The Human Cost of War on Iran

Exclusive: As Israel threatens to bomb Iran, U.S. pundits are again pontificating about the necessity of war and opining about military tactics. Left out of their frame is the certainty of mass human suffering, a reality forgotten since the days of the Vietnam War, says former U.S. intelligence analyst Elizabeth Murray.

By Elizabeth Murray

In late 2002, just prior to the launch of the U.S. “shock and awe” campaign against Iraq, I was invited to join a gathering of intelligence analysts at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, to participate in an Iraq “war games” exercise. We were assigned specific roles and asked to “play out” various political and diplomatic scenarios that might unfold in the wake of a U.S. attack on Iraq.

A tall, heavy-set Iraqi-American, who was present as an observer and seated beside me on the final day, remarked quietly: “All these people are talking about strategic, political and military issues; no one here is talking about the hundreds of thousands of people — my people — that are going to die.”

The bodies of Vietnamese men, women and children piled along a road in My Lai after a U.S. Army massacre on March 16, 1968. (Photo taken by U. S. Army photographer Ronald L. Haeberle)

His words struck me as profoundly tragic, and the tears welling up behind his dark glasses made me feel suddenly ashamed to be there, aware of the complete absence of consideration for Iraqis. I struggled to find something to say that would console the man, but found myself at a loss.

All these years later, that incident has come back to haunt me as we approach the precipice of yet another deadly war. Will we allow ourselves to be blinded again?

As Israeli leaders engage in frenzied posturing over a possible military strike on Iran, we again have pundits, experts and commentators speculating how an Israeli offensive would play out. They search for the meaning behind the inflammatory rhetoric of Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and ponder the impact of a war on Western political, strategic and economic interests.

As with the war games I attended at the War College 10 years ago, their narrow focus on strategic and tactical aspects of a potentially serious conflict conveniently avoids the fact that we are talking about the mass murder and maiming of Iranian civilians, as well as many others in the region.

Attack on Bushehr: ‘Death of Thousands’

In a thought-provoking piece on this subject, Professor Marsha B. Cohen, a specialist on Iranian-Israeli issues, notes that a 114-page paper commissioned in 2009 by the Center for International and Strategic Studies, “Study on a Possible Israeli Strike on Iran’s Nuclear Development Facilities,” devoted just two pages to the subject of anticipated human losses (pp 90-91).

The study says that “any strike on the Bushehr nuclear reactor will cause the immediate death of thousands of people living in or adjacent to the site, and thousands of subsequent cancer deaths or even up to hundreds of thousands depending on the population density along the contamination plume,” adding that “Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates will be heavily affected by the radionuclides. ”

In other words, the paper acknowledges that since the spread of nuclear radiation does not stop at national borders, civilian populations throughout the region, including those of U.S. allies, will be forced to suffer the horrific consequences of any Israeli military adventures in Iran.

The paper charts the range of human suffering and death from radiation according to the degree of exposure, ranging from 0-50 Roentgens — “no obvious effect, possibly minor blood changes,” all the way to 5,000 Roentgens — “incapacitation almost immediately; all those exposed will be fatalities within one week.” An accompanying map of the region displays prevailing wind patterns, indicating where the radiation is likely to drift.

Without further discussion of the humanitarian dimension, the next page goes on to talk about the varying technical attributes of the Israeli and Iranian missile systems.

Human Empathy, Casualty of a War Culture?

Why is it that U.S. policymakers and those in the intelligence agencies and think-tank communities who support them seem to have so little compassion for the victims of their political and military decisions? Have they become too far removed from suffering, as they are shuttled from meeting to meeting in their chauffeur-driven SUV’s and Town Cars?

The subject of human suffering is almost taboo among these elites, and is generally raised only when negative media publicity, or the prospect thereof, forces them to take action.

Does the mainstream news media encourage a culture of war that conditions its citizens not to think about the human suffering of foreign citizens? Could it be that our corporate-controlled media do not want Americans to care about the fact that the bodies of men, women and children in Iran will be torn apart by the massive bombings, air attacks, or deteriorate slowly and painfully from radiation-related sicknesses that will accompany exposure to depleted uranium from “bunker buster” bombs?

