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The Morality of War

Presiden't Bush's former secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, once said, "Death has a tendency to encourage a depressing view of war. "

All war is a "weapon of mass destruction."

It destroys lives of all ages and genders. People that do not believe war is a moral issue, have probably lost their sense of morality in other areas as well. War is the child of some of the other sections on this website. It is the spawn of issues like nationalism, racism, and even issues regarding economic morality or church and state. Whatever that cause, its goal is to end life and destroy.

Rush Limbaugh has stated repeatedly that the purpose of the military is to kill people and break things. In spite of this, most Americans believe the military exists for self-defense. There is a difference.

War easily can move from defending our lives into defending our "way of life." And what is that way of life? One where we continue to build our wealth on the backs of slave labor at home and abroad? A life of consumption represented by our ability to buy the newest gadget? Many have suggested that as long as our malls are open, we can be kept happy. What exactly are we defending in war? Perform a search on the internet and find how many times President Bush has used the words defending our "way of life" rather than "defending our lives."

Right wing talk show host, Michael Savage, said that we have "every right to invade a country that threatens us economically." He also said, "I think these people need to be forcibly converted to Christianity ... It's the only thing that can probably turn them into human beings."

Rush also said that "peace is not the absense of war" and "There is only one way to eliminate nuclear weapons...use them."

If all countries were free, it would be a wonderful thing. But, to get to that point, do the ends justify the means? Seems like an age old question, but, the Bush administration has brought us to a crossroads in trying to answer it. More and more Americans are being convinced that if an end is just, then how we get there doesn't matter. If the military simply exists to be the best killing machine there is, rather than defend us, then the methodology of training such a military force, by nature, must embrace immoral behavior and immoral motivations.

Why? First, for some, war is the idea that "might makes right." War has never determined who is right. It might determine who is strongest, has the best training, or the largest forces. Both sides must believe they are morally justified in their actions or they cannot be motivated to fight.

Hermann Goering, commander of the German Air Force and president of the Reichstag, testified at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals in 1946 and stated the following:

"Why of course the people don't want war... That is understood. But after all it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship...Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

Dehumanization of the Enemy

By focusing on the military only as a strict killing machine, you must create immoral behavior because, by necessity, one must dehumanize their enemy in order to efficiently kill them. This site will support the idea, without reservation, that dehumanization is always immoral. In other words, to beat a perceived immoral enemy, we must become that immoral enemy. However, those that truly "love their enemies" as Christ taught, do not have room in their hearts to belittle, dehumanize, or even joke about their enemies. If one if forced to kill to protect themselves, one should weep with every shop fired.

If you are not a pacifist, you may ask, "Then how do we defend our liberties and freedoms?" If so, then you should answer first, "Is it possible to defend liberty and freedom and at the same time, deny the entire concepts of liberty and freedom?" Can you sacrifice your own morals in order to save them?

President James E. Carter stated on December 10, 2002, "War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn to live together in peace by killing each other's children." (acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, Oslo, Norway.)

The Bush Defense Department representative, Stephen Cambone, appeared before the Senate and stated, "To grant terrorists rights that they don't afford us makes a mockery of the Geneva Convention. The Geneva conventions are agreements between states and since Al Qaeda is not a state they don't apply." In other words, we have to become our enemy to beat our enemy?

In other words, torture is now acceptable in our "war on terror" in spite of the fact we signed the United Nations Convention Against Torture which state in Article 2, section 2 that "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."

At the same hearings (speaking of Abu Ghraib), Senator Inhofe stated, "I am outraged by the outrage about this. They're not there for traffic violations. I am sick that we have all these humanitarian do-gooders traipsing around this prison."

One of those do-gooders "traipsing around the prison" was the General in charge of it, General Karpinski. There were 60 minors in the prison, some who were allegedly tortured and sodomized. The General shared the following:

"There was one kid in there, he looked like he was 8," remembers General Karpinski. "His hands were on the bars, and he was clearly a juvenile. So I touched his hands, you know, and I spoke to him in Arabic to the extent that I could. I asked him how old he was, and he said that he was almost 12 and that he wanted his mother and could his mother please come, and he was crying, and he was grabbing my hand so hard. I asked him, what did he do? What was he there for? And he said he was bringing some food, and all of a sudden these soldiers came, and there was a lot of noise and a lot of shouting, and him and his brother were just playing there, just bringing some food to these people."

