Comments: Justification for War

Some Anglicans, myself included, do not believe that any war can be called just. I'm just trying to mention that "Just War theory" has always been limited to a part of the pacifists in the Church.

Posted by Christopher Culver at Sunday, 1 August 2004 at 4:52pm BST

This little piece makes little sense to me. First, it asserts that "There were no weapons that posed an external threat, and no plans to develop any." While this does in fact now seem to be the case, it certainly did not seem to be the case before the current war. No one qualified to make a judgment about the presence of WMD thought that they were absent. The USA considered them present. Britain considered them present. Russia considered them present. France considered them present. The UN considered them present. Why would Saddam evict weapons inspectors time and again unless he did not want them searching for weapons?

Even if it is true that there were no weapons, the fact remains that this is discernable only retrospectively. No credibly informed body thought that two years ago. Sure, Saddam's regime made overtures about the absence of WMD; but Saddam's regime never was a bastion of opaque innocence.

Next we come to this curious piece of rhetoric:

"True, Sadaam [sic] was a terrible tyrant, but the world has seen plenty of these. They aren’t often removed if the only threat they pose is to their own people, whether in SE Asia, in Africa, or in Latin America. Indeed, the USA has a shameful record of having supported some of these. Sadaam’s [sic] government was supported by the West whilst he waged a war on Iran which involved the use of chemical weapons."

So, Saddam was admittedly a "terrible tyrant." Is the fact that the world "has seen many of these" without often removing them self-justifying? Does the world's historically ambivalent approach to the treatment of mental illness mean that we should be just as ambivalent now about the treatment of AIDS? What is more important, consistency or justice? Does our past toleration of injustice and genocide justify our present toleration of the same? That seems to be the case made here. I beg to differ. The fact that the USA may have supported Saddam's nefariousness in the past is not an argument in favor of their continued support.

Next: "We also know that the Iraqi regime gave no support to Al Quaida [sic], and would have suppressed any act of terrorism. So, to decide to overthrow Sadaam [sic] in the aftermath of 9-11 now appears completely illogical."

The American regime never claimed that Iraq was involved in 9-11. For the life of me I cannot figure out why people persist in claiming this of the Bush Administration. What the administration DID claim was that Al Zarqawi was present in Iraq (as in fact he still is), and that the Iraqi regime had had regular contact with members of Al Qaeda. The recent 9-11 Commission has confirmed that the Iraqi regime met regularly with members of Al Qaeda in Sudan over the course of more than a year, though granted no operational relationship resulted. Perhaps we should have waited until an operational relationship did develop.

As for the decision to overthrow Saddam in the aftermath of 9-11 now appearing "illogical" -- well, this decision was not made in the aftermath of 9-11, nor was it made by the Bush Administration. Facilitating "regime change" in Iraq has been official US policy for the better part of a decade. It was the policy of the US congress, and of the Clinton administration. [It ought also to be remembered that Bill Clinton waged a very destructive war against Saddam over the issue of WMD. It was called Operation Desert Fox, and involved two weeks of sustained bombing of Baghdad. No one at the time demanded that Clinton put together an international coalition or even SEEK UN approval.]

Another theory: the US war was motivated by its "failure to eradicate the sources of terrorism." Like what? The proliferation of Starbucks? Maybe the existence of Jews in the world? (Muslim terrorists themselves cite the latter as their chief concern.)

Then there is the most curious instance of illogic: the US "simply wanted to show what its overpowering weaponry can do". But this has been demonstrated time and again elsewhere. The US has showed off its overpowering weaponry when it prevented genocide and repression most recently in Afghanistan and Kosovo. Maybe we should have left them alone too. I mean, its not really our concern if the Serbs want to cleanse their land of Albanians, or if Afghanis want to subject their women to public beatings for wearing brightly colored shoes.

But wait, no, that's not why we wanted to show off our weapons. We wanted to show them off to distract the public from the intelligence failures that "provided faulty information about the dangers posed by Baghdad." Now, I'm trying very hard to understand this piece of reasoning. I think it may be spurious. I don't think we can go to war (1) because we were misled by faulty intelligence, and at the same time (2) to distract ourselves from this same faulty intelligence.

But maybe "George Bush needed... a scapegoat for his own failures," I guess like his alcoholism and his poor academic showing at Yale. But I wonder why Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Tony Blair, both houses of Congress (including John Kerry) wanted to go to war? I suppose they just wanted Bush to feel better about himself.

