By: Gustavo Aguiar – translated by Jafe Arnold
Pacifism for Whom? An Ode to the God of War
“Only the dead have seen the end of war” – Plato
n the 1960’s, at the height of the hippie movement and amidst protests against the Vietnam War, a new type of man emerged: the pacifist man whose anti-militant, progressive and social democratic spirit (with crisp Trotskyist tears) served as the cement for consolidating a redefinition of the revolutionary status established by the old proletarian left of the 19th century. Far from intending to justify the war crimes perpetrated by Yankee detachments in North Vietnamese villages and towns, or the negligible goals that led Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon to deploy tanks and helicopters on the plains of Indo-China, this paper aims to show the way in which the mentality of the New Left eventually engenders thought that is diametrically opposite to the slogans that adorn the signs in the subversive scenario of protests. Today, the same slogans are used as instruments of destabilization around the globe in service of the neocolonialist hyper-powers.
When we hear humanitarian jargon in the likes of “make love, not war,” “Stop the war!” or even “why not give peace a chance,” we are almost instantly mesmerized by the innocence and ethical purity which such words seem to radiate. What a mistake! The technique of prestidigitation, widely studied in the psychology of the masses, constitutes a powerful mechanism of alienation, especially when used by articulate speakers who are masters at hiding their diabolical intentions beneath seemingly unpretentious phraseology. However, a mere perfunctory analysis of the such demands allows us to realize that this is a hollow reproduction of the same propaganda material from which slogans in a consumer society are drawn. What makes them even more palatable is the context in which they are uttered. On the one hand, the US-led invasion of Vietnam can be ironically interpreted as an orthodox way of bringing “democracy” to oppressed peoples by “totalitarian regimes” and forcing them to accept a reality that is not their own (the same thing, by the way, is essentially happening today in Syria, Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan). On the other hand, the way in which pacifist demonstrations against the Vietnam massacre were carried out in the United States provided an opportunity for the birth of an ideological tendency even more wickedly disguised than those kinds of expansionist totalitarianism that History had hitherto witnessed. In a chapter of the book “How Nonviolence Protects the State,” Peter Geoderloos explains:
“The claim that the US peace movement ended the war against Vietnam contains the usual set of flaws. The criticism has been well made by Ward Churchill and others, so I’ll only summarize it. With unforgivable self-righteousness, peace activists ignore that three to five million Indochinese died in the fight against the US military; tens of thousands of US troops were killed and hundreds of thousands wounded; other troops demoralized by all the bloodshed had become highly ineffective and rebellious; and the US was losing political capital (and going fiscally bankrupt) to a point where pro-war politicians began calling for a strategic withdrawal (especially after the Tet Offensive proved the war to be “unwinnable,” in the words of many at the time). The US government was not forced to pull out by peaceful protests; it was defeated politically and militarily. As evidence of this, Churchill cites the victory of Republican Richard Nixon, and the lack of even an anti-war nominee within the Democratic Party, in 1968, near the height of the anti-war movement. One could also add Nixon’s reelection in 1972, after four years of escalation and genocide, to demonstrate the powerlessness of the peace movement in “speaking truth to power.” In fact, the principled peace movement dissolved in tandem with the withdrawal of US troops (completed in 1973). The movement was less responsive to history’s largest-ever bombing campaign, targeting civilians, which intensified after troop withdrawal, or the continued occupation of South Vietnam by a US-trained and -financed military dictatorship. In other words, the movement retired (and rewarded Nixon with reelection) once Americans, and not Vietnamese, were out of harm’s way. The US peace movement failed to bring peace. US imperialism continued unabated, and though its chosen military strategy was defeated by the Vietnamese, the US still accomplished its overall policy objectives in due time, precisely because of the failure of the peace movement to make any domestic changes.”
Pacifism emerged as a denial of the horrible consequences of the war in order to cover up the failure of its own premises and the superficiality of its proposals and [pacifism], for some reason, never came to be crystallized in a substantially defined conceptual repertoire. One of the secrets behind the appeal of pacifist doctrine (if we can call it that) is precisely its hypostatization of indeterminate concepts, assigning substance to semantically flexible words which, outside of the realm of utopian fiction, do not designate anything at all. Contrary to the experience in the trenches of which the German Ernst Jünger was the epitome of the so-called War Generation and gave testimony, pacifism remains in constant abstraction, perhaps because [pacifists] do not want to be discovered out of fear of the unpleasant opinion and judgement of the men who make history instead of wasting their lives in fruitlessly conniving in the vain hope of eliminating evil from the face of the earth.
