John Stuart Mill…On War

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Here is a quote, by John Stuart Mill, that I was required to memorize as an 18 year-old in basic cadet training:

“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. …A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”

But here is the full quote, that was NOT shared with me (notice the part that was deleted…hmmm):

“But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer.  War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse.  When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people.  A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration.  A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.  As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other.”

My reflections after more than 20 years.  This quote was pummeled into my brain, without the full context, to reinforce the fact that I am not to ask questions, but to accept that the State’s reasons for war are just.  We need more people to ask, if “people are [being] used as mere human instruments…in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master?”

Cannon Balls

Incidentally, this was written by Mill to persuade the the public to support the Union in the U.S. Civil War.

Essentially, this quote is useless in justifying war.  It is an oblique statement that says, “I hate war, but you know, this war is OK because the reasons are right.”  However, it is the reasons that are the hard part, and as long as the bar is kept low to justify war, as they are today (and drones count, by the way) then this Mill piece is nothing more than reaffirming evidence.

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