“Pacifism, isolationism and other forms of wishful thinking” allow for the conditions of war, according to Donald Kagan in his insightful “On the Origins of War: And the Preservation of Peace,” a key title on the Navy Professional Reading Program’s original and newly revamped recommended list.
Peace comes from a position of strength and confidence, not from fear.
“Policies guided and dominated by fear” are the foundations for conditions of war, Kagan shows. “Power is neutral,” he writes, but when there is a struggle for power, quoting Greek historian Thucydides, “people go to war out of ‘honor, fear and interest.’”
Kagan applies his and Thucydides’s insights from an almost entirely western perspective as he examines the Peloponnesian War, World War I, Hannibal’s War (The Second Punic War), World War II, and -- seemingly out of place, at first -- the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Sparta’s fear and resentment of Athens as a great maritime power led to war at a time when conflict was considered a normal part of life, 2,000 years before the enlightenment.
Kagan carefully unravels history’s knots, showing how nations become entangled in one war after another.
The War of 1812 led to what Europeans at the time thought was impossible -- World War I.
“The old European order, resting on a balance among the five great powers of Austria, France, Great Britain, Prussia, and Russia, had been established at Vienna in 1815 as a way of preventing the domination of a single state over all of Europe, such as had almost been achieved by Napoleon Bonaparte... The main threat to the new order was the powerful force of nationalism...”
Kagan shows how fear, resentment and irrational belief systems can feed what he calls “nationalism and superpatriotism” and “social imperialism.”
“Like the Hannibalic War, the Second World War emerged from flaws in the previous peace and the failure of the victors to alter or vigilantly and vigorously to defend the settlement they imposed. The story of its origins, therefore, begins with with way in which the first World War Came to an end.”
The flames of WWI left glowing embers of resentment in Germany during a severe economic depression. That resentment flared again under Hitler and the Nazis, who capitalized on fear, resentment and a loss of honor. Dissolution of the Ottoman Empire after WWI led to the creation of Palestine and Iraq under British control and Syria and Lebanon under French control.
|Kukryniksy, The Big Three will tie the enemy in knots (1942)|
Demands for reparation, combined with false hopes for peace by other western nations, including attempts at appeasement, led to an imbalance of power and ultimately to World War II.
WWII then brought about more balkanization and creation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Israel, as discussed in a recent review of Friedman’s “From Beirut to Jerusalem.”
Resentment and fear grew again, and WWII brought about the Cold War, Kagan contends. The United States and Russia ended the Second World War as allies who achieved victory over the Axis powers, but we quickly became rivals for power with the Soviet Union. National honor was at stake and once again fear ruled the day.
|President John F. Kennedy|
War was averted, but only nearly so, thanks to what Kagan calls Kennedy’s restraint. “Just how close that catastrophe really was we shall never know,” Kagan writes about the nearly-triggered launch/retaliation that ended with “tense bargaining” instead.
Today, the Soviet Union no longer exists. American diplomacy is stronger, backed by a combat-ready, forward-poised and capable military.
Our former enemies in the War of 1812, Canada and Britain, are among our best friends. Germany and Japan, fascist imperialists in WWII, stand as models of hope and democracy and peace. World powers more economically interdependent and connected than they've ever been, giving peace a chance.
Is that more wishful thinking, or the realities of globalization tied to Maritime Strategy and the preservation of peace?
Kagan reminds us of Thomas Paine’s prediction that reason, democracy and capitalism could light the way to a peaceful world. In “The Rights of Man,” Paine wrote, “If commerce were permitted to act to the universal extent it is capable, it would extirpate the system of war.”
Kagan also quotes Sun-Tzu: “No less vital is the art of avoiding war.”
Kagan concludes, “The secret of the success of our species has been its ability to learn from experience and to adapt its behavior accordingly.”
American troops leap forward to storm a North African beach during final amphibious maneuvers in 1944.