War and Peace--a Reality

DURING the last Christmas shopping season, a New York department store advertised that it carried no military toys, such as tin soldiers, guns, bombing planes, tanks, battleships, nor anything which might develop warlike instincts in the young generation. At the same moment the newspapers published photographs showing children brought up under military dictatorships playing with war toys which appeared so realistic that the only difference between them and those they would be called to use later on in life was their size. German children, instead of riding horses, cows, and pigs on their merry-go-rounds, now ride tanks and armored cars, fully equipped with machine guns.

From this it would appear that pacifist and war-minded parents agree on some points: they both want their children to be more peace-loving and more bellicose, respectively, than they are themselves. They both believe that a set of tin soldiers is an instrument of propaganda. Both are convinced that they possess the truth, that they are working for a better future, and that their children will find life more worth-while. Both are ardently faithful to their doctrine. On the other hand, the fact that both are trapped in an inextricable maze of logical contradictions does not disturb them in the least.

War, to the true pacifist, is the worst possible evil. It should be avoided at all costs. The doctrine of nonresistance is logical; it is better to lose one’s home, country, and independence, because opposing violence to violence only engenders more violence. To fight — for any reason — is therefore wrong.

The less extreme partisans of pacifism, without going to these lengths, still believe, however, that it is possible to eliminate war by persuasion. They hold that the human animal is fundamentally not so bad as he looks, and that with time, good example, and a proper education, his better instincts will triumph over himself and over the world.

They proceed from the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who, walking along the road to Vincennes one day, sat down under an oak and wept profusely because it had suddenly been revealed to him that man was naturally born good, and that society, and the tyrants who rule over it, made him cruel, wicked, and immoral. Rousseau and his contemporaries firmly believed that primitive people lived in sinless and permanent peace. Les bons sauvages, as they were called, could do no evil because they lived so close to nature. Nature is beautiful and kind.

Since then our ideas on the bons sauvages have changed somewhat. Under closer observation they have turned out to be neither as lamblike nor as pure as Rousseau, Chateaubriand, and their contemporaries imagined. As for nature, it appears to be neither good nor bad. In fact, it does not seem to fit at all in any system of ethics that we know of.

The modern pacifist, however, is still inclined to think that man is born rather on the good side, and that, were it not for the perverting influence of the warmongers, armament makers, imperialists, nationalists, swashbuckling tyrants, and the like, little boys and girls of 1938 would remain for the rest of their lives as gentle, as peace-loving, and as just as they are to-day.

And that is why fathers and mothers took their children to the shop in New York which displayed no Christmas toys which might turn the children’s minds in the wrong direction.

The war worshipers also claim to be following the law of nature. The doctrine of Mussolini and Hitler is not new. It is as old as man himself, but it seeks to-day to find its justification in the discoveries of modern biology and the law of the survival of the fittest.

‘This planet,’ says the apologist of warlike virtues, ‘is not a bed of roses. Man must be kept trim for a constant struggle against nature and against other men, because the natural law is survival through fighting. Homo homini lupus. Therefore why pretend hypocritically that men are sheep? Pacifism is foolish, despicable, and eventually destructive of everything which enables man to maintain his supremacy in a biologically competitive world.’

German and Italian parents who believe in the forceful struggle for survival quite naturally do not want their offsprings to be the losers. If the law of mankind is a constant fight, they reason, why should not the survivors be our children? And so, at an early age, these biological children are given war toys and encouraged to visualize death on the battlefield with the minimum of distaste.

The curious thing about these two doctrines — pacifism and bellicism — is that they both have an appearance of logic, up to a certain point, but they both fail to take account of the complexity of human nature. Instead of throwing light on our problems, they distort the issues, and they are greatly responsible for the utter confusion of thought in which we find ourselves.

They confront us with paradoxes and riddles: —

War is not the ultimate aim of warlike nations. War, for them, is a means to an end, which is peace. All the war makers of history agree on this. So Mussolini, Hitler, and the Japanese military clique prepare, threaten, or make war to impose peace — their peace, of course.

The pacifists, on the other hand, following another system of sophistry, fare no better: either they must face annihilation by refusing to fight, and abandon the world to the rule of force which they condemn, or else they will have to pick up their arms in a fit of despair (probably too late), and make war to save peace.

This is all very bewildering to the average intellect; and the countless millions of men and women who are neither fanatical hero worshipers nor hundredper-cent pacifists feel that there is something radically wrong in both sets of premises, and that both lines of reasoning lead to an absurd impasse.

Common sense tells us, in spite of Mussolini’s and Hitler’s repeated assertions, that to threaten and prepare constantly for war is no way to ensure peace. The theory of the biological struggle for the survival of the fittest based on force alone is patently in contradiction of all human experience. Many individuals who are unfit by the standard of strength survive perfectly well. All through history we find men whose greatness or usefulness had nothing to do with their biological fitness. Moral values, intelligence, reason, are also means of establishing or maintaining human supremacy. Some very great warriors have been notorious misfits from the point of view of their brains or their morals.

But common sense renders us equally suspicious of those who tell us that peace depends on the eradication, or the negation, of our aggressive instincts. We doubt whether this is possible, for we know that the most peaceful among us can be made to fight, and that they should fight under certain circumstances.

In short, the average man agrees with the scientists that human nature is a very intricate mechanism, made up of many conflicting elements which can be made to harmonize within certain limits under the control of reason, but that to try to isolate a certain group of human characteristics in order to justify a one-sided ideology is a fruitless task.

All this is so obvious that saying it may be merely wasting space. But it is also obvious that the lack of moderation and realism shown by the apologists of both doctrines has so befuddled the judgment of many among the most intelligent people that they do not know whether they should fight or refuse to fight, nor when nor how, to save what is dearest to them. The pull of conflicting ideologies is too strong.

It is not my purpose to propose any new plan to save the world, or to recommend any of the existing ones. I am neither competent nor clear enough in my own ideas to contribute to any plan at all. Indeed, it is the very fact that I am conscious of being one of the many victims of confusion of thought, the most pernicious of all modern diseases, which leads me to say that no solution can be found to the riddle of war and peace until we succeed in reinstating some measure of balance in our minds.

This implies a laborious effort on the part of all those who happen to be citizens of the so-called 4 peace-loving nations,’ whether they be American, English, or French. It is much easier to do nothing about it, to refuse to face facts as they are, — which is the course we have been following up to now, — or to take refuge in some high-minded but ineffectual doctrine. But it is quite obvious that this course has not been successful. We live in a state of chronic deterioration which will not be checked until we discover the things we consider worth saving.

The problem is not that of war or peace, but that of war and peace, because both eventualities confront us today, whether we admit it or not. To commit ourselves, and future generations, to one single course of action for to-day and for all times is not only unrealistic but immediately dangerous.

War and peace are not the alternatives of an abstract dilemma. They are two aspects of reality as it exists to-day.