The blocked road
The nature of war
Some causes of war
The experiment that failed
An international police force?
Peaceful settlements that last?
The Case for constructive peace
Pacifism and philosophy
The blocked road
If what you want to achieve is good, does it matter if the things you do to achieve it aren't good? That problem - 'do the ends justify the means?' - has been debated by thinking human beings for a very long time. Aldous Huxley used it to provide a title for 'Ends and Means', a collection of essays about us: human beings and their behaviour.
This book was published in 1937, when it was clear to many worried people that the world was heading towards another world war. Aldous Huxley was a lifelong pacifist, but it was in the 1930s that he was a particularly active one. He spoke at public meetings and debates, organised events, wrote pamphlets (you can read one on this website), and joined the PPU's campaign to put an end to war. He was already a famous writer; and 'Ends and Means' sold 6,000 copies within days of publication. It is still respected today.
As Huxley says at the beginning of 'Ends and Means', most people in our civilisation have agreed on what they want: a world of 'liberty, peace, justice and brotherly love'. But what they haven't been able to agree on is how to get it. The rest of his book is about why that is so and what might be done about it.
There is a whole chapter on the subject of war alone. That's not surprising: 'Every road towards a better state of society is blocked, sooner or later, by war, by threats of war, by preparations for war'. Now, in the 21st century, the roads are still blocked. It's time we paid attention to Aldous Huxley's wake-up call.
A great deal of what he says is either still true, or prophetic: he wouldn't be surprised by the state of the world today, though he would certainly be saddened by it. But there's still time to learn from the man called 'one of the great culture-heroes' of his time.
Here is a summary of what Aldous Huxley wrote about war in 'Ends and Means'.
The nature of war
'War is a purely human phenomenon'. What's more, 'man is unique in organising the mass murder of his own species'. Some people still suggest that war is 'nature's way' of culling our species. The fittest will survive, and so therefore will the human race. Nonsense, says Huxley: 'war tends to eliminate the young and strong'; there's no evidence to show that war-like people are the ones who survive. 'War is not a law of nature, nor even a law of human nature. It exists because men wish it to exist....It is enormously difficult for us to change our wishes in this matter; but the enormously difficult is not the impossible.'
Sadly, all western civilised societies, so far, have been warlike. Huxley suggests that this tendency began when groups of people gathered round leaders, mostly men, who wanted domination and even a kind of life after death: the hero's 'immortal fame'.
But it's interesting, Huxley remarks, to see how differently various civilisations have regarded war. 'Europeans have always worshipped the military hero' and have found 'justifications for national aggression'. Not so the Chinese, who aspired to 'an ordered and harmonious society' for many centuries. 'It is one of the tragedies of history that the Westernisation of China should have meant the progressive militarisation of a culture which, for nearly 3,000 years, preached the pacifist ideal.' In India, however, Buddhists still learn and teach 'ahimsa': 'doing no harm' to living beings. 'Alone of all the great world religions, Buddhism made its way without persecution, censorship or inquisition. Its record is enormously superior to that of Christianity, which made its way among people wedded to militarism.'
Some causes of war
Huxley suggests a number of reasons why people have wanted war to exist. For some, it has provided a purpose which their lives lacked. Others, tempted by crime, have found the lawlessness of war attractive. For many it has, quite simply, made life more interesting. But these are the reasons of non-combatant civilians; and they belong to the past, when wars were carried out by relatively small professional armies on, mostly, distant battlefields. Armies in the field and non-combatants back home were not yet threatened by the weapon that changed war for good: the bomber aircraft.
Nowadays the causes of war affect both soldiers and civilians. Nationalism, for one. People 'like to have excuses to feel pride and hatred'; military leaders like to have excuses to use their men and machines. The making and owning of armaments itself leads to war, creating 'fear, suspicion, resentment and hatred' between countries. Such feelings are also aroused by people's desire to spread and defend political - or religious - ideals.
Politically powerful minorities, pursuing their own interests, also take their countries into war. They may be looking for new territory on which to build, or for raw materials (precious stones, minerals, oil, trees) to exploit. But the most dangerous minority interest is, again, the arms trade. To make and increase their profits, arms makers and dealers may be tempted to do whatever they can to ensure that wars take place - and that disarmament never does. 'What is needed,' says Aldous Huxley firmly, 'is the complete abolition of the arms industry'. And, he says, it is possible: simply, 'abolition will come when the majority wish it to come.'
Which means we, the citizens, have to think about our own attitudes. 'The manufacturers of armaments are not the only merchants of death. To some extent we all are.' In western democracies, who votes for governments dependent on arms trade taxes? The people do. Who consents to government's 'economic, political and military imperialism'? The people do. That's not all. 'Even in so far as we behave badly in private life we are all doing our bit to bring the next war nearer.' The rich and powerful among us, of course, do more than a bit: 'the peace of the world has frequently been endangered in order that they might grow a little richer.'
The experiment that failed
The League of Nations was founded in 1919, after the First World War. Its aim was to preserve international peace and security, and it hoped to do that by preventing disputes, or at any rate settling them peaceably, and promoting disarmament. In 1937, Aldous Huxley wrote sadly that the high hopes placed in the League of Nations had been disappointed. He suggests several reasons why the League failed to achieve world peace. One was that the USA refused to join, and Russia and 'enemy' nations (such as Germany) were at first kept out. But its chief fault, in Huxley's view, was that the only eligible members were communities which had their own armies: it was a league of societies which were organised for war, and as such a military league. He also criticised the ways in which the League operated, including providing outside military help to a victim of aggression.
'No government,' says Huxley, 'has the right gratuitously to involve its subjects in war.' Indeed: 'War is so radically wrong that any international agreement which provides for the extension of hostilities from a limited area to the whole world is manifestly based on unsound principles. Modern war destroys with the maximum of efficiency and the maximum of indiscrimination, and therefore entails the commission of injustices far more numerous and far worse than any it is intended to redress.'
'Those who prepare for war,' he says grimly, 'in due course get the war they prepare for.'
(The League of Nations was replaced after the Second World War by the United Nations. It could be said that hopes have been disappointed there, too.)