Tuesday, May 03, 2005

War quotes

I think my favorite quotation about war is one attributed to Trotsky: You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you. It sums up the idea that you can run, but you can't hide--sooner or later, you must confront the fact that war keeps coming round again, and that, eventually, it will affect every one of us, one way or another.

Pacifism is an emotionally attractive ideology, and condemnation of war is very easy. Temperamentally, I much prefer this stance. I have always had a deep wish that war could be abolished somehow--that it would go away, that the lion would lie down with the lamb in the Peaceable Kingdom. Anyone who does not see war as horrific is simply not confronting reality.

But I have come to see that sometimes war is a grim and terrible necessity and the lesser of two evils. It is a profound challenge to decide when this is the case, and when it is not.

Here are some quotes on the subject of war which I have selected as particularly interesting. Some are quite well-known; others were new to me. There are certain themes that keep repeating, although the speakers are from different eras. I find that interesting, too. Perhaps you will, also.

Right is more precious than peace. -- Woodrow Wilson

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. -- John Stuart Mill

All that is essential for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. -- Edmund Burke

If you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed, if you will not fight when victory will be sure and not so costly, you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no chance of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves. -- Winston Churchill

You can have peace, or you can have freedom. Don't ever count on having both at once. -- Robert A. Heinlein, The Notebooks of Lazarus Long

If we desire to secure peace, one of the most powerful instruments of our rising prosperity, it must be known that we are at all times ready for war. -- George Washington

An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last. -- Winston Churchill

If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget ye were our countrymen. -- Samuel Adams

God grants liberty only to those who love it, and are always ready to guard and defend it. -- Daniel Webster

History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or timid. -- President Dwight Eisenhower

Let us recollect that peace or war will not always be left to our option; that however moderate or unambitious we may be, we cannot count upon the moderation, or hope to extinguish the ambition of others. -- Alexander Hamilton

Si vis pacem, para bellum (If you want peace, prepare for war!) -- Flavius Vegetius Renatus (ca 390 AD)

Superior firepower is an invaluable tool when entering negotiations. -- General George S. Patton

No man can sit down and withhold his hands from the warfare against wrong and get peace from his acquiescence. -- Woodrow Wilson

I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity. -- Dwight David Eisenhower

Older men declare war. But it is the youth that must fight and die. -- Herbert Hoover

You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it. -- Margaret Thatcher

We know we can't beat you on the battlefield, but we can beat you on the streets of New York Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. -- North Vietnamese camp commander, Son Tay POW camp to Commander Paul Galanti, U.S. Navy, American POW.


At 12:22 PM, May 03, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

God created man but Winchester made them equal - Western Frontier Proverb

At 1:18 PM, May 03, 2005, Blogger Pancho said...

A few of my favorites which play more personally to those of us who have been in combat. These are chapter leads from "We Were Soldiers Once....and Young"

"There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but boys, it is all hell."
Gen. William Tecumsah Sherman

"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers,
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother."

Shakespeare, Henry V

"If your officer's dead and the sergeants look white"
Remember it's ruin to run from a fight;
So take open order, lie down, and sit tight.
An' wait for supports like a soldier."

Rudyard Kipling

"Dulce bellum inexpertis."
[War is delightful to those who have no experience of it]


At 2:43 PM, May 03, 2005, Blogger Ocean Guy said...

My first thought while reading your selected quotes was of Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. It was the John Stuart Mill quote that tickled the thought...

I doubt whether pacifists, who essentially care only for their own safety, have found any meaning in their own lives.

At 4:05 PM, May 03, 2005, Blogger SteveR said...

... and let's not forget Engineer Scott ("Scotty") of the USS Enterprise, who once said, "...the best diplomacy is a fully-charged phaser bank."

Along these lines, you might enjoy this photo and the blurb that goes along with it.

At 4:50 PM, May 03, 2005, Blogger THIRDWAVEDAVE said...

Trotsky's statement is so true. That sentiment probably ran through his mind prior to the axe doing so.

At 5:03 PM, May 03, 2005, Blogger Tom Grey said...

"In an age of great and easy individual empowerment, where state support for clandestine groups can cheaply fund mass chaos, we can win the War on Terror in one way only--by creating a World Without Dictators."

At 6:16 PM, May 03, 2005, Blogger MargeinMI said...

Just got recommended to your site today. I'll be back. Read your bio and I can relate, although I found my inner 'neocon' a bit earlier....I think it started when Slick Willie said "I didn't inhale."

Excellent quotes. I especially liked the one from Samuel Adams. Was he talking to the French? It seems appropriate even in this day and age.

At 7:54 PM, May 03, 2005, Blogger Huan said...

Pacifism is a lovely dream that whithers at dawn's first light.

At 8:42 PM, May 03, 2005, Blogger ink said...

