Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Against Appeasement

by Steven Grueshaber

In chapter four of Michael Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars, Walzer explains the idea of aggression and its role in a war. He also discusses the way in which a political community is an incarnation of the multitude of individuals within that community. However, when he moves on to the topic of appeasement, which is the policy of conceding to enemies in order to preserve a state of peace, he does not spend a whole lot of time discussing the idea. Instead, he gives us historical examples of appeasement. I feel that much more needs to be said on this subject. The primary goal of this paper is to define many of the problems with appeasement and demonstrate why it is a poor plan of action in a warlike scenario.

There is often some confusion as to what exactly constitutes a war, so I feel that I must define what I mean by war. The definition I will be using is from the American Heritage Dictionary, which defines it as “A state of open, armed, often prolonged conflict carried on between nations, states, or parties.” There are also several criteria that some use to determine whether a war is just or unjust. The most common of these are just cause, right intent, legitimate authority, last resort, and probability of success. The first four seem to limit just wars to only those that are fought in self-defense. The remaining criterion, the probability of success, is the one used to defend the idea of appeasement.

To better understand the concept of war, I will use what Walzer calls the “domestic analogy.” When people gather together, they form communities. These communities represent the collective wills of their respective members. Therefore, we can perceive each community as a separate entity. In the world as a whole, there are hundreds, thousands, even millions of these communities, depending on how you decide to break them down. The larger of these communities are nations, and we are often speaking with regard to nations when we talk of war. This will be an important distinction later on.

When one person commits a crime against another person, we call it ‘murder’ or ‘theft.’ When one community does the same to another community, however, we call it an ‘act of war.’ On a smaller scale, these crimes are easily controlled. Police forces exist in order to keep the peace. We invent courts and justice systems to punish the guilty. Although there are problems with some forms of these, they, for the most part, tend to work out nicely and go a long way to getting the job done. However, as I’ve stated previously, this only works on a smaller scale.

Problems begin to arise when these crimes occur on a much larger scale, such as state vs. state or nation vs. nation. On the lesser end of this spectrum we have civil wars and small-scale riots. On the other end we have several nations fighting several other nations, which we often describe as a world war. While we attempt to have international laws, we do not have a dedicated international police force. Occasionally, nations will take it upon themselves to act as a temporary police force in a given situation. Even in these situations there can still be debates as to which side is right and which is wrong. However, by restricting just wars to those of self-defense, it will more often be clear as to which side is acting justly.

In this domestic analogy we can see all of the world’s nations in a sort of semi-Hobbesian state of nature. Each nation will be acting in its own best interest, which will often be against the best interest of another nation. Every nation would have to be wary of each other nation for fear of aggression. The most logical action may be to strike first and try to catch your opponent by surprise, before it can do the same to you. There are also reasons not to go to war in such a state, such as leaving yourself vulnerable to attack. Also, unlike a true state Hobbesian state of nature, there is some social structure and some alliances form amongst the different nations.

While the domestic analogy does not directly respond to the idea of appeasement, I feel that it’s important to set up the stage, so to speak. In order to better understand my arguments these assertions need to be made. If we use law enforcement and the justice system as a way to reduce and deter crime from individuals in a society, and a nation is an individual in the world’s society, then law enforcement and a justice system would also help reduce and deter crime between nations. Walzer points this out also, and I do not expect that many people would attempt to argue against it. However, Walzer - perhaps inadvertently – gives an example of how appeasement could in fact have better consequences for a nation then war. Some of his reasons for disliking appeasement are sort of abstract, like he says here: “We not only justify resistance; we call it heroic; we do not measure the value of justice, apparently, in terms of lives lost.” (p. 67) My goal is to offer more concrete consequentialist reasons for avoiding it.

