To State the Obvious

by James D. Howell

Borrowing from Patrick Henry’s comments in 1775, “Gentlemen may cry peace, peace – but there is no peace.” 1   Why is that so true today?  If asked whether they wanted war or peace, almost every human alive would express a preference for peace; but war is a predominant theme in today’s current events and in the history of humanity.  A species that continually does that which it wants not to do must have serious flaws in its psychology.  Those flaws may be so deeply ingrained that they cannot be remediated.  However, to comply with Apollo’s “Know Thyself” advice at his temple at Delphi, we should consider what those flaws are.

Before considering why there is no peace, what is peace?  Webster defines peace as a state of tranquillity or quiet, freedom from civil disturbance or war, public order or security, harmony in personal relations, or freedom from fears, agitating passions or moral conflict. 2 Most people like peace.

General Carl von Clausewitz gives a basic definition of war: “War therefore is an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfil our will.” 3   Later in his first chapter, titled “What Is War?”, he clarifies that “our will” is the political object of the War. 4 War is politics carried into the realm of violence and force.  At the end of the chapter, von Clausewitz points out that the nature of the political object is driven both by emotions of hatred and animosity and by purely rational considerations such as desire for a province. 5

In addition to this classic definition of war that von Clausewitz recorded a few years after Waterloo, other forms of warfare are regularly employed to worsen the situation of one party to induce conformance to the will of another party.  Currency manipulation, financial sanctions, trade embargoes, international debt, and cyber-attacks are used to attempt to coerce changes in the behaviour of nations.

The Causes of War cake can be sliced several different ways, but some of the major human flaws that cause wars can be categorized as:  greed, poverty and overpopulation, lust for power, fear, and cultural issues such as basic human nature (competitive instinct, excessive machismo, prejudice), ingrained militarism, religion and literature.  False assumptions about the other party and miscommunication between governments frequently make situations worse than they need to be.  Eruption of these flaws into death and destruction is facilitated by a moral double-think pervasive in most cultures – while individuals are almost universally condemned for individual murder, vandalism and theft, governments doing those same crimes as acts of war is generally accepted. 

Presumably, every mentally competent adult in the world knows that the results of war are death, physical and psychological maiming, and destruction of wealth and the environment.  However, in the developed nations, most citizens have not personally experienced war, so they hold it in lighter regard than they would if they knew more about it.  War is an abstraction rather than a concrete misery.

I spent most of 1970 as an artillery lieutenant in Viet Nam.  Even though my tour was much less traumatic than that of many others, I do believe that the experience gives me better insight into the evils of war than I would have had otherwise.  Therefore, before getting into the causes of war and what we might do to reduce warfare on the planet, allow me to indulge in some personal war stories... To read the entire piece, please click on the Pdf link below...