4 Important points to remember about this essay:
The dream of eternal peace
How it is purely visionary and unhistorical, and how uninterrupted peace has its numerous evils? The practical justification of war, the good that war does to the nation and race
The philosophic justification of war
“War, may Lord,
Is of eternal use to human kind;
For even and anon when you have passe’d
A few dull years in peace and propagation,
The world is overstocked with fools and wants
A pestilence at least, if not a hero.”
Moltke was a Field Marshall. He reorganized the Prussian army before the Franco-German War, and was the chief of the staff in that war in which the Germans defeated the French. A contemporary of Niezsche, Moltke here propounds a philosophy of war which was of ample scientific and historical justification.
Man is a fighting animal as-much-as a thinking one. There is no denying the fact that somewhere in the blood of every one of us there is a war-dance. The sight of men fighting moves us strangely; it excites the inborn pugnacity in everyone. It is usually the weak and the cowardly who feel shy of war. Their pacificism is only cloak for their weakness. The so-called “conscientious objector” of whom we hear so much now-a-days and who is usually a thin-flooded, narrow sighted man retiring somewhere in Switzerland, is not the best specimen of humanity.
The spirit of soldier is the most energetic thing in the world. We may very well ask with Shakespeare’s King Henry:
“Shall we go throw away our coats of steel?
And wrap our bodies in the black mourning gowns,
Numb ‘ring our ave-marias with our beads’?
Or shall we on the helmets of our foes
Tell our devotion with revengeful aims!”
As a matter fact this sheer spirit of self-assertion, of challenge, comes home to Us all.
The dream of eternal peace:
Man has indeed been dreaming of eternal peace since the beginning of civilisation. Are we yet in sight of it? In India a royal saint was repelled by the sight of blood and carnage and wanted to establish the kingdom of peace. But with his death people forgot this teaching. Even the Buddhists did not long care for the tenets of ahimsa.
Japan and China are Buddhist countries, but there is hardly any ahimsa there. Another saint preached to an inflammable people in Palestine “peace to earth and goodwill to men” and those people crucified him. Christianity has not brought eternal peace anywhere near us. Many theorists and philosophers like Sir Thomas More and Bacon, have planned Utopias and Arcadias of eternal peace. But continuous peace has never been possible. The League of Nations failed to do anything to make world-peace a practical thing.
Indeed this dream of eternal peace has its dangers. For one thing, one cannot ask all men to give up fighting all at once. Just as one cannot ask the leopard to change its spots. If one nation turns pacific and endeavors to establish the reign of peace, the neighbouring nations will certainly attack it in no time and annex its territory. Eternal vigilance is the only safeguard of liberty. As has been said, “preparedness for war is the best security of peace.’”
Continuous peace has another danger. When we are not doing anything energetic, we are apt to stagnate. A stagnate pool is always a stinking pool. It is necessary that there should be physical and also emotional release of energy every now and then, otherwise we will have to suffer from physical and moral illness. An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.
Some suggest that in peace one may cultivate the arts of peace. As for that it is good to remember that too much of these arts of peace make us luxurious, ease-loving and effeminate. Think of the Roman nobility under the empire when no one questioned the superiority of Roman arms and there was peace everywhere. Same thing happened in the case of the Egyptians and Babylonians. Continuous peace invariably leads to degeneration.
This, then, is the position. Eternal peace is not practicable, and long drawn-out peace demoralizes a people. War is in many respects, a necessity with men.
How it is purely visionary and unhistorical, and how uninterrupted peace has its numerous evils? The practical justification of war, the good that war does to the nation and race:
It is a historical fact that mere diplomacy without the sanction of arms behind it never succeeds. England enjoyed such supremacy in European politic as the power knew fully well that behind everything that England said there was the sanction of her splendid battle ships and bombing planes. Then there are many problems in international politics which can never be settled without a war. Germany, for instance, could never get back her colonies which were taken away from her.
If Germany had not fought, no amount of begging or diplomacy would have given her back her colonies. It is also unfortunately true, that if a nation is not prepared for war, other nations will take advantage of its weakness, as Italy did in the case of Abyssinia and Japan did in the case of China.
War is also a necessity to further the interests if imperialism. Now-a-days all the powerful nations are imperialistic. Imperialism means the rule of might: and, however much we dislike it, might is morally right in the world. Imperialism has also some justification, it has carried civilisation to the farthest corners of the world, and has enhanced the glory of the imperialist nations. No one wants to be the underdog when all is said and done.
The philosophic justification of war:
Philosophically it is all a question of struggle for existence. In the animal world we find as Keats saw in a vision. ‘The greater on the less feeds ever more’? Tennyson saw Nature ‘red in tooth and claw with rapine’. This is indeed the scientific view of Nature. The stronger must always destroy the weaker. The strong is bound to survive. Of course, it does not mean that frail man, who has survived the mighty prehistoric monsters, is stronger than the animals physically. It means that man is more powerful with his power of thing, nimbleness, resources and adaptability.
Man had to carry on war against those prehistoric monsters of land and water to win his place in the world. He fought with boulders, spears and arrows. Today man is the most powerful of all the living beings. Is not war thus ‘a pal of God’s world order’ as Moltke has put it?
It is true that war bring suffering in its wake. It is also true that imperialist wars and wars of aggression have no moral justification. It may also be said that most of us want to live and die peacefully, however much we may be attracted by the idea of war. But it goes without saying that just as war kills and destroys; it also brings out the highest and noblest qualities in men and women. It serves as a sort of physical and mental Katharsis, making us fit for new endeavour and better ordering of our life and society. Every post-war period is a time for new ideas and larger construction.
Since we cannot do without war, we can only try to make it less frequent than it is today. We cannot certainly eliminate war altogether from the scheme of things.