Friday, July 21, 2006


I remember this guy who lived about five doors down from me in my dorm during my freshman year at Penn State. He was very proud of a large poster that sported a picture of Albert Einstein and had a bottom caption that read, "You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war. –A. Einstein"

For about the next fifteen years I thought that was a very sage and incisive commentary on the folly of humanity in general and our politicians in particular.

Then, one day – out of the blue – I realized that, actually you can. You can simultaneously prevent and prepare for war. Old Al, smart as he was, didn’t understand human nature.

Why had there not been a third world war right after the second? Why had Russia and we not come to blows? The A-bomb, that’s why.

The thought of the other side using that weapon was enough to get the self-preservation instinct to kick in on both sides. Result? Cooler heads prevailed for 50 years.

But for those cooler heads to be heard over the baying for blood that is part and parcel of human biology, each side had to be seen by the other as having the ability and the willingness to wage total war.

So, for fifty years, while we didn’t like each other, we tolerated each other because the alternative to not getting along - was death.

It was the willingness and ability to wage war that kept the peace. We prevented war by preparing for war.

It is this seeming contradiction that is at the heart of most human affairs. Human nature is the same whether we’re talking about a two-year-old or a nation-state.

A two-year-old will do as he pleases, regardless of what you say, until you demonstrate that you can make him stop. An anti-democratic government will violate treaties, abuse its populace and threaten its neighbors until it is made to stop. And much like the class clown who gets egged on by his classmates to disrupt the teacher, Iran and North Korea get tacit encouragement from some of their neighbors because they like seeing the teacher (the U.S.) discomfited.

From the 1930s in Britain to the U.N. today, "peace advocates" have done nothing but hasten – and worsen - war.

Today, those who demand that we use no force anywhere, ever, are only asking for bigger trouble down the line. When those who condemn Israel for doing whatever it takes to remove the threat of Hezbollah council “restraint” and cry “proportionality” they are only setting the scene for a bigger, bloodier clash.

Any fourth grader can tell you: The longer you refuse to defend yourself against a bully, the worse the bullying gets. Once you stand up to a bully, the bullying stops.

This is not only common sense, it is an innumerably repeated lesson of history.

Sadly, another facet of human nature is that from generation to generation, we rarely learn from our mistakes.


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