Considering two decades of change in a book, and the world

In this blog entry, From Warism to Pacifism: A Moral Continuum author Duane L. Cady re-evaluates how attitudes towards warism and pacifism have transformed in the two decades between editions.

The original edition of From Warism to Pacifism: A Moral Continuum was published in the 1980s, at the height of the nuclear arms race in the closing decade of the Cold War. The prospect of a second edition twenty years later provided an opportunity to return to my early work to test and refine my ideas in light of subsequent events. It has been both challenging and fun to have worked on revising this book.

From Warism to Pacifism first appeared in early1989, when the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Soviet Union were not expected. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in South Africa as a banned person; one could hardly imagine his release much less his election as president of a non-racial government in his homeland. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) were not yet dominating the news, and economic globalization was not a predominant force in international relations. Perhaps most significantly, the suicide/murder terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, were more than a decade away. The world in which the first edition of From Warism to Pacifism: A Moral Continuum was written was, in many ways, a different world from the one we’re in today.

Despite the contrasting conditions of 1989 and 2010, one constant stood out as I reflected on my work: warism. Nations continue to take war for granted as a normal, natural, and morally justifiable practice; war is merely what a nation does to protect its territory and interests. Rarely does it occur to leaders–then or now–that preparing for and engaging in war may actually put their nations and their interests at greater risk or that war may not be morally justifiable. Like racism and sexism, warism serves as an unexamined–largely unnoticed–perspective through which events are experienced. Exposing and reflecting critically on warism continues to be crucial to understand and reduce violent interactions among nations.

As we become conscious of our warist predispositions, space is made for thinking critically about the just war tradition and about varieties of pacifism. We end up finding not the stereotyped extreme positions of war realism, just war, and absolute pacifism. Rather, we find a wide range of moral positions on war along a moral restraint continuum: differences of degree over when and how violence may be justified. In writing the second edition, I found myself retaining the broad categories and arguments of the first edition but refreshing the text with updated examples. I also found my respect had grown for how difficult it is to think through the complex problems of morality and war.

I liked the first book; I like the second edition more. I think the main lines of argument–exposing warism, seeing just war and pacifism as differences in degree of moral restraint in war, and thinking through the positive peace aspect of pacifism–all hold up well as new ways to reflect on morality and violence. And I was glad to have the chance to add a new chapter, “Nonviolence and the War on Terror,” to extend the thesis to perhaps the most difficult problem modern nations face today.

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