Jünger answers to the latter:
“It was war which has made human beings and their age what they are. Never before has a race of men like ours advanced into the arena of the earth to decide who will wield power over the epoch. For never before has a generation entered the daylight of life from a gateway so dark and awesome as when they emerged from this war. And this we cannot deny, no matter how much some would like to: War, father of all things, is also our father; he has hammered us, chiseled and tempered us into what we are. And always, as long as the swinging wheel of life is still turning inside us, war will be the axis around which it swirls. War has raised us to fight, and we will remain fighters as long as we live.”
Truth be told, there are times of peace and there are times in which the flame of war must burn in the hearts of men to remind them that they still live. But, if we drag this discussion into an ideological context, we realize that there is nothing intrinsically extraordinary that would justify making it [peace] a banner, much less a political banner. Insofar as we advance in our analysis, we clearly see that the leading supporters of the hippie counterculture proceeded in such a way to the bottom that it had absolutely nothing to do with Vietnam, but with war in its generic meaning. In other words: pacifism does not attack the root of evil because it depends on a certain context to emerge; it attacks the symptoms.
It is no wonder that no one has ever deeply discussed the “metaphysics of peace,” but more and more pages have been written about the metaphysics of war, such as by the Italian baron Julius Evola who, despite never having fought in the trenches of the First World War like Jünger, was wounded in the spine and had his limbs paralyzed during his visit to Vienna during a bombing of the city. What can we draw from such an event? However tragic the consequences of war might have been for Evola, they never stopped him from studying its repercussions for the most diverse ethno-cultural traditions. War serves as an inexhaustible source of inspiration for a number influential thinkers throughout history, for both those who lived in its midst and those who were limited to contemplating it from a historical and philosophical perspective.
In The Metaphysics of War, Evola scathingly criticizes the process of weakening to which the archetype of the hero was gradually submitted in democratic societies which provided the fertile ground for the spread of pacifist and anti-war discourse. We can take such warnings more as a reproach than a mere observation:
“How are things, in this respect, in the world of the ‘democracies’? They now want, for the third time in this century, to lead humanity to war in the name of ‘the war against war.’ This requires men to fight at the same time that war as such is criticized. It demands heroes while proclaiming pacifism as the highest ideal. It demands warriors while it has made ‘warrior’ a synonym for attacker and criminal, since it has reduced the moral basis of ‘the just war’ to that of a large-scale police operation, and it has reduced the meaning of this spirit of combat to that of having to defend oneself as a last resort.” (Evola, Julius. Metaphysics of War, pp. 135-136)
This powerful extract from this Italian master reveals more than what meets the eye. Evola here says that modern democracy is a play whose anti-war plot is based almost exclusively on contradictions. Now would pacifist moralism be a kind of war against war, something desperately seeking a sense of self-justifiability enabling it to follow legislation on behalf of itself? Where does anti-war momentum come from if not the same war or indomitable will to fight? This is why we advocate the thesis that the pacifist mentality lives in perpetual self-denial. Indeed, nihilism seems to permeate the principles governing pacifist thought so symbiotically to the point of putting it in a maze with no exit.
Unlike the Marxist Left, the bearer of a visibly militant character that reflects, in the best light, the idea of class struggle, the new left is entirely dedicated to the protection of the “weak and oppressed by the system.”
If the industrial proletariat embodied the worst nightmare for the bourgeois holder of the private ownership of the means of production, then now the real worker is helpless due to an increased protection afforded to all sorts of people weak in body, mind, and, above all, character. We watch as inert, hominid hordes claim for themselves that they deserve more attention than ever on behalf of a cause that never obtained the concrete necessity of being considered to be effectively defensible.
