Monday, May 18, 2015

Can Any Good Come From War?

Pacifists believe that all wars are bad. Being enamored of moral absolutes they see no good reason for anyone ever having to fight and/or die for anything. If war there is, good pacifists prefer to sit it out.

In so doing, they usually stay safe, but, when victory arrives, they do not share in the advantages that befall those who have fought and won.

If the war is lost, pacifists proclaim that they were right. The war should never have been fought; no wars should never have been fought.

Yet, if their side obtains victory, pacifists suffer declining prestige and respect. At times they are considered to be otherworldly; at other times they are taken to be cowards.

To enhance their prestige they will work to diminish and demean martial values. Lovers of peace, they declare culture war on the values of honor, duty, self-sacrifice, courage and patriotism. In large, anyone who would promote himself as a leader must demonstrate a willingness to sacrifice himself for others. 

Those who see leadership as an exercise in oppression and exploitation have misunderstood human reality.

By definition, pacifists prefer decadence, self-satisfaction and following their bliss. They declare that they gain their true identity by belonging to the human species, not to a tiny group like a nation.

And yet, if we ask how peace breaks out in the world, the answer does not involve the work of pacifists. It does not even involve the work of a super-governmental group, a world government representing the human species. Neither the League of Nations nor the United Nations can produce world peace. In truth, extended periods of world peace have come about because single governments or an alliance of a few governments have imposed it on the world.

Pacifists notwithstanding, war does have its value. To see it as purely destructive is to misunderstand it. Some suggest that human beings are merely playing out their will to destroy themselves and each other by fighting wars. Others believe that human beings would not be doing it if there were no advantage to be gained.

When society is in disarray, when it is disorganized and chaotic, when people do not know where they belong, what the rules are and how to conduct themselves a war can produce social organization.

When a populace is mobilized for war, everyone soon knows which side he is on. Everyone knows his place, his duties, his responsibilities. Of course, during a war, everyone knows the game that is being played.

I offer these remarks to introduce a op-ed written by Stanford professor Ian Morris in the Washington Post.

War is bad, Morris says, but it also confers benefits on human beings.

Morris explains:

So yes, war is hell — but have you considered the alternatives? When looking upon the long run of history, it becomes clear that through 10,000 years of conflict, humanity has created larger, more organized societies that have greatly reduced the risk that their members will die violently. These better organized societies also have created the conditions for higher living standards and economic growth. War has not only made us safer, but richer, too.

Tightly organized social groups--like armies-- set a standard—but only if they emerge victorious. They show the best way, not only to show courage and discipline, but to win at a competition and to improve technology and industry, as well as logistics.

Morris sounds a bit like Steven Pinker and other believers in human progress. True enough, he says, war has killed an enormous number of people, but, by and large human life has been improving.

One would prefer that Morris differentiate here between wars and civil strife, between wars and state-produced famines, but still, his point merits attention:

Since 1914, we have endured world wars, genocides and government-sponsored famines, not to mention civil strife, riots and murders. Altogether, we have killed a staggering 100 million to 200 million of our own kind. But over the century, about 10 billion lives were lived — which means that just 1 to 2 percent of the world’s population died violently. Those lucky enough to be born in the 20th century were on average 10 times less likely to come to a grisly end than those born in the Stone Age. And since 2000, the United Nations tells us, the risk of violent death has fallen even further, to 0.7 percent.

Morris continues:

As this process unfolded, humanity prospered. Ten thousand years ago, when the planet’s population was 6 million or so, people lived about 30 years on average and supported themselves on the equivalent income of about $2 per day. Now, more than 7 billion people are on Earth, living more than twice as long (an average of 67 years), and with an average income of $25 per day.

This happened because about 10,000 years ago, the winners of wars began incorporating the losers into larger societies. The victors found that the only way to make these larger societies work was by developing stronger governments; and one of the first things these governments had to do, if they wanted to stay in power, was suppress violence among their subjects.

Morris does not use the term in his op-ed, but this sounds suspiciously like imperialism. Conquering nations did not merely suppress internal violence. They also imposed their superior culture-- a culture that had proved to be superior because it won the war-- on a supposedly inferior culture.

And yet, in Morris’s theory, stronger nations were ultimately not looking to exploit and oppress those that had lost wars. They wanted to create better trading partners. Witness the American treatment of Germany and Japan after World War II..

Unfortunately, the process often seems to require a considerable amount of violence.

Morris continues:

War may well be the worst way imaginable to create larger, more peaceful societies, but the depressing fact is that it is pretty much the only way . If only the Roman Empire could have been created without killing millions of Gauls and Greeks, if the United States could have been built without killing millions of Native Americans, if these and countless conflicts could have been resolved by discussion instead of force. But this did not happen. People almost never give up their freedoms — including, at times, the right to kill and impoverish one another — unless forced to do so; and virtually the only force strong enough to bring this about has been defeat in war or fear that such a defeat is imminent.

