Rejection of War Abolition
August 14, 2007



The peace movement must respond to the concerns of the non-peaceniks. To my knowledge, not a single peace group even takes a stab at this. The non-peaceniks raise excellent questions that deserve answers. This is my attempt to offer reasonable but probably not convincing answers.

I was a non-peacenik until 1969 when I realized that all wars were like the Vietnam War. What I was seeing in terms of incompetence and lying from my government was par for the course. All wars are like that.

Only a tiny percentage of the population agrees with me. Most people have the concerns about war abolition as shown by Vander:

These are laudable, but ultimately unrealistic goals. It takes more than one side to make peace. Unilateral commitments to peace always end up in disaster. Witness the European landscape during the 1930s. England and France wanted peace at any price. However, to Hitler, they were seen as “little worms” (his words). It’s like dealing with the schoolyard bully. You may want to be friends with him. However, he is only interested in using his superior strength to get his way. I make this comparison because a similar situation plays out on the world stage. China is hellbent on expanding her sphere of influence. A nation-state doesn’t build up aircraft carriers and ballistic submarines merely to protect her coastline. These vessels are for the projection of force! China wants to reclaim Taiwan. I’ve worked with a number of Taiwanese, and they do not want any “reunion” with China (peaceful or otherwise). Iran is also interested in expanding her power base, with dreams of becoming the leading power of the Persian Gulf. I point this out, not to vilify these nations, but only to demonstrate the futility of applying idealistic/pacifistic foreign policy ideas to nation-states that view the world through a realpolitk lens. Yes, more can be done to secure peaceful cooperation between nations. But, let us not delude ourselves into thinking that if we only behave like Gandhi we can pacify the Hitlers, Stalins, Pol Pots, and Osama Bin Ladens of the world.

These are the specific concerns of the non-peaceniks as I see them:

Concern #1: War is part of human nature.

The only animals known to be genetically programmed for war are ants and termites. Anthropologists tell us that warfare started with the New Stone Age. In this period, human beings developed weapons such as maces or battleaxes that were unsuitable for hunting. Population density and running out of easy game are some of many theories why war started in the New Stone age and not before.

War is learned behavior that must be unlearned.

Concern #2: Peace advocates are well meaning people who would leave us defenseless against the likes of Hitler and Stalin.

Distinguished warriors have called for the abolition of war, not just hippies, peaceniks, Quakers and left wing college professors.

See these excerpts from General Douglas MacArthur’s April 19, 1951 speech to the US Congress:

“I know war as few other men now living know it, and nothing to me is more revolting. I have long advocated its complete abolition, as its very destructiveness on both friend and foe has rendered it useless as a means of settling international disputes.”…. “Military alliances, balances of power, leagues of nations, all in turn failed, leaving the only path to be by way of the crucible of war. The utter destructiveness of war now blocks out this alternative. We have had our last chance. If we will not devise some greater and more equitable system, our Armageddon will be at our door. The problem basically is theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence, an improvement of human character that will synchronize with our almost matchless advances in science, art, literature, and all material and cultural developments of the past two thousand years. It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh.”Concern # 3: We must have a strong military to avoid the equivalent of a second Munich Conference.

A more fruitful approach is to look at the causes of the First World War and its aftermath rather than starting in 1938. Historians to this day are trying to figure out why World War One got started and which countries had the biggest responsibilities for pushing it. There is no question that economic competition, secret treaties and an armaments race contributed to the mix.

The biggest mistake of the Versailles Treaty was to leave Germany out of the negotiations. The high tariffs, especially those imposed by the United States encouraged the Great Depression. Much is made of Hitler’s charisma and his hypnotic gaze but the fact of the matter is in the last German election before the depression hit, the Nazis fetched only 3% of the vote.

The world would have been better off if one side or the other would have won by 1915 and imposed a reasonable peace treaty.

During the Second World War, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin worked to ensure a more peaceful world after the hostilities were over. They wanted to prevent a second great depression and provide economic and political stability. The establishment of the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs were examples of this effort

Non peaceniks are certainly correct in stating that the armed forces will be around as long as any reader will be alive.

Concern # 4: We need military power to deal with terrorists.

The world can deal with terrorists by intelligence gathering and with the police. An effort to eradicate poverty using the United Nations Millennium Goals would do more than military occupation. Since 9/11, the number of terrorists have increased by sevenfold. If military power were useful, their numbers would have dropped.

If the United States had twice as many aircraft carriers, jet fighters, tanks and all the rest, the terrorists would have still been successful on September 11.

Concern # 5: We need military power to deal with China.

If China wants to damage us, they do not need military power. They can stop buying our debt and accept payments for future contracts in euros only.

The United States has 737 acknowledged military bases in foreign lands. The Chinese have none. Our military expenditures are equal of that of the rest of the world combined.

The Chinese military is small in comparison.

Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press in their article, “Superiority Complex”, in the July/August 2007 issue present a case that the Chinese are upgrading their military because of technological improvements that the United States is making with its weapons including “precision “bunker buster” conventional bombs, high-speed long-range cruise missiles, and conventionally armed ballistic missiles – each of which could be used to destroy enemy missile silos. The authors make the case that increases in Chinese military power is a defensive response to American actions.

Attempted military conquest of Taiwan would be a Pyrrhic victory at best. Since their economies are intertwined now, I do not see this as a rational move. Of course, who ever needed a rational reason to go to war?

Concern # 6: War will never be completely eliminated.

I agree with the non-peaceniks on this one. My preference is to use the Japanese manufacturing approach of zero defects rather than making half hearted attempts.

Still, other institutions have fallen by the wayside – monarchy, slavery, selfdom, judicial torture, human sacrifice, Jim Crow laws, imperialist empires and Soviet communism. Each of the institutions was an integral and normal part of society. The fall of the Berlin Wall was the most dramatic example of an institution’s demise. In each case, there came a time when the effort to maintain them surpassed benefits achieved. The economic systems could not satisfy the citizens’ aspirations or behavior that seemed routine became questionable or even barbaric.

In each case, there were few, if any, who predicted what would happen. Few forecasted the success of the civil rights movement in the United States or the Solidarity movements in Europe. The US intelligence services were unaware of the deterioration of the Soviet Army in the late 1980s, even though the German news magazine Der Spiegel covered these developments on a regular basis. Futurists, pundits and our intelligence services are as much in the dark as everyone else.

Hopefully, Pax Christi, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, the Green Party and all the peace groups will develop will develop more compelling answers than mine.

Give peace a chance.

Ed O’Rourke is an environmental accountant in Houston.