I have been thinking quite a bit lately about war. This is not really much of a change from my earlier adolescent years when I idolized war heroes and played violent video games for hours. Some things never change, but my thoughts on war have definitely been refined over the years. There’s a lot to say about war, but I wanted to stick with some misconceptions that I have had or hear commonly.
Some people claim that war stimulates the economy, so it is good for economic growth. I heard this a lot in school, especially in the context of WWII. The theory is that the war brought us out of the Great Depression. Plenty has been written on this to disprove the idea, but I am interested in refuting the broader theory. The fact is that war cannot possibly be good for an economy, just as natural disasters cannot make us better off economically. War redirects the resources of an economy away from consumer demands toward destruction. Instead of producing goods for domestic consumption and trade, war channels production for destructive ends. Soldiers are consuming, not producing, and factories are making bombs to blow up bridges instead of steel and concrete to build them. This is all beside the fact that productive people are being killed, greatly reducing future abilities to produce.
Sure, war increases government spending, but the money government spends has to come from somewhere. People pay for war through higher taxes. Usually outright taxes are unpopular, so governments find other ways to get the money they need now—the ‘buy now, pay later’ gimmick that you saw last time you stepped into a furniture store. The easiest way to do this is debase the currency by inflation. The people pay the tax through higher prices instead of explicit taxation. Thus, a hidden tax levied without representation. I want to emphasize that I am not arguing that war is never necessary; I am simply refuting the claim that it has economic benefits per se.
Randolph Bourne astutely observed that war is the health of the state. War makes government thrive like nothing else. In wartime, governments increase their power over their subjects by nationalist rhetoric, taxes, and curtailing of individual liberties. The examples of this are numerous, and one need only look to the history of virtually any war to find that governments increase in power—particularly the governments of the victors but often the governments of the losers as well. In
But above all other considerations, I must insist that war is nothing less than the conglomeration of every evil, horror, depravity, perversion, and violation of natural law of which man is capable of. In other words, it is the breeding ground for the sum of all the most terrible vices that man has ever expressed. It seems clear to me that much of the emotion I feel when watching a war film is a conflict between the apparent necessity of violence and the utter horror at witnessing what awful things we can do to each other under the guise of powerful ideologies.
Again, I am not advocating pacifism here. I am not saying that war is never justified, but I am saying that it is quite rare—much rarer than widely considered—and must morally be only in blatant defense. The idea of pre-emptive war feeds on this justification in a most pernicious way. To accept the doctrine of preemption is to make war totally subject to the whims of government. Under this doctrine, defense becomes offense and a country cannot defend itself without violently preempting every conceivable threat to any one of its so-called interests.
What are your thoughts on war? When is it justified? What wars in history do you think were just/unjust? Why?