The Humanities and War
William and Ida Friday Center
November 22, 1996
The tenth and final workshop of the Study of War Project was held November 22, 1996, at the William C. Friday Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The one-day workshop considered the relationship of the humanities to the study of war. Leading scholars from four disciplines — Literature, Art History, Religion, and Philosophy — discussed how their respective fields explain war=s origin, cause, and impact.
Colonel Joseph Cox (Professor of English and the Director of Advanced Composition at the US Military Academy) spoke first about the AThe Changing Nature of War Literature. He opened his presentation by asking three questions. What can literature tell us about the origins and causes of war? What can literature tell us about the nature of war? What can literature tells us about the impact of war on the human spirit? Cox believes that at one time literature explained much about the causes, nature, and the impact upon the human spirit of war, but that contemporary literature focuses only on the human spirit.
Cox commenced his analysis with Homer and the siege of Troy. The Iliad, according to Cox, described the horror and brutality of war to such a degree that even modern literary critics such as Paul Fussell should not belittle it. Combat in the Iliad, according to Cox, was an Aessential face to face struggle to bloody death. But war in the Iliad was also a celebration of Apersonal and social values, codes of honor, and masculine pride. The verses make order out of chaos. Cox concluded that the Iliad Aexplained war=s causes, described its bloody details, and unabashedly preached its moral significance for free Greek men.
Cox then moved to modern war claiming that A the sheer numbers of men killed in the American Civil War and World War I … shatter[ed] the faith in the old ennobling myths of war and dash[ed] confidence in the ability of old literary techniques to accurately present war=s deadly details. Cox began his discussion of modern war with Walt Whitman=s oft used Athe real war will never get in the books. But Cox believes that Whitman was wrong. The individual soldier=s experience, according to Cox, was recounted in works by Ambrose Bierce and Stephen Crane. Using theories of human psychology, these authors focused on precisely those aspects of the war experience that Whitman predicted would never make it into print. The problem for Whitman was that he could never reconcile his optimistic poetic justification of the war with its bloody reality.
Cox=s discussion of World War I centered on the work of Paul Fussell and the Airony of situation inherent in modern war. He quoted Fussell, AEvery War is ironic because every war is worse than expected. Every war constitutes an irony of situation because its means are so melodramatically disproportionate to its presumed ends. According to Cox, after World War I, war literature stopped attempting to answer the first two questions posed at the beginning of the paper and focused on the third, i.e., what can war literature tell us about the impact of war on the human spirit?
Contemporary war literature, according to Cox, Atries to describe the human experience in war, and modern authors believe that the way they write is as important as what they depict. Cox continued by stating that some authors think that war literature can tell us very little about war. Michael Herr=s Dispatches and William Broyles Brothers in Arms were used as examples. For some, war literature cannot capture the savagery of war. Cox quoted Michael Norman, author of These Good Men, as saying, AThe truth of war is simply too horrible to tell.
But Cox disagrees. He thinks that literature can help answer at least the last question posed by this workshop, if not the first two. Cox believes that Aliterature does tell important >truths= that prepare the human spirit for war in ways that other disciplines fail. ALiterature engages the imagination and emotions; it breaths life into events; and, in doing so, according to Cox, Ait reveals what war does to our shared and essential humanity.
Cox believes that J. Glenn Gray=s The Warriors Reflections of Men in Battle, provides the most insightful approach to the study of war literature. Gray, in Cox=s estimation, emphasized comradeship and group unity. Gray believed that few soldiers would chose war over peace, but there is a unique and special bond for those who have survived combat. Gray observed, that even in the horror of war, Athere can also develop a strong sense of protective or preservative love.
War literature, in Cox=s estimation, Acan teach us the impulse to preserve and protect against the overwhelming forces of destruction and describe a better side to human nature than the urge to destroy. AA great deal of war literature, according to Cox, Areveals that the fundamental beliefs and assumptions of the common soldier center around his concern for his fellow soldiers, his ability to meet the physical demands of soldiering, his confrontation with an enemy and possible death, and his coming to terms with the guilt of having survived and participated in war. Although Gray has been criticized for naivetJ, according to Cox, his approach provides a guide for exploring how literature can instruct readers about the impact of war on the human spirit. Cox concluded by saying that, much as with the Iliad, Amodern war literature tries to make order and meaning out of the chaos and attempts to maintain a certain level of humanity by Aexploring the common themes of the human spirit: death, love, and guilt.
