Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Collingwood's "Man Goes Mad" with commentary, Pt. 2

Mild-looking man, challenging words
This resolution of the nation into a fighting machine and of national life into warfare, with the resulting disappearance of that peaceful life for whose protection the instruments of warfare were once thought to exist, has hitherto hardly dawned upon the English consciousness. . .. [W]e too are being drawn into the whirlpool of militarization, and complelled to serve indeed a deity whom in words we repudiate, the deity whose religion is that war, from being a means to peace, should become an end in itself.
            We conceal this fact from ourselves by pretending that our instruments of war are intended not to be used, but to be held as a threat against aggressors: pretending that we mean to preserve peace not by fighting, and through warfare securing the kind of peace we want, but by being able and ready to fight. That is a as much to say that we rely on threats which we do not mean to carry out. If so, our policy is at the mercy of the first nation that calls our bluff. But if we really mean to fight in certain contingencies—if our threats are more than bluff—our instruments of war are meant for use, and not for show, and we deceive ourselves and possibly our neighbors pretending otherwise. 
. . . . 
[W]e can no longer take seriously the conception of armaments as keepers of the peace: it becomes clear that such a conception is grossly self-contradictory. To keep the peace, armaments must be effective: to be effective, they must be designed on the basis of searching experiments, and only war can provide those experiments. War, actual war, is thus the presupposition of there being armaments. Frequent, destructive, and hotly contested war is the presupposition of there being highly efficient armaments. If there were a long period in which armed nations were at peace with one another, the first nation that felt uneasy at the obsolescence of its weapons must provoke a war in order to get the needful experience for bringing them up to date.
Id. 307-309

This quote is intended to provide further grounds for reflection on current interactions between North Korea and the Trump administration and the American public. But the long-term point is also worth considering. The U.S. has spent untold wealth on armaments since the beginning of the Cold War. Thank goodness, we’re not used nuclear weapons. American presidents from Truman (after his initial use of the Bomb) through Obama have all placed the highest value on keeping that evil jinn corked within the silo. And one can only hope, his bluster and impulsiveness notwithstanding, Trump believes the same thing. One can take from this that deterrence in the face of a nuclear threat has worked—so far. But as we are again considering Afghanistan—our forever war—one should note that having built an enormous, powerful military, we some feel compelled to use it, candidate Trump’s sound intuition notwithstanding.


In the paragraph of the quote, is Collingwood correct? I’m thinking, of course, about nuclear weapons. They’ve only been “tested” in warfare twice, and even test explosions by the U.S. and the major powers (North Korea the notable exception) have long ceased. Perhaps, at least to date, nuclear weapons have remained sui generis and therefore provide an exception to Collingwood’s admonition, which otherwise seems undoubtedly to have a sound basis. Perhaps, however, because nuclear weapons threaten the very existence of nation-states (and civilization itself), they prove the exception to Collingwood's observation.