When was the last time that footage of the dead and wounded from the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan came across the television screen? Even for those Americans who seek out alternative media sources, chances are that the WikiLeaks airing of the now-famous “Collateral Murder” video may have been the first — and possibly last — exposure to the brutality and outright criminality of these wars.

The German “Panorama” program on the “Collateral Murder” video produced an excellent segment on the leaked “Collateral Murder” video, featuring the U.S. soldier, Ethan McCord, who arrived after the slaughter and disobeyed orders by rushing one of the wounded children to get medical treatment.

The fact that such a program would be aired in Germany, where it had unusually broad and intense resonance, but not in the United States says a great deal about the self-censorship that now pervades the U.S. news media when it comes to the death and destruction caused by American warfare.

The U.S. news media was not always so reticent about showing the bloody realities of war. When U.S. television aired graphic, prime-time images of wounded American soldiers and terrified villagers in Vietnam, Americans responded by forming a massive anti-war movement that eventually forced an end to the conflict in Southeast Asia.

Neocon pundit Norman Podhoretz, a vigorous supporter of the Vietnam War as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, was disgusted by the U.S. withdrawal from Southeast Asia and believed it was necessary for American society to get over the “Vietnam Syndrome” — namely, what he termed “the sickly inhibitions against the use of military force.”

(A principal public-relations goal of the Reagan and Bush-41 administrations was to cure the American people of this “Vietnam Syndrome,” a process that progressed through the small wars of the 1980s, like the invasion of Grenada, to the mid-sized invasion of Panama to the larger-scale Persian Gulf War against Iraq. After the slaughter of that 100-hour ground war ended, President George H.W. Bush declared, “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all.”)

Since the post-9/11 launch of U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the corporate-controlled mainstream media has been remarkably successful at keeping the realities of war away from the TV screens. News executives have heeded the complaints of war hawks complaining about “unpatriotic” coverage of war and have clamped down tightly on images that might turn public opinion against war.

Until recently, this censorship of war casualties included a prohibition on the broadcasting of images of military coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base. Ignoring the grim realities of war also has allowed for its glamorization through television programs such as “Stars Earn Stripes.”

The absence of pro-peace voices in the mainstream media also has contributed to isolating Americans from the realities of war, stoking irrational fears, and contributing to the dehumanization of the victims of war as the faceless “Other.”

The value of compassion for our fellow humans is often portrayed as weakness in mainstream media discourse – a development that must give immense satisfaction to Podhoretz and others of his ilk who railed against the “sickly inhibitions” against violence that infected Americans after the Vietnam War.

As the stakes rise for U.S. involvement in a reckless and ill-advised Israeli military adventure against Iran, let us not forget that those who advocate such wars are almost always comfortably ensconced in locations and lifestyles that ensure they will never have to see a battlefield, a mangled corpse, or a deformed child in their lifetime.

Elizabeth Murray served as Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East in the National Intelligence Council before retiring after a 27-year career in the U.S. government, where she specialized in Middle Eastern political and media analysis. She is a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

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59 comments on “The Human Cost of War on Iran

  1. Forget about the “human cost”. Both the US and Israel have never bothered about those details. In recent history, Israel has killed 100,000 Arab Jews by injecting heavy doses of radiation in the 1960s. The US has killed over three millions Muslims Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan since 1980s. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost US taxpayers’ $6 trillion plus lives of over 6,000 Americans and over 100,000 injured – to protect “Israel’s right to exist”.

    After realizing that Israel cannot win a war with Iran alone, the Zionist regime has come up with a new ‘face-saving’ excuse. Israeli business information group BDI-Coface has projected that Israeli attack against Iran could cost Israel over 167 billion shekels ($42 billion), not to mention thousands of Jews killed and billions of dollars damage to Israeli infrastructure.

    However, the real reason behind Netanyahu-Barak reluctance to attack Iran is based on Israeli military hierarchy being afraid about the prospect of going it alone without full US backing.

    http://rehmat1.com/2012/08/23/israel-will-not-attack-iran-its-too-costly/

    • As an Iranian, thank you before I die.

