War is Never Good

History of War

In his book, A History of Warfare, John Keegan follows the evolution of war from primitive man through Greek phalanx warfare, where men armed with shields and spears form tight lines and come together the way cars do in a demolition derby, through the rise of the state as it is known today. Keegan states that today's great nations are where they are today because of governmental monopolization of gunpowder production beginning in the 18th century: that it is through force of arms that our modern society was born and is maintained.

Keegan writes that the definition of war is a settling of affairs through violence. Carl von Clausewitz, author of perhaps the first great treatise on the subject, entitled, On War, wrote that war is the continuation of politics by other means. By 'other means', Clausewitz meant other than peaceful means. Keegan refutes this premise, saying that the western philosophy of war, victorious in World War II, embracing the principles of face to face combat to the death, ethics and restraint in battle, and victory through technological advance, has resulted in the development of nuclear weapons and the "ultimate denial" of Clausewitz's premise. War is the continuation of nothing, but has become the potential ending of civilization.

Whereas World War II has the reputation in some circles as being a 'good war,' the very fact that it was the engine that produced nuclear weapons must bring that into question.

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Occupation and Peace

As illustrated by the recent conquest of Iraq by the United States, occupation is not the same thing as peace. Under three years of U.S. occupation, the Iraqi death toll estimated by the World Health Organization is 151,000. If you take the Bush White House figures between 1988 and 2003, 380,000 people died in Iraq as a direct result of actions by Saddam Hussein. That would be an average of 19,000 per year under Saddam, or 50,033 per year under U.S. occupation. These are statistics, and one can make them say one thing or another. But say what you will, 151,000 violent deaths in 3 years is not peace. All sides describe peace as a stable Iraq where violence is curbed by strong Iraqi military and police forces. This will only take place when the U.S. occupation ends and Iraq can stand on its own.

Warfare and Policing

Keegan states that peaceful communities flourish where a strong police force keeps the peace basically through a kind of coercion. Where drug peddlers and thugs theaten peaceful commerce and interaction, we can see that this is often true. A police force punishes bad behavior, whereas in war, one people inflicts harm on another people, largely at random. For all the 'smart bombs' and other precision technology that we have developed, there is still plenty of 'collateral damage,' a euphemism for innocent people killed incidentally during the conduct of war.

In war, justice goes to the victor. The loser is accused of war crimes, the winner is not. Police arrest the accused based on evidence and bring them to trial where there is a chance for real justice. If the police misbehave, they are subject to the same justice as the criminal.

Without justice there can be no freedom, therefore the absence of true justice from war makes war a poor tool with which to encourage freedom. Keegan advocates abandonment of traditional warfare in favor of rapidly deployable paramilitary forces trained not just in warfare, but in policing. Such forces could enforce justice around the world, bringing freedom, and, finally, peace.

Armies often act unilaterally whereas the police must act within parameters defined by laws which are created through consensus. To build a truly international police force, they would need to work withing a body of international laws and be supervised by an institution of international justice such as the International Court of Justice. However, to be effective, all major nations would need to agree to submit to international justice. At this writing, we are a long way from that.

War never creates a 'happliy ever after' ending. Perhaps there is no such thing. Yet war produces amputees, rape victims, and new weapons with which to kill each other. I suggest that it is only though striving toward the goal of universal justice that true freedom and lasting peace can be achieved.

Comments 15 comments

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 8 years ago from UK

Oh Tom. Tricky subject. I guess my take on this is that violence is never good, and violence on an epic scale is just plain wrong. But on the other side of the argument are all the good things that have come out of war. The development of radar, rapid development of aircraft technology, the emancipation of women following their pivotal role in manufacturing whilst the men were away in both world wars. There's probably more.

Personally I'd like to see warfare scaled down to 'champion' status. My champion meets your champion and they battle it out and the winner takes all. Or maybe we could just toss a coin? Anyway nice discussion and good hub!


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 8 years ago from United States Author

Scaled down is good, elimination is better. I'm sure we can motivate ourselves to innovate without battling to the death.

