Thursday, March 09, 2006

Iraq an Unjust War?

This morning I read in an AP article that Jimmy Carter has called the US war in Iraq an unjust war. My first thought was, "Hello, Captain Obvious!" At this point saying that our involvement in Iraq constitutes an unjust war is almost trivial. But it has not always been so obvious.

Lest anyone accuse me of being virulently anti-war in all cases, and thus attempt to explain my opposition to this particular war in that way, I am publishing here an essay which I wrote during the events leading up to the war.

My best friend (who thanks to a strange twist of fate was living in my basement at that time. He used to joke that if we had kids we could threaten them with the ogre in the basement. Alas, Travis, now that we have a kid, the basement has no ogre!) was a Marine who eventually fought bravely in that war. My opposition to the war he fought in has no bearing on how proud I am for doing what he did. He, like many good soldiers, displayed the kind of courage and integrity that we should all honor. It is a shame that such courage and willingness to sacrifice was spent unjustly.

I wrote this paper in a college ethics class (taught by my good friend Brian Cubbage). The format of the class was to look at ethical theories and then apply them to concrete situations. When it came time to study Just War Theory it was obvious that the United States was, barring some sort of divine intervention (and yes, United Methodist ministers tried to arrange such an intervention), headed to war. Anyway, here is how I approached the subject at that time:

According to William O'Brien, who cites St. Augustine, St. Thomas, and the history of ethical thought concerning war to support his theory, war is permissible only under certain circumstances which would make that war a "Just War". These circumstances have to do with "the substance of the just cause, the forms of pursuing the just cause, the requirement of proportionality of ends and means, and the requirement of exhaustion of peaceful remedies." That is, for war to be justified, four conditions must be met:

1. The war must be motivated by a cause so weighty as to justify the taking of lives in a full scale war. The three causes that O'Brien quotes Childress as claiming would justify this are:

(1) "to protect the innocent from unjust attack,"
(2) "to restore rights wrongfully denied" and
(3) "to re-establish a just order."

2. The war will be either offensive or defensive. If it is defensive, then it is justified outright, because every sovereign nation, as well as each person in that sovereign nation, has a right of self-defense. If, however, it is offensive, then it is only justified if it intends to "protect vital rights unjustly threatened or injured." O'Brien does point out that several Scholastic philosophers once permitted religious holy wars, but that consensus is against justifying those now, contrary, perhaps, to the "jihad" of al-Qaeda.

3. The scale of the war, and the way in which the war is waged, must be proportional to the cause of the war, the objective of the war, and the threat posed by the opponent in the war. It is permissible only to use as much violence as is necessary to accomplish the objectives, and no more. And, of course, civilians must not be targets, and every attempt must be made to keep them out of harm's way.

4. War is only permissible when all other peaceful remedies to whatever problem or situation is to be solved or resolved by that war have been exhausted. War is a messy business, and it involves killing, making it morally very weighty. This killing in war is only permissible if it the only way to achieve an end which might justify the killing. Peaceful solutions must be tried first.

The question is, in light of possible US involvement in Iraq, is war, in this situation permissible? Many involved in the US cause claim that the world changed on September 11, 2001, and, to a certain extent they are right. Each action changes the world, to a degree, and, certainly any action which takes the lives of so many people enacts a great deal of change. However, did September 11th change the nature of ethical conduct? I hope not. I believe that for a group of terrorists to dictate a new morality with a series of violent explosions would be an even greater and irrevocable tragedy than the senseless killing that took place. My mother always told me that two wrongs don't make a right, and, the events of September 11th notwithstanding, I'll take her at her word. Is the US justified, according to the "Just War" theory, if it decides to wage war on Iraq?

The first thing which must be examined is "the substance of the just cause." Why is the US threatening Iraq with war? This is a more complicated question than it, at first appears, and many people have many different theories about the answer. However, I will assume that, this time, our country is not lying to us. If that is the case, then there are two answers to this question. The first is that Iraq was, in part, involved with the al-Qaeda terrorist network, and is active in funding terrorism and terrorist acts against the United States. As such, the US is justified in responding to the attacks against it, and is retaliating in self-defense. This, it is hoped, will discourage others from attacking us.

