One last thought on War


Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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21 Responses

  1. Avatar Eagle Driver says:

    Respectfully I would add the concept of “justified” to your definition on wars as defensive or plunder. We cannot simplify England’s declaration of war on Hitler as defensive – there was a time when Western Civilization stood for right and wrong – Nazism was evil and as such it must be recognized and not turned into some politically correct non-sense. England stood alone in fighting the evil empire of Hitler. It later became defensive; however, they first stood for a justified cause. If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.Report

    • Avatar gregiank says:

      @Eagle Driver I agree with your point in general but all the western power, and the soviets, acted in defense. Certainly the Poles were acting in defense and the french and brits were acting in an obligation to stand with them.Report

      • Avatar Bob says:

        It’s still more complicated since the Soviets were also plunders or Finland, Poland and the Baltic states.

        Is Finland a defense because Soviets attacked them? Or are they plunders because they joined up with Germany?

        And the US could be seen as a plunderer since we did benefit greatly from WWII economically.

        Like I said earlier, I find ED’s definitions entirely too simplistic.Report

        • Avatar gregiank says:

          @Bob, oh i agree ED was to simplistic. I don’t think its fair to say a nation was a plunderer ( US) because we benefited from a war of defense. Its hard not to benefit from a war you win, unless you are in the odd situation of the UK where winning bankrupts your treasury and spends all your energy.

          Finland is a great example of how complex these things can be. The Finns were pushed towards the Germans because of the Soviets previous invasion. They had to form a defensive alliance with a predatory power against a more dangerous predatory power.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      @Eagle Driver, You have entirely missed the point. I mentioned this in an update to my last post. Defensive wars are the only sort of justified wars.Report

  2. Avatar M. Farmer says:

    At the time, both Democrats and Republicans, and our allies, for the most part, thought the war was necessary, and Democrats at top positions had the same intelligence, and they supported the war. If we were lied to, then it was quite a conspiracy. Either the intelligence was bad and everyone was fooled, or the weapons of mass destruction were moved and hidden someplace else. When dealing with government, though, and the choice is between a cunning, widespread conspiracy or incompetence, I’ll have to go with incompetence. I think everyone thought at the time that the war was a defensive war — It has been costly, so any other motive for the war was surely a bad motive — there are much better ways to make money, or plunder for that matter. If it was for plunder, we’re no Ghengis Khan.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      @M. Farmer,
      How many people in top positions had access to intelligence other than what was cherry-picked to support the invasion? I suspect the answer was “few” (especially for those outside the administration.)Report

    • Avatar Eagle Driver says:

      @M. Farmer,

      I agree with your assessment – incompetence. When Collin Powell left, something just didn’t fit. We on the operations side who attacked targets based on intelligence reports always mumbled something like, “Military Intelligence what an oxymoron” as we stepped to the jet.Report

  3. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    I would say that wars of defense inevitably end up becoming wars of plunder in the domestic sense you describe if they last long enough – that’s true. But with wars that are elective (which can still be defensive), it is in my opinion worth separating the long-term effects of war on the society electing it out from the reason it elected to fight to begin with. If all but duly-limited wars end up as Wars of Plunder on the society fighting them, then I think it becomes a pretty useless category as distinct from War of Defense (and the two are at no point exclusive). In my view the two notions are useful(to the extent they are useful at all) only in distinguishing reasons elective war might be initially undertaken. To address the effects of prolonged war on a society undertaking it abroad electively, it makes more sense just to say what happens: war drains resources, robs families of their loved ones, and inevitably enriches those in the industries supporting the war machine. That’s just the reality of war, and it doesn’t matter what the nature of the war is, the longer it goes on, the more those things happen.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      @Michael Drew, I don’t think all defensive wars necessarily become wars of plunder on the society fighting them. Expense does not necessarily equal plunder.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        @E.D. Kain, I mean yeah, an ideal state could fight an ideal war. But then an ideal defensive war wouldn’t last that long either. Unless a state quite literally has its back against the wall and turns over its and nationalizes its industrial base, then you’re definitely going to have some people in the society making money off the fighting of a war over time. Profiteering != plundering? But the expanding power of the executive does? I guess we have to define plunder intentionally from the perspective of the plunderer, whoever that might be. These vagaries are what made your initial absolute claim so puzzling, though, E.D. I’m sure you’re aware of that by now.Report

  4. Avatar Laryngitis says:

    It would appear to be the case that wars result as much from institutional and bureaucratic inertia as from motive ideas. Pentagons exist to fight wars. It would be surprising to find that standing armies could lie idle indefinitely.Report

  5. where does (knowingly or unknowingly) provoking another nation into attacking you fall on this spectrum?Report

  6. Avatar valdemar says:

    How does this defence/plunder idea square with the First World War? It resulted from the decline of Austria-Hungary, German imperialism, British fear of one power dominating continental Europe, French revanchism, Russia’s desire to be the lead nation among the Slavs… And exactly what were the USA’s motives in joining in? Defence or plunder?Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      @valdemar, To a degree this points to the problems with ED’s simplistic formulation. Does French desire for revenge of the loss of the war in 1870 count as plunder: i don’t quite think so. But the German’s were actually aggressive in pushing for war partially out of desire of “living space” and colonies which sounds a lot like plunder to me. We, the US, had been pushed very far towards war by little things like having our ships sunk and the Zimmerman Telegram. Our war can be easily seen as defensive.Report

      • Avatar Will says:

        @greginak, Clearly, the uproar over the Zimmerman telegram was a pretext for the United States to enter the war. Other factors – ideological and cultural sympathy for the Allies, Wilson’s fixation with democracy – played a role, which also disproves this whole “plunder/self-defense” formulation.Report

    • Avatar dexter45 says:

      @valdemar, I don’t know enough to say anything about Europe’s reason for WWI, but I think America’s reason was pure stupidity.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      @valdemar, I fail to see how each of these players can’t be viewed through the lens of defense and plunder. Besides, I speak to some degree on wars of obligation and wars of folly as well. World War I is certainly a war of folly, birthed from secretive alliances and changing power dynamics across Europe. Rising powers and old enemies saw where they could gain power and/or territory (plunder) and others viewed this as a threat to their sovereignty and chose to declare war more for defensive purposes. The United States involvement was pretty absurd, but was largely done to increase the reputation of our country and to help defend our allies – I’d say this counts as a little of both, but it’s mostly folly (my third category, which I admitted was the exception the plunder/defense binary).Report

  7. Avatar Katherine says:

    How would the Civil War fit into your formulation? It gets confusing because the goal of all sides was either to retain what they already had (in the case of the Union, the American nation; in the case of the Confederacy, slaves) or regain what was rightfully theirs (for the slaves [along with their allies, the white abolitionists and free blacks,] freedom). On which of the three sides was it a war of defense? On which was it a war of plunder?Report

    • Avatar Katherine says:

      Oh, I just saw that you answered this in a previous post. You use an interesting definition of “plunder”, although I think it’s a justified one in that the South were, firstly, fighting for something that was not rightfully theirs (the ownership of other human beings) and secondly, were trying to secede for an illegitimate reason (because a fair and democratic election didn’t turn out the way they wanted).Report