George Walford: War and Peace

In one’s more optimistic moments it is tempting to think that the “ban-the-bomb” movement, the resistance in America against the Vietnam war, and the widely expressed opposition to war indicate the growth of a substantial and determined movement for peace, a movement that will prove an effective barrier against war. But if one is to be realistic this temptation must be resisted. Now as formerly wars are actively pursued by the people of the countries concerned provided they can be presented as defensive. It was because the Vietnam war did not meet this condition, and not because of any growing resistance in America – or anywhere else – to war itself, that Vietnam was not a success; a direct threat against America is likely to bring a different response. The “ban-the-bomb” movement is not opposed to war, only to atomic warfare. And in judging the seriousness of the popular wish for peace we need to bear in mind the point by Auden:

Our researchers into public opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of the year.
When there was peace, he was for peace;
When there was war, he went.

Shortly before World War II there was a famous debate in the Oxford Union, a motion refusing to fight for king and country being passed with a large majority. That was when there was peace; when there was war, most of them went.

One development regarded by the pacifists of the time as highly encouraging was Gandhi’s non-violent movement for Indian self-determination; that peaceful demonstrations could induce the British to quit India was, it was felt, a victory for pacifism and a proof of the futility of violence and military power. But it is easy to misread the significance of Gandhi’s movement. To call it “non-violent” is to seize on a minor feature (and a partially illusory one; the Mahatma himself was repeatedly driven to protest against violence used by his followers). What made that movement effective was not its non-violent quality but the fact that it was a mass movement. Social effectiveness comes with widespread popular support, and it does so whether the movement in question be non-violent or otherwise. Gandhi, in Churchill’s words “a half-naked fakir,” came to negotiate on equal terms with the Viceroy of India, representative of the King-Emperor, but it was not as an apostle of non-violence that he was received, it was as leader of the Indian masses.

There may be grounds for believing war directly between major powers to be less likely than in the past, but they do not include a change in the attitude of the general body of the people.

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Sixty per cent of all entrants to the Royal Military Academy are graded before arrival as likely to make a below-average officer. (Norman F. Dixon, The Psychology of Military Incompetence pp 258/9)

Sixty percent below average?

from Ideological Commentary 11, March 1982.