It is my conviction that killing under the
cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.
– Albert Einstein
Wars throughout history have been killers. What on earth could justify such inhumanity to humanity? If at least one war can be identified and justified as being a just war or necessary, then the argument that no war can be just or necessary is repudiated. Let’s put war through 11 litmus tests.
President Woodrow Wilson tried to sell WWI to the American public by calling it “the war to end all wars.” His hype didn’t work; only 75,000 men volunteered for an Army that needed one million of them. So Wilson was forced to ask Congress to enact conscription to force participation or be imprisoned.
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The war was a slaughterhouse. When it was over, 10 million men from the US and the other countries involved had died in battle and millions more were disabled; and for what justifiable or necessary cause? There was none. WWI was a result, the late historian Howard Zinn said, of “imperial rivalries, greed for more territory, a lusting for national prestige, the stupidity of revenge, and mediocre leaders [who] had neither the courage nor the will to stop.”
FDR, of course, masterfully sold most of the American people on the necessity of America’s entrance into WWII by secretly maneuvering to provoke Japan into striking first, a treasonable act if there ever was one.
Japan could not have forgotten that the US had been an imperialistic aggressor in the Pacific Rim long before Japan’s militaristic conquests in that area, including the American-Philippines War and US opening trade in Japan with gunboats and threats; how the US embargo on scrap, iron and oil shipments to Japan to thwart that nation’s attempts to dominate the markets in its own backyard provoked (if not manipulated) Japan into bombing Pearl Harbor.
Similarly, US self-interests contributed to the rise of the Third Reich in Germany (e.g., numerous US corporations and banks funded the rise of The Third Reich).
Aside from the likelihood that FDR and his regime could have avoided entering WWII altogether, could it nevertheless be considered a just or necessary war? Not according to Zinn, who raised and answered several key questions. Was the US involvement for the rights of nations to independence and self-determination? To save the Jews? Against racism? For democracy? No, not at all according to his review to the evidence; the US involvement in WWII had no such high-minded purposes, and Zinn concluded that “Looking at World War II in perspective, looking at the world it created and the terror that grips our century, should we not bury for all time the idea of just war?”
3. The American Revolution?
America’s first war, the American Revolution was fought for the partial right of independence and self-determination. It was a clash between two privileged classes 3,500 miles apart. It did not save the Indians. It led to their decimation and subjugation. It certainly was not against racism. And it certainly was not for a democracy of, for, and by all the people since the “Founding Fathers” were plutocrats and not about to promote the general welfare of everyone living in the new nation. Had the war not been fought, British control would have eventually dissipated, just as it eventually lost all of its other colonies, and an America of a less militant nature might have eventually emerged.
4. The Civil War?
The Civil War is the most deadly for Americans of any military interventions launched by a US president. Zinn makes it clear in his writings that President Lincoln provoked the attack on Fort Sumter that launched the Civil War – not with the primary purpose of freeing the slaves – but to make sure to maintain the ability to expand the nation’s territory and with it, greater markets and resources. Lincoln, in other words, was an early practitioner of imperialism by deadly military means.
5. Self Defense?
Wouldn’t a war of self-defense unravel a pacifist’s argument that no war is just or necessary? No, the best defense against modern warfare initiated against the US is prevention through the US having the right kind of foreign policies in place over time. Unfortunately, the administrator of our foreign policy, the Department of State, is a subsidiary of the Department of Defense. Our foreign policies are in reality militant military policies.
6. Unavoidable War?
Wouldn’t an unavoidable war be just or necessary? No war is unavoidable. A careful reading of the history of US military interventions clearly indicates that all could have been avoided, but were sought out instead. An imperialistic nation does not avoid war when it suits the empire, and war always suits empires and empire builders.
Would the draft have been abolished after Vietnam if the government was convinced that all future military interventions would be just, necessary and popular? No, the draft was abolished precisely because the government knew future military interventions could not meet those standards.
The more urgent and just or necessary a war wouldn’t there be few exemptions granted from battle? No, in any American war so far, the elite have avoided it like a plague. And how many politicians have gone into battle?
If a particular war were just or necessary, besides not abolishing the draft, wouldn’t we expect very few conscientious objectors, draft dodgers or deserters? No, just the opposite happened during WWII and Vietnam, the last war relying on conscription. During WWII, there were roughly 21,000 deserters (one was executed) and nearly 100,000 conscientious objectors. During Vietnam, there were nearly 4,000 deserters and several hundred thousand draft dodgers.
If there was absolutely no question about a particular war being just or necessary, would warriors-in-chiefs ever have granted conditional or unconditional pardons or amnesty to war resistors over the years, including those, for example, who refused to fight in the Civil War? In the 20th century, over 1,000 draft dodgers during WWII were pardoned by President Truman; Vietnam War draft resisters and deserters were offered clemency by President Ford; and hundreds of thousands of Vietnam War draft dodgers were given unconditional pardon by President Carter. Perhaps even warriors-in-chief can have pangs of doubt or guilt over sending young men to battle.
What about military interventions for humanitarian reasons? Are they not just or necessary? No, to quote Einstein once again, “War cannot be humanized. War can only be abolished.” There should never be inhumane means to a humane end. Witness the case of Amnesty International-USA urging NATO’s military intervention in Afghanistan to protect human rights for women and girls.
Rationalizing military interventions as humanitarian interventions “is a sign of progress,” David Swanson, author of “War is a Lie” says, adding, “That we fall for it is a sign of embarrassing weakness. The war propagandist is the world’s second oldest profession, and the humanitarian lie is not entirely new. But it works in concert with other common war lies.”
Wars do not liberate civilians from oppressors. Wars kill the civilians and tyrants often follow. Throughout history, wars on the average have killed more civilians than combat soldiers. The civilian casualty rate rose to 85% of all casualties during the Iraq War and probably is approaching 100% from drone killings.
Finding and using a genuinely humane intervention requires creative diplomacy and a moral conscience, not military might.