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BERTRAND RUSSELL ON WAR AND PEACE October 3, 2013

Posted by wmmbb in Humankind/Planet Earth.
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In 195O, Bertrand Russell was given the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was the Nobel committee said a champion of “humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought”. His views reflect the different times at which he wrote, and he seems to be both a observer and a historian. He spent months,for example, in Russia following the victory of the Bolshevik Revolution.


That year he wrote an article for The Atlantic, The Future of Man. Perhaps I should have known, but didn’t that the Cold War was well established at that time. On 29 August 1949, the Soviet Union had success in its’ first atomic bomb test. His article starts with three predictions about the future – here we are in the future. He wrote:

Before the end of the present century, unless something quite unforeseeable occurs, one of three possibilities will have been realized. These three are: —

1. The end of human life, perhaps of all life on our planet.

2. A reversion to barbarism after a catastrophic diminution of the population of the globe.

3. A unification of the world under a single government, possessing a monopoly of all the major weapons of war.

I do not pretend to know which of these will happen, or even which is the most likely. What I do contend is that the kind of system to which we have been accustomed cannot possibly continue.

In contemporary framing, he might have been described as an alarmist – as if that were a bad thing in itself. Recently, The Guardian reported disclosed information that a nuclear bomb was primed by accident over North Carolina which in turned would have triggered nuclear war. This incident preceded the missteps of the Cuban Missile Crisis in the following year. And the possibility of nuclear war remains as a danger, although not now a top of mind issue.

For those inclined to give credence to Climate Change and its cascading implications and consequences, the opportunity to “reversion to barbarism” has an appeal,or contrariwise progressing to material consumption as the purpose of life has not proven the all round good it was cracked up to be. Perhaps quality does not have quantitative parameters. Does everything now become propaganda, including science?

For Bertrand Russell, world government was the logical solution to the problem and possibility of war between a world of nation states. He had argued the case,following the First World War with the publication of Political Ideals in 1917. The League of Nations and the United Nations Organization can be seen as outcome, but as a shadow as forums and agencies that mediated the international power, including the rise of global corporate power through threat power, clandestine operations and intermittent, and now systematic violence, as in the drone terror war. In the UN Security Council, hypocrisy of its non-democratic composition reigns supreme.

The case of 1917 was:

There cannot be secure peace in the world, or any decision of international questions according to international law, until states are willing to part with their absolute sovereignty as regards their external relations, and to leave the decision in such matters to some international instrument of government.[5] An international government will have to be legislative as well as judicial. It is not enough that there should be a Hague tribunal, deciding matters according to some already existing system of international law; it is necessary also that there should be a body capable of enacting international law, and this body will have to have the power of transferring territory from one state to another, when it is persuaded that adequate grounds exist for such a transference. Friends of peace will make a mistake if they unduly glorify the status quo. Some nations grow, while others dwindle; the population of an area may change its character by emigration and immigration. There is no good reason why states should resent changes in their boundaries under such conditions, and if no international authority has power to make changes of this kind, the temptations to war will sometimes become irresistible.

The international authority ought to possess an army and navy, and these ought to be the only army and navy in existence. The only legitimate use of force is to diminish the total amount of force exercised in the world. So long as men are free to indulge their predatory instincts, some men or groups of men will take advantage of this freedom for oppression and robbery. Just as the police are necessary to prevent the use of force by private citizens, so an international police will be necessary to prevent the lawless use of force by separate states.

In other words, Bertrand Russell envisaged an centralized, but not federal world government. It was a national government, based on the British model, writ large. Given such a government held the monopoly of force – if that was practical – why would it require an army, navy?

A generation later and following another World War, Bertrand Russell has other arguments. Nuclear war is unthinkable, so perhaps there is the opportunity to establish World Government based on agreement. This will not happen due to the Cold War. He suggests that it would be better that the US should win. From, The Future of Man, in The Republic (1951)

The third possibility, that of the establishment of a single government for the whole world, might be realized in various ways: by the victory of the United States in the next world war, or by the victory of the U.S.S.R., or, theoretically, by agreement. Or — and I think this is the most hopeful of the issues that are in any degree probable — by an alliance of the nations that desire an international government, becoming, in the end, so strong that Russia would no longer dare to stand out. This might conceivably be achieved without another world war, but it would require courageous and imaginative statesmanship in a number of countries.