It’s not merely that conquered peoples are required to give up their freedom. They are also required to modify their culture. Since their culture is all that they know, abandoning it feels like subjugation.

Between the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th century and World War I, the world lived a Pax Brittannica, a peace imposed by the British navy that allowed the expansion of free trade and international commerce:

After Napoleon’s defeat in 1815, this was precisely what the world got. Britain was the only industrialized economy on Earth, and it projected power as far away as India and China. Because its wealth came from exporting goods and services, it used its financial and naval muscle to deter rivals from threatening the international order. Wars did not end — the United States and China endured civil strife, European armies marched deep into Africa and India — but overall, for 99 years, the planet grew more peaceful and prosperous under Britain’s eye.

The system produced certain internal contradictions. By empowering and enriching other nations Great Britain created rivals for hegemony. It also created resentment among those whose cultures were deemed inferior to that of Great Britain.

As Morris explains it:

To sell its goods and services, Britain needed other countries to be rich enough to buy them. That meant that, like it or not, Britain had to encourage other nations to industrialize and accumulate wealth. The economic triumph of the 19th-century British world system, however, was simultaneously a strategic disaster. Thanks in significant part to British capital and expertise, the United States and Germany had turned into industrial giants by the 1870s, and doubts began growing about Britain’s ability to police the global order. The more successful the globocop was at doing its job, the more difficult that job became.

After World War II, the United States became the keeper of the world peace. Some have said that we became the world’s policeman.

Similar problems are now arising:

Like its predecessor, the United States oversaw a huge expansion of trade, intimidated other countries into not making wars that would disturb the world order, and drove rates of violent death even lower. But again like Britain, America made its money by helping trading partners become richer, above all China, which, since 2000, has looked increasingly like a potential rival. The cycle that Britain experienced may be in store for the United States as well, unless Washington embraces its role as the only possible globocop in an increasingly unstable world — a world with far deadlier weapons than Britain could have imagined a century ago.

Obviously, the United States-- not the United Nations-- has guaranteed whatever peace and stability we have had. It has also guaranteed world commerce. Of course, our current president and his administration do not believe that the United States should adopt such a role. Thus, more violence has descended on certain regions of the globe and other nations are vying for the role of the world’s leading hegemon.

Being the world's policeman requires a strong national government, not in the sense of a socialist welfare state but of a cohesive military and a strong sense of national pride.

Debates over large or small government, Morris says, are therefore somewhat deceptive:

“The 10 most dangerous words in the English language,” Reagan said on another occasion, “are ‘Hi, I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’ ” As Hobbes could have told him, in reality the 10 scariest words are, “There is no government and I’m here to kill you.”

Morris concludes:

To people in virtually any age before our own, the only argument that mattered was between extremely small government and no government at all. Extremely small government meant there was at least some law and order; no government meant that there was not.

I suspect even Reagan would have agreed. “One legislator accused me of having a 19th-century attitude on law and order,” Reagan said when he was governor of California. “That is a totally false charge. I have an 18th-century attitude. That is when the Founding Fathers made it clear that the safety of law-abiding citizens should be one of the government’s primary concerns.”


Ares Olympus said...

The question seems ill-posed. You might ask "Can any good come from conflict?" and have a chance for clarity.

For instance, I really loved the board game RISK over chess as a teen, although I started with chess when I was younger. But I discovered chess was more oppressive because in order to win someone else has to lose.

But what makes RISK interesting is its only really fun with 3 or more players, and then diplomacy becomes essential, and "good character" becomes essential. If you make a treaty with someone, you honor it, and in doing so, you demonstrate your good faith.

And the strategy of RISK comes down to "balance of power" more than "world conquest", so if any single player starts looking too powerful, you have an incentive to identify allies to work together to threaten the more powerful player from rising large enough to threaten everyone else.

RISK rules does encourage aggression, first by having the dice odds in favor of the attacker, and secondly if you defeat an opponent you get his cards (resources), and can instantly increase your power after a big battle and continue with new armies against your next target.

But again, because of this advantage, and the balance of power of 3-way conflicts, anyone who "looks" aggressive can be easily scapegoated as the aggressor, and the other two see their common enemy, and work together to weaken him until he's no longer a threat.

And so when I play RISK as an adult now, against teens, I find its an excellent chance to demonstrate how to negoticate treaties, and how to act honorably, and being the humble sort of dictator that I am, I've never been interested in world domination, but rather just finding a semi-rational way to divide up the spoils of the entire world, so the goal is to identify and eliminate the aggressors, and then declare "world peace" for those who can handle sharing.