Following a lively question and answer session exploring the relationship between war and literature, the conference moved on to the topic of war and art. Peter Paret (Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities, School of Historical Studies, Institute for Advanced Study) focused on understanding the medium of artistic presentation in his analysis of AThe Reflection of War in Art. Using the Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras in Europe as his backdrop, Peter Paret used a case study format to explain how war is presented in art. The following six contentions provided methodological guidelines during the presentation:
1) The artist never treats the subject of war in a vacuum;
2) The student must examine the motives of the artist in relation to his patron and the general public;
3) The history of art does not show a continual developmental line in depicting war;
4) War is not only combat — images of war have always shown the context of war;
5) Combat is the emotional center of art representing war;
6) Battle can be depicted in a segment or indirectly.
Paret emphasized the importance of understanding the period in relation to what preceded it and what followed. Art depicting war in the early eighteenth century, according to Paret, was undistinguished. The reason for this was the exhaustion of styles and motifs that had reached their height in the late seventeenth century. In addition, military policy and the place of war in society were largely marginalized since armies consisted primarily of Amarginal men. Generally, art that dealt with war had become very conventional.
During the middle of the eighteenth century, contemporary realism became the dominant painting style. The humanitarian character of the late enlightenment placed greater interest on the poor and downtrodden, and as a result the rank and file of the army became more important to the artist. Greater interest in the common soldier, according to Paret, increased awareness of the soldier=s daily routine of making camp, marching, fighting, and so forth. The changes in art in the second half of the eighteenth century increased its ability to deal with the changing nature of war.
Some people, according to Paret, have called this period a military revolution. War moved to the center of social and political ideas, the middle class became more involved in warfare, and soldiers became politicized. The enormous growth in the size of armies resulted in profound structural changes in the military.
Paret asked, to what extent were these changes depicted in art? The political aspects, he concluded, are easy to see. But Paret is more interested in other aspects–military training, organization, and strategy.
Paret gave the audience several examples of paintings from this period. The first, and probably most familiar, was the glorification of the leader. This style was particularly popular in France with Napoleon as the subject. Other artists focused on ordinary soldiers and demonstrated the reality of combat. These artists tried to be as historically accurate as possible. Some artists even interviewed participants and read eye witness accounts. In these paintings, the leader is rarely seen.
Some styles , according to Paret can best be described as Ageneral staff art. They aren=t really art as we know it, but they do give a sense of what happened at one time in a broad perspective. Paret also provided examples of Alower art, which demonstrate the relationship of soldiers to society. Lastly, as was perhaps best demonstrated by the prolific Jericho, art can depict the human experience of the individual in battle.
Paret emphasized that most of the great artists of the time shied away from battle art. Because of this, much of this art has not been studied to a great degree. Generally, those who chose a segment of a battle or attempted to portray the experience of the individual soldier were most successful. During the nineteenth century, the common soldier=s life became ever more prominent in art. Paret referred to Goya as an artist who provided a bridge to modern art and war.
Paret concluded by reiterating his prefatory remarks. Images of war may vary greatly. What the case study approach does is allow for a systematic examination of art from various periods. Regardless of the time period, the six aforementioned forces are always at work on art. The student must look for the context, both in the world at large and in the art world itself. The student must look to periods when there are major changes in art and in warfare. Paret explained that this is why there is so much art concerning the Great War, but very little regarding the Second World War. Paret then entertained questions and discussion, after which the conferees broke for lunch.
Stanley Hauerwas (Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics, Duke University) opened the afternoon session with a paper entitled AReligion and War in Human Experience addressing the evolution of the Just War doctrine in twentieth century Protestant thought.
Hauerwas began his discussion with an analysis of Reinhold Niebuhr=s thinking and how it evolved over time. Unlike Rauschenbusch, who opposed United States intervention in World War I, Niebuhr supported U. S. involvement. He even attempted to rally fellow Germans to the cause. In a sense, Hauerwas argued, Niebuhr wanted Ato make the world safe from war through war. According to Hauerwas, Niebuhr had no problem with pacifists, or non-resistors, as long as they chose to stay out of politics.
For Niebuhr, politics was a dangerous game and international politics was even more threatening. He believed that individuals could act morally but that the moral loyalties of a group were inherently problematic. He also believed that there was no higher loyalty than to the nation. In the dark world of international politics, nations were forced to go to war against other nations to protect their own internal morality.
Niebuhr, according to Hauerwas, always remained a liberal Protestant Christian, and his realism was merely a reflection of this thinking. For Niebuhr, it was impossible for humans to follow the ways of Christ. Christ was Aon the edge of history, in Hauerwas= estimation. Humans can never follow Jesus. For Christians, Christ was Aa symbol of the necessity of sacrifice in human affairs.
