The Very Old Case Against Peace

Another commentator told me that the propaganda of one age innoculates you against the same in another. Let’s listen to the anvil-chorus that beats on constantly about the evils of isolationism, disarmament, and peace. Consider this argument from 1917′s wag-of-war George Herron, in The Menace of Peace. Don’t read the whole book, but skim it.

It is notable that Herron immediately attacks the idea that peace is good at all. Fearing that the war will not be decisive enough, Herron writes,

For even under the bondage of a German dominion man might still, through high rebellionm, through hard suffering, awaken to its mission in the universe–to cosmic intimacy and to infinite choice. But if the war end in universal evasion, if the race refuse its hour of decision, then downward into long and impenetrable darkness we shall surely go. One can imagine such an issue as the very despair of the heart of God, vainly broken for a dastrd and derelict humanity.

Yeesh. Anything less than total victory means we’ll be unworthy of ourselves.

After putting aside racial strife and economic motives as insufficient to explain the phenomena of war, Herron locates the source of conflict in ideology.

We may find this war–perhaps all wars to be the conflict of two rival principlesof collective life and conduct. History is the disclosure of this conflict, the record, tortuous and treacherous of the slow and hard struggled between the autocratic and the democratic principles for the direction of the human climb.

These struggles are always eternal, of course. Herron goes on to identify democracy so thoroughly with the Gospel, that he is able to begin his fifth chapter with these words: “Now the complete opposite of the mind of Christ is the Prussian idea of the State, and the quality of individual man thereby required.” After explaining that Prussianism implies the full debasement of men, he concludes that “The world cannot tolerate a nation proceeding upon the Prussian theory.”

Got that? Peace is probably dishonorable. Victory is a not just for us but for good itself. Anything less than total transformation or destruction of the enemy’s ideals risks the degredation of our character.

The stench of Protestant chauvinism makes Herron’s work fetid to us. But look at Robert Kaplan’s 1999 essay, “The Dangers of Peace” (online but abridged) and see if anything is different about the argument but the way it is scented.

Hilariously Kaplan begins by saing that “World War I delegitimized war. Its horror was too vast to be justified by any result.” Actually not true. The horror was not enough for a man of  exactingly democratic principles. Just ask Herron! Kaplan continues.

However, the truism that bears repeating is that peace, as a primary goal, is dangerous because it implies that you’ll sacrifice any principal for the sake of it. A long period of peace in an advanced technological society like ours could lead to great evils…

Evils which Kaplan doesn’t name with any specificity. Again, the caricature. Even breathe the word “peace” and you’re liable to charges of total acquiesence–even sympathy–to something, well something really bad! Like the Prussian ideal that might makes right. Does anyone advocate this idea of peace? Anywhere? Now consider this string of assertions:

Peace, however, leads to the preoccupation with “presentness”, the loss of the past and consequent disregard for the future. That is because peace by nature is pleasurable, and pleasure is about momentary satisfaction. In an era of expanded domestic peace, those who deliver us pleasure are the power brokers. Because pleasure is inseparable from convenience, convenience becomes the vital element of society.

In other words: Your lack of desire to see American boys die and kill is really no different than your weakness for Hot Pockets, fatass. Kaplan seems disengeunous about the connection between peace and pleasure since what really seems to get him going is the notion of armed ideologies in titanic struggle. Besides, he says, peace isn’t all it is cracked up to be.

… So the idea that a world at peace will mean less violence is naive. We will have as much violence as before, only it won’t take an organized form, and will lack redeeming philosophical value.

This stuff about “redeeming philosophical value” is of the same genus as Herron’s nonsense about Christ and the German ideal of the state, except it is backed with an even more preposterous claim. Does anyone really believe that the men in our military, if not deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, would have racked up tens of thousands murders in American cities? Anyone?

And as always, without war our character decays, perhaps fatally.

A long domestic peace would rear up leaders with no tragic historical memory, and thus little wisdom. Nor would such future leaders be fortified by a life of serious reading to compensate for their lack of historical experience: permanent peace, with its worthip of entertainment and convenience will produce ever-shallower leaders.

The saddest similarity between these essays is that they warn of peace when there is hardly any danger of it breaking out. WWI was still raging while Herron took quill in hand. And Kaplan’s essay, completed just before the American-led bombing campaign in Kosovo, landed just a decade after the end of the Cold War, within eight years of the end of the Gulf War, and only shortly after a renewed bombing run  in Iraq to enforce a no-fly zone.

Same as it ever was.

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