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Article ID: 6313
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 3,981
Times Read: 3,799
Author: Lili Fugit
Posted: May 24th. 2003
Times Viewed: 3,799
In order to discuss what would justify a war, one has to define what war is, and what it is not. Legally, war is defined as "hostile contentions by armed forces" between nations, states, or rulers. This is as good a description as any, stripped of specifics, judgments, rationale, dead bodies, maimed children, and rhetoric. And, free of these things, it reveals that at its basest, most honest level, war is nothing more than a political construct.
This runs directly contrary to the commonly held view that war is somehow an intrinsic part of human nature. "Human nature" is an abstract concept anyway -- biologically there is nothing to suggest war is a natural state of being; psychologically there is no evidence of this; genetically there is no "aggression gene." Anthropology has revealed no such "human nature" either. Among primitive tribal cultures some peoples are warlike, some are peaceable, and the reasons for this have less to do with some innate human trait than with their respective environments. To quote historian Howard Zinn, "Surely we do not need human nature to explain war; there are other explanations. But human nature is simple and easy. It requires very little thought. To analyze the social, economic, and cultural factors that throughout human history have led to so many wars -- that is hard work."
In other words, since Switzerland is still populated by human beings, since a warlike culture such as Germany's has become remarkable for its pacifism, since the United States never had its "inevitable" war with the Soviet Union, since one can dig up times of peace going back four thousand years of written human history as readily as one can dig up times of war, the idea that human nature causes war is weak. War is not the universal human condition, and most people caught up in war sincerely wish they were not.
The insidious, not merely lazy, side of the human nature argument for the inevitability of war is this -- it gives an excuse for war. And not just any excuse, but one deeply rooted in American moral and religious thought, the Biblical, Judeo-Christian view that people are inherently sinful and bad. Since the majority of Pagans believe that people are capable of evil as well as capable of good, but are not inherently one way or the other, it is important to clear the decks of this patently illogical view of human nature in order to discuss the justifications, if any, for war. This point about good and evil is also important when it comes to the idea that by undertaking war one is undertaking a battle against evil and for good, or that it is even possible to undertake a war against something like evil. War, once again, is a political act. It is not a personal act of will. It is an act of a government. And unless one is willing to accept the idea that a state or government can even determine, for the rest of us, what evil is, and having done so have hands clean enough to fight that evil, then war is not the arena in which evil can be fought.
At their root, wars are not about good and evil. As Eugene Debs once said, "Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder...that is war in a nutshell. The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles."
It bears repeating -- war is not a personal act of will. Wars consist of people who have never met each other killing each other at the behest of leaders they have probably never met in order to secure power or wealth for a government that most likely does nothing for them except to lighten their pocketbooks and otherwise ignore their needs [at best]. Some might think this is a cynical and unpatriotic view. Many decent people feel they owe something to their country, or believe they are going to fight evil, never mind that there is plenty of evil right there at home, or that the "country" is not sending them to fight in the first place. But just because decent people believe something to be true does not mean that it actually is true.
Having dealt with war in the abstract, it is time to deal with a specific war, namely the most recent war by the United States against Iraq.
Decent people who went to fight in that war need to understand that their country did not ask them to go. Their government asked them to go. A significant percentage of the country, ignored as it may have been by the government and media, did not support the war. As for the issue of Sadaam Hussein's evil, the United States supported him, his government, and his acts against his own people for decades, which means the government of the United States is as much a part of that evil as he was. On the other hand, one cannot expect a government to "ask" its military to go fight for mere supremacy in the oil-rich Middle East and to increase Halliburton's profit margins, so to portray a war as a fight against evil, against the remote and farfetched possibility of some kind of eventual attack by Iraq against the United States, and additionally to portray it as an act of justice by fabricating a flimsy connection between the government of Iraq and the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center -- all of that becomes de rigueur. The fact these are all lies should concern anyone seriously examining the notion of justification for this war. It should concern decent people everywhere when suddenly, after over twenty years of oppression and torture, film footage from Iraq describing Sadaam Hussein's crimes begins to surface and yet presumably the U.S. government did not think any of this worth mentioning back when its imperialist concerns were concentrated elsewhere. It is rather like the moment when George W. Bush, voice cracking with emotion, tried to use the beleaguered women of Afghanistan to help justify that war by describing a little Afghan girl beaten by Taliban bad guys for wearing white shoes -- an incident that occurred five years before, at a time when the U.S. was supportive of the Taliban for its crackdown on the opium trade.
The point is this -- evil is not an issue in warfare. If war existed to prevent evil, the United States would have intervened in the genocide in Rwanda. Even in the case of the "Good War," World War II, the United States did not go to war with Germany because of atrocities against the Jews, even though the American government was fully aware it was going on. The United States went to war with Germany because Hitler declared war on the United States.
