Russia’s Repeat Failures
Moscow’s New Strategy in Ukraine Is Just as Bad as the Old One
IN all countries there are democrats who maintain that a democratic state must, because it is democratic, refuse any kind of war -- a war of defense just as much as a war of conquest. Their thesis is that a democracy must abstain from any international action which is liable to cause war. In short, it must be for peace at any price.
Those who take this position do not always say so frankly. They are embarrassed to admit that they refuse even a defensive war. They therefore claim that what is being presented to them as a defensive war is really an offensive war, planned by politicians or industrialists who expect to derive power or profits from having men kill one another. I once asked one of them whether he thought that the Greeks were right to have stood out against Xerxes rather than become his Helots. He did not reply. If he had stuck to his thesis he would have had to answer that they acted wrongly. Not long ago a citizen of a certain great democracy exclaimed: "This policy of our President means that we shall have war, and one out of every four of our sons will be killed." He should have been told that his own policy meant that all four of them risked becoming slaves. Maybe subconsciously he really preferred this prospect; but he probably would not have admitted it, even to himself.
Others are more outspoken. They endorse a slogan which a group of French Socialists adopted a few years ago: "Servitude rather than war!" Or one that we used to hear from certain French intellectuals: "In our eyes nothing justifies war."[i] In most cases this position is based simply on a desire to avoid fighting, camouflaged as well as possible under doctrinal reasons. The desire is normal enough, and especially today when war has become the thing we know it to be and when the whole nation is involved in it. Sometimes, however, the position is based on sincere ideological convictions. Those who adopt it often are veterans of the last war.[ii] It is the position of these perfectly sincere people which we shall consider here, particularly the ones who maintain that the theory of peace at any price is an integral part of the definition of democracy.
DEMOCRACY'S "HIGHEST GOOD"
The mistake of thinking that peace at any price has anything to do with democracy comes from a confusion of essential values. It is imagined that democracy's paramount concern is human life, whereas it is human liberty. Human life deprived of liberty is worthless. Therefore the democrat, in order to preserve the advantages of democracy for his children, admits and sanctifies the sacrifice of life.[iii] Over and over again in the course of history democracy has proved this to be its supreme law. If our pacifists were consistent, they would have to condemn the French revolutionaries who were willing to shed human blood to win their liberties, and the Americans who preferred war to remaining the servants of George III. As a matter of fact, some of them do. The question is how they can then pretend to be democrats.
They should meditate the words of George Washington, who was not a bad democrat. In his Farewell Address he weighed the advantages, in various circumstances, of neutrality, and did not hesitate to say that "we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel." We shall be told in reply that war has become something very different from what it was in 1796. But the question of principle has not become different.
The mistake also arises from a confusion between the fact of war and the love of war. Democracy may accept the one and condemn the other. War may be imposed upon men who have no love for it whatsoever.[iv] The ideal of democracy is, certainly, to suppress the fact of war. But the effective way to attain this goal is to hold in check the people who worship war. This entails accepting the fact of war, under the democratic slogan "War on war."
SAVING PEACE AND ESTABLISHING PEACE
There is a distinction, though it is scarcely ever made, between saving peace and establishing peace. To save peace is to ward off war in some particular moment of great excitement. There is no leading motive, no general idea. To establish peace is to act deliberately to prevent war in accordance with a thought-out plan, in a time when no particular fear of war exists because those who might wish to disturb the peace have been temporarily deprived of the power to do so. At Munich in 1938 the British and French ministers saved peace. We all know that they did not establish it. At Versailles, the victors of 1918 were in a position to establish peace, maybe because four years earlier they had been willing not to save it.
Two profoundly distinct conceptions of peace are here involved. According to one, peace is based on respect for contracts between nations and on sanctions against violators. This is the legal conception. The other, the sentimental conception, expects love between men to bring about peace, all idea of contracts or sanctions aside. The first conception puts justice before peace, or at least states that it is respect for justice which must bring peace. This is displeasing to the sentimentalists who, naturally, place love above justice. At the time of the Italo-Ethiopian war, the Archbishop of Canterbury startled some persons by declaring that he, a churchman, favored the use of sanctions against the aggressor. When told that sanctions were liable to cause war, he answered: "My ideal is not peace, but justice." He was only repeating the words of his divine Master: "I came not to send peace, but a sword" -- i.e., to make war against evil.
