Freedom from Fear
REMOVE THE ROOT CAUSE OF WAR
By HOWARD J. McMURRAY, Congressman from Wisconsin
Delivered at a "Win the Peace" Rally, Carnegie Hall, New York City, September 12, 1943
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 87-89.
WE live in a world which is doomed to more or less continuous conflict until we the people of the United States and, I might add, the people of the rest of the world begin to understand the basic causes of war. War is the great devastating disease of modern civilization. It is a cancer on the body politic, which if not cured, will destroy all those values which we have developed and learned to hold dear throughout the period of the past 2,000 years. The causes of war are, of course, many, but all these causes may be catalogued under one of three general headings. Each explanation, naturally, is given in many ways and has many advocates. It is my contention that we have war because we have refused to study and to understand the real causes and to do what is essential to remove the germs which create the disease. If we treat the wrong disease, the patient will not be cured, and if we fail to diagnose the disease correctly, the patient will certainly be destroyed. It is imperative to seek out the root cause of war in our world and to do what is necessary in order that our children and our children's children shall not be inevitably doomed to mass conflict more frightful and destructive than that through which we are now passing.
The first general theory of war may be stated briefly in the following terms: War is natural; it results from the fact that man is greedy, selfish, pugnacious, and brutal. You have heard this theory expressed in different ways at different times. Some say, "We have always had war and will always have war." Others say, "As long as man's nature is what it is, we will fight." I call this the original-sin doctrine of war, a doctrine which says war is inherent and natural in man. These are different ways, of course, of saying that the causes of war are primarily psychological, and man being what he is, nothing can be done about it. Let us examine this theory and these statements. Will anyone contend, if he will take a careful look at his world, that war is simply the result of the nature of man? Is it not evident that all kinds of people live all over the world? There are good people and bad people in the city of New York, but they do not resolve their differences by the use of violence. There lire good people and bad people in the state of New York, felt they do not fight each other. There are good people and bad people in the United States of America, but force is not used between them. There are good people and bad people within the confines of the political boundaries of every nation-state on earth and yet within these boundaries, differences which arise between men are not resolved violently. This devil theory of war simply is not adequate to explain war as we have it in the modern world. War is not simply and primarily a result of the nature of man. It is not primarily psychological; it is not a result of the simple fact that some people are good and some people are bad. Even in the midst of this great conflict, we know and can admit that all of the people with horns are not confined within the political boundaries of certain nation-states and all of the people with wings are not confined within the boundaries of certain other nation-states. We must, therefore, rule out as the fundamental cause of modern mass conflict the theory that war is natural and that its causes are innate in man. I do not, of course, deny that there is room for improvement in man's nature. If we all lived by the Golden Rule, there would be no war, nor would there be need for any of the institutions of social control which are present in all organized society. You would not have any government because you would not need it; nor would you have churches, or schools, because you would not need them. Our world, however, is a very human one. It is full of a great many things of which we disapprove. Yet, the individual greed and the individual avarice of the average person is not the major cause of violence in those parts of the world which we call civilized. We know perfectly well, for instance, that the violence which we have in the world today is something different and springs essentially from a different root than the original sin of man. We have learned to control man within the organized political societies which men have built.
The second general explanation for war is economic and it is my intention to show you that both phases of this theory are essentially false when used to explain war as an institution in modern society. The first part of this argument goes something like this—you have heard it many times and many of you have believed it: Stated simply this theory explains war as the result of the mal-distribution of economic goods and services. It is most often stated in the following terms: As long as there are "have" and "have not" people on earth, you will have war. This is evidently not true. There are "have" and "have not" people in the city of New York, in the state of New York, in every state of the Union. There are rich and poor people in the United States of America and in every other nation-state on earth. Yet within the city of New York, the state of New York, and every politically organized society on earth, war has been abolished. Justas I admit that man's nature may be and ought to be improved, I make no plea for, nor do I justify the present maldistribution of economic goods among men. I happen to he one of those who believes that a better distribution of income and wealth is imperative and that we should take all reasonable steps to this end. I know, and you know that this mal-distribution, as vicious as it is, is not the primary cause of war in our world.
The second part of the economic explanation of war is the so-called Marxian theory which says in essence this: War is the result primarily of the capitalistic organization of economic society. There is a tendency, so tin's theory goes, for capitalism, as it matures, to develop into monopolies—huge concentrations of economic power which tend to use the political state for their own purposes—and in the competition engendered between the capitalists of one part of the world and the capitalists of another part of the world the root cause of war may be found. One does not need to deny that there are tendencies within nations for wealth to become concentrated within fewer and fewer hands, nor need one deny that this economic power is used to control the policies of government in some cases.
Yet, war as we have it in our modern world cannot be blamed primarily on capitalism or on any other form of economic organization known to and used by modern man. War is not a result of economic competition as such. The capitalists of New York, and the capitalists of Philadelphia are much more competitive, have many more conflicts of interest than the capitalists of New York and the capitalists of Berlin. Yet New York and Philadelphia have never gone to war with each other. Twice within our generation New York and Berlin have fought. That conflicts of economic interest are present cannot be denied. But these conflicts of interest are not in themselves the fundamental cause of war. The capitalists within the confines of the political boundaries of modern nation-states may compete vigorously and sometimes even viciously, but they do not fight each other. It is only when these conflicts of interest cut across the boundaries of nation-states that war is engendered. People who accept the simple Marxian Theory as the primary explanation of war will perhaps have trouble in explaining the fact that the two countries in this present war which have fought each other most bitterly are neither of them capitalistic in their economic organization. Russia is not a capitalistic state; nor is Germany a capitalistic state. I do not see how one can blame capitalism for war in this particular case.
