Suppose Ralph Waldo Emerson were giving a CENTCOM briefing in Qatar today based on his lecture, "War," before the American Peace Society in Boston in 1838. Words from that lecture, as well as some more familiar lines from the American literary icon, seem pertinent again in his 200th anniversary year.
Ralph Waldo Emerson: War educates the senses, calls into action the will, perfects the physical constitution, brings men into such swift and close collision in critical moments that man measures man.
Q: So you favor the fast, rolling, attack-lite plan?
RWE: In skating over thin ice, our safety is in our speed.
Q: How do you explain all the ups and downs?
RWE: We boil at different degrees.
Q: Does intelligence allow you to respond more fully?
RWE: To men of a sedate and mature spirit, in whom is any knowledge or mental activity, the detail of battle becomes insupportably tedious and revolting.
Q: But people everywhere tune in for war news.
RWE: [War] is at this moment the delight of half the world.
Q: How can this happen?
RWE: The people imitate the chiefs. The strongtribe,in which war has become an art, attack and conquer their neighbors, and teach them their arts and virtues. New territory, augmented numbers, and extended interests call out new virtues and abilities, and the tribe makes long strides. And, finally, when much progress has been made, all its secrets of wisdom and art are disseminated by its invasions.
Q: I have here several things said on the Sunday talk shows. May I ask if ...
RWE: I hate quotation. Tell me what you know.
Q: If war has had such benefits, what do you say to the antiwar protesters?
RWE: Since the peace question has been before the public mind, those who affirm its right and expediency have naturally been met with objections more or less weighty.... To sane men at the present day, [war] begins to look like an epidemic insanity....
Q: Sir, are we authorized to quote you on that?
RWE: Nothing is plainer than that the sympathy with war is a juvenile and temporary state. Not only the moral sentiment, but trade, learning, and whatever makes intercourse, conspire to put it down. Trade, as all men know, is the antagonist of war.
Q: Are you suggesting don't fight - trade?
RWE: It is the ignorant and childish part of mankind that is the fighting part.... Trade brings men to look each other in the face, and gives the parties the knowledge that these enemies over sea or over the mountain are such men as we; who laugh and grieve, who love and fear, as we do.... And learning and art, and especially religion, weave ties that make war look like fratricide, as it is.
Q: This is an unusual briefing, Sir. Are we still on plan?
RWE: It is really a thought that built this portentous war-establishment, and a thought shall also melt it.
Q: Will this be at a time of the coalition's choosing?
RWE: It takes a great deal of elevation of thought to produce a very little elevation of life.... He who loves the bristle of bayonets, only sees in their glitter what beforehand he feels in his heart.... The sublime question has startled one and another happy soul in different quarters of the globe. Cannot love be, as well as hate? Would not love answer the same end, or even a better? Cannot peace be, as well as war?
Q: What are the practical considerations?
RWE: Every nation and every man instantly surround themselves with a material apparatus which exactly corresponds to their moral state, or their state of thought. Observe how every truth and every error, each a thought of some man's mind, clothes itself with societies, houses, cities, language, ceremonies, newspapers.
Q: Where are you taking this?
RWE: It follows, of course, that the least change in the man will change his circumstances; the least enlargement of his ideas, the least mitigation of his feelings, in respect to other men; if, for example, he could be inspired with a tender kindness to the souls of men, and should come to feel that every man was another self, with whom he might come to join, as left hand works with right.
Q: How do we know when it's over?
RWE: The question naturally arises, How is this new aspiration of the human mind to be made visible and real? How is it to pass out of thoughts into things? This is not to be carried by public opinion, but by private opinion, by private conviction, by private, dear, and earnest love.
Q: Would this do anything for our image in the world?
RWE: Whenever we see the doctrine of peace embraced by a nation, we may be assured it will not be one that invites injury; but one, on the contrary, which has a friend in the bottom of the heart of every man, even of the violent and the base; one against which no weapon can prosper; one which is looked upon as the asylum of the human race, and has the tears and the blessings of mankind.
Q: Are you hopeful?
RWE: If the rising generation can be provoked to think it unworthy to nestle into every abomination of the past, and shall feel the generous darings of austerity and virtue; then war has a short day, and human blood will cease to flow.
Q: Thank you, sir.
RWE: It is a luxury to be understood.