The Myth of Inevitable War

In his book The Pity of War, British historian Niall Ferguson demolishes the myth that uncontrollable forces, primarily militarism, led to the outbreak of World War I. After the war, British politicians like Sir Edward Grey, in an effort to cover their backsides, tried to argue that the world was destined for war; no one could have prevented it. Ferguson , however, persuasively argues that militarism was actually on the decline in Europe . As evidence, he cites the growth of anti-militarist political parties and France 's difficulty increasing its period of national service from two to three years, among other things. Instead, blundering, inept politicians brought about the war. The British exaggerated intelligence about German intentions in order to justify military commitments to France and Russia ; this eventually helped lead to war. Ferguson 's analysis of World War I applies to other wars as well, particularly the current 'war on terrorism.'

Today, both British and American politicians argue that America 's destiny is to fight a war against terrorism. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in a speech before Congress, said America must fight wars for liberty against terrorism 'Because destiny put you in this place in history, in this moment in time, and the task is yours to do.' Similarly, in his 2003 State of the Union Address, George W. Bush said 'Once again, we are called to defend the safety of our people, and the hopes of all mankind. And we accept this responsibility.' The pronouncements of Bush and Blair resemble those of the British politicians who blundered their way into World War I. Bush and Blair claim that destiny forces America to take up the sword; Sir Edward Grey and his counterparts tried to cover their incompetence by blaming the war on impersonal forces, mainly militarism.

The belief that history destines America to fight a war against terrorism rests upon the much-disproved and preposterous assumption that terrorists hate us because of our freedoms, and we therefore have no choice but to fight them. Middle Eastern men do not join terrorist groups because America 's freedoms make them jealous. If terrorists despise our freedom, why have they not attacked other 'free' countries, like Switzerland , Sweden , or Japan ?

Middle Easterners hate America because of the violence it has supported and perpetrated in the Middle East . For example, America supports Israel 's atrocities against the Palestinian people. The Israeli military has applied a policy of 'collective punishment' against occupied Palestinian territories, brutally suppressing entire communities. America also props up hated dictatorial governments in the Middle East , such as the Saudi regime. During the 1980s, America even supported Saddam Hussein, providing him with diplomatic support and military aid. The US also sold Saddam quantities of anthrax and botulinum toxin: components of weapons of mass destruction. Then, in 2003, without so much as an apology to the Iraqis, the US launched an invasion to 'liberate' them from Saddam's tyrannical rule (to which it had contributed) and to end Saddam's weapons of mass destruction programs (to which it had contributed). In short, Middle Easterners do not hate America because of our freedoms, but because we frequently (and violently) interfere in their affairs.

America 's history of violence in the Middle East reveals the absurdity of the argument that history has destined America to fight endless wars to 'rid the world of evil.' If US aggression encourages Muslims to join terrorists groups, launching a 'war on terrorism' that will kill thousands of civilians, as the war in Iraq has, will only increase the threat of terrorism. History has not thrust America into a decades-long war against terrorism; politicians have, and we should resist them. Their belief in an America destined to rid the world of evil is just as preposterous and self-serving as Sir Edward Grey's claim that militarism made World War I inevitable.

War is only inevitable when people, due to either State coercion or propaganda, enthusiastically support and participate in it. Unfortunately, most Americans support the Pandora's Box that our politicians call a 'war on terrorism' when they should oppose it at every opportunity.

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Andrew Young's picture
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Andrew Young is a senior history major at Kentucky Wesleyan College in Owensboro, Kentucky, where he won the Powell Peace Award in 2004.