War is hell. Many hundreds of thousands of men and women in the U.S. Armed Forces have died fighting in wars, and Memorial Day is dedicated to honoring these soldiers. Toward that end, in addition to bowing our heads in remembrance of their lives and deaths, let us raise our heads and observe the causes of war—and those of peace.
The causes of war are:
- Statism—the falsehood that the state has a right to force men to act against their own judgment for the sake of some “greater good,” whether the community (communism), the race (Nazism), the nation (fascism), or “God” (theocracy). For example, World War II was caused by an (alleged) race of people asserting that it has a right to subjugate or kill other races, and that its nation has a right to conquer other nations to sustain itself.
- Collectivism—the falsehood that the individual’s life, mind, and goals are subordinate to the will of some group or collective. For example, the U.S. Civil War was caused by a group of men insisting that they have a right to maintain states authorizing the enslavement of another group of men.
- Altruism—the falsehood that being moral consists in self-sacrificially serving others rather than self-interestedly serving oneself. For instance, America’s involvement in the Vietnam War—a war initially caused by the North Vietnamese and Chinese communists seeking to enslave the South Vietnamese—was a consequence of Americans’ acceptance of the notion that the proper purpose of our foreign policy is to selflessly serve others rather than to selfishly protect Americans.
- Religion—the falsehood that we should have faith in and obey the commandments of some “God” rather than go by reason, observation, logic, and the requirements of human life and prosperity on Earth. For instance, the current war by Islamic nations (and groups) against Western civilization is caused by their faith in a “God” who commands them to convert or kill us.
In contrast, the causes of peace are:
- Capitalism—the social system that recognizes and protects each individual’s rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness;
- Individualism—the idea that the individual’s life belongs to him, not to any group or collective, and that he has a moral right to live it as he sees fit;
- Egoism—the idea that being moral consists in pursuing one’s own life-serving values (education, career, recreation, friendships, romance, etc.) and respecting the rights of others to do the same;
- Rationality—recognition and acceptance of the fact that reason is man’s only means of knowledge and thus his only means of understanding the facts of reality, the requirements of human life, the validity of a given moral code, or the conditions of peaceful human coexistence.
When and to the extent these truths and values are embraced, men have no need for war. Insofar as men are free to think, produce, and trade with others voluntarily (capitalism)—and insofar as they recognize the sovereignty and rights of individuals and the moral propriety of self-interest (individualism and egoism)—in other words, insofar as men uphold reason as their guide in all political, social, and personal matters (rationality)—neither they nor their governments have any reason to attack other people or nations. Who needs death and destruction when life and prosperity are possible?
Free, rights-respecting, self-interested, rational men and nations go to war only when they are attacked or threatened with aggression—and then only to defend their freedom so that they can return to peaceful, normal, prosperous living.
On Memorial Day, rather than just bow our heads in silence, let’s also raise our heads and speak these vital truths. What better way to honor the victims and fallen heroes of war than to condemn the causes of war and to advocate those of peace?
[For elaboration on this theme, see “The Causes of War and Those of Peace,” which includes additional elements and examples.]