The Moral Equivalent of War


Read the biographical information and the following two excerpts from “The Moral Equivalent of War” by
William James.
Excerpt 1 (found on pg. 111 of The Civically Engaged Reader): “Modern war is so expensive that we feel trade
to be a better avenue to plunder, but modern man inherits all the innate pugnacity and all the love of glory of
his ancestors. Showing war’s irrationality and horror is of no effect upon him. The horrors make the fascination.
War is the strong life; it is life in extremis; war taxes are the only ones men never hesitate to pay, as the
budgets of all nations show us.”
Excerpt 2 (found on pg. 116 of The Civically Engaged Reader): “Having said thus much in preparation, I will
now confess my own utopia. I devoutly believe in the reign of peace and in the gradual advent of some sort of
socialist equilibrium. The fatalistic view of the war function is to me nonsense, for I know that war-making is
due to definite motives and subject to prudential checks and reasonable criticism, just like any other form of
enterprise. And when whole nations are the armies, and the science of destruction vies in intellectual
refinement with the sciences of production. I see that war becomes absurd and impossible from its own
monstrosity. Extravagant ambitions will have to be replaced by reasonable claims, and nations must make
common cause against them.
In response to the readings above, answer the following:
What is the author’s stance on war? (Refer to at least two examples for support.)
How does the author’s stance compare or contrast with your own stance? Explain.



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