Published online 2 September 2007.
The Los Angeles Times, a subsidiary newspaper of Tribune Corp., has as its lead editorial in today’s Opinion section a denunciation of “Peace Studies” departments: “The Peace Racket,” by Bruce Bawer. This piece reveals many of the core assumptions of anti-peace neoconservative propaganda, so it’s worth a line-by-line examination.
Today’s Tribune Corp. editorial is titled The Peace Racket, and it’s an illustration of how desperate neoconservativism has gotten. Having ignored the Pentagon’s notion of the most serious security threat to America, America’s owning classes now continue their war of position where it’s least likely to succeed: anti-academic attack. Today’s attack centers on “Peace Studies” departments and is brought to you by Bruce Bawer.
First, Bawer tells us the “lessons of history”:
Conflict happens, power matters, and it’s better to be strong than to be weak. Human history has demonstrated repeatedly that you’re safer if your enemies know you’ll stand up for yourself than if you’re proudly outspoken about your defenselessness or your unwillingness to fight.
Yeah, that’s why Black nonviolent protest never accomplished anything, and neither did Gandhi (end snark). But rather than preach to us about the ostensive evils of nonviolence, Bawer presents us with today’s Wussie of the Week as a mere pen-pusher:
The peace racket, as I’ve come to think of it, embraces scores of “peace institutes” and “peace centers” in the U.S. and Europe, plus several hundred peace studies programs at universities such as UC Berkeley and Cornell.
But how are they so evil? Bawer tells us, without irony:
the peace studies movement, all too often, promotes a mentality that plays directly into the hands of despots.
Now, as for mentalities that play “directly into the hands of despots,” I was going to rate the US government very highly, as the US government (when its dominant Europeans were finished wiping out or subduing the native population) supported the Shah, the Somoza family, the Marcos family, Pinochet, Efrain Rios-Montt, Mubarak, and a number of other despots. But hey! The neocons now in control of that government have nothing on “the peace studies movement.”
What really scares Bawer is Kucinich’s idea of a “peace studies” department:
Sponsored by Ohio Democratic Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (along with more than 60 co-sponsors), HR 808 would authorize a secretary of Peace to “establish a Peace Academy,” to “develop a peace education curriculum” for elementary and secondary schools, and to provide “grants for peace studies departments” at campuses around the country. If passed, the measure would catapult the peace studies movement into a position of extraordinary national, even international, influence.
Now, of course, this wouldn’t be an evil thing if it weren’t being accomplished by evil people. But wait! Bawer tells us. They MUST be evil, Bawer reasons, since he can blather some petty complaints against them:
The people running today’s peace studies programs at American universities give a good sense of the movement’s illiberal inclinations. Brandeis University’s peace studies chairman has justified suicide bombings as “ways of inflicting revenge on an enemy that seems unable or unwilling to respond to rational pleas for discussion and justice.” The director of Purdue University’s program is the author of the book “International Relations in a World of Imperialism and Class Struggle.” And the University of Maine’s program director believes that “humans have been out of balance for centuries” and that “a unique opportunity of this new century is to engage in the creation of balance and harmony between yin and yang, masculine and feminine energies.”
That’s right — the evil people running Peace Studies departments are 1) trying to establish an anthropology of suicide bombers that goes beyond the “they’re evil and deserve collective punishment” theory about them, 2) trying to understand imperialism and class struggle, and 3) promoting feminism (a good thing to do to reduce the rate of population growth).
But none of this really succeeds at its intention, i.e. demonization. So Bawer must make it clear that Peace Studies departments are “with the terrorists.” This, too, is established through what debate coaches would call a “false dilemma”:
As for America’s response to terrorism, David Barash and Charles Webel tidily sum up the view of many peace studies professors in “Peace and Conflict Studies,” their widely used 2002 textbook: “A peace-oriented perspective condemns not only terrorist attacks but also any violent response to them.” How, then, are democracies supposed to respond to aggression? Should we open an instant dialogue? Should we make endless concessions? Should we apologize?
Of course, 1) prosecuting the terrorists as criminals and 2) cutting off their money supply might work — if the Bush administration were really at all interested in doing anything about terrorism. Yet Bawer thinks nothing about of possibility. Instead, either America must plunge into a “final reckoning,” or appease Hitler:
Neville Chamberlain’s 1938 capitulation to Hitler at Munich taught — or should have taught — that appeasement just puts off a final reckoning, giving an enemy time to gain strength. But the foundation of the peace racket’s success lies in forgetting this lesson. What its adherents learn is the opposite: If you want to ensure peace, appease tyranny — and there will be no more war.
Chamberlain’s capitulation, of course, is the only lesson Bawer will permit himself to learn from history. Stalin, Hitler, Mao: all dead. Who replaces them and their role in geopolitics today: nobody. Relevance of “Chamberlain’s capitulation” to the current geopolitical situation: very close to zero.
Where’s this Hitler we need to avoid appeasing? Ahmadinejad? No. So where?
Needless to say, Bawer is still fighting the Cold War, at least between the ears:
As for the peace racket’s recommendations, if democracies consistently followed them, they’d eventually reap the kind of peace found today in Havana or Pyongyang.
Buncha commies, that’s what those Peace Studies folks really are.
The core of Bawer’s logic, as I understand it, is that there is some sort of necessary lesson to be drawn from history. Don’t appease the enemy, don’t put off final reckonings.
But there are no necessary lessons to be drawn from history in this way, since 2007 isn’t just a “repeat” of 1938. Nor is it a repeat of any other prior year.
Capitalism is that peculiar system of political economy that has conquered the world so thoroughly that the Earth’s climate is itself about to be quite dramatically altered for the sake of the continuance of an 88 million bbl./day oil habit. Has this happened before? No.
There are a number of challenges faced by the US which have nothing to do with the past. Climate changeis one I’ve already mentioned. The connection between a nearly $9 trillion national debt and the possible end of dollar hegemony will certainly be another. At some point in the next couple of decades there will be a Peak Oil challenge. Wishing for a simpler world, where those enemies-out-there were not to be appeased, won’t make any of this reality go away.
What history tells us about capitalism, however, is that it is expanding and dynamic. Capitalist history, in particular, has created a world-society which is continually producing more, and more advanced and different, technologies. Under capitalism, the past wasn’t at all like the present, and we may reasonably expect the future to be radically different from the present.
Capitalist history, then, teaches us that capitalism has general tendencies. In simplest form, we can say of these tendencies that at least these three are among them: more power, more sophistication, faster. Intellectual thought about capitalist history, such as that of Kees van der Pijl, analyzes it in light of its (more broadly considered) tendencies. But, hey, that would be a real discussion. It’s probably going on inside a Peace Studies department somewhere!
When I examine Bawer’s argument against peace and for war, I get the strong impression that Bawer is a poor arguer, for his best argument for war is that, in his head at least, he’s fighting the last war. Is this the best the right-wing owners of Tribune Corp. can do?