Wendell Berry, in his essay ‘The Failure of War,’ claims that ‘modern war does not work as a solution to any problem except retribution,’ and that it promotes a vicious cycle of violence and other social problems. Supporters for war will claim that war answers the dilemma of national defense. But the agnostic, in return, will solicit to what level the cost even of a triumphant war of national defense—in life, wealth, material, foods, health, and liberty—may amount to a national overwhelm. National defense by way of war constantly entails some quantity of national defeat. Militarization in defense of freedom downsizes the freedom of the apologists. There is a crucial contradiction between war and freedom.
In a contemporary war, fought with modern armaments and on the modern scale, neither side can bound to “the adversary” the harm that it does. These wars ruin the humanity. Modern war has not only made it unworkable to kill “opponents” without massacring “non-warriors,” it has made it ineffectual to destroy your foe without spoiling yourself. Modern wars have usually been fought to end war; they have been fought for the sake of peace.
To Berry most appalling weapons have been prepared, seemingly, to maintain and assure the peace of the world. “All we want is peace,” we utter as we increase inexorably our aptitude to make war. Yet in the last part of a century in which we have fought two combats to end war and numerous more to prevent war and keep peace, and in which scientific and hi-tech evolution has made war ever more horrifying and less manageable, we still, by policy, confer no contemplation to nonviolent approach of national defense. We stick to the discouraging paradox of making peace by producing war.
Capital chastisement sinks us all to the same level of primal aggression, at which an act of brutality is rebuked by another deed of aggression. What the justifiers of these feats overlook is the fact—fixed by the history of quarrels; steer clear of the history of war—that belligerence raises violence. Operations of violence committed in “fairness” or in assertion of “rights” or in resistance of “peace” do not impede violence. They set up and justify its prolongation.
The most hazardous fallacy of the parties of violence is the notion that endorsed violence can put off or control illegal violence. If we devote to these small irrationalities the enormity of worldwide relations, we make, predictably, a few much larger idiocies. In “foreign” wars, we do not explicitly experience the harm that we wreak upon the rival. We pay monies to sanction the war, but that is nothing new, for we shell out war levies in era of peace as well.
Quite the reverse, war is the great solution and opening of our corporate economy, which keeps going and prospers upon war. And thus great costs are engrossed in our fixation on war, but the overheads are “externalized” as “tolerable losses.” Romantic separatists, which are to say most protectors for war, always contain in their public speeches mathematics or an accounting of war. The supportable price, at last, is suchlike is paid.
It is straightforward to see the likeness between this accounting of the cost of war and our normal accounting of the price of improvement. Now with less fret (to date) it is observed world subjugation by global capitalism. Nevertheless its political means are milder than those of Leninism, this lately internationalized capitalism may attest even more harsh to human mores and communities, of liberty, and of environment. To Berry people would be less incongruous if the leaders would believe in good faith the verified surrogates to violence.
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