The essential flaw in the pacifist argument is that if it fully embraced by a nation threatened by enemies it guarantees their victory. If as is the more common circumstance it is embraced by a small percentage of the population then they are in the moral position of benefitting from the sacrifice of their fellow citizens while being unwilling themselves to sacrifice. It allows them to feel a cheap moral superiority. Orwell wrote extensively on this during WWII.

At 9:34 PM, May 03, 2005, Blogger Pat'sRick© said...

Just got referred today. Like Marge, I will be back when I have more time. I'm glad I now know that John Stuart Mill originated the quote I have heard often. Thanks.

At 10:17 PM, May 03, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Though I walk through the valley of death I fear no evil for I am the meanest motherf**ker in the valley - former grunt, republic of south viet nam

At 10:56 PM, May 03, 2005, Blogger Loyal Achates said...

War is just a racket. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives...I have been a gangster for capitalism, and I do not intend to keep quiet about it.

- Major General Smedley Butler

At 10:59 PM, May 03, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"War is the remedy our enemies have chosen, and I say let us give them all they want." --William Tecumseh Sherman

At 11:12 PM, May 03, 2005, Blogger Alex said...

To Ocean Guy:

"I doubt whether pacifists, who essentially care only for their own safety, have found any meaning in their own lives."

Huh? I'm not a pacifist myself but I've known many pacifists in my time, and I think I've got a decent handle on what motivates them. This isn't it.

First of all, imagine I were concerned primarily with my own safety. I wouldn't run off to war myself, but I'd feel no compunction about sending others to fight to protect me. In contrast, most pacifists oppose even wars that might protect them. Also, isn't it a standard plank of the neocon argument for the war on terror that it will, in fact, protect us? Mightn't a self-interested safety seeker, especially one above fighting age, actually support the war?

Second, many pacifists do things that put themselves at personal risk, such as chaining themselves to bulldozers and the acting as human shields and the like. This too is problematic for your theory.

I think that far from being essentially self-serving, in most cases pacificism is a high-minded, idealistic, and moral stance. Unfortunately, it can also be a fatally short-sighted one. Pacifists aren't, in my experience, more cowardly than the rest of us. But they do tend to be more idealistic, less accepting of the concept of evil, and a little less willing to think pragmatically about cause and effect.

At 6:04 AM, May 04, 2005, Anonymous Paul said...

There will always be wars and rumors of wars. Human beings must like war, because we have fought enough of them!

At 6:16 AM, May 04, 2005, Blogger Ian said...

I still go with the line "Peace is more than an abscence of War" (can't remember the exact quote, if it was ever one, and who it is atributed to)

Peace and War are not opposites, this is what pacifists fail to get their heads around.

Often quoted is "Fighting for peace is like f*cking for virginity", where they are so wrong is proved by history. Democratic nations do not go to war with each other, and democracy from within tyranny is ultimately provided by war.

At 9:51 AM, May 04, 2005, Blogger Ocean Guy said...


My comments allude to Frankl's work and the similarity I drew between one of his books and one of the quotes. In that context I stand by my remarks.

I do question the morality of pacifists, it seems naive, self-centered and overly idealistic. I freely admit I have no idea what motivates them... I assume the motivations are diverse... but still naive and self-centered.

At 1:26 PM, May 04, 2005, Blogger Daniel in Brookline said...

Some damn fine quotes here! (And I'm glad to see someone who shares my fondness for collecting them.)

Here's another one:

"War is hell. War should be hell. It's what makes it a thing to be avoided. But sometimes the alternative to war is worse than hell. And so we must fight."

I found that in the comments here. It seems to be original, and I thought it worth preserving.

Ian: I, too, have gotten tired of seeing that silly "...like f**king for virginity" slogan. But once I saw a classic rejoinder: "What's wrong with that? It's the only way I know to create more virgins."

Daniel in Brookline

At 2:03 PM, May 04, 2005, Blogger John Moreschi said...

I believe that war is the second most horrible thing in the world: the worst thing in the world is defeat from an aggressive enemy out to destroy your civilization.

I believe it is immoral to refuse to defend yourself against attack. Pacifism is best seen as enabling behavior of one who is codependent with aggressive tyrants. It is fundamentally immoral in itself.

At 3:53 PM, May 04, 2005, Anonymous Richard Aubrey said...

I have never met, or corresponded with, a committed pacifist. There was one in our area fifteen years ago who got all kinds of ink. I called her and asked what she thought of the FMLN in El Salvador. Should they stop? "But that's about land redistribution."

The only pacifists I have ever met had no objection to the aggression by enemies of the US. I came to suspect that their pacifism was a ruse designed to convince the voters of the US to weaken the country in favor of the enemy. In other words, not real pacifists.
Orwell said that, effectively, the pacifist favors the fascist. Any pacifist who won't face that and excuse or defend it is a liar.
Orwell followed that by saying no pacifist would deliberately sell out his own country. Orwell was an optimist.

