June 27th, 2007

If war is not the answer, what is?

You’ve all seen those posters and bumper stickers: “War is not the answer.”

You’ve also seen discussions of why those sporting them are incorrect; war has solved some things and provided answers to certain questions—such as whether, for example, there would be a 1000-year Reich.

I’ve spent some time puzzling over the use of the “war is not the answer” mantra. For some people—the less thoughtful—I think it’s merely a kneejerk catch phrase, a method to decorate a car in a way that says, “I’m a good person, not a bloodthirsty sonofabitch like those who advocate war.” This group (and I have no idea what percentage of the whole it might represent) has no particular understanding of history, especially the history of warfare, and no real thought about the limitations of the perfectibility of human nature.

And then there are those who really don’t have much interest in pacifism, but have an ultra-Leftist political agenda that an alliance with pacifists serves. These people see pacifists as a subset of the category “useful idiots” that they’ve found so very helpful over time.

That leaves us with the third category, the one that interests me most, the committed and relatively thoughtful and well-meaning people who sustain a hope that, although war will sometimes happen, they can promote a set of programs that will lead to a world in which war will be resorted to less and less. I will summarize their position by saying that, although they understand that war sometimes has provided short-term answers to certain questions (such as the one posited above about the Third Reich), it has never provided a long-term answer to the problem of human intra-species aggression on a large scale, and each war has introduced new problems in its wake that lead to further war.

In other words, when members of this third group say “War is not the answer” their accent is on the word “the.” War isn’t not the final answer to the problems of human conflict, and although it may appear to solve some things, other problems are bound to arise that will lead to future wars.

Well, excuse me but: duh. Or to put it more politely: there are no solutions to the problem of human conflict that will eliminate the need for force at times, just as there are virtually no large-scale societies that can do away with police or prisons.

The advent of the atomic age gave pacifists—and their hopes for a way to end war—a boost, and understandably so. As dreadful as war has been in the first half of the twentieth century, with the invention of nuclear weapons it became far worse to contemplate. Early on in the atomic age the hope was that nations would be sane enough that the prospect of mutually assured destruction would be a powerful deterrent to any war, and that therefore—paradoxically—the very power of the weapons would be the reason they were unlikely to be used in the future.

Amazingly enough, so far that hope has been borne out; Hiroshima and Nagasaki are still both the first and the last times nuclear weapons have actually been detonated on a populace.

But that does not mean war has ended; sub-atomic conflicts have regularly sprung up around the world, and many of those are presently of the asymmetrical variety, involving terrorism and/or guerilla warfare and insurgencies. Another common type of war in recent times has been the internecine inter-tribal, inter-ethnic, and/or inter-religious conflicts of the third world, particularly Africa.

As for nuclear weapons, unfortunately they have recently become tools that seem more likely to be used. We now have an enemy who is less obviously interested in life than in death, and motivated at least in part by apocalyptic religious thinking (example: Iran). We also have another and related enemy that is not a state and therefore has no nation of people to protect, would be difficult to trace a bomb back to, and is driven by the same aforementioned religious motivation and otherwordly emphasis, (examples: al Qaeda and its spawn).

All of this fuels the depth of the desire to find an alternative to war—an alternative that provides not only “an” answer, but “the” answer, in a way that war never can. If you go to websites that promote pacifism, such as this one run by a Quaker lobby, you’ll find attempts to explain what that alternative solution should be.

What you find there, of course, is not “the” answer, either. This is no surprise, because if you hold the more tragic (and, I believe, more realistic) view of human nature that I happen to, then you’re not looking for “the” answer, because you believe there never can be one.

There is really nothing so terribly wrong with the “solutions” offered there (except for reliance on the corrupt and/or incompetent UN), at least as far as they go, which isn’t all that far. The Quaker website stresses the idea of prevention, of nipping things in the bud before they ever get to that point. Nice idea, and I’m sure in some cases it works, but the programs described mostly focus on preventing one type of conflict, the so-called “mass humanitarian crises” such as the Rwandan slaughter. Although the role of the UN and NGOs in Darfur doesn’t indicate things have been going very well in this regard, there is some evidence of success (follow the link and scroll down to number four) in a very limited and circumscribed number of cases, none of which involve the so-called “war on terror” or Islamic totalitarianism.

But let’s not fool ourselves. Pope John Paul II negotiating a deal between Argentina and Chile over the Beagle Channel, or a social service society soothing the seething shantytowns of Ahmedabad in India through street plays and festivals—laudable though such things may be—aren’t about to give us “the answer” to the current question of what to do to counter the threat that militant Islamic fundamentalist totalitarianism represents now, including both its national and its terrorist manifestations.

Prevention is wonderful, and I’m all for it. It’s good to exercise aerobically, to eat healthfully, try to avoid carcinogens, and to get your vaccinations. The disease model dictates, however, that although an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, human beings rarely follow all the rules, and even those who do can end up with the shock of cancer or some other dread disease. When that happens, cure is worth many ounces of prevention, because prevention is no longer possible. And treatment must occur quickly.

Does that mean that someone who is diagnosed with cancer should give up practicing good health habits? Of course not; the two—prevention and treatment—work in tandem, and healthful practices can make treatment more effective. That’s why the “treatment” known as war does not preclude peace efforts such as those described on the Quaker website, as well.

War as a treatment? Yes—an exceptionally drastic one that should only be resorted to when there are no good alternatives, or when time has run out on the ones that might have worked in the past (the problem, of course, is deciding when that has happened). And like all drastic treatments it has many side effects, and can backfire and cause worse problems than those it attempts to address.

With war, every now and then there’s a cure, of course—World War II as a “cure” for Nazism, for example (although of course small pockets of that particular disease remain). But although World War II “cured” Nazism on a worldwide basis, the side effects were profound and devastating, and its aftermath fostered the growth of another already-existing disease: Communism.

