My Links


Listed on BlogsCanada
Posted by eleanor

Living with the illogical

In his 1968 collection of essays, "The Just War: Force and Political Responsibility", the late (conservative?) Christian theologian Paul Ramsey called for -- wait for it -- just wars. "Peace and justice are not linked by an invisible hand, nor can political life endure without the use of force."

The creation of a war-free world would be nice, but would involve lobotomizing large numbers of the populace to keep all hint of aggression in check. Those Marxists who believe in wholesale social control will love this concept. But I'm afraid the end of war will in fact require more self-knowledge, not less; the acceptance of difference; and -- if we can't grow up -- the understanding that there are self-important busybodies who will not put up with the torture and murder of others.

That's not a terribly enlightened concept, the idea that policing is necessary to keep the peace. We're not a terribly enlightened world. (And by world, I'm not pointing the finger at anybody-but-the-West; we too, have monster police forces in every city just to keep ourselves in line.)

Those who claim that violence is never a justified response would have, I guess, accepted the death of every Jew in Europe (and perhaps eventually, other genocides, as novelist Philip K. Dick's what-if, "The Man in the High Castle," suggests is in the works when the Nazis take over Africa). Peace at all cost is really just another way of saying that you don't care about your fellow humans. Fuck'em.

I've already suggested that World War 2 was a just war. But what about Afghanistan, and the displacement of the Taliban and Osama? And in Iraq, with former leader Saddam Hussein accused in the World Court of crimes against humanity? How do we balance human rights with the acknowledgement of national boundaries? What is a just war?

Hey, you decide for yerself. Define "just" in a wide open manner, and the United Nations descends upon dozens of countries with guns. Define it too meanly, and tyrants get away with sentencing whole villages to starvation.

What's true for all is that while the threat of violence may be necessary, it's also inherently contradictory.

Raymond Aron once wrote about the nuclear arms race thusly (though any massive arms build-up will do just as well): "Between the two [theses]... -- peace through the generalization of thermonuclear deterrence and the dangers created by the enlargement of the atomic club -- I do not hesitate to choose: the first is illusory, deceptively seductive, it has the characteristic appeal of sophistries. In short, it is war which must be saved, in other words, the possibility of tests of armed strength between states rather than eternal peace, which would have to be established by the constant threat of the thermonuclear holocaust....

"It is just bizarre to imagine the industrial societies will live in peace because they will no longer have the means to fight as it is to imagine that they will live in peace because that they all have the means to destroy each other in a few moments. The seemingly opposite intellectual error is actually the same in both cases. The doctrinaire of peace by fear imagines an equality between states by the capacity of the weakest to deal the strongest mortal blow. The doctrinaire of peace by disarmament imagines the equality to consist of the strongest to coerce the weakest. Neither equality is attainable."

We are undone.


# re: Living with the illogical
June 14, 2006 7:06 PM
Indeed. It might be said that Britain went to war in 1939 to oppose expansionism. Is the battle against mere expansionism a reason for a just war?

The death camps came later. Perhaps a war can become just? Just as, perhaps, a war can over time become unjust.
# re: Living with the illogical
June 14, 2006 4:34 PM
Although most now would agree that WW2 was a "just" war, I can't help but wonder whether it looked that cut and dried at the time.

My issue with the concept of "just" wars is that any such assessment assumes that we have sufficient information to make such a judgment.

In practice we're trying to judge actions such as those in Afghanistan or Iraq based on biased, incomplete, and wildly inaccurate reports, generally originating with parties who have a vested interest in the outcome.

Were the Taliban better or worse than what will eventually replace them? I surely don't know, and until some kind of stable government appears, neither does anyone else. Maybe we're about to see an Afghan Pol Pot.

Are average people in Iraq better or worse off now than while Saddam Hussein was in power? I'd say that is entirely questionable.

On a macro level we must also ask: is it moral or just to overthrow a nation's government at any time? Does the loss of a few thousand American lives justify collapsing Afghanistan into anarchy? Isn't it the right of the Afghan people to live under whatever form of government they choose? Even if our western eyes find some practices abhorrent?

Underlying both Afghanistan and Iraq is a wholly colonial assumption that the peoples of those nations were too ignorant, too backward, or too lazy to change the government if they chose to do so.

I can't help but think that many Englishmen viewed colonial America in the same light.