The Myth of "Mostly Peaceful"

The conqueror is always a lover of peace; he would prefer to take over our country unopposed.

― Carl von Clausewitz

The line between peace and war, between cooperation and coercion, is a brightline of supreme ethical importance. It separates the moral realms of what you might personally consider the best course of action versus what you are justified in forcing upon others. There no room to blur this line ― even a minor harm today can serve as a credible threat of greater harm extending far into the future, projecting force into your mind and demanding your submission.

A boxing match is "mostly peaceful", but it is still a fight. A victim of bullying does not always come home with a bloody nose, after some point they might willingly comply. A pistol held to your head is just as threatening weather its muzzle is hot, or not.

"Mostly peaceful" is a meaningless descriptor; it can encompass even the most violent extremes. Anything less than total peace is unsafe. There is no gray area between peace and coercion. If violence raises its head, it must either be renounced, or else it colors all its surroundings.

Helping Hands

...throughout the ages, effective results in war have rarely been attained unless the approach has had such indirectness as to ensure the opponent's unreadyness to meet it. The indirectness has usually been physical, and always psychological.

― B.H. Liddell Hart

The United States military is "mostly peaceful". The US Department of Defense employs 3 million people, but less than 1.4 million of those (47%) are active personnel (29% are reserve, 24% are civilians). Even of active personnel, only 165 thousand (5.6%) are deployed ― far from any battlefield, and not directly present in any conflict. In the US Air Force, of its total 321 thousand people, there are only 19 thousand pilots, and another 2-3 thousand personnel in combat-facing roles ― a total of 7% of what could be considered "direct combatants", while the other 93% simply supporting, "peacefully".

We tend not to make a moral distinction between support versus combatant members of a military. A general is no less responsible for a war, though they may have never themselves fired a shot. Any enterprise, especially in modern times, contains within it many steps before its climax, a mountain of support beneath the tip of the iceberg.

When a crowd marches down a street, and only a few who break out from the horde to throw Moltov cocktails or harrass a passerby, then blend back into the crowd ― then the whole mass is a material support for those violent acts. If the group does not disavow these rioters and distance themselves from them, then it is not just those individuals who are violent, but the whole of the mob.

Rest and Activation

Energy may be likened to the bending of a crossbow; decision, to the releasing of a trigger.

― Sun Tzu

The United States Civil War, America's deadliest war, was "mostly peaceful". Of all of the days from the beginning to the end of the war, there were only engagements on 46% of those days (681 of 1,493). If we wanted an even more meaningless statistic, we could be more extreme and say that, on any given day where there was a battle, only a small percent of troops were actually involved which would make that number drastically lower. That statistic would end up being absurd to the point of meaninglessness, but that's exactly the statistic that has been thrown around in the past week to validate the constant haranguing refrain of "mostly peaceful" protests, that only in 7% of the recorded protests this summer has violence or property destruction been reported.1

Arrests, too, are "mostly peaceful". In a 1999 study of over 7.5k arrests, police only used weapons in 2% of arrests, only used any force at all in 16% of arrests, and only used force beyond grabbing or twisting an arm in something like 10% of arrests.2 It is a terrible irony that, in protesting ostensible excessive force, the frequence of violence at this summer's protests rivals the frequency of all force employed by police, excessive or not.

Marching as a group to and fro is not peaceful if sometimes that group lashes out violently, even if the violence is rare. Punctuating acts of violence substantiate a looming threat, just as the battles punctuating a war mark the war in its entirety.

Projection of Force

The destruction of the enemy's armed forces is but a means ― and not necessarily an inevitable or infallible one ― to the attainment of the real objective. The object of war is not to destroy the enemy's tanks but to destroy his will.

― B.H. Liddell Hart

One need not destroy one's enemy. One need only destroy his willingness to engage.

― Sun Tzu

The United States spends 3% of its GDP each year on its military.3 Despite that massive expenditure, it is rarely used. Since WWII, the goal of its military has largely been as deterrence, as projection of force, showing by its presence what it can do, and what it is willing to do.

Even an actually peaceful demonstration carries within it a hint of a threat of future violence. Crowds in the streets are a sign that the normal political processes are unacceptable to many, that if society does not bend then it might break. When slogans like "no justice, no peace" are shouted, when fists are raised in the air, that hint of a threat becomes a scream.

If you embrace violence and do not disown it, do not lie about it. If your slogan is "no peace", then defend the violence you advocate at the higher moral scrutiny that violence warrants, Do not pretend your calls to violence are anything besides exactly that.

  1. Hart, Blaxter, "Demonstrations & Political Violence in America", Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, 2020. link.

  2. Garner, Maxwell. "Measuring the Amount of Force Used By and Against the Police in Six Jurisdictions", Use of Force by Police: Overview of National and Local Data, 1999. link.
    Because of how the data is reported, exact numbers for kinds of force used are not precisely determinable.

  3. According to the US Department of Defense: link.