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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 3/22/11

Wars Cannot Be Both Planned and Avoided

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Congress held an emergency meeting to defund NPR, and then did nothing as the President spent vastly more money on bombing Libya.  President Obama didn't have to ask for the funding, because the Pentagon had enough lying around for just such an occasion.

A fundamental lie that keeps war going is the idea that we avoid war by preparing for it. "Speak softly and carry a big stick," said Theodore Roosevelt, who favored building a big military just in case, but of course not actually using it unless forced to.

This worked out excellently, with the few minor exceptions of Roosevelt's mobilization of forces to Panama in 1901, Colombia in 1902, Honduras in 1903, the Dominican Republic in 1903, Syria in 1903, Abyssinia in 1903, Panama in 1903, the Dominican Republic in 1904, Morocco in 1904, Panama in 1904, Korea in 1904, Cuba in 1906, Honduras in 1907, and the Philippines throughout Roosevelt's presidency.

The first people we know of who prepared for war -- the Sumerian hero Gilgamesh and his companion Enkido, or the Greeks who fought at Troy (just prior to the original "Odyssey Dawn") -- also prepared for the hunting of wild animals. Barbara Ehrenreich theorizes that,

 ". . . with the decline of wild predator and game populations, there would have been little to occupy the males who had specialized in hunting and anti-predator defense, and no well-trodden route to the status of 'hero.' What saved the hunter-defender male from obsolescence or a life of agricultural toil was the fact that he possessed weapons and the skills to use them. [Lewis] Mumford suggests that the hunter-defender preserved his status by turning to a kind of  'protection racket': pay him (with food and social standing) or be subject to his predations.

 "Eventually, the presence of underemployed hunter-defenders in other settlements guaranteed a new and 'foreign' menace to defend against. The hunter-defenders of one band or settlement could justify their upkeep by pointing to the threat posed by their counterparts in other groups, and the danger could always be made more vivid by staging a raid from time to time. As Gwynne Dyer observes in his survey of war, 'pre-civilized warfare"was predominantly a rough male sport for underemployed hunters.'"

In other words, war may have begun as a means of achieving heroism, just as it is continued based on the same mythology. It may have begun because people were armed and in need of enemies, since their traditional enemies (lions, bears, wolves) were dying out. Which came first, the wars or the weapons? That riddle may actually have an answer. The answer appears to be the weapons. And those who do not learn from prehistory may be doomed to repeat it.

We like to believe in everyone's good intentions.  "Be prepared" is the Boy Scouts' motto, after all. It's simply reasonable, responsible, and safe to be prepared. Not to be prepared would be reckless, right?

The problem with this argument is that it's not completely crazy. On a smaller scale it's not completely crazy for people to want guns in their homes to protect themselves from burglars. In that situation, there are other factors to consider, including the high rate of gun accidents, the use of guns in fits of rage, the ability of criminals to turn home owners' guns against them, the frequent theft of guns, the distraction the gun solution causes from efforts to reduce the causes of crime, etc.

On the larger scale of war and arming a nation for war, similar factors must be considered. Weapon-related accidents, malicious testing on human beings, theft, sales to allies who become enemies, and the distraction from efforts to reduce the causes of terrorism and war must all be taken into account. So, of course, must the tendency to use weapons once you have them. At times, more weapons can't be produced until the existing stock is depleted and new innovations are tested "on the battlefield."

But there are other factors to consider as well. A nation's stockpiling of weapons for war puts pressure on other nations to do the same. Even a nation that intends to fight only in defense, may understand "defense" to be the ability to retaliate against other nations. This makes it necessary to create the weaponry and strategies for aggressive war, and even "preemptive war," encouraging other nations to do the same. When you put a lot of people to work planning something, when that project is in fact your largest public investment and proudest cause, it can be difficult to keep those people from finding opportunities to execute their plans.


In the aftermath of World War I, a British military body called the Holland Committee reached this conclusion:

"It is impossible to divorce the study of defence (sic) against gas from the study of the use of gas as an offensive weapon, as the efficiency of the defence depends entirely on an accurate knowledge as to what progress is being or is likely to be made in the offensive use of the weapon."

Even if military "defense" were not understood to include retaliation against a distant enemy, there is no way to develop defensive weapons without researching offensive weapons. In fact, there may be no way to develop defensive weapons at all. What weapon defends against box cutters on airplanes or a chemical weapon attack? In the 1930s, some argued that search lights, sound detectors, anti-aircraft guns, and wire nets to catch bombs, combined with gas masks and shelters could protect everyone from airplanes. How'd that work out? Most war planners knew it was hopeless, and so backed a the-best-defense-is-to-go-on-offense-first approach.

War supporters still like to cite General George Patton as the source for "The best defense is a good offense," although I'm sure the idea predates him. It turns out that researching weapons and potential weapons in the hopes that some technological, rather than diplomatic, means of defense will occur to you means, first and foremost, researching offensive weapons.

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at and and works for the online (more...)
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