The arguments for appeasement are primarily either on utilitarian grounds or they revolve around the aforementioned fifth criterion for a just war: Probability of success. Suppose you have a scenario in which a large and powerful nation invades a much smaller, much less powerful one. The aggressor is unwilling to enter negotiations, they offer only two choices: surrender or die. While the smaller nation may be able to cause considerable losses to the larger nation, the smaller nation will be completely wiped out. The pro-appeasement argument in this case is that the smaller nation has zero – or practically zero - probability of winning this war. Therefore, they do not fulfill the fifth criterion for fighting a just war, making their war unjust. This can be approached in two ways, the first of which is to attack the fifth criterion directly. If we can restrict just wars to those that are fought in only in self-defense, then probability of success has very little meaning. If an aggressor is acting rationally, he will only initiate wars that he can win. Therefore, a defending country would never be able to justly defend itself. The only possible just war, then, is one in which a defending nation is more powerful than an attacking nation. The second approach is also the one that I use to counter the utilitarian argument for appeasement, which I will discuss now.

When given the choice of surrender or die, some would argue that it would be better to surrender and possibly suffer later then to choose death and suffer now. While this may be the case, a true Utilitarian must look at the long-term consequences of actions as opposed to only the short-term. While the short-term consequences are definitely better, the long-term are almost certainly worse. By surrendering to the more powerful aggressor, you are setting a precedent that you most surely do not want to set. I have already shown the importance of law of enforcement and punishment in deterring crime, but here the exact opposite is occurring. If the precedent is set that the weaker nation must concede to the stronger, then we are in fact encouraging nations to be aggressors. Not only are they winning the war, but also they are doing so at no loss to themselves. This argument fits back to the probability of success. By conceding, not only have you given up any chance for success, but it then assumes a negative value, for you are indirectly hampering the success of other defending nations. The consequences for appeasement, then, are much worse than the consequences of fighting the war and losing.

Moreover, this argument against appeasement applies not only to the defending nation, but to all nations. Following the same lines of reasoning, it is unjust for a nation, A, to concede a separate nation, B, to the aggressor nation, C. As I discussed earlier, law enforcement is important in maintaining peace. Rather than an every-man-for-himself state of nature as I described before, it is imperative that nations come to the defense of other nations in time of need. This results in the best set of consequences for those involved.

Throughout this paper, I have stressed the importance of law enforcement as a deterrent to crime and demonstrated its necessity even when dealing with nations as opposed to an individual person. Appeasement results in encouraging aggressors and weakening defenders in a long-term scenario. Appeasement is an inadequate and temporary solution to a very large and long-lasting problem: War.

13 Comments:

Blogger Rick said...

Joe,
While I agree that in most situations the practice of appeasement leads to more problems than not, I have problems with the list of criteria that determines a just war. Not only does it NOT preclude all but self-defense, it de-legitimizes ANY sort of revolution (including the American Revolution).
Let us look at the American Revolution in determining whether the list is correct.
1.Just cause- Freedom, liberty, self-rule, etc. all seem to be just causes.
2.Right intent- To develop a system of government based on the concept of self rule and individual rights
3.Legitimate authority- this might be a problem as the revolt was led against the rightful king, but to build a society of self-rule the king is no longer a legitimate authority
4.Last resort- after years of diplomacy with no positive results, something had to be done
5.Probability of success- VERY small
While an argument may be made that the revolution was in self-defense of natural rights, there was no immediate physical danger from England in military terms, and hence the Revolution was an act of aggression against the lawful king.
So if the argument is that the American Revolution was unjust based on the conditions of the list, well it just seems silly. 1-4 seem to be taken care of (3 a little sketchy but an argument can be made).
Your statements seem to conclude that there are serious problems with number 5, as no defensive war can be just, and I agree. So if we eliminate 5 from the list, America’s Revolution becomes a just aggressive war.

9:49 AM  
Blogger Wesley Gibbs said...

I agree with your stance on the appeasement and that it is not really a solution to war. All it does is delay war. I also think that you pointed out some key problems with #5 in JWT. From the stance you took, it would be quite hard for a lot of nations to defend themselves, and be able to say that they are fighting a just war.

10:23 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Sorry, that was to Adam, not Joe.