The second cause is perhaps more serious. It is claimed by both the US and Great Britain that Saddam Hussein, the leader of Iraq has, or intends to get "weapons of mass destruction;" and that, if he has them or gets them, he intends to use them. They support this claim with a number of factually verifiable claims, including that he has used chemical weapons on his own people. I believe that these two claims, and particularly the second, meet Childress' criteria of protecting the innocent from unjust attack. I'm not sure about the claim to self-defense, because I don't know that US officials have demonstrated a strong enough link to al-Qaeda, but, if Saddam Hussein is the sort of threat that officials claim he is, then the end of protecting the innocent from unjust attack, particularly the severe attack from "weapons of mass destruction" would justify the means of war against Iraq, providing that all other conditions for a "Just War" are met.

So, on to the second condition: The proposed war would be an offensive war, all claims of self-defense aside, because it would be waged in Iraq. As such, for the war to be a just war, it would have to meet conditions which would justify an offensive war. It is difficult to, in this instance, separate the first from the second criteria, and the argument used in the first works here. If Saddam Hussein can be demonstrated to be an immediate threat to innocent people, then, providing that all of the other conditions for a just war are present, war against Iraq would be justified.

This brings us to the first real problem for the US cause: It is assumed that Saddam Hussein is a threat, and that the threat should be eliminated. That is something that most sane people agree on. However, for the US cause to be justified, any war must be both just, and limited. The scale of the war must be such that it does not create larger moral problems than the ones that it eliminates. It must be understood that Iraqis are people, morally speaking at least, with the same claim to rights as US citizens. And, while Iraq's leadership clearly poses a threat to the innocent people in the United States, as well as other nations, the innocent people of Iraq must be taken into account as nations such as the US decide how to deal with the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. Any war which does more damage to innocent people than most probably would have been the case without the war is most likely not a "Just War." While the rights of innocents must be protected, in protecting those rights, the rights of other innocents should not be trampled.

This is a problem because, though we have advanced weapons which are supposed to be "smart", or accurately guided, many innocent people were killed in the US action in Afghanistan last year. That being the case, it is difficult to claim that the same thing won't happen this time, particularly when the United States overtly censored media coverage of civilian casualties in Afghanistan. However, if the United States could wage a limited war in which few if any civilians were harmed, and the media were given the freedom they need to cover any incidents of civilian casualties so that we would know that every effort was being made to wage a limited war, this is probably not a fatal problem for the US cause.

The more fatal problem, at least temporarily, is found in the fourth criteria. In order for a war to be just, all peaceful remedies must be exhausted. While there are other problems, this is clearly the biggest, and, while steps are being made to correct this, leadership in the United States seems far too anxious to go to war prematurely. Some peaceful remedies have been sought, including UN resolutions and trade embargoes. However, when the United States announced that they were prepared to go to war unilaterally, without the aid and support of the United Nations, that short-circuited many possible international peace efforts, such as weapons inspections, which are only now becoming realistic options again.

It is too early to tell whether or not a potential US war against Iraq will be morally justifiable. However, it cannot be ruled out. The threat posed is sufficient enough, assuming it is being correctly advertised, to consider anything in a "worst case scenario", including a limited war. However, that war must be limited, and, must take place only when all of the facts concerning the threat Iraq poses are known, and only after all reasonable peaceful measures have been taken to eliminate the threat.
____

As you can see, I (and many others like me) was once prepared to believe that, assuming that a few basic conditions were met, the US could be justified in the war in Iraq. Alas for our nation and our military, it is now obvious that those conditions were not met.

In my paper I wrote:

I will assume that, this time, our country is not lying to us.

That assumption should not seem so foolish now. Alas, it has become obvious that our presidential administration systematically manipulated and fabricated intelligence, deceiving so many of us into suspending our disbelief and (at least tentatively) subscribing to an unjust act.

I also wrote:

It is assumed that Saddam Hussein is a threat, and that the threat should be eliminated. That is something that most sane people agree on.

