IS SYSTEMATIC mass murder, the ugliest manifestation of man's
inhumanity to man. Elementary morality demands of us that we
work tirelessly to abolish it. And morality aside, war cannot
be defended on practical grounds. There can be no victor in World
War III; there can only be losers.
Our full military strength cannot be
used against another nuclear power without inviting Armageddon.
We cannot even use nuclear weapons against a weak non-nuclear
power, for small countries have big friends. In the kind of war
we still dare to wage, the United States was fought to a standstill
in Vietnam by a sixth rate military power.
We are asked to believe that a burdensome
military establishment -- which cannot be used rationally in
large wars and cannot be used effectively in small ones -- is
needed to deter Russia. But Russia knows we cannot use our nuclear
deterrent unless we are prepared to see tens of millions of Americans
killed in the ensuing holocaust.
Such a deterrent is not credible and
does not deter. Russia was not deterred in Czechoslovakia, Hungary,
or Afghanistan. Nor did Russia's nuclear deterrent dissuade Eisenhower
from sending the Marines into Lebanon, Johnson from escalating
the war against North Vietnam, or Nixon from conspiring to overthrow
by force a duly elected Marxist president of Chile.
It may be argued that the US nuclear
deterrent is not expected to restrain Russia in other parts of
the world, but simply to forestall a nuclear attack against the
United States itself. But a Soviet leader mad enough to contemplate
killing 100 million or so Americans would be mad enough to do
it regardless of threatened retaliation. The same must be said
of any American President mad enough to think of killing 100
million Russians. Deterrents, so-called, do not deter; they merely
prolong a precarious balance of terror. Meanwhile, they cost
everyone more than anyone can afford.
Politicians who claim that our ponderous
military is morally or pragmatically justifiable are wrong precisely
where it is most necessary to be right
Preparedness: a Cruel Illusion
Wars would be infrequent indeed if nations
were unprepared for them. Preparedness does not diminish, but
rather increases, the likelihood, frequency, and severity of
war. In theory, all nations might voluntarily agree to enhance
their true security by disarming. In practice, however, unanimous
agreement to disarm is unimaginable and less-than-unanimous agreement
will not suffice.
While war remains possible, preparedness
seems essential; and while nations prepare for war, war remains
inevitable. If ever there was a vicious circle, this is it.
The circle can only be broken by making
warfare impossible, so that preparations for war clearly become
superfluous. People everywhere would rejoice in dismantling their
military machines if they knew they safely could. The key point,
then, is whether war can be made impossible, and if so, how?
War can be made virtually impossible,
obviating the need for military preparedness. Before we enlarge
on that though, there is more to be said about war, preparedness,
and their effects on the environment.
The burden of preparedness is immense;
were it not perceived as essential to national survival, we would
not tolerate it for a moment. The US defense budget is approaching
$150 billion per year, and constitutes about one-third of the
entire world's military expenditures.
If preparedness is expensive, war itself
is vastly more so. It was President Johnson's attempt to produce
both guns and butter without raising taxes -- his fight now pay
later policy -- that touched off double-digit inflation. Even
in a well-managed economy, war and preparedness for war are inherently
inflationary; they enlarge consumer purchasing power without
producing anything that consumers can buy. The war machine also
competes with the civilian economy for raw materials, skilled
workers, managerial talent, and capital, thus reinforcing inflationary
A war economy is an economy perennially
whipsawed by inflation.
Military hardware is a prodigious consumer
of scarce materials and other fast-vanishing resources indispensable
to an industrial society. Together with rampant consumerism in
wealthy nations, military procurement is a major cause of resource
shortages that are reaching crisis proportions.
Even in peacetime, military establishments
are ravenous consumers of energy. And wartime energy consumption
by military machines beggars the imagination.
Damage to the environment was an incidental
by-product of war in the past, and relatively trivial. But modern
warfare is the one activity that has as its primary objective
the deliberate degradation of the environment. The United States
warred against the environment in Vietnam, defoliating forests
that might hide the enemy and destroying crops and crop lands
that might feed him. Future wars, if we allow them to happen,
will be even more ecocidal. Chemical and biological weapons are
designed to destroy life support systems -- to poison water supplies,
for example. All-out nuclear war might pollute the entire planet
with levels of radioactivity that no form of life can endure.
Humanity's suicide would be one part of a vaster tragedy. Evolution's
promising experiments with terrestrial life would all be snuffed
. . . To be