10:35 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

I meant Steven...who wrote this again? (Nevermind the diembodied voice from far away)

10:44 AM  
Anonymous Mitch Ullman said...

I'm not sure that Steven has made a convincing argument against appeasement here. Keep in mind that I'm not arguing for appeasement in all its forms. He does, however, bring up an excellent point about the ineptitude of JWT to be a true 'yard stick' of justification of any particular war.
As for the American Revolution (if it could actually be called that), I would imagine there are plenty of JW theorists that would argue that no revolution is justified, so long as there is a sovereign power that is governing within the bounds of his government. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy many of the advancements in the field of Liberal Democracy that we as a nation have fostered, but the fact still remains that revolutions are generally held as unjust with a sovereign in play.

11:20 AM  
Anonymous jamie mccall said...

Overall, interesting analysis, however - I think we have to be somewhat careful when we generalize a national justice system and take it to the global stage. The assumption that we can do that, to me, is not clearly defined. We operate under a justice system in the US because all the states have agreed to operate under it. The world has not yet agreed to operate under one global system, even one of justice and human rights. That’s not to say that it wont, however, as it has not yet happened, it would probably be better to explain what you meant here.

2:47 PM  
Anonymous Steven Grueshaber said...

This is mainly a response to jamie's comment.

First of all, I'm merely stating how crime within a nation is analogous to crime between nations and how enforcement of laws is necessary as a deterrent in both cases. The only justice system that I'm using is that of just war theory, which we're trying to define/refine as the primary goal of this semester.

Furthermore, I understand that the world has not agreed to a global justice system. We're discussing morality with respect to war and which actions are just and unjust in response to war. I'm trying to define what nations are just and unjust in doing, not describing what nations are doing in reality.

12:13 AM  
Anonymous Wesley Frazier said...

It strikes me that the revolutionary war is going to be an odd duck. Just like civil wars would be. IE It is an internal disagreement within a country that erupts into war. ( The colonies legally being colonies of England constitute something similar )

In such a case the war seems to be fought over the fact that the government is no longer a legitimate authority.

Which you can define in natural rights terms, if you like.

8:16 AM  
Anonymous Kim Morrison said...

I totally agree with the fact that there is definitely something wrong with appeasement. In the long term it does not seem that conceding to an attacking nation would be in the best interest of the nation being attacked. However, I don't understand how a large nation is considered to be "acting rationally" when it attacks a smaller nation that has little hope of defending itself. It does meet the criterion of "probability of success" but what other JWT criteria would it meet? And even if the smaller nation didn't meet the criterion of "probability of success", wouldn't it meet the majority of the other criteria better than the attacking nation? It seems to me they would definitely have a better "just cause" since they were attacked, especially since we haven't begun talking about anything pre-emptive yet. I think a little more detail for this scenario would have helped get your point across better, otherwise a very interesting perspective.

12:33 PM  
Blogger Drew said...

i agree with what kim said and i think when u talk about appeasment u should draw all factors that have to do with JWt into it. You do a good job by outlining the different stages but u seem to lack evidence for what u are saying. Sorry im a research junky. Over all u did a good job explaining internal disagrements

2:47 PM  
Blogger Adam Johnson said...

I pretty much agree with your argument against appeasement, but it seems to illuminate a troubling problem of its own. What ought you do if the event that an aggressive nation builds up a massive army? Appeasement doesn't really seem to work. Under JWT, you shouldn't fight a war that you can win. So what's left? It seems roughly equivalent to picking between cat poop and dog poop.

3:16 PM  
Anonymous jeremy page said...

Historical appeaser: Neville Chamberlain. Look what happened there...
You stated that "we do not have a dedicated international police force," I assumed the UN's role was something like this. Of course, even if this is true, the practical reality is that we really don't...
In my opinion, and it seems yours might be the same, a defensive war can never really be unjust-even if the probability of success is nill.

I would say that there is nothing wrong with appeasement as long as the conditions do not extremely limit your nation's sovereignty. Whatever works out to benefit your country the most is the best option.

4:31 PM  
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1:52 AM  

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