Tuesday, March 1, 2016

A Pact to End War - The Kellogg-Briand Pact

In history circles there seems to be a fascination with wars. I realize that I am in the minority by not sharing this fascination with death and destruction. In fact, when I mentioned my lack of enthusiasm for war in class, one of my students asked me:

"What would we study if we didn't focus on wars?" 

The scary part, is that I see his point. So much of what we teach/learn in our curriculum is focused on conflict. We even define certain periods by the absence of war, like "the interwar years" between World War I and World War II. It's like those optical illusions where you see two different images.

Am I looking at the two faces or the candlestick? 

And that's how I think about the term "the interwar years." It's like negative space - defined by what's on either side of it. Doesn't that put emphasis (whether intentional or not) on the wars over the space between? What would happen, I wonder, if we changed the paradigm and referred to those wars as "peace intermissions"? I know, how silly of me. But for this particular blog post, I am going to focus on something in the interwar years that I find more fascinating than the wars on either side of it.

The Kellogg-Briand Pact

In 1928, the United States signed this agreement (along with 15 other nations) to outlaw all war. Eventually, sixty-three nations signed it.

The Kellogg-Briand Pact earns a single sentence in my high school textbook despite the fact that one of the Florida State Standards says students need to "describe efforts of the United States and other world powers to avoid future war." I guess in the eyes of textbook makers, a definition of the Kellogg-Briand Pact is all that is required to meet that requirement.

I beg to differ. What's not to love about a global pact to criminalize war?

Does this disrespect of the Kellogg-Briand Pact stem from the fact that it failed to stop World War II from happening? Or is it that we aren't meant to question why the U.S. is one of the biggest violators of this pact? Could it just be a matter of focus where events that provoke war are more relevant/instructive than those meant to prevent it?

Well, how is this for instructive? Today, I asked my students why they thought we Americans have never voided the Kellogg-Briand Pact. Every conflict we've been involved in since, including our current "War on Terror" violates the terms of this pact, so why don't we just publicly renounce the pact? My students then pointed out why it would be a bad idea to renounce the pact:

First, Americans don't know about it so what point would it serve to enlighten them about a pact that we don't adhere to?

Second, if we did publicly renounce the peace pact, other countries would be very nervous about our reasons for doing so. Can you imagine the global reaction if the U.S. suddenly declared the Kellogg-Briand Pact null and void?

The Americans are coming! The Americans are coming!

Interestingly, shortly after passing the Kellogg-Briand Pact (Jan. 16, 1929), the U.S. Senate passed the Cruiser Bill (Feb. 13, 1929) to build 15 new navy cruisers, arguing that this did not constitute "big navy" but rather the minimum required for adequate defense. This was not lost on the British who published the below cartoon in Punch magazine:

Is it possible to promote peace by preparing for war? 

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