Holmes alternatives to war
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Holmes: “Alternatives to War”. The problem is with the belief that security can be achieved through armaments. What is security?. JS Mill: We protect security to protect what Holmes calls “the essentials of well being.”

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Holmes: “Alternatives to War”

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Holmes alternatives to war

Holmes: “Alternatives to War”

The problem is with the belief that security can be achieved through armaments.

What is security

What is security?

  • JS Mill: We protect security to protect what Holmes calls “the essentials of well being.”

  • We have to be careful to identify what we are protecting: “The preservation of the state, a specific form of government or government itself?” (p. 260)

  • We speak of the state as a living entity. But the state is an abstraction.

What is the value of the state

What is the value of the state?

  • Is Holmes right that we “misidentify a government with its people…” What about the common life?

2 kinds of ethics

2 kinds of ethics

  • (1) Macroscopic ethics: The ultimate concern of ethics is the survival and well being of abstract or collective entities.

  • (2) Microscopic ethics: The ultimate concern is with the survival and well being of living, conscious, sentient beings—people and animals.

  • Does microethics come in when we think about the state?

  • Holmes says it is about what takes precedence. The macro often supercedes the micro. Even in “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country…”

Self defense in war

Self-defense in war

  • The security of the state is the security that matters.

  • The reason the killing of civilians is ignored is that people focus on the collectivities, “struggling like Homeric gods…” “We think we are punishing an aggressor.”We do not think of the individuals who are affected but a personified being in the form of a state.

  • We say we have no quarrel with the individuals inside the entity we are at war with but the war will destroy them.

Question about the method of war

Question about the method of war

  • Why do we use war that kills unwilling and innocent people rather than use selective assassination to kill political leaders?

  • Leaders have the least chance of being killed in a war.

Why fight for the state

Why fight for the state?

  • Holmes: “There is nothing of intrinsic value in government. Its sole value lies in contributing to the preservation and enhancement of the lives of individual persons…its preservation and security…is not worth one human life…”

  • Governments no longer protect well-being of individuals but…have weapons of mass destruction that threaten the security of everyone…” (262)

What if the government did change

What if the government did change?

  • Do you agree with Holmes that “[A] change in government often means a change in a way of life of a people. But it need not do so and can be effected without interrupting the rhythms of everyday life…”

  • Do you agree that “There must be a new conception of how to get along in the world…if we do not cherish the life embodied in such persons there is no point to our other pursuits, much less to contention over ideologies, economic systems and political policies…” (263)

What is required for demilitarization to happen

What is required for demilitarization to happen?

  • Holmes: We’d have to give up the idea that human nature is inherently corrupt.

  • Why do we have to give that up to eliminate war?

  • What other views about human nature underwrite the idea that war is inevitable?

If everyone is inherently corrupt can you condemn your enemies

If everyone is inherently corrupt can you condemn your enemies?

  • Niebuhr, 1942: “…only the chastisements of a fairly long war can prompt a really thoroughgoing repentance and a conversion from those sins of the democratic world which helped to produce the Nazi revolt…”

  • 50 million people died in WWII. But in less than 20 years the US was involving itself in Vietnam.

2 justifications for war

2 justifications for war

  • (1) Aggression (Wars of Self Defense) and (2) Oppression (Wars of Liberation)

  • 2 approaches to conflict resolution. (1) Assume that in a dispute, one side is correct and the correct side should prevail. This requires the use of force sometimes because it is “the only language wrongdoers understand…”

  • War is an extreme mode of this conflict resolution. In its more rudimentary form it is found in personal relations when one person seeks to dominate others, manipulate them, etc.

Conflict resolution

Conflict Resolution

  • (2) In any conflict there may be truth to both sides.

    War has grown increasingly destructive and kills innocent people. So what is the alternative?

    Holmes: To cease waging war. Get rid of the war system, replace it with institutions promoting peace.

Militarized us

Militarized US

  • The US: 40% of Scientists and engineers work in miltiary related jobs

  • Colleges train people in the military

  • Military budget is $663 billion in 2010, 549 billion in 2011 and 553 billion in 2012 (expected). 20% of US budget and 50% of discretionary budget.

