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August 22, 2007


Tal Yeshanov

In 1912, Norman Angell wrote about “pacifism, defence, and ‘the impossibility of war’” claiming that big destructive wars were unlikely to happen. Little did he know that within 30 years of his publishing, the world would be engaged in two destructive world wars. (WWI in 1914 and WWII in1939) thus already disproving one his arguments.

Angell argues that modern industrial war is unprofitable for a nation's citizens. He claims that we “are dependent upon some community on the other side of the world, that their damage is our damage, and that we have an interest in preventing it”. I personally think that this is a flaw in his argument. It is possible for one nation to prosper from war while another nation (independent from the prosperous one) falls into shame and economic turmoil. History has shown us that many nations colonize other weaker nations for the mere purpose of enriching themselves. In such a scenario Angell’s argument would not hold up since, even though the two countries are dependent, only one of them gets hurt while the other one becomes enriched through warfare.

I do however agree with Angell when claims that we can only survive by cooperating, better organizing our society, and improving human relationships. He says that this in fact “can only come of better understanding of the conditions of that relationship”. I think that if more people go to school and get educated and learn to embrace each others’ diversity this world would be better off and people would get into fewer arguments. Education is ultimately the best tool at improving relationships and preventing wars.

I agree with Angell’s thoughts that modern nations all have governments that are to a large degree subject to popular political pressure. In his writing he states “public opinion is not something which descends upon us from the skies but is the sum of the opinions of each one of us and is the outcome of our daily contacts, our writing and talking and discussion, and that the road to safety lies in having that general public opinion”. If more people read newspapers, and write editorials and become involved in government then there will be greater political pressure and politicians will be forced to act under popular political pressure.

Glory Liu

While I would personally like to agree with Tal on his point that improving global human relationships through education and cooperation would prevent war, I think this point is Angell’s greatest strength and greatest weakness.

Angell’s entire argument rests on his faith in the soundness of the human mind and the potential ability for people to cooperate, discuss, and improve society by reflecting on the past. While this is a noble and optimistic view, it is severely undercut by numerous aspects of human behavior. One is that some states will always seek their own interests, no matter what the circumstances are, because they seem to be a dominant power in the world. Another complication arises when too many people are involved in discourse and no resolution can be reached because of such a wide range of opinions. Angell even mentions this in his description of public opinion being an “average” of the masses, which tends to disregard voices on the outskirts as part of the public opinion. Being educated about the diversity of humankind and learning to be accepting of every nation, culture, race, religion, etc. is the ultimate goal towards peace; however, to what extent will EVERY nation, culture, race, religion, etc. be accepting of every other one?

The United Nations, chartered in 1945 (only 33 years after Angell’s work was published), is a prime example of this contradiction. I think Angell would have admired such an international body, one that is supposed to be an official organization to “clarify public opinion.” It was founded for the purpose of preventing world wars and defending human rights; and yet, since its inception, far too many wars, mass crimes against humanity, and global crises have emerged that supposedly could have been prevented by the cooperative dialogue of the UN’s Member-States. Some member states, particularly the “P-5” (those with absolute veto power in the Security Council) and especially the United States, have much greater sway in global opinion and action simply because of their military/industrial superiority. The outcome of a resolution or a decision to intervene in another state can be completely changed simply by one of these members. This undoubtedly does not reflect a common public opinion.

Furthermore, the line between “defense” and “offense” becomes blurred when justifying war. While Angell argues that defensive wars (such as against nationalist, exploitative state) can be justified, a state can easily “defend” itself preemptively with the slightest hint of an external threat. Think of Vietnam, Korea, Iraq. The United States was supposedly defending itself from the threat of communism and terrorism, yet it cannot be denied that these interventions were also for the illusions of economic gain and maintaining a balance of power in the world. Where was the cooperation in American society, in the international community to prevent these wars from occurring?

In short, Angell’s trust in humans to cooperate to prevent wars is on one hand dignified and hopeful, yet on the other hand of reality, is flawed in that his argument does not anticipate the growing imbalance of power in the world and the inevitable chaos that multilateral talks can create.