Newly-released photographs from the prison, depict prisoners crawling on the floor naked, being forced to perform sexual acts, and being covered in feces. Some images also show homicide and corpses, some shot in the head and some with slit throats. You can read about them and other prisoner abuse by clicking here.

Now try Rush Limbaugh's comments on the prison scandal, "This is nothing more that the equivalent of a fraternity prank. If this is what we have to do to get these guys to cooperate then this is what we have to do."

However, even Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, told reporters, "The American public needs to understand we're talking about rape and murder here. we're not just talking about giving people a humiliating experience." (as reported by CBS news here: )

If you believe in maintaining a military, do you also believe they should believe their enemies are "less human" than they are? They will certainly be more motivated to do their jobs. Do we want our young men and women to learn to torture as well?

A New Set of Doctrines for America

Whether you believe that war is immoral in general or justified under certain circumstances, you should be aware that the United States has taken a drastic turn regarding war during the Bush administration. Three documents have been released by that administration that change the entire nature of how we see our military and how we see other countries. They are National Security Strategy, the Nuclear Posture Review. and finally the Doctrine of Preemption (which has now been released twice and revised).

Separately, these documents are chilling, but together they represent the complete annihilation of our "just war" doctrine we have held for over 225 years. In fact, together, the documents paint a picture of world domination and empire building that is not only immoral, but that also opens a door that could lead us to becoming a truly evil nation. On the floor of the Senate before we invaded Iraq, Democratic Senator, Dianne Feinstein, gave one of the most eloquent and important speeches about the danger of these three documents. Click here to read the full text.

Senator Feinstein gave another speech on the subject to the Council on Foreign Relations after the invasion of Iraq entitled "Unilateralism and Preemption: A Flawed Doctrine." You can read the full text by clicking here.

Similarly, Senator Kennedy, gave a famous speech on the floor of the Senate entitled, "The Bush Doctrine of Pre-Emption." The speech was not political nor simply "liberal" rhetoric. It was an important discussion of the history of the doctrine and its moral implications. You can read the entire speech by clicking here.

Is Pre-emptive War the Only Possible Response to Terrorism?

What if the tables were turned? What if we had no nuclear weapons? What if we were invaded by our enemy that we considered immoral? What if they occupied our streets? Would we be comfortable in accepting the idea that our dead women and children were just "casualties of war?" Or would we try to find alternate ways to hurt the enemy?

Our country has told us that "we don't count the dead" of our enemy. (Another method of immoral dehumanization). But we certainly know how many Americans have died. Other countries are counting the dead of Iraq, however. Some report it to be over 600,000 men, women and children now. (as reported in the Washington Post here).

Some people honestly believe that killing is the only answer to the difficult situations we face today. They believe that killing creates peace. Of course, it doesn't create peace for the victims of war. The Republican Party tends to attract the war hawks just as the Democrats attract pacifists. These are two extremes which don't always take into consideration deeper moral questions. It is, of course, the opinion of this website that Democrats more often try to take into consideration these questions and attempt to see both sides. It is precisely the fact that Democrats are the first to speak out for peace that they are so vociferously attacked by those that support the war industry. (For a discussion on this issue of war as industry see suggested links, books and documentary films listed below)

Some of the things that Democrats are struggling to reexamine include things like the "just war doctrine." There is no doubt that because of the nature of terrorism that suddenly Americans have been rethinking this doctrine. But it is not the first time. Each time the nature of war has changed, it has been reexamined. However, terrorism has created more difficult questions because important decisions are relying more and more on technology than morality. Certainly one cannot simply say no to violence in our day without at least coming up with an alternative. Unfortunately, many are taking the easy alternatives and abandoning much of our morality in the process. Since terrorism has no state, some feel that we are justified in attacking anyone that might harbor or even be friendly to a terrorist. Speaking of Arab nations, Ann Coulter said, "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity." The Reverend Jerry Falwell said, "You've got to kill the terrorists before the killing stops. And I'm for the President to chase them all over the world. If it takes 10 years, blow them all away in the name of the Lord."

We have come to a point where if we do not take an active role in creating peace, but sit back and simply protest war, then we may be as bad as those who just want to "blow them away." If we begin to declare that war is immoral, then we really need to actively promote alternatives to the world.

