The following was written by Jason Lee Byas, and included in the third issue of The New Leveller. .
ALL WARS ARE UNJUST Jason Lee Byas
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have now decided to send at least 750 soldiers back into Iraq, to counteract forces from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. That these two men both ran Presidential campaigns heavily revolving around opposition to the 2003 Iraq War is all that ever needs to be said about electoral politics.
There are plenty of reasons why this particular military intervention is a bad idea. Yet what I want to make clear in this article is not only why this war or that war is unjust, but why all wars – in so far as they are wars – are necessarily unjust.
There are no good wars. World War II did crush Hitler and Tojo, but it also propped up Stalin and involved the deliberate targeting of civilians in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden, and elsewhere. The American Civil War did crush the Confederate slave empire, but it also involved unspeakable acts of total war in Sherman’s March to the Sea, and the caging (without Habeas Corpus) of northern war resisters. The American Revolution did overthrow British imperialism, but it also involved the brutal tarring and feathering of perfectly peaceful British loyalists.
Defenders of these wars almost always acknowledge that these atrocities happened, and sometimes even agree that they were unacceptable. When pressed, they typically just respond “well, that’s war.”
All wars are unjust because they all involve the creation of a space where normal moral standards do not apply. Where people are immediately taken as legitimate targets purely on account of their uniform, which may have even been forced on them. Where, at best, the deaths of unarmed civilians are avoided, but shrugged off as inevitable whenever they actually happen.
The conclusion that all wars are unjust (or even that this or that particular war is unjust) is often resisted because people do not want to accept that veterans such as their loved ones (or themselves) were used for injustice. After all, they know them, and they know they are good people. This is an understandable emotion. However, it should be remembered that people on the other side of a given conflict are people, too. They also have friends, families, and communities that they believe they are fighting for. They have hopes, dreams, and memories just like those of the veterans you know. Of course, if people consistently remembered this, war would be impossible.
All wars are unjust because they all require the mass dehumanization of whomever one’s government judges to be “on the other side.” Racism, religious intolerance, and the most belligerent forms of nationalism, are all necessary to convince ordinary people to kill large numbers of other, equally ordinary people. Any and all pro-social instincts to respect the basic dignity of other people must be turned off.
Along with that racism, wars bring with them a culture of a macho hypermasculinity, homophobia, and general conformity toward violence. The disrespect for the dignity of those “on the other side” leaks over to disrespect for the dignity of even those “on our side” who aren’t judged to be sufficiently committed. The entire country starts seeing red, and that jingoistic fervor creates a pretext for waging a war at home to maintain the war abroad. Because war creates a moral vacuum where everything is permitted as long as it helps the cause, no one is safe.
All wars are unjust because they all involve the regimentation of the entire populace, not just the military. As mentioned before, British loyalists were brutally attacked by mobs in the American Revolution, and war resisters were locked up without Habeas Corpus in the American Civil War. In World War II, over a hundred and ten thousand Japanese-Americans were forcibly relocated into internment camps – a decision that even J. Edgar Hoover felt was cruelty without reason. Our current war without end, the Global War on Terror, has ushered in mass-surveillance, the PATRIOT Act, and the targeting of Muslims (both by the government and by racist thugs.)
Even those who refuse to support the war despite that regimentation will be forced to support it with the products of their labor. Because wars are paid for by taxation, they conscript the resources of everyone living within the borders of the warring state. And there is no conscientious objector status that will get you out of paying taxes.
All wars are unjust because they all depend upon mass-theft. Money that free people acting in free association could have used on education, healthcare, food, or any other number of things that actually make life better is taken from them by force and given to the military. That money is then instead used on killing children before they reach the age of four, using weapons that cause birth defects long after wars actually end, starving out the “other side” to break their will, and other acts of destruction. The fortune this creates for military contractors, arms dealers, and other war profiteers is one of the main forces that keeps the cycle of violence going.
These features are not unique to Viet Nam, the first and