The Discerning Texan

All that is necessary for evil to triumph, is for good men to do nothing.
-- Edmund Burke
Sunday, December 05, 2004

The Case for War

Outstanding essay from James Schall of the Hoover Institute which dispels the notion that it is never "worth it" to fight a war. Here is a portion of that article (there is much much more--read it all):

We thought that we had founded a system to prevent wars, especially small ones, in addressing theological and spiritual problems. MacArthur seemed to assume that such a perfect system could be established. But in this he was something of a utopian, not a realist. Since he spoke these words some 60 years ago, we have seen thousands of wars of varying degrees. The spirit and means whereby we believed many small wars could be stopped — the work of converting the whole world to a better “system”— actually resulted in little being done when needed on a scale that would be effective, often a small scale.

My argument derives from Jacques Maritain’s assertion that “justice, brains, and strength” can and should belong together.
2 We need not collapse before tyranny or terrorism or those who sponsor either, but we must effectively do something about them. “Peace and dialogue” do not work in the absence of a force component. The more the reality of measured force is present, the more dialogue and peaceful means — including religious means — are present. In practice, this “doing” peace must include adequate and intelligent force. The intense concern that weapons of mass destruction not fall into the hands of Muslim or other leaders is not fanciful. Every holiday since 9/11, some email comes, warning of the possible use of “dirty bombs” in some American or world city. That they have not been used, I suspect, is more because those who would use them have actually been prevented by force. Units that would blow up major installations, if they could, do exist. All they lack are delivery capabilities.

Further, I argue that our main problems are not too much force, but too little. A peaceful world is not a world with no ready forces but one with adequate, responsible, and superior force that is used when necessary. The failure to have or use such forces causes terror and war to grow exponentially. Unused force, when needed at a particular time and place, ceases to be force. But force is meaningless if one does not know that he has an enemy or how this enemy works and thinks. That latter is a spiritual and philosophical problem, not a technical one. Many an adequately armed country has been destroyed because it did not recognize its real enemy. Nor is this an argument for force “for force’s sake.” It is an argument for force for justice’s sake. I am not for “eternal peace,” which is a this-worldly myth, but for real peace of actual men in an actual and fallen world. Peace is not a goal, but a consequence of doing what is right and preventing what is wrong and, yes, knowing the difference between the two.

Justice and force require one another in the actual world. Too often they are placed in opposition in a way that renders both unbalanced and ineffective. It is not a virtue to praise justice as if it need not be actually enforced or defended. The greatest crimes usually are grounded in a utopianism that is blind to living men, that does not see how to limit and control disruptive forces that continually arise in human life. Though I argue mainly about military force, the same argument includes police power. These are not substitutes for the virtue of justice, but this difficult virtue relies also on the existence and proper use of force for its existence. Contrary to much rhetoric, we do not live in a world in which diplomacy, dialogue, diversity, and law, however valuable, have replaced force. We can hopefully reach an adequate public order, but the failure to understand that law and dialogue need the presence of reasoned force ends up creating not more peace but less.

The failure to fight

In late spring, in Baltimore, I walked to the end of Chestnut Street where it meets Joppa Road. On one corner was a large official-looking residence called “Mission Helpers Center.” On both sides of its entrance gate were large blue and white signs that said, “War Is Not the Answer.” These placards recalled many too-simple slogans I have seen in recent years about war, often, like this one apparently, from religious sources: “War is obsolete.” “War is never justified.” “The answer to violence is not more violence.” “War does no good.” “No one wins a war.” “Love, not war.” “Diplomacy, not war.” “Dialogue, not war.” “Stop violence.” “Justice, not war.” “No war is legitimate.” “Everyone loses in war.” “War, Never Again.”

When I saw the “War Is Not the Answer” sign, I said to myself, “what is the question to which war is not an answer?” Is there no question to which war is the only sensible answer? Must we be pacifists and draw no lines in the sand? Does nothing ever need defending? Can we choose not to defend what needs defending and still be honorable? If war is not the “answer,” what is? How do we rid ourselves of tyrants or protect ourselves from ideologies or fanatics who attack us with their own principles and weapons, not ours?

Machiavelli advised that a prince should spend most of his time preparing for war. The prince was not pious except when it was useful to his staying in power. If we are this prince’s neighbors, do we take no notice of his preparations? Do we give him the answer he most wants to hear from us, namely, “war is not the answer”? Those who practice this doctrine of no war make easy targets. The prince thinks war is an answer. It can help him in his goal of acquiring and keeping power. We may have to suffer a defeat at his hands, but we should not choose to bring one on ourselves.

Though much carnage and chaos happen in any historic war, and on every side, still we cannot conclude from this that “war is not the answer.” It may not be the only answer. But no valid alternative to war can be a mere ungrounded velleity, a frivolous hope that nothing bad will happen no matter what we do or do not do. Any presumed alternative to war, by other supposedly more effective methods, has to stop what war seeks to prevent by its own reasoned use of measured force. The general opinion of most sensible men in most of history is that war certainly is one answer, even a reasonable answer, in the light of what would likely ensue without it. Not a few unfought wars have made things considerably worse. Not a few fought wars have made things better. The honor classically associated with war heroes is expressed in the proclamations: “Our cause is just.” “Give me liberty or give me death.” “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” “Walk softly but carry a big stick.”

We often, and rightly, ponder the horrors of war. Doing so is a growth industry particularly for those who do not choose to fight in them. Soldiers usually know more about the horrors of wars than journalists. They also know more about what it is like to live under a tyrannical system. The uncovering of gulags and concentration camps ought also to cause us to reflect deeply on what happens when unjust regimes acquire and remain in power.

