War and Peace, from Ken Smith

November 13, 2007 |

Just left a university library, reading books on the shelves. Section was on medieval life, crusades, knights, power struggles, poverty of serfs.

Throughout years without end, war has been initiated by those in power. I could not see that common people were well served by any conqueror.

Stefan Jovanovich replies:

Liddell HartEveryone from Marx to Keynes to Mises to Ron Paul concedes that individual enterprise is the unique attribute of what we commonly describe as capitalism. What is not often conceded is that the origins of that form of commerce cannot easily be separated from war. The Italian system of counting that the German silver barons sent their sons to Florence to learn — what we know as double-entry bookkeeping — arose from the need of those in power to keep track of what they paid their common soldiers. As noblemen under the obligations of honor, knights did not have to be paid, but the crossbowmen from Genoa were not willing to offer their services without coin. Still worse, within a very few decades, those same common people had formed "companies" to hire themselves out to the highest bidder. It was the need to come up with ready money that led to those same Germans and Italians developing what I suppose would now be called sovereign finance — i.e. lending would-be conquerors the money with which to buy their hoped-for conquests. The notion that the "common" people are always and only helpless is the ultimate snobbery. It is also very bad history.

Some things remain constant. 40 years ago Basil Liddell Hart in his book on Strategy wrote "if you wish for peace, understand war." Those with a more classical turn of mind may prefer Flavius Vegetius Renatus (375 C.E.) "Igitur qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum."

Ulysses Grant admired and respected Robert E. Lee, and he thought he and Longstreet and the other men of the Confederacy were terribly wrong to have taken the side they did. But, he never once spoke about any of them with the scorn with which he regarded the Copperheads. As Ayn Rand put it, "There are two sides to every issue. One side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil. The man who is wrong still retains some respect for truth, if only by accepting the responsibility of choice. But the man in the middle is the knave who blanks out the truth." War is often futile, but it is rarely as completely meaningless as the easy pacifism of the safe bystander.





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