Civilization and War

Civilization and War

Brett Bowden

Civilization and war were born around the same time in roughly the same place – they have effectively grown up together. This challenges the belief that the more civilized we become, the less likely the resort to war to resolve differences and disputes. The related assumption that civilized societies are more likely to abide by the rules of war is also in dispute. Where does terrorism fit into debates about civilized and savage war? What are we to make of talk about an impending ‘clash of civilizations’? In a succinct yet wide ranging survey of history and of ideas that calls in to question a number of conventional wisdoms, Civilization and War explores these issues and more whilst outlining the two-way relationship between civilization and war.

Chapter 2: Civilization and peace

Brett Bowden

Subjects: politics and public policy, international politics


As noted in the Introduction, in his Farewell Address to the United States Congress on April 19, 1951, General Douglas MacArthur quoted himself on the occasion of Japan’s surrender on the battleship USS Missouri on September 2, 1945, stating: Men since the beginning of time have sought peace. Various methods through the ages have been attempted to devise an international process to prevent or settle disputes between nations. From the very start workable methods were found in so far as individual citizens were concerned, but the mechanics of an instrumentality of larger international scope have never been successful. Military alliances, balances of power, Leagues of Nations, all in turn failed, leaving the only path to be by way of the crucible of war. He went on to argue that with the advent of nuclear weapons, the “utter destructiveness of war now blocks out this alternative. We have had our last chance. If we will not devise some greater and more equitable system, Armageddon will be at our door.” For MacArthur, the ever-present threat of the scourge of war could largely be attributed to humankind’s fundamental moral shortcomings.

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