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On The New American Militarism - How Americans Are Seduced By War
February 21, 2005 3:05 PM   Subscribe

The argument I make in my book is that what I describe as the new American militarism arises as an unintended consequence of the reaction to the Vietnam War and more broadly, to the sixties... If some people think that the sixties constituted a revolution, that revolution produced a counterrevolution, launched by a variety of groups that had one thing in common: they saw revival of American military power, institutions, and values as the antidote to everything that in their minds had gone wrong. None of these groups — the neoconservatives, large numbers of Protestant evangelicals, politicians like Ronald Reagan, the so-called defense intellectuals, and the officer corps — set out saying, “Militarism is a good idea.” But I argue that this is what we’ve ended up with: a sense of what military power can do, a sort of deference to the military, and an attribution of virtue to the men and women who serve in uniform. Together this constitutes such a pernicious and distorted attitude toward military affairs that it qualifies as militarism.
An interview with Andrew Bacevich, international relations professor and former Army colonel, and author of The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War--and here is a review. Recently by Bacevich: We Aren't Fighting to Win Anymore - U.S. troops in Iraq are only trying to buy time.
posted by y2karl (37 comments total)

 
Great article! Thanks.
posted by tkchrist at 3:09 PM on February 21, 2005


It is a marriage of militarism and utopian ideology--of unprecedented military might wed to a blind faith in the universality of American values.

Dead on target.

The argument I make in my book is that what I describe as the new American militarism arises as an unintended consequence of the reaction to the Vietnam War and more broadly, to the sixties... If some people think that the sixties constituted a revolution, that revolution produced a counterrevolution, launched by a variety of groups that had one thing in common: they saw revival of American military power, institutions, and values as the antidote to everything that in their minds had gone wrong.

And as is common in reactionary movements they tended to wards overcorrection rahter than compromise.

Interesting reading, karl. Thanks.
posted by jonmc at 3:13 PM on February 21, 2005


fighting wmds, smoking guns that become mushroom clouds, to liberate the Iraqis , for freedom and democracy, to relieve itself of responsibility for waging a war that it began but cannot finish. and to extricate ourselves before our overstretched forces suffer irreparable damage.
posted by amberglow at 3:37 PM on February 21, 2005


The development of the officer corps in the post-Vietnam era is a truly fascinating story.

On the one hand, officers have developed an intellectual apparatus which is aggressive in its disdain for received wisdom -- full of challenge, absolutely open to provocative books and articles, and so forth. It seems like every other flight or train I take to or from DC I have a 20- or 30-something officer sitting next to me, and I've been consistently amazed with the degree of sophistication and depth of insight I get when I chat them.

On the other hand, the officer corps has become profoundly unbalanced. It is heavily, and consciously, Republican and "Red State", and increasingly full of quite highly religious people, mostly Evangelicals but also some Catholics. Some of my younger seat-mates have implied to me pretty strongly than they viewed their time in service as missionary time, and that this was not an uncommon idea for young lieutenants.

This is also a consequence of the post-Vietnam era, which simply erased military service from the list of post-college career options which would occur to any liberal, and all but very few people in the elite "blue state" schools regardless of their politics. I don't think that the military particularly sought (or even currently seeks) the imbalance or the explicit political-religious identity -- it simply filled up the vaccuum that was created when people with other inclinations stopped persuing commissions in any substantial number.
posted by MattD at 3:43 PM on February 21, 2005


> None of these groups — the neoconservatives, large numbers of Protestant
> evangelicals, politicians like Ronald Reagan, the so-called defense intellectuals,
> and the officer corps — set out saying, “Militarism is a good idea.”

If it's really true that none of these groups has said it then let me be the first. Militarism is a good idea.
posted by jfuller at 3:49 PM on February 21, 2005


Care to back that up with anything besides your good looks and boyish charm, jfuller.

Your definition of "militarism," would be a good start, just to make sure you don't think it simply means "willing to defend one's self."
posted by jonmc at 3:52 PM on February 21, 2005


For other critics, militarism is a synonym for Bushism — that the problem is this president and his militaristic, unilateralist tendencies and the sort of arrogance and excessive ambitions that he manifests.

