War Abolition Books Proliferate

When I wrote War Is A Lie in 2010 (second edition coming April 5th!) it was a condemnation of war, but not exactly a manifesto for abolishing it. I wrote that in War No More: The Case for Abolition in 2013. But John Horgan wrote The End of War in 2012. Douglas Fry wrote Beyond War: The Human Potential for Peace in 2009. Russell Faure-Brac wrote Transition to Peace in 2012. Winslow Myers wrote Living Beyond War in 2009. Judith Hand wrote Shift: The Beginning of War, the Ending of War in 2013. Colleagues of mine at WorldBeyondWar.org and I wrote A Global Security System: An Alternative to War in 2015. And I’ve just picked up a copy of Roberto Vivo’s War: A Crime Against Humanity (2014). There are others out there, and others in the works. Some readers may point to Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature (2012), although it’s not so much a rallying cry to end war as a misleading claim that war is ending itself. There are other books as well that are more straightforwardly responses to the growth of war abolitionism, such as War: What Is It Good For? by Ian Morris in 2015, which, yes, argues that wars are good for us and shouldn’t be abolished.

There were a lot more war abolition books in the 1920s and 1930s, and of course there was a much bigger peace movement in the 1960s than now, but I think it can safely be argued that a new trend is emerging in opposition to the institution of war, a trend possibly brought on in part by the end of the Cold War and by the 8-year reign of a Republican U.S. President (or was it Vice President?) who engaged in aggressive war with unapologetic rhetoric and extremely careless propaganda. Certainly the end of the (Bill) Clinton years was not greeted by the publication of a pile of books seeking to rid the world of war. Some of the books above are quite explicitly reactions to the George W. Bush wars, some include misguided apologies for the Barack Obama wars, some claim weapons companies can coexist with peace, some suggest that women must end the male scourge of war, some condemn capitalism as a root problem, some are religious, some focus on scientific studies. No two agree with each other on every point. They all — certainly including mine — have flaws.

But the cumulative effect of these books is bound to be more persuasive than any one of them. They all or virtually all point to the current understanding of pre-history as a time free of war, slavery, major agriculture, cities, and other accouterments of “civilization,” although not, of course, free of violence or anger. All of these books recognize war and these other developments as relatively new in human existence and argue that if some can be ended (such as slavery, which few now dispute can be ended) then war can be ended too. All make the case that war since World War II has killed primarily civilians and cannot be morally defended. All make the case that war while nuclear weapons exist risks human annihilation. All argue that developments in peace studies and nonviolent action render war obsolete as a tool for political change. All point to examples of “primitive” and “civilized” cultures choosing to live without war for centuries on end. All point to examples of particular wars being prevented, and ask “If that war could be stopped, why not every war?” All strive to identify some of the factors facilitating war (cultural attitudes, profiteering, corruption, propaganda, etc.) and to propose courses of action that will move us toward abolition.

Roberto Vivo’s book is no exception. Its initial sections are among the best I’ve read on the evitability of war, the evil of war, and the unjustness of war. The whole book is full of intriguing nuggets for further exploration of other authors, ancient Chinese philosophers, and anecdotes from centuries gone by. The third of the four sections of Vivo’s book seemed rather irrelevant to me. We read about George Soros’ late-in-life discovery that self-identified “democracies” use propaganda; yet we read page after page about the development and politics of democracy — always credited ultimately to the ancient Greeks, never the Iroquois. And I think the short section in which Vivo claims that weapons industries can coexist with peace while generating economic benefits ought to address the serious arguments that the weapons industries are actually an economic drain, that restraining them is not easy, that they want their weapons tested and demonstrated, and that they want their weapons eliminated and replaced.

Vivo’s final chapter looks at slavery, torture, and racism as practices that are being ended — or at least we hope so, and I think the arguments used are good ones despite the significant comeback for torture in recent years. Vivo sees part of the solution to war as resting in criminalizing it. He’d like to transform the International Criminal Court into an independent and effective institution with the ability to prosecute what he calls “aggressive war” and what I would call “war.” Vivo accurately identifies the United States government as the major force working against such application of the rule of law. But he writes about the idea of criminalizing war as if it’s never been done, and claims that the effort to prosecute the crime of starting World War I failed because it has always been believed that no single individual could be held accountable for something so enormous.

But in fact roughly half the world is represented by governments that are parties to a treaty banning all war, and it was the existence of this treaty that allowed the United States to claim that war was a crime when it was committed by Germany and Japan (though, for some reason, not when it was committed by the victors of World War II). This treaty, which did not exist when World War I was launched, is called the Kellogg-Briand Pact, and I wrote about it in When the World Outlawed War. Vivo’s nation of Uruguay is not a party to the Pact, but its current president seems just the person to change that. Were Uruguay to send a letter to the U.S. State Department joining the Kellogg-Briand Pact, it would then be a party to it. That’s all that is required. Uruguay might then send a note the following week respectfully urging the United States to comply with the treaty.

Of course, bringing the nations of the world together to create something like the Kellogg-Briand Pact from scratch would work just as well, but no single country could do that alone, and no group of countries could do it in this day and age without some sort of magical powers. The victors of World War II, also known as the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, think they have got a good thing going. Why would they choose to put themselves on an equal level with others and ban all war when they can maintain impunity and choose which wars are “defensive” and which are “authorized”?

The secret of Kellogg-Briand is that four of the big five are already on board with banning all war and just need to be reminded of it. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Uruguay were to play that role?

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if war abolition literature were read, studied, discussed, refined, and acted on?

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