  • The US military is the biggest fossil fuel user in the world.

  • [See: http://comptroller.defense.gov/defbudget/fy2013/FY2013_Budget_Request_Overview_Book.pdf]

Even without the direct payment

Even without the direct payment

  • When a society is deeply entangled with the military, the rest of the society begins to serve military ends.

  • What are some examples?

  • Holmes: We’d have to transform the economy first and turn it to non-military economy.

  • Military spending does not benefit the economy overall. Inflation can result, e.g.

What about those who won t renounce war

What about those who won’t renounce war?

  • How do you non-violently resist Hitler? [Holmes: how do you defend yourself from a nuclear bomb?]

  • First, alternative to war is not passive acceptance but nonviolent resistance and defense.

  • Second, use of war as a method to defend/achieve objectives is not very foolproof (e.g., US in Vietnam, Soviets in Afghanistan)



  • It was in the power of the US to destroy North Vietnam.

  • However, this would not have deterred Communists in the South or impressed the world with the superiority of US values. The bombs and agent orange and napalm turned the Vietnamese against the US.

  • US officer at Ben Tri “[W]e had to destroy the town to save it…” But you cannot achieve your objectives by mere destruction.



  • Some objectives (“winning of hearts and minds”) cannot be achieved by violence.

  • “Nonviolent power…increases in proportion to increases in the instruments of power…”

  • In previous times, the Soviet Union would be very unlikely to successfully dominate the US for a significant period of time.

  • What is the threat now? What are the risks now of de-militarization?

Nonviolence and the extreme case

Nonviolence and the extreme case

  • [The irony is that a demilitarized US would undermine the recruiting argument for the terrorist threat that currently preoccupies the US military. (This is not the only threat.)

    What about Hitler? Holmes: In the early years nonviolence could have stopped fascism.

    But even successful ending of violence doesn’t necessarily stop Hitler’s ideas, according to Holmes.

Looking at us society

Looking at US society

  • US is supposed to be individualistic, pluralistic and liberal in the sense that the individual chooses and pursues his or her own good.

  • Criticism of this way of life is that it is atomistic and there may be no way but struggles of power for individuals to realize their conception of the good over others, politically.

  • An alternative is a communitarian/contextualist view where society “embodies a single mora perspective…viewed in its broader historical setting, and whose memers constitute a moral community…”

Marx s view

Marx’s view

  • Historical materialism: The way we live is the result of historical processes.

  • Base [economic structure] determines superstructure [the ideas we have].

  • Society emerges out of historical processes and makes us the persons that we are.

  • Marx/Engels “Only in community has the individual the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions; hence personal freedom only becomes possible within the community…” (282) This requires classlessness.

Historical transformation

Historical transformation

  • The US went from isolationist to believing it had a mission in the world, e.g., to make “the world safe for democracy…”

  • Democracy and freedom are part of the mission. Is there anything else to it?

  • Holmes sees this as monistic—i.e., a moral framework we are all suppsoed to share.

How to resolve conflicts between different value systems

How to resolve conflicts between different value systems?

  • The values are racially different. The facts are not agreed upon.

  • It looks as though there will have to be continual conflict.

  • But Holmes points to the idea of satyagraha—leaving oneself open to the idea that one’s opponent could be right.

  • Could this work with other political rivals to US power (e.g., Islamic militancy and fundamentalism?)

Violence is for the morally infallible

Violence is for the morally infallible

  • We can’t be sure we have the truth.

  • William James: The only way to change a position is to get inside it.

  • Royce: “The moral insight…shows us that whatever the highest good may be, we can only attain it together for it involves harmony…”

  • Is this possible, e.g., between a liberal democracy and a dictatorship?

We cannot end conflict

We cannot end conflict

  • We cannot end conflict, we can only response with nonviolent means.

  • Is mutual disarmament possible? What would it take?

  • Is there an alternative to this pacifism that also addresses some of Holmes’ worry?

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