My argument is that the phenomenon cannot be attributed to one president or one party or one particular group. It is far more widely based, and quite frankly, it’s something in which we are all implicated. And therefore you don’t fix the problem by voting a president out of office, or by saying, “I’m not a Republican; I’m a Democrat.”


Andrew Bacevich is a welcome voice to the conversation more Americans should be having.
posted by recurve at 4:04 PM on February 21, 2005


Excellent link, thanks.
posted by lobstah at 4:25 PM on February 21, 2005


Very interesting MattD, and thought provoking. Sort of goes with the adage that if you want a job done your way, you have to do it yourself.
posted by semmi at 4:32 PM on February 21, 2005


It's interesting but can't one apply it to Persians (the ancient variety and their antecedents), the Brits after 1815, the French before 1815, the Romans, etc. ? When one society/economy/culture (or some combination thereof) becomes dominant does not the values system or ideology of that society also become dominant? And I think that we can trace the advent of modern war (war not to win but to delay, influence, halt, persuade, etc. rather than win) to Korea - and MacArthur could not accept it, as many servicemen and women since have found it difficult to do.
posted by Oyster at 5:00 PM on February 21, 2005


Please explain how militarism is good. If you say "I am bigger than you and if you disagree with me I will punch you in the nose" (or whatever the military equivalent might be) then I think we might have a disagreement brewing. If on the other hand you say "I have something good here and if you try to take it from me I will punch you in the nose," then perhaps we can talk. Where are you? I fear from the tenor of your comment that you actually have no position, rational or otherwise, except to piss off as many people as you can with a trollish statement. What is it jf, man or troll?
posted by caddis at 5:12 PM on February 21, 2005


Obviously a lot of US militarism comes from the fact that not since the US civil war have battles been fought within US borders (and no I'm not counting 9/11, since that was no battle.)

The arrogance of the militarists in the US is much like the arrogance of the militarists within Europe before the world wars. Nothing like a few decades of war-torn wretchedness to change one's mind about what a great thing militarism may or may not be.

US militarists seem quite confident that wars are something that one travels half-way around the glove to dispense to an unruly "other" after which one flies far-away home to a grateful nation.

But suppose that war follows one home?
posted by telstar at 5:25 PM on February 21, 2005


The collapse of the Roman republic in 27 BC has significance today for the United States, which took many of its key political principles from its ancient predecessor. Separation of powers, checks and balances, government in accordance with constitutional law, a toleration of slavery, fixed terms in office, all these ideas were influenced by Roman precedents. John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams often read and spoke of Cicero as an inspiration to them. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, writing in the Federalist Papers in favor of ratification of the Constitution, signed their article with the name Publius Valerius Publicola, the first consul of the Roman republic.

The Roman republic, however, failed to adjust to the unintended consequences of its imperialism, leading to a drastic alteration in its form of government. The militarism that inescapably accompanied Rome's imperial projects slowly undermined its constitution as well as the very considerable political and human rights its citizens enjoyed. The American republic, of course, has not yet collapsed; it is just under considerable strain as the imperial presidency -- and its supporting military legions -- undermine congress and the courts. However, the Roman outcome -- turning over power to an autocracy backed by military force and welcomed by ordinary citizens because it seemed to bring stability -- suggests what might happen after Bush and his neoconservatives are thrown out of office.

Obviously, there is nothing deterministic about this progression, and many prominent Romans, notably Brutus and Cicero, paid with their lives trying to head it off. But there is something utterly logical about it. Republican checks and balances are simply incompatible with the maintenance of a large empire and a huge standing army. Democratic nations sometimes acquire empires, which they are reluctant to give up because they are a source of wealth and national pride, but as a result their domestic liberties are thereby put at risk.

These not-particularly-original comparisons are inspired by the current situation of the United States, with its empire of well over 725 military bases located in other people's countries, its huge and expensive military establishment demanding ever more pay and ever larger appropriations from a supine and manipulated legislature, unsolved anthrax attacks on senators and newsmen (much like Rome's perennial assassinations), Congress's gutting of the Bill of Rights through the panicky passage of the Patriot Act -- by votes of 76-1 in the Senate and 337 to 79 in the House -- and numerous signs that the public is indifferent to what it is about to lose. Many current aspects of our American government suggest a Roman-like fatigue with republican proprieties. After congress voted in October 2002 to give the president unrestricted power to use any means, including military force and nuclear weapons, in a preventive strike against Iraq whenever he -- and he alone -- deemed it "appropriate," it would be hard to argue that the constitution of 1787 was still the supreme law of the land.


