Two of the books reviewed this month explore the justifications for war, ancient and ultra-modern; the third looks at violence from the complex position of a pragmatic, Christian leader of an African nation.
Editor: Anuradha Vittachi
Fighting war not wars
The War Machine
by James Avery Joyce
Quartet (Hbk) UK: £6.95 US: $14.00
Just and Unjust Wars
by Michael Walzer
Penguin (Pbk) UK: £2.95 Aus: $8.95
In reviewing books there are not many chances to give a resounding three cheers. This is just such an opportunity. We badly need more academics like Dr. Joyce who not only know the facts and figures of the arms race but who are also personally committed to bring the struggle to an end.
The War Machine is an admirable book. Information about the present arms race is well set out and the risks which it involves are made very obvious. On the first page stands that sobering 1979 quotation from Earl Mountbatten: `The world now stands on the brink of the final abyss. Let us resolve to take all possible practical steps to ensure that we do not, through our own folly, go over the edge.'
The illusory pursuit of nuclear balance in a world of overkill, the fragility of any economic system of defence employment and the corruption of arms sales are described and exposed. So they should be. In a world of Super Power strength it is irrational to urge, as militarists do so regularly, that yet more weapons would make us stronger. That is the language of 1914. Today, with 60,000 nuclear weapons deployed, there are simply not enough targets to go round.
There is also an excellent section on the Soviet perception of threat which we too often ignore. Few in the West have any idea of the significance, in the mind of Soviet leaders, of the new cordial relationship between NATO and China. The USSR has constantly to plan for a future major war to be fought on two fronts.
Education for peace, the Brandt report and the recent vision of a Europe free from nuclear weapons are all discussed.
In the year 1980 the World spent a million dollars a minute on armaments. Drawing: Hans Georg Rauch
Reviewers are expected to make at least a couple of mildly negative remarks, so, in that spirit only, I would ask for a little more about alternative non-nuclear defence systems and of social justice, national and international, as the basis for any true peace. But qualifications are not really necessary. This is an excellent textbook for all who are concerned about the arms race and determined to do whatever they can to bring it to an end.
Just and Unjust Wars by Michael Walzer is an erudite and compelling piece of work which once taken up will not easily be put down. It cost me most of a night's sleep.
Nevertheless I am not sure that it achieves quite what the author set out to describe. He wanted to show that humanity has a `more or less systematic moral doctrine (on war) which sometimes but not always overlaps with established legal doctrine'. It seems to me that what he actually described is a steady downhill moral slide to the present point when,in the view of the author nuclear deterrence `for all its criminality' may fall under the `standard of necessity'.
The high level search for a continuous pattern in war morality is not really successful. But what we do have here is a rich variety of examples of all sorts. From General Sherman to the Six Day War, from the Athenian Generals facing Melos to the Germans facing Leningrad, from terror bombing to the My Lai massacre, these pages are full of examples of real situations in which moral issues had to be faced.
The account of Winston Churchill's commitment to city bombing and of the subsequent repudiation of `Bomber' Harris, who actually did the job, is especially interesting.
The weakest section of the book is in its last few pages on non-violent alternatives. Here the author is not at home but nevertheless he has a good point. Consciences do exist and at least one part of an alternative defence strategy must involve awakening them. Bruce Kent (General Secretary of the CND and previously chairman of War on Want).
Chains are worse than bayonets
Kaunda on Violence
by Kenneth Kaunda
edited by Colin M. Morris
UK: Collins (hardback) £5.95
Unlike A Humanist in Africa, in which President Kenneth Kaunda started to develop a philosophy of humanism which makes Zambians themselves the touchstone of political and economic action, Kaunda on Violence is directed not to fellow citizens but to his critics abroad - conservative as well as pacifist.
Notable for his espousal of non-violent resistance during the struggle for independence in Zambia itself, Kaunda writes: `Strategies of peace are infinitely preferable to those of war if they work,' but `the demands of political realism have led me to modify my pacifist convictions.' He says: `I ended up supporting armed struggle in Zimbabwe because I could no longer believe that anything is preferable to the use of force.' War redefines power relationships: where, he asks, would the balance of power have been struck in Vietnam if the Buddhist peace movement had succeeded? He points out that the opposition to the World Council of Churches' contributions to the freedom movements in Southern Africa came mainly from non-pacifist Christians.
Throughout the book his arguments are directed to his fellow Christians. There are many contradictions - some inherent in the tension he feels between personal and political morality. He admits finally, `I do not feel I have got much nearer ... reconciling involvement in the use of force with my belief in the central importance of the cross'. But in a `Postscript about Forgiveness' he emphasises the importance of reconciliation after war, quoting Mugabe's magnanimous speech broadcast on Zimbabwe's Independence Day.
But there are other contradictions and tensions that may not be so obvious. He writes: `One must salute courageous conscientious objectors who refuse to endorse their country's policies and actions in time of war.' But Zambia does not allow for conscientious objectors, and opponents of Kaunda's support for Jonas Savimbi's UNITA in Angola were jailed and interrogated for hours on end.
There is very little about Zambia in this book, yet Kaunda's first use of force was in the fierce suppression of the Lumpa Church on the eve of Independence. His very preoccupation with the Southern Africa issue has - quite apart from the direct effect of sanctions and war - prevented worthwhile internal policies being developed in Zambia during the last ten years. Whilst Kaunda helped the Patriotic Front fight colonialism in Zimbabwe neo-colonialism has found yet deeper roots in Zambia.