Yes, indeed, war is not the answer to the problems that bring about armed conflict, and war is probably the least benign “treatment” on earth. But when prevention (and our very incomplete knowledge of how to accomplish it) has failed, sometimes it’s the only answer.

[ADDENDUM: In one of those examples of simultaneity in which the blogosphere is especially rich, Shrinkwrapped writes today on the psychological underpinnings of this sort of ultra-pacifist point of view.]

107 Responses to “If war is not the answer, what is?”

  1. frank martin Says:

    “War is ot the answer” depends on the nature of the question being asked. If the question is “Shall we live with enslavement or genocide”?; well hell yes! war really is the answer. War in response to border or trade disputes, religious debates writ large? well, no its probably not the answer, but to say that war is the worst thing in the world and should always be avoided contradicts the evidence provided by human history.

    Saying that “war is not the answer” is like saying that surgery is always wrong. Given the choice between the surgical amputation of a gangrenous limb and certain death, the limb goes. Unpleasant? yes, regrettible? yes, Necessary? certainly.

    And yes, there are people who believe fervently that not only surgery but any medical efforts are deeply wrong as an article of their faith, but those people are rarely given the same level of acceptance to their ideals as are the pacificsts who try to sell the ‘war is not the answer’ prattle to the rest of us.

  2. Nyomythus Says:

    My bumper sticker reads, “Sorry Sunshine, but some times war is the answer :\”

    …it’s like … welcome to the … planet …???

  3. alphie Says:

    It’s laughable to think we can stop anyone from using 60 year old nuclear weapon technology, which is basically digging up some dirt and throwing it in a washing machine for a while, with either negotiations or war.

    “Stopping the spread of nukes” is just an excuse people use to start wars to further their own special interests.

  4. Occam's Beard Says:

    which is basically digging up some dirt and throwing it in a washing machine for a while,

    Uh, no. There’s just a tad more involved in it than that, or Oppenheimer, Fermi, & Co. seriously misled us back when. Not only is the requisite isotopic enrichment difficult, so is achieving detonation. So critical is the timing of the implosion that an error in the length of the wires to the explosive charges can prevent detonation because of the difference in time of electricity to traverse the wires.

    PS: in a nanosecond electricity moves 30 cm, so do the math on how tight the timing has to be. Washing machine – good Lord! Spot the arts major.

  5. Bravo Romeo Delta Says:

    I’m rather fond of the saying:

    “War is not the answer. Victory is.”

  6. Trimegistus Says:

    I saw one today: “I’m Already Against the Next War.”

    I found myself thinking two things about that statement. First, do these jerks actually think anyone likes war? Christ, I’ve urged strong military action against Iran but I don’t like war. I don’t enjoy the thought of death and destruction — but I do prefer it be at Iranian nuclear weapon production sites rather than midtown Manhattan that the death and destruction happens.

    Second, the blanket statement of opposition. I’ll wait and see what the next war is about. I think there are things worse than war, which means I’d rather fight them than simply roll over and surrender.

    Neo, in the USA I think there are really only two strains of people who think war “isn’t the answer.” There’s the old heirs-of-the-Enlightenment attitude that if we could just sit down and resolve our differences like reasonable people, violence wouldn’t be necessary. That subsumes your first and third groups, and is definitely a noble aspiration — provided that negotiation doesn’t become an end in itself. Unfortunately negotiations between reasonable people doesn’t work when your enemies aren’t reasonable. Like (for example) Islamists. At times the devotees of peaceful negotiation become quite unreasonable in their insistence that negotiation in good faith is never impossible.

    The second set are simply opposed to wars when America fights them. They can look on with blank apathy when people are slaughtered in Darfur, they can ignore the Russians making Chechnya into an abbatoir — but military action by the United States is always wrong and must be opposed. These people are, quite simply, traitors.

    I once thought that the first group vastly outnumbered the second. Now I think they’re a minority among the “anti-war” movement.

  7. alphie Says:

    youtube.comOppenheimer & Co developed nukes the hard way, Occam (using math developed, in large part, by Persian mathematicans, btw).

    The Soviets greatly simplified the process in the 50s.

    Now its pretty easy.

    In any case, the biggest terrorist threat isn’t Iran building them, but terrorists buying one off the shelf from Russia or Pakistan (or N.Korea).

    Speading all our defense bucks in Iraq or Iran just lets the terrorists know where not to hide their ill-gotten nuke when they get one.

    The world is a big place.

    Let’s just hope it’s a firecracker, not this monster:


  8. Good Ole Charlie Says:

    Alphie, you arts major you…

    The Soviets did NOT simplify “the Process”…least of all in the fifties. Their big advantage came we the Rosenbergs et al. tipped them off to mass producing plutonium in a reactor, PLUS (the Big One) the designing of implosion lenses.

    Centrifuge separation (I assume you have some knowledge) separates isotopes of uranium. U235 has the advantage that implosion lenses are NOT needed: the simple gun barrel design of Hiroshima will do the job.

    And centrifuge separation is NOT easy: the process is of a cascade nature which means the the whole array of whirling rotor must be controlled. When the Israelis decide to shut down the project, they will probably concentrated on the centrifuges…very delicate and cranky devices – a bomb going off rather near will throw the whole machinery cockeyed, especially if they happen to be running when the bomb drops.

    Get educated kid…sci fi is not the place to look for fats.

  9. Good Ole Charlie Says:


    As an arts major, you will no doubt be amused by the typos.

    “Nobody’s Perfect…”

    Regards, pal

  10. alphie Says:

    haha, Charlie,

    Building nukes is sooooo hard that every single pissant nation that tried to build them succeeded.

    Stop throwing vigins into volcanoes and put down the goat entrails and join us here in the 21st century

  11. Bravo Romeo Delta Says:


    Can you name for me the nations that tried and ultimately gave up on their nuclear weapons ambitions?


    Hint: it’s more than 10

  12. Bravo Romeo Delta Says:


    Anyone want to take bets that Alphie won’t even respond to the question asked?

