Bryan Caplan  

Cowen Contra Pacifism

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I don't have time just now to reply to the many new comments on my pacifism, but I can't let Tyler Cowen's critique go unanswered.  At the outset, let me say that I realize how crazy and naive my position sounds, especially if you only hear a one-sentence summary.  I freely accept the burden of proof, and don't expect to change anyone's mind overnight.  But I'm standing my ground.

I really wish Tyler had actually named the premise(s) in my original argument that he rejects, and explained why.  But here's my reply to what he actually said.  Tyler:

There is not enough consideration of specific times and place.  Had England been pacifist in 1914, that might have yielded a better outcome.  Had England been pacifist in 1939, likely not.  Switzerland has done better for itself, and likely for the world, by being ready to fight back.  Pacifism today could quite possibly doom Taiwan, Israel, large parts of India (from both Pakistan and internal dissent), any government threatened by civil war (who would end up ruling Saudi Arabia and how quickly?), and I predict we would see a larger-scale African tyrant arise, gobbling up non-resisting pacifist neighbors.  Would China request the vassalage of any countries, besides Taiwan that is?  Would Russia "request" Georgia and the Baltics?  Would West Germany have survived?

I say there is not enough consideration of uncertainty in Tyler's examples.  With hindsight, we know that Britain's entry into World War I (along with the entry of every other participant) had disastrous consequences: four years of slaughter, a worldwide flu epidemic that killed 50-100 million additional people, Communism, Nazism, and World War II.  These horrors could have been avoided if any of the major players had swallowed their stupid pride.  Nevertheless, entry into World War I seemed like a good idea at the time to a wide range of responsible opinion.

Critics of pacifism love to focus on a single rare scenario: A blatant, merciless aggressor who speaks only the language of force - and whose defeat predictable returns the world to a civilized status quo ante.  But it's damnably hard to know when you're actually in that situation.  In the real world, all of the following scenarios are at least as common:

1. Your government says you're facing a blatant, merciless aggressor, when you're merely facing a minor annoyance.

2. Your government says you're facing a blatant, merciless aggressor, conveniently ignoring the many actions your government has taken to provoke him.

3. Your government and the enemy government have an honest disagreement about who aggressed against whom, and your government's "retaliation" merely makes the other side more eager to retaliate against you.

4. Your government is the blatant, merciless aggressor - and cloaks its infamies in the language of self-defense and justice.

5. You really are facing a blatant, merciless aggressor.  But his demands are limited and meeting them will return the world to a civilized status quo ante.

6. You really are facing a blatant, merciless aggressor, and his demands are high.  But defeating him will be very costly, and another, even worse aggressor is biding his time to take advantage of the aftermath.

Etc.  (Note that I haven't covered logical space; I'm just listing some common cases).  If you were omniscient, of course, you could just tailor your views on the best response to the specific case you're in - as Tyler recommends.  But in the real world of severe uncertainty about which state you're in, the pacifist approach does surprisingly well.

Note: Even if you think that your side never makes such elementary mistakes, you've got to admit that people on the other side make them all the time.  The upshot is that pacifism would work wonderfully for them.  And you should thank me for bringing this neglected option to their attention.

Of course, if Tyler or any other foreign policy expert really does want to claim enormous powers of discernment, I'm happy to bet them after they give me favorable odds.  If they don't, we should draw the logical conclusion: Their excuses notwithstanding, they know deep inside that their crystal balls really don't work.

There is also a Lucas critique issue of how the bad guys start behaving once they figure out that the good guys are pacifist, and I don't see him discussing that either.
Good point, but it cuts both ways.  Once a country has a credible reputation for pacifism, all the standard pro-war propaganda and rationalizations for escalating savagery start sounding truly absurd.  Maybe even absurd enough to overcome anti-foreign bias.

It would be a mistake to add up all the wars and say pacifism is still better overall, because we do not face an all-or-nothing choice.  Many selective instances of non-pacifism are still a good idea, with benefits substantially in excess of their costs.

I explicitly acknowledged this point in my original post.  The problem is knowing which scenario you're in.  Discussing history with 20/20 hindsight is no help here.

