Is War Necessary?

by Harry Browne

January 16, 2004        

I have managed to live on this planet for 70 years without ever striking another human being.

There have been a dozen or so times when someone wanted to fight me. I managed to talk my way out of a fight in most of those cases. In the few times I didn't succeed in avoiding a fight altogether, I managed to end the scuffle without hitting the other person and without suffering any noticeable damage to myself.

Granted, I've been fortunate. I grew up in a peaceful suburban area. Had I had the bad fortune to have been born in the inner city in a gang neighborhood, I might not have avoided violence so easily.

But that's an important point. Being fortunate in the circumstances of my birth and my growing-up, I didn't squander that good fortune by looking for trouble.

The U.S. by Birth

America was also fortunate in the circumstances of its birth.

After one apparently necessary fight to extricate itself from British rule, it found itself in the best neighborhood possible. It is bounded by two friendly countries and two enormous oceans. No need here to look for trouble.

And yet, ruled by American instead of British politicians, the United States has found itself embroiled in one street fight after another.

In fact, in the 20th century there were less than 20 years in which America was at peace with the world. What with World Wars, the Cold War, police actions, gunboat diplomacy in Latin America, overthrowing governments in Iran and other places, suppressing the Philippine rebellion, interfering with the Mexican revolution, firing missiles at Afghanistan and the Sudan, invading Panama and Grenada, bombing Libya, and on and on and on, Americans have lived with the tension of conflict and violence almost their entire lives.

And we live in a good neighborhood!

The Swiss by Birth

Contrast our circumstances with those of Switzerland.

The poor Swiss have the misfortune of living in the middle of one of the worst neighborhoods in the world. Centuries of imperial rivalries, ethnic hatreds, governments armed to the teeth and ready to go to war at the drop of the hat, and populations nursing grudges against each other all these elements have kept Europe in turmoil for centuries.

Switzerland is like the inner-city family that hears gunfire outside its windows every night.

And yet Switzerland hasn't been involved in a single war for two centuries. The Swiss managed to avoid being sucked into the World Wars, the Cold War, or any of the other conflicts that have beset Europe.

The Swiss haven't been fortunate in their geographical circumstances. But they've dealt with those circumstances intelligently. It wasn't by the grace of dictators that they've avoided war; it has been a national policy to do so.

The Swiss have always made sure it was in the self-interest of warring nations to leave Switzerland out of their quarrels. They've devised ingenious defenses to demonstrate that, while Switzerland is not unconquerable, the cost of conquest would be intolerable to the conqueror. And they've made themselves an indispensable trading partner to any country that otherwise might see some profit in invading Switzerland.

It may seem that war is inevitable for many countries such as the warring factions in the Balkans or some countries in Asia or Africa. But Switzerland has proven that it isn't inevitable for anyone not even for a country as poorly situated as Switzerland is.

Why then is America continually at war over one thing or another?

The "Last Resort"

Whenever the U.S. goes to war somewhere, the politicians tell us that diplomacy was tried and failed and that war was the very, very, very last resort.

But the truth is that the politicians didn't try much at all to avoid war. And the diplomacy was bound to fail, because it involved our politicians making insensitive demands on a foreign country demands we had no authority to make, demands that were known in advance to be unacceptable to the foreigners.

In the few cases that America has been attacked, it's been because our politicians were trying to dictate to other countries countries that represented no threat to us at all. The foreigners attacked either to try to gain an advantage against the stronger U.S. when our government had made war seem inevitable (as at Pearl Harbor), or because attacking seemed the only way to strike back at a country that was throwing its weight around in other people's business (as in 9/11).

Our Neighborhood

How easy it would have been for Americans to have lived the past two centuries in peace. We have never been attacked by a country that hadn't first been bullied by our politicians.

Maybe others aren't so fortunately situated, but we are.

No one can seriously believe that terrorists have struck America because they hate our freedom, our democracy, or our prosperity. If that were true, they would have warmed up first by attacking Switzerland an easier target.

And if someone asks how you would handle the terrorists without war, now that Pandora's Box has been opened, here's a simple answer:

I'm not certain what I'd do, but I know one thing for sure: With $2 trillion a year at my disposal, I could hire the best minds in the world to find a solution that didn't involve using the cave-man tactics of trying to beat people to death.

But no one in power is interested in finding alternatives to war. They arm to the teeth and then tell us we will obtain "peace through strength."

Well, America has been overwhelmingly strong for a century, and we're still waiting to see the peace. As Charles Beard put it, we've had "perpetual war for perpetual peace." Perhaps part of the problem is that we have an overwhelming national offense, but practically no national defense.

Is It Necessary?

I have never hit anyone, and not doing so has caused me no humiliation; nor has it made me a target for bullies. If America made peace the object, it need be neither humiliated nor picked upon.

Is war necessary?

For Americans, no.

Is war inevitable?

For Americans, yes so long as we give politicians the power to meddle in our lives and in the lives of foreigners.

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