June 15, 2011


That war is unhealthy for women, children, and all other living things is clear to all who have eyes to see or brains to think, but do you suppose, as I do, that it is sometimes necessary anyhow?  If so, I hope your mind is more at rest about it than mine.

Theorists usually say that nations should always wage war as a last resort, it must be fought only to correct a wrong suffered, there must be a reasonable chance of success, the methods used must only be in proportion to the injury suffered, there must be no civilian targets, and the goal must be to not only re-establish peace but to have a better one than that prevailed prior to the war.  How’s that for setting the bar high?

How can accepting these basic precepts guide us today?  Clearly, our involvement in Iraq violated nearly all rules of a just war, so we’ll leave it.   Afghanistan is harder to call.  We clearly were attacked in that instance, but it was by al Qaeda, not the Taliban, yet it is the Taliban whom we fight in Afghanistan today although we continue to fight al Qaeda in Pakistan.  Has our damage to them exceeded what they did to us on 9/11?  I think so, perhaps many times over.  Have we targeted civilians?  Maybe not, but every time we drop bombs civilians are killed.   Is there a reasonable chance of success?  I think not.  Will a successful resolution create a better peace than what preceded it?  Perhaps, but maybe not.  It’s all very iffy, so much so that there is little justification for our prolonging the war.
It is generally accepted that self-defense is a basic criterion for retaliation in  war, but what if a powerful nation acts on behalf of a weaker one which is attacked or is about to be?  The U.S. coming to the aid of South Korea in 1950 comes to mind, or what about a powerful nation intervening to protect those suffering from a brutal dictator? Present day Libya comes to mind.  If we can justify them, should we then say we should intervene in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, the Ivory Coast, and many other places as well?
Once a nation begins a war, rules of warfare are often forgotten.  In World War II, the Germans and Japanese committed unspeakable atrocities, and the Brits and Americans wiped out whole cities with their bombing raids.  In Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Prince Andrey was once an idealist who believed he could fight the French in a just and honorable way, but he soon became disillusioned.
 “I won’t take prisoners….  If there were none of this playing at generosity in warfare, we should never go to war, except for something worth facing certain death for…. The object of warfare is murder.”
Prince Andrey had it right. War is in fact unhealthy for women, children, and all other living things. The object of war is murder, and we should never forget it. Let us, therefore, not enter into the next one lightly.

By Tom Wolfe, P&J Midwest Regional Director

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