Peace More Deadly than War

When, in 1989, Paul Seabury and Angelo Codevilla were, respectively, a University of California, Berkeley, political science professor and a senior research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, they authored War: Ends and Means. Prior to their collaboration, Seabury and Codevilla had both served President Reagan, the former as a member of his Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, the latter on transition teams for the president-elect within the State Department and C.I.A.

Their book argued for the rationality of war in many instances and for the indispensable prudence of a strong defense. Harvard’s Samuel Huntington called it “an elegant and learned essay,” and Yale’s Eugene Rostow called it “a calm, literate, and incisive rumination.” These descriptions would strike some as odd since the book claims that peace has been more deadly than war. But as the examples below show, ignoring and indulging tyrants is more lethal than fighting them.

“War is hell. Nobody doubts that. War means death, destruction of families, cold, hunger, and the subjection to harsh authority. So why is so much of mankind at war? One answer is that peace is no picnic. The very evils we associate with war have fallen upon mankind more fully in times and places well removed from battlefields and in conditions conventionally called peace. Especially in this century, the victims of peace outnumber the victims of war.

Perhaps 35 million people, of whom 25 million were civilians, have died as a direct consequence of military operations since 1900. These people have been killed by armies, navies, and air forces using the latest equipment and techniques. The soldiers who died this way suffered before their demise as well as during their final minutes. Nonetheless, they not only had a fighting chance, but their governments were also making at least some efforts to keep them comfortable. Even civilian victims were afforded some measure of protection.

During the same period, however, at least 100 million human beings have been killed by police forces or their equivalent, almost never using heavy weapons but relying on hunger, exposure, barbed wire, and forced labor to kill the bulk, executing the rest by shooting them with small arms, by rolling over them with trucks (a favorite technique in China around 1950), by gassing them, or, as in the Cambodian holocaust of 1975-79, by smashing their skulls with wooden clubs. These 100 million usually suffered for months or years before the end and perhaps suffered most of all by their helplessness in the face of monstrous acts committed against them and their families. Those who killed these 100 million men, women, and children did not have to overcome resistance, much less armed resistance. Because the victims could not (while others would not) make war on their own behalf, the killers did their killing in peace. Regardless of whether the victims were Armenians, Jews, Tutsis, Ukrainians, Chinese, or Cambodians, the stories of these historic horrors of peace are very similar.”1

Footnotes :

1 Paul Seabury and Angelo Codevilla, War: Ends and Means (New York: Basic, 1989), 6-7.

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