This is part 3 in the Conservatism with Alex series. Today Alex discusses war and peace.
War is a dirty word – and it rightly should be. War is terrible, and I have long argued that the sole justification of war is the defence of a nation’s sovereign territory, with peace being the most desirable state for any country. Peace allows for the normal lives that we take for granted in the modern age, the full functioning of democracy, and a world for the most part free from existential danger. But what is so inherently wrong with war? Why is peace preferable in the modern age, and if it is so preferable, why do conservatives support those same institutions which have traditionally been blamed for the outbreak of war itself? In this latest, albeit slightly shorter article, I will be exploring these concepts.
Every soldier is human, and seeing the shedding of blood around him does not make him stronger, at least not in the long term. Once a war is over and done, it takes effort and often a great deal of pain for the soldier to return to the society which he left to defend. War goes beyond mere physical damage – those involved are affected by such things mentally, and by extension, the physic of an entire country is sullied by the experience of war. Soldiers and citizens alike must bear the burdens of the aftermath, as the realities of wartime hit home. It is the ordinary people of a nation who suffer the most from conflict, and as we know, it is communities of people that make up nations. Today we see conflict threatened all around us. Posturing against Russia by the West, threats of intervention in Syria, military intervention against terrorists in the middle east displacing vast numbers of people from their homes – all of this is driven by the insatiable desire of the powerful to make war. Now this is nothing new – since the dawn of time, man had made war on his fellow man – such things are even mentioned at great length in the Bible (along with human atrocities, divinely sanctioned!) Whenever war can be made and justified, it is done so.
There was a time when less was at stake. When the nature of men’s weapons were not an existential threat to the world itself – when bombs did not fall on the houses of the uninvolved, when respect and civilisation were the watchwords of battle. War is never pretty, and never glorious, but we do ourselves an injustice to forget that the modern age is far more destructive than any one previous, and that it is our own material progress that has made war much more dangerous and terrible than it ever was before. Many of the wars of the past have been forgotten between nations, except in books, but not in the modern age. Grudges are held, competition between nations is as strong as ever before, and the rise of the religious war, especially in the Islamic world, (but also in some fringes of the Christian world in response to this) has meant that we are living in a time where our lives teeter on the cusp of a conflict which could swiftly destroy the entire globe.
But enough gloom. I may reflect on what the world no longer is, what war might do to us, what it has already done etc, but what truly matters is what will sustain us as peaceful and free nations into the future. The nation state is often accused as being the harbinger of war and discord, internally and externally, for encouraging loyalty to one particular region, racial loyalty and regional politics over more global concerns. However, I believe that the institution most likely to save us from the most devastating of wars is in fact the nation state. Those on the left often point towards the Nazi’s German nationalism in the Second World War – and indeed, the war was begun by German nationalism and a divisive ideology which identified Germanic people as being superior with some inherent right to rule other nations. This is not the same as patriotism, or a distinct loyalty to the country in which you live. Without patriotism, nothing binds me to my neighbour, my fellow citizen. If nothing unites us, then we can only either be indifferent to one another or be enemies. Attempts to unify nation states only leads to internal discord, a lack of cultural heritage, and the eventual appearance of a huge national bloc, only fit to posture against other large countries and blocs, and so creating a situation which is far more dangerous than the one faced by individual nations in the first place.
Ultimately, the question of what causes war is a difficult one to answer, however, the nation state is not to blame. We risk so much by undertaking conflict, even more by blaming that institution which has kept us in relative safety for over 300 years. If we want to help each other as humans, we must feel some connexion with one another. Without a national identity, this would not exist – it is not merely enough to “all be humans”. Time itself has lasted long enough to prove that this means nothing among the highly tribalist instincts of much of the world’s population. We can support each other, and we can have peace – but to do this, we must not destroy the institutions which have brought us that peace on account of wars fought under very challenging circumstances. To jump to such rash conclusions can only bring more ruin.
Blame the instigators of war – not the mediums by which they choose to wage it.