So to get back to the question -- what justifies war? Justify means, literally, to make something just and right. So, since war is essentially an artificial construct, and a political act to boot, the fact is nothing can justify war, unless one believes the end justifies the means. This is a point worth looking at.
The idea that the end justifies the means was put into political thought by Niccolo Machiavelli, and the context in which he was writing was this -- it is all important for a successful prince, or a powerful state, to exercise force in order to preserve power. The preservation of power was the end Machiavelli was writing about, not helping the poor and downtrodden of the earth. But a great many people take the semi-Machiavellian stance of saying, "War is awful and we should avoid it whenever possible, but there, in that foreign land, in another sovereign nation, there is a leader who is bad. Yes, there are hundreds of other really bad leaders too, but for whatever reason this one is the bad guy of the moment, and his poor people are in need of rescuing. Wouldn't it be morally wrong to just let those poor people go on being oppressed? Don't we have to do something to help them?"
The answer to that is yes -- we should do something. But war is not what we should be doing. War does not exist to make things right. War exists to consolidate power, to seize land, to seize needed goods or territory. That particular means does not justify the decidedly limited amount of good that may or may not appear at the end. For example, the people of Iraq are, at this moment, in a state of chaos, with violence, illness, and hunger the order of the day. They have also been castrated, so to speak -- even though the people were, in fact, capable of rising up against their own government, seizing power, and remaking it, they chose not to, and instead were rescued by a foreign power. They are now at the mercy of that power, their future governance in the hands of America, their ability to save themselves even further from reach than it was when Sadaam Hussein was their dictator. They are also fodder for the economic forces that are inevitably going to come into play. The people of Iraq have not been helped by the United States and its massive military operation. It would have given the people of Iraq the ability to determine their own destiny if someone had infiltrated Iraq and assassinated Hussein and, if they were an issue, his two sons. [This also would have cost less money and a lot less in the way of human loss.] But the United States is not interested in the right of self-determination for the people of Iraq -- America has a hard enough time remembering its own people have that right. So war did not solve the problem of the people of Iraq. In many ways, it made it worse.
If, as this essay has posited, one cannot justify war, can violence of any kind be justified? Can any of it be justified in the context of a Pagan philosophy, which holds to the idea that one can do whatever one likes as long as it doesn't harm anyone else?
Violence in self-defense or in the defense of another can be justified. This is not to say it is the only right decision to make -- there are some people who firmly believe that they should not fight back if attacked, and that is also a justifiable position. But to fight back when one has been attacked is completely acceptable behavior. The Witches' Rede essentially stipulates that the "none" of "and it harm none" includes oneself. This means also that in a situation where armed forces attack one's country, one is entitled to fight back. Not everyone will, or can, but it is justifiable because it is in defense of not some abstract thing like government or someone else's power or profits -- it is in defense of one's own, actual country. [This is why during the war with Iraq there was a serious, ongoing effort made to attach the terrorist attack of 9/11 to the Iraqi government -- never mind that a link to Afghanistan was only slimly provable. But that is still not self-defense. That is revenge. And while revenge may be completely justifiable in certain situations on a personal level it is never justified in the context of war, mainly because the people dying have nothing to do with whatever act elicited the revenge in the first place.]
Violence is also justifiable in the case of revolution. Revolution is not war -- it is not an act of government. Revolution is rising up against a government, usually an oppressive one, and claiming the right of self-determination. Revolution ideally should not have to get violent, but since a government response to popular revolt is often if not invariably violent, then sometimes violence is justified. Once again, it is a personal choice, and many believe non-violence is the only way to go when rising up against injustice. But the case can be made that since revolution is essentially a personal choice, violence can under certain circumstances be justified. This is why the people of Iraq should have been encouraged to revolt against their own government.
War is a great blight upon human history. While it is possible for decent people to go to war and fight, and while it is possible for Pagans, Witches, and Wiccans to go to war in spite of the bent of Paganism towards a respect for human life -- much like Christians who go to war, in spite of the same bent within the philosophy of Jesus Christ, and in that should lie a warning to all Pagans and Witches who try to rationalize war -- it remains that war is in itself evil, and should not be sanctioned by any decent person. It is impossible to go to war and not commit acts that run contrary to the ideal of the sanctity of human life. It is impossible to go to war to rid the world of evil. Evil does not cancel out evil.
Location: Unknown, Iowa
Bio: Lili Fugit is the nom de guerre of a writer who lives in California with her small white dog. She has a degree in military history. Her great uncle, a pilot, was shot down over Germany in World War II [he survived], her grandfather's ship was bombed at Pearl Harbor [he survived], and her uncle did several tours of duty in the Marine Corps in Vietnam [he survived]. She has contributed money to Sinn Fein and has broken several noses in her time. She has been a Witch for ten years, and practices Chaos Magick with a generous smattering of Hoodoo. Her favorite quote of the moment: "I would give all the patriots in the country for one tolerant man." [E.B. White]
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