The Great Illusion

The saddest of the books on my office bookshelf is an old one published nearly a century ago: Norman Angell's The Great Illusion: A Study of the Relation of Military Power in Nations to Their Economic and Social Advantage , which tried to prove that military conquest was obsolete.

Angell's argument was simple: in all prolonged modern industrial wars, everybody loses. Losers lose the most, but winners also are worse off than if peace had been maintained. Many fathers, sons, and husbands are dead, and so are many mothers, wives, and daughters. Much wealth has been blown up. Much architecture has been turned into rubble. Confiscation damages the rule of law on which modern industrial prosperity rests. The most that even the winners can say is that they are little losers rather than big losers. Modern industrial war is, as the computer in the 1982 movie War Games put it, a very peculiar game: "The only way to win is not to play."