The Scourge of Militarism
posted by y2karl at 5:59 PM on February 21, 2005


Militarism

This term refers both to beliefs and patterns of behavior thought specific to the military, and more commonly to extreme influence or paramountcy in society of military ideas and organizations. Difficult to define precisely, the word appeared in English by the 1860s and acquired currency during the nineteenth century, as war itself was being transformed.

For analysts, the basic question has been whether militarism should be interpreted as a remnant of the past (for example, in the much-studied case of Germany, as fundamentally a legacy of Prussia) or instead as something distinctly modern, associated with industrialization or the rise of capitalism.

...the growing consensus today that militarism is a product of breakdowns of civilian rule, or failure of such rule to be firmly established. Such an approach was taken in China by the Columbia-trained philosopher Hu Shih and others who blamed warlordism on the failures of civilian politicians rather than on the military directly; in the West, it finds an echo in the work of the military historian Alfred Vagts, who contrasted militarism not with pacifism, but with genuine civilian control.


Reader's Companion to Military History
posted by y2karl at 6:13 PM on February 21, 2005




This is interesting, but I don't think it goes anywhere.

He's right: the current administration isn't the problem. Whether it would've been right or wrong to do so, it's pretty clear to me that we would've invaded Iraq if Gore was president, or even if Clinton was president. The current problem hinges on the fact that we haven't collectively faced Vietnam, although I think we haven't really faced WW2, either. But our agreement sort of ends there.

A lot of people think about Vietnam like this:

--Because of our paranoic fear of communism, we travelled across the globe to prevent a tiny nation from choosing to become communist. However, this was more difficult than we thought it was, and, against a nation of poverty-stricken peasants bent on defending their homeland, we only succeeded in killing a huge number of theirs and ours, finally leaving in disgrace, having helped no one. It's evident, therefore, that war is simply stupid; you have to invade nations to win wars, and, since the desire to defend one's home always outweighs the desire to fight in strange countries on the other side of the globe, invading nations almost never works. Military solutions are not solutions. Add to this the fact that the second world war would not have happened if it were not for the militaristic nature of fascism, and it becomes clear: militarism is the greatest evil on the face of the earth today, and avoiding it the goal of free peoples everywhere.--

Unfortunately, as understandable as it is, I think this line of reasoning is flawed. Communism really was a threat, whether or not we should've entered Vietnam. Vietnam was not a battle between a large nation and a band of natives, but a battle between two large nations in which the natives of the battleground were caught. Vietnam was worse after we left than it was before we left, and leaving was a horrible thing for us to do morally; several human-rights activists from Vietnam who had called for the US to withdraw escaped, against all odds, from Vietnam after the war to ask the US to return, only to be spat upon by a nation too guilt-stricken and muddled to consider its own duties.

Military action is sometimes good, and sometimes bad. We should encourage a respect and a fear for it. Conservatives of today are certainly guilty of being confused on this. However, Mr. Bacevich is wrong in assuming that the neoconservative agenda calls for "global war." The neoconservative agenda calls for bringing the middle east over to democracy by freeing them from tyranny. It looks at it like this: if we had ignored the tyranny that Germany faced, then all of our lives would've been in danger; we ignore the tyranny that the rest of the world faces today at our own peril.

I find this argument convincing. Out of Mr. Bacevich's work here, the last article in particular, the one about "fighting to buy time," seems to me especially misled; no one, as he says, is saying that we're "buying time;" how does he know we are? Some subtle changes in Republican rhetoric? I expected the war to be this difficult and drawn-out; no one who had foresight could've expected much different, especially with what's been going on in Israel for the last fifty years. But that doesn't make it wrong, and it doesn't mean Iraq won't work out well.