In a chapter devoted to studying the failures of English pacifism in his book The Revolt of the Masses, the prominent Spanish philosopher and journalist Jose Ortega y Gasset offers us the following commentary: “As often happens, the major flaw of English pacifism – and, in general, those who present themselves to be the bearers of pacifism – has been underestimating the enemy. This underestimation inspires a false diagnosis. The pacifist sees war as damage, crime, or a vice. But it is forgotten that before that and above that, war is a huge effort by men to resolve certain conflicts. War is not an instinct but an invention. Animals are unaware of it and it is a pure human institution like science and administration. It brought one of the greatest discoveries, the basis of all civilization: the discovery of discipline. All other forms of discipline come from the primeval, which was military discipline. Pacifism is lost and becomes invalid if there is not the gift of war which is a brilliant and formidable technique of life and for life.” (Ortega y Gasset, Jose. A Rebelião das Massas, pp. 299 and 300)
Reason accompanies Ortega y Gasset when he emphasizes military discipline as one of the main contributions of war to humanity. Such wording may sound obtuse or even refractory at a time when what it means to live in a disciplined, organized society has been lost track of. Today, posts of command and obedience play a purely symbolic function or act as a mere point of reference even in the midst of a military hierarchy, in which their roots lay. The impact of “de-disciplining” drops a heavy weight on the level of social cohesion. By progressively de-nuclearizing the centers of political power diffusion and redistributing it among an amorphous mass of heterogenous individuals (the mass man in Ortega y Gasset’s terminology), democratic institutions give a huge disservice to traditionally consecrated civic virtues. In practice, it annihilated in two centuries what took tradition at least six millennia to build: rigidly solidified social groups that not only saw war as a vehicle for the transcendence of the spirit and the implementation of the Path of God, but also discovered on the field of battle a new meaning for their lives, a way to become what they could never be in peacetime.
In this regard, Julius Evola adds that “Proceeding from what is below to what is above, it can therefore be said that an unavoidable need for social justice in the international arena and a revolt against the hegemony of nations incarnating the ‘civilization of the merchants’ may be the immediate determinant of the war. But the one who fights the war on such grounds can find in it also the occasion to realize, simultaneously, a higher experience, that is, fighting and being a hero not so much as soldier but as warrior, as a man who fights and loves to fight not so much in the interest of material conquests as in the name of his King and of his tradition. And beyond this state, in a successive phase, or a higher class, this same war can become a means to achieve war in the supreme sense, as asceticism and ‘path of God’, as culmination of that general meaning of living, of which it was said: vita est militia super terram. All this becomes integrated and – it can be added – that there is not doubt that the impulse and the ability to sacrifice are superior by far in the one who realizes this supreme meaning in war, as compared [to] one who stops at one of the subordinate meanings. And even on this mundane plane the law of the earth can meet with the law of God when the most tragic demands which can be made in the name of the greatness of a nation are fulfilled in an action whose ultimate sense is, however, the overcoming of the human tie, contempt for the petty existence of the ‘plains’, the tension which, in the supreme culminations of life, means choosing something which is more than life.” (Evola, Julius. Metaphysics of War, pp. 92-93)
Out of all of the above, it can be concluded that all the efforts of pacifist mentality to impose against the spiritually transcendent meaning of war (and we do not restrict war to the specific context of Vietnam) ended up instituting a new trend which, in its anti-militancy, redefined the semantic contours of militarism and provided the basis on which the general postulates of the New Left are founded. Today, conflicts of warlike proportions are caught under the aegis of humanist jargons, whereas our ancestors never depended such makeup to rediscover themselves on the battlefield. The lesson we can draw from the writings of Ernst Junger and Julius Evola, in contrast to the emotional appeals of the peace movement, is that no matter when a war breaks our or how many victims it carries to the grave, heroism will always be a virtue higher than humanism. This is confirmed by the fact that peace has never constituted a source of inspiration for great men. Great men are molded in trenches or in thinking that helps us unravel the insightful way in which things happen inside them. The Vietnam War was an historical period of the transition from a cultural heritage bequeathed to us by the war generation to the teratological outgrowths of what might be called the “Generation of Peace,” which, in its eagerness to protect the ‘“weak” and the “oppressed” from the “nuclear threat” and military incursions has so far contributed nothing except for the creation of a sub-human race of miserable, cowardly specimens.
EVOLA, Julius. Metaphysics of War. <https://archive.org/stream/JuliusEvola/JuliusEvola-TheMetaphysicsOfWar#page/n47/mode/2up>
JÜNGER, Ernst. A Guerra Como Experiência Interior, disponível em: http://legio-victrix.blogspot.com.br/2012/03/guerra-como-experiencia-interior.html
JÜNGER, Ernst. A Mobilização Total. Natureza Humana: 2002.
ORTEGA y GASSET, Jose. A Rebelião das Massas. Ed. Ridendo Castigat Mores: 2001.
Original article in Portuguese can be found here
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