Getting from 'Here' to 'There'

The economic, political and human costs of invading Iraq will be with us long after my son's generation inherits the neocons Mess-o-potamia. And the other (obvious) "inconvenient truth" looming in the background is that war and international terrorism will not magically disappear when the Iraq chapter is closed.

Multi-tasking isn't easy -- raising kids, keeping up with the latest developments in Iraq, Iran, North Korea, China and American Idol -- but the big question that, tragically, doesn't get the careful and wide-spread attention it deserves among pacifists and peace advocates is: how do we get 'there' from 'here?'

For war critics interested only in preaching to the choir, a question like that will seem like a fools errand. But, to the pragmatic peace-seeker, the answer could be the "hinge factor" -- as military historians like to say -- that could turn the corner on this whole destructive enterprise.

I don't remember who said it first but it's true: waging peace will require at least as much tough-mindedness, courage, and discipline as waging war. "War is not the answer!" slogans won't cut the mustard gas. Or, as one of the intellectual founding fathers of American pragmatism (and psychology) put it, "the war against war is going to be no holiday excursion or camping party."

Actually, that's a good pragmatic point of departure for tackling the war-and-peace question -- William James' 1910 essay "The Moral Equivalent of War."

James begins with the observation: "military feelings are too deeply grounded to abdicate their place among our ideals until better substitutes are offered than the glory and shame that come to nations as well as to individuals from the ups and downs of politics and the vicissitudes of trade."

There's a cottage industry of anti-Iraq war analysis -- some of it very good. But there's not much how-do-we-get-there-from-here discussion, which is sad because "where there's no vision, the people perish."

There's too many peace proponents in the public square there's a tendency to ignore, or in some cases, be openly hostile to military organizations while exclusively focusing on the horrors of war. As important as dissent and the exposure of human suffering can be in the fog of a war-of-choice, James cautions against ending the debate there.

"I do not believe that peace either ought to be or will be permanent on this globe, unless the states pacifically organized preserve some of the old elements of army-discipline," he wrote.

"A permanently successful peace-economy cannot be a simple pleasure-economy ... we must still subject ourselves collectively to those severities which answer to our real position upon this only partly hospitable globe."
James' council is to "make new energies and hardihoods continue the manliness to which the military mind so faithfully clings. Martial virtues must be the enduring cement."

The nugget of truth possessed by the war party is that martial values, though obtained through war, "are absolute and permanent human goods," he wrote. James enlists H.G. Wells in his sober appraisal.

"Military organization is the most peaceful of activities," James quotes Wells. "When the contemporary man steps from the street, of clamorous insincere advertisement, push, adulteration, underselling and intermittent employment, into the barrack-yard, he steps on to a higher social plane, into an atmosphere of service and cooperation."

In the military, "at least men are ... supposed to win promotion by self-forgetfulness and not by self-seeking."

What James proposes as the moral equivalent of war is a nonviolent army of sorts, where "instead of military conscription," there would be "a conscription of the whole youthful population to form for a certain number of years a part of the army enlisted against Nature."

In today's terms, I translate that to mean an army enlisted "against Nature" in the wake of natural (and economic) storms like Hurricane Katrina and the universal enemy of global warming.

James envisions this "army" as a way of preserving "the manly virtues which the military party is so afraid of seeing disappear in peace" -- an army whose grunt work can give us "toughness without callousness, authority with as little criminal cruelty as possible, and painful work done cheerily because the duty is temporary, and threatens not, as now, to degrade the whole remainder of one's life."

James may only see through a glass darkly but dreams of peace shatter against the rocks of the reality that "war has been the only force that can discipline a whole community, and until an equivalent discipline is organized, I believe that war must have its way."

Any pragmatic peace advocates out there?

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