The atomic bomb made wars between nations absurd, but rather than keep the nations and lose the war we preferred to keep the war and lose the nations.

“Atomic bomb” is a synecdoche for the whole package of modern war: poison gas, trenches, Krupp guns, firestorms, machine guns, etc.

Why could we agree to stop using poison gas but not to stop using machine guns or even rifled barrels? Why not agree to use no guns at all? Let both sides meet on a field with lances and horses and farming tools. But if it came to that, we’d never cease from wars. In this sense, we want the technology to save us from war. But this is a pointless thing to want.

If technology made wars ridiculous, then technology ought to be abandoned. Political entities cannot live without war and so we must either choose to exist in such a way that allows war to be a path to virtue or we will be existing in a way contrary to human happiness. Pacifism isn’t just naive, it’s contrary to social well-being.

One city with a big enough bomb could level another, but instead the city advances or retreats against its own occupants, whether we’re talking about the occupants of Baghdad in 2004 or of Paris today.



  1. February 27, 2015 at 3:25 pm

    I like this. It puts a spin on Einstein’s ‘war-after-next’ quip.

    Maybe on a sadder angle, it seems the refusal to make anything but unprincipled exceptions in matters of mass slaughter is an artifact of democratic warfare – and here ‘democratic’ serves as a synecdoche for the whole package of modern politics: suffragism, commercialism, immanentism, pragmatism, progressivism, etc.

    War as a (treacherously alpine) path to virtue and human happiness? Not in a fundamentally appetetive social order. There can be only death, spoils, ad hoc cost-benefit analyses for what may cause too much spoliation to the spoils, and a fear of being the one left brandishing a saber in front of an armored column (mingled with a certain contempt for that one, if you’re not him).

  2. February 27, 2015 at 6:26 pm

    Re “Political entities cannot live without war….”: The town I live in has not been involved in a war with any of the neighboring towns for decades. Neither, as a matter of fact, has the state I live in been involved in a war with any of the neighboring states for decades.

    • February 27, 2015 at 9:17 pm

      Sure, but you’re really referring to a subordinate part of a regime. Your town and state are not self-governing and independent. Give it the same independence as the national regime of which it is a part, and make sure that its security needs aren’t being met by some hegemonic state (which is just a way of making it a part of some hegemon), and it would be at war within a person’s lifetime. Though I guess you could live in Uruguay or something. Or Switzerland.

      • February 28, 2015 at 6:19 am

        The reply then is that “world federalism” would be the answer. The devil would certainly be in the details.

  3. Caleb Neff said,

    March 12, 2015 at 11:14 am

    I think I get why, if we agree not to use one type of weapon, we ought to agree not to use other, equally terrible ones: those weapons are meant to stop war, and so deciding not to use them is to defeat their purpose, and to prolong something we moderns find horrible.

    You’re right, as usual (I think), that if war is inevitable, we ought to make it a growing experience.

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