Thomas Sowell

Pacifists of the 20th century had a lot of blood on their hands for weakening the Western democracies in the face of rising belligerence and military might in aggressor nations like Nazi Germany and imperial Japan. In Britain during the 1930s, Labor Party members of Parliament voted repeatedly against military spending, while Hitler built up the most powerful military machine in Europe. Students at leading British universities signed pledges to refuse to fight in the event of war.

All of this encouraged the Nazis and the Japanese toward war against countries that they knew had greater military potential than their own. Military potential only counts when there is the will to develop it and use it, and the fortitude to continue with a bloody war when it comes. This is what they did not believe the West had. And it was Western pacifists who led them to that belief.

Then as now, pacifism was a "statement" about one's ideals that paid little attention to actual consequences. At a Labor Party rally where Britain was being urged to disarm "as an example to others," economist Roy Harrod asked one of the pacifists: "You think our example will cause Hitler and Mussolini to disarm?"

The reply was: "Oh, Roy, have you lost all your idealism?" In other words, the issue was about making a "statement" -- that is, posturing on the edge of a volcano, with World War II threatening to erupt at any time. When disarmament advocate George Bernard Shaw was asked what Britons should do if the Nazis crossed the channel into Britain, the playwright replied, "Welcome them as tourists."

What a shame our schools and college neglect history, which could save us from continuing to repeat the idiocies of the past, which are even more dangerous now in a nuclear age.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate

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