  13. alphie Says:

    Well, I can think of Taiwan, South Africa, Brazil and Argentina off the top of my head, BRD. Libya, too, maybe?

    But they stopped developing nukes cause we offered them bribes, not because it was too hard.

    I believe South Africa actually had nukes…and gave them up.

  14. harry Says:

    So Alphie, for clarification purposes; building nukes are virtually as easy as throwing dirt in a washing machine and therefore attempting to do anything about an Iraq or N. Korea from developing their own is worth no effort on any ones part. Does that about sum up your position?

  15. Huan Says:


    you should have considered what the question is first that “war is not the answer to”.

    imo, the question appears to be “what is the best way to peace” or perhaps “what is the best way to eternal peace and harmony.”
    if so, it is a fantasy to think that there is any practical answer at all.

  16. Bravo Romeo Delta Says:

    Well, let’s see, off the top of my head, the list of countries that either had or sought nuclear weapons or military nuclear programs (or were strongly suspected of having) at some point along the line: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Pakistan, India, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Australia, West Germany, Switzerland, Japan, Taiwan, Argentina, Brazil, North Korea, Kazahkstan, Ukraine, Romania, Nigeria, France, Great Britain, United States, Russia, and Israel.

    One will note that of these nations, only Pakistan, India, China, North Korea, France, Great Britain, United States, Russia, and Israel are actually members of the nuclear club.

    Now why, do you think, that so many nations have abandoned their programs?

    That doesn’t seem to square particularly well with the notion (that you’ve tossed around with abandon, but no linking evidence or support) that it’s roughly the equivalent of a high school science project.


  17. alphie Says:


    The economic concept of “effective demand” is the best answer I can think of.

    Everybody may want a 6000 square foot house or a Ferrari, but in reality, few people can actually afford them (the “effective demand” for a product or service).

    Whether or not I think we should “do something” about Iran and N. Korea is meaningless as long as America has such corrupt and incompetent civilian and military leadership.

    The efforts would likely turn out as badly as Afghanistan, Iraq and Gaza….probably much worse.

    Who knows, maybe the next crop will be better.

  18. Bravo Romeo Delta Says:

    And actually, for what it’s worth, if you have any shred of support for your argument – or evidence – or anything, I’d actually be genuinely interested in reading up on it.

  19. Good Ole Charlie Says:


    Yes, it’s VERY hard to do the thing from scratch. After all, you had the basic outline published as far back as the Smthye Report.

    The science is straight-forward: it’s the practical engineering that is difficult and EXPENSIVE!

    Note that only a few extremely advanced (economically) can afford the project. Like all non-productive projects (or charities), this sort of thing sucks capital and manpower out of the economy.

    After all, what ultimately sunk the Soviets was their trying to match US science and technology with a shoe-string economy. Defeated by economics…who wudda thunk it?

  20. TBinSTL Says:

    No, war is not the answer. War is the question. The answer is yes.

  21. Bravo Romeo Delta Says:

    Is the answer yes, but the question “Would you like fries with that?”

  22. harry Says:

    Alfie, I have a feeling you can song and dance your way around any issue without the slightest intent to provide even honest rhetoric. Even you do not believe half the stuff you write, so I am uncertain as to why you bother posting here, if this is all your willing to do. I am also wondering why Neo hasnt bounced you from the rolls here.

    I dont see how you add anything that might be considered “thought” provoking. Just contrarian.

  23. Oldflyer Says:

    Back to NeoCon’s original question. I suppose it gives people of a certain mind-set a feeling of moral superiority to sport such bumper stickers. I suppose that is justifiable if you have never experienced a tyrant’s foot on your neck. It also helps if you have people who will fight on your behalf. In that case you can really feel superior–and safe.

    I would put it this way; if war is the answer then the question is a really tough one, and chances are you answered some earlier quesitons incorrectly. If you fail the first pop-quiz, the exams gets tougher and tougher. The best course of action is to be ready militarily and emotionally so that that no one dares put the ultimate question to you.

    Alphie, you may be a nuclear phyicist. I am not. But, I do have enough exposure to weaponry to suspect that you are full of bull. Quit reading those conspiracy thrillers in which terrorists smuggle home-made nukes in their shaving kits.

  24. alphie Says:


    Does the pro-war crowd believe anything they write these days?

    The leaders of the U.S. military admit freely that there is nothing they can do to stop Iran’s nuclear program if it is indeed working towards nuclear weapons.

    The idea that we could stop Iran from developing nukes using air power alone is only put forth by people who have other motives that I can’t even begin to fathom.

    Perhaps the question should be: “When is war the answer?”

  25. harry Says:

    “The idea that we could stop Iran from developing nukes using air power alone is only put forth by people who have other motives that I can’t even begin to fathom.”

    Oh, go ahead and give it a try. Im sure you could come up something involving Haliburton or Karl Rove.

  26. alphie Says:

    Actually, harry,

    I don’t think Halliburton wants us to bomb Iran, seeing as they have an office and several projects going on there.

    I was hoping one of you guys would offer up a reason.

  27. Occam's Beard Says:

    The idea that we could stop Iran from developing nukes using air power alone is only put forth by people who have other motives that I can’t even begin to fathom.

    So you’re arguing for boots on the ground?

  28. harry Says:

    “I was hoping one of you guys would offer up a reason.”

    Me, personally, Id wait until Nancy Pelosi dropped in for one of her shadow government diplomacy visits to Iran, then Id pop several dozen at once. That would take care of two enemies at one sitting.

    As a matter of fact, since it is so easy, Im collecting bags of dirt to mix in my washers to make my own nukes. If only I was aware of this before.

