Posts Tagged ‘Punishing Nations’

Bertrand Russell on war for moral principle

September 5, 2013

In 1914, the British government justified its declaration of war on Germany by Germany’s violation of the neutrality of Belgium and by alleged German atrocities, most of which later turned out to be false propaganda.  Bertrand Russell, who opposed the war, wrote early in 1915 about the idea of going to war to punish nations for their crimes.

Moral judgment, as applied to others than one’s self, are a somewhat subtilised police force: they make use of men’s desire for approbation to bring self-interest into harmony with the interest of one’s neighbors.

Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell

But when a man is already trying to kill you, you will not feel much additional discomfort in the thought that he has a low opinion of your moral character. For this reason, disapproval of our enemies in wartime is useless, so far as any possible effect upon them is concerned.

It has, however, a certain unconscious purpose, which is, to prevent humane feelings toward the enemy, and to nip in the bud any nascent sympathy for his sufferings.  Under the stress of danger, belief and emotions all become subservient to the one end of self-preservation.

Since it is repugnant to civilized men to kill and maim other just like themselves, it becomes necessary to conquer repugnance by denying the likeness and imputing wickedness to those whom we wish to injure.

And so it comes about that the harshest moral judgments of the enemy are formed by the nations which have the strongest impulses of kindliness to overcome.

==Bertrand Russell, “An Appeal to Intellectuals,” 1915