A few examples of the purely sentimental conception of peace might help my readers to measure its intellectual worth.
A famous author, I read recently, was visiting in the Engadine. As he stood looking at the landscape he uttered some words which were much admired by the newspaperman who reported them. "Facing so much beauty," he said, "how is it possible not to think that men ought to love and not hate one another!" Laments of this sort seem to me quite childish. Men should be loved when they deserve to be loved, when they show justice and loyalty and respect for the rights of others. I am under no compulsion to love them when they violate elementary rules of moral conduct. Instead, I have to protect myself from them -- even if, later on, I try to change them. Landscapes have nothing to do with it.
Recalling pleasant memories of his youth, my compatriot Jean Guéhenno writes: "We were twenty years old. It was a serene July and the sun shone over Europe. . . . Our thoughts, like the earth, were ripening. . . . And then, all of a sudden, there was war, because an Austrian Archduke, whose name no one remembers any more, had been killed at Sarajevo." What does all this signify? It may also have been a beautiful morning at Marathon, at Valmy, at Saratoga. Would that have been a reason to give in to Xerxes, to Brunswick, to Burgoyne?
Again, many of my readers probably saw a film depicting the wife of a German peasant who had been killed in the war giving a kind welcome to an escaped French prisoner. She lets him stay in her house several weeks and watches him depart with regret. The film's name, "Grande Illusion," obviously was chosen to show the error of believing that war between nations implies hatred between peoples. But this question is not related to the question whether or not France in 1914 was right to resist the German invasion.
The really significant thing, however, is that many of my readers will be disgusted that, confronted with such touching pictures, I persist in continuing to use my powers of reason.
NOT DEMOCRATS, BUT ANARCHISTS
One of the ways the absolute pacifists have of arguing is to challenge their opponents: "You call yourself a democracy, that is, a government of the people by the people, and yet you send me to war without consulting me, in spite of myself." Thus we find a character in Roger Martin du Gard's book "The Thibaults" declaring that if the French people had been consulted in 1914 eighty percent of them would have rejected war. This statement rests upon the hope -- apparently justified, I must admit -- that most men, even in most democracies, still have so little political education that, if consulted individually, they will refuse to make the sacrifices necessary for the preservation of the whole. Now it is arguable that no true democracy as yet exists -- in the sense of being completely a government of the people and by the people. But is not the reason precisely because men find such difficulty in forgetting their individual conveniences in favor of the collective good? If they were consulted separately, how many citizens would offer spontaneously to pay taxes? Yet even "absolute democrats" probably admit that taxes are indispensable for the State.
"Absolute democrats" also contend not only that there should be a referendum on war, but that only those who voted "yes" should then have to go to war. This is a denial of national solidarity. Yet such people certainly accept some of the advantages of national solidarity. If they are civil servants, for example, they want to be paid salaries which some (perhaps many) of their fellow-citizens might, if they were consulted, refuse to grant. If they are interested in art, they might find that many tax-payers, consulted in the same way, would veto appropriations to maintain the museums. The fact is that these intellectuals would be more truthful -- or, let us say, more enlightened about their own natures -- if instead of pretending to be pure democrats they called themselves pure individualists or pure anarchists.[v]
Another sophistry often is uttered in the name of democracy. It consists in rejecting even a defensive war on the ground that it will require the surrender of full powers to the governing body, and that this surrender will spell "the end of democracy." They forget that among the basic democratic principles it is formally inscribed that in exceptional circumstances a nation may grant full powers to the governing body. During its famous meeting of September 9, 1793, the Convention declared that it accepted the idea of dictatorship for times of crisis. This doctrine meant, of course, that popular control would be suspended only temporarily and that it would be restored as soon as the emergency had passed. "Revolutionary France," says the historian Mathiez, "would never have accepted the dictatorship of the Convention if she had not been convinced that victory was impossible without the suspension of her liberty."