Kinzie Kramer

“We are all agreed as to the fundamental cause of the Balkan trouble: the hate born of religious, racial, national, and language differences; the attempt of an alien conqueror to live parasitically upon the conquered, and the desire of conqueror and conquered alike to satisfy in massacre and bloodshed the rancour of fanaticism and hatred. Well, in these islands, not so very long ago, those things were causes of bloodshed.”

The above statement is a direct quote from Angell’s essay, and it states the biggest flaw that I find with Angell’s argument- that he underestimates human emotion, especially the power of hatred. He discusses hatred as the source of Balkan trouble, and the phrasing “not so long ago” seems as if he is saying that hatred to that degree is something of the past. This is not the case.

Throughout the essay Angell alludes to how extreme hatred and militarism are becoming passe. Take the following two scenarios that he presents:
1. “At ten years of age we are all quite sure that piracy is a finer calling than trade, and the pirate a finer fellow than the Shylock who owns the ship—which, indeed, he may well be. But as we grow up (which some of the best of us never do) we realise that piracy is not the best way to establish the ownership of cargoes, any more than the ordeal (or duel) is the way to settle cases at law.”
2. “…improving the instruments of the inquisition, that we got rid of the duel and that Catholics ceased to torture Protestants or vice versa. We gave these things up because we realised the futility of physical force in these conflicts. We shall give up war for the same reason.”

In the first scenario, Angell is thinking too highly of humans. People do not outgrow their childish impulses, they just learn to keep them in check. However, in the case that someone is provoked, most people will react with a duel rather than drawing up legal papers to settle the case in a court room. In essence, they are not able to keep their emotions in check. The effects of a person's emotions (hatred that leads to a fight) will always be felt before that person thinks rationally.

The second scenario is simply sad- he seems to think that we got rid of the duel and torture, when in actuality we have not at all.

In conclusion, I agree with Glory that Angell is entirely over-idealistic, and I agree with Mr. Churchill, who Angell quotes saying: “The only way to make war impossible is to make victory certain.”

Kieran M. Duffy

While I can not help at many times to enjoy and cheer for N.A.'s arguments, the one argument that I felt could not be more wrong was the light that he describes Great Britain in, in Chapter 7. Angell states "We have demonstrated that five individual nations, the nations of the British Empire can settle their differences as between one another without the use of force," and that "we have decided that whatever the attitude of Australia, Canada, and South Africa decide, we shall not use force to change it." This coming from one of the biggest imperialist powers in world histry, and seekers of wealth via coonquering weak indigenous poeples all over the world, to line the pockets of Great Britain. This after introducing the first concentration camp at the turn of the century in South Africa during the Beor War where over 30,000 women and children mercilessly died. After this he loses all credibility with me after he says "So it is hoped that we give to the world our own conception of the true relationship of nation."

Mallory Sadan

I would have to agree with both Tal and Glory in their analysis of Angell’s arguments; however, I think that Glory has pinpointed his biggest flaw. Throughout the book Angell emphasizes how human reason is the solution to our problems. He asserts that education and logical thinking separates a civilized man from a savage one. Accordingly, reason prevents war and helps develop “moral and intellectual interdependence” amongst nations. Although he acknowledges human passion and “hate born of religious, racial, national, and language differences”, he underestimates them and thus cripples his whole argument.
Citizens, who are governed by their emotions and own self-interests, govern nations. For this reason, regardless of a person’s education or ability to think logically, his or her desires could determine whether war is waged or not. An example of this is the beginning of World War I, when the Serbs had the Austrian heir to the thrown assassinated and the Austrians retaliated by declaring war. Austria-Hungary was not an ignorant or uneducated country, and yet was driven by passion and hatred into war. Countless other wars began or were propelled this same way. For example, when the United States only entered World War II after being bombed at Pearl Harbor, or when war descended upon Afghanistan after 9/11. Thus Angell was wrong in thinking that through education people would be able to learn to control their emotions enough to prevent the escalation of war.

