Bryan Caplan  

If You Want Peace, Work for ???: Part 2

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If You Want Peace, Work for ??... Great Graphic Novels I've Been...

Alan Krueger's book tests the popular story that poverty is the root cause of terrorism. Macedonia: What Does It Take to Stop a War? focuses on a similarly popular "root cause" of war: ethnic tension and mistrust. This autobiographical graphic novel begins with a great dialogue between a Peace and Conflict Studies student at UC Berkeley, and a poli sci prof she meets in the cafeteria:

Poli Sci Prof: So what brought you to PACS instead of a real major?

PACS Student: Excuse me?

Poli Sci Prof: Peace studies is a ridiculous field... It's all ideology and Gandhian propaganda... Everyone knows that war can't be prevented. It's human nature...

The conversation turns to international peace-keeping efforts.
Poli Sci Prof: Listen, look at every conflict we've had over the past decade and how the so-called international community has intervened. Please! Look at Bosnia. Look at Rwanda. If anything, trying to prevent wars only prolongs them.

PACS Student: In both cases, no one in the West really tried to stop the killing. They pretended to be taken by surprise and then it was too late.

Poli Sci Prof: Hmph!

PACS Student: You can't prove a policy is doomed to fail by using examples of how it is not used... And isn't it interesting that if you stop a war from occuring there is no way to prove it?... Maybe we've already prevented wars and don't know. Remember a couple years ago, after the Kosovo conflict, when the papers said that Macedonia was the next to go?

Poli Sci Prof: Mm-hmm...

PACS Student: But then NATO went in and disarmed the Albanian fighters and the rebels were given amnesty. And I think a lot of their claims were addressed.

Poli Sci Prof: Well... that war was prevented. It was an exception.

PACS Student: I wonder why the story disappeared.

This conversation inspires the student to journey to Macedonia. When she gets there, she meets lots of Macedonians, ethnic Albanians, ex-pats, international aid workers, local politicians and policemen. She goes to the places people tell her not to go, and meets people she's advised to avoid.

You could definitely say that the PACS student leads her witnesses. Here's a typical example of how she breaks the ice with a new acquaintance: "[I]t seems that one of the reasons people took up arms in 2001 was that they didn't have another way to solve their problems... And your office helps people navigate the legal system and makes it more accountable - a system people turn to for justice." Nevertheless, plenty of the people she meets admit that various reforms haven't been very effective, or just became an excuse for corruption.

The diverse set of interviews in Macedonia strongly confirm the view that ethnic Albanians were fighting because they felt that their group was being mistreated. Furthermore, while the book isn't explicit about it, it's also pretty clear that most of the Macedonians were fighting because they felt that their group was being mistreated, too. What Albanians saw as mistreatment, Macedonians saw as fair enforcement of national laws.

If there was any lingering doubt, Macedonia shows that (unlike "poverty") group tension and mutual mistrust really are important causes of war. Unfortunately, the PACS student doesn't really discover anything special about Macedonia that shows how conflicts elsewhere in the world can be avoided. Even she doesn't leave the country thinking, "Now, we just have to export Macedonian institutions to Israel and Palestine."

If anything, the most plausible explanation for why Macedonia avoided war was that the groups' mutual hatred was relatively moderate to begin with. It was easier to keep violence from spiraling out of control because there wasn't enough inter-group hate to fuel the conflict.

In short, the cynical poli sci prof who inspired the book could easily read it and harumph all over again. "So hate is the cause of conflict? Did you really need to fly to the Balkans to figure that out?" But if hate really is a major cause of conflict, it's hard to see why the cynical prof was so quick to sneer at "Gandhian propaganda." Yes, telling people to stop hating each other usually fails. But unlike a lot of solutions to the problem of war, at least Gandhian philosophy would often work if people listened.


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COMMENTS (9 to date)
TGGP writes:

Yes, telling people to stop hating each other usually fails. But unlike a lot of solutions to the problem of war, at least Gandhian philosophy would often work if people listened.
That's way too big an if. Of course people aren't going to listen. As long as the other side is still made up of hawks, using a dove-strategy means you lose. Talk about assuming a can-opener.