I would settle for a movement away from unilateral war and toward equal international justice. Thanks very much for your always intelligent commentary!


Sufidreamer profile image

Sufidreamer 8 years ago from Sparti, Greece

Good Hub, Tom. I agree with you about the WWII point. The Nazi party only arose because the German nation was economically destroyed after the First World War. War breeds war!

Peace is far better.


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 8 years ago from United States Author

Thank you, Sufidreamer.


Madison Coast profile image

Madison Coast 8 years ago from Orange County, CA

I will politely disagree with you, Mr. Rubenoff, on the matter of the international court.  The modern "international" system of governance and judicial activity is modeled not on an international system, but on European guidelines.  Who is to say Europe's model of any area is the best? 

The most notable case of the international court was the trial of Slobodan Milsosevic, whose case dragged on for years.  His case ceased only when he died, with years in front of him just waiting for a verdict.

War does not always breed war, as a formula for such should be avoided. Humanity and its involvement in human conflict is complex. The dramatic Anglo-Prussian victory at Waterloo brought the Napoleonic Wars to an end, and left Europe and the world without a massive international conflict for a century.

It was this period of relative peace that pushed Europeans into the First World War. War, such as that seen in the Crimea and between France and Prussia, ended quickly and without tremendous bloodshed. This gave war an almost gamely feel to those entering into the slaughter.

Tragically, peace can contribute to negligence of the horrors of war.


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 8 years ago from United States Author

I agree that the International Court of Justice is dysfunctional in its current form, but as it is humanity's first attempt at worldwide equal justice, it was the only example at my disposal.  A main ingredient missing from its potential for success is wholehearted support by the United States.  Another missing ingredient is influence by non-eurocentric nations as you say. 

Let's not get caught up in semantics.  War is violence on the part of governments and nations.  Violence is uncivilized.  To complete our transition from animal to civilization we should try to move toward abandoning violence altogether as a means of settling disputes. 

Why ANY bloodshed? 

Conflicts between countries occur because there are political disagreements.  I only say that we should continue to find ways to avoid war as a means of setting these disagreements.  I think that any despot looking to attack his neighbor would have to think twice if there were a legitimate and strong international paramilitary police force ready to intervene, and a fair system of justice to deal with both combatants, whether aggressor or defender, based on their deeds. 


trooper22 profile image

trooper22 7 years ago from Chicago

Well done Tom. The problem is soverignty when it comes to world courts and jurisdictions. As you have stated, Governments to include that of the U.S. are just not ready to allow foreign powers meddle with internal affairs.


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States Author

Sovereignty is another way of saying, "This is mine." We've got to stop saying that and start saying, "This is ours."


trooper22 profile image

trooper22 7 years ago from Chicago

I agree 100%


libby101a profile image

libby101a 6 years ago from KY

I agree completely!


Tatjana-Mihaela profile image

Tatjana-Mihaela 5 years ago from Zadar, CROATIA

Everlasting Hub, Tom, glad to find it. Peace with you.


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 5 years ago from United States Author

Thanks so much, Tatjana :)


crystal 5 years ago

it is a very wonderful site that you have put on here thank-you


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 5 years ago from United States Author

Thank you very much!


magodis profile image

magodis 5 years ago from Colombo, Sri Lanka

Dear Tom, Good article. Im a victim of several types of wars. Direct arms struggle as well as sort of cold war with sanctions etc by economically high powers which is the worst.

war is a real business now adays. Some people sell weapons legally or illegally. Some people sell peace legally. Peace industry is very much lucrative as it is run by huge no of donors. In Sri Lanka, we saw how my friends earned a lot for filling forms and writing hap hazard articles and their luxurious lives with free money. They are angry that they lost jobs as the physical war ended. Now they are writing to certain media for what they are earning good money and have free air tickets etc... War of any kind is bad and we should say NO for that.

Thanks to your hub as it gave me a plateform to express what Im worried of!!!

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