But, inspired by manipulated and fabricated intelligence, I overlooked that whatever threat Hussein posed to our security was already being addressed effectively. We now have no credible evidence at all that Iraq under Hussein had anything close to a functional weapons of mass destruction program. Absent that program - particularly given the crippled nature of the Iraqi military - Saddam Hussein and the nation of Iraq posed an insufficient threat to US national security to justify anything like a war.

But even with my flawed assumptions about the honesty of this presidential administration and the credibility of their intelligence reports, the conditions laid out in my paper for a just war were still not met. Consider these conditions:

1. [I]f the United States could wage a limited war in which few if any civilians were harmed, and the media were given the freedom they need to cover any incidents of civilian casualties so that we would know that every effort was being made to wage a limited war, then the war might but justified.

2. In order for a war to be just, all peaceful remedies must be exhausted.

The US waged a war in which, during active combat, more than 10 times as many civilians as soldiers were killed. While I believe that the US, particularly the soldiers involved, probably made an attempt to prevent excessive civilian casualties, they were (as is the nature of a war fought first and foremost through air strikes and bombing runs) unable to prevent a high civilian death count. Thus the conduct of the war was not sufficiently limited to be morally justifiable.

Additionally, as I feared in my paper, the US rushed to war without letting peaceful solutions run their course. The great tragedy of this is that, after the fact, it now seems like the peaceful solutions would have been sufficient to solve the problem.

Iraq had not weapons of mass destruction, and no credible connections to al Qaeda. Thanks to our military involvement in Iraq, however, it has become a "breeding ground" for terrorist organizations, radicalizing populations which could have been moderate under different circumstances.

Populations unite against a common enemy. By the way in which we have waged this avoidable war we have given many populations in the area around Iraq an enemy against which to unite.

I hereby apologize for the charitable assumptions I made about the credibility of our presidential administration, and for not mobilizing against this war until it was far too late.

The primary question facing us now, however, is not whether or not this war has been just (it has not been), but what we can do about it. We must of course hold those who dragged us into this mess accountable. The tragic irony here is that those who campaigned on restoring credibility to the office which Bill Clinton's foolishness with an intern supposedly destroyed have done more to undermine the credibility of that office than anyone since the Nixon adminitration.

But we must also find some constructive course of action in Iraq. We can't just break it, say "Ooops!" and walk out like nothing happened. To that end I am thankful to the many military personnel still working in Iraq to restore that country's infrastructure and return it to autonomy. We owe it to them to get them home and out of harm's way as soon as it is feasable to do so.

16 comments:

Princess Pinky said...

I have always distrusted our current administration. Perhaps it was general distrust of the "cowboy" attitude displayed in so many areas of their policy. Maybe it was that one could actually see the puppet strings attached to W. by big business and conservative christian lobbyist groups.

Our culture as a whole is one of consumption and greed. This administration saw a way to "feed the beast" and get their hands on (by gaining the gratitude of the multitudes freed from the horrible dictator) oil, corporate contracts, etc.

I do not for one minute believe that our government had the best interests of the Iraqi people or even our own citizens in mind when they decided to pursue this war. If they had they would have worked with other nations to bring about peace.

The attitude of America brought this about. It is not just our political leaders that are to blame. We who drive our gas guzzling monstrous vehicles (mine gets 9 mpg), we who would live to comsume and discard instead of conserve and reuse, we who are so wrapped up in our blind patriotism and ethnocentricity are to blame.

We have the power to rein in our leaders. It is up to the people of this nation to PREVENT atrocities from being committed in the name of our freedom.

We failed. Now we must deal with the consequences.

Princess Pinky said...

I know that all sounds rich coming from a shoe whore like princess pinky, but anytime I get to rail against our collective attitude concerning unending consumption (be damned the consequnces) I just can't resist.

Tom said...

Sucks to be us.

Brian Cubbage said...

Princess Pinky, I never much trusted our current administration, either. I think, though, that a lot of people didn't, but were temporarily paralyzed by a disease I call "Clinton fatigue." "Clinton fatigue" occurs when the country is coming off of a tiresome and pointless impeachment scandal in which the people hunting the president look like utter fools. When a new president comes in, no one on the other side trusts him and would like to see him gone, but they don't want to look as foolish as the people who drove Clinton's impeachment. So they are effectively silenced. Hence, "Clinton fatigue." I know that I have suffered from it, and to some extent, I still do.