On preview: y2karl, of the links you post on militarism, the best is the second one, the "reader's companion," although it trails off near the end in the bit you quoted, IMO. Militarism, as I see it, is: "the attaching of nobility or honor to military involvement." And, as military action is sometimes necessary for every nation's survival, a bit of militarism is healthy.
posted by koeselitz at 6:47 PM on February 21, 2005


The judge smiled. Men are born for games. Nothing else. Every child knows that play is nobler than work. He knows too that the worth or merit of a game is not inherent in the game itself but rather in the value of that which is put at hazard. Games of chance require a wager to have meaning at all. Games of sport involve the skill and strength of the opponents and the humiliation of defeat and the pride of victory are in themselves sufficient stake because they inhere in the worth of the principals and define them. But trial of chance or trial of worth all games aspire to the condition of war for here that which is wagered swallows up game, player, all.
Suppose two men at cards with nothing to wager save their lives. Who has not heard such a tale? A turn of the card. The whole universe for such a player has labored clanking to this moment which will tell if he is to die at that man's hand or that man at his. What more certain validation of a man's worth could there be? This enhancement of the game to its ultimate state admits no argument concerning the notion of fate. The selection of one man over another is a preference absolute and irrevocable and it is a dull man indeed who would reckon so profound a decision without agency or significance either one. In such games as have for their stake the annihilation of the defeated the decisions are quite clear. This man holding this particular arrangement of cards in his hand is thereby removed from existence. This is the nature of war, whose stake is at once the game and the authority and the justification. Seen so, war is the truest form of divination. It is the testing of one's will and the will of another within that larger will which because it binds them is therefore forced to select. War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence. War is god.
--Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West

It seemed fitting.
posted by john at 6:52 PM on February 21, 2005


I was reading the MIM thread and the Fallout review, which contained a link to their essay, What is militarism?.

So ends this chapter in connect-the-posts.
posted by john at 7:11 PM on February 21, 2005


it's pretty clear to me that we would've invaded Iraq if Gore was president, or even if Clinton was president.

Bullshit. And you know it. Show me a statement, a policy paper from a Democratic-leaning thinktank, anything (except your own imagination), which would indicate that either of these men would have followed the same course we're on now. Because if you can't back up the statement, your entire argument (and by extension what little credibility you bring to your Vietnam analysis) collapses. You said it. Now prove it.

I'm not trying to be an ass, Koeselitz, but this sort of revisionist rhetoric (aimed at demonstrating the supposed historic inevitability of our current Iraq adventure) seems to me to be fundamentally dishonest in its implication that there existed no alternatives to invading and occupying the country--an implication that many here (and a fair majority worldwide) know to be untrue.
posted by Chrischris at 7:25 PM on February 21, 2005


ChrisChris: "Bullshit. And you know it. Show me a statement, a policy paper from a Democratic-leaning thinktank, anything (except your own imagination), which would indicate that either of these men would have followed the same course we're on now. Because if you can't back up the statement, your entire argument (and by extension what little credibility you bring to your Vietnam analysis) collapses. You said it. Now prove it."

I haven't read Mr. Bacevich's book, but maybe you should. I guess he addresses this:

[From the first link:] "My argument is that the phenomenon cannot be attributed to one president or one party or one particular group. It is far more widely based, and quite frankly, it’s something in which we are all implicated. We — you or me — may not be evangelical Christians or neoconservatives or members of the officer corps, but a clear majority of us have basically signed on to these attitudes and expectations. And therefore you don’t fix the problem by voting a president out of office, or by saying, 'I’m not a Republican; I’m a Democrat.' I think you fix the problem by engaging in some real self-examination and beginning to rethink as a people our expectations of military power. Not because we’re going to become a bunch of pacifists — that’s not the world we live in — but perhaps because we can come to a set of expectations that are more balanced, more in harmony with our own democratic institutions."

