From Sunday’s Kelly Letter

In his new book, The End of War, John Horgan of the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey claims that exceptions to the rule of violence in the wild prove that violence is not an inherent part of human nature. He presents cases of bands of chimps and orangutans that live peacefully in contrast to cases of groups that practice violence.

He told Haaretz in an interview that some people will consider his book “a bunch of naive, hippie hogwash” because “the vast majority of people think that war is a permanent part of the human condition,” but he insists that “we will surely end war someday. The only question is how and when.”

While everybody feels the basic appeal of peace, but it’s not a love of war that keeps violence with us, nor an instinct, but just events unfolding in a way that forces people to fight. It doesn’t take geopolitics to illustrate this. Horgan himself may be a pacifist, but he would undoubtedly fight an intruder in his home to protect his family. He might even use violence to get food for his family if there weren’t enough to go around town. The theory of peace in all circumstances falls apart quickly in the reality of life.

It works similarly on a national scale. Horgan told Haaretz: “In a way, the United States is the problem when it comes to the persistence of war in the world today. We are engaged in two large-scale conflicts overseas, in Iraq and Afghanistan. We’re the largest arms dealer in the world. We have a massive military budget. China’s military is minuscule compared to ours, I think their army is about one-sixth or one-seventh the size of ours in terms of defense spending. Yet we say that we are a people of peace. And, you can of course make a moral case for some of our conflicts. But if your goal is to move the world to a state beyond militarism, you have to find other ways of dealing with problems.”

It’s a little disingenuous to use the unnecessary, politically motivated, and widely criticized wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as the only examples. Saying that we can move beyond such obviously ill-conceived wars is reasonable, but that’s not the same as saying we can move beyond all wars.

The reason is more practical than philosophical. No nation’s goal is to move the world to a state beyond militarism. All nations seek to protect their interests. That’s why militaries exist in the first place. The only nations that would celebrate an official pacifist policy from the United States are its rivals. Its allies and citizens would not. The proper reply to Horgan from Washington would go something like this: “It’s not that we want war, it’s that we want resources. So does everybody else. When we can’t agree on who gets what’s left, war will break out. No high-minded appeal for peace will answer the question of who gets a limited supply of vital commodities. War will.” Clausewitz was right: “War is the continuation of policy by other means.”

That’s why it won’t end.

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