The Stupid Wars

November 21, 2013

(That was written in an essay forty years after the event. Russell’s memories of the outbreak of war, recorded in his Autobiography, are also worth noting. Sample: “I had supposed that intellectuals frequently loved truth, but I found here again that not ten per cent of them prefer truth to popularity….”)

On a cost-benefit analysis, indeed, many wars are extremely stupid. I believe this is true of the American Civil War. As many observers have noted, slavery was abolished in all the other European colonies and ex-colonies without the mass slaughter of 1861-65. Was the sacrifice of more than 600,000 young Americans really necessary? Would it really have been a greater evil to let the South go?

Similarly with the Vietnam War, the stupidity of which was eventually apparent to enough Americans to undermine the entire enterprise. Indochina ended up communist anyway, and the sky did not fall. Well, it fell on the Indochinese, but not on the USA, as advertisements for the war had threatened. National-interest-wise, the thing was futile.

You can argue that all wars are stupid. Jonathan Swift did so in Part IV of Gulliver’s Travels, when Gulliver explains to the perfectly rational Houyhnhnms why Europeans go to war: “Sometimes one prince quarrels with another, for fear the other should quarrel with him. Sometimes a war is entered upon because the enemy is too strong, and sometimes because he is too weak…,” etc.

Not many of us would go that far. What option but war did the Finns have in 1939 or the USA in 1941? In mass-suffrage societies wars are anyway often popular. WWI was so in Britain; Lincoln had no difficulty raising his volunteers; and the Vietnam War had majority support until 1967. Who dares defy the popular will?

Still, the components of stupidity, fallacy, and wayward emotion in driving the greatest wars can hardly be denied. That’s worth bearing in mind when you hear geostrategic blowhards talk about “rational actors.”

If there were any such in 1914, there are fewer today. China, which just forty years ago was in the grip of a quasi-religious mad despotism, has nuclear weapons. So does North Korea, the plaything of a teenage voluptuary. So does Pakistan, an anarchic slum populated by superstitious peasants and ruled by thieves. Who next”€”the Congo? Even the civilized nations of the West are rapidly being enstupidated by mass immigration.

More Stupid Wars in our future? Stupid nuclear wars? Bet on it.



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