Well, I don't suffer from it so much anymore. I fear that the steadily growing chorus of people calling for Bush's impeachment might be on the right side of the issue and on the right side of history.

I also think that the problem with the Iraq war is even worse than you state. You say that you doubt that the administration had the best interests of Iraqis in mind when launching the war. But I think it's even worse than that: I believe that they honestly thought they did have their best interests at heart, but were just incapable of testing their assumptions against any evidence for some reason. (This indicates a problem with their assumptions.) I don't think that Bush and Co. were just lying about their intentions or were simply thoughtless in any of the usual ways; someone who is lying knows the truth, and someone who is just thoughtless can be made to see it if you can just sit her down and talk to her for a few minutes. "Pig-headedness" is what I would call Bush and Co.'s attitude-- something very different indeed.

I've said this to everyone I know recently: George Packer's recent book The Assassin's Gate is the best account I have seen of Bush and Co.'s pig-headedness over Iraq. It's easily the best book I've read in the last five years.

Brian Cubbage said...

An analogy about "pig-headedness": Imagine someone who recently found out she had diabetes and was depressed about it. When her friend finds out she is depressed, and why, her friend says:

"You know what always cheers me up? Eating a whole birthday cake!"

"But I'm not supposed to eat cake. Didn't you hear me? I'm a diabetic!"

"Nonsense! What do doctors know, anyway? Cake is great, and you will feel SOOOO much better afterwards. Come on!"

And the woman's friend drags her to a bakery and force-feeds her the cake.

We've been force-feeding Iraq a cake for some time now, and the whole country is in diabetic shock.

Sandalstraps said...

Damn!

Brian Cubbage said...

"Damn" because the analogy is good, or because it is bad? I think that it has one defect: There is no known cure for diabetes, but one hopes that there is some sort of cure for the ongoing strife in Iraq. Saying otherwise would underestimate the Iraqis.

Sandalstraps said...

"Damn" for neither reason. "Damn" as in what someone says in a pick-up game of basketball when another person is talking trash to near perfection.

Whether the analogy works when criticized or not, it does work as a damning insult.

In other words, "damn" for style.

Brian Cubbage said...

My skills pay the bills!

Amy said...

All of these comments seem to be working on the assumption that "just war theory" is valid. However, just war theory seems to forget about human sinfulness, and in doing so, it validates and reinforces the ways in which we cover up and lie about our own fallen desires for power and control. There will never be such a thing as a "just motivation," because our own selfish desires will always underlie the goals we profess. All wars wreak havoc on the civilian population and the environment, violating the proposition of limits. And, finally, anyone who claims that "all peaceful options have been exhausted" simply doesn't have a strong enough political imagination.... The truth is that we have become addicted to force and power and until we begin to adopt and transform the cycles of structural, emotional, and physical violence that blind us to other, stronger options, than we will continue in this cultural and social sin. It is our responsibility as "participants in Christs nature" to actively work for the redemption of these structures and social patterns as part of our personal devotion. We cannot claim to "seek first the Kingdom of God" without working for the radically inclusive NON-VIOLENT vision we have been given through the Bible... So, no, the war in Iraq is not justified. No war is ever justified. And, finally, in response to your support of our miltary rebuilding Iraq - An institution whose sole purpose is to use force and violence to maintain society will be unable to establish a new form of government that is not also dependent on force and coercion. Therefore, it is not the job of the US military to rebuild Iraq; in doing so, they will only continue and extend the cyclical violence that has created the current situation there. Rather, re-building is the work of those with an alternative vision; those who can find a more constructive manner of governance. It is the work of non-governmental organizations who subscribe to a more whole, and more holy, criteria for what is true and productive governance. Without their work of transformation, the violence will not end...

Amy said...

