Is War Ever an Answer?
March 24, 2016
Kristin Christman / The Albany Times Union
Commentary: "It's swell that presidential candidates assert they wouldn't have invaded Iraq had they been president in 2003 with the information they have now. But candidates should display not only hindsight but foresight: How will they react to future unverified information about foreign threats? Why would war even be an option?"
Is War Ever an Answer?
Presidential candidates would do well to consider criteria in potential conflict
Kristin Christman / The Albany Times Union
It's swell that presidential candidates assert they wouldn't have invaded Iraq had they been president in 2003 with the information they have now.
But candidates should display not only hindsight but foresight: How will they react to future unverified information about foreign threats? Why would war even be an option?
It's hard to imagine, much less recall, a war that satisfies traditional or updated requirements of a "Just War". Many consider the phrase an oxymoron. Yet if war is not just, how can it advance humankind?
One traditional Just War requirement is noble intention. But it's easy to hide behind one noble goal as a cloaking pretense for war. To remove loopholes from Just War criteria, let's also require the absence of ignoble intentions. After all, while ignoble intentions may require war, noble goals likely may not.
Which presidential candidates -- and not just Democrats and Republicans but Greens and others -- could ensure that weapons, oil, and construction corporations will not profit from war? That war will not be pushed to secure pipelines, military bases, and private military contracts? That Holy War will not be successfully peddled by Christian and Jewish extremists eager to jump-start Armageddon?
A second ignored requirement of Just War is that non-combatants be spared from harm.
How do candidates plan to meet this standard? Doesn't the massive killing power of modern weapons render them unable to discriminate between combatants, non-combatants, innocent, and guilty?
On what basis do candidates believe guilt should be determined? Is an Iraqi guilty if he raises a gun when fearful of an American soldier invading his home? Or is the American guilty? If American serial killers receive trials, why are foreigners obliterated?
A third requirement is likelihood of success in achieving noble goals, including peace, love, joy, trust, health, and justice. But how can war nurture any of these when communities are pulverized, violence is role-modeled, and underlying causes of conflict are ignored?
Consider 9/11. Terrorists are not homogeneous, and their motivations range from aggressive to defensive. Motivations include sadism, low empathy, domination preoccupations, black-and-white thinking, underdog biases, hostile interpretations of Islam, boredom, and beliefs in killing's usefulness.
They include resentment over Western hatred, anti-Muslim prejudice, anti-Islamist repression, foreign political interference, Westernization, secularism, urbanization, social alienation, unemployment, and capitalism's callousness towards poverty.
And they include compassionate rage over suffering from Israeli cruelty towards Palestinians, the Persian Gulf War and sanctions, US invasions, US military bases abroad, genuine fear of Western-Zionist crusading domination, and baseless arrests, torture, and execution of thousands under dictators, often financed and armed by the US.
Candidates: Which motivations were remedied by US violence in the Mideast? Which were aggravated?
A fourth criterion is that benefits from war outweigh costs. Will candidates include the costs to the troops for suicide, homicide, injury, PTSD, drugs, and domestic abuse? The costs for their long-term care?
The costs to fund a war and forego bridge and railroad repair, food and water inspection, hiring nurses and teachers, subsidizing solar energy, natural disaster preparation, and tax reduction? The costs suffered by enemies, or don't they matter?
Updated Just War criteria should require that war's benefit/cost ratio is not only positive, but is greater than the ratio of any other combination of alternatives, including dialogue, cooperative problem-solving, negotiation, mediation, and arbitration. Which candidates will make these calculations?
Updated criteria should require war to adhere to a Clean Air, Water, and Land Act in War and to protect non-human species' lives and habitats. Does war have some divine right to contaminate Earth and unleash all that is negative?
And energy criteria? If civilians can't use traditional light bulbs because they waste energy by emitting more heat than light, why can presidents squander energy on weapons that emit only destruction?
Which candidates will place caps on fuel usage in war? Who will ensure war isn't fought for wealth and oil to fund and fuel future wars for wealth and oil?
A final neglected Just War criterion: War can be used only as a last resort. 21st century candidates must describe the spectrum of non-violent solutions they'll pursue. Will options surpass the hostile mantra of sanctions, asset freezes, political isolation, and weapons sales? Will candidates actually match roots of violence with practical solutions? Will they seek advice from experts on peace rather than war?
ISIS atrocities are not a problem to ISIS, nuclear weapon ownership isn't a problem to North Korea and Israel, and terrorism isn't a problem for terrorists. For them, these are solutions to other problems. For the US, revitalizing nuclear arsenals, invading nations, torturing prisoners, and collecting phone data aren't problems: They're solutions to other problems.
Who will ask: What are these problems? How can we resolve them kindly and cooperatively?
Problems provoking violence are not excuses for violence, but they are solid topics for cooperative, problem-solving dialogue. So where's the dialogue? Where's that precious freedom of speech when we need it? Or is it reserved for insulting prophets?
Compare American reactions to the Mideast and to Ferguson, Mo. Are police and communities requesting weapons for Ferguson? Or are they calling for better relations based upon understanding and caring? For body cameras, de-militarized police, restraint in the use of force, improved training, fair trials, economic and social help, prejudice reduction, friendship, and dialogue?
Is that approach too good for the international community?
Kristin Christman is author of The Taxonomy of Peace and "Mother's Day."
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