A documentary examination of how best to avoid war reveals that maintaining a strong defense, costly though it may be, is inescapably the price of peace. Credits: [Dir: Kip Perry, Elan Bentov/ Johan Norberg/ 60 min/ Documentary/ Anti-war/ 2018]
War is indeed the health of the State — pretty much every war ends up stimulating a permanent expansion of government. So naturally, even apart from the obvious reasons to oppose military conflict, libertarians are reflexively averse to it. But how is war to be avoided? The traditional anti-war position, advocated by anti-war activists as far back as WWI, has always been: disarmament. It’s simple. If you don’t have weapons, you won’t end up in a war. This persuasive documentary from Free to Choose Media makes the case that such a position is, as it were, dead wrong.
The Price of Peace argues that preparation for war and the willingness to fight one are actually not just the price of peace but of civilization itself — “guns and butter” are not only both needed, but without guns there can be no butter.
How is that? Because war destroys civilization, and the only proven way of preventing war is deterrence, which is to say maintaining a defense sufficient to convince aggressors that initiating conflict would not be worth the cost to them. The film presents several cases of deterrence working to keep the peace (e.g., formidable Maasai herders protecting their herds; atomic weapons making war between the USSR and the West unthinkable) and several cases of insufficient deterrence leading to catastrophe (e.g., Allied weakness in the run-up to WWII; weakened defenses of the Falkland Islands, leading to an attack by Argentina).
That straightforward point is the main thread of the film, but The Price of Peace also acknowledges the limits of deterrence: it doesn’t solve every situation, and there are potential risks to maintaining a large defensive capacity.
Such intellectual give and take might seem like hedging, but it’s just that even-handedness and effort to see both sides that make this film ideal classroom material for discussion around international security issues. War and peace are deep waters. It’s just as well to acknowledge it. Narration by the characteristically reasonable Johan Norberg adds to that sense of fairness, and military historian Victor Davis Hanson weighs in to offer specific intellectual gravitas.
The decades following the dissolution of the USSR — when Western dominance seemed to guarantee world peace — are rapidly passing. New threats have arisen. This film is a timely warning that preventing another major war will require active measures, and that anyone wishing for peace must be prepared to pay its price. The only thing more expensive – in lives, treasure, and human liberty – would be failing to do so.