Two occurrences in French history show democracy accepting dictatorial powers because it is necessary, and discarding them as soon as the necessity is past -- the rise and fall of Robespierre, and the rise and fall of Clemenceau. The fall of each occurred when victory was at hand and the danger which the dictatorship had been created to repel seemed safely over. I say "seemed" because France was far from being out of danger on November 11, 1918, and it would have been better for the country if the war government had continued for a while longer.
FORCE, BUT FOR JUSTICE
There is still another side to the argument of the "absolute democrats." They say that when democracy resorts to force it denies its essential character and becomes similar to the very systems which it affects to despise. This is a formalist argument. It forgets that one can inquire on whose behalf force is to be used. To use force on behalf of justice is not the same thing as to use it for aggression. This being so, the democratic system which uses force for justice cannot be assimilated to opposite systems which use force for aggression.
There also seems to be a widespread conception that democracy is a sort of celestial body, aloof and, by definition, scornful of mundane necessities of self-defense. This idea, like the total condemnation of force regardless of the purpose for which it is used, plays straight into the hands of those who wish to use force for aggression. It thus becomes itself an agent of immorality.
At the bottom of these erroneous conceptions of democracy we discern what some would call a Christian idea, namely that it is the fit and necessary lot of the righteous to be weak and to suffer. If the righteous ever becomes strong enough to demand justice, apparently he ceases, for this school of thought, to be righteous. If Socrates had resisted his executioners, for example, he would no longer symbolize righteousness. Carry the argument one step further, and it will be the executioners who, having become the victims, incarnate righteousness. This obviously was the sort of feeling which obsessed many persons in 1918, when a violent nation had at last been compelled to cease from violence and listen to reason.
In such matters, democratic doctrine, like the doctrine of one great school of Catholic thought,[vi] considers that the righteous are entitled to "the right of the sword" when they use it in a just cause and without regard for personal profit. Democracy merely remains true to its dogma when it reminds absolute pacifists that there are angels who go armed; and that because Lohengrin draws his sword and strikes the felon down, he is not thereby any the less Lohengrin and has not become Attila.
Pascal said: "Justice without force is powerless." I should like to add: "It is essential for democracy that justice shall have power so long as there are men determined to ignore it." Contrary to those who pretend that, by very reason of its democratic principle, the democratic State must be deprived of arms, I contend that by very reason of its democratic principle it must be better armed than any other State, in order that it may be respected by States which might otherwise be tempted to ignore justice and strike across its borders.
HOW ABSOLUTE PACIFISM EVADES THE ISSUE
To be consistent, non-resisters must accept the prospect that their country may be annihilated. André Gide wonders: "What would have happened in 1914 if France had offered no resistance to Germany?" Everyone knows what would have happened. When he says that France would have been invincible if she had used only spiritual force against Germany, instead of opposing force to force, he forgets to inform his fellow-citizens that there is nothing incompatible between the "invincibility" which he speaks of and the erasure of their country from the map.[vii]
Others go even further and find that non-resistance to evil is a practical doctrine, the only one which will bring peace to the world. Tolstoi in his "Intimate Diary" says that when a wall stands up to blows it causes the aggression to continue, whereas if it gives in it "absorbs the movement" and causes it to stop. By analogy, war would be suppressed if people never resisted any group which was greedy to expand at their expense. Tolstoi omits, however, to tell us that in "absorbing the movement" the wall ceases to exist, that is to say, loses its life, which, oddly enough, it might wish to keep.
It is absolutely contrary to the democratic ideal to watch from a distance, without interfering, while a strong nation crushes a weaker one and deprives it of its liberty. Non-intervention may be forced upon democracies because they happen not to be strong enough to give material help to the nation which is being abused and oppressed. But if they are true to themselves, they must deplore their weakness and inertia. To some extent they must feel disgraced, as a European minister felt disgraced when, in answer to a call for help from a small country whose independence was being threatened, he replied: "Flere possumus, juvare non." To set up non-intervention as a principle, to feel almost proud of it, is to undermine democratic morality. Selfishness may be a necessity. It cannot be a democratic dogma.