Irina Zeylikovich

Angell’s work was very interesting to read because it seemed as though the modern debate between liberalism and realism had been transported almost a century back in time. Angell takes the classic liberalist line, that “the prosperity of peoples…is not secured by fighting one another, but by co-operation and labour.” He emphasizes economic interdependence as the path to increase wealth, rather than by “robbery.” However wrong Angell’s predictions for the future were, his outlook on war was ahead of his time. Contrary to the common opinion in Europe at the time, he did not see war in a romantic light or as a means to progress. His opponents, or early realists, subscribed to the Balance of Power theory, and that “if you do not exercise force upon your "rival" he will exercise it upon you.”
Angell’s major flaws lie with his key actors and his emphasis on reason. He says: “States do not think. It is the men who form the states who think,” and therefore those men should be the ones to reason out international disputes. However, individuals were NOT the actors in 1912, states were. And Angell was right, states do not think – take Germany in 1914: would a thinking state have marched through Belgium to attack Russia? Mallory pointed out that Angell underestimates human passions, which is true, but he also overestimates the capacity for reason when states are the major functionaries of the international stage.

Ziwei Hu

While Angell’s economic argument that “we are dependent upon some community on the other side of the world, that their damage is our damage, and that we have an interest in preventing it” is appealing and does make sense in theory, it falls apart in practice because he does not seem to realize that states do not always do what is in the best interest of their citizens. In other words, states will not always pursue the most economically rational course of action, and as others have already pointed out, Angell places too much trust that human reason will triumph over the bellicose inclinations of warmongering politicians. The biggest flaw I find in Angell's argument is that he underestimates the very powerful political incentives for going to war- such as binding alliances with other states, or to divert attention from domestic problems. Polling data has indicated that a president’s ratings are higher during times of war. Thus, while it is true that war is unprofitable for a nation’s citizens, as they bear the brunt of the costs (both in terms of economic loss and human casualties), it might just be profitable enough for its leaders and others in power to ignore the interest of the citizens.

Roushani Mansoor

While Norman Angell’s argument is reasonable and well-written, there are certain huge gaps in his logic that make it hard for any intelligent individual to agree with his thoughts. From the beginning, it is definite that Angell’s take on human nature and human relationships is the antithesis of previous political economic thinkers such as Hobbs; there is certainly no “brutish, nasty and short” life for Angell. Angell puts too much faith and hope in the people. Many criticize Hobbs’ work for being too harsh, Angell’s work could be considered too idealistic. He states that man will eventually realize what the best relationship is between them and they will recognize this after international economic interaction (Chapter 3). Speaking of the people of the Balkans, Angell argues that “…if they believe that the common interest of all in good government is greater than the special interest of any one in conquest, that the understanding of human relationships” is the true measure of human progress (Chapter 1). Some sort of marriage between Hobbs and Angell would more paint a more realistic picture of human interactions.

Another flaw is Angell’s circular logic that, though he is a Pacifist, war is sometimes necessary to end a current war. He argues that the European nations would have been justified in their involvement in war against the Turkish Empire because it would have been to end a war “waged by the Turks daily against these populations for 400 years” (Chapter 4). Angell then tries to solidify this claim of “a war to end wars” by blaming the “inadequacy of our language” leading us to an argument about the misconceptions of specific words.

Nevertheless, the greatest flaw is his flip-flop between economic motives. In the first chapter, Angell paints a vivid picture of how the Turkish people are nothing more than parasites, producing nothing and living off the taxes levied against the Balkan people. He then goes on the state that European involvement in the struggle between the Christian individuals of the Balkans and the Islamic Turks has nothing to do with economics that it is purely to help their Christian brothers (Chapter 3). Shortly after that, Angell decides that “not merely in this larger sense, but in the more immediate, narrower sense, are the fundamental causes of this war economic” (Chapter 3). Additionally, it could be inferred that Angell sees economic motives as the end-all to human relationships. He underestimates the passion and zeal certain individuals possess for their ethnic, religious or likewise background. He believes that apparent differences in nation-states, like the linguistic and religious differences in the Balkans, will not divide, specifically because the government will be unable to support one group versus another. Angell does not realize that these specific differences will create friction and ultimately, discord within a nation-state. Clearly, Angell cannot devise a significant argument against war of any kind and fumbles through a Pacifist-like manifesto, attempting to garner support.