All of these comments seem to be working on the assumption that "just war theory" is valid. However, just war theory seems to forget about human sinfulness, and in doing so, it validates and reinforces the ways in which we cover up and lie about our own fallen desires for power and control. There will never be such a thing as a "just motivation," because our own selfish desires will always underlie the goals we profess. All wars wreak havoc on the civilian population and the environment, violating the proposition of limits. And, finally, anyone who claims that "all peaceful options have been exhausted" simply doesn't have a strong enough political imagination.... The truth is that we have become addicted to force and power and until we begin to adopt and transform the cycles of structural, emotional, and physical violence that blind us to other, stronger options, than we will continue in this cultural and social sin. It is our responsibility as "participants in Christs nature" to actively work for the redemption of these structures and social patterns as part of our personal devotion. We cannot claim to "seek first the Kingdom of God" without working for the radically inclusive NON-VIOLENT vision we have been given through the Bible... So, no, the war in Iraq is not justified. No war is ever justified. And, finally, in response to your support of our miltary rebuilding Iraq - An institution whose sole purpose is to use force and violence to maintain society will be unable to establish a new form of government that is not also dependent on force and coercion. Therefore, it is not the job of the US military to rebuild Iraq; in doing so, they will only continue and extend the cyclical violence that has created the current situation there. Rather, re-building is the work of those with an alternative vision; those who can find a more constructive manner of governance. It is the work of non-governmental organizations who subscribe to a more whole, and more holy, criteria for what is true and productive governance. Without their work of transformation, the violence will not end...

Sandalstraps said...

We need not assume that war is ever just to make the following claims:

1. Of all theories which assume that war is a morally acceptable (or, at least, least wrong) solution to a problem, just war theory does the best job of describing what a justifiable war might look like.

2. Just war theory is the stated preference of the Bush administration, who went to great lengths to try to demonstrate to the American polulation and the international community that its proposed course of action would fit the requirements of the theory.

3. Per just war theory, the war in Iraq failed to meet the criteria for a just war, and failed to do so in a most spectacular way.

4. The failure of the war in Iraq to meet the criteria for a just war (per the theory - suspending for a moment the notion that no war could be just) undermines all credibility that the Bush administration ever had. This is particularly true in light of the extent to which the Bush administration was willing to stretch the truth in making the case that war under these circumstances would be just.

To Amy's argument that war is never justified:

In principle I agree with you. But in light of the fact that from time to time there raises up a threat of violence so great that all peaceful means are futile in the face of it (say, Nazi Germany) a limited degree of violence, motivated by our best possible motives (which, while still tainted by our limited and often selfish human nature, still rise far above the base level you describe) is necessary to prevent the extermination of entire populations.

I love that Gandhi was able to liberate India from the British non-violently, and it speaks to the power of non-violence. I love that Martin Luther King, Jr. was able to apply Gandhi's methods to the American Civil Rights movement, and have a great deal of success. But ultimately King and Gandhi succeeded because their methods were not the only methods.

What would have happened if King did not have the threat of Malcolm X in the minds of the white population?

What would have happened if Gandhi did not stand between the British and nationalistic terrorism in India?

Peacemaking is the best thing, but it cannot be the only thing. Violence is, however lamentable, sometimes necessary to shake off a great evil.

But we should remember that nothing is entirely evil, not even our enemy. And nothing is entirely good, especially not ourselves. Amy is right in saying that our motives for violence will never be pure, and that our addiction to violence will never be cured if we continually justify violence under certain circumstances. But it does not follow from those ideas that violence is never justified.

But who, of those of you who know me, thought that I (who tried to teach pacifism to a Marine!) would ever argue in favor of the limited use of violence?

Amy said...

Chris,
We can not know the answers to the questions you asked about the pairing of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, or Gandhi and Nationalistic Terrorism, because, frankly, it didn't happen (once again because of our addiction to violence). And, yes, my view of human nature is baser than yours - but I guess that's why I'm a Calvinist and you're a Wesleyan. I see total depravity every day.

Those who defend the limited use of violence love to bring up the "mounting threat" argument that you use, often illustrating it with Nazi Germany - however, we do not know that peaceful means would have resolved it because we did not try it. Non-violence is more than not striking back; it is actively working to build global and communal relationship where justice and equality are evident in response to social, structural, and economic violence as well. It is also actively working to subvert the violent actions of others. The vengeance that was taken on Germany at the end of WWII, resulting in economic struggles, was an act of political violence. Appeasement was an act of violence because we were tacitly approving and participating in Hitler's expansionism. Frankly, we co-created the situation with the Germans. Now, I can propose what I think would have happened if we had written a different treaty, or followed an approach of non-violent non-cooperation at Hitler's beginnings, or used other methods later on as well, but that would be complete conjecture. Of course, it's also complete conjecture to assume that the non-violent option would have failed.

