The U.S. War Department was renamed the Defense Department in 1947, and it is common in many countries to speak of the war departments of one’s own and all other nations as “defense.” But if the term has any meaning, it cannot be stretched to cover offensive war making or aggressive militarism. If “defense” is to mean something other than “offense,” then attacking another nation “so that they can’t attack us first” or “to send a message” or to “punish” a crime is not defensive and not necessary.
Read also: Myth: China Is a Military Threat
There Are No “Good Wars”
Among those who believe that only select wars are necessary, the most recent widely popular example in a number of nations, including the United States, is World War II. This fact is stunning. People go back three-quarters of a century to find a defensible example of one of our largest endeavors as a species.
Taking the claim that World War II was “a good war” on its own terms, here are some often overlooked facts, none of which — needless to say — excuse in the slightest the hideous crimes of any party to that war:
- It is widely accepted that World War I was unnecessary, yet without World War I its sequel is unimaginable.
- Ending World War I with punishment of an entire nation rather than of the war makers was understood by wise observers at the time to make World War II very likely.
- The arms race between the two world wars was widely and correctly understood to be making the second war more likely.
- U.S. and other Western corporations profited by enriching and arming dangerous governments in Germany and Japan, which also had the support of Western governments between the wars.
- The United States had tutored Japan in imperialism and then provoked it through territorial expansion, economic sanctions, and assistance to the Chinese military.
- Winston Churchill called World War II “The Unnecessary War” claiming that “there was never a war more easy to stop.”
- Churchill obtained a secret commitment from U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt to bring the United States into the war.
- The U.S. government expected the Japanese attack, took numerous actions it knew were likely to provoke it, and prior to the attack: ordered its Navy to war with Japan, instituted a draft, collected the names of Japanese Americans, and ignored peace activists marching in the streets for years against the long build-up to a war with Japan.
- Japanese Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoye proposed talks with the United States in July 1941, which Roosevelt rejected.
- President Roosevelt lied to the U.S. public about Nazi attacks and plans in an effort to win support for entering the war.
- President Roosevelt and the U.S. government blocked efforts to allow Jewish refugees into the United States or elsewhere.
- Facts about Nazi crimes in concentration camps were available but played no part in war propaganda until after the war was over.
- Wise voices predicted accurately that continuing the war would mean the escalation of those crimes.
- Nonviolent resistance to Nazism in Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, and even in Berlin — poorly planned and developed though it was in that day and age — showed remarkable potential.
War Preparation Is Also Not “Defense”
The same logic that would claim that attacking another nation is “defensive” can be used to try to justify the permanent stationing of troops in another nation. The result, in both cases, is counterproductive, producing threats rather than eliminating them. A defensive military would consist of a coast guard, a border patrol, anti-aircraft weapons, and other forces able to defend against an attack. The vast majority of military spending, especially by wealthy nations, is offensive.
Evidence shows that the most effective means of defense is, far more often than not, nonviolent resistance. The mythology of warrior cultures suggests that nonviolent action is weak, passive, and ineffective at solving large-scale social problems. The facts show just the opposite.
People under attack can refuse to recognize an attacker’s authority. Peace teams from abroad can join the nonviolent resistance. Targeted sanctions and prosecutions can be combined with international diplomatic pressure. There are alternatives to mass violence.
War Makes Everyone Less Safe
War mythology would have us believe that war kills evil people who need to be killed to protect us and our freedoms. In reality, recent wars involving wealthy nations have been one-sided slaughters of children, the elderly, and ordinary residents of the poorer nations attacked. And while “freedom” has served as a justification for the wars, the wars have served as a justification for curtailing actual freedoms.