1994| War and Human Nature

1994 | War and Human Nature

General Douglas MacArthur and CompanyIn the Fall of 1944 Allied armies, having landed at Normandy in June 1944 were coming to the Rhine and preparing to invade the German heartland. The Battle of the Bulge was to come. In the Pacific, having captured Tarawa and Saipan in the Marianas -- islands which were to serve as air bases for the B29¹s which attacked the Japanese home islands -- the United States launched an invasion of the Philippines.  During late October 1944, perhaps the largest sea battle in history, the battle of Leyte Gulf, took place, and General Douglas MacArthur returned to the Philippines. Back in the United States, work on the atomic bomb was culminating. World War II was drawing to a close.

In 1994, we reflected on the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II. What was it which allowed the commission of the extraordinary crimes which were committed in the course of World War II? What could this tell us about human nature, human rights, and international law?


The relation between just war, propaganda and pacifism is one interesting strand in this lecture series. Does the effectiveness of modern propaganda make it impossible to determine whether a waging a war would be just or not? Should we then become pacifists? A related question is whether the United States in fact committed war crimes in dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The notion that Nazi mass murderers were pretty much ordinary people, makes it clear that circumstances can drive people to do things which they really ought not to do.

War and Human Nature "A Meeting of the Minds

A discussion of the views of philosophers from different eras about War and Human Nature"
In this panel discussion we considered the views of various historical philosophers, Plato, Aquinas, Marx, and Sartre, about war and human nature. We discussed the role of wealth, religion and ideology in armed conflict down the ages.

Blood Sweat and Tears: Collingwood and WWII

Dr. Bill Uzgalis

William Uzgalis, Philosophy Department, Oregon State University

In The New Leviathan R.G. Collingwood gave an analysis of the nature of the conflict between the allies and Germany in terms of the distinction between civilization and barbarism (a view also reflected in some of the most famous speeches of Winston Churchill). Much of what Collingwood has to say gets to the heart of some of our darkest difficulties with government in the twentieth century.

Richard Waserstrom

The Laws of War and the Weapons of War

Richard Waserstrom, Philosophy Department,
University of California -- Santa Cruz

Richard Waserstrom explored the relation between the development of weapons of war including nuclear weapons and the international accords about war crimes.

Jon Dorbolo

Propaganda and War: A Workshop

Jon Dorbolo, Philosophy Department, Oregon State University

In this workshop Jon Dorbolo explored elements of Nazi doctrine of propaganda and applied them to the coverage of the Gulf War. He argued that because information is so untrustworthy because of the modern art of disinformation, it becomes particularly difficult to apply the criteria of just war theory in determining whether one is beginning a just war.

Ordinary Men: The Agents of Genocide

Chris BrowningChristopher Browning, History Department, Pacific Lutheran University

In this striking lecture, Christopher Browing described the composition of a battalion of Hamburg police who became a Nazi death squad. This is the only such group about whom we have a good deal of information. This allowed Browning to consider and refute a number of hypotheses about those involved in carrying out the holocaust. The members of this death squad did what they did voluntarily. They were not all Germans. This suggests that the British view of the war as enunciated by Collingwood and Churchill was not correct. Browning's conclusion was that these were simply ordinary people caught up in evil institutions and the web of events.

Courtney Campbell

Pacificism between the Wars:  A Panel Discussion

Courtney Campbell, Philosophy Department, Oregon State University
Chaney Ryan, Philosophy Department, University of Oregon

Truman on Trial
President Truman on Trial

Oregon State University Students

The Philosophy Department instituted a class to go along with the lecture series. Before each lecture, a student from the class would remind people of events which took place in the fall of 1944 bringing us all closer to those events. This was also the first year in which the students produced the final event in the series -- in this case a trial of President Truman and Secretary of War Stimson for the decisions to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.