I do see all violence (social, structural, political, economic, and physical) as our participation in sin, and therefore part of our need for repentance and redemption. And that redemption mandates responding in a way which struggle to eliminate the actions in our lives which we know to be sin. The use of force and violence (in all of its manifestations) is part of that.

Btw, sorry for the double commenting - computer error...

Sandalstraps said...

Even if the totally pacifist argument works (and as attracted as I am to pacifism I have my doubts about that), the just war theory is still very useful because it allows us to see degrees of injustice when it comes to the waging of wars.

Even if war is always wrong, the way in which war is waged and the reasons for the waging of the war can still be seen in terms of relative good and bad. This is seen in the arguments surrounding the war in Iraq.

While the president gave lip service even to the moral arguments against the waging of any war (arguments like that war always represents some kind of tragedy) the way in which the decision to go to war was made, as well as the condict of the war itself (air strikes always result in extreme civilian casualties, even under the most ideal of circumstances - but more on that later) belie that view. This is true not just because of the fact that, per that view, war is always wrong.

Just war theory allows us to make distinctions between conduct in war, and those distinctions are morally helpful. Even if violence is always wrong, some instances of violence are more wrong than others. Surely, for instance, it is more wrong to rape and murder a child than it is to (whether motivated by vengence or a sense of justice) kill or harm the person responcible for the original tragedy. This would not necessarily justify the retaliatory act of violence, of course, because in this case the arguments in favor of retaliatory violence fail.

Killing a rapist or a murderer does not make it any less likely that people will in the future commit rape or murder. Killing a rapist or a murderer does not undo the harm done by those criminal acts. Killing a rapist or a murderer, in short, is an act of harm which produces no identifiable good. But it is a much more morally comprehensible act than the act of violence which preceded it.

This is, of course, not a perfect analogy to war, because the arguments in favor of war are much better (ideally - though often not in practice) than the arguments in favor of retaliatory violence. A just war aims (sucessfully or not) to prevent violence with force, which uses but is not identical to violence.

Force in this case is a kind of restraint which uses the threat (and often the reality) of violence to prevent greater acts of violence. If we use the analogy from criminal behavior again, restraining force (rather than retaliatory violence) actively seeks to prevent atrocities by meeting an attacker strength for strength.

When, for instance, someone pulls a knife or a gun on you, and threatens your person, you have several options which in concert may produce the least undesireable result. Non-violently you actively listen to the attacker, with compassion and empathy. In doing so you meet their strength with weakness in an attempt to morally shame them. But this is not fool-proof. Some people in some situations cannot be shamed. Then what do you do?

If you are like Gandhi (and I salute Gandhi) then you realize that this situation will likely end in your death, and you make peace with that. But Gandhi's methods are not the only methods, even among the spiritually elite.

Many martial arts techniques were developed in the mountain wilderness of China by monks (in this case monks refers both to men and women) from two different traditions: Buddhism and Taoism. The monks in both of these traditions took vows not to harm sentient beings. But for them it was not necessarily a violation of their vows to develop certain self defense techniques to ward off bandits. This was particularly true because the Chinese wilderness was lawless.

You could, in the spirit of their traditions, use a kind of martial arts move to try to disarm and subdue your attacker. In this situation morally you would be guided by the principle that you should use only the least amount of force necessary to meet the challenge which faces you.

As Christians (and particularly Protestants) we believe in universal human sinfulness. It is impossible to be completely good, completely morally pure. This speaks, as Amy has mentioned, to the inability to trust the motivations for our behavior. Knowing, for instance, my own tendency toward anger and propensity for violence, how could I be sure that I was using only the least amount of resistence, the least necessary force?

Of course I couldn't. But that doesn't mean that my motivations cannot be seen in gradation as more or less good, more or less pure.

