The abolition of war

Sam Smith

Could the end of war be the abolition movement of the 21st century?

Even leaving morality aside, it would make a lot of sense. The United States, for example, hasn’t won a war – in the sense of gaining something significant other than the symbolism of “victory” – in over sixty years. In fact the few military victories have been mostly against military less than 1% the size of ours – Panama, Grenada and Bosnia. The one exception – the first Iraq war – was against a force 15% the size of America’s.

America’s defense expenditures are more than double those of all the other top ten militaries combined. Yet we continue to drastically shortchange healthcare, retirement and education on behalf of purported military readiness.

One reason we are so willing to do so is because we consider war inevitable. In fact, war is not the product of human nature but of the organized state, a fairly recent invention in human history. Further, the nature of this invention has drastically changed over time. What general today would order his troops to fight in the manner of Henry VIII or even General Grant or Lee? And what did the American Revolution, the Civil War and Vietnam have in common, how were they different and which list is longer? Why do we use the same term to describe conflict that a hundred years ago claimed civilians as only 20% of its casualties but today results in 80% of its victims being civilians?

What was the logic of World War I? After all those deaths, it helped to produce Hitler. And a non-romantic look at the Civil War would at least raise the question: was there another less deadly way of having dealt with slavery and the South?

A logical review of America’s own wars since WWII would lead almost inevitably to the conclusion that wars are no longer – if they ever were – an effective way of handling foreign affairs. They are excessively costly, environmentally disastrous, kill too many people and don’t produced the sought-after results.

We avoid such questions because they seem almost unpatriotic. But what if war is another form of behavior – like slavery in the 19th century – that we now – if we so will it – have the potential of declaring extinct as part of our moral and social evolution?

We rarely ask this question not only because it seems too hard, but because we routinely accept accustomed approaches that are reasonable in the short run – such demanding the end to a particular war – but which avoid the larger issue.

In other words, we remain peace activists instead of becoming war abolitionists.

We call ourselves anti-war protestors but are really only talking about Iraq. And so forth.

The alternative would be a serious war abolition movement that would help others understand the futility of the military approach, its masochistic costs and the techniques and advantages of peace and mediation.

If this all sounds too radical, consider the following:

“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. . . ”

And this:

“Men since the beginning of time have sought peace. Various methods through the ages have been attempted to devise an international process to prevent or settle disputes between nations. From the very start workable methods were found in so far as individual citizens were concerned, but the mechanics of an instrumentality of larger international scope have never been successful.

“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 first words were spoken by General Douglas MacArthur during his farewell address to Congress. The second was from his statement soon after the surrender of the Japanese aboard the battleship Missouri.

A couple of years later, Japan approved a constitution with this provision:

“Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.”

3 thoughts on “The abolition of war

  1. "What general today would order his troops to fight in the manner of Henry VIII or even General Grant or Lee?"You neglect that fact that the "military expert" who designed Bush's surge strategy is an expert on Napolean's foray into Russia.

  2. MacArther, true to the end to his elitist nature, evidently couldn't see what Smedley Butler saw without difficulty: as long as we refuse to rein in the limitless greed of the wealthy elites, we'll have wars. I often wonder what the elites thought about the Nürnberg Trials–did they feel a chill wind and start thinking that maybe they already really did have enough and should get out of the warmongering business, …or did they decide to sow the seeds of an invincible US so that nobody could ever threaten them? Did PNAC have its roots in the show trials at Nürnberg?

  3. The problem is that there already are international accords which outlaw war. The United States is a signatory to at least one of them.We have a great Constitution. We have great international accords. We have a great precedent in the Nuremberg Trials. We just ignore all these wonderful things that we already have.The problem is not new laws, new Constitutions, or new accords. The problem is enforcing the laws that we already have.If we don't do this we are, as MacArthur noted, doomed.

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