Holmes: *Alternatives to War - Honors290-f12

The problem is with the belief that security
can be achieved through armaments.
JS Mill: We protect security to protect what
Holmes calls “the essentials of well being.”
We have to be careful to identify what we are
protecting: “The preservation of the state, a
specific form of government or government
itself?” (p. 260)
We speak of the state as a living entity. But
the state is an abstraction.
Is Holmes right that we “misidentify a
government with its people…” What about the
common life?
(1) Macroscopic ethics: The ultimate concern of
ethics is the survival and well being of abstract or
collective entities.
(2) Microscopic ethics: The ultimate concern is
with the survival and well being of living,
conscious, sentient beings—people and animals.
Does microethics come in when we think about
the state?
Holmes says it is about what takes precedence.
The macro often supercedes the micro. Even in
“ask not what your country can do for you; ask
what you can do for your country…”
The security of the state is the security that
The reason the killing of civilians is ignored is
that people focus on the collectivities,
“struggling like Homeric gods…” “We think
we are punishing an aggressor.” We do not
think of the individuals who are affected but a
personified being in the form of a state.
We say we have no quarrel with the
individuals inside the entity we are at war
with but the war will destroy them.
Why do we use war that kills unwilling and
innocent people rather than use selective
assassination to kill political leaders?
Leaders have the least chance of being killed
in a war.
Holmes: “There is nothing of intrinsic value in
government. Its sole value lies in contributing
to the preservation and enhancement of the
lives of individual persons…its preservation
and security…is not worth one human life…”
Governments no longer protect well-being of
individuals but…have weapons of mass
destruction that threaten the security of
everyone…” (262)
Do you agree with Holmes that “[A] change in
government often means a change in a way of
life of a people. But it need not do so and can be
effected without interrupting the rhythms of
everyday life…”
Do you agree that “There must be a new
conception of how to get along in the world…if
we do not cherish the life embodied in such
persons there is no point to our other pursuits,
much less to contention over ideologies,
economic systems and political policies…” (263)
Holmes: We’d have to give up the idea that
human nature is inherently corrupt.
Why do we have to give that up to eliminate
What other views about human nature
underwrite the idea that war is inevitable?
Niebuhr, 1942: “…only the chastisements of a
fairly long war can prompt a really
thoroughgoing repentance and a conversion
from those sins of the democratic world
which helped to produce the Nazi revolt…”
50 million people died in WWII. But in less
than 20 years the US was involving itself in
(1) Aggression (Wars of Self Defense) and (2)
Oppression (Wars of Liberation)
2 approaches to conflict resolution. (1) Assume
that in a dispute, one side is correct and the
correct side should prevail. This requires the use
of force sometimes because it is “the only
language wrongdoers understand…”
War is an extreme mode of this conflict
resolution. In its more rudimentary form it is
found in personal relations when one person
seeks to dominate others, manipulate them, etc.
(2) In any conflict there may be truth to both
War has grown increasingly destructive and
kills innocent people. So what is the
Holmes: To cease waging war. Get rid of the
war system, replace it with institutions
promoting peace.
The US: 40% of Scientists and engineers work in
miltiary related jobs
Colleges train people in the military
Military budget is $663 billion in 2010, 549
billion in 2011 and 553 billion in 2012
(expected). 20% of US budget and 50% of
discretionary budget.
The US military is the biggest fossil fuel user in
the world.
When a society is deeply entangled with the
military, the rest of the society begins to
serve military ends.
What are some examples?
Holmes: We’d have to transform the economy
first and turn it to non-military economy.
Military spending does not benefit the
economy overall. Inflation can result, e.g.
How do you non-violently resist Hitler?
[Holmes: how do you defend yourself from a
nuclear bomb?]
First, alternative to war is not passive
acceptance but nonviolent resistance and
Second, use of war as a method to
defend/achieve objectives is not very
foolproof (e.g., US in Vietnam, Soviets in
It was in the power of the US to destroy North
However, this would not have deterred
Communists in the South or impressed the
world with the superiority of US values. The
bombs and agent orange and napalm turned
the Vietnamese against the US.
US officer at Ben Tri “[W]e had to destroy the
town to save it…” But you cannot achieve
your objectives by mere destruction.
Some objectives (“winning of hearts and
minds”) cannot be achieved by violence.
“Nonviolent power…increases in proportion
to increases in the instruments of power…”
In previous times, the Soviet Union would be
very unlikely to successfully dominate the US
for a significant period of time.
What is the threat now? What are the risks
now of de-militarization?
[The irony is that a demilitarized US would
undermine the recruiting argument for the
terrorist threat that currently preoccupies the
US military. (This is not the only threat.)
What about Hitler? Holmes: In the early years
nonviolence could have stopped fascism.
But even successful ending of violence doesn’t
necessarily stop Hitler’s ideas, according to
US is supposed to be individualistic, pluralistic
and liberal in the sense that the individual
chooses and pursues his or her own good.
Criticism of this way of life is that it is atomistic
and there may be no way but struggles of power
for individuals to realize their conception of the
good over others, politically.
An alternative is a communitarian/contextualist
view where society “embodies a single mora
perspective…viewed in its broader historical
setting, and whose memers constitute a moral
Historical materialism: The way we live is the
result of historical processes.
Base [economic structure] determines
superstructure [the ideas we have].
Society emerges out of historical processes
and makes us the persons that we are.
Marx/Engels “Only in community has the
individual the means of cultivating his gifts in
all directions; hence personal freedom only
becomes possible within the community…”
(282) This requires classlessness.
The US went from isolationist to believing it
had a mission in the world, e.g., to make “the
world safe for democracy…”
Democracy and freedom are part of the
mission. Is there anything else to it?
Holmes sees this as monistic—i.e., a moral
framework we are all suppsoed to share.
The values are racially different. The facts are
not agreed upon.
It looks as though there will have to be
continual conflict.
But Holmes points to the idea of satyagraha—
leaving oneself open to the idea that one’s
opponent could be right.
Could this work with other political rivals to
US power (e.g., Islamic militancy and
We can’t be sure we have the truth.
William James: The only way to change a
position is to get inside it.
Royce: “The moral insight…shows us that
whatever the highest good may be, we can
only attain it together for it involves
Is this possible, e.g., between a liberal
democracy and a dictatorship?
We cannot end conflict, we can only response
with nonviolent means.
Is mutual disarmament possible? What would
it take?
Is there an alternative to this pacifism that
also addresses some of Holmes’ worry?