Reiterating a previous theme, Hauerwas argued again that Niebuhr believed that one could not be pacifist and political. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, in Niebuhr=s estimation, were not pacifists per se. They used Anon-violence as an effective political tool. Non-violence was simply a political strategy to be employed by minority groups wishing to gain certain rights. As early as 1932, Niebuhr wrote that non-violence should be employed by American blacks in an attempt to gain equality under the law. Niebuhr, according to Hauerwas, argued that true pacifism was also a political tool employed by conservatives. Sometimes unwittingly, pacifists end up supporting right wing dictatorships. Charles Lindbergh and the America First Movement was a case in point.
Niebuhr wanted everybody to be a political realist, or as Hauerwas concluded, Awhen in doubt, kill as few as possible. Niebuhr wanted Christians to be Asad killers, in Hauerwas= estimation. AChristianity teaches you humility, stated Hauerwas. AYou don=t want to kill too joyously. World War II confirmed to Niebuhr and many others that realism was the correct way to think about war and international relations. Niebuhr, according to Hauerwas, rarely employed the Just War Doctrine. He defended the United States= atomic policy and supported Mutually Assured Destruction, or M.A.D. Hauerwas concluded that Niebuhr=s position became the position of Protestant Liberalism.
It would fall to another theologian, Paul Ramsey of Princeton, to develop Adiscriminating criteria for war. Paul Ramsey was originally a pacifist himself, but he slowly moved toward the doctrine of Just War. For Ramsey, Just War was based on the concept of love thy neighbor. AWar is not the lesser of two evils, stated Hauerwas, Abut an expression of love. What Ramsey meant by love was the action of helping the neighbor who has been attacked unjustly. A person has the right to intervene on another person=s behalf. But this intervention should not be intended as a way of eliminating the enemy, according to Hauerwas. AJust War is not about the killing of the enemy, stated Hauerwas. AJust War is about incapacitating the enemy.
Ramsey also provided guidelines for waging a just war. War must be declared. Each side must know the intentions up front. War must be fought for, in Hauerwas= words, the Aproportionate good. Ramsey also argued that war must be fought disinterestedly and should be limited. Lastly, the doctrine of Just War, at least Ramsey=s version of it, required complete non-combatant immunity. Hauerwas noted that this may seem Amiles away from Niebuhr but Ramsey did not see it this way. Ramsey believed he was merely adding the Aprinciple of discrimination to Niebuhr=s realism.
Ramsey also believed that unconditional surrender was morally reprehensible. All or nothing violates the principle of limited war. In a sense, Hauerwas argued, ARamsey is about making the world safe for war. Combatants must know when to quit. Also, as Hauerwas noted, the soldier Amust be willing to kill and to die for a limited good.
According to Hauerwas, Ramsey saw Awar as a moral enterprise within Christian Civilization. Just War was not a simple casuistry for the use of violence but a theory of statecraft. You are always at war. Ramsey placed rules upon war so that the combatants knew how to accomplish the limited ends of a just war. In a sense, added Hauerwas, Ramsey=s goal was very Clausewitzian, i.e., to subordinate violent means to political ends.
The problem with Ramsey=s thinking, according to Hauerwas, was how does one Adiscipline a realist account of war to be so discriminating? Most would argue, according to Hauerwas, that it will not work. Hauerwas concluded with a well-known example of total war. AYou must convince the American people that it is better for some people to die on the beaches of Japan than either at Hiroshima or Nagasaki in order to presume the distinction between combatants and non-combatants. Hauerwas believes you must be willing to lose many more soldiers than risk the possibility of murdering civilians. At the core of Ramsey=s Just War doctrine is the distinction between killing soldiers and murdering civilians, between killing and murder itself. The former is allowable; the latter is simply unthinkable.
Hauerwas= lecture stimulated a good deal of discussion, as participants sought further clarification or took issue with the arguments advanced by Hauerwas, Niebuhr, and Ramsey. The final presenter, Colonel Charles R. Myers (Professor and Head of the Department of Philosophy and Fine Arts, US Air Force Academy) then directed attention to a related topic, war and philosophy, with his presentation on APhilosophers and Warriors.
Colonel Myers asked, AWhat should philosophers and warriors learn from each other? Philosophers, according to Myers, can teach warriors how to think about and behave during war. Warriors, alternatively, force philosophers to think about war, about ethics and the human experience, and Aeven about the philosopher=s own role and responsibilities.
Colonel Myers believes that the interaction between philosophers and warriors can be a constructive one. They can discuss the morality of war, the justification of force and the extent of such force. Other issues, such as the effect of war upon warriors and the professional responsibilities of warriors can be considered as well. Myers added that the relationship of warriors and lawyers may serve as a model for warriors and philosophers. He concluded his introductory remarks by suggesting four Alessons about philosophy and war:
1) Philosophers yearn for some special explanation of war.
