There is no answer regarding conducting warfare. As someone once said, “it’s an equal opportunity destroyer.” Unfortunately, war is part of the human fabric whether we like it or not. The West, since World War II has largely avoided war’s destruction save the war in the Balkans, Crimea, or the current war in Ukraine, but nothing has reached, thus far, the destructive scale of The Second World War.
Despite our best efforts, and the incessant, some might say, necessary drum beat of non-violence and war avoidance, the sad truth is such platitudes, while noble, are little more than tilting at windmills; they all sound good, peace always being the preferred state, but not rooted in reality.
Part of the problem of non-avoidance stems from the fact that humans are predatory animals and no amount of hand wringing, 1960’s nostalgia about “peace and love” or pot smoking is going to alleviate this most basic human flaw. It is not an exaggeration to say when a people embrace peace at any cost, a vacuum occurs and a more aggressive creature will fill it’s place, creating havoc and taking advantage of the pacifism that replaced aggression.
History has proven this time and again.
Scholars can debate all they want about Hitler, the 20th century poster child for aggression and his taking Europe. But remove the minutiae and it came down to the West abhorring war while Hitler saw that unwillingness to fight an open door. When the West slept, content to rely on their intellectual hatred for the obscene violence perpetrated during the First World War, Hitler, and to a lesser extent Mussolini, built their war machines to replace the void created by the West’s withdrawal.
In William Manchester’s masterpiece The Last Lion, the author documents Winston Churchill, then an MP, and the lone voice of reason, possessing documents of Hitler’s preparations as early as 1936, warning Britain of an impending war with Germany (he had photos of German pilots training in Russia, among other evidence). Despite Churchill’s protestations and evidence, he was almost drummed out of Parliament, effectively banished and branded a war hawk in an environment wherein war was anathema due to the experience of WWI. Denying the inevitable, even in the face of overwhelming evidence, proved to be costly.
What took place next was wholesale destruction never seen on any scale in human history. Europe was essentially leveled, millions dead, and even more millions homeless, starving, and displaced, their homes, and lives, turned to rubble.
Stalin took advantage of this opportunity to expand the Russian Empire east, enslaving, for all intents and purposes, the peoples of Eastern Europe under the Communist yoke. This left a scar that still runs deep across the face of the East and resonates today some thirty-two years after the fall of Communism.
The Futility of Appeasement
The notion of placating an aggressive adversary, hoping to avoid violence, is not limited to the twentieth century, but occurred earlier in human history with predictable results.
In antiquity, Commodus, the successor to Marcus Aurelius, attempted, through bribery, (appeasement) to stop the German barbarians aggressive tendencies in order to quell their thirst for the conquest of Roman territory. While it was true the Roman generals defeated the Germans, Commodus was convinced his attempts at appeasement would be successful…he was wrong, leading to disastrous results in the future.
Even the Aztecs, themselves one of the most violent civilizations, known for their conquest of the Central American peninsula as well as their wonderful societal organization, tried to placate the Spanish interlopers with offerings of gold and silver, items they knew were prized by the Spanish. History shows that their attempts were for naught and by the time they decided to fight, it was too late.
There are many such stories in history, stories replete with attempts to satiate those who wished to avoid conquest through mediation, or appeasement, only to have said conquest take place anyway, producing disastrous results for the conquered. Often, those who practiced appeasement were caught unprepared for the violent onslaught that was to come, their doom being sealed by their own blindness because of their overwhelming desire to avoid violence.
History records the acts of Mohandas Gandhi and his peaceful solution to ridding India of the British, but it also remembers the Amritsar Massacre which took place in the process. Few societies are willing to endure such atrocities and even fewer who do are successful at repelling those who would conquer, so it is quite safe to say India under Gandhi was an outlier, although a notable one.
Interesting to note, however, in the politics of today, Mr. Gandhi might be considered a racist considering his views on non-Indians.
Many historians are convinced if the French and British took a stronger stand in 1936 when Hitler took the Rhineland, the Second World War could have been avoided. Others still believe the chance to avert that horrific event could have been averted as late as 1939 if only the Allies would have confronted Hitler directly. Hitler knew he was not ready in 1939 but proceeded anyway as he thought the Allies weak and calculated his strength was greater than that which the Allies could muster. If not for a few breaks in favor of the Allies, he might have been correct.
Modern Thought on War
The problem in the modern period is that the West remembers what the Second World War wrought on the planet as a whole. Entire nations were flattened, entire populations displaced, and the horrors of the Holocaust still cast a large shadow on the history of that period. Millions of people lost their lives, soldiers as well as innocents. It is this backdrop and its lasting memory that echoes in the modern mind, fueled by successive generations brought up to reject violence in all its forms, depending on the morality of man rather than recognizing his very nature, that nature being one of violence.
Even the wars that followed: Korea, Vietnam, the Sudanese wars as well as the sponsored wars of both the United States and the Soviet Union in the name of furthering either democratic reforms or the promotion of communism, demonstrate man’s inherent need for violence and the suppression of those who would contradict the powers that be.
Western societies that reject violence in all its forms are leaving themselves open for oppression and, whether ideologically or actually, open for takeover, or certainly, replacement.
The problem is that while the West expects the world to adopt their version of civilization, most of the rest of the world is not civilized in the Western sense. Many nations do not adhere to the dictates of the post World War II beliefs the West holds, as they did not experience first hand the massive destruction of people, land, and culture on the scale of World War II. They did not experience the horrors of the Hiroshima, Nagasaki, or the Holocaust, and they did not witness the Dresden, Nuremberg, and even Tokyo firebombing of their cities and civilian populations.
Some did, like the North Vietnamese during the Christmas bombing of 1969, but most did not, and therefore, do not understand the devastation brought about by such atrocities. The results being nations care not about the foundations of peace, but rather understand peace through strength. Non-western nations understand strength, seeing it as something to be admired rather than avoided. They revel in power and withdraw upon weakness.
This Western pacifism has also crept into society as a whole, convincing entire swaths of our population that violence, in any form, is to be avoided. Even a simple disciplinary procedure by a school official, in the face of an egregious act by a student, is frowned upon, said student not punished but “encouraged” to “explore their emotions as to why they committed” said act. Simple police actions are not only questioned, but rejected out of hand as “too violent”, leading in many instances to increased violence on our streets. Even small children, knowing they will not face consequences for their actions, act out violently toward their teachers and other members of society, including their parents. Save the rod and spoil the child seems to actually be true.
For these reasons it is imperative nations who wish to succeed must be prepared to do more than echo rhetoric used since before Rome. They must be willing, indeed, must act, when an aggressor breaches the peace. They must project from a position of strength for the rest of the world only knows or understands that most barbaric of emotions. It is not desirable in the least, but it is necessary.
This is not a clarion call for war at any price, nor is it a call for violence at all; in fact, quite the opposite. It is, however, a sounding for understanding the need for strength, and the willingness to accept that force is sometimes needed, even the strong threat of it, to keep the very nature of violence or reprehensible behavior in check.
Would that mankind could understand the virtue of peace, harmony, and the notion of live and let live. What a planet it would be if nations, and people, could reject violence in all its forms, and understand the necessity for peaceful existence. Life is so short as it stands, and does not need to be made shorter by violent engagements in the service of spreading one ideology or another, one group’s philosophy over another, or the forced subjugation of others in the quest for domination.
The problem is that we don’t live in that world, and all the dreams of the “flower children”, those of the “beat generation”, and the “make love, not war” philosophy have proven to be little else than hallucinogen induced delusions