    • I do not see how it would be in anyone´s interests to have yet even more bloodshed in the Middle East but “Israel has killed 100,000 Arab Jews by injecting heavy doses of radiation in the 1960s” – where do you get your facts?

    • I do not see how it would be in anyone´s interests to have yet even more bloodshed in the Middle East but “Israel has killed 100,000 Arab Jews by injecting heavy doses of radiation in the 1960s” – where do you get your facts?

      I did a little searching of my own and came up with the following.

      But nonetheless, there is ample documentation of the fact that Israel did indeed administer large doses of radiation to brown children during the fifties. At the time, there was massive hysteria around the issue of ringworm, and radiation was the popular method for dealing with it. In fact, 10,000 kids in New York recieved the same treatment. ……

      If you want to read the rest, follow the link and search for the heading “please do your own research.”

      http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2004/08/295000.shtml

    • Deborah Dills on said:

      ” We have an obligation to every last victim of this illegal aggression because all of this carnage has been done in our name. Since WWII, 90% of the casualties have of war are unarmed civilians , a third of them children. Our victims have done nothing to us. From Palestine, to Afghanistan, to Iraq, to Somalia, to wherever our next target may be, their murders are not collateral damage, they are the nature of modern warfare.. They don’t hate us because of of our freedoms, they hate us because every day we are funding and committing crimes against humanity. The so called “War on Terror ” is a cover for our military aggression to gain control of resources of Western Asia.This is sending the poor of this country to kill the poor of those Muslim countries, this is trading blood for oil, this is genocide, and to most of the world, we are the terrorists..In these times, remaining silent on our responsibility to the world,and it’s future is criminal. and in light of our complicity in the supreme crimes against humanity ,in Iraq and Afghanistan, and ongoing violations of the U.N. Charter and International law, how dare any American criticize the actions of legitimate resistance to illegal occupation..Our so called enemies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, or other colonies around the world and our inner cities here at home, are struggling against the oppressive hand of empire demanding respect for their humanity. They are labeled insurgents or terrorists for resisting rape and pillage by the white establishment., but they are our brothers and sisters in our struggle for justice. The civilians at the other end of our weapons don’t have a choice, but American soldiers have a choices and while there may have been some doubt five years ago, today we know the truth. Our soldiers don’t sacrifice for duty, honor, country, They sacrifice for Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) . They don’t fight for America ,they fight for their lives and their buddies beside them because we put them in a war zone. They are not defending our freedoms. They are laying the foundation for 14 permanent military bases to defend the freedoms of Exxon Mobil and British Petroleum. They are not establishing Democracy, they are establishing the bases for an economic occupation to continue after the military occupation has ended. Iraqi society today ,thanks to American HELP–is defined by house raids, death squads, check points, detentions ,curfews, and blood in the streets, and constant violence. We must dare to speak out in support of the Iraqi people who resist and endure the horrific existence we brought upon them through our bloodthirsty imperial crusade. We dare to speak out in support of those American war resisters , the real military heroes, who uphold their oath to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, including those terrorist cells in Washington DC more commonly known as the Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches.

  2. Sidney18511 on said:

    To the republican warmongers, war has become a sport.

  3. rosemerry on said:

    Human casualties except a few selected white US examples are never considered. There is never any attempt to understand the point of view of any “adversary” or to contemplate the likely consequences, let alone the true reasons for acting. How can the USA pretend Iran is any danger to it? that Iran is a “supporter of terrorism”, or that Iraq was? Or that Palestinians are terrorists because they try to retain their own land, stolen from them? it only takes a bit of thought, but any “Arabists” have been thrown out of the State Dept, leaving Zionists’points of view the only ones allowed. Even there, what Israel is doing will devastate it as well-only 500 dead israelis, Bibi???

    • Their will be much much more than 500 hundred dead Israelies,and the possible desruction of all of Isarael being so small.It would be an illegal war against another Arab country baised on lies like Iraq.The real terrorists are Americas government or most of it same for Israel and anyother country that goes along with these illegal wars.Remember your backing Russia and China and many other into a corner and they will fight WW3 in needed.If it turns nucular it could destroy the entire world 10 times over.America can not win in Afganistan or Iraq or any country they always leave making more freedom fighters hate them for destroying their country and mudering their people.