Bryan, however, has to embrace pacifism, otherwise his moral theory becomes too tangled up in the empirics of the daily newspaper...

Which is exactly where I am urging him to go.

If you want to understand foreign policy, read history, not the newspaper.  When you read history, you get distance.  You learn how events looked to people at the time - and how wrong they usually were.  You learn about unintended consequences.  You learn about the poison fruit of group-serving bias.  Daily newspaper reading, in contrast, feeds the illusion that whatever people in your society and government are doing and saying is reasonable and justified.


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COMMENTS (35 to date)
Bob writes:

"These horrors could have been avoided if any of the major players had swallowed their stupid pride."

perhaps, but hindsight does not tell us is what horrors would have unfolded had the English taken the other path in 1914. The results of the path not taken is always unknowable.

I find myself sympathetic to the idea that a willingness to use force discourages others from using violence. From my childhood, learning to deal with bullies, I discovered that if I was willing to fight, even when I had no chance of winning, that willingness changed the incentives of the bully (by extracting a price for his aggression), and resulted in me being left alone while those who preferred to swallow their pride never got a respite from harassment.

"the radical notion that before you kill innocent people, you should be reasonably sure that your action will have very good consequences"

I think this is what most people follow, though what constitutes "reasonable" may vary from person to person. Please tell me, WHO believes that their actions will likely only make things worse and then continues to do them?

Matrim writes:

Why isn't pacifism a widely held school of thought among foreign policy scholars? From my point of view, non-aggression is probably the best initial course of action, but we rarely see that happening even though we know that conflict is costly.

lemmy caution writes:

"If you want to understand foreign policy, read history, not the newspaper. When you read history, you get distance. You learn how events looked to people at the time - and how wrong they usually were. You learn about unintended consequences. You learn about the poison fruit of group-serving bias. Daily newspaper reading, in contrast, feeds the illusion that whatever people in your society and government are doing and saying is reasonable and justified."

This is true. Some people like John McCain pump up every new world event into something that the US should intervene into. There is a Daily newspaper/Sunday chat show axis that favors interventionism.

Evan writes:

I think you've made an excellent case against most of the stuff our military does today Bryan. But I think your case against armed resistance is weaker than the rest of your philosophy. It's true that armed resistance probably often causes more harm than conquest does on a case by case basis, but I think your critics have made excellent points about its deterrence value. It's true that blatant and obnoxious arms buildup will make you enemies (my favorite example was how Germany's preWWI naval buildup alienated Britain) but I think a more subdued approach, like the one the Swiss have, can deter without provoking.

darjen writes:

I think scenarios 1 through 4 apply very well to the US government's current fight against terrorism, including the bombing and occupation of Arab countries in the Middle East. 5 and 6 could apply but I am not sure how convinced I am that the terrorists are a blatant, merciless aggressor without first being provoked.

Rafal Smigrodzki writes:

It appears that Bryan advocates pacifism as a reasonable individual default position on consequentialist grounds - that is, in the absence of a large amount of valid evidence, the reasonable person living under the jurisdiction of a government should not support said government's starting, joining or continued participation in wars. This is in contrast to the attitude of enthusiastic support for "your" government's war efforts exhibited by at least 70% of any population of humans, an enthusiasm which appears to trump reason with disturbing regularity.

I accept this premise - but, the interesting question still remains, what is the specific evidence necessary for a pacifist to condone a particular war. The answer "No amount of evidence is sufficient" is equivalent to saying "There is not a single war in history where at least one of participants achieved long-term benefits". This is not what Bryan claims, so I'd be very curious to hear the specifics of evidence which would make him support a war. Clearly, if 90% of all decisions to participate in wars end harming the decision-maker, then the reasonable evidential procedure would yield the "No war" answer in about 90% of all situations where the usual half-insane human being is howling for blood of his enemies - but still, there would be situations where even the calm and reasonable minority human would use ruthless force.

So, my request for Bryan - can you outline a procedure for evaluating evidence that the reasonable individual should use to decide whether to support a war? Since I am an anarchocapitalist like you, I'd be interested in a procedure which works under both a private enforcement regime and under the control of a government.

Rafal

david (not henderson) writes:

I agree with much of what Bryan says, and obviously it is fundamental to libertarianism that we not initiate force, but my concern is that pacifism in all situations is ultimately inconsistent with liberty. Acquiescing to non-defensive aggression is a large part of how liberty is lost. Signalling willingness and readiness to defend one's property raises the expected price of aggression and can contribute to a pacific environment (see a) Switzerland and b) gun ownership and safely unlocked houses in New Hampshire).

I like this quote from Lee Harris:

The lesson of history is stark and simple. People who are easy to govern lose their freedom. People who are difficult to govern retain theirs. What makes the difference is not an ideology, but an attitude. Those people who embody the “Don’t tread on me!” attitude have kept their liberties simply because they are prepared to stand up against those who threaten to tread on them.

Obviously, the context of the quote was aggression initiated by one's own government but it applies equally to aggression initiated by another government.

Patrick R. Sullivan writes:

We've had thousands of years of history to look back on; just where did the pacifist alternative prove to work?

Tracy W writes:

I agree that Nazism and the flu epidemic were the result of WWI, but how do we know that we wouldn't have had something equally bad otherwise? Japan was a victor in WWI and yet went down the fascist route and committed major atrocities in WWII.
I can't, off the top of my head, think of a political leader who had a string of easy victories by war or threatening war deciding to stop partway through. If the Germans, say, had gotten what they wanted quickly out of WWI, how likely do you think they would have looked to war again when some more political or economic problems came up?

Brian Clendinen writes:

A classic counter example of where not going to war caused tens of million of deaths is the Russian Revolution. If the Allies had sent a division or two to help the Whites the Reds would off lost (the White's were close to wiping out the Reds). Not that the Whites would not of caused misery but I doubt they would of caused the level of misery the Ukraine famine and other slaughter Stalin lead. It very well could of been stopped. The whole dynamics of WWII could of changed also, (Russia attacking German if they invaded Poland).

It seems to me about every case were one can say war was not worth the cost in hindsight , there is another were in hindsight it appears war would of been worth it (Iran invasion instead of Iraq if they get nukes). However, the real issue is the weighting of factors in a cost benefit analysis before hand. How many lives is freedom of speech worth for a million people? How many lives, money and mental and physical injures worth is freedom of religion worth? Right to live ones life freely, what is the acceptable cost?

Brian Clendinen writes:

Bryan,

I really would like to see your response to the Prison Dilemma argument from Scott Wentland. This short argument most clearly articulates how your position is so nieve.

Scott Sumner writes:

Not my area of expertise (to put it mildly.) But just thinking out loud, here are 4 models:

1. Passivism
2. Armed neutrality (Swiss/Swedes)
3. Liberal internationalism (what the West claims to be doing in Libya, Bosnia, etc.)
4. Aggressive adventurism (Hitler, Saddam, Alexander the Great, Napolean, Julius Caesar)

It seems to me that in a long Darwinian struggle through the ages, passivism loses out to the other models. If Kuwait is passive, it gets taken over by Iraq, and becomes part of an aggressive empire. So we should adopt the least bad model that can survive the Darwinian struggle among nations--armed neutrality.

Of course as Fukuyama pointed out, the End of History is near. When everyone becomes as peaceful as Western Europe is today, the security threat will be terrorists with viruses and dirty bombs, not tanks and artillery. And then a different self-defence model will make sense--the Swiss approach will look increasing foolish. But for the past few centuries the Swiss/Swedish model looks best.

Pete writes:

Kudos to you, Bryan, for asserting your views and sticking by them. However, as Scott Sumner and Evan both note, you didn't quite answer Tyler's critique completely.

TC: "Switzerland has done better for itself, and likely for the world, by being ready to fight back."

As Evan and Scott point out, armed neutrality can avoid the disastrous slaughters of war without putting yourself at excessive risk. Because the Swiss have done it, you can't say it's infeasible. And I think both of your co-bloggers (Arnold yesterday, David prior) endorse a self-defense model as well. I don't see how pacifism is superior to this model.

From your three premises, it is possible to derive morally justified wars, as long as the long-run benefits exceed the short-run costs. Given that, this critique still applies even if we accept all three of your premises.

Pandaemoni writes:

@Scott Sumner:

Had the Celts been passive, they would have become Romanized sooner, and wouldn't have suffered the losses they did (and, likewise, the Roman army wouldn't have suffered its own losses). It is true that the Celts would have thereby lost their own "self-rule" earlier (and that a passive Kuwait would have lost its independence)...but why is the survival of the "state" a moral good, even in the face of the loss of human lives?

I'm not a pacifist, but I think the moral justification for a war can't be defense of a "government" (which can crumble to dust for all I care, if the only way to save it is to throw humans into the meat grinder).

When Alexander the Great invaded Egypt, the Persian governor Mazaces simply surrendered, and he was made part of the new administration as a result. Egypt was taken without a fight, and suffered no real harm as a result. Had the Persians committed forces to fight in Egypt (or had the Egyptians fought themselves), Alexander would have exacted quite a punishment from them all. The survival of Persian political power there (or the establishment of a separate Egyptian state free of either Persian or Macedonian influence) is not, in my opinion, a worthy moral goal.

Tom West writes:

And the upshot is that pacifism would work wonderfully for them. And you should thank me for bringing this neglected option to their attention.

Actually, I think that would be a horrible idea. I am well aware that my side would inevitably do immoral things if it was reasonably profitable to do so because, in mass, that's what humans do.

A reasonable willingness to defend oneself suddenly makes many immoral actions much less profitable (or massively decreases the certainty of profit) and thus means that the self-serving action and the moral action are one and the same.

I, for one, am *very* glad that my people aren't being tempted to do something horrible by the announced pacifism of our neighbors. Sadly, I don't think complete pacifism is healthy for *either* party.

(Caveat: in the last few decades, the rewards for conquering resources has gone way down in the Western world, so the immorality would be more the willingness to harm neighbors with which you have a real dispute.)

Faze writes:

States survive wars. Individuals die in wars irrespective of their state affiliations. What the state glorifies as "war" can also be seen as geographically limited, closely grouped, individual murders -- and in fact, this is the perspective taken by most anti-war literature, from "All Quiet on the Western Front" on. It's probably the perspective that libertarians should take, also. Why let the state steal these individuals' deaths for its own meanings?

Also: one cost of warfare that has not been taken up on this thread, is the effect on the victor in an armed confrontation. If a war turns a million men into corpses, it also turns a significant fraction of that number into killers. There is a strong inhibition against killing, and having done so -- even under the powerful public sanction of war -- has to seriously diminish the pleasure the killer takes in life.

Robert Allen Leeper writes:

This is a matter of attitude, of passion. Are you lion or sheep? Are you Rand or Murray? Do you first defend yourself, or first think about the aggressor's motivations?

Are you concentrist* or altruist?

Let's not get into the weeds. History is of little or no relevance.

*The concentrist orders his sympathies, not necessarily as a point [egoism] but as a set of concentric circles. He will be near the point center, but his wife and children may be nearer. This is purely idiosyncratic and not susceptible to analysis [other than mine, which is **Forthcoming**].

Daublin writes:

While it would have been nice of Tyler to be more specific instead of giving a quick, sweeping counter-argument, I must say his examples look pretty good.

For example, Switzerland's non-pacifist stance appears to have successfully brought about decades of peace and prosperity to the region. This puts strain on your premise 1, that the effects of war are obviously awful.

In fact, this seems to be the crux of a lot of the non-pushover crowd. War sucks, but signalling a willingness to go to war has many benefits.

Anyway, bravo for the three-prong attack. However, it could do with incorporating these real-life examples a little better. It just seems idiotic to be a complete pushover.

david (not henderson) writes:

The problem is not so much with your three premises as it is with the assumption that the best way to avoid war (or reduce the long run costs of war) is pacifism.

Scott Sumner writes:

I wrote passivism when I meant pacifism. Stupid of me, but interesting when you think about it.

Jim Glass writes:

Critics of pacifism love to focus on a single rare scenario: A blatant, merciless aggressor who speaks only the language of force...

This is exactly false, a straw man caricature to argue against.

Critics of pacifism know that endemically, on all societal scales large and small, aggressive violence is in the nature of human males.

"Hunter-gatherer societies are scrupulously egalitarian, but not harmoniously so. They're violently egalitarian." -- Herbert Gintis, MIT
"the actual percentage of the population that died violently was on the average higher in traditional pre-state societies than it was even in Poland during the Second World War or Cambodia under Pol Pot." -- Jared Diamond
Consider the second quote. It states that what is supposedly the very worst case of the "single rare scenario" is in fact on average *less bad* than the normal condition in the great bulk of all human history.

That is the result of natural selection, it is in our genes. Our closest relatives, chimpanzees, organize in clans and go out and kill each other to gain territory and resources. It is totally unscientific to think this is not the natural conditions for humans, defying both scientific logic and overwelming emprical evidence.

It's taken tens of thousands of years for economic incentives to drive some of our societies to slowly overcome this genetic nature, as kings and emperors and other "mafia dons writ large" using force grabbed a *monopoly of force* to eliminate the endemic killing -- and enable internally peaceful, cooperative societies and economies to develop, enabling the evolutionary course to North's open society.

IOW, the history book anecdotes of "the blatant, merciless aggressor who speaks only the language of force" are not stories about rare events, but stories of entirely normal routine events that are simply large and notable enough to make the history books.

And libertarian pacifict societies are not the potential starting point of social order, somehow stupidly missed by the shortsighted everywhere, but only the hopeful endpoint of social evolution.

But even if eventually achieved they will always be at risk, because are genes will always be within us.

Donald Rowe writes:

I sympathize with your objectives in promoting pacifism, but I think that, unfortunately, it stands not a chance of success, until we have a serious and fundamental re-think.

It goes against the deeply seated instincts that have served us so well - we are survivors, and we use violence to defend, not pacifism.

It would be easy to establish pacifism as the ultimate standard if we could demonstrate that pacifism (non-violence) was the most economic way for all people to achieve their desires as optimally as possible. But demonstrating that is exactly the part that is not easy at all.

The problem is exacerbated when we claim ownership because any such claim must be defended or it will be ignored.

Defending ownership claims is the primary cause for the creation of the state.

To claim ownership of self or property is a positive claim - "This is mine" and contains the implied threat that harm will come to you if you object.

The seeming conundrum is that the opposite of individual ownership of self, or anything, is collectivism. And we can all agree that that just plain fails dismally. (But it will work next time, if we can just change human behavior, by force if needed. And of course, force will alwaysneeded.)

But we miss the fact that claiming self-ownership is but one way to obtain it. There is another way to accomplish the same (mostly) objective. Just as there two solutions to the mathematic question "What is the square root of 2?", there are two solutions to solve the problem of obtaining self-ownership. The second solution is not exactly the equivalent of the first - it does not require a defense.

It does, however, require something else. A mutual agreement that will not fall out of the sky and hit us on the head while we sleep. If I accept that I do not claim self-ownership, then I am admitting that I also can not claim ownership of anyone else. If everyone else makes the same announcement, I will effectively "own" myself and everyone else will effectively own themselves.

Mutually and conditionally according all others the right to self (life, etc.) can succeed if there is a broad base of understanding and support. That will not be easy to establish, but not completely impossible either.

A breach by one person when he acts to control another person is the trigger that he pulls to negate his personal self ownership (right to life, etc.). By voiding the rights of another he simultaneously voids his own, possibly resulting in his elimination from that society. This will serve as a negative feedback reinforcement to minimize that behavior. It will eliminate the need for the adoption of the use of force by the body of society.

I will call this the "Square Root of Two" alternate solution.

Ownership of property is handled a little differently, but that is a matter for another post.

Cordially,
Don


Vince Skolny writes:

It seems to me the disagreement comes to whether we should avoid putting the collective citizenry of other nations (Bryan) or putting our collective selves (his opponents) at risk. Bryan contends that pacifism is the default unless it can be known that Long Run Benefits > Short Run Costs; obviously, that's impossible knowledge hence for Bryan pacifism wins.

His opponents (including me) seem to assume that lacking such knowledge, reasonable belief that fighting a war will give "us" LRB>SRC is sufficient ground. Of course that doesn't mean failing to assess potential costs as rationally as possible (per Bryan's point 6) or to suspend thinking, adopt a blind patriotism, or forgo a healthy skepticism of government motives.

And I've no problem saying that my interest in preserving my own life and lifestyle as part of a United States collective is much, much greater than in preserving the life and lifestyle of an individual citizen as part of a foreign collective.

Vaniver writes:

I personally prefer the Switzerland model. But the Costa Rica model has worked well- they abolished their army in 1949 and have been one of the most peaceful and prosperous countries in Latin America since then.

CBrinton writes:

With all the mentions of Switzerland, comparing it to the USA, it seems a bit odd that the Swiss civil war hasn't been mentioned. Look up the Sonderbund War of 1847 and you'll see the Swiss have been just as willing to use force against internal as external threats.

Tracy W writes:

Pandaemoni - being colonised is often not good for the colonised, because the colonists govern badly, being pushed around more by the immediate interests of the politically-powerful in their own country than the long-term interests of either country. Think what happened to Ireland or India under British rule. Adam Smith devoted a section of The Wealth of Nations to discussing how British laws applied to the American colonies to protect the interests of British merchants harmed both Britain and America.
Certainly a state can rule badly over its own people too, but the state has a stronger incentive to take actions in the long-term good - and when a state does rule really badly we see people welcoming in invaders (e.g. the Ukrainians welcoming in the Nazis as the Communists were so bad, though tragically in that case the Nazis managed to convince the Ukrainians and other Slavic peoples that they were even worse).
I don't think it's sensible to say that people should always be indifferent to being invaded by another country. In some cases it could well be an improvement, but in many cases, it could well be worse.

bro43 writes:

It seems all the hawks commenting here assume the benevolence of government which I believe is the fatal flaw in their arguments. The state is not and never will be benevolent. I insist that Mr Cowen and his merry group of hawks physically partake in & finance the wars they "justify" themselves. I'll bet their justification will be less forthcoming in that case. It's only when one can sit on high and dictate that others pay for and participate in war that they are so eager to get into conflicts. Of course war is easier to justify when it is others that bear the cost of war.

joe writes:

When i discuss these issues, i like to make the comparison between the way the French "fought" WWII and the way the Soviets did. In not saying it's a perfect example, but 20 Million people were killed in Russia, in large part because they were actively fighting. Many, many less were killed in France because they were less actively fighting. That the french got conquered was clearly problematic, but not as horrifying as the loss of life in Russia. you can see how the rest of the argument goes...

I think this is a particularly good argument because it uses a standardized enemy, who was the same "blatant, merciless aggressor" in both cases...

Slocum writes:

It seems to me that the problem with pacifism is that we humans are just not that kind of animal. Almost any account of warring tribes of hunter-gatherers will do, but the account of the Maori and Moriori in Guns, Germs, and Steel is pithy and available:

http://cominganarchy.com/2005/09/28/jared-diamond-on-warfare/

Where there are peaceful, pacifist peoples in possession of valuable lands or other resources, sooner or later there will come along fierce, aggressive peoples who will justify their aggression readily (e.g. the others are sub-human dogs who are dishonorable and disgusting in their weakness and deserve what they get). That inter-group aggressiveness is part of human nature. I wish it weren't so, but it is.

Obviously, we don't have to live in a world of constant warfare (tribal or modern), but I'm afraid a readiness to use deadly force in self-defense is going to have to remain part of the recipe of peaceful co-existence.

John writes:

For a certain segment of the population, accepting colonisation also means losing progeny, due to increased sexual competition and loss of status in the new pecking order. From an evolutionary standpoint, that's no different from death.

