Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Warfare and the expansion of evil

When discussing the question of war, it's easy to get mired in the self-righteousness of the warhawk and the flaccid protests of the pacifist. As in many other issues, worthless emotional impressions crowd out our conceptual thinking. In such cases, it is most useful to come back to basic moral principles. So let me state the moral facts plainly :

* War is organized murder, and thus immoral.
* War is also immoral because it favours the amplification of other evils (such as taxation, the police state, the draft). War is the health of state oppression.
* The capacity to declare and wage war is only given to some people and not others, making it invalid as a universal moral rule.
* The capacity to wage war is, like any other government power, manipulated for political interests. And I am not even going to start on the fascistic American imperialism, sponsored by ExxonMobil, Haliburton and Bechtel. Many, many people have written on this better than I ever could.
* War leads to evil consequences (this is merely a corollary of the first point).

Once we drop the collectivist delusion that politicians and bureaucrats are morally transcendent to private citizens, and transpose their actions in a realistic context, war looks less like the noble sacrifice portrayed by popular culture and more like thuggery and assassination on a global scale. The murder of innocents, the acts of torture, the hardships inflicted on civilians, then appear not as regrettable exceptions but as an expected corollary of the premise of unjust and unrestrained violence.

There is no such thing as a "just war", any more than there is such a thing as a "just gang war" or a "just mafia hit". The main difference between the two scenarios is that government commands the monopoly of force as well as virtually unlimited material resources (through taxation), and its existence is not predicated on the existence of specific laws, and thus it is infinitely more dangerous.

As the history of the 20th century has taught us, war does not have to be physical. The relatively novel idea of perpetual war has provided tremendous impetus for state growth without the need for messy conflict. Thus were born the Cold War, the War on Drugs, the War on Poverty, the War on Terror, and all sorts of other wars that are fought by diverting more and more resources into useless government institutions build for that sole purpose, and inevitably only exacerbate the very problems they were supposedly set up to solve.

Why does the concept of war command so much inherent support ? War is a popular film topic because it evokes primal emotions : nationalism, violence and xenophobia. On a more intellectual level, the importance of war demands a total commitment. People accept horrible restrictions on their freedom in wartime that they would reject at any other time. So war is a perfect device to put people in a constant mindset of obedience.


Aaron Kinney said...

I am very interested in perpetual wars. They are strange since instead of declaring war against a nation or group of people, a perpetual war is usually waged against an idea or symbol, such as terrorism or drugs or poverty.

I think there is another perpetual war being waged in North America that you didnt mention. Its the war on reality and its being waged by the Christian right.

BlackSun said...

Humans are warlike beings, which is simply natural evolutionary competition being filtered through brains that strategize, deceive, plan, and jockey for advantage.

That being said, I agree with you that a state of war is one of the easiest ways for demagogues to get people to unite and support all manner of foolishness; by providing a common enemy.

For most of human history, people have lived in mortal fear. Security is one of the most elusive and hence valuable commodities in the world. People will do almost anything for it, even if it is only feeding their perception of it--i.e. peace of mind.

So I'm not sure that there's a lot of hope for changing this state of affairs. But of course we can keep discussing, blogging, educating and trying.

One more thing: institutionalized injustice is equally immoral as war. War has been used effectively to end many injustices in the world, such as slavery, dictatorship, communism, genocide, etc. If there are any just wars, they would be of this type.

Aaron, re: the war on reality--it's the most insidious of all.