ANZAC DAY: Reflections on war
War appears to be as old as mankind, but peace is a modern invention.
- Sir Henry Maine (1822-88)
Charles Sargeant Jagger's Royal Artillery Monument at Hyde Park Corner, London
ANZAC DAY GIVES US THE opportunity to pause for a moment to reflect on war.
“It is well that war is so terrible,” said General Robert E. Lee after the slaughter at Fredericksburg, “otherwise we should grow too fond of it.”
But fond of it humans have been for most of our history. For thousands of years war has been an intrinsic part of the social and political order. For most of human history, armed conflict has been the accepted method by which ambitions are achieved. It took more than mere wishes to change that tragic history. It was not simple pacifism that did it. It was only the realisation (developed over many centuries) that the interests of human beings are essentially harmonious that eventually allowed the “invention of peace”—however sporadic has been its application.
Wars are not natural events or accidents, like earthquakes, landslides or hurricanes. No, like economic depressions, totalitarian dictatorships and murder by concentration camp, wars are neither acts of nature nor 'Acts of God': Wars are acts of man -- of men who seek to achieve their values by violence, resisted by those who rise to defend their own lives, their values, and their sacred honour.
Wars are the result of aggression by those who see value only in force, and who see other human beings as chattel.
Let’s be clear about war’s nature. War is brutal, destructive and unutterably horrific. It is heart-breakingly tragic. It destroys homes, families, lives, ambitions, dreams. It is the ultimate in human waste. It consumes entire nations in producing equipment of ever-increasing savagery whose only object is to be shot, blown, flown and driven into other people. War, as another great general observed, is hell.
War very rarely has winners, only those who have lost the least. War, as The Age once said, "is a dangerous and terrible thing, which should only ever be seen as a last resort." In short, war is the second-worst thing on earth.
They are the second-worst thing on earth only because the very worst thing on earth is tyranny: an act of war by governments against those they are supposed to protect. It is with the existence of tyrannical governments that wars of conquest and campaigns of terror begin—indeed, throughout history, it is tyrannies and slave states which have always begat wars.
It is those who seek their values through violence that make war possible; it is the existence of such entities that make wars of self-defence and liberation necessary.
IT IS NOT ENOUGH simply to declare oneself against war and wish war's destruction would go away. Wishing away war is easy, though ineffective; the reason is that wishing away war’s aggressors is impossible.
Pacifism itself only rewards aggression. Pacifism kills. If we are to ensure peace, peace with justice, then as paradoxical as it may sound it is necessary to oppose aggression and resist tyranny. By force, in self-defence, when necessary.
When aggressors seek Lebensraum, then appeasement only rewards their aggression—and only fuels further aggression. When barbarians unleash hatred and murder, then pretending their intentions are peaceful only invites their contempt, and their further aggression. Peace with tyrants is never genuine peace because tyranny itself respects no borders. So when slave pens are allowed to flourish, then peace means peace without safety—and peace without justice.
Peace without justice rewards the tyrannical, rearms aggressors, and is an injustice to those whom the tyrants enslave and kill—not to mention a threat far and wide. Every semi-free country has the right to defend itself against these aggressors; every semi-free country has the right (but not the duty) to liberate the slave pen.
As long as tyranny is abroad, then wars of self-defence will still be necessary. As long as some human beings choose to deal with other human beings with the whip, the chain and the gun -- with stonings, fatwahs and holocausts -- with the torture chamber, the dungeon and the gulag -- as long as some men continue to enslave and attempt to enslave others, then wars will continue to happen, we must continue to be ready to defend ourselves … and we should all remember to pause occasionally, even once a year, to thank and respect those who take on that job.
As George Orwell is supposed to have said,
People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."
He speaks, of course, of “rough men” acting in your defence against those aggressors who would do you violence. As David Kopel concludes, speaking in this context, if you want to give thanks for peace then thank a soldier.
IF WE HAVE THINGS WORTH living for -- and we do -- then for that much at least we all have things worth defending. As Thomas Jefferson observed over two-hundred years ago, the price of our liberty is eternal vigilance. Two-hundred years later, nothing has changed. If war is horrific, then tyranny is worse.
In the name of liberty, then let us resolve to remember—and oppose—the roots of all wars. In Ayn Rand’s words:
If men want to oppose war, it is statism that they must oppose. So long as they hold the tribal notion that the individual is sacrificial fodder for the collective, that some men have the right to rule others by force, and that some (any) alleged ‘good’ can justify it—there can be no peace within a nation and no peace among nations.”
Take time today to remember those who fought for your freedom, both intellectually and on the ground. They did more for peace than anyone who protests for it ever has.
Lest we forget.