Wednesday, January 23, 2008

January Book of the Month

Reflections on War and International Order
By Michael Howard
Yale University Press, 113 Pages, published 2000

Several years ago while visiting the Museum of the USMA at West Point I noted in the history section a quote by Thucydides the Greek (471 – 400 B.C.), “… peace is an armistice in a war that is continually going on….” Given our experiences during the 20th century that may seem self-evident; but it has not been the teaching within modern Western Civilization. I began to think seriously, “What actually is peace?” Michael Howard, a leading British military scholar over the past 50 years, takes this question on in a short but powerful essay explaining why peace is a far more complex affair than war. So complex that it often seems beyond humanity’s reach.

Howard’s thesis is that the idea that a Society could be organized without war was something developed during the 18th century Enlightenment and ultimately became the accepted view of Western societies. Then, during the 19th and 20th centuries the philosophy of social Darwinism and its ensuing ideologies suggested conflict is inevitable; that one must either conquer or be conquered; and that fighting was necessary and desirable. That sense was further enhanced by the First World War and carried into WWII. Dominate or be dominated!

One of the most interesting arguments put forth by Howard relates to the Cold War and it is of particular interest to C-133 crew members as we played a part in it. We all viewed in wonderment during 1989 as the War came to a sudden and dramatic end with the demolition of the Berlin Wall by the inhabitants of East Germany. That act alone left no international doubt but that the West won. But, why without another catastrophic worldwide conflict as witnessed twice before in the 20th century?

Howard’s view is that the United States, as opposed to the Communist countries, could set the pace for rapidly evolving weapons technology at an acceptable cost to its national economy. But, the Soviet Union could only keep pace by starving its population and reversing any improvement they may have had in their standard of living. With the then new and developing era of information technology that was leading to greater military effectiveness it became clear to the Soviets that keeping the military balance was an unacceptable cost. The Communist system had not delivered upon the promises for its citizens while capitalism was flourishing throughout the free world. Communism then vanished as an alternative ideology to that of Western Democracy.

After the collapse of Communism many opined that the newly established world order would be forever peaceful. What could take its place to create another worldwide international conflict? Note that THE INVENTION OF PEACE was published in 2000. Howard’s last thoughts in his essay are, “…although it is tempting to believe …a new and stable world order will come into being, we would be unwise to expect anything of the kind.”

And, on September 11, 2001, came a direct attack upon our soil and we entered into a worldwide conflict against Islamic/Fascist terrorism. At this time no one knows where it will lead; we just know that we are up against an implacable enemy dedicated to the destruction of our way of life. Most serious students of military history do not think it will lead to a nation upon nation conflict but decades of Iraq and Afghanistan type military actions. But, it again raises the question of whether peace is so complex that it is beyond humanity’s reach and is merely an invention of the international bourgeois community. Maybe, Thucydides was correct in his analysis and a modern version of his quote would be that “History has shown that peace is merely the interlude between wars?”

Reviewed for C-133 crew members 
by Richard Spencer
39th ATS 1962-1965

To find out more about this enlightening book, and buy it for $4.04,

No comments: