Readin, Writin, and Fightin: I Wanna Study War Some More!
Victor Davis Hanson argues that what we are missing from contemporary education is more of an emphasis on military history and the study of war. Young people no longer can talk about great battles in history, such as Marathon, Gettysburg, Normandy, and Tet, and and they don't how much of our world is the result of what occured in those killing fields. Instead, Hanson thinks, students are taught that war and violence are bad things to be avoided at all costs and there is nothing worse than organizing a military and building weapons to fight. He points out that the study of military history at our universities is disappearing and there are less and less professors who study war professionally.
Obviously, Hanson thinks this trend away from war studies is bad for us. Part of his argument is that this trend is being pushed by academics who are out of touch with popular tastes. People love war stories and movies like Saving Private Ryan and 300 and they attend military air shows all over the country. The academy ought to be attentive to these impulses.
War studies can teach the public military virutes, such as honor, sacrifice, and patriotism, Hanson says, but it also gives us historical standards by which to judge war. We are able to judge the scale of wars (the American casualties in Iraq compare nothing to Vietnam!), we learn that war is not the worst thing that can happen to a society (Hanson points out that flu in 1918 killed more people in the U.S. than WWI), and we learn that war is not always the result of a breakdown of communication, but, in fact, is sometimes a struggle against evil. Hanson writes:
"Bin Laden attacked on September 11 not because there was a dearth of American diplomats willing to dialogue with him in the Hindu Kush. Instead, he recognized that a series of Islamic terrorist assaults against U.S. interests over two decades had met with no meaningful reprisals, and concluded that decadent Westerners would never fight, whatever the provocation—or that, if we did, we would withdraw as we had from Mogadishu."
A very casual glance at the OSU Library Catalog gave me the following numbers: there are 27,961 items under a key word search for "war". For "peace", there are 5, 972 items. Its true that our history department does not emphasize military history, but we do have a strong ROTC program with military science as a minor. Anyone wanting to study war at OSU seems to have ample tools with which to begin.
In his effort to re-establish war as a field of academic study, Hanson neglects some sage advice, not from figures usually associated with the "peace racket" (I'll write more about that later), but from classical American philosophy.
I think of William James's classic essay, "The Moral Equivalent of War" where he tells pacifists that it is unwise to ignore folks (such as Hanson) who advocate for war. Instead, James says we need to listen to what they think the benefits are and then realize that those virtures and forms of wisdom can be acquired from other practices and ways of life. We need to find the "moral equivalent" of war as pacifists and it is possible.
Josiah Royce, in his work The Philosophy of Loyalty, published just a couple of years after James's essay, portrays the ways to construct a life that embodies the virtues of honor and sacrifice but without engaging in violence or other ways that will destroy the ability of others to have their own loyalties. You can get a good discussion of Royce here. (Royce was no pacificist--he strongly supported the US involvement in WWI).
Jane Addams also wrote along these lines too, at just about the same time. In her 1907 book, Newer ideals of Peace, she argues for finding civilian alternatives to war service that will inspire people to feel patriotism and a sense of collective purpose in working together for the welfare of society. She, of course, went on to win a Nobel Peace Prize. Check out the important chapter on this here
For all these thinkers, the insistence that we need to think about war some more for a better society is a grand failure of imagination.