At 8:14 PM, May 04, 2005, Blogger maryatexitzero said...

more quote:

"Evil demands retribution if we are to retain our sense of what it means to be human"

- Paul Fussell, historian and author of “The Boys Crusade”

"Just as you supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of a number of other nations, we find that no one, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you."

- Hannah Arendt, writing of Eichman’s execution.

An interesting quote about pacifism from Gandhi, offering “advice” to the Jews in Hitler’s Germany”

"If I were a Jew and were born in Germany and earned my livelihood there, I would claim Germany as my home even as the tallest gentile German may, and challenge him to shoot me or cast me in the dungeon; I would refuse to be expelled or to submit to discriminating treatment . And for doing this, I should not wait for the fellow Jews to join me in civil resistance but would have confidence that in the end the rest are bound to follow my example. If one Jew or all the Jews were to accept the prescription here offered, he or they cannot be worse off than now. And suffering voluntarily undergone will bring them an inner strength and joy which no number of resolutions of sympathy passed in the world outside Germany can. Indeed, even if Britain, France and America were to declare hostilities against Germany, they can bring no inner joy, no inner strength. The calculated violence of Hitler may even result in a general massacre of the Jews by way of his first answer to the declaration of such hostilities. But if the Jewish mind could be prepared for voluntary suffering, even the massacre I have imagined could be turned into a day of thanksgiving and joy that Jehovah had wrought deliverance of the race even at the hands of the tyrant. For to the god fearing, death has no terror. It is a joyful sleep to be followed by a waking that would be all the more refreshing for the long sleep."

Gandhi called the voluntary death of a race at the hands of a tyrant justice. This is pacifism.

Churchill and Gandhi never got along.

At 11:33 PM, May 04, 2005, Blogger WichitaBoy said...

“It is a good thing war is so terrible; else we should grow too fond of it.”

--Robert E. Lee

At 8:52 PM, May 05, 2005, Anonymous Justin K. said...

pancho wrote-"If your officer's dead and the sergeants look white"
Remember it's ruin to run from a fight;
So take open order, lie down, and sit tight.
An' wait for supports like a soldier."
Rudyard Kipling

Ahh, Kiplings "Soldier or the Queen." I beleive the last verse goes something like...

"When your stranded and wounded on Afganistans plains/And women with knives come to cut off what remains/Just roll yerself over and blow our yer brains/And go to God like a soldier"

Quite a depressing poem. But I do love Kipling

At 9:52 AM, November 22, 2005, Anonymous Yahtahei said...

I've always enjoyed this quote:
"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself." -- John Stewart Mills

At 7:47 PM, November 24, 2006, Blogger matthew said...

"Gandhi called the voluntary death of a race at the hands of a tyrant justice. This is pacifism."

Actually, Gandhi was calling for an all out revolt by the Jewish people against the oppression and murder to which large numbers were being submitted, rather than waiting for other nations to extend assistance. His point was similar to another famous quote I would have expected to find here- "It is better to die on your feet than live on your knees." That whole passage has nothing to do with pacifism, and everything to do with not going down quietly. Next time you feel inclined to dish out quotes in support of some half-baked hypothesis about an entire group of people (in this case, pacifists), make sure your quote actually supports your argument. This would require a little bit more time and perhaps some tougher analysis, but would go a long way toward making you look like less of an idiot.

At 12:38 PM, June 06, 2007, Blogger thepoetryman said...

I doubt whether pacifists, who essentially care only for their own safety, have found any meaning in their own lives.

This simply is not true. A pacifist isn't merely defined as "one who will not go to war".

(conscientious objector, peace lover, peacekeeper, antiwar, antiviolence)

Pacifism is the opposition to war or violence as a means of settling disputes.

The belief that international disputes can and should be peacefully resolved

Pacifism is not limited to just war, but can include resisting to use any form of violence at all.

Pacifism may be based on principle or pragmatism. Principled (or Deontological) pacifism is based on beliefs that either war, deliberate lethal force, violence or any force or coercion is morally wrong.

Pragmatic (or Consequential) pacifism does not hold to such an absolute principle but considers there to be better ways of resolving a dispute than war or considers the benefits of a war to be outweighed by the costs.

Dove or dovish are informal terms used, usually in politics, for people who prefer to avoid war or prefer war as a last resort.

Some people termed "dovish" would not view their position as pacifist as they would consider war to be justifiable in some circumstances (see just war theory).

Some persons, who consider themselves pacifists, while opposing war, are not opposed to all use of coercion, physical force against people or destruction of property. However, they usually have more clearly formulated and articulated principles on the use of force by individuals - and by governments - than non-pacifists.

Antimilitarists, for example, are specifically opposed to the modern nation-states' military institutions rather than to "violence" in general.


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