Saturday, June 13, 2009

Fromkin and Horne on being Anti-War

To enable me to think further about the theses in Fromkin’s The Independence of Nations, primarily that wars can never be eliminated as long as nations are independent, I began The Price of Glory, Verdun 1916 by Alistair Horne. Horne initially wrote this book in 1962. I have the 1993 edition which according to his preface contains only minor changes from his 1962 thesis. Horne writes, “No other book I have ever written affected me quite so deeply; the tears came again and again. It was, unashamedly, an anti-war book.”

Fromkin forces us to think carefully about the terms “war” and “anti-war.” What could Horne mean when he describes The Price of Glory, Verdun 1916 as an “anti-war book”? Could he mean that he is against World War One? Or could he mean that he was against the way World War One was fought as exemplified by Verdun? Or could he mean that he is against war categorically, as categorically as the British pacifists were prior to World War Two? I am only a short way into his book, but I suspect the latter. He refers to the succession of wars that have occurred since World War One – much as Fromkin might – and asks “Have we learnt anything?” He doesn’t answer the question directly but one suspects the fuzzy sort of thinking the “anti-war Left” engaged in during the Vietnam War.

Interestingly, Fromkin was opposed to the Vietnam War, but he would never call himself “Anti-War” in the sense the Leftists used the term. He believed that particular war was ill-conceived. He didn’t think the Communist World was as monolithic as the successive American administrations thought that fought that war. He once voiced the belief that the best way to oppose Chinese Communism was to support Ho Chi Minh because the Vietnamese have traditionally been the implacable enemy of the Chinese. Fromkin was accused of being unpatriotic for his suggestion, but in retrospect he was correct, and the American administrations were wrong to think “Communism” was a monolith controlled by Moscow – or even a duality with one part controlled by Moscow and the other by Peking. Fromkin believed that Nationality would always trump Ideality. And so it has proved.

Perhaps, suspecting as I do that Fromkin is correct on the inevitability of ongoing wars, why am I resolved to continue reading Horne’s “anti-war” book? My primary reason is that back in 1996 I read and appreciated Horne’s A Savage War of Peace, 1954-1962. That book was written in 1977 and revised in 1987. I don’t recall it vividly, but I do recall that Horne emphasized the misguided thinking of the French and especially the Colons in refusing to indulge the reasonable ambitions of the Algerians. In the haven’t “we learnt anything” sense, he implies to the reader that this was a futile war. France was wrong to have fought it. That theme would be consistent with his earlier book on Verdun.

The French and the Colons would have accomplished their goal of “keeping” Algeria only if they had been willing to accept Algerians as Frenchmen; something they were not willing to do. There was a time, apparently, when a majority of Algerians wanted to be Frenchmen, but the French, and the Colons, weren’t willing to let them. In view of the ambitions of the Islamists, perhaps that worked out best for the French, but their motives were discriminatory rather than prescient. I live in the ethnic melting-pot called California. One doesn’t hear anyone deploring the fact that we are no longer “ethnically pure.” We never were. But France was – at least as much so as any nation in Europe. Even though something like the Californian view is now official policy in France, the French people, as I understand their situation, are still not too terribly accepting of the immigrant from North Africa.

If Horne wants us to give a positive answer to his haven’t “we learnt anything” question, I think we can, but I don’t think it is the answer he wants. No nation can unilaterally “learn” to avoid war. That was the Anglo-American mistake of the interwar period between the First and Second World Wars. The Anglo-Americans decided that they had “learnt” to avoid war by being pacifistic (the British) or isolationistic (the Americans). But they should have “learnt” by the time Horne wrote about Verdun in 1962 that opposing war is not only a futile exercise, it can result in a worse war than if it had been opposed. There is little doubt that the “anti-war” learning the Anglo-Americans, French and others exhibited in the interwar period greatly encouraged the ambitions of Hitler. Surely few are so benighted as to still hold a view such as that.

No comments: