Many of the labels utilized in our political discourse do not accurately describe the ideas or movements associated with them. “Progressives” do not actually advocate for the means by which human progress occurs. “Liberals” are not actually liberal in the classical meaning of the term. Many who claim to be “anti-war” likewise have little grasp of what opposition to war requires.
Typically, when someone claims to be “anti-war,” they really just object to the existence of war. Conventional anti-war rhetoric boils down to, “I don’t like war, and don’t think it should happen.”
One could say the same thing about any unpleasantness. You could be anti-cancer and say, “I don’t like cancer, and don’t think people should get it.” You could be anti-pain and say, “I don’t like pain, and don’t think people should feel it.” Such sentiments amount to little more than wishes, and suggest nothing of practical merit regarding how people ought to act.
As the dictionary defines the term, to be truly anti-war is to be “opposed to war in general or to the conduct of a specific war.” For purposes of this discussion, let us go with “opposed to war in general.”
In order for such opposition to mean something beyond impotent sentiment, one must identify the causes of war and take a stand against them. Conversely, one must identify the causes of peace and take a stand for them.
Craig Biddle, editor-in-chief of The Objective Standard, outlined these causes in a piece authored late last year:
Our concern here is not the proximate causes of war and peace, such as the fact that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor or that Japan surrendered to the United States or the like. Rather, our concern is the fundamental causes of war and peace, the causes that underlie and cause the proximate causes.
In terms of fundamentals, both war and peace are consequences of certain ideas and aims, which, when sufficiently accepted as true or good by the people of a given society, give rise to corresponding norms and policies that, in turn, either lead to war or enable peace. The fundamental causes of war are statism, collectivism, altruism, mysticism, and evasion; those of peace are capitalism, individualism, egoism, rationality, and honesty.
Read Biddle’s piece for elaboration on these causes. Suffice it to say that peace proceeds from the choice to live by reason. To the extent a society embraces reason as its guide for action, it will be peaceful. To the extent it doesn’t, there will inevitably be war.
It’s important to note that the choice of one nation to embrace reason and thus act peacefully will not cause other nations to follow suit. This dynamic plays out whether between nations or individuals. If you meet a mugger in a dark alley who draws a gun and demands your wallet, your choice to live by reason does not change his choice to live by force. You cannot reason your way to peace when faced with aggression. You can only submit or fight back.
Neville Chamberlain did not accept this truth. He believed that Hitler, a man who had abandoned reason and chosen to live by force, could be reasoned with or appeased. Chamberlain was proven wrong. The only way to oppose Hitler, and thereby oppose the war which Hitler brought, was to defeat him.
The West faces a similar enemy today, as Biddle relates:
Why do Muslims believe that Allah exists, that Islamic scriptures convey his will, and that they morally must obey his will? They believe it because they accept the notion that knowledge can be acquired by non-sensory, non-rational means—such as faith—and because they have faith.
Why can’t serious Muslims be reasoned out of this insanity? Because to accept ideas on faith is to reject reason. If a person can “know” by means of non-sensory, non-rational means, he has no need of sense or reason. He just “knows.” Moreover, on the premise that faith is a means of knowledge, he cannot be wrong: If faith is a means of knowledge, then faith is a means of knowledge; if his faith tells him that he should convert or kill infidels, then he knows that that is what he should do.
To be anti-war, one must be pro-reason. But this will not prevent those who act irrationally from starting wars. Therefore, to be consistently anti-war, once must also oppose those who act aggressively. Practically, there exists only one way aggressors can be opposed, with overwhelming retaliatory force.
The conventional foreign policy wisdom rejects this view.
Debate in foreign policy circles spans a spectrum from so-called realism to so-called liberalism. The realists hold that national interests must be maintained in an amoral fashion, leveraging power to keep perceived enemies weak and perceived allies strong. The liberals come from the Chamberlain school of appeasement and evasion. Neither bases their views and policies on the principle of individual rights:
… when an enemy of America quotes his religious scripture to the effect that his “God” commands him to convert or kill unbelievers—when that same enemy founds a nation with a constitution stating that it intends to make everyone on the planet submit to his God—when that same enemy issues textbooks to its grade-school students “teaching” them that to be noble they must engage in jihad and kill infidels—when that same enemy materially and spiritually sponsors terrorist groups that murder many thousands of Americans in the name of this godly mission—when that same enemy pursues nuclear weapons while chanting “Death to America”—and on and on—honesty requires that Americans and their leaders acknowledge this enemy as an enemy that must be eliminated unequivocally and immediately.
Eliminating the enemy has not been the objective of American foreign policy. Instead, the aim has been “winning hearts and minds” or “spreading democracy” or “liberating” oppressed foreigners. When we consider how the War on Terror has eclipsed the span of World War II by many years, we should recognize that modern foreign policy goals fail to eliminate our enemies, fail to end wars, and thus fail to keep us safe.
To be truly anti-war, to act in a manner which practically ends wars, we must pursue action which neutralizes aggression.
That means, among other things, re-evaluating rules of engagement which sacrifice American blood and treasure.
[In Vietnam,] the U.S. government forced American boys to join the military, sent them to fight in jungles on behalf of strangers, and forbade them to use the full capabilities of the U.S. military to win quickly and return home.
Consequently, after more than a decade of unspeakably horrific war, fueled by hundreds of billions of dollars of U.S. taxpayers’ money, America lost the war at the human cost of more than 58,000 American soldiers killed, more than 153,000 wounded or maimed, and nightmare-laden lives or suicide for several hundred thousand more.
Many opposed the Vietnam War. However, for the most part, they were not anti-war in a practical sense. They did not demand victory. They demanded only “peace.”
When faced with aggression, peace without victory is surrender. Being pro-surrender does not make one anti-war. If anything, it invites aggressors to be aggressive.
It’s not enough to be for peace. One must be for the means by which peace is sustainably made. That requires a strong response to threats and aggression, unrestrained by sacrificial rules of engagement, with the aim to end wars quickly and bring our troops home.
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