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WAR IS SYSTEMATIC mass murder, the ugliest manifestation of man's inhumanity to man. Elementary morality demands of us that we work tirelessly to abolish it. And morality aside, war cannot be defended on practical grounds. There can be no victor in World War III; there can only be losers.

Our full military strength cannot be used against another nuclear power without inviting Armageddon. We cannot even use nuclear weapons against a weak non-nuclear power, for small countries have big friends. In the kind of war we still dare to wage, the United States was fought to a standstill in Vietnam by a sixth rate military power.

We are asked to believe that a burdensome military establishment -- which cannot be used rationally in large wars and cannot be used effectively in small ones -- is needed to deter Russia. But Russia knows we cannot use our nuclear deterrent unless we are prepared to see tens of millions of Americans killed in the ensuing holocaust.


Such a deterrent is not credible and does not deter. Russia was not deterred in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, or Afghanistan. Nor did Russia's nuclear deterrent dissuade Eisenhower from sending the Marines into Lebanon, Johnson from escalating the war against North Vietnam, or Nixon from conspiring to overthrow by force a duly elected Marxist president of Chile.

It may be argued that the US nuclear deterrent is not expected to restrain Russia in other parts of the world, but simply to forestall a nuclear attack against the United States itself. But a Soviet leader mad enough to contemplate killing 100 million or so Americans would be mad enough to do it regardless of threatened retaliation. The same must be said of any American President mad enough to think of killing 100 million Russians. Deterrents, so-called, do not deter; they merely prolong a precarious balance of terror. Meanwhile, they cost everyone more than anyone can afford.

Politicians who claim that our ponderous military is morally or pragmatically justifiable are wrong precisely where it is most necessary to be right

Preparedness: a Cruel Illusion

Wars would be infrequent indeed if nations were unprepared for them. Preparedness does not diminish, but rather increases, the likelihood, frequency, and severity of war. In theory, all nations might voluntarily agree to enhance their true security by disarming. In practice, however, unanimous agreement to disarm is unimaginable and less-than-unanimous agreement will not suffice.

While war remains possible, preparedness seems essential; and while nations prepare for war, war remains inevitable. If ever there was a vicious circle, this is it.


The circle can only be broken by making warfare impossible, so that preparations for war clearly become superfluous. People everywhere would rejoice in dismantling their military machines if they knew they safely could. The key point, then, is whether war can be made impossible, and if so, how?

War can be made virtually impossible, obviating the need for military preparedness. Before we enlarge on that though, there is more to be said about war, preparedness, and their effects on the environment.

The burden of preparedness is immense; were it not perceived as essential to national survival, we would not tolerate it for a moment. The US defense budget is approaching $150 billion per year, and constitutes about one-third of the entire world's military expenditures.

If preparedness is expensive, war itself is vastly more so. It was President Johnson's attempt to produce both guns and butter without raising taxes -- his fight now pay later policy -- that touched off double-digit inflation. Even in a well-managed economy, war and preparedness for war are inherently inflationary; they enlarge consumer purchasing power without producing anything that consumers can buy. The war machine also competes with the civilian economy for raw materials, skilled workers, managerial talent, and capital, thus reinforcing inflationary trends.

A war economy is an economy perennially whipsawed by inflation.

Military hardware is a prodigious consumer of scarce materials and other fast-vanishing resources indispensable to an industrial society. Together with rampant consumerism in wealthy nations, military procurement is a major cause of resource shortages that are reaching crisis proportions.

Even in peacetime, military establishments are ravenous consumers of energy. And wartime energy consumption by military machines beggars the imagination.

Damage to the environment was an incidental by-product of war in the past, and relatively trivial. But modern warfare is the one activity that has as its primary objective the deliberate degradation of the environment. The United States warred against the environment in Vietnam, defoliating forests that might hide the enemy and destroying crops and crop lands that might feed him. Future wars, if we allow them to happen, will be even more ecocidal. Chemical and biological weapons are designed to destroy life support systems -- to poison water supplies, for example. All-out nuclear war might pollute the entire planet with levels of radioactivity that no form of life can endure. Humanity's suicide would be one part of a vaster tragedy. Evolution's promising experiments with terrestrial life would all be snuffed out.

War . . . To be Continued!

[Photograph: Elihu Blotnick from Progress as if Survival Mattered]