by Robert Wrubel
(Swans - December 5, 2005) America has fought frequent wars, but only one major one on its own soil. Perhaps that is why it is relatively easy for Americans to approve of war: we have not had to face war's reality up close. Wars of the future will be even more impersonal, as soldiers on the ground are replaced with robot fighters and missiles launched from space. We have already had one war in which, it is boasted, not one American was killed. This is not really war at all; it is discipline of civilian populations with lethal force.
America's wars of the last thirty years have been almost diversionary wars, spectacles intended to distract, demonstrations of power. Little has been risked in them, and the people have been hardly required to think about them at all. Yet they have had real consequences, not just for the victims of them, but for Americans as well. The government makes every effort to cloak the motives and effects of war in lofty rhetoric, but the realities of our behavior in war migrate home and lodge in our psyches. Here are some of the reasons why we should not go to war, in case someone has missed them:
1) War undermines law and security. To launch the war on Iraq, we had to defy international law, the United Nations, and our allies in Europe. We compromised fundamental ethical principles, like the prohibitions against preventive war and torture, and destroyed trust, the real glue that holds people and nations together. War denies the legitimacy of law by making it contingent on our convenience.
2) War is immoral. Whatever ends we say we are serving by going to war, they are never worth the means of achieving them. We fought the war in South Vietnam to "save" it from the North. The cost to the South was several million lives and devastation of its countryside. The same is happening in Iraq. For the futile dream of democracy, or a lie, we have destroyed the country and killed over 100,000 people.
3) War promotes government over people. Governments lie in order to get the public to support the war. Under threat of external enemies, citizens yield all decision-making and thinking power to the state. Democracy, liberty, common sense are suspended for the sake of "security." The war is going the way the government says it is. Any questioning is said to "give aid and comfort to the enemy."
4) War elevates military over civilian power. The principal guarantee of our democracy is separation of power. During war, the balance of power shifts to the executive branch, where the military is the dominant voice. Military budgets are approved automatically. Military needs supersede laws. Military success is the standard by which all outcomes are judged. The president underscores his leadership by becoming "commander in chief." This is considered to be the highest form of leadership.
5) War breeds totalitarianism. All social needs become secondary to conducting the war. All realities are secondary. News and commentary fall in line with government views. Fear and conformity replaces thought. Opposition parties join with the party in power, for fear of being seen as unpatriotic or soft. The moral life of the nation shrinks to just two virtues: concern for "our troops" and willingness to sacrifice.
6) War is profitable. This alone is reason to be skeptical of any official reason for war. The war in Iraq is a war of preference, promoted by a small clique in the White House with close ties to the oil, defense, and construction industries (as former executives, board members, large stockholders). As 2,100 Americans and more than 100,000 Iraqis have lost their lives, and Americans have sacrificed schools, health, and retirement to pay for the war, the share values of Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Exxon-Mobil, Halliburton, and Bechtel, and numerous private companies started simply to take advantage of the war, rise astronomically as profits pour in, whether we achieve our goals in Iraq or not.
7) War diminishes our personal humanity. The prison guards at Abu Ghraib are only the leading edge of barbarity entering our consciousness from Iraq. Marine snipers in Fallujah joke about bringing down Iraqis with a single shot, then watching them writhe and scream before delivering the coup de grace. Indiscriminate bombing of civilians and their homes has once again been elevated as the principal means of conducting war. There is no way to conduct war without dehumanizing ourselves. The worst level of dehumanizing is to hire someone else to do our killing for us, as we have in Iraq. Private contractors are mercenaries, illegal under international law.
8) War is the response of fearful people to the mysteries of life. War exposes what Freud meant by the death wish -- the desire to put an end to life, ours or others, rather than experience the pain of growth, separation, desire, and community. War is the cry of infantile rage at the difficulties of life. War is giving up. For those defeated by life, "war is a force that gives us meaning." * We should not let those who are afraid of life have power over ours.
* Title of the book by Chris Hedges