Posts from February 2003

A Thought for Presidents’ Day

Today, about 100 people braved temperatures just above freezing to stand for peace at Toomer’s Corners in Auburn.

In honor of the event, here’s a thought for Presidents’ Day: What would the other George W. do?

Observe good faith and justice towards all Nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and Morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it? It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and, at no distant period, a great Nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt, that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages, which might be lost by a steady adherence to it? Can it be, that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a Nation with its Virtue? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?

In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential, than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular Nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The Nation, which indulges towards another an habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The Nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the Government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The Government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times, it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of Nations has been the victim.

–President George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796

War Hawks Fail to Make the Case

Editors, The Plainsman:

In a recent letter to the editor of The Plainsman, Jonathan Melville took a rather odd tack in his support for war against Iraq:

As for the argument that Iraq doesn’t pose a threat to us, this statement is completely irrelevant with respect to whether we wage war.

Mr. Melville may not believe that it is relevant whether the United States is unleashing its deadly military might in an act of self-defense or in an act of unprovoked conquest. This is, however, an odd position to take, and requires some explanation. Unfortunately, nowhere in his letter does Mr. Melville support his claim that the United States can be justified in waging wars based on aggression rather than self-defense. Nor does he provide any principle which he thinks is relevant to whether we wage war.

I would like to propose the following test for whether or not the United States is justified in going to war with Iraq. A war is justified if all of the following conditions are met:

  1. The Iraqi government possesses, or is likely soon to possess, significant weapons of mass destruction.
  2. There is a specific threat that the Iraqi government will use such weapons against citizens of the United States.
  3. There is good reason to believe that a war will substantially remove this threat.
  4. There is good reason to believe that the destruction caused by the war will not be worse than the threat left without a war.
  5. There are no options for removing the threat through less destructive means than war.

Now, neither Jonathan Melville nor myself is a U.N. weapons inspector. Neither of us has any particular access to whether (1) is true or false. As it happens, Hans Blix, who is in charge of chemical and biological weapons inspections, and Mohamed El-Baradei, who is in charge of nuclear weapons inspections explicitly deny that they have discovered anything which should prompt a war against Iraq. Since Mr. Melville claims to know that Iraq does in fact possess banned chemical and biological weapons, and also claims to know that they are about to have nuclear weapons, perhaps he has access to secret intelligence that the U.N. weapons inspectors do not. But he can hardly expect us to take his assertions on blind faith.

But even if (1) turns out to be true, neither the Bush administration, nor Jonathan Melville, has bothered to present any evidence whatsoever for (2)-(4). There is no evidence at all that Saddam Hussein has any more plans to attack the United States now than he did for the past twelve years. Has something changed in that time to transform a broken, beaten, third world country into an imminent threat to the world’s last unchallenged superpower? If something has changed, then the War Party should point it out. But, as far as I can tell, no-one has shown that anything has changed except the belligerence of the ruling party in Washington, DC.

How about (5)? Are there any options other than war? Certainly there are. For example, the United States can step back and let the inspections process continue to work–as Hans Blix and Mohamed El-Baradei have indicated they would be willing and able to do.

Mr. Melville and his fellow epistolator Charlie Vaughan do not present any evidence for believing that (2)-(5) are true. Instead, they both try to use an analogy with the struggle against fascism as a historical backdrop for the Bush administration’s plans for war–by accusing peace supporters of favoring appeasement of Saddam Hussein, as Neville Chamberlain favored appeasement of Hitler.

The attempted comparison is a grotesque abuse of history. Saddam Hussein is certainly a ruthless dictator with a lot of blood on his hands. However, comparing him to Hitler simply blanks out one minor detail: while Hitler stood atop a massive military machine that conquered nearly all of Europe in a few short years, Hussein is the tinhorn dictator of a devastated third world country, completely surrounded by hostile and militarily superior forces. There is no appeasement of Hussein to be done, because he poses a threat to no other country. What peace supporters ask is that we do not go out of our way to unleash the destruction of war on the Iraqi people when we can deal with Saddam Hussein through peaceful means.

Mr. Vaughan also angrily accuses Dr. El Moghazy of comments that are a slap in the face of those currently serving in our military. But El Moghazy never criticized women and men in the military–rather, his criticism was directed against the Administration that is dead-set on putting those brave men and women in harm’s way. It seems to me that it is no disrespect to our troops to try to keep them from being sent off to die in another dumb foreign war. If I were in the military, I’d rather have people support our troops by keeping me alive, rather than by giving me a medal after I’m dead.

Sincerely,
Charles W. Johnson
Auburn Peace Project