Gandhi taught, "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." However, justice often seems our only option. War cannot stop without a plan. Peace can only grow when the hearts of mankind change. This can certainly happen in a number of ways. First, we can implement agreements with other nations regarding education. We can insist that the people that sign international agreements include agreements to teach the young foreign languages, and instruct them in the major religions of the world. Understanding one another can be a first step. Without it, we raise a nation of ethnocentric ideologues that see people of other nations as less valuable and less important than we are. How can we even hope to carry on diplomatic relations and create peace with nations and peoples we know nothing about? If we don't know what most deeply motivates people to do what they do at the very core of their souls, then how can we hope to change the hearts of the world so that we can have peace?

In the meantime, before hearts have changed, many of the world's peaceful theologians suggest that the best alternative to pre-emptive war may be world policing. There has been a great deal written on this subject. Certainly terrorists must be captured and stopped. War, however, can never be subject to the rule of law the way policing can be subject to the rule of law. If we are looking for moral solutions in this difficult day of advanced technology, this may be our best answer. Using international law and international systems that are empowered to enforce that law are legitimate alternatives to invasions. Unfortunately, Americans are more supportive of these methods in other countries. Giving power to an international police force in our own country to make sure we are not abusing our power suddenly scares Americans away from the negotiating table. This, again, is more telling about the state of America than anything else.

Policing terrorism is even more difficult when the world cannot even agree on a definition of terrorism. Some nations (including our present administration) want to define it as attacks against civilians by individuals and other nations believe it should include attacks against civilians by organized states.

Secretary General Kofi Annan, said, "I understand and accept the need for legal precision. But let me say frankly that there is also a need for moral clarity. There can be no acceptance of those who would seek to justify the deliberate taking of innocent civilian life, regardless of cause or grievance. If there is one universal principle that all peoples can agree on, surely it is that. Even in situations of armed conflict, the targeting of innocent civilians is illegal, as well as morally unacceptable." (address to General Assembly, Oct 1, 2001). Read the full text of the address here.

In his book, God's Politics, author Jim Wallis points out:

" Fuzzy and ideological definitions of terrorism just make it easier to kill people. When you know your actions will kill innocent noncombatants, that's terrorism. And it must be clearly named as unacceptablečno matter who does it (individuals, groups, or states), what ever the weapons, the expressed intentions, or political justifications. Deliberately taking the lives of innocent civilians simply must be morally condemned. That's a clear definition of terrorism and a beginning of resistance to it."

Final Words

People may debate these suggested solutions, and that is fine. They are some of the things being discussed by those who believe in peace. War is always an easier way out. The point is not to purport that these are the only answers, but to point out that some are trying to find means that do not involve war to resolve differences. Whether by education, diplomacy, world policing, or international agreements, we need to actively, not passively, promote peace. Sitting on one's hands can also be immoral. History is full of stories of people who did nothing when their counties found themselves involved in atrocities. As long as the trains run on time or the malls are open, why rock the boat?

If you are going to join those who wish to actively promote peaceful solutions to problem, which political party is more likely to support your efforts? Which party will seek non-military solutions first? We believe it is the Democratic Party. Posturing, pride, and machismo have no place in a moral society. "Charity [the Love of God] suffereth long, and is kind, ... vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,... seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked..."(1Cor 13)

"Beating our swords into plowshares" will not come until we are successful on two fronts. First changing our hearts, and second changing the hearts of the enemy. The second may not even be something we can do by ourselves. In fact, changing the hearts of terrorists is most likely to be achieved from among the ranks of Islamic fundamentalists that do not advocate the violent methods of the terrorists. Undermining violence from within can often be more effective than attacking it from without.

People do not change from black to white overnight. Hearts and opinions change a little at a time. Trying to force a people to embrace something completely foreign to them all at once rarely happens in history. In fact, the attempt to force this usually results in greater resistance and escalation of conflict.

"Blessed are the Peacemakers," taught Jesus. Have you stopped resisting war as an answer because you believe that Armageddon is inevitable? Believe it or not, for many on the Right, there is a desire to hasten these events. However, for those of you who believe in the Bible, the story of Jonah shows that a people's willingness to change can even change prophecy! All one has to do is remember Ninevah. Jonah prophesied their destruction, but the people changed, and with it the prophecy. Or do you need three days in the belly of a whale to change your heart too? Learning to visualize peace with an eye of faith is a vision for which we should never stop fighting.

We may have trouble changing the hearts of our enemy, but we have power right now, to change our own hearts and support those in public office who have the same goal.


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Why We Fight a film by Eugene Jarecki which makes the case that when war becomes as profitable as it has, we will see a lot more of it. (Released on June 20,2006 dvd)

The Fog of War. Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara directed by Errol Morris