I'm not trying to prove that the "current adventure" was "inevitable." I just think Andrew Bacevich is right on this, as I said; and one can believe, along with him, that this means that we have to change the direction of American thought rather than simply elect somebody different. Even if you don't think that we would've invaded Iraq (we'd been bombing them on and off for ten years, remember?) there was almost unanimous support, in Congress at least, for the Afghan invasion, and strong support in Congress for Iraq. Whether we like it or not, the United States is, as he says, swinging a certain way: it's swinging away from the hopes and dreams of the 60's peace movement. A lot of people-- that is, liberals-- are really worried about that, and I can understand why. I only think they're worried about the wrong things.
posted by koeselitz at 7:46 PM on February 21, 2005


we'd been bombing them on and off for ten years, remember? The bombings were actions taken to maintain an internationally supported policy of "containment," not as some prelude to invasion and regime change.
there was almost unanimous support, in Congress at least, for the Afghan invasion
Unanimous only after it was determined that the Taliban was harboring and shielding Al Quaeda; pre 9/11, there was neither a majority nor even a large minority in Congress who seriously entertained regime change in Afghanistan.

You are using ex post facto arguments to justify policy decisions which were quite specifically the product of topical (Afganistan) and ideological (Iraq) political vectors; that Bacevich's militarism was convenient in getting those decisions enacted was--for the policy-makers--merely a happy coincidence. So lets not conflate some semi-theoretical notion of creeping Militarism (much as I'm willing to agree with Bacevich) with the Bush Adminstration's policy decisions.

A lot of people-- that is, liberals-- are really worried about that, and I can understand why. I only think they're worried about the wrong things
And, precisely, what are those "wrong things" (in your opinion) they are worried about?
posted by Chrischris at 8:32 PM on February 21, 2005


Not man.
posted by caddis at 8:38 PM on February 21, 2005


"The argument I make in my book is that what I describe as the new American militarism arises as an unintended consequence of the reaction to the Vietnam War and more broadly, to the sixties..." - There are an almost infinite number of underlying psychological dynamics : this book decribes one major stream. But it won't direct you towards the center of the pathology.




posted by troutfishing at 9:42 PM on February 21, 2005


koeselitz: You're an idiot.

I mean, honestly. You think destroying our nation, letting our young men and women (well, mostly young men) be slaughtered to maintain the status quo in some pissant country on the other side of the planet?

If you really think an economic system is more evil then letting hundreds of thousands of people die then you have no sense of morality or ethics whatsoever.
posted by delmoi at 10:16 PM on February 21, 2005


Would gore have invaded Iraq?

Well, we'll never know. Kerry said that he would also have invaded iraq, but Kerry is a flip flopper, and was probably saying that only because he felt it was a politically expedient.

Kerry, much more so then gore is at his heart a war-hater. I think that after 9/11 Iraq could have been considered a bigger problem. And both Kerry or Gore might leaned on Saddam to allow weapons inspectors into the nation. If he didn't capitulate, then they would have invaded.

But here's the key fact that would have prevented Kerry or Gore from going in. Saddam did capitulate, and allow inspectors on. As we all know now, there were no WMDs in Iraq. The inspectors were allowed to go about their work with only minor interference, so what would be the reason for Gore to go to war?

Indeed, what was the reason that Bush went to war? Inspectors were there, on the ground, doing there jobs. Bush went to war with Iraq because he and his Neocon staff lusted after war, and after the conquest of Iraq. This is the only true reason, and in the end it's the only real reason that there ever was.
posted by delmoi at 10:36 PM on February 21, 2005


delmoi if you are talking about Vietnam then you mean between one and two million dead (Vietnamese) people.
posted by dopeypanda at 10:55 PM on February 21, 2005


Interesting article and discussion. From another continent, you guys certainly pretty militaristic to me.

Had Gore won, I'm sure there would have been the Afghan invasion, and maybe a wider conflict against militant Islamicism. However, the Iraq misadventure was purely an idealogical piece of opportunism by Bush and his neocon buddies.
posted by salmacis at 12:54 AM on February 22, 2005


Not that it has anything to do with the article, but Col Bacevich was responsible for destroying more American equipment than the Iraqi's did back in Desert Storm. His last command was the 11th ACR, and while deployed to Doha, Kuwait, they blew up their own motor pool.

