In Regarding the Pain of Others, the last book she published before her death, Susan Sontag quotes Virginia Woolf in Three Guineas: "War is an abomination; a barbarity; war must be stopped." Commenting on Woolf's remark, Sontag asks: "Who believes today that war can be abolished? No one, not even pacifists."
Is that true? I think it is. When I was a child, I genuinely believed that war could be abolished-- that humans could find better ways to resolve disputes-- that the US government could and should work towards the abolition of war. I've never been a pacifist: it has always seemed to me that some things are worth fighting for. But I used to think that a world without war was not an impossible dream.
True, I haven't believed that since I was ten or so-- but at various points in recent history, many adults, including many serious, hard-headed thinkers, have believed in and sought a world in which there is no such thing as war. After World War One, for instance; and again in the immediate wake of World War Two. But today, in this world of proliferating conflicts and proliferating complexities, can any serious people maintain that war can be utterly abolished?
And if the answer is no, have we lost something by losing that hope? Or gained something?