      • aeskylos on said:

        What if they bomb the Israeli atomic facilities at Dimona? That alone would kill more than 500 Israelis and a whole passel of Palestinians, Egyptians, Jordanians, Lebanese and Syrians.

        • dahoit on said:

          Exactly correct,that more Muslims would die than Israelis,and why Iran would never use them,even if they were to be acquiring them,which their religious head said were immoral,unlike our POS.

      • frankie p on said:

        @Jamie, I agree with your assessment that the American and Israeli governments are perpetrators of state terror. That said, it would not be an illegal war against another Arab country – Iran is NOT an Arab country.

  4. Many thanks to Murray for writing this piece, and to Consortium for posting it. I have been appalled – for more years than I can count – by how little concern our academic experts and media pundits show for human costs of war: the death, maiming, emotional trauma, dispossession, and general misery wrought by America’s – and Israel’s – wars.

  5. James J. Hinde on said:

    so critical to hear from whistle-blowers who risk career and rewards to speak out and mobilize the public against the gross abuses of authority in government, military and corporations.
    Our major media has becomed chiefly a propaganda tool for those abusing power and public trust for their own objectives.

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  7. locojhon on said:

    “To the republican warmongers, war has become a sport…”
    that they play in earnest with their playmates, the Democrats.
    Both parties are proven warmongers, and both care not about others, and never really have in the past.
    It is why our empire of over 1,000 bases on other peoples’ soils has grown and spread throughout the planet, not unlike the cancers we cause.
    For example, it took nine days for the radioactive plume from our “Shock and Awe” attack on Iraq to reach London.
    In addition, the radioactivity we have spread from the Balkans through the Mid East in the form of depleted uranium munitions (DUM) will continue to kill ‘others’ for many millennia.
    Today, opponents are returning ‘the favor’ by including DUM in IEDs meant to kill their oppressors.
    What goes around, comes around–same as it’s ever been.
    locoto

    • aeskylos on said:

      with the exception of Ron Paul, the Republicans under the Neocon wing are much more bellicose than the Democ4rats who want to use diplomacy nowadays.

      • dahoit on said:

        Sorry,you are totally incorrect,both parties are captive of Zionist dough.And when OBL was assassinated?or whatever allegedly happened,our hope and change liars eyes shone,in a most uncivilized manner.
        Write in Ron!

  8. Hillary on said:

    Americans have come to believe that they are also Chosen People.

    Divine Destiny is popular with the God people,

    One million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail.(Rabbi Ya’acov Perin)

    See the casualties here —-

    http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/

  9. Brushtac on said:

    Norman Podhoretz has been an especially corrosive influence on American Foreign Policy . Perhaps he should head a new neocon-centric agency “Chicken Hawks for War”! War-cluck-war-war-war-c;uck-cluck-war-war, always for others to fight.

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  11. Iran has not attacked any of its neighbors for over two centuries – while Israel has attacked all of its neighbors and occupied some of their territories during the last 60 years. Both the US and Israel have stockpiles of nuclear bombs of their own. Both know that a possible future nuclear Iran doesn’t pose a threat to them. So why this “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” whinings?

    On January 17, 2012 – Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, head of the Israel Occupation Force (IOF) planning department, provided the answer.

    ”If we are forced to do things in Gaza or in Lebanon – under the Iranian nuclear umbrella it might be different,” said Amir Eshel.

    http://rehmat1.com/2012/01/24/israel-nuclear-iran-makes-hard-to-defeat-hamas-and-hizbullah/

  12. Bill Cromer on said:

    Elizabeth Murray incorrectly said the “Collateral Murder” video exposed Americans to the brutality and outright criminality of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan.

    Hotel 2/6 (American Humvee) called the Apache helicopters (Crazyhorse 1/8 & Crazyhorse 1/9) in for support after being attacked from two positions in the courtyard to his east. It’s unfortunate that the pilots mistook the Reuters employees cameras for weapons – collateral damage – but the rest of the men in that courtyard were enemy combatants.