In any event, Bush "convinced Tony Blair" but not "most of the European Union." I think "most of the EU" must mean "France and Germany". In addition to Tony Blair, here is a short list of other nations Bush managed to convince on Iraq, in alphabetical order:

Costa Rica
Czech Republic
Dominican Republic
El Salvador
Marshall Islands
Solomon Islands
South Korea

Maybe these countries don't matter because many of them are not rich and are not populated by white people. It is telling, though, that many of them know what its like, from recent experience, to live under a repressive regime. Maybe we should listen to what their support says about the quality of life under tyranny. Maybe their experience gives them a perspective and a credulity we lack. Maybe we should be a little less eager to disenfranchise them further by denying a priority to their voice. For my part, I think its high time the world paid closer attention to the Muslim women who want to be able to wear brightly colored shoes and to laugh out loud (another crime punishable by beating or stoning under Sharia law), or to the ethnic Kurd who can no longer walk or breathe because of Saddam’s poison gas, or for that matter to the Saudi who wants to learn about Jesus but can’t because he’ll be imprisoned, or worse, if he tries.

I, for one, don’t have a problem with “Christian nations going to war on this kind of basis.” What I do have a problem with is supposedly Christian nations sitting by and doing nothing when they have the means to prevent all manner of repression, killing, ethnic or gender hatred, and religious violence. Will the blood of these victims be on our heads? Are we the good Samaritan, or are we the self-righteous Pharisee who does nothing because he doesn’t want to soil his hands by helping the victims of hunger, fear, injustice, and oppression? Historically, those of us in power have been too much of the latter, especially when it came to aiding those different from ourselves – Arabs, blacks, women, Asians, whatever. Its time we stopped congratulating ourselves on our enlightened civility and got down to the business of confronting injustice at the global level.

Posted by george at Sunday, 1 August 2004 at 5:22pm BST

For a "Thinking Anglican" this article (well rant really) is one of the most polemic bits of agit-prop I have read in some time. If this is the best that "thinking Anglicans" can come up with I wonder what all those stupid "non-thinking Anglicans" would say.

Posted by Paul Yukl at Monday, 2 August 2004 at 3:48pm BST

After the Shoah, there was a considerable sense of the failure of the West to intervene before Hitler and his forces began to brutalize the Jews and Roma. The idea that national boundaries or immanent threat outside of them was an excuse to not intervene was considerd by many a cop out desinged to get us off the moral hook.

Now, the same left wingers, confronted by the reality that governments that they don't like might be the ones intervening, have invented the "WMD" and "immanent threat" dogmas. So, are we saying it was OK for Hitler to kill German Jews at least, as they were not captured in agressive wars or by weapons of mass destruction?

In our technological world, John Donne's observation that we are all participants in all of our lives is ever more true. We do live in the web of humanity, and ignoring Saddam's violence towards his own citizens, because we were not at risk is simply immoral.


Posted by jimB at Friday, 6 August 2004 at 6:54pm BST

jimB asks:

"So, are we saying it was OK for Hitler to kill German Jews at least, as they were not captured in agressive wars or by weapons of mass destruction?"

No, nobody is saying that, Jim, but I think that your question is based on a false premiss - that Hitler's treatment of the Jews was a factor in causing the Second World War. It wasn't. Much like the operation of the Berlin underground, it was an activity of the German public sector which was already taking place before the war and, if Germany had won, would presumably have continued after it. Even after the war began, the British government was reluctant to make much of the concentration camps in case they aroused sympathy for the enemy among British anti-semites. (Source: recently declassified documents of the period.)

Analogies could perhaps be drawn with more recent support for Saddam Hussein while he was gassing his own people by some of those now most bellicose in their support for the war.

Posted by Alan Harrison at Tuesday, 10 August 2004 at 3:29pm BST

I want to commend the works of Rene Girard which are mentioned in this post but have not been mentioned in the comments so far. Girard's thinking has much to offer in reflecting on the problems of violence today. For what's it's worth, what you say about the Iraq War seems to be in the right territory.

Posted by Andrew Marr at Tuesday, 10 August 2004 at 7:57pm BST

SCAPEGOAT: The animal was not simply driven into the wilderness. It was led into the desert by the red woolen yarn that the high priest had wrapped around its horns. It was taken to the edge of a high cliff and pushed off. Its bones were utterly shattered before it reached the rocky plains below. The young men and women of Jerusalem waited in the hills, dressed in white. When they heard that the SCAPEGOAT had reached the desert, bearing their sins away, they began to dance and sing. I discovered this information when doing the exegesis for my first sermon, long, long ago in divinity school. I found it in THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF JUDAISM, which is old and little-used, but taken from good sources such as the Talmud, and the Torah. If the information surprises you, it did the same to my Old Testament professor who carried out further research and confirmed my findings. I regret that I can give you no other specifics on these sources -- it was long ago and the book was old -- but the information appeared to be sound. I submit this tidbit for the next Holy Week or the next war, whichever comes first.
Louisa Braley, USA

Posted by Louisa Braley at Thursday, 19 August 2004 at 2:45am BST

You wrote: "It was wrong for Christian nations to go to war on this kind of basis."

Funny, I thought we were in a secular nation?

Posted by Dan Brusca at Sunday, 29 August 2004 at 10:27pm BST