In favor of war

Bryan Caplan argues for avoiding war.  But bad people are always willing to fight.  If good people are not willing to fight, they will surrender in a succession of small steps, and bad people will rule.  Without England declaring war, the Nazis would have ruled by 1942.  Without Reagan encouraging a multitude of small wars, the communists would have ruled by 1990

The immediate costs of war are clearly awful. Most wars lead to massive loss of life and wealth on at least one side. If you use a standard value of life of $5M, every 200,000 deaths is equivalent to a trillion dollars of damage.

And the cost of rule by Germany or the Soviet Union?

Some wars – most obviously the Napoleonic Wars and World War II – at least arguably deserve credit for decades of subsequent peace. But many other wars – like the French Revolution and World War I – just sowed the seeds for new and greater horrors. You could say, “Fine, let’s only fight wars with big long-run benefits.” In practice, however, it’s very difficult to predict a war’s long-run consequences. One of the great lessons of Tetlock’s Expert Political Judgment is that foreign policy experts are much more certain of their predictions than they have any right to be.

“War” did not cause those consequences. Bad people caused those consequences. For example World War I did not cause bad consequences. Hitler caused bad consequences, and pacifism, the fact that when the time came to enforce the Versailles treaty against Hitler the victors failed to do so, caused bad consequences. Versailles did not cause bad consequences. Failure to enforce Versailles against Hitler caused bad consequences.

I suspect that economists’ main objection to pacifism is it actually increases the quantity of war by reducing the cost of aggression. As I’ve argued before, though, this is at best a half-truth:

No. It is a simple and obvious truth.

The upshot for foreign policy is that people who warn about “sowing the seeds of hate” are not the simpletons they often seem to be. Military reprisals against, for example, nations that harbor terrorists reduce the quantity of terrorism holding anti-U.S. hatred fixed. But if people in target countries and those who sympathize with them feel the reprisals are unjustified, we are making them angrier and thereby increasing the demand for terrorism. Net effect: Ambiguous.

This theory is easily tested empirically: Reflect upon the thousand years of war Christendom has had with Islam. Islam has always been waging aggressive war against us, sometimes aggressive full scale conventional war, as in the siege of Constantinople, usually small scale raiding, piracy and terrorism. When did we have peace? We had peace when we massacred the entire population of Jerusalem, man woman and child and settled the place with Christians. We had peace from 1830 to 1960, which peace started when the French put an end to the chronic Barbary pirate problem by genocidally settling what is now Algeria with Christian settlers. Perhaps if they had killed a lot more, Algeria would today be Christian, and we would still have peace.

You do not get peace by making nice with bad people. You get peace by eradicating bad people. Often bad people rule people who are not bad, who just want to get on with their lives, but it is hard to separate the rulers from the ruled, particularly with theocratic or ideological governments, so you get peace by killing them all and letting God sort them out.

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