David Grande

Norman Angell distaste of war was attributed to ideas such as destructive, costly, and pointless. He greatly emphasized on the idea that combat was NOT the answer to economic prosperity or to the creation of peaceful democratic states. But there are gaps in his argument. As he stated in his essay, “We should not prepare for war; we should prepare to prevent war; and though that preparation may include battleships and conscription, those elements will quite obviously make the tension and danger greater unless there is also a better European opinion.” This in itself is a very confusing expression. We should prevent war, but continue to build battleships? Mobilization of armed forces is one of many signs of war, and this is what we should do to NOT prepare for war? He enforces the idea of preventing conflict but continue to have weapons and goods are that clearly made for the sole purpose of war, definitely screams out a contradiction to his argument.

To reiterate what Glory and Kinzie have stated, Angell was overly idealistic. He felt that we as humans are able to prevent war by cooperating and seek to keep peace amongst each other. But what Angell overlooked is the mere fact that humans are born competitive. If we are born rich, we want to be richer; if we are born poor we fight under extreme measures to survive. In this struggle to endure, even the calmest people can become violent, as this fire within all of us is part of human behavior. How can we lose this circle of emotion if we are born with it? He somewhat touches this idea with the following expression: “The ordinary Turk is an honest and good-humoured soul, kind to children and animals, and very patient; but when the fighting spirit comes on him, he becomes like the terrible warriors of the Huns or Henghis Khan, and slays, burns and ravages without mercy or discrimination."

To finalize, human beings can collectively come together to make political pressures, but in the same instance of togetherness, each individual act in their own interests. As we channel that power to politicians and members of the elite, they use that same authority to please the “great mass” but also to gratify their self interest. As much as Norman wanted to enforce the idea that war was not the answer, he writes in a tone that expresses its inevitably. This was clearly the case as two world wars followed after his work was published.

Carolina Merizalde

Despite its apparent cogency, Norman Angell’s essay is founded on the assumption that everyone would agree with “not [preparing] for war; but [preparing] to prevent war.” Ideally, peace should be the ultimate goal of every nation in the world since it could foster a secure international system and economic development through cooperation among states. However, at the time Angell was writing this and even today, the reality is that most nations tend to pursue their own political agenda and serve their national interests, even if it entails the possibility of war.
In addition, Angell asserts that “it is not the likelihood of war which the illusion, but its benefits.” He generalizes modern industrial war as not being profitable for a nation’s citizens. Tal Yeshanov has pointed out that a strong nation can benefit substantially from going to war with a weaker opponent, which has certainly been the case of most encounters between industrialized nations and Third World countries throughout history. Yet, Angell is not referring to an imperialist scenario, he is focusing on the confrontation between two industrial powers and how the cost and the outcome of war at this level would not equate lucrative gains. Under this logic, I must disagree with Angell. Before the outbreak of the First World War, the main leading powers assessed their situation and concluded that it would cost more to remain at peace than to go to war. Consequently, going to war would not necessarily be unprofitable and it would definitively be preferable than peace.
Paradoxically, I completely agree with Angell in that modern nations all have governments that are to a large degree subject to popular political pressure. In many instances, people have united in anti-war efforts and exerted pressure on their political authorities to take action; yet I started wondering about what happens when the people are subject to the ideological influence of their government? It is interesting to see the other side of the coin as well, when political figures utilize their charisma and persuasiveness to drive an entire nation and instill in them their particular ideology, as in the case of Hitler and his German Nazism during WWII.
Lastly, I believe that modern governments would be wary of undertaking big, destructive wars and they would not happen, as Angell alleges, only if their magnitude could be predicted before the nations embark themselves on them. Unfortunately, the future is full of surprises and as it happened in WWI, Vietnam and Iraq, the Great Powers and the US assumed that the war would be short and made their moves accordingly; only to later realize that they had been deceived by their own perceptions.
As a result, Angell’s argument, as convincing as it may sound, was proven wrong by the catastrophic events that followed the publication of his essay in 1912. It became evident that the rule is not always to adopt a defensive strategy and that offense is generally more attractive to ambitious leaders.

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