2) Warriors need to think about the next war as well as the last one.
3) Philosophers need to consider war and humanity, not only in the context of men in battle, but in preparing for war.
4) Philosophers are more like warriors than they think. Philosophers should consider becoming warriors themselves.
Colonel Myers then argued that war is the ultimate challenge for philosophers. If philosophy can understand war, then it can understand anything. Is war simply absurd, he asked, or can philosophers give meaning to war? The Aframework used by philosophers can help warriors find ways of understanding wars and can, in Myers= estimation, achieve the ultimate aim of war, peace. To help the audience understand these concepts, Colonel Myers proposed two approaches to Amaking sense of war, metaphysics and ethics.
The prime example of metaphysics, in Myers= estimation, was Clausewitz=s On War. For Clausewitz, war was not an absurdity, according to Myers, but a Areality whose structure … can be uncovered and explained. Myers considered Harry Summers= book On Strategy to be the best contemporary example of how soldiers can learn about war from the philosophical perspective. Myers observed, however, that Clausewitz makes very few references to the morality of war.
The other major approach, the ethics of war, engages the issue of morality and war. Here, his comments supported Hauerwas= remarks. Myers believes that war can be morally justifiable when waged for the Aright reason in the right way. He used, as an example, the Just War tradition, Aone of the great accomplishments of western civilization. Myers also echoed the remarks of Hauerwas when he stated that the Just War tradition is a compilation of many sources.
Myers next examined the criteria for resorting to military force in the Just War doctrine. ALegitimate authority, last resort, reasonable hope of success, proportionality between cause for which war is waged and the destruction it causes … and the moral application of force in war are all essential for understanding the Just War doctrine. He added that if Just War is possible, starting discussion with the presumption that use of force is wrong, as so many philosophers tend to do, is insufficient. This last point may be particularly important, according to Myers, in a world where avoiding the use of force may prove more deleterious than war itself.
Myers then considered the Arestraints on the application of military force in the context of the Just War doctrine. Two simple principles apply — proportionality and discrimination. By proportionality, Myers meant that the Ameans of war must be gauged against the ends. Usually, he added, the means are military means, but the end may be military or political. The issue of proportionality can be applied at the tactical or strategic level.
More important, in Myers= estimation, is the principle of discrimination. By this he means discriminating between Acombatants and non-combatants, the innocent and the guilty, the citizen and the soldier. He noted that the categories are problematic, not only in practice, but in theory as well. Irrespective of the problems of definition, Myers considers discrimination to be the guiding ethical principle in modern warfare. ANon-combatant immunity for military force, he stated, Aremains the cornerstone of our thinking about law and the morality of war.
Myers subsequently shifted to a discussion of the essence of war. Warriors, he argued, desperately want a firm doctrine based upon the unchanging nature of war. But both philosophers and warriors need to avoid planning for the last war. In the context of the late twentieth century, what is war? Myers argued that coalition warfare, information warfare, peace-keeping missions, anti-drug activity, humanitarian intervention all add to the complexity of defining war and the ethics of war.
In the twentieth century, Myers asked, how does one go to war based on the Just War criteria? In the past, he argued, Aonly self defense counted as a just cause. But the picture is now far more complex. One consideration proposed by philosophers today is national sovereignty v. human rights, according to Myers. But what if nations are not even involved? And what do we mean by human rights violations? How does the warrior assess the relative effects of surgical strikes versus long-term economic sanctions?
In regard to waging war, Myers believes the principles of proportionality and discrimination are strained. How does proportionality figure in nuclear war? Discrimination, in Myers= assessment, is the greatest concern, especially in the context of the Aerosion of the distinction between combatants and non-combatants. With this, Myers= asked whether too much emphasis has been placed upon Athe killing of the innocent in modern warfare.
In the context of philosophers as warriors, Myers asked whether philosophers should not play a more active role in war planning. Should the military have Amoral experts in the Awar room and the targeting branch? Finally, Myers= asked whether philosophers should serve as advocates for war.
In concluding, Myers reiterated the four Alessons from his introduction. He added that Aphilosophers can give warriors categories and methods needed to examine critically and to really understand their profession. Philosophers can help warriors understand the meaning of war. Alternatively, warriors can teach philosophers how wars are waged and how war is constantly changing for the warrior. Philosophers can also use the Aextraordinary responsibilities of military professionals as a model for applied ethics in other professions. Lastly, Myers posited that in examining the responsibility of the warrior, philosophers can learn more about their own role and responsibilities.
Jonathan Phillips, Rapporteur