Before his unfortunate experience at the hands of the administrators of CUNY. Anyway the City University decided not to appoint that well-known reprobate to its teaching faculty. Nonetheless Bertrand Russell was disposed toward the virtues on the American way of life – there is a similar praise in his 1949 Reith Lectures. History moves on, and it seems the basic contentions have radically changed:

There are, however, important reasons for preferring a victory of America. I am not contending that capitalism is better than communism; I think it not impossible that, if America were communist and Russia were capitalist, I should still be on the side of America. My reason for siding with America is that there is in that country more respect than in Russia for the things that I value in a civilized way of life. The things I have in mind are such as: freedom of thought, freedom of inquiry, freedom of discussion, and humane feeling. What a victory of Russia would mean is easily to be seen in Poland. There were flourishing universities in Poland, containing men of great intellectual eminence. Some of these men, fortunately, escaped; the rest disappeared. Education is now reduced to learning the formulae of Stalinist orthodoxy; it is only open (beyond the elementary stage) to young people whose parents are politically irreproachable, and it does not aim at producing any mental faculty except that of glib repetition of correct shibboleths and quick apprehension of the side that is winning official favor. From such an educational system nothing of intellectual value can result.

Meanwhile the middle class was annihilated by mass deportations, first in 1940, and again after the expulsion of the Germans. Politicians of majority parties were liquidated, imprisoned, or compelled to fly. Betraying friends to the police, or perjury when they are brought to trial, is often the only means of survival for those who have incurred governmental suspicions.

Whatever the United States represents in the World, it is now none of these things.

The real prompt for global government, or even more effective global governance is the existence of nuclear weapons delivered then by long range bombers.Bertrand Russell beleived that  technology determined social institutions and outcome.. Over of sixty years ago, Bertrand Russell wrote in The Impact of Science on Society (1951, p 26.):

“Communications have been hitherto the chief factor limiting the size of empires. In antiquity the Persians and the Romans depended upon roads, but since nothing traveled faster than a horse, empires became unmanageable when the distance from the capital to the frontier was very great. This is on the point of disappearing with the improvement of the long-range bomber. There would now be no technical difficulty about a single world-wide Empire. Since war is likely to become more destructive of human life than it has been in recent centuries, unification under a single government is probably is probably necessary unless we are to acquiesce in either a return to barbarism or the extinction of the human race.”

Furthermore, he goes on to notice there is a problem of the psychology of internationalism, to some extent addressed by both the reach and depth of global communications and the identification of global problems that must be addressed such as climate change and those such as inequality can be put to one side. He wrote:

“There is, it must be confessed, a psychological difficulty about a single world government. The chief source of social cohesion in the past, I repeat, has been war: the passions that inspire a feeling of unity are hate and fear. These depend upon the existence of an enemy, actual or potential. It seems to follow that a world government could only be kept in being by force, not by the spontaneous loyalty that now inspires a nation at war.”

In today’s world, Russell could be a Facebook friend with Gandhi, and be having the conversations that he could only imagine in the 1930’s. In this case such a dialogue would have made a difference. While a pacifist in the First World War, perhaps influenced by the Suffragettes, Bertrand Russell was not familiar with the practice and application of nonviolence in the Gandhian framework. In Political Ideals he had written:

So long as hatred, suspicion, and fear dominate the feelings of men toward each other, so long we cannot hope to escape from the tyranny of violence and brute force. Men must learn to be conscious of the common interests of mankind in which all are at one, rather than of those supposed interests in which the nations are divided. It is not necessary, or even desirable, to obliterate the differences of manners and custom and tradition between different nations. These differences enable each nation to make its own distinctive contribution to the sum total of the world’s civilization.

In 1955, Bertrand Russell was flying when he heard announced the death of Albert Einstein. It was only later that Russell discovered that Einstein had signed the following declaration before dying.  “The Russell-Einstein Manifesto was issued in London on 9 July 1955 by Bertrand Russell and signed by 11 prominent intellectuals and scientists, most notably Albert Einstein.”

We are speaking on this occasion, not as members of this or that nation, continent, or creed, but as human beings, members of the species Man, whose continued existence is in doubt.

We are speaking on this occasion, not as members of this or that nation, continent, or creed, but as human beings, members of the species Man, whose continued existence is in doubt.