9/11 could have been prevented with but a small use of force had we known that we had an enemy who would utterly surprise us by using passenger planes as weapons of war.

A follower of Nietzsche, who thought Platonism and Christianity had failed because both lauded weakness, will see a certain nobility to wars and power for their own dramatic sakes. Like many moderns, Nietzsche did not find any order in the universe except that imposed by his own will. Still, most sensible people can see that to prevent the rise of unlimited power or to remove it, once established, requires the legitimate use of adequate force against it. Often we perform this reflection about war’s atrocities in isolation from real situations and without balance, for peace is not simply the absence of war. “No war” can, and not infrequently does, end up meaning the victory of tyranny and the subsequent disarming of any opposition to itself. “No moral use of war” can, by the same logic, result in no freedom, no dignity.

We need more serious reflection on what happens, both to ourselves and to others who rely upon us, when we lose wars or when our failure to act causes something worse to happen. Those who cry “peace, peace” often have unacknowledged blood on their hands because they failed to use adequate force when needed; “To the victors go the spoils” is an ancient principle of fact, not rightness. Cowardice has never been considered a virtue. Nor has “turning the other cheek” served as an acceptable excuse for allowing some evil — one we could have stopped except that our theories or fears prevented us from trying — to continue or conquer. Not a few worthy things have been eradicated forever because a war was lost. Eternal vigilance remains the price of liberty and much else that is worthy.

In reading ancient history, as we should and for this very reason, we can still meditate with profit on the enormous cultural consequences of a success by Xerxes in Greece had Sparta and Athens not successfully defended themselves against his armies. Nonetheless, good causes do not always win wars; neither, to say the same thing, do bad causes always lose them.

Fortune is difficult to conquer. Nor do its consequences guarantee justice. St. Paul, as Dawson reminds us above, even suggests that wars and the sword punish our wrongdoings. The pope observes that we live in a world in which we want to deny that we commit any wrongs or sins and hence we lack any impetus for correcting them within ourselves. Sins have dire consequences even if we call them virtues, as we often do.

Still, we are not free not to think about this consequence that failure to act can make things worse. Nor can we deny that there is a comparative difference between “bad” things and “terrible” things. We can be as immoral and as inhuman by not acting as by acting. The history of lost wars is as important as the history of victorious ones, perhaps more so.

The idea of an absolutely warless world, a world “already made safe for democracy,” is more likely, in practice, to be a sign either of utopianism or of madness, and a world in which war is “outlawed” is more likely to mean either that we are no longer in the real world or that the devils and the tyrants — who allow us only to agree with them and do as they say — have finally won. We are naïve if we think that formal democratic procedures, lacking any reference to the content of laws, cannot have deleterious effects.
A democratic tyranny is quite conceivable, many think likely, and on a global scale. Globalization is not neutral. Not a few of the worst tyrants of history have been very popular and have died peacefully in bed in their old age amidst family and friends.

More than anything else, the frontiers of most states of the world are where they are because of wars, won or lost. This is true even of, say, the relatively peaceful Canadian-American border, whose drawing, whose very existence, is related to the American Revolution, to the War of 1812, and to “54.40 or Fight!” The northern Mexican border does not include California, Texas, Arizona, or New Mexico, as it once did, because a war was lost. I have seen Mexican maps that still include these states within Mexican frontiers. This suggests that many Mexicans think present borders are unjust and that therefore we are not wholly at peace. Lord Acton thought that had the South won the American Civil War, it probably would have taken over Mexico.

The “evil empire” covered a quarter or more of the globe because of war and revolution. Ironically, it got its start when Lenin precipitously pulled out of bloody World War i to eradicate his domestic enemies on the right and the enemies of his Bolshevism on the left. The demise of the Soviet Union surprised all the social scientists in that it was not destroyed by war or by any force in their analytic methods. However, as we were reminded by the Reagan funeral, a major cause of the demise of communism, besides the spiritual one for which the Polish pope stood, was the massive American preparation for war, including nuclear war. This was sufficient to convince the Soviets finally to recognize communism’s own internal bankruptcy. Many, at the time, thought this buildup was itself “immoral.” Had it not occurred, the Soviet Union might well still be in existence and its demise might not have been so peaceful.

In the case of World War ii, we can surely thank the early unpreparedness and initial unwillingness of the French and English to engage in war for the fact that in the end a more lethal war had to be fought and could be won only with the aid of others. “Peace in our time,” the slogan of the British prime minister, led to World War ii. War was not an answer? What is the “answer” to terrorism if not war at some level? Terrorists, as they often testify, think that terrorism is a legitimate, even God-commanded duty. Is capitulation the answer? Roman history, in fact, is filled with such wars and capitulations.

It may well be true that noncombatant alternatives to war are always available, but there are things worse than war. Not to know what they are is tantamount to losing any real contact with or understanding of human experience or history. Not for nothing was the “history of war” studied by Machiavelli. Many “peaceful” alternatives to war are unhappy ones. One of them consists in being conquered by a hostile power, another in complete civilizational destruction. We read of Muslim and Mongolian armies before whose swords we would not like to fall, knowing that if we do, our culture, religion, and way of life, not to mention many of our lives, would disappear.

No one in the decade before the sudden appearance of Mohammedan armies in the seventh century could have imagined the configuration of the world map today, a configuration in many areas due precisely to the permanent conquests of these earlier and later armies. The modern integrity of Europe is unimaginable without two victories over Muslim forces: one at Tours, one at Vienna.

DiscerningTexan, 12/05/2004 08:58:00 PM |