Phi Beta Cons

The Necessary Moral Equivalence of ‘Peace Studies’

I know I’m coming late to the discussion of Colman McCarthy’s Washington Post op-ed calling on campuses to continue to exclude ROTC from campus. I can’t improve on Jonah’s or Victor Davis Hanson’s critiques, but I’m struck once again how much postmodern “peace studies” pacifism (as distinct from the traditional religious pacifism of, say, the Quakers) utterly depends on false moral equivalence. When McCarthy says, “I admire those who join armies; whether America’s or the Taliban’s,” I was surprised only that he waited until near the end his piece to — as Professor Hanson notes — compare an army seeking to “create consensual government” with one (if you can even call it an army) that “executes gays and non-believers, blows up cultural monuments, hangs and stones women, and on and on.” 

In my experience, one of the core arguments of the peace-studies crowd is that the historical blood on our hands destroys our moral legitimacy in all contexts. Moving beyond the familiar litany of our own alleged “war crimes” (Hiroshima, Dresden, the fire bombing of Tokyo), even the worst depredations by Third World militias or terrorist gangs are traced to some colonialist or Western-imperialist root cause. In other words, because we are (allegedly) a source — or even the most important source — of historic and contemporary evil, the force of our arms does nothing more than perpetuate the causes of conflict worldwide. If 1 million North Korean soldiers came over the DMZ and 10,000 artillery pieces flattened Seoul, the peace-studies crowd would immediately blame the U.S. and vigorously resist our efforts to prevent genocide on the Korean peninsula. Why? Because they’d find a way to equate North Korea with America — and with no heroes and no villains, there is nothing worth fighting for, and no one worth fighting against.

Of course, this is all so utterly divorced from reality as to be almost comical, but it sadly gains real traction with many intelligent — though foolish — young minds. Aside from the importance of recruiting and training more young officers as we fight our almost decade-long war, the presence of clear-headed and morally aware cadets on campus can offer a necessary corrective to such inane relativism.


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