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Sunday, February 22, 2004

Why fight a war?

Waddling Thunder has made a typical historically-informed post about war never being good for the short-term economy (it can, of course, be good for a longer-term economy, especially if economically important territories or privileges are conceded). If war is so bad for the economy, why fight a war at all?

I think this answer is best represented by the lesson of the United Kingdom in WW2. Whatever one thinks of the "historical trends" pre-1939, there is little doubt that WW2 cost Britain the majority of her Empire and her place in the world. Economically and materially she was, in 1945, a devastated nation. In the immediate post-war years saw very great suffering, diplomatic humiliation over Suez, and economic impotency. The UK was a victor, but rarely has victory come at such a price. Churchill saw himself as the great defender of the British Empire - he struggled politically for decades to maintain it. In many respects it was his life-time aspiration. He failed.

Why did he fail? Because he realised there was something more important than the British Empire, or perhaps something more important, and something more terrible than its fall. Civilisation was more important, and Nazi domination was infinitely worse. With the benefit of hindsight one can honestly say that Churchill sacrificed the British Empire for a free Europe. OK, for half of Europe freedom from the Soviet, as opposed to the Nazi, jackboot had to wait for 50 years. But there would have been no freedom if the UK had buckled in the eighteen months or so from the French collapse in May/June 1940, and Pearl Harbour in the end of 1941.

War is destructive. Perhaps Britain would be better amorally if we had not fought. But Churchill, so representative in so many ways of Britain, could not contemplate anything less than to keep on fighting. It should however be remembered that Churchill was hardly universally popular in the war. Several times he faced votes of no confidence, and these were serious challenges politically and not just the agitating of the half-baked few. There were always those who struggled to understand the very nature of WW2 - Lord Halifax, who made peace moves to Germany as France fell, was chief among them.

In 1940 Nazism was the evil that needed to be confronted, and as Churchill also knew the other great evil of his day was Communism. Today terrorism is the great evil of our times. Its intolerance and will to dominate and destroy are no less great than that of Nazism or Communism. Just as the two great scourges of the 20th century abused the great inventions and acheivements of that age, so today's evil abused the great acheievements and inventions of our own era, primarily the wonders of our communication technology. Like those scourges it challanges the very nature of our civilisation, it threatents our entire way of life, and seeks nothing less than our total extermination.

There is no better reason why.

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