He retired not too long after this incident. It was speculated that had it not been for that unfortunate accident, he'd have made General.
posted by Jart at 7:06 AM on February 22, 2005


it's pretty clear to me that we would've invaded Iraq if Gore was president, or even if Clinton was president

That's ridiculous. Since Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, which presumably would have happened on anyone's watch, it required the insane get-Saddam fixation of Bush & Co. to turn that tragedy into an excuse to send American troops in the wrong direction (leaving Osama & Co. to laugh and plan future attacks).

You also have a comic-book understanding of Vietnam. "Vietnam was not a battle between a large nation and a band of natives, but a battle between two large nations in which the natives of the battleground were caught." Do you think this is some kind of special insight? This is the standard right-wing line of the '50s and '60s; it's why we went into Vietnam in the first place. Vietnam wasn't just a struggling little Southeast Asian country of no conceivable strategic importance to the US; oh no, it was the next frontier of global Communism, Vietnam was just a puppet of the evil Russkies, and if we let the Commies succeed there, it would be Thailand next, and then Indonesia, then all of Asia would be Communist, and then they'd come for our daughters!

So tell me, if Vietnam was just a catspaw for Russia, why didn't Stalin recognize Ho (who, in case you didn't know, cooperated with the US during WWII and was trying to gain US support) when he declared independence in 1945? Neither Stalin nor Mao recognized Ho's government until 1950. It is perfectly clear to anyone who knows anything about Ho or Vietnam (which had been struggling for independence for a thousand years, first from the Chinese and then from the French) that Vietnam would have resisted occupation, whether French or American, no matter who was providing logistical support. Yes, there were a lot of Vietnamese who opposed Ho and Communism and would have preferred the US to stay. There were also a lot who supported Ho and would have preferred any local ruler over foreign domination. That's not the point. The point is we were fighting Vietnam, not Russia or China (and need I remind you that as soon as the Vietnamese got rid of us, they went to war against China?), and there was no reason for it except Cold War paranoia. America got over 50,000 of its own troops killed and god knows how many Vietnamese for no good reason whatever -- just as it's now doing in Iraq.

If you want to actually learn something about Vietnam, I suggest you start with Neil Jamieson's Understanding Vietnam. But you probably prefer to keep your Henry Luce version of history.
posted by languagehat at 7:42 AM on February 22, 2005


Look, all, whether Gore or Clinton or George Washington would've invaded Iraq isn't the point. Kerry says that he would've; I took him at his word, but I'm probably making a mistake. This is partisan crap, and I don't care about it. The point is, as this fellow is saying, that this is larger than one candidate or even one party. Our society is moving in a certain direction. I feel as though we're missing that in the partisan squabbles.

delmoi: okay, maybe I'm an idiot. But you didn't read me right if you think I said that 'economic systems are more important than life,' or that going to war in Vietnam was a good idea. It damned well wasn't. Going in was the wrong thing to do. But leaving was worse than stupid, at least leaving it in the condition we left it in. By then, we owed it to the Vietnamese people to win.

(Also, communism isn't an economic system. It's enduring revolution and dictatorship aimed at bringing about a global economic system. There's a vast difference. Economic systems, at the very worst, starve off a lot of people, which is, of course, not good; but communism managed to kill more people in the last century than Hitler ever did, under the guise of "dictatorship of the proletariat" and "revolution.")

languagehat: So you believe that communism provided absolutely no military threat, and that we were "paranoid" to believe that it did? Do you deny that communism was at least somewhat involved in the war? I don't doubt that the Vietnamese people were caught unjustly in the war, or that they were fighting, in their own eyes, for independance. But unfortunately no nation is isolated anymore, and they were part of something larger. If it was wrong to invade Vietnam, something else had to be done. Fighting communism was the first priority of free societies in the middle of the 20th century. How many millions did Mao and Stalin kill? Also, what happened in Vietnam after we left?
posted by koeselitz at 9:05 AM on February 22, 2005


What is also dismaying is the way in which the administration has taken every opportunity since Sept. 11, 2001, to utilize the lofty language of freedom, democracy and the rule of law while secretly pursuing policies that are both unjust and profoundly inhumane. It is the policy of the U.S. to deny due process of law to detainees at the scandalous interrogation camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where prisoners, many of whom have turned out to be innocent, are routinely treated in a cruel and degrading manner.