    The only thing more horrifying than watching this gun-site video is hearing American citizens like Elizabeth Murray accuse the pilots, our good soldiers, of murder.

    • morely on said:

      You assume that our soldiers were fighting in a just war. Yet not one Iraqi was among the 9/11 hijackers. There were not and never were any weapons of mass destruction. Iraq had a rinky dink army and never was a threat to the US.

      Anyone of age who signs up for the military should give serious thought to whether he or she will have to kill other human beings. Sadly, nothing has changed since My Lai.

    • how can you know they were enemy combatants? the good samaritan, with two kids in his van, that stopped to take an injured man to the hospital was not an enemy combatant. they gunned him down and shot the kids. after the murders, an american soldier carried both kids to the medics, and he was told to do his job and stop the rescue actions. the soldier spoke out on democracy now.

    • Roger Lafontaine on said:

      I don’t think they mistook the rescuers who came to give succour to the wounded and yet they shot them down too. The truth is that there are an awful lot of racists and sadists in our military. The media and the training encourages it. We’re definitely doing more harm than good – by a factor of 1000 to 1.

    • Hey Bill
      Your out of sight, american soldiers are not only murders but also terrorist.What are they doing in Iraq and Afghanistan ? just killing , murder and terrorized . Well you are a chicken hawk.

  13. kenneth roby on said:

    The human costs have seldom been considered in the almost endless wars Israel and the United States have been engaged in in the 60 years. The costs goes beyond the number of dead each country and other countries have suffered during these wars. The great number of wouinded are a great part of the human costs that are never considered. The dead in some respects are the lucky ones. The horrific injuries that both civilians and miltary personnel suffer go on for years. Even if they don’t have physical wounds the mental wounds are just as bad as physical wounds affecting both the families of such individuals and other people.

  14. sherban on said:

    The “free world”is free to kill without limits they are doing it to install the more noble regime for the few who will escape the killings:”democracy”.And regarding millions of Muslims who were killed already?The “free world” huge propaganda named them “Islamo-fascists”and their leaders are Hitlers,so who bother when Islamo-fascists are killed.The free world has also for Russia and China free hand:they are “stalinists”or “maoists”the bigger criminals of history.And this is daily spilled on of the brains of the “free world”people.

  15. Cliff Gieseke on said:

    I dread the day when Iran is bombed. Every day that I head such talk, the sound of innocent children playing in a schoolyard next to my apartment in Tehran echo in my mind. (My family and I lived in Tehran for three years when I taught English on a military base in the south of Tehran.) … Such an attack would be a disaster for all concerned. Iranians would hold the U.S. responsible and could retaliate against U.S. U.S. carriers could even be sunk and that would cause even further escalation. I pray that none of this happens, though I’m fascinated by what is developing.

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  18. Ram2009 on said:

    Is there any war that the NeoCons did not like? The Americans, sad to say, have the same attitude to the death of ‘others’ that Israelis have towards the goyim. Surgically sanitized ‘news’ produced by the media owned by the latter has made it near-impossible to wean them away from such an inclination

  19. All of you iran ass kissers would make Neville Chamberlain proud.

  20. Trust Jah on said:

    Those who live by the sword, will die by the sword.
    Those who show mercy, will receive mercy.

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  23. As Ron Paul said, the majority of the war monger are the chicken hawk.He is absolute right. They don’t even care for our soldiers who suffered the post traumatic disorder. The home front is also affected by the horror of war.Our brave soldiers are committing suicide every second and nobody care .

    • Hillary on said:

      “Our brave soldiers are committing suicide every second and nobody cares”.

      maz on August 26, 2012 at 1:21 am

      Young American poor sign on with the Military to use overwhelming force to kill and destroy everything where ever they are directed to and then commit suicide.

      Iraq & the war on Islam constitutes a war on 25% of the world’s population.

      The US will soon have robots to do the killing and to protect “our brave soldiers”

      G.W.Bush said it is a Crusade by Christian soldiers on behalf of Israel.

  24. zaid ahmad on said:

    deep in the white race’s psyche is the conviction that non-whites are sub-human.makes the slaughter, even in the thousands, of these subhumans palatable. ever thought of what revenge time would look like? it would take a tremendous sense of the Divine to find the forgiveness to forego such revenge.

