The War Racket

The conservative periodical, City Journal, has published a highly opinionated article denouncing the “peace programs” found at many major universities in the United States. The author, Bruce Bawer, calls these peace wackos the “Peace Racket.” Here is how he begins the article:
“If you want peace, prepare for war.” Thus counseled Roman general Flavius Vegetius Renatus over 1,600 years ago. Nine centuries before that, Sun Tzu offered essentially the same advice, and it’s to him that Vegetius’s line is attributed at the beginning of a film that I saw recently at Oslo’s Nobel Peace Center. Yet the film cites this ancient wisdom only to reject it. After serving up a perverse potted history of the cold war, the thrust of which is that the peace movement brought down the Berlin Wall, the movie ends with words that turn Vegetius’s insight on its head: “If you want peace, prepare for peace.”

This purports to be wise counsel, a motto for the millennium. In reality, it’s wishful thinking that doesn’t follow logically from the history of the cold war, or of any war. For the cold war’s real lesson is the same one that Sun Tzu and Vegetius taught: conflict happens; power matters. It’s better to be strong than to be weak; you’re safer if others know that you’re ready to stand up for yourself than if you’re proudly outspoken about your defenselessness or your unwillingness to fight. There’s nothing mysterious about this truth. Yet it’s denied not only by the Peace Center film but also by the fast-growing, troubling movement that the center symbolizes and promotes.

Call it the Peace Racket.
Bawer is an apologist for an individualistic, capitalistic, militaristic West. As a result, he stands steadfastly against the rising peace movement: “[The Peace Racket’s] opposed to every value that the West stands for—liberty, free markets, individualism—and it despises America, the supreme symbol and defender of those values.” Bawer simply takes it for granted that these are values worth defending, and that America is actually a defender of them. He goes on to vilify the founder of the International Peace Research Institute, Johan Galtung, as a “lifelong enemy of freedom,” because Galtung himself denounces the West’s “structural fascism” and America’s “neo-fascist state terrorism.” Once again, Bawer sees the world in black-and-white terms: America and “the West” are right, and the rest of the world is wrong. Anyone who contradicts this doctrine is clearly an enemy—not to mention downright nuts. In addition, like other advocates for peace, Galtung focuses his criticism against capitalism. Bawer writes, disapprovingly:
In 1973, explaining world politics in a children’s newspaper, [Galtung] described the U.S. and Western Europe as “rich, Western, Christian countries” that make war to secure materials and markets: “Such an economic system is called capitalism, and when it’s spread in this way to other countries it’s called imperialism.”
Bawer calls this criticism of capitalism “anti-Western.” The assumption is that capitalism and free markets are wholly positive. To criticize capitalism, in the mind of Bawer, is to reject the best of all possible economic systems. He goes on to summarize the teaching of peace studies programs in the following way:
First and foremost, they emphasize that the world’s great evil is capitalism—because it leads to imperialism, which in turn leads to war. ... Students acquire a zero-sum picture of the world economy: if some countries and people are poor, it’s because others are rich. They’re taught that American wealth derives entirely from exploitation and that Americans, accordingly, are responsible for world poverty.
Bawer does not offer any criticism of the points made by these proponents of peace. He takes it for granted, it seems, that what they proclaim is nonsense. In any case, his strategy is to divert attention away from the arguments themselves by employing ad hominem. Bawer’s primary criticism is that this “Peace Racket” is thoroughly hypocritical in its criticism of capitalism, because the people in these peace studies programs are products of the capitalist system. In other words, they are biting the hands that feed them. He does have a point: these peace studies programs are thoroughly bourgeois, and that certainly makes their stand on behalf of the oppressed a little hard to swallow. But this is no argument against the position of peace itself, just as the infidelity of a priest is no argument against the gospel. Even so, Bawer jumps on the opportunity to point out the irony:
If the image of tenured professors pushing such anticapitalist nonsense on privileged suburban kids sounds like a classic case of liberals’ throwing stones at their own houses, get a load of this: America’s leading Peace Racket institution is probably the University of Notre Dame’s Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies—endowed by and named for the widow of Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s, the ultimate symbol of evil corporate America. It was the Kroc Institute, by the way, that in 2004 invited Islamist scholar Tariq Ramadan to join its faculty, only to see him denied a U.S. visa on the grounds that he had defended terrorism.
Bawer’s article basically boils down to the following “thesis”: These “Peace Racketeers” are rich anti-American Americans who are disseminating nonsensical ideas against capitalism and warfare, when it is capitalism who has made them rich and warfare which has given them the ability to speak so freely against American policies. For all his overblown rhetoric, Bawer effectively raises the question regarding whether pacifism is an inherently bourgeois position—i.e., a position that takes for granted what warfare has accomplished in the past. I think that’s worth discussing, but it diverts our attention from the issue at hand—viz. whether people ought to study peace rather than warfare, reject capitalism rather than revel in it, and embrace other cultures rather than dominate them.

