Let me have war, say I; it exceeds peace as far as day does night; it’s sprightly, waking, audible, and full of vent. Peace is a very apoplexy, lethargy; mulled, deaf, sleepy, insensible; a getter of more bastard children than war’s a destroyer of men.

William Shakespeare[1]

[Phil’s back. He’s still working on People to Avoid, Part II; but today he wants to offer us a few thoughts on war and peace, a subject much in the news these days. Republicans, it would seem, are really upset that we haven’t thundered off to war yet again in the Middle East. Also there’s a looming possible agreement with Iran that they don’t like, although they haven’t read it. Where do they get their information?

Anyway, here’s Phil!]

Today’s subject is war, and what better way to start than with a quote from Shakespeare? Of course, we don’t really know what Shakespeare himself thought; he was a dramatist, and his job was to portray the thoughts of characters in a play, not his own; in this case, those of Coriolanus, a Roman General. But that Coriolanus really had some strange ideas, didn’t he? War was good, or at least it wasn’t boring. Peace was the opposite; sleepy and insensible, and it led to too much sex.

The problem is that some real people also think that way. For example, there was a Prussian back in the 1800’s who said that war is a necessary part of God’s plan for the world; without it we would all “deteriorate into materialism.” [2] And those of us who think of Charles Darwin as a moral philosopher may well agree. If nature dictates that only the fit survive, and morality follows that natural law, then what better way is there to improve humanity than by having the occasional bloodbath? Prune away the deadwood and let the fit parts of the tree prosper.

But Darwin wasn’t a moral philosopher; he was a scientist, offering a theory of how living things developed and changed over time. As a teacher of mine once said, he was attempting to describe how things are, not how they ought to be. The fact that eliminating the unfit might, in some cases, improve the human gene pool doesn’t mean that we should do that kind of thing. That’s a question for morality, not science. Similarly, the fact that some people succeed in today’s economy, and others don’t, doesn’t mean that we should abandon the unsuccessful. Luck has a lot to do with success and, in any case, Darwin’s scientific theory doesn’t demand any particular moral result.

Frankly I don’t subscribe to Darwin as a theory of morality, nor do most people. Think about it. How many folks do you know who are willing to kill themselves to improve the human race? Not that many, I’ll bet; and the ones who might no doubt are clinically depressed. And the fact of the matter is that most of us also deplore the wholesale slaughter of innocents, even if we ourselves aren’t included.

Of course, death can be a release for the afflicted. “Pale death, the grand physician, cures all pain; [t]he dead rest well who lived for joys in vain.” [3] But really, it’s not up to you, or to me, to administer that remedy to strangers. When John Bright, describing the 19th Century Crimean War, not the current one, said: “The angel of death has been abroad throughout the land; [y]ou may almost hear the beating of his wings,”[4] he wasn’t saying that was a good thing. Quite the opposite, I think.

In spite of what you might think from current media coverage, lots of famous people are on record favoring peace over war. Take Winston Churchill, for example. On the eve of World War II he famously told the English people that England would fight, and that he, Churchill, had “nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”[5]But after that war he also talked up the advantages of peace and peace negotiations. “To jaw-jaw,” he said, “is always better than to war-war.”[6] Benjamin Franklin said, “[t]here never was a good war, or a bad peace.[7] And William Tecumsah Sherman, a famous general of our Civil War, warned that war is hell. “There is many a boy here to-day who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell.”[8] He should have known. He fought in what is often called the first modern war, and the casualties were horrendous.

Against that, of course, we have the folks who counsel that war is just a tool, something that we use to advance our national interests. “ War,” they say, “is nothing but a continuation of politics with the admixture of other means.” [9] Frankly I’m tired of hearing that. It’s the kind of thing ignorant children say, or senile oldsters; or perhaps the toxic narcissists I described earlier this month.[10]

Instead the war advocates in our Congress really ought to spend a little more time contemplating the advice of their ancestors. There was Herbert Hoover, for example, an earlier Republican who counseled that “older men declare war; but it is youth who must fight and die.”[11] Our Founding Fathers also weren’t very keen on fighting wars overseas. Policy wonks, especially the Conservative ones, should be careful when they decide to spend the lives of our young.

They also need to look at the true costs of their military adventures. Not just the deaths, but also the cost of treating the wounded, perhaps for their entire lives; the cost of diverting resources from growing and improving our economy to blowing things up in the Middle East; and the effect of such open-ended operations on our financial standing in the world. No matter how Congress manages to hide military costs in appropriations, by creating “black” programs and slush funds, true costs do tend to show up in our annual budget deficit. Money spent is, after all, money spent.

And then, of course, there’s the question of whether our interventions do any real good. Are we making friends by intervening, or just more enemies? Are we stabilizing situations, or just creating new areas of chaos? Do people over there like us now more than they did before? So far, our record doesn’t seem to be very good. I’m not going to Egypt any time soon to visit the pyramids; nor do I intend to vacation next winter in Baghdad. Tripoli doesn’t look very promising, either, or even Tunisia. And who in the world would ever want to go to Afghanistan?

So beware, fools; you’re trying to jump off the cliff again. Some of us don’t want to go with you, and many of us are suspicious of your explanations. “[Men] use thought only to justify their injustices, and speech only to conceal their thoughts.”[12] That maxim includes you, I think.

[Thanks, Phil; that should be enough for now.  Really, you should try not to get worked up so much about these things. I’m sure the pro War faction in D.C. has no intention to deceive us or other American voters. They just see things differently than we do. We should respect this diversity of opinion, at least until one side or the other is proved wrong.

Nevertheless, thanks for your great effort, rendered on short notice.]

[1] See Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (6th Edition, 2003) (henceforth, ODQ at __) at William Shakespeare, p. 682, n. 21. The quote is from Coriolanus, act 4, scene 5. Irf you waqnt to see the whole play, you can get it online from MIT at http://shakespeare.mit.edu/coriolanus/full.html

[2] See ODQ at Helmuth von Moltke, p. 542, n. 17:” Everlasting peace is a dream, and not even a pleasant one; and war is a necessary part of God’s arrangement of the world … Without war the world would deteriorate into materialism.”

[3] See ODQ at John Clare, p. 224, n. 7. Clare was an English poet who lived from 1793 – 1864.

[4] See ODQ at John Bright, p. 151, n. 7. Bright was an English Liberal politician and reformer, who lived from 1819 – 1889.

[5] See ODQ at Winston Churchill, p. 220, 221, n. 5. This speech was given in 1940.

[6] See ODQ at Winston Churchill, p. 220, 222, n. 3. This speech was given in 1954.

[7] See ODQ at Benjamin Franklin, p. 332, n. 18.

[8] See ODQ at William Tecumsah Sherman, p. 734, n. 17.

[9] See ODQ at Karl von Clausewitz, p. 225, n. 17.

[10] See the blog of 03/13/2015, People to Avoid, Part I, available at https://opsrus.wordpress.com/2015/03/13/people-to-avoid-part-i/

[11] See ODQ at Herbert Hoover, p. 395, 396, n. 2. He said this back in 1944, at the RNC Convention in June of that Year.

[12] See ODQ at Voltaire, p. 815, n. 13.