Last Update: Thursday, December 05, 2013
|Rhetoric of War Is There Such a Thing as a Just War?|
|Written by Rodolfo F. Acuña|
|Thursday, 12 September 2013 05:31|
The rhetoric of war has evolved qualitatively since World War II. During this period, I have heard dozens of refined explanations as to why the United States is seemingly always waging war. The theory that has made the most sense is that of Senator J. William Fulbright during the Vietnam War, who called American aggression in Vietnam an "arrogance of power." He wrote in 1966:
"The attitude above all others which I feel sure is no longer valid is the arrogance of power, the tendency of great nations to equate power with virtue and major responsibilities with a universal mission. The dilemmas involved are preeminently American dilemmas, not because America has weaknesses that others do not have but because America is powerful as no nation has ever been before and the discrepancy between its power and the power of others appears to be increasing...." Fulbright explained that the reason for invading other countries had little to do with democracy, freedom, or natural resources. These were just pretexts; we did it because we could do it. The justification was that we were the United States, and it was our right.
During the 1960s many Americans were concerned with what they called the "Imperial Presidency." Historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. borrowed the term for the title of a 1973 volume describing the modern presidency, which he believed was out of control and stretching the limits of constitutional powers.
Schlesinger attributed this to the growth of the White House bureaucracy. Before the New Deal the Oval Office, for example, was used primarily for ceremonial occasions. A transformation took place with the White House running out of office space. Instead of advisers, the chief executive was surrounded by teams of cheer leaders, and in time the presidency changed to the point that the president became omnipotent.
The truth be told, the last two presidents have embraced this papal-like status. Moreover, the waging of wars that was once a congressional power has become a presidential prerogative. The thing that has become increasingly grating is the lack of proof that is needed for bombing people.
For centuries, there was at least a pretense that we were conducting "just wars." However, there was some attempt to show why they were just wars. The Indian epic, "the Mahabharata", written centuries before the birth of Christ, discusses what a "just war" is and asks whether the suffering caused by war can ever be justified. It also raises the question of what is a "just cause" for war.
What is a "just war" was also raised by other civilizations and eventually became part of Christian theory, advanced by Saints Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas. Later it was incorporated into the discourse of slavery and conquest of the peoples of the Americas. Greed triumphed and stereotypes replaced reason, and the word "just" was bent to fit the interests of those in power.
In a twist of logic, the conquered became terrorists. In the United States the colonists made war on Native Americans saying that it was "just" because "they burned homesteads, killed men, women and children or carried women and children into slavery." They then turned around and burned Indian villages, committed atrocities and enslaved Indian children. Smallpox was spread through blankets distributed to the Indians.
Americans followed this pattern in the building of an empire. Those who resisted us became terrorists, and we the civilizers. Even during World War II, the so-called "good war", the other side was the terrorists, and we the good guys. Even conceding the atrocities of the other side, how could we justify the fire bombings of Dresden and Tokyo, and dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Were those incidents just?
Rhetoric and its intended fear replaced the quest for the truth. As one writer put it, "[when] faced with vague threats, Washington does what it always does: it scares the hell out of people."
As a child, I was disturbed by a movie based on a novel by Oscar Wilde, "The Picture of Dorian Gray." It was about a man who never ages while his portrait turns decrepit. The portrait marks the sins of the man whose remains young and innocent looking. I can only imagine what portraits of Bush or Obama would look like.
All of us should be concerned about the growth of the Imperial Presidency, and the lack of proof for their actions. The death of Truth will have grave consequences in the future. We must remember that something is not true just because the president or the Supreme Court says it's true.
Getting beyond the rhetoric and the hyperbole, what is a "just war"?
"A just war can only be waged as a last resort," and we can only wage it after all non-violent options have been exhausted. We set up the United Nations, so is it justified to undermine it by making a unilateral decision? "A war is just only if it is waged by a legitimate authority." Are we a party to the dispute? Does society deem us to be a legitimate authority?
"A just war can only be fought to redress a wrong suffered." The justice of the cause is not sufficient. And, it is doubtful if we have suffered a wrong.
"A war can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success." In other words we have to justify the deaths and the injuries. We cannot engage in the war if it is a hopeless cause.
Would a reasonable person say that there is a reasonable chance of success given the historic struggles between the Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, Christians and the secular forces within Syria? "The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace."
There is peace in Vietnam today because we got out, and the North won. Is there peace in Iraq or Afghanistan? Has the moral authority of the United States increased or declined? The violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered." If we are not a legitimate party in the civil war, how can we make that judgment?
"States are prohibited from using force not necessary to attain the limited objective of addressing the injury suffered."
The objectives even for the bombings have not been stated, and that is what scares me. As in the case of other U.S. "actions", what are the safeguards that it will not escalate?"
"The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants." It is easy to say that civilians are not the targets, but how many civilians have died due to American strikes in the past thirteen years. Have our drones avoided hitting women and children?
I am concerned by the lack of discussions of what a "just war" is, or for that matter, what a "just cause" is. The lack of discussion tells us a lot about the state of international morality in regards to war.
We should ask, is this a product of the U.S.'s arrogance of power, and has this contributed to Imperial Presidency? As a member of an oppressed minority, this arrogance is apparent in the actions of President Obama. They remind me of the bully who is afraid of fighting the big guys in the neighborhood, so he goes out and shoots the hell out of the less powerful.
If Obama is so concerned about people, he should do something about the vigilantism toward the undocumented people that has resulted in deaths. What has he done about the 3,000 plus Mexicans and Central Americans who have died crossing the U.S./Arizona border? Or, what has he done about the virulent xenophobia in Arizona toward Mexicans? It is easy to flex your muscles when you have nothing to lose.
Rodolfo "Rudy" Acuna is a historian, professor emeritus, and one of various scholars of Chicano studies at California State University, Northridge. He is the author of "Occupied America: A History of Chicanos" that approaches the history and people of the Southwestern United States. The book has had seven editions since its 1972 debut. The seventh edition was published January 2011. He has published 16 other titles. "Occupied America" became part the strident ethnic studies controversy in Arizona where Acuna's book was banned.
|Last Updated on Thursday, 12 September 2013 05:35|