

  • I’m too old to have a bedtime.

  • I’m too old for a curfew.

  • And, of course, in my day, I’m too old for ‘corporal punishment.’

“How old is too told” is rarely answered by theoretical argument. Most adults enter parenthood with some preconceived notions in these areas, but those notions are quickly revised, or even abandoned, once the heat of battle is upon them. We call it the fog of parenting. Believe me, it’s real!

In the real world, a child becomes ‘too old’ for a particular discipline when one of three things happens:

  1. It no longer ‘feels right’ (to the parent, of course, who cares how snot-nosed children feel, right?).

  2. It’s too hard to enforce (“I can’t ground them – they have sports and stuff almost every day.”)

  3. The ‘child’ is no longer compliant with the overall regime.

Just as all children at some point become “too old for time-out,” so, too, human society at some point should outgrow certain social structures. I have no wish to offend folks on the margin, but I think most readers will agree:

  • We’re too old for cannibalism.

  • We’re too old for human sacrifice.

  • We’re too old for witch burnings.

  • We’re too old for slavery, racism, sexism, etc.

I would like to add a fifth ‘too old for’ to my list. I think we’re finally too old for war!

I was born in the wake of WWII. I lived through Korea (barely), Vietnam, Nicaragua, Iraq I, Iraq II, Afghanistan… (My apologies if I left out your favorite war. It wasn’t intentional…but there have been so many!) As far as these wars are concerned, for the most part I was not a fan. But I could see that lines were drawn and that principles were at stake; I could even ‘take sides,’ virtually speaking – root for the home team and all that…or not.

No more! With the 2022 war in Ukraine, the sublime has become ridiculous. We are killing each other, soldiers and civilians alike, in the most horrible ways possible, but we stop fighting just long enough for grain ships to leave Odessa, for refugees to leave Mariupol, for oil and gas to pass through pipelines, and, most of all, to keep Europe’s largest nuclear power plant safe and operational.

As pre-teens, we imagined ourselves members of fierce tribes. We’d battle all afternoon, but we’d be home in time for dinner. Today, we’re too old to fight such mock wars, and now we’re too old for real war too! I’m just sorry we had to have this war to show the world that we have outgrown this social structure. With all due respect to those fighting and those dying, it all looks a bit silly from my perch atop Trump Tower.

The Vietnam War, whatever you thought of it, never looked silly. Neither did Desert Storm. But these days you just can’t have a ‘good war’ anymore! Our lives are too complex and interconnected. Once upon a time, the world stood still while we slaughtered each other. Now, the exigencies of war are trumped by the exigencies of commerce. In much of the world, this deadly conflict is viewed as an interruption, an extension of the COVID-19 lockdown: “When do you think we’ll be able to get back to business as usual?”

Things will never be the same for the people of Ukraine, but for the rest of us, we trust we’ll one day be able to pick up where we left off. War is usually fought with the expectation that there will be some sort of change as a result. Today, no one is even talking about change. Most likely, after the war, no matter the outcome, things will go back to being the way they were. Not only can you no longer ‘stage a good war,’ you can no longer imagine that such a war will produce real change. For all its horror, war has become irrelevant: “…a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” (Shakespeare)

So, that’s it for me; I’m done. I’m too old for war now, period. Put me down on your list as a #3: no longer compliant.


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