The world is full of conflicts; and, overshadowing all minor conflicts, the titanic struggle between Communism and anti-Communism.

Almost everybody who is politically conscious has strong feelings about one or more of these issues; but we want you, if you can, to set aside such feelings and consider yourselves only as members of a biological species which has had a remarkable history, and whose disappearance none of us can desire.

We shall try to say no single word which should appeal to one group rather than to another. All, equally, are in peril, and, if the peril is understood, there is hope that they may collectively avert it.

We have to learn to think in a new way. We have to learn to ask ourselves, not what steps can be taken to give military victory to whatever group we prefer, for there no longer are such steps; the question we have to ask ourselves is: what steps can be taken to prevent a military contest of which the issue must be disastrous to all parties?

People scarcely realize in imagination that the danger is to themselves and their children and their grandchildren, and not only to a dimly apprehended humanity. They can scarcely bring themselves to grasp that they, individually, and those whom they love are in imminent danger of perishing agonizingly.

The best authorities are unanimous in saying that a war with H-bombs might possibly put an end to the human race. It is feared that if many H-bombs are used there will be universal death, sudden only for a minority, but for the majority a slow torture of disease and disintegration.

Many warnings have been uttered by eminent men of science and by authorities in military strategy. None of them will say that the worst results are certain. What they do say is that these results are possible, and no one can be sure that they will not be realized. We have not yet found that the views of experts on this question depend in any degree upon their politics or prejudices. They depend only, so far as our researches have revealed, upon the extent of the particular expert’s knowledge. We have found that the men who know most are the most gloomy.

Here, then, is the problem which we present to you, stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war? People will not face this alternative because it is so difficult to abolish war.

The abolition of war will demand distasteful limitations of national sovereignty. But what perhaps impedes understanding of the situation more than anything else is that the term “mankind” feels vague and abstract. People scarcely realize in imagination that the danger is to themselves and their children and their grandchildren, and not only to a dimly apprehended humanity. They can scarcely bring themselves to grasp that they, individually, and those whom they love are in imminent danger of perishing agonizingly. And so they hope that perhaps war may be allowed to continue provided modern weapons are prohibited.

This hope is illusory. Whatever agreements not to use H-bombs had been reached in time of peace, they would no longer be considered binding in time of war, and both sides would set to work to manufacture H-bombs as soon as war broke out, for, if one side manufactured the bombs and the other did not, the side that manufactured them would inevitably be victorious.

We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.

Most of us are not neutral in feeling, but, as human beings, we have to remember that, if the issues between East and West are to be decided in any manner that can give any possible satisfaction to anybody, whether Communist or anti-Communist, whether Asian or European or American, whether White or Black, then these issues must not be decided by war. We should wish this to be understood, both in the East and in the West.

There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels? We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.

We invite this Congress, and through it the scientists of the world and the general public, to subscribe to the following resolution:

“In view of the fact that in any future world war nuclear weapons will certainly be employed, and that such weapons threaten the continued existence of mankind, we urge the governments of the world to realize, and to acknowledge publicly, that their purpose cannot be furthered by a world war, and we urge them, consequently, to find peaceful means for the settlement of all matters of dispute between them”.

Despite George H Bush’s declaration of a “new World Order – the first time the phase had been used – it seems in recent years to be characterized by disorder, in large part to the failures of the adventures of the American Imperium evidenced by the spreading chaos and political disintegration of the Middle East. The failure of the Obama Administration to deploy massive violence by launching missiles to dislodge the Assad Regime in Syria seems to have been a turning point, in part presaged by the refusal of consent in the British House of Commons.

This leads to two observations. There have been significant advances in World Governance, in particular the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty prior to the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union. In turn this was preceded by the withdrawal of Soviet military presence in Afghanistan that was aided and abetted by the arming by the US of the Islamic Resistance transmogrifying into the Wars of Terror that have set the current international stage.

Bertrand Russell remains an interesting observer and participant in the earlier formative events. Can we this time successful foresee the future? Could it be possible for world to be governed democratically and peacefully? The cynics have the ready answer in the negative. Obviously destruction of the ecosystem by either nuclear explosions or carbon dioxide emissions is clearly preferable to ecological sustainability.

Bertrand Russell left his message to the future:

Postscript:

The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was approved by the UN General Assembly on 10 September 1996.

Chomsky qualifies the decline in American global reach and power.

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