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By Theodore Dalrymple

The New Vichy Syndrome: Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism.

Eye on the News

Theodore Dalrymple
The Most Politically Correct Magazine in the World
. . . weighs in on the causes of war.
February 25, 2002

If an award existed for the most politically correct publication in the world, The British Medical Journal would stand a good chance of winning it. There is practically no liberal nostrum to which that venerable periodical, with a worldwide circulation of nearly half a million, does not subscribe: and its pages are quite innocent of debate. When the BMJ speaks, it is ex cathedra.

A recent issue was devoted to the subject of war. The BMJ’s attitude to war is like that of President Coolidge’s to sin: it is against it. This is because war is so bad for the health. The white man has spoken.

Fortunately for the world, the BMJ has discovered the causes of war. They are the same as the causes of all the other evils in the world: inequality and poverty. Just eliminate these, and universal peace will reign.

It seems to have escaped the BMJ’s notice that attempts during the 20th century to achieve radical equality were not themselves entirely pacific or good for the health. Likewise, it failed to notice that famine was much more likely to be a consequence of war than its cause. And the idea that wars are fought when “individuals are motivated to fight to seek redress” for their poverty is laughable in its historical and psychological ignorance.

Are Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein driven by poverty? Was General Galtieri? Do Pakistan and India fight over Kashmir because of—or is it in spite of—poverty? The desire to appropriate someone else’s property is certainly not confined to the poor, nor need the property be of any value to be coveted. Ethiopia and Eritrea fought bloodily over scraps of land of use to neither nation, except symbolically. Absolute poverty, indeed, is incompatible with physical aggression: so that the elimination of all economic surplus would more successfully eliminate war than an increase in wealth.

The BMJ’s procrustean theory of war is the liberal theory of crime writ large and applied on a global scale. Poverty makes men desperate, and desperation drives them to crime or (if they happen to control an army) to war. It is therefore up to us—the rich and contented portion of humanity—to prevent crime and war by paying more: for social welfare programs in the case of crime, for foreign aid in the case of war. It is within our power, and it is therefore our duty, to eliminate the causes of crime and war.

It is a tribute to the distorting power on educated minds of an abstract theory that anyone could believe such rubbish. Only someone with long years of formal training could deceive himself in this comforting fashion. The fact that crime in Britain has risen along with income should have been sufficient to persuade the BMJ that a more complex theory of human motivation was necessary: but the disregard of elementary reality is perhaps the distinguishing feature of much modern intellectual life.

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