On revolution

By Hannah Arendt

Could it not be that our present perplexity in this matter indicates our lack of preparedness for a disappearance of war, our inability to think in terms of foreign policy without having in mind this »continuation with other means« as its last resort? Quite apart from the threat of total annihilation, which conceivably could be eliminated by new technical discoveries such as a »clean« bomb or an anti-missile missile, there are a few signs pointing in this direction. There is first the fact that the seeds of total war developed as early as the First World War, when the distinction between soldiers and civilians was no longer respected because it was inconsistent with the new weapons then used. To be sure, this distinction itself had been a relatively modern achievement, and its practical abolition meant no more than the reversion of warfare to the days when the Romans wiped Carthage off the face of the earth. Under modern circumstances, however, this appearance or reappearance of total war has a very important political significance in so far as it contradicts the basic assumptions upon which the relationship between the military and the civilian branches of government rests: it is the function of the army to protect and to defend the civilian population. In contrast, the history of warfare in our century could almost be told as the story of the growing incapacity of the army to fulfill this basic function, until today the strategy of deterrence has openly changed the role of the military from that of a protector into that of a belated and essentially futile avenger.

Excerpt from Hannah Arendt’s On revolution (Penguin Books, p. 14-15)

Haunted Houses

War or Peace - Crossroads of History 1918 / 2018