  29. geoK Says:

    CONSIDER THE MOVIE SYRIANA and its meaning within the “War on Terror.” .When you watch an advertisement you know they’re trying to play you, insert a desire into your psyche. For some, it’s the same with self contented NPR radio, PBS documentaries, pseudo-news on the cable networks: lies, attempted manipulations.
    But now they’re inserting messages into “alternative” media, placing their fake left wing spokesmen onto media like WBAI, AIR AMERICA, and even into feature length Hollywood films. SYRIANA is a case in point; originally funded by a foreign policy organization front company, full of lies and deceptions from ex-CIA agent Robert Baer about the feeble Golf State oligarchs shaking in fear at the American oil companies. (When the reality is the exact opposite). A series of excerpts from interviews with Baer shows an evolving series of lies about 9/11, eventually ending in the conclusion, contradicting all his earlier statements, that it was not the Saudis, or the Pakistanis, or the Iranians, but no, it was Bush and Cheney.; which means what? It means that all of his statements are designed to provide cover for some other entity, an entity identified by Russian news source PRAVDA in July 2001 in its prediction of 9/11. And this entity appears very close in affiliation to not only Iraqi WMD reporter Judith Miller, and British Intel. MI6, but also Baer’s former employer, a transnational group lobbying intensely for an attack on Iraq—a transnational non-governmental criminal syndicate based in London, Baer’s current place of employment..

    The evolving lies of former CIA agent Robert Baer

  30. alphie Says:


    You accuse me of not believing half the stuff I write and then you casually advocate the assassination of our Speaker of the House?

    I don’t think the pro-war crowd is going to reverse its shrinking numbers (23% now?) with rhetoric like that.


    The “secret left-wing conspiracy” propaganda lost its power about 40 years ago.

    Forget someone offering a rational reason for attacking Iran, how about someone explaining why the pro-war crowd thinks that using propaganda that was tired when Truman was president has a chance of ever winning over more than 20-25% of American voters these days?

  31. Rune from Oslo Says:


    You have claimed in this thread that developing nuclear weapons is a piece of cake.
    Several people have asked you to provide some kind of source for that assertion.
    Your response have been to babble on about other subjects.
    I take that as tacitly acknowledging you don’t have any.

  32. Trimegistus Says:

    Alphie’s actually edging close to a revelation. He’s started to notice that the idiotic straw-man arguments he keeps trying to attribute to us are completely nonsensical. Maybe he’ll finally realize that we don’t believe the silly things he wants to attribute to us, and he’ll start paying attention to what we’re actually talking about.

  33. As I plan for retirement, I hope to lean in this general direction…. at Amused Cynic Says:

    […] really is just that simple.  Neo-neocon has some similar thoughts this morning, sans […]

  34. stumbley Says:

    amazon.comFolks, alphie proved long ago he isn’t worth the effort. My favorite answer to “War isn’t the answer” is found here:


    …and if I were still worrying about what alphie says, I’d like him/her to provide the address of the Halliburton office in Iran and the “projects” they’re working on…

  35. Ymarsakar Says:

    it has never provided a long-term answer to the problem of human intra-species aggression on a large scale

    Unless you want to create a YGBM (You Gotta Believe Me) mind control program Neo, you aren’t ever going to be able to change basic human nature, meaning basic human aggression, beliefs or hatreds. That or genetic engineering of human hardwired beliefs and instincts. Their quest is a foolish quest, for human nature does not change, and if it ever did change, it would only do so because we had truly transcended our mortal and human limitations. I don’t see that happening anytime this century, Neo. Or millenium. Or even a thousand milleniums Neo.

    War isn’t not the final answer to the problems of human conflict, and although it may appear to solve some things, other problems are bound to arise that will lead to future wars.

    Utopia and perfection are not the answers to anything really. In point of fact, seeking to strive for perfection and utopia creates more misery and death than simply going along to getting along.

    there are no solutions to the problem of human conflict that will eliminate the need for force at times

    Oh there are solutions, Neo, but they are so draconian and far fetched that it is not feasible or practical.

    War as a treatment?

    As I see it Neo, war is essentially a classical and operant conditioning program for the human race on a grand and effective scale. It allows two sides to fight each other, and condition each other, hopefully finding out what behaviors are more effective and better and more productive. Every side says that theirs is the right, but if they can’t produce victory in reality, then their beliefs are worth just as much smoke. In our world, victory requires True Strength and True Strength is incredible hard to acquire, Neo. Many people speak of strength of belief, like the Jihadists, but the principle of recirpocity still applies to them. Meaning true ethical decisions and true progressive civilizations can take as much damage as they can dish out. The Islamic Jihad cannot do that with their headchopping and intolerance of dissent. Cannot in the sense that a man with obsessive compulsive disorder cannot stop doing what his instincts demand. But you can fight your instincts and self-destructive tendencies, Neo, via behavioral modification. Application of yes, pain, but also rewards and simple following leadership role model examples as Albert Bandur discovered.

    Your field of relationship therapy between family members is a far milder version of behavioral conditioning than war. There’s a certain goal people have for relationships. Harmony and happiness in relationships, which has behavioral components as well as emotional health components. Thus war is not just a huge classical conditioning experiment based upon rewards and punishment, but it is also an observational learning experience for both sides and neutral folks watching. America’s first use of the nuclear devices on civilian populations reminded Stalin that he had better be able to dish out as much damage as he can take, but since Stalin like most dictators couldn’t take what he dished out, he didn’t launch his nukes at us when he had a chance to. Operant conditioning, learning by observing what someone else has done before or learning due to something other than direct applications of positive/negative reinforcements of good behavior for Stalin. After all, the US didn’t nuke Hiroshima to get Stalin to play ball, it was not there to punish Stalin, yet it had the effect of modifying Stalin’s behavior. For a time at least, enough time for someone saner to gain power. War indeed has an emotional and philosophical component, that is independent of the behavior. That is why both sides can do some of the same types of things, but aren’t the same and therefore the solutions for both aren’t the same. If both sides were people, one might say that they had different psychological problems as well as different sets of behaviors. When you smash those two together, there are some hard line dictates in reality for who is the winner or the loser. No amount of utopia thinking or moral justification can allow you to win under such rules. Nature is totally unbiased. If you lose cause you are weak, then you lose. There’s no appeal. The US is in a particular situation that it has power, but its will is too weak to use it against the Europeans or anyone else helping our enemies.

