According to the Yale Book of Quotations (whose future editions are being improved by Freakonomics readers), war is: “hell” (Napoleon Bonaparte), “too serious a matter to entrust to to military men” (Georges Clemenceau), and “a condition of progress” (Ernest Renan).
What follows below are 12 replies to the question “What do you think about war in general?” The replies all come from members of the same group. After you read the replies but before you read beyond the list, try to guess the group.
1. Unfortunately war is necessary and has been for thousands of years.
2. War is a tragic and hopefully unnecessary part of life. I pray that militaries may become deterrent forces only.
3. War is a necessary evil.
4. While war may appear to be the least beneficial thing to mankind and society in general, there are numerous aspects of it which further our development. Whether it be the liberation of oppressed people or simply the cooperation of two very different peoples, which results in new friendships between cultures, many positives are found amongst the tragedies.
5. War is the most effective way to get things done.
6. War is about protecting the innocent and fighting so others don’t have to.
7. Fear leads to hatred and hatred leads to war.
8. It is a horrible and necessary thing. We may as well be the best at it.
9. I believe war is a necessary evil if there is a good enough reason (e.g., World War II).
10. War is that in which humans grow most.
11. I think war is a way to strengthen our country. It shows other countries that our country will not be stepped on and we will defend our country.
12. War is a failure of diplomacy.
Care to guess what group these 12 respondents belong to?
They are all West Point cadets — more specifically, members of the West Point Canterbury Club, whose answers to questions about war were recently featured in an edition of The Episcopal New Yorker. (It’s amazing what shows up in your mailbox sometimes; I guess not all junk mail is worthless.)
The only answer I abbreviated above was No. 12, in order not to give it away. The rest of No. 12’s reply: “As soldiers and officers we will manage and control the application of violence in order to protect the United States.”
The 12 answers reflect the thoughtful, varied, and independent mindset that I have always encountered when dealing with folks at West Point, properly known as the United States Military Academy. It is a truly remarkable institution, and I wish the rest of the world knew more about it.