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Peace, War, and the Source of Human Conflicts

“Better jaw-jaw than war-war!” Winston Churchill is perhaps an unexpected person to have seemingly advocated pacifism of the belief-in-dialogue variety; but there are many who believe in this approach, and consider that if only all parties to any dispute could sit down and talk, then a peaceful solution can always, in the end, be found (whatever “peace” might mean, in whatever context we may be concerned with).

This is the belief in reason and ultimate goodness; it derives – like much pacifism – from the post-“Enlightenment” understanding of human nature, and the secularist world-view, which contends that people are basically good (and thus rational, reasonable, etc.), and that badness has only come into the human equation by way of the malign influence of evil institutions and systems-of-things (economic, political, ideological, etc.).

In major international disputes, recourse to military action must always be wrong – in this view – since it precludes the fruitful dialogue of reasonable people who will always, in the end, see that their aspirations are best fulfilled by abjuring war, and accepting a live-and-let-live policy.

Recently, concerning the present Middle East disputes, I heard such a view expressed: that if only all the parties had a chance to talk, then all could agree a settlement by which each and everyone’s national aspirations could be mutually met. But whoever said this had presumably forgotten to note that the president of Iran has recently claimed that his national aspiration was to wipe Israel from the face of the earth.

It is a fact – but one which pacifists regularly, or necessarily, choose not to accept – that the secularist or Humanist understanding of human nature is the reverse of reality, and that people are not ultimately good (however much we might wish, and convince ourselves, that they are), and that the idea of reasonable, rational people sitting down in good faith and inevitably devising a peaceful solution to all problems, is ultimately fantasy.

“Jaw-jaw” must always be tried, always given the benefit of any doubt as to what will work. Peace must always be given every chance. But the problem with any human institution, system, or means of doing things, is that it is ultimately a product of … people. So long as humans run things, there will always be badness.