    Again, the hard rules for victory in war play out as we speak. Behavioral modification, philosophical beliefs, psychological problems.

    The Soviets greatly simplified the process in the 50s.

    Ya, definitely, stealing the plans from the US is definitely a more simplified process than making your own shit up.

    Building nukes is sooooo hard that every single pissant nation that tried to build them succeeded.

    How many of those pissant nations could nuke 50 cities in 5 minutes? Zero.

    Having a nuke and having a usable weapon system is two different things. Ayrabs have armies but their armies aren’t really Armies.

    The leaders of the U.S. military admit freely that there is nothing they can do to stop Iran’s nuclear program

    That is cause your US leaders, Alphie, are without balls and guts.

    You accuse me of not believing half the stuff I write and then you casually advocate the assassination of our Speaker of the House?

    It has gotten to the point where PillowC is really really almost there to the status of “Domestic Enemy to the United States Constitution”. And since the military has sworn a vow to protect the Constitution against all enemies, foreign or domestic, you can follow the logic. The military wouldn’t do this on their own, but if the President (not Bush) ordered it, they might actually do it and obey the order.

    Hell, if the President ordered a nuclear launch on Teheran, the military would obey it. That’s what loyalty means, Alphie. It is a far more powerful thing than all this argument concerning Iran and nukes.

    The “secret left-wing conspiracy” propaganda lost its power about 40 years ago.

    Maybe you can be excused for believing in that illusion because you call yourself a born and raised Republican. Maybe you just haven’t seen the true power of the Left or haven’t bothered due to your allegiances to their beliefs.

  36. snowonpine Says:

    With this bumper sticker idea we are back to the question of the fundamental nature of man and liberal vs. conservative views of his nature.

    If you believe that human beings are innately good and that bad behavior—violence and war being some examples—are aberrations caused by unfortunate social and economic conditions—which can be eliminated—then you would tend to believe that war can be eliminated.

    If you believe that man has an innate tendency for violence and that, left to their own devices, most people will exhibit bad behavior, then you tend to believe that good conditions or bad, bad behavior and violence will always be with us and the task is then to shape societies which keep such violence to a minimum. In this view war will never be, can never be, wholly eliminated.

    I believe any analysis of our human nature has to be grounded in a very conscious awareness of our primate heritage and the hundreds of thousands of years, during which our basic instincts and approaches were developed, set and then honed in our “environment of adaptation.” We are–much as many would like to ignore or deny it—animals, primates and the determinative 99% plus of our back history took place in small primate social groups in which violence was an integral part of daily life. This is hardwired in and should be a given when dealing with human beings. Much pain and suffering could be avoided if this reality were not so often ignored.

    As for the general issue of war and whether it solves anything or not; war, it seems to me, has more often than not been the determining factor in history, both ancient and modern. Wars have been a major factor in many of the key population movements, the growth or decline of populations and peoples, the birth, decay and death of states and powers and their replacement by others, in the exploration and scientific inquiry that has lead to the current state of affairs and which has determined where each of us stands today on the chess board of history.

  37. alphie Says:


    The main component of nuclear weapons is…dirt.

    Trying to stop a country making them is like the British trying to stop the Indians making salt.


    There are only about 10,000 fully equipped U.S. combat troops here in the U.S. at any given time. The rest are overseas or here but without their equipment.

    They couldn’t put together much of a domestic coup if Bush ordered it….or a homeland defense, for that matter.

  38. Bravo Romeo Delta Says:

    The main component of [Alphie’s commentary] is…dirt


    The main component of an aircraft carrier is dirt. The main component of a person is water. The main component of the universe is hydrogen.

    What on Earth are you on about?

  39. alphie Says:

    Well, BRD,

    The facilities needed to build an aircraft carrier are considerably larger than the facilities needed to refine uranium.

    We may be able to stop a country building an aircraft carrier, but could we stop a nation building a canoe?

  40. Bravo Romeo Delta Says:

    isis-online.orgWell, Alphie,

    How do you mean that the facilities are “considerably larger”? Do you have any notion how large a cascading hall is to produce usable yields of HEU? Do you have any notion of the relative complexity of actually turning HEU into a workable device is? Do you have the foggiest notion of what it takes to convert a functioning device into a usable system?

    Because I’m such a giver, let me link some of the basics here:

    Iran has demonstrated a capability possessed by only about ten countries. Because of the characteristics of gas centrifuges, the Iranian facility could be used for the production of low enriched uranium for civil purposes or highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons, depending on the decision of the Iranian government.

    The Natanz site is surrounded by a security fence and has many buildings, including underground facilities, representing a large uranium enrichment complex. Underground buildings currently under construction will be devoted to enriching uranium, and these well-protected buildings are sized to hold over 50,000 centrifuges.

    and then a bit later…

    Each of the two largest underground structures have horizontal dimensions of about 190 meters by 170 meters, with a gross area of approximately 32,000 square meters each. The smaller structure, situated adjacent to both large structures has a gross ground area of approximately 7,700 square meters. When completed, the two largest underground structures are designed to be the main buildings for the production of enriched uranium in gas centrifuges, commonly called cascade halls.


    So, in any case, how about we start with this, and you can start explaining your sudden conviction that nuclear weapons are made principally of top soil. Or perhaps some peat moss and cedar chips.


  41. snowonpine Says:

    The addendum to my post above is that Judaism and Christianity are religions that set rules and encourage behaviors that, to some extent, allow individuals to “transcend their animal natures.” Thus, the more these religions and their positive influence permeate our societies the less violence, in general, there will be and, the more they are eliminated from daily life, the more I would expect our violent, amoral “animal natures” to emerge; look around you

    In contrast, Islam is a totalitarian politico-military system–masquerading as a religion—which positively encourages the most violent of human tendencies and seeks to harness them in the service of Islam’s political goals. Thus, the more the malevolent influence of Islam is present in our societies, the more violence there will be and, in particular, the more violence directed at nonbelievers and Muslim apostates or “infidels” i.e. those who don’t toe the fundamentalist line.