I could not be certain that, in the case of being attacked by an armed assailant:

1. That I used every possible non-violent means to thrwart the attack. Or

2. That, if violence really proved to be necessary, I used only the necessary amount of violence.

But I could work diligently through a spiritual program to constantly check against my sinful nature and my tendency towards moral arrogance (the cause of a great deal of violence, and another argument against the possibility of there ever being a just war). Having done this work in my personal life before the violent situation arises, I could trust myself to be relatively good, even if not absolutely good. And that is an important distinction.

If we give up on ethics because we hold that we can never be absoltely good (and this is not what I'm saying that either pacifism in general or Amy in particular is doing) then we will secure our state as the worst possible kind of bad.

If we remove violence from our list of morally acceptable options then - even if this is the absolutely right move - we will secure that the violence which does happen will be the worst sort of violence.

Pacifism cannot morally convict the Bush administration. In fact ultimately it lets them off the hook. For if all violence is equally wrong then they are in the company they wish to be in - the company of those who boldly stood up to Hitler. But if we can make distinctions between kinds of violence then we can say that this act is not just absolutely wrong, but also relatively wrong.

Brian Cubbage said...

Amy-- As a matter of historical record, I don't think it's accurate to say that the Allied powers didn't attempt to resolve the conflict first through nonviolent means. What about Neville Chamberlain's "peace in our time" deal-- the one that historians now claim "appeased" the Nazis? Of course, the means didn't work, and for that very reason we know that they weren't the right means; but they were an attempt. Implying that failure to prevent war always betokens a lack of serious will to do so sets the bar too high, in my opinion. Fallenness and depravity are equally distributed on both sides of a conflict; it helps explain the aggressor's posture, but also the difficulty of understanding the aggressor's aims.

Chris: I doubt that your distinction between force and violence is absolute. If I understand it correctly, force is simply violence that for one reason or another we deem (morally) legitimate. If we believe that a state has the legitimate authority to enforce its criminal laws, then we believe that the state has the legitimate authority to exercise violence against its citizens (e.g. the police restraining, and sometimes physically injuring, criminals). Liberal democracies like ours tend to want the state to use the least violent means for enforcing its laws, since the use of state violence is supposed to prevent even greater violence and harm from coming about (rather like the proportionality principle in just war theory!). But it is still violence all the same.

Maybe it's worthwhile to recast the issue as a debate over whether the use of violence between nations should be thought of as analogous to the state's limited use of violence on its citizens. If we think war should be like a police action, then we are more inclined to want a supranational entity (such as the United Natiions) to be in charge of determining when it is legitimate to wage war. We don't let people "take justice into their own hands" in our country; likewise, we wouldn't be inclined to let countries take justice into their own hands, either.

However, if we think that the notion of supranational authority is nonsense, and/or that the international system can be nothing but a network of raw power relationships, then we would not only reject the notion of supranational entities legitimizing wars; we would come to identify international relations as a constant state of war. This "neo-realistic" point of view is, as far as I can tell, the point of view of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld; perhaps Bush shares it, too, although more and more it appears that he simply acted as a rubber stamp for the Iraq war.

Sandalstraps said...

Brian,

You're right that the distinction between force and violence is not absolute, and (I hope) it isn't presented as such. Force implies violence, but the violence which force implies is a different sort of violence.

It rests on relating international disputes to interpersonal disputes, which is a bit of a stretch.

Force, which is a kind of violence, is standing between two agressors and using strength and skill to restrain them. The violence involved, then, does not intend to injure, but to restrain.

This works relatively well when two of your friends are going after each other at a party, but it may not be analagous to the kind of intervention necessary in, say, the Dafur region.

As to Amy's point about WWII, I believe she argued that appeasement didn't count as a non-violent resolution because it catered to Hitler's violence. After all, she says

Appeasement was an act of violence because we were tacitly approving and participating in Hitler's expansionism.

My concern is that this does not leave us with very many options for dealing with powerfully violent parties. Appeasement was an attempt at a diplomatic resolution. Diplomacy involves give and take, compromise. If we can't compromise with violence, and if we can't fight violence with a kind of restraining violence, then what can we do?

Amy proposes some great long-term solutions, but what about the short term?