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Does the Desire for Peace Cause War?

I’ve been arguing ad nauseam lately that the first step toward ending war is to believe that we can do it. I was thus taken aback by the headline of an essay in the Sunday New York Times Magazine: “The Peace Paradox: How an urge to end war can lead to more war.”

David A. Bell, author of a book about Napoleon’s misadventures, notes that after the French revolution the new government renounced wars of aggression and issued a “declaration of peace to the world.” But soon France began waging war against all who stood in the way of achieving this utopian vision. “To achieve such an exalted end,” Bell writes, “any means were justified, and so there followed total war and the birth of new hatreds that made the idea of perpetual peace look more utopian than ever.”

Bell draws intriguing parallels between France in the Napoleonic era and the Bush regime, which has resorted to invasion, occupation, illegal detention and torture to fulfill its vision of pacifying and democratizing the middle east and ending terrorism. “Could it be, then," Bell asks, "that dreams of an end to war may be as unexpectedly dangerous as they are noble, because they seem to justify almost anything done in their name?”

Bell seems to imply that we should renounce our hopes for perpetual peace. Hogwash. All we should renounce is the notion that war is the way to peace. As pacifists like to say, there is no way to peace. Peace is the way.


Andrei Kirilyuk

But what is exactly on that desired way of peace that should attract millions, John? You never say it. What you say is close to “war is very bad and that's why everybody should never (want to) start it”. But that canonical pacifism has always been losing its cause just because it's not enough, it's too simple with respect to real life and human nature contradictions and desires.

Just look at non-stopping manifestations of violence other than war, such as football fan fights here in “civilised” Europe. And in a less civilised but very ambitious country like Russia you have real and massive manifestations of indeed unmotivated cruelty, which are yet much closer to what is realised as a war. Because they never were and they know they never will be able to prove their supremacy (in which they tend to massively believe) by “peaceful”, economic and technological means, what do you think they would tend to choose, taking into account their truly big advances in only one field, that of all kind of armament? And their “fatalist” attitude to death and other consequences of war is often not far from that of any kind of kamikaze or religious fanatics... Instead of desire for peace being a cause of war, it may be a feeling of increased danger or “dominance” of war that gives rise to pronounced “war-and-peace” kind of attitude, in all those not-so-peaceful empires...

You need to add something else, something very essential, realistic and universally exciting to your mere desire and “proposition” of peace assuming that life is so much and so evidently better than death that no other argument is needed in favour of peace.

Although the hypothetical origin of war you're analysing in this post is just a particular one, it can be generalised as a too impatient (and simplified) desire of change for a better state, either real or illusive. People just lose their patience and want it here and now, and then it's a war (or, in general, violence).

Everybody is not ready to express their impatience by “attacking” a scientific or philosophical problem (which may be your case, for example). So something should be proposed to those other, “simple” people (alias “humanity”), a way indeed, but a real way of change, expressing and realising their (greater or smaller) impatience with respect to progress.

It's not too much peace (often = stagnation and decadence) or desire for peace that give rise to such excesses as war, but too much simplicity I would say, desperate simplicity, the one without issue, without a real possibility of essential development. Basically, you don't have anything truly exciting as a progress possibility even in the “best” places (let's acknowledge that money-for-money spiral is not enough). But in the quantitatively dominating less “successful” parts of the world you just have the state of permanent suffering, hatred and hopelessness. When you buy your cheap and good products made in China, you certainly know how exactly they live, the majority of those who produce all of it, don't you? The problem of modern world is that now everybody wants to live well, just everybody, contrary to accepted “traditional” divisions we had before. They want but they can't (me including!), there can be less and less illusions about it. [Among other things, if Chinese could live as Americans the “Earth system” would die instantaneously (it's dying slowly now).] There are such characteristically “serious” problems with no solution and real hope, no “deliverance”. You won't obtain genuine, sustainable peace without it, John. One should “pay” for that blessed state by a sustainable development possibility at a superior level of everything but especially of human consciousness that determines everything else. One cannot replace it by a hope for it, it's something quite definite, not just abstract “goodness”.

So what is a real, well-specified alternative to war? It is the absence of clear answer to that question that gives rise to “conflicts of civilisations”, rather than various particular “symptoms”.

mike cook

One of the prime reasons that even civilizations which espouse peaceful values tend to want to police their neighbors, especially in critical geographical areas, is because anarchy is bad for business.

That truism has prompted military interventions for thousands of years. Trade can not proceed to anyone's benefit in an atmosphere of piracy and corrupt extortion by every tiny principality that happens to lie on a major trade route.

But sometimes sheer technical advance alone can fuel an adventurous foreign policy. The Vikings learned to use iron saw blades to make wooden boards so thin they could be warped into slender, fast hull designs and then bolted together with more iron. The Mongols learned to make powerful compound recurve bows suitable for drive-by archery from horseback.

Ancient Carthage invented high-rise apartments because everyone wanted to live within the thick, secure walls that surrounded their city, just as high walls surrounded Rome, Jerusalem, Babylon, Tyre, and every other city of ancient times.

A city that had no walls was always a terrible temptation to nomadic barbarians or competing cities. A city that had strong walls plus an army and a navy had to be taken seriously by everyone.

Napoleon considered the French Revolution to be the epitome of progress and enlightenment. Such a revolution obviously needed a thoroughly modern army with a supreme leader who was a master of the technical application of artillery in real human situations.

Today we have a lot of new technical realities. The 20th century was dominated by American aircraft carriers and Russian AK-47 mass production assault rifles, with nuclear weapons sitting uneasily on the sidelines.

My head spins trying to work out which technology of war will shape this bright, new century. I sure hope it isn't weapons of mass destruction, particularly the nasty biological things.

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