We have often had occasion to cite the famous observation of the Roman military historian Flavius Vegetius that si vis pacem, para bellum—“If you want peace, prepare for war.” Sage advice, that, even if it is regularly ignored whenever the forces of smugness and sentimentality triumph over the counsels of prudence. Just ask Neville Chamberlain. Would that Vegetius’s observation were inscribed on the lintels of our schools and universities. Instead, we have “Peace Studies,” a phrase that names not just an academic pseudo-discipline, but a political movement, a cause around which the politically correct rally in grade schools (yes, really), high schools, colleges, and all manner of internationalist organizations the world over. How bad is it? The journalist Bruce Bawer provides the low-down in an excellent if also depressing essay on the peace studies “racket”—and “racket” is definitely le mot juste—in the Summer 2007 issue of City Journal. Drawing on that nugget from Vegetius, Bawer begins by making two critical points about peace studies.

First, it’s opposed to every value that the West stands for—liberty, free markets, individualism—and it despises America, the supreme symbol and defender of those values. Second, we’re talking not about a bunch of naive Quakers but about a movement of savvy, ambitious professionals that is already comfortably ensconced at the United Nations, in the European Union, and in many nongovernmental organizations. It is also waging an aggressive, under-the-media-radar campaign for a cabinet-level Peace Department in the United States.

“Peace Department”? Where is George Orwell when you need him? Why not just call it the “Ministry of Peace” (right next door to the Ministry of Love and down the street from the Ministry of Truth) and be done with it? And lest you think this is just some academic or journalistic jeu d’esprit, Bawer points out that Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D.-OH.) has, along with sixty other members of the House, sponsored a resolution that would authorize a Secretary of Peace to “establish a Peace Academy,” “develop a peace education curriculum” for elementary and secondary schools, and provide “grants for peace studies departments” at college campuses around the country. What is it that they put in the drinking water down there in Washington, D.C.?

Back in the dim, distant prehistoric past—back, that is, in the 1940s, when the world last reaped the benefits of an aggressive peace movement—many of our leaders were still in the habit of calling things by their right names. What we now call the Department of Defense was (until August 1949) known by a more stern and also more truthful rubric: the Department of War. A few years before, in 1933, Adolf Hitler managed to bring democracy to an end in Germany and establish himself as dictator. Really, it wasn’t so hard. That same year, across the English Channel, the Oxford Union held its famous debate in which it overwhelmingly approved the resolution that “this House will not fight for King and Country.” Well, isn’t that nice? Too bad that Herr Hitler had other ideas.

Experience is supposed to be a great and effective teacher. We have to wonder about that. Chamberlain returned from Munich in 1938 waving a piece of paper and announcing that he had brought back “peace in our time.” Bawer quotes Oscar Arias, ex-president of Costa Rica and a prominent proponent of “peace studies,” who assured a Texas audience in 1997 that the American preoccupation with freedom (as distinct from tyranny) was “obsolete,” “oversimplified,” and “dangerous.” “In other words,” as Bawer put it, “if you want to ensure peace, worry less about freedom. Appease tyranny, accept it, embrace it—and there’ll be no more war.” Do you believe that? For our part, we think Rudyard Kipling came closer to the truth in “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” (1919):

When the Cambrian measures were forming,
    They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons,
    that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us
    and delivered us bound to our foe …

Somehow, we rather doubt that the works of Kipling feature on the syllabus of the peace studies racket.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 26 Number 1, on page 2
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