  25. israel/america are only blowing smoke up our rectums they know it will be the end of them too america is on her way out a large standing military an economy supported by China trillions in debt that would take generations to wipe off Iran knows this they have nuclear weapons and america knows this too.

  26. ghouri on said:

    To talk about war is but to finish is difficult. Israel will drag americans in new war which be fatal for both, americans don,t worry about death toll of Muslims as their mind set is to kill Muslims around the world.
    America has still apetit of war although they millions Iraqis, Afghanis and Pakistanis.
    God bless maerica and punish them with natural catastrophe and have no sympathy with killers of innocent Muslims.

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  28. Here’s a question that no one will ask Mitt Romney; Who will you assassinate? We already know about Obama.

  29. dahoit on said:

    The latest travesty is the claim of Iran hiding secrets under a Pink Tarp.I would imagine a pink tarp would be suspicious in a land full of alleged homosexual and women haters neh?
    The Ziomonsters never sleep,or at least they time share the pot stirring.

  30. Bill Cromer on said:

    For Roger Lafontaine: The so-called rescue van is first seen traveling south on the same road the Reuters employees are seen walking north on. Simultaneously, both begin moving toward the last position the Humvee (Hotel 2/6) reported to be taking small arms fire from. The photographer knelt down to on the ground to avoid danger at the intersection while the van driver turned off one block before entering the deadly crossroads. Lastly, the van returns three minutes after the helicopters engage traveling north on this same road.

    You can’t see all of this in the gun-site video described by Gates as “Viewing war through a soda straw.” I don’t really know what’s going on here but I do know we’re all being lied to. The van driver did not happen by while taking his children to school!

    • What we can see, even through a straw, is that none of the so-called combatants had weapons. Forgive me, but I am not ready to accept any reconstruction. If the van driver was a militant, I have no idea what purpose the two kids served as they were not even visible to act as shields. This has the feel of an ex post facto cover story.

  31. gloria marchese on said:

    Great article, brave publishers and amazingly enlightened comments.

  32. JDonald on said:

    I blame the American Christian Church for its silence on this matter. They should be at the forefront of protesting against the continual killing of other people in the name of US security. Thou shalt not kill. Love your enemies. Turn the other cheek. The US government operates on a daily basis as if “Our Christ had never come”. Maybe that’s because the high offices of government have been infiltrated by pro-Zionists and neo-cons who laugh at the Christian ethics of behavior.

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  35. Crypto nazi b.s. on steriods.

  36. humanist on said:

    Thank you Elizabeth Murray for this article.

    Some articles touch our emotional heart, some provoke our rational mind, yet some affect both our thoughts and our feelings in the same direction, making us question…… For me yours is like the latter,…

    Couple of months ago in a site similar to this one I wrote the following commentary. I thought it is appropriate sharing it here too.

    —–

    …. if both sides of any international conflict employ rational means then there is absolutely no need for violence, for wars, for destructions or for any form of trickery.

    Simulations consistently prove, in the long run, dialogue could cause results that are beneficial to both sides while in confrontations both sides end up losing

    Why scientific attention is not directed towards EXTREMELY important topics such as the immense benefits of peaceful coexistence and utter folly of wars and empires. Publication of a thesis and an extensive Computer Simulation on war versus cooperation can wake up the entire world

    The concepts of morality, empathy and non-violent-approaches when intelligently defined are not just idealistic, poetic or fanciful notions, they are as science-based simulations prove, progressive and CONSTRUCTIVE. On the other hand science can prove, since human beings (especially the mature ones) prefer peaceful civil coexistence to violent unethical living, to war, to aggression, to deceptions and to use of any type of brutal force simply because rationality proves the animalistic ways are all decay-causing and DESTRUCTIVE.

    Science and computer simulations compellingly prove for any international dispute there exists at least one peaceful solution being beneficial to both sides of the conflict. The West’s choices, instead of using new rational scientific approaches, sticking to moronic methods of the stone age, spilling blood of thousands or millions and ruthlessly destroying everything are truly mind boggling

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