There is one thing that is natural about war, as it is natural about almost all forms of human activity. There are conflicts of interest between people when people come into contact one with the other. These conflicts may be economic or social or racial or ideological or of any other origin. Men do differ about things and ideas. When two men want the same wife, or the same job, or the same piece of property, or the same raw material, or the same markets, they have conflicts of interest about these things. It is easy to understand, however, that these conflicts, no matter how serious, do not lead to war except under certain conditions. I submit it is these certain conditions, which I am about to explain, that constitute the primary and fundamental cause of mass conflict in modern society.
If war is not psychological primarily in its origin, or is not economic primarily in its origin, it must be political. War is essentially a result of anarchy, and anarchy is a lack of government. Where men's interests conflict within organized political society, these conflicts are resolved by methods short of war. If we understand war and peace, we can learn how to keep the peace. Peace is not just an absence of conflict; it is a planned way of living among men. All the peace that man has known has been a creation of man's effort, and man has been able to keep the peace because he has been willing and able to dream dreams and to make those dreams come true, to set up institutions to perform certain functions and those certain functions are always performed by all governments in all societies. Peace has been achieved when men organized political systems and substituted reason and justice for force in the settlement of differences which naturally arise among them. Let me repeat, peace is a planned way of living; it is a creation of man. It is a result of the institutions built by man. Men have peace when they substitute law for force in settling their differences. Peace is, therefore, a result of law, and law is a result of government. There can be, let me repeat, no peace in this world of ours without law, and there can be no law without government.
The functions of government are relatively easy to understand. First, there is the problem of making the rules by which men live and of changing these rules when conditions change. This we call the legislative function. You are all quite familiar with it. Then there is the function, or problem, of enforcing the rules by which wc live. This is the executive or administrative function. There is also the function of interpreting the rules in their application to individuals and groups of individuals where conflicts arise under the rules. This is the judicial function. Where man has built government to perform these functions, and where he has put the concentrated force of the community behind the law instead of behind the litigants, he has found peace. Peace is, therefore, the result of the monopolization and centralization of the right to use force. One of my great teachers used to define sovereignty as the monopolization of violence by politicians. Although sovereignty may have other characteristics, this is certainly true about it. In a politically organized community the state alone may legally use violence or force. Individuals and groups of individuals within the politically organized state have given up their right to use violence in order to enforce their wills. The right to use violence has been monopolized and this monopolized violence is placed behind the rules by which men live and not behind the men who have conflicts of interest one with the other. In the city of New York this monopoly of violence is the police department. In the United States of America, it is represented by the Army, Navy, and Air Force.
It is trite to state that our world is interdependent. Our world is one, and we ought to realize that even Hitler and his advisers know this. They know that the world is going to be ruled from a common center. They know that the differences which arise between peoples from the four corners of the globe must be settled under common rules. This war is not being fought to unify the world; it is being fought rather between those who want to unify it on a master-slave basis and those who think that it must be unified on the principle of democratic consent. War cannot be eradicated unless we build a government which has power co-extensive with the needs of modern industrial man. Modern industry draws its materials and sends its products throughout the world, and unless we substitute law for violence in the settlement of the conflicts of interest which inevitably arise, we are doomed to perpetual warfare.
Let us look briefly at the historical evolution of political societies. There was a time on earth when among our ancestors the family was the basic and only existing unit of social organization. In those days, war, if you want to use that word, or battle, or violence was continuous when families came into contact one with the other. There was violence because there were conflicts of interest, and there was no organization to substitute reason and law for the use of force in settling these differences. Gradually, however families coalesced into clans. After this happened, we find peace within the clan, and war between the clans whenever there was conflict of interest. Clans coalesced into tribes, and there was peace within the tribe and war between the tribes. Then at different stages and at different times in various parts of the world there developed a series of political institutions— the city-state, the feudal manor, right down to the modern nation-state. And this has always been true; within the organization that possesses political sovereignty there has been peace, and between the sovereign political groups there has often been war.
You live in a world, internationally speaking, that is anarchy, tempered only by diplomacy, alliance, and a few occasional and feeble attempts at confederation. This is your present-day world; a world so interdependent economically that men within the confines of the Untied States can perform acts, official government acts for instance, the results of which may be to throw thousands of people out of employment in countries half way around the world. Our political system is so organized that we are responsible for our acts only within the boundaries of our sovereign nation-state. Our acts, however, affect people in far-away places, and there are inevitable conflicts of interest resulting which, if not solved by means of law, may easily bring about a condition where violence is used. Let me repeat, man has peace only when he builds for peace and when he creates institutions which will keep the peace. You cannot find any exception to this in history.
Twenty-five years ago, another professor of political science turned politician told the world what it was going to have to face within that generation. We called him an idealist and a dreamer, an impractical college professor, and a great many other names. The American people turned back to another group of political leaders—"back to normalcy"—wonderful words. And when our people did this, the same college professor told us what would happen to this world. He predicted the kind of world which we would have if we did not do certain things. He warned us of what was to come. We have that world today. We are living in it, although we do not find it comfortable. I want to point out to you tonight that Woodrow Wilson was the great realist of his time; the impractical dreamers were on the other side of the fence.
Let me repeat again, we have the techniques; we know how to do this; we have the knowledge and the experience. Wishful thinking will not save us. It is only by doing and acting in an intelligent manner that the problems of our day may be solved and that we may make ourselves fit for survival. This is the great question of our time; the great debate of our generation. It is not dream-stuff; it is not Utopia; it is not a question to be faced sometime in the distant future. It is the critical decision which our generation must make.