Lynne writes:

Whatever the scholarly weight of your other arguments, implying that Britain's entry into WWI somehow brought on the 1918 flu- a worldwide epidemic- is very silly.
The 1918 flu killed people worldwide, including populations located on islands far from the war. Wars, whatever their noxious consequences, do not cause viruses.

Lynne writes:

It may seem logical to assume that the Spanish flu was chiefly spread by military movements, but that does not take into account the larger picture:

1. When the epidemic began, influenza was not classed as a reportable disease by public health agencies. (Who, anyway, were still in their infancy.) The 1918 volumes of JAMA don't even mention it. This means that incidence of flu among the general public are not so well recorded.

2. The two groups with the most detailed/extensive reporting of flu outbreaks are prisons and the military. Not only are they examples of people living at close quarters, they are also examples of highly supervised populations with administrations devoted to collecting and charting statistics. Better-organized observation of other populations would probably have resulted in similar statistics.

3. Travel in 1918 was not restricted to military vessells. During this period Great Britain boasted an Empire upon which "the sun never sets," and the same could be said of the 1918 flu. It was spread by commerce and pleasure travel just as surely as troop movements, and would have migrated from place to place without a war.

4. Although the linked Wikipedia article insinuates that the mingling and migrating of troops caused fatal mutations in the flu, modern research does not bear this out. 1918H1N1 samples taken from victims and examined by Dr. Jeffrey Taubenberger at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in 1995 showed that 1918H1N1 had a special virulence never before seen; it attacked the lungs of mice with literally 100 times the force of any other known flu. In addition, 1918H1N1 was often joined by a "piggyback" bacterial infection. This meant many victims died simply for lack of modern antibiotics. It should also be remembered that science at this time could not even distinguish between viruses and bacteria, let alone treat them effectively with the techniques we take for granted today. Taken together, all these points explain the virulence of the Spanish flu more effectively than speculating about troop movements causing mutations.

In short: the flu was not caused by the war, likely was not altered or mutated by troop movements, would likely have spread worldwide anyway due to commerce and travel, and would have killed due to the limited medical resources of the time.

(In writing this I'm referencing the research of Alfred W. Crosby and Dr. Jeffrey Taubenberger, among others.)

Gene Callahan writes:

"Of course as Fukuyama pointed out, the End of History is near. When everyone becomes as peaceful as Western Europe is today..."

Is this sarcasm?

Ed writes:

What's your view on the Falklands War as a war of self-defence? I believe that the only civillian casualties were 16 Argentine sailors, all killed by accident.

Tim Starr writes:

Costa Rica is probably the closest thing to a real-world example of successful pacifism in practice, as it abolished its army after WWII (in which it was not a combatant). However, the Sandinistas would've been perfectly happy to invade & conquer Costa Rica in the 1980s if only they hadn't been first contained then rolled back by the US & its meso-American allies. They had no need of "the usual pretexts" for war, they had the mission of wiping out capitalist exploitation of the global proletariat and building socialism. And, while Costa Rica fared better than most of its immediate neighbors, today it is hardly more prosperous or free than several other Latin American countries that did have wars since 1945 (e.g., Chile), and it wasn't clearly better off during the past half-century than other Latin American countries without its pacifist foreign policy (e.g., Uruguay).

Caplan's argument is for an ahistorical utopian end-state that has never existed in reality, and never will. There are zero historical examples of successful pacifist "resistance" to aggression. Upon examination, even the supposedly "peaceful" instances of successful resistance to tyranny such as the fall of the Soviet Empire or the Brazilian abolition of slavery turn out to have depended in large part upon military pressure, internal or external.

On the other hand, there are plenty of historical examples of the failure of neutrality to prevent foreign invasion. The neutrals invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany are some examples. Sihanouk tried to keep Cambodia neutral in the Second Indochina War, only to end up suffering the most in that region.

Neutrality worked out well for Switzerland in WWII, but only by diverting Hitler to other targets before he could finish off the Swiss (which he surely would've done, since Switzerland was completely encircled by the Axis & dependent upon them for coal for heat). Neutrality did not work out nearly so well for the peoples of Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, etc. Nor did surrender to annexation work out well for Austria or Czechoslovakia.

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