  42. alphie Says:

    Ahh, now we’re getting somewhere, BRD.

    Unlike a shipyard, uranium enrichment facilities can be located underground without much difficulty.

    The facility you descibe is 0.0077 square kilometers.

    Iran has a land area of 1,636,000 square kilometers.

    Even without allowing for overlap, there are 212,467,532 possible sites in Iran for a nuclear enrichment facility.

    Assuming the Iranians have hidden our imaginary nuclear weapons facility, our odds of hitting it are considerably less than your odds of winning the lottery today if you bought a single ticket.

    Considering the very real costs to America of an unprovoked airstrike against Iran, it is not worth it.

    Not even close.

  43. Occam's Beard Says:

    The main component of nuclear weapons is…dirt.

    Alphie, no offense, but I have to say that that is the stupidest thing I’ve ever read, and I occasionally read Democratic Underground and Daily Kos. I salute your staggering achievement.

  44. stumbley Says:

    “I salute your staggering achievement.”

    Ol’ alph has exceeded his dimwit quotient for the next several years in this thread….

  45. alphie Says:

    Haha, you guys are quite funny sometimes,

    Iran already has all the technology they need to make nukes, thanks to our Pakistani allies.

    All they need is some dirt containing uranium…which they have in deposits in several locations within their borders.

    They don’t need any external inputs to manufacture nuclear weapons.

    Therefor, you can’t stop them simply by sealing its borders.

    And, as I’ve pointed out above, it would be almost impossible to use an airstrike to take out their facilities.

    And, as there are no credible voices left on the pro-war side to win support for an invasion of Iran…game over.

  46. gadfly Says:

    Interestingly, plain old dirt does have trace amounts of uranium. You might have to reduce a mountain range to dust to get enough for a nuke, though.

    Since it’s so easy, of course, Saddam would have had them pretty quickly after sanctions were dropped.

  47. alphie Says:

    If he’d wanted them, of course, gadfly.

    Turns out he didn’t.

    All we stopped by invading Iraq was our ability to launch pre-emptive wars.

    Lucky mullahs.

  48. benning Says:

    “Those who cling to the untrue doctrine that violence never settles anything would be advised to conjure up the ghosts of Napoleon Bonaparte and of the Duke of Wellington and let them debate it. The ghost of Hitler could referee, and the jury might well be the Dodo, the Great Auk, and the Passenger Pigeon. Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst. Nations and peoples who forget this basic truth have always paid for it with their lives and freedoms.” ~ Robert A. Heinlein

    I’m with Heinlein on this.

  49. Bravo Romeo Delta Says:


    You’re so cute when you try to do something “mathy”.

    Wrong, and possibly more ill-informed than a pile of shag carpet, but cute, nonetheless.

    Since you’ve evidently declined to actually look at, or understand information, I’ll share a wee bit more.

    So, just so we don’t have to assume that Iran is comprised of more than 212 million cascade halls, you can find them right here As you’ll note, the area I have marked as the cascade halls has already been buried. But, fortunately, since satellite technology wasn’t invented in the last few months, we can see the various phases of construction prior to them being buried in what Alphie would like to call “Essentially Just A Nuke Waiting To Happen”, or what the rest of us call “soil”. You can see the facility at two earlier phases of construction: September 2002 and February 7, 2003.

    And, by the way, did you ever get around to actually trying to move beyond the “Things That Are Made From Dirt” school of logistics and material handling?

    GPS systems are made from dirt. The machines used to place GPS satellites in orbit are made of dirt. Therefore, it is easy to create a constellation of GPS satellites.

    Supercomputers are made from dirt. Therefore, it is easy to create a supercomputer.

    I could go on, but I just can’t see fit to try to point out the multitude of ways in which you’re not only wrong, but have yet to actually explain what you mean other than “to make something, you just need dirt”.


  50. Bravo Romeo Delta Says:

    Oops. When I was looking up comparisons (7700 square meters is roughly half the footprint of the US Capitol building), I only cited the centrifuge assembly halls. Each of the cascade halls is more than 4 times larger at 32000 square feet. Or, in other words, each of the halls is more than twice as large as the US Capitol Building.

    The entire facility is about 25 acres.

  51. Bravo Romeo Delta Says:

    encyclopedia.combaesystems-sanfranciscoshiprepair.comOh, and Alphie, by the way, I just ran across some information on ship construction I thought you might be interested in learning about.

    San Francisco Drydock Inc. (now owned by BAE) occupies 26 acres of land and utilizes two drydocks, one of which is the largest floating drydock on the West Coast, all under lease from the Port of San Francisco.

    So, you’re pretty much spot on about it being smaller than the facility to build an aircraft carrier. It’s much more on the scale of a more ordinary large shipyard.

    My bad.

  52. Bravo Romeo Delta Says:

    So, that’s what I’ve been able to dig up in 30 minutes online, Alphie.

    Are you going to deign to actually provide any support the otherworldly and strange assertions that are the evident foundation for your worldview?

  53. alphie Says:

    What view is that, BRD?

    That we shouldn’t slaughter people on a hunch?

    I think youll find my view is rather mainstream among Americans.

    The people who point to pins in a map of Iran and say “there’s their nuke program” now are the exact same people who just 4 years ago were pointing at pins in a map of Iraq.

    They don’t get the chance to make another wrong guess like that…ever.

    BTW, 32,000 square feet is only 2973 square meters.

    Nice try, though math wiz.

  54. Bravo Romeo Delta Says:

    Sorry about that ace, my bad. 32,000 square meters.

    You know what I find so intensely fascinating about you today is that you’ve been skipping over the linked materials. You haven’t looked at any of them, have you?