So games at least are good in that way, and its helpful to remember that politics is also a form of warfare that uses words and rhetoric rather than guns, at least if you live in a civilized country, and at some level politics is "brute power" to win conflicts at any costs, but its also tit-for-tat warfare too, where if you can't permanently eliminate the competition, you'd better find a way not dishonor your rivals too mercilessly, or you'll have to fight for everything in every little conflict, until violence DOES seem like a superior way to get things done.

I can wonder things, like whether Lincoln should have declared war against the South, and I confess I don't see it as right. Lincoln, for whatever his virtues, wanted UNITY at any cost, while it was possible for the country to divide at a much lower cost, and each half could be free to express its own vices and virtues and let the future determine the consequences.

So if War means "I'm always right and I'll impose my will on anyone else because I can." then I am a bully, and I should hope someone stands up to me and teaches me some humility.

Anyway, whether any good can come, War is always a failure of diplomacy, and the people who fail are usually NOT those who are killed, unless they fail very badly.

Ares Olympus said...

I see the Washington Post article was from a year ago. I also found a related video promoting his book he published at the time. I've not watched to the video yet. Ian Morris "War! What Is It Good For?" Published on May 1, 2014

And book:
War! What Is It Good For?: Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots (Hardcover) Publication Date: April 15th, 2014

Nick said...

Any thoughts on the Mad Men finale? I know you used to comment on it, so I thought I'd ask.

Ares Olympus said...

re: When a populace is mobilized for war, everyone soon knows which side he is on. Everyone knows his place, his duties, his responsibilities. Of course, during a war, everyone knows the game that is being played.

So what you're saying here we need a perceived external threat such as "war on terror" which can never be won, and never be lost, but guarantees citizens perpetually anxious, and thus willing to submit to all government authority in exchange for their short term safety?

Or does it mean we need to go shopping to keep the economy going? Because "The American way of life is not negotiable" and "They hate our freedoms."

We really need to define our civic duties more clearly.

Here's a start, but "shop til you drop" got missed from this list.
Civic Duty:
* Paying taxes
* Attending school
* Serving on jury duty
* Signing up for the Select Service when you turn 18 if you are a male
* Serving as a witness in court
* Serving in military if called on by the draft

Civic responsibilities:
* Voting in elections
* Going the speed limit
* Participating in government campaigns
* Promoting the general welfare of your community and its citizens
* Holding government office
* Signing up for the military

JK Brown said...

Professor Morris is hopefully only feigning ignorance about the size of government to promote his own political agenda. Perhaps he should compare the size of the British government at the peak of their empire. It was a very small government but a world empire, at a time of much slower communication and coordination.

In any case, small government does not preclude a strong army. An army which is facing outward and not a tool for government to interfere with its citizens.

Small government does not imply no government. Not to mention, in the traditions of the Anglosphere, it means the decisions most impacting the lives of the citizens are taken as close to the citizens as possible.

Ares Olympus said...

re: By definition, pacifists prefer decadence, self-satisfaction and following their bliss. They declare that they gain their true identity by belonging to the human species, not to a tiny group like a nation.

Stuart, your contempt towards the lowly pacifists is curious. I've wondered what it means, given true pacifists are a rare breed, almost irrelevant.

But maybe I solved this puzzle and I see the true targets of your ire should be the libertarians, those in favor of "self-satisfaction and following their bliss" who see government being irrelevant to their success, best being small enough to drowned in a bathtub, if only everyone was allowed to do anything they liked.

Once you value money above all other things, it seems like you're a master of your own destiny.

In contrast Ian Morris might just be arguing in favor of authoritarian central government, maintaining the peace by having absolute authority to limit individual freedoms for the sake of the empire. If you're a citizen, you give your fealty in exchange for safety, and if you're not a legally recognized citizen, you have no protection at all except to stay out of sight.

And unlike a "balance of power" which is unstable, Ian Morris calls for the U.S. as benevolant superpower that maintains order in the world.

So if you're a citizen of the U.S. you gain your benefits in exchange for fealty, and if you're a citizen of a lesser nation, you have no protection except to stay out of the way and hope a drone doesn't sight a "bad guy" too close to your home.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks, JK. I think he was saying what Reagan was saying... a strong military accompanied by a small government that did not try to run the economy. I don't see any real contradiction there.

I mostly liked the last episode of Mad Men, Nick. I think it's enormously difficult to wrap up an iconic show and mostly they did a very good job.

That much said, the therapy retreat was, hopefully, a caricature... I found the who exercise to be utterly pathetic. For what it's worth, a lot of the dialogue seemed stilted to me.

priss rules said...

