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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”