    I was skimming back through and noted that in my quick scan of the articles linked, that I had picked up the area of the centrifuge assembly facility, and missed the cascade halls. And then, evidently didn’t cite the correct units.

    You have nothing to say other than “Nuh-Uh”. Well, you still cleave to the mysterious notion that all one needs to make nukes is a big pile of dirt.

    But past that, you have no idea of what a separative work unit is, as a measure of extraction efficiency. You haven’t the foggiest notion of how and why centrifuges are cascaded. Why it is that proliferation analysts do actually care whether or not a country gets maraging steel and has a P1 or P2 centrifuge design. You don’t know thing one about Uranium hexafloride, the temperatures that must be maintained for efficient extraction and the implication for maximum centrifuge efficiency.

    I am used to you being obtuse and foolish, but on this one, this isn’t some sort of political spin he-said/she-said issue. It’s not one of ‘interpretation’, it’s not any of those things.

    This one is basically a pretty straightforward deal.

    It started with the Mujahdeen I Kalk in late 2003, the subsequent unfolding drama at the IAEA, and an enormous host of publicly available information from a wide variety of sources.

    Now, if you were up to your normal level, I could see you making some comment about the Bushehr complex being a light-water reactor, and therefore proliferation-resistant.

    At which point, I might ask about why there’s a heavy-water production facility at Arak. Or note that the predominant risk with a reactor (be it heavy or light water) is only in the production of plutonium, and that an ordinary uranium facility

    This means I’ve linked one article several times now, and you still can’t bring yourself to even glance at anything that challenges your precious, fragile worldview, can you?

    And the truly funny thing about it is that if you read the article, there’s actually a lot more complex and nuanced implication in the analysis and what policies this information may actually suggest than just bombing something.

    But your preference for a fact-free universe is so very overwhelming that you can’t even be bothered to do research that supports your positions.

    You’re an odd, odd man, out there tilting at imaginary giants (windmills) on some fantastic quest in pursuit of a vision only you can see. Maybe if I had the fantastic gift of delusion you cultivate so carefully, I could see how one makes a nuclear arsenal out of dirt – I mean it does suggest a kind of touching cargo-cult-esque delusion.


  55. alphie Says:


    According to the pro-war crowd, the Iranians are the masterminds beind Hezbollah, Hamas, the Taliban and the Iraqi insurgency, groups that have kicked the crap out of much better funded American backed armies.

    If they really are so smart, and they really were building nuclear weapons, do you really think they’d be building them in such an obvious place?

    Can you say…decoy?

  56. Bravo Romeo Delta Says:


    You didn’t read all the way to the bottom of the article, did you?

  57. alphie Says:

    Which article, BRD?

    The one that said:

    “Other information about Iran’s centrifuge program suggests that even if the Natanz site was destroyed militarily, Iran’s decentralized gas centrifuge program could not be bombed out of existence, meaning that Iran could relative rapidly build a small gas centrifuge facility that would be extremely difficult to detect.”

  58. Bravo Romeo Delta Says:


    I am actually genuinely impressed you got to that nugget. I had feared that you wouldn’t even read any thing at all, let alone enough to actually look at the issue as being actually complex, not some sort of comic book nonsense.

    I imagine that you at least skimmed the sections about the projected separative capacity of the facility as a whole.

    Basically, the overall capacity of the Natanz facility is such that, even with inspections, it is quite possible to produce a sufficient amount of HEU without the need for a hidden facility.

    However, leaving the Natanz facility alone – regardless of whether or not smaller clandestine facilities exist – leaves open the possibility for surge production.

    So whether or not Natanz stops Iran from getting a single bomb, it is a critical element in stopping them from building an arsenal. And whether or not there are smaller clandestine facilities is an irrelevant point if Natanz itself is never held at threat.

    See? Real world, real complex.


  59. stumbley Says:

    “groups that have kicked the crap out of much better funded American backed armies.”

    And just where did this event occur, all-seeing one?

    Geez, you’re in rare form today.

    By the way, still waiting for the Halliburton address and projects in Iran…

  60. Ymarsakar Says:

    If they really are so smart, and they really were building nuclear weapons, do you really think they’d be building them in such an obvious place?

    They’re not all that smart or competent, it is just that we have the handicap of dealing with people like you, Alphie. Iran doesn’t.

    There is no better funded, trained, and experienced army than the American army. Jeu. Alph, aren’t you born Republican like Webb was born fighting?

  61. BRD Says:


  62. Rune from Oslo Says:


    The reason i asked you for a source for how easy it is to make nuclear weapons was that your assertion is just that. An assertion, not evidence.
    You then answer by another assertion……..

  63. Louise Franke Says:

    Dear Neo;
    Would you please give some consideration to banning Alphie. He is just an energy drain and doesnʻt seem able to engage in useful dialogue. Usually, I find the comments column on your blog a sueful expansion on your articles. Please donʻt let your comments section turn into these foolish, time-wasting flame wars.
    All the Best,

  64. joe blough Says:

    Is war the answer? Depends on the question.

    Personally I find that 40 proof alchoholic beverages are an adequate answer to most of life’s questions. Other than that, violent sweaty sex seems to handle the rest.

    But when it comes to barbarians slaughtering your innocent and beloved, well, … war is absolutely the answer, the right answer, the only humanely acceptable answer, the only morally defensible answer.

  65. Eric Chen Says:

    columbiaspectator.comcolumbiaspectator.comHi Neo,

    I agree. I used the cancer analogy myself in a November 2001 column I wrote for my school newspaper while I was an undergrad at Columbia U in NYC:

    The First Step of a Long War


    Terrorism has to be treated as a life-threatening cancer that has spread throughout the world, and we must guard against the temptation to end the war on terrorism prematurely. Like a recurrence of cancer, falling short of annihilating Osama bin Laden�s entire terrorist network will only bring about the return of the terrorist threat to our country.