The U.S. is also engaged in the reprehensible practice known as extraordinary rendition, in which terror suspects are abducted and sent off to be interrogated by foreign regimes that are known to practice torture. And the C.I.A. is operating ultrasecret prisons or detention centers overseas for so-called high-value detainees. What goes on in those places is anybody's guess.

It may be that most Americans would prefer not to know about these practices, which are nothing less than malignant cells that are already spreading in the nation's soul. Denial is often the first response to the most painful realities. But most Americans also know what happens when a cancer is ignored.

     Iraq, Then and Now
     By Bob Herbert
     The New York Times
     Monday 21 February 2005



This article demonstrates that the use of military force by the Bush Administration against the regime of Saddam Hussein does not meet the ethical criteria for “preemptive war” set forth in the classical Just War tradition. It considers ethical questions raised by the US-led attack against Iraq as part of the war against global terrorism and argues that the doctrine of preemptive war as applied in the case of Iraq fails crucial ethical tests...

This article applies the classic categories of Just War tradition to the doctrine of preemption as advanced by the current Administration in the justification for Operation Iraqi Freedom. It does not address the range of other explanations for and postures toward war outside the Just War tradition. Specifically, it does not develop details of three other major ways to think about war:

     Realism, the belief that war is essentially a matter of power, self-interest, and necessity, largely making moral analysis irrelevant.

     Holy War, the belief that war is an instrument of divine power and that individuals, groups, or nations apply decisions about violence to coerce or destroy those opposing divine will.

     Pacifism, the belief that all war is intrinsically evil and can never be justified.

The article begins with a summary of the national security debate as expressed in the buildup to war against Iraq, including the views of policy experts and decisionmakers, ethicists and academics. Second, it considers Just War ethical frameworks and definitions for two facets of warfare: justice in going to war (jus ad bellum) and justice in the conduct of war (jus in bello), focusing on the six criteria of jus ad bellum. In its attack on Iraq, the Bush Administration redefined criteria for preemptive and preventive war that do not satisfy the criteria established in the classical Just War tradition and may signal development of an emerging ethic.


     Preemption and Just War: Considering the Case of Iraq
     Franklin Eric Wester
     Parameters, Winter 2004-05

posted by y2karl at 9:06 AM on February 22, 2005


Also, what happened in Vietnam after we left?

Nothing like the genocide conducted in Indonesia in 1965, under the guise of anti-communism, which happened with our blessing.

During the period 1965-69, and especially during 1965-66, a series of mass murders took place in Indonesia which led to the institution in power of President Suharto and the opening up of the country to Western capitalism. Possibly more than a million people were slaughtered. In the documentary film on globalisation by John Pilger, "The New Rulers of the World" (2001 - screened on TV1, 10/10/01), there are scenes of some of the relatives of the victims of the massacres secretly exhuming the bones of their loved ones. As Pilger notes, evidence has increasingly come to light of the murderous role that the US and British governments performed both in initiating and in helping perpetrate the killings, and in the creation of the long reign of terror that ensued. The full story amounts to a remarkable and chilling record of capitalist genocide, cover-up, and subsequent foundation of a model which was then widely applied elsewhere in the Third World to eliminate the enemies of the West and ensure future profits. To a quite considerable extent, the new rulers of the world built capitalist success on the Indonesian genocide, and the platform it served for globalising Indonesia and the rest of the planet.
posted by y2karl at 9:12 AM on February 22, 2005


When it comes to Southeast Asian genocidal campaigns waged by our 'free society' military clients at our 'free society' behest and with our 'free society' support, we're right up there with Khmer Rouge.
posted by y2karl at 9:19 AM on February 22, 2005


koselitz, on the off chance you're still checking this thread, I'll say that I do agree with you; that rather than re-arguing the necessity of the Iraq war, or even Vietnam, Bacevich's book is about the direction in which society is moving.

Here is why I think it is a profoundly dangerous direction:

Though we here at home may prefer to believe that the war in Iraq and the wars inevitably to come are about "freeing people from tyranny," the cold hard fact is that this is merely a side benefit of what we are actually trying to accomplish - that being to provide ourselves with a guaranteed steady flow of oil for a national and global economy that is absolutely dependent upon cheap crude.