Bawer essentially presents two groups: the “Peace Racket” which hypocritically fights against capitalism and warfare while benefiting from them, and what I will call the “War Racket” which continues to advocate for both capitalism and warfare without any obvious hypocrisy. In other words, both groups benefit from the Western, American economic system, but one group argues against it while the other argues for it. The assumption is that the latter is right, because they are honest about their loyalty and dependence upon the capitalist system. But this is patently ridiculous. To accept the views of the “War Racket” would be like agreeing with casino gambling lobbyists because they admit their addiction to gambling over against those who have won money from the lottery but now argue against gambling altogether. Or, to use another example, it would be like agreeing with oil tycoons who admit their stake in oil over against advocates for an oil-free transportation system who still drive around in their cars. Just because one side is straightforward about their personal investment in a particular social system does not make their position right. Even if the other side is somewhat compromised, they may still have the correct view. Moreover, Bawer gives no indication whether the advocates for peace are actively trying to curb their own complicity in the capitalistic-militaristic system.

In the end, we desperately need to get beyond this superficial dualism. Not only does this dichotomy—between “Peace Racket” and the “War Racket”—create a false dilemma that ignores the arguments for and against the pursuit of peace rather than warfare, but it also obscures the fact that there are other options. The Christian church must be the third way: a way which confronts the evils of capitalism, American imperialism, and global violence, while at the same time embodying a life of peace and simplicity as the community of God’s “covenant of peace” (Ezek. 37:26). The confessing community must advocate on behalf of peace while leaving warmongers like Bruce Bawer no opportunity to use ad hominem attacks. As the church, we must say, “If you want peace, seek the God of peace.”

See Also: “Why Study War?” by Victor Davis Hanson: Since Bawer told us why we shouldn’t study peace, City Journal has another article discussing why we should study war. Here is the thesis: “democratic citizenship requires knowledge of war—and now, in the age of weapons of mass annihilation, more than ever.” This is really the companion piece to Bawer’s article. Hanson laments that there are so few war studies programs, which is the converse of what Bawer lamented. Nothing new; just more warmongering.


Mykel G. Larson said…
I blame it all on Machiavelli, who strangely enough, is entombed somewhere in a catacomb underneath some cathedral in Florence.

It was he who rejected the general paradigm of the ancients that we as human beings are powerless against fate. Machiavelli essentially said, no, we are empowered beings and have the ability to shape things (he specifically names nature) as we wish.
(I'd give actual text references, but I am kind of lazy. . .)

"The Prince" ended with this idea and was what future social philosophers latched on to the most. "The Leviathan" was a rework of "The Prince" for its time in history. Leviathan was then reworked into Locke's "Laws of Nature" in which he said the meaning of life is the "pursuit of property."

That particular phrase sounds familiar, does it not? Of course it does! It's in the Declaration of Independence: "...the pursuit of happiness." That's what is guaranteed for every individual.

I realize the exposition of the transformation from "The Prince" to the D.O.I is horribly paraphrased in this comment.

But back to Machiavelli - for as inisidious as his advice may seem, he had a keen insight (or projection from his own mind how the human race and its leaders should behave) to maintain and preserve "peace."

I won't dare go down the labyrinth Wittgenstein created when it comes to language and the meaning of words. But I believe it's important to define what "peace" really means; and I am fairly confident that modern culture's definition of it, particularly in terms of an exploitive, capatalist, economic-centric society, is radically different than the sort of peace God incarnate wished for us to have.
Former Washington Post columnist (and devout Catholic pacifist) Coleman McCarthy is famous for asking, "Why are we violent and not illiterate? Because we are taught to read!" He was happy with peace studies courses in universities, but thought this was not early enough, and so created a curriculum for grade schools and high schools and went around teaching it for free in schools across the country--and everywhere he did this student violence decreased, grades and work increased, and some students from each class began to think about dedicating their lives to peacemaking. See McCarthy's account of this in Teaching Peace
Camassia said…
Bawer is an interesting character. Some years ago I read his book Stealing Jesus, which was a polemic against Christian fundamentalism and a defense of way-liberal Christianity of the Spong/Borg variety. Yet for him, way-liberal Christianity never connected to way-liberal politics.

I read the book without much theological context, since this was before I even started going to church myself, but one thing I do remember him admitting was that liberal Christianity had more trouble than other types in dealing with the problem of evil. And I think that issue really permeated the whole book: he saw a great evil out there in fundamentalism, which personally threatened him (since he's gay), but his own religion had no original sin, divine protection, or assurance of postmortem justice. So what then do we do?

Since 9/11, he's mostly turned this rhetorical fire against radical Islam, which is really a natural extension of what he was doing before. I think that's really the background for this piece.