    Terrorism has grown over the years from isolated groups of radicals plotting amateurish assassinations into a sophisticated worldwide network that, on Sept. 11, displayed its capabilities and commitment to the destruction of the United States. Defeating the Taliban, and the subsequent departure of al Qaeda from Afghanistan will serve as an excision of the most obvious concentration of terrorism, but it will only be the first step of eliminating terrorism from the world.

    Any realistic attempt at defeating a widespread cancer like Osama bin Laden�s terrorist network requires an aggressive response. Unfortunately, no sure cure has yet been found for either cancer or terrorism. The most effective cancer treatments available cannot guarantee success and cause almost as much pain and damage to the body as the cancer itself. Cancer patients are faced with a cruel, unforgiving choice: a costly, lengthy, painful fight or a surrender to the deadly cancer.

    Some cancer patients choose to surrender to cancer rather than fight, preferring death to the pain of treatment, while other cancer victims delude themselves into pursuing less painful, but almost always useless, alternative treatments. They, too, usually die. The American people face a similar choice in our country�s war on terrorism: fight terrorism until it is eradicated, surrender to Osama bin Laden, or pursue a useless alternative that will most likely result in American defeat.

    The harsh reality of cancer is that it can defeat even the most extensive treatments; the same possibility exists with terrorism. Fortunately, the United States has all the weapons it needs to fight terrorism with its military, technological, economic, and diplomatic power.

    The world has irrevocably changed. Tragically, cancer sometimes recurs in people who thought they had defeated the disease years ago. In similar fashion, terrorism in some form will most likely remain in the world to threaten us. Even after we defeat the terrorists, the American people must remain vigilant to threats to our national security.

  66. sergey Says:

    lifepositive.comI recently read a brochure found in my home library published in 1902 by Tolstoy’s pal Chertkov. This is, formally, an open letter addressed to the Tzar by Leo Tolstoy where he gives to Tzar his advice about domestic and international policy. It could had been written now by any Western pacifist or human rights activist, from Murtha to Sydney Sheehan or Noam Chomsky. The same arguments, the same insane, perverted logic. Russian leftists and revolutionaries tried to disseminate these pamphlets among troops and policemen, with little success: most soldiers were illiterate, and policemen arrested students-agitators as enemies of state – and rightly so. I never met before reading this brochure such concentration of hypocrisy, self-righteous posturing and utmost ignorance of human nature; the profound, paradoxical, sometimes fearsome truths of Christianity replaced by trivialities or reduced to shallow platitudes of saccharin humanitarian moralism. Not exactly Tolstoy’s fan, I until now held much better opinion of the man. May be, it was just senile dementia? But no, it was a logical culmination of a long ideological journey from a brave military officer of “Sevastopol Stories” and “Haji Murat” to wise historian and psychologist of “War and Society” and then to radical cultural nihilist, pacifist and anarchist. And what was most horrible, during this journey he became unquestionable moral authority, guru, like Chomsky, of 90% members of educated Russian liberal intelligentsia. And when these liberals came to power in February 1917, they screwed up horribly, unable order to machine-gun marauding mobs or establish terribly needed military rule. So they allowed Bolsheviks seize the power. The following is well known. Unintended consequence of pacifism? Yes. But quite predictable. And awful. These several dozen million victims of Communism in Russia can be honestly pin on Tolstoy’s insane preaching.
    Another consequence of this preaching was making of Gandhi:
    “Gandhi read Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God is Within You in 1894 and turned his attention to the concept of nonviolence. At the age of 25, it made a deep impression on him. Commenting on its impact, he said: “Before the… profound morality and the truthfulness of this book, all the books… seemed to pale into insignificance.” Marx and Tolstoy were the most significant influences in Gandhi formative years. Read it all:
    It seems that American hippie of 70-s have been drinking from the same poisoned wells. Gandhi’s “Tolstoy Farm” social experiment in South Africa closely resembles hippie community, structurally and ideologically. Another source of Gandhi inspiration was John Ruskin, British bleeding-heart liberal of Victorian age, founder of Christian Socialism and Labor party (and pre-Raphaelite movement in art). Now the most notorious Christian Socialist is Hugo Chaves.
    It does not mean there were no important opponents of Tolstoy in Russia. First of all, it was Dostoevsky, with his deep understanding of the nether world of human psyche. His novel “Demons” was a powerful warning of imminent catastrophe, which was mostly ignored and ridiculed. Direct opponent was Vladimir Solov’ev, prophetic religious philosopher who satirically depicted Tolstoy in his brilliant short novel “Three Conversations”, Leskov with a novel “Nowhere” about young idealistic nihilists. Some prominent politicians, like Gershenzon, Duma deputy (MP), and Nabokov, father of writer Vladimir Nabokov, have realistic views of historical situation. But Russian conservatives lost their battle to bleeding-heart liberals, and the latter, in turn, quite predictably, lost to barbarians.
    The same cultural war that was waged in Russia hundred years ago with ominous accuracy repeats itself in Europe and USA. European conservatives are already defeated, and now only so-called “fascists” (actually, anti-immigration nationalists and anti-bureaucratic Euro-skeptics) can save some parts of it from Muslim barbarity.

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  106. Ron Breedlove Says:

    Preemptive war following zero diplomacy and fought against Iraq instead of terrorists is ignorant beyond description. It was impulsive, hideously planned, terribly executed and no thought given to an exit. History will judge it and Bush accordingly.

  107. Mike Says:

    Ron Breedlove:
    I wonder if Ron has changed his mind in these lase 7 years. Just the tone of his remarks shows that he would have enlisted in dear leader’s army. Not that it would help much Neo in his case (too far down the rabbit hole) and not that it would be practical but , I’d pay for 2 hrs of your professional time just to try and bring him back to reality. Hell, I’d do the same if you could talk to “dear leader”. But I’m afraid that would be like having a professional football player evaluate a 3rd string player on the Pee Wee league. 🙁

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