A democracy which rejects the idea of intervention usually declares that it has adopted this attitude in order to "save peace." The truth is that its passiveness encourages the aggressor. He not only attacks the state which has appealed in vain for help, but some day he will perpetrate an act which even the laggard democracy cannot condone and which therefore causes war a second time. Thus the war of 1914 was brought on by the inertia of the democratic governments which did not care to interfere with Austria in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908. A statesman of one of the Central Empires told us in 1920: "It is you who were responsible for the war. You yielded to us for so many years that you led us to think that we could do anything with impunity." It is unnecessary to cite more recent examples.
It is not by accident that those who disturb the peace of the world are almost always the heads of autocratic states. A man who mocks ordinary standards of justice at home sees no reason to act differently abroad. For that reason democracy should be prepared to intervene within a foreign state when its head flagrantly violates the rights of his people. This is what Mr. Herbert Morrison, a member of the British Parliament, meant when he said on November 27, 1939: "We must cling to an ideal of government, whatever its actual form, as something which exists to serve peoples and not to dominate them; and we must remember that this is no mere internal question, since the governments which dominate at home are often the peace-breakers abroad." In the past few years the democracies have usually refrained from this kind of intervention. But their course has not been determined, as some would like to have us believe, out of regard for democratic principle, but simply because democracy has come to worship peace and quiet. So far as I know, there is no principle inscribed in its statutes providing for, or excusing, that form of worship.
OF "DEMOCRATIC ANTI-MILITARISM"
Another aspect of the pacifist democracy which we are here discussing is that democrats often display a sort of systematic hostility to their country's military institutions. They haggle over the number of men there ought to be in the army, the number of years they should serve, how much money should be voted to cover their expenses. They claim that this "anti-militaristic" attitude suits the real spirit of democracy.
In a true democracy the military element should be subordinate to the civilian. Once this principle has been established, we need merely see to it that the military machine is powerful enough to perform its tasks and so to enable the democratic State to survive. One looks in vain through the great declarations of democratic principle, in any time or country, for a single text advocating a weak army. There are plenty of statements about the ideal future world in which this kind of institution will no longer be required. But there is no statement that makes weakness a virtue.[viii] Once again we find that an idea which never had any connection with democracy has been added to its concept and has falsified it.
We saw in France, a few years ago, what harm the doctrine of peace at any price can do to democracy. Its devotees maintained that the best defense against a neighbor's greed was disarmament. They even went so far as to advocate a general strike in case war came. Recently in several countries the enemies of democracy exploited the doctrine of peace at any price in order to prevent a war which, though necessary for the salvation of the State, menaced the interests of their particular class. In France men of this sort who for years had berated the working class for their pacifism, suddenly found that same pacifism beautiful and called on labor to oppose the war which lay ahead.
Pacifism, in the sense I have described it here, is a parasite on democracy. It has nothing to do with democratic doctrine. Democracy must repudiate it.
[i] Manifesto sponsored by Alain and signed by a group of students of the Ecole Normale Supérieure at the time of the Italo-Ethiopian war.
[ii] For example Alain, who was a volunteer in the World War.
[iii] Jean Giono declares distinctly that the supreme value, the only one, is human life. "There is no glory," he says, "in being French. There is only one glory: it is to be alive." ("Jean le Bleu," p. 303.) But Giono makes no pretense of being a democrat.
[iv] "What does one condemn in war?" says St. Augustine. "Is it the fact that it kills men who all must some day die? Faint-hearted men may blame war for this, but not religious men. What one condemns in war is the desire to harm, implacable hate, the fury of reprisals, the passion for domination."
[v] The American States, though always jealous of their autonomy, conferred upon the Federal Government, as early as 1787, the exclusive power to declare war and the right to promulgate the laws necessary for the "common defense."
[vi] The so-called scholastic doctrine of war, enunciated by Thomas Aquinas. See my "Trahison des Clercs" (edition in English, entitled "The Treason of the Intellectuals," p. 130).
[vii] "Journal," p. 1320-1321. The author adds that though Germany "could swallow France, she could not have digested her." There are no grounds for this assertion. Moreover, it is a most cruel experience merely to be swallowed.
[viii] In his "Histoire de Belgique" the great historian, Henri Pirenne, shows how systematic anti-militarism made it impossible for Belgium to avoid war in 1914.