What do you think of Bruce Bueno de Mesquita's theories of conflict? He seems kind of arrogant to me but still interesting.

Mencius writes:

What's amazing is this urge to take the slogans of the various parties, clans, mafias, banditti, liberation fronts, etc, and treat them as at least the first draft of "what they're fighting for."

People fight because they expect to win, or think they have at least a reasonable chance of winning. "Winning" can mean a lot of things, but presumably it involves an increased level of either money, power or both. Of course the leaders are elites - this is more or less a tautology.

World peace 101: if you want to stop people from fighting, make it clear to them that they won't win.

I suppose the approach of actually listening to what people say is better than the "social justice" theory. But you have to realize that when you're starting from a point of complete detachment from reality, a small improvement doesn't do you much good. The slogans, mottoes, platforms and so forth serve an important organizational purpose. They certainly should not be mistaken for the products of deep philosophical cogitation, and they are quite interchangeable when the need arises.

Unit writes:

I would think that most conflicts consists of people taking up arms to try and protect (or regain) what they consider their private property. With this in mind, conflicts are more likely to arise in places where private property rights are not a well established tradition, but have instead been mellifluous and ill-defined for a long time. So rather than Gandhian propaganda, I would favor dropping Lockean leaflets.

shayne writes:

To Mencius on World Peace 101:

Very, very well said.

Snark writes:
World peace 101: if you want to stop people from fighting, make it clear to them that they won't win.


Terrorism seems to be an exception to the rule of World Peace 101.

Mencius writes:

Oh, it strikes me as quite likely that the terrorists will win.

Almost every African and Middle Eastern country is governed by movements that, during the decolonialization process, used terrorist techniques - however you define that word. The whole jihadi movement is a very minor update on the Arab nationalist tradition. Hamas is Islamist and the PLO is nationalist and socialist, and what is the difference between them in practice? Minimal. They are both basically mafias.

If you live in Afghanistan and you want to make something of yourself, which would you join? The Karzai government or the Taliban? Surely the latter is at least a reasonable answer. With a Democratic administration entering in 2009, the likelihood of a jihadi victory must only increase - even in Afghanistan, which is a bipartisan war. In Iraq, the Republican war, everyone is very surprised that the US military is managing to take care of AQ before the clock runs out. But we'll see if it lasts.

Now, if you're talking about suicide bombing proper, that does take a pretty impressive level of commitment. But suicidalism is just an exaggerated level of military bravery - suicidally heroic actions are by no means new in war.

Heroes seldom spend much time calculating their utility curves. They do require morale, though, and morale requires some reasonable prospect of victory. The Spartans at Thermopylae sacrificed themselves to defeat the Persians. Even the kamikazes had a narrative of victory. When you get into sacrificing yourself for nothing, you are into Mishima territory, which is a very different psychology - and much rarer.

This is why there was no terrorism or other urban guerrilla movement in Germany and Japan after WWII. The Nazis and State Shintoists had not been magically converted to the wonders of democracy. Rather, the occupiers made it crystal clear that they had no problem at all in killing as many Germans and Japanese as they had to. Thus terrorism had no chance of winning, and thus it never got off the ground. Edward Luttwak is quite incisive on this point.

Snark writes:

Having read through Lattman’s very insightful piece (Dead End: Counterinsurgency Warfare as Military Malpractice), I stand corrected and agree with the basic tenet of World Peace 101. Ironically, the author is correct in asserting that victory in Iraq would ultimately require that America be for what it is fighting against: terrorism. By definition, a democracy is incapable of engaging an enemy of this kind on its own terms, resulting in a classic Prisoner’s Dilemma.

Independent George writes:

John Keegan's A History of Warfare put forth a much more profound - and disturbing - theory of warfare a decade ago. The short version is that war is a ritualistic expression culture - not only in motivation and choice of combatants, but in the method of execution. The conclusion is much more in line with the cynical poli-sci prof's view, even if the mechanism seems more consistent with the student's.

Floccina writes:

I think if people could be made to understand the benefits of division of labor and free trade and how unimportant natural resources are they would be less inclined toward war.

And so good professor you have your work cut out for you. Educate the world. BTW Education and schooling are not the same thing.

We need a economic myth busters TV show.

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