Sunday, November 28, 2010

Quiet Reflections on War, Military History, and Philosophy

Tonight I had dinner with some family members. Sometimes people ask me about my degree in military history or my interest in philosophy. They ask questions about what military history is about, whether I learn about strategy and tactics. They ask what you can do as a philosopher other than write books. I try to explain myself, give certain answers. But sometimes I don't feel like they are received very well. I feel like sometimes it can be hard to stress the importance of studying war and the military. I feel like it is hard to communicate the importance of studying and teaching philosophy. Largely because I haven't worked all these issues out for myself. But when I meet people who have very little sense of how broad and important something like military history is, it can be hard to communicate it quickly and effectively.

So I have been prompted to reflect on war, military history, and philosophy. Why are these reflections quiet, you might ask. Because tonight I felt quiet. I felt like I was being asked questions that I should be able to answer and I felt like I was having a hard time responding effectively. I felt like I wasn't communicating what it is that is important about military history, or what is important about philosophy.

One question I was asked that was so odd to me, or one proposition was this: Why study war? What we want is peace. Why don't you study peace?

This question baffles me a little bit. It supposes that war and peace are somehow separable. That politics and war were somehow separable. How could the concept of peace exist without war to define it? How can studying peace possibly help you get rid of war?

Military history and sociology are quite marginalized fields. Most people do not look at these issues. Why not? Are they too painful? Too sad? Don't want to look closely at how horrible human history really is?

I think that we need to study war in order to find more peace. How do you expect to find peace by studying peace? Are you just going to let the question of war loom in the background unreckoned with? Do you not think it important the government seems to preoccupied mainly with issues of international security and war?

I guess I really do find it strange the questions I was posed tonight. Especially this one about why study war. Why not study peace? Everyone already studies peace. It hasn't gotten us very far from wars. What if war is the reality that we need to deal with? I think it might be.

Another question was posed to me: What are these people, these military historians and sociologists doing to change the state of things? A good question. I told them that they were hitting on a problem with all history, and a big debate between history and political science. History doesn't do anything except study the past. Which is a problem, no doubt.

But this question was posed to me in a way that made the conclusions of military studies sound self-evident. That the work to be done was not in the study of the field, but in the application of its conclusions.

But I think the real thing is that these issues haven't even been studied enough yet. The work of military studies is not self-evident because the studies haven't even been done sufficiently.

Basically, I have been spurned to undertake another round of reading in military history and theory. Soon I will read Carl Schmitt's The Concept Of The Political. I know that in that book he basically argues that the state and politics are inseparable from war. Which is also what Clausewitz argues, and also what Foucault argues.

This will also contribute to my writing of Part IV and Part V of 'Art, Zen, and Insurrection'. Whenever I get to that.

I'm not done with my study of war and militaries. I think they are far too important. And sometimes I am reminded that some people don't think them important. They think them simply unpleasant.

It is hard for me to express how far from those views I feel. I will therefore expand my knowledge of this business. Because it obviously isn't clear enough in my mind. And obviously needs vindicating in the larger public sphere.

Blah blah blah. Don't hate war just because it is unpleasant. Don't forget that we need militaries. Don't forget that war and peace are just two sides of the same political coin. Don't forget that war and peace are inseparable.

Is war the continuation of politics by other means or is politics the continuation of war by other means? Who do you believe? Clausewitz or Foucault?

1 comment:

  1. War is very disturbing. It displays the worst aspects of humanity, and people want to believe that it is an aberration, that people aren't really like that. I feel like the emotional revulsion people feel towards it is really understandable.
    Moreover, the difficult and abstract language that intellectuals often use alienates people that understand war in such emotional terms. For example, this is a review of War is a Force That Gives us Meaning by Foreign Affairs:
    "An angry, articulate book...A compelling read and a valuable counterweight to the more antiseptic discussions common among strategic analysts."
    People feel the intensity and unimaginable desolation of war; some people feel it strongly and are probably upset by any suggestion of its validity.
    And, perhaps deep down, people know that it isn't going away, and that's depressing.
    "Only the dead have seen the end of war."
    - Plato