In the past, the aristocratic class led, fought, and died in war.

Brits lost lots of men of higher class in WWI.

Today, the ruling class doesn't serve in the military. Their children don't serve. But they make the decisions in which men from the lower classes get killed.

Dennis said...

Simply put pacifists cause wars! Because we have so many misguided people who keep bleating "Can't we all get along," We don't fight wars. We dither to the point that the wars only get bigger and grow out of all proportion to the cause.
The Israeli/Palestinian conflict would have been over a long time ago if we would have allowed a clear winner. People would have adjusted to the conditions of the conclusion of that conflict just as the Germans, Japanese, et al.
One only needs to look at the Obama administration and its handling of the ME. It has only exacerbated the violence and created a condition in which wars are expanding. To the point that we will be fighting one here that will consume many pacifists, and a significant number of the rest of us. Doesn't take too many nuclear weapon to annilate large numbers of people.
If one is going to fight a war then finish it as quickly as possible and then get the Hell out of the way.
I am always amused by the people who say that abhor war and then make war on anyone who may challenge their dogmas.
Can any good come from wars? Yes it tends to end them. Wars kill a number of people, but not in the numbers that are perpetuated by the people who make continuing conflict possible. I used to study war and its causes because I wanted to know why we seem not to be able to not be involved in them. In almost every case it was a significant number of people who dithered and tried to ignore reality that cased the other side to believe that they could win. It always causes the wars to escalate to the point of exponentially caused death rate.
I hate wars as much as anyone, but I recognize that those who think that they can negotiate a lasting peace have NEVER done so.
Just look around at the conditions in this country, here we are not alone. We make enemies of anyone who disagrees with us in the slightest. We have wars on boys, women, poverty, democrats, republicans, et al and in many cases we do as much as possible to destroy, and in many cases with the Left, wish them dead, the "others." There is no one more violent than a person who claims to be non violent. The same is true with those who preach tolerance. We are so into war that we declare war on words and will not tolerate words that might challenge our opinions. We will protest and do damage, even in our own neighborhoods, and destroy, maim and kill with little thought. Baltimore, NYC, Ferguson,et al.
Until we produce a better class of human beings we will be at war because we seem not to be able to help ourselves. We are the barbarians despite the facade we present of being above it. We are WAR.

Ares Olympus said...

David Brooks opines about war and mistakes today. I couldn't find anything suggesting "pacifists cause wars" as Dennis suggests, in fact would seem to be proposing the opposite, proposing humility.

So he's apparently against the NeoCon's world view that there's no situation that doesn't warrant a good military intervention and multigenerational occupation to make sure our will isn't undone.
If the victory in the Cold War taught us to lean forward and be interventionist, the legacy of the 2003 Iraq decision should cause us to pull back from the excesses of that mentality, to have less faith in America’s ability to understand other places and effect change.

Iraq teaches us to be suspicious of leaders who try to force revolutionary, transformational change. It teaches us to have respect for trimmers, leaders who pay minute attention to context, who try to lead gradual but constant change. It teaches us to honor those who respect the unfathomable complexity of history and who are humble in the face of consequences to their actions that they cannot fully predict or understand.

Myself, I'm more content towards war if there are actual consequences to the citizens of the country doing the warring. So something like a "freedom tax" like Thomas Friedman suggested
For the last 50 years, America (and Europe and Asia) have treated the Middle East as if it were just a collection of big gas stations: Saudi station, Iran station, Kuwait station, Bahrain station, Egypt station, Libya station, Iraq station, United Arab Emirates station, etc. Our message to the region has been very consistent: “Guys (it was only guys we spoke with), here’s the deal. Keep your pumps open, your oil prices low, don’t bother the Israelis too much and, as far as we’re concerned, you can do whatever you want out back. You can deprive your people of whatever civil rights you like. You can engage in however much corruption you like. You can preach whatever intolerance from your mosques that you like. You can print whatever conspiracy theories about us in your newspapers that you like. You can keep your women as illiterate as you like. You can create whatever vast welfare-state economies, without any innovative capacity, that you like. You can undereducate your youth as much as you like. Just keep your pumps open, your oil prices low, don’t hassle the Jews too much — and you can do whatever you want out back.”

As long as the U.S. is a net importer of oil, we're helping to raise the demand and price for oil that makes dictators and tyrants rich.

At some point the "petrodollar" currency and our "economic warfare" for global trade will disappear, but until then we have a financial advantage that we can use to leverage our own freedom from this unsustainable dependence.

I have no idea if a modern economy can be run without fossil fuels, without debt-based fiat money that demands exponential growth to avoid collapse, but I'm sure someday our descendants will have to find out.