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Total War & the Utopia of Peace

Lyle J. Arnold, Jr.

A 18th century Enlightenment thinker was Alexander Lenoir. He believed that with each generation, each passing century, humanity was evolving upward, toward happiness, freedom, equality and a higher state of civilization. He indicated the French Revolution as the point toward which all of Western history had been heading.

A bust of Voltaire

Voltaire
One index to measure Lenoir's optimism about man's happiness and his evolution to a "higher state of civilization" was the question of war. There is an ironic twist to modern man's belief on the subject of war.

Modern man believes that war is unnatural and therefore should be eliminated. From Montesquieu to Kant, the majority of Enlightenment writers regarded war as a barbarian aberration. Those philosophers often denounced war as an affront to reason, a scourge promoted by power-hungry monarchs and supported by fanatical clergy, wicked army leaders and ignorant laymen. In his Candide (1759), Voltaire ridiculed the rituals of war. He was outraged by the belief that the outcome of such “heroic butchery” is ordained by God. (1)

But total war came...

Referring to the Napoleon wars against almost all countries of Europe to spread the “liberty” of the French Revolution, contemporary author David A. Bell argues: "Although it may seem paradoxical, when man began to believe that warfare was something unnatural and was something that modernity could outgrow or evolve away from, Total War was born." (2)

Napoleon burns his colors in the retreat from Russia

After attacking all Europe Napoleon burns his colors
as he retreats from Russia
Enlightenment thinkers prided themselves on human reason, religious toleration, governments free from tyranny, and a world without war. Yet, Total War was the historic outcome of it. Note the absurdity of this statement that essentially translates: “We want a progress that will yield peace; therefore we must have Total War.”

Total War is defined as a general war that includes involvement not only of the rival combatants, but of all the resources of the opposing societies. By comparing the length of battles and their casualties, we can understand the chasm that separates the pre-Enlightenment battles from the Napoleon wars and those that succeeded it, WWI and WWII.

Two important battles illustrate the difference in length of time and casualties of a pre-Enlightenment battle and a one that could be listed as a part of the Total War of WWI:
  • Agincourt: 1415, less than three hours, 8,600 casualties;

  • Somme: 1916, four and a half months, over one million casualties. (3)

Material war, spiritual war

Today the progressivists in the Church have also adopted the sophistry that war is unnatural and can be eliminated from human undertakings. This thinking comes from the highest cubicle in the Church "No more war! Never again war!" exclaimed Paul VI in his speech to United Nations on October 4, 1965. The words of Paul VI, however, stand in direct contradiction to those of Our Savior: "Do not think that I am come to send peace on earth; I came not to send peace but the sword." (Mt. 10: 34)

And what is Catholic teaching on this subject?

Anti-modernist thinkers believe that war is natural. One of the greatest of the anti-modernist scholars on the subject of war is late Prof. Plinio Correa de Oliveira. He has this to say regarding war:

A statue depicting Godefroi de Bouillon

Life on earth is a crusade - above Godfrey of Bouillon
"Let me remind you that we cannot lose sight of the fact that the Church exists on this earth to fight and that her normal relations with those both outside and inside her walls is one always characterized by combat. Outside she has her adversaries, the heretics, schismatics, pagans and Jews. Inside, she has a twofold struggle: first, every Catholic must combat his own defects and the Church must encourage and help him to do so; second, she has to fight those who promote the work of the anti-Church within her walls. We take on these battle obligations because we are members of the Church Militant." (4)

Louis Veuillot, the ultramontane Catholic writer, also states: "Every man is born a soldier, although not every soldier will use his arms. Those who combat, however, are privileged in the eyes of God of Hosts, who rejoices to review the ranks of His warriors. Each one who bears weapons assumes responsibility for the physical safety of his fellow citizens, for the life and liberty of his brothers."(5)

Corrêa de Oliveira and Veuillot are not creating new views on war. They are merely adhering to the sound Catholic teaching that always existed previous to Vatican II.

"I come," cries the Rider on the White Horse, "to bring Peace indeed, but a peace of which the world cannot even dream; a peace built upon the eternal foundations of God Himself, not upon the shifting sands of human agreement. And until that Vision dawns there must be war; until God's Peace descends indeed and is accepted, till then My Garments must be splashed in blood and from My Mouth comes forth not peace, but a two-edged sword." (6)

May Our Lady of Prompt Succor, she who won the Battle of New Orleans of 1815, give us the grace to always love the combat.
1. Andrew Attar, "The Enlightenment Concept of Total War. The Remnant, 12-7-11.
2. Ibid.
3. David Eggenberger, An Encyclopedia of Battles, Dover/Pub/NY, 1967, PP. 7; Dwight Jon Zimmerman, The Book of War, Tess Press/NY, 2008, p. 308.
4. Plinio Correa de Oliveira. "The Military Virtues Every Catholic Must Have,", Tradition in Action, 1-26-09.
5. Ibid.
6. Robert Hugh Benson, Paradoxes of Catholicism, Buntingford: Dodo Press/Hare Street House, 1913, p. 4.

Posted January 23, 2012

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