…it’s a feature.
In 1967 there appeared a book called Report from Iron Mountain on the Possibility and Desirability of Peace. It purported to be a document leaked from a secret “Special Study Group” formed by the government. It was considered at the time to be a satire. The years since have proven it to be a prediction.
We find that at the heart of every peace study we have examined – from the modest technological proposal (e.g., to convert a poison gas plant to the production of “socially useful” equivalents) to the most elaborate scenario for universal peace in our time – lies one common fundamental misconception. It is the source of the miasma of unreality surrounding such plans. It is the incorrect assumption that war, as an institution, is subordinate to the social system it is believed to serve.
This misconception, although profound and far-reaching, is entirely comprehensible. Few social clichés are so unquestionably accepted as the notion that war is an extension of diplomacy (or politics, or of the pursuit of economic objectives). If this were true, it would be wholly inappropriate for economists and political theorists to look on the problems of transition to peace is essentially mechanical or procedural – as indeed they do, treating them as logistic corollaries of the settlement of national conflicts of interest.
If this were true there would be no real substance to the difficulties of transition. For it is evident that even in today's world there exists no conceivable conflict of interest, real or imaginary, between nations or between social forces within nations, that cannot be resolved without recourse to war – if such resolution were assigned a priority of social value. And if this were true, the economic analyses and disarmament proposals we have referred to, plausible and well conceived as they may be, would not inspire, as they do, an inescapable sense of indirection.
The point is that the cliché is not true, and the problems of transition are indeed substantive rather than merely procedural. Although war is “used” as an instrument of national and social policy, the fact that a society is organized for any degree of readiness for war supersedes its political and economic structure. War itself is the basic social system, within which other secondary modes of social organization conflict or conspire. Is this system which has governed most human societies of record, as it is today.