War to Maintain Peace

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War to Maintain Peace

War, which is often quoted as a ‘necessary evil’, is certainly an evil. It is, perhaps, the easiest option, as seen throughout human history, available to belligerents to resolve their disputes. War happens due to clashes in political ideologies, difference of opinions, ambition, ego clashes, etc. The list is endless. But it is indeed surprising that in this modern-day world, educated and civilised nations are warring, causing immense damage to human lives and modern infrastructure. It is a power game of establishing supremacy. Nonetheless, it remains crystal clear that only the dead see the end of the war, while the survivors are likely to be scarred forever, and continue to battle against the ill effects of war at a personal and national level, that may sometimes span over generations, as was the case with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

On the other hand, peace, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is the absence or the end of war. So, on one level, peace is a negative concept. It cannot exist without war, just as death is a meaningless concept without life. For some, however, “true” peace is a positive concept, signifying harmony in world affairs, or perhaps well- managed social conflict.

War remains the most expensive and painstaking method to attain political objectives. Therefore, the question does arise that why nations adopt war as an option to resolve their disputes, and whether a war should be an option to maintain peace in today’s so-called civilised world?

A brief analysis of the major wars of the last century and the first two decades of the current one brings to light the fact that states did not hesitate in initiating wars and conflicts and that despite suffering colossal human and economic losses in many wars, states do not stop launching similar campaigns even today. Hence, there is no doubt that war, with or without arms, is nothing but a cowardly escape to the problems not knowing that it will only aggravate the same. The tragedy is that war uses the man’s best to do man’s worst.

The example of World War One can be cited in this regard. The war began with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary in June 1914. According to Martin Kelly, this was only one of the five reasons for breaking out of WWI; the others being, Mutual Defense Alliances, imperialism, militarism and nationalism among the European states. The result was a prolonged war with massive destruction of lives and properties across the globe, mainly in Europe. Despite differences in the casualty figures, studies reveal that the total number of casualties in World War I, both military and civilian, was about 37 million: 16 million deaths and 21 million wounded. The total number of deaths includes 9.7 million military personnel and about 6.8 million civilians. The Entente Powers (also known as the Allies) lost about 5.7 million soldiers while the Central Powers lost about 4 million. Although the War ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919, with an aim to bring Germany to its knees and ensure that it would never be able to wage a war again, the world, nonetheless, saw that in little over two decades, a far stronger Germany under Adolf Hitler launched a more ferocious military campaign against its rivals. The losses and destruction as compared to the previous global war were far more. According to some studies, the Second World War was the most widespread and deadliest war in history, involving more than 30 countries and resulting in more than 50 million military and civilian deaths (with some estimates as high as 85 million dead).

If we further delve into the past, we find that there has long been a tension between those who regard war as inevitable and, in certain circumstances, necessary, righteous and preferable to an “unjust” peace; and those who regard war as always and everywhere an evil that can and should be eradicated.

There is plenty of authority for the view that, in a chaotic and bloodthirsty world, war and the threat of violence are the essential building blocks for peace and stability. Thinkers in the ancient world, from China to Greece to Rome, regarded military might as essential for the maintenance of international order. The Chinese General Sun Tzu advised: “In peace, prepare for war; in war, prepare for peace.” Aristotle noted, “We make war that we may live in peace” while the Roman General Vegetius remarked that if you want peace, prepare for war. More recently, this “realist” view of international relations was echoed by US President Theodore Roosevelt when he coined the phrase “speak softly, but carry a big stick”. For these people, peace, essentially, is the absence of war.

However, many peace scholars do not agree with giving an emphasis on peace in the sense of an absence of war only. Peace, in their opinions, is something more meaningful, valuable and important than that. For instance, according to Albert Einstein’s view, peace is not only an absence of war, but it means or includes the presence of justice, law, order or government in the society as he said “Peace is not merely the absence of war but the presence of justice, of law, of order – in short, of government.” Martin Luther King, Jr., a famous human rights activist, is the one who was not satisfied with the definition of peace focusing only on the absence of the unhappy situations. In his view, peace must include justice in society too as in his saying, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: It is the presence of justice.”

The 14th Dalai Lama, said, “Peace, in the sense of the absence of war is of little value…peace can only last where human rights are respected, where people are fed, and where individuals and nations are free.” From his point, we can say that peace means respect for human rights, well-being of people and freedom of individuals and nations.

Equally, there is a long pacifist tradition, evident not least in Jesus’ exhortation to “love thy enemy” and “turn the other cheek”. More recently, M.K. Gandhi propounded the superiority of non-violent resistance using the concepts of ahimsa and satyagraha, and his commitment to non-violence was only strengthened by the destructive potential of atomic weaponry.

Nor is the just war tradition without its detractors. A 2016 conference co-hosted by Pax Christi and the Vatican’s pontifical council argued for a new framework, proposing that the Catholic Church shift away from the concept of just war “to a Just Peace approach based on Gospel non-violence”.

Many, perhaps most of us, would consider war justified as a last resort in order to prevent genocide or protect human lives and human rights. Yet war is always destructive, kills innocent people, and war “will always threaten human rights in the theatres in which it is played out, and at home”.

While there are certainly no easy answers to the moral and philosophical issues raised by war and its consequences, from a purely practical and historical perspective is there evidence to support President Kennedy’s belief that war is not inevitable? Once again, there are two schools of thought. Some argue that human history, and especially recent centuries, has witnessed a sharp decrease in fighting and violent mortality. The rise of the nation-state, with its monopoly of violence, helped establish internal order and peace. Since then, the incentives to maintain peace have strengthened in the form of increasing economic interdependence, while the costs and risks of war are becoming prohibitive due to nuclear weapons, new vulnerabilities such as cyber warfare, and the apparent lesson of recent history that wars are becoming increasingly difficult to win.

Critics of this optimistic assessment assert that the 20th century was the most violent and murderous on record – a hundred years of almost unbroken conflict: “the most terrible century in Western history” as Isaiah Berlin lamented. Violence was ever-present, and even where “peace” appeared to be restored, people in reality were living a “cold war” under the shadow of mutually-assured destruction. Even today, conflicts are raging between nations, tribes, families and individuals all over the world. The war stories you read follow a familiar arc: Discontent leads to tension. Young men take up arms. Horrid acts are committed. Then worse ones. The poet William Butler Yeats called this the “blood dimmed tide” that returns when moderation breaks down. Eventually exhausted, combatants slump into an uneasy truce. Families mourn and try to rebuild – an apparent end state that is sometimes mistaken for peace. Most of the time, it isn’t. No area of the world is exempt from this cycle of violence. It is most pronounced where populations have surged, resources are scarce, and young men face bleak prospects. Africa and the Middle East are such places today.

Realists believe the cycle of violence is just the way of the world. Idealists believe if we can just stop the fighting, a natural state of peace will return. No one, after all, is against peace. But peace is not just the absence of war. It requires hard work and constant attention. Peace-building embraces both the realist and idealist positions. It is a broad-front effort that has emerged in the past 20 years and that is aimed at going beyond conflict resolution to conflict prevention.

The question, therefore, we face today may not be whether war is a prerequisite for peace, but whether war and peace can be disentangled. The problem may lie less in the soul of man than in our political organisation. The sociologist Charles Tilly has argued that war and the nation-state are inextricably linked. War has been crucial for the formation of the nation state, and remains crucial for its continuation. Anthony Giddens similarly views a link between the internal pacification of states and their external violence. It may be that, if we want a durable peace, a peace built on something other than war, we need to consider how to construct societies based on something other than the nation-state and its monopoly of violence. That was undoubtedly the primary motivating factor behind the creation of the European Union – an attempt to foster interdependence and reduce the significance of national frontiers in order to never again experience the horrors of war in Europe. The decision of the UK, the strongest military power in Europe, to withdraw from the European Union and restore its national sovereignty might suggest that the internationalist goal may be a utopia. But as Oscar Wilde wrote in “The Soul of Man under Socialism”: “[A] map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which humanity is always landing. And when humanity lands there, it looks out, and seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of utopias.”
The writer is a freelancer.

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