Bacevich says this in the BU article; were there no oil in the Middle East, there would not be nor would there have been military entanglements there.

Thus, our goal is ultimately self-serving. And yes, it is accurate to say that most of the people we "liberate" in this quest may live better than they had under the yoke of tyranny. But to claim this as our main objective is just plain dishonest; you know it, I know it. It's political cover; you may convince yourself that this is the reason you support the conflict, but make no mistake, this country is not even in this conflict were it not for the oil beneath Middle Eastern sands.

Yet, convinced of the nobility of our mission, we will continue to press these wars, though we have seen no reduction in the threat radical Islam poses to us as a result of Iraq; that threat, many have concluded, is increased. And so we say that perhaps this is so, but the next war, against Syria or Iran (or North Korea if we decide to go in that direction) will bring us closer to the goal; then the subsequent war will be fought to attain the same goal.

You then find yourself in the position of waging perpetual war for perpetual peace, as Gore Vidal has written; you are trapped in a cycle by which each new military adventure - costing billions of dollars and who knows how many lives - is to make us safer, even when it doesn't.

And none of this is to even tough on the degree to which society itself becomes militarized, the manner in which billions are spent on defense with few to no questions asked.
posted by kgasmart at 9:29 AM on February 22, 2005


So you believe that communism provided absolutely no military threat, and that we were "paranoid" to believe that it did?

Jesus. Where did I say anything remotely resembling that? I pointed out that your excuse for the Vietnam War (that it was "a battle between two large nations" rather than an invasion of a small country that posed no threat to us) was not true. You can either say "Oops, you're right, never mind" or provide some data to back up your position; lying about what I said is not an honorable option.

If it was wrong to invade Vietnam, something else had to be done.

What a stupid sentiment. If it was wrong to invade Vietnam, it was wrong to invade Vietnam. "Well, if shoving that old lady down the stairs was wrong, what should I have done?" And what happened in Vietnam after we left was a walk in the park compared to what happened while we were there, because we were there.
posted by languagehat at 9:39 AM on February 22, 2005


See. This is what I'm talk'n 'bout!
This thread is why I come here.
posted by tkchrist at 10:16 AM on February 22, 2005


kgasmart: I don't believe that we're in Iraq for oil.

My first reason for feeling this way is a simple practical consideration; invading countries in order to plunder their oil is incredibly stupid militarily, especially considering that it means destabilizing an entire region that will be the political fulcrum for the next hundred years. People say that Bush is stupid enough or evil enough to risk his life and everyone else's (and we know that risking world war is risking everyone's life) in order to make some money; I don't buy it. I don't know anybody that stupid or evil. It would be much easier, if one wanted gain from oil, to monopolize the current system rather than rocking the boat through war; and it was already possible to squeeze most of the oil out of Iraq and make money doing it through the "oil-for-food" program.

My second reason is because I've been reading the neoconservatives for a while now, and that's simply the furthest thing from their minds. Whatever their intentions, almost none of them have a stake in the oil business; and they've been advocating this sort of thing for years. Most of them are Jewish intellectuals from New York with big egos and plans for the world; their bases for action are aggrandised notions about "political philosophy and the greater good," not monetary gain. And, I might point out, these are the people who first pushed for the invasion of Afghanistan, and who now talk about the invasion of other countries, none of which have oil.

Finally, even if somebody, somewhere, is only having the neoconservatives argue all these things and making all these "liberation" noises in order to make oil money, the arguments that the neoconservatives make convince me, and they seem to convince those fighting. I think what we're doing is good for the world because it's good for Iraq; you'll have to convince me otherwise before I'll agree that it's wrong.

languagehat: I'm sorry to imply that you deny the threat of communism; but I wasn't "excusing" Vietnam. It's just important, I think, to understand the conditions that led to it; the presidents that brought us there were intelligent people doing what they believed would save lives, and it's necessary to understand they did it in order to stop the spread of tyranny.

tkchrist: "See. This is what I'm talk'n 'bout!
This thread is why I come here."


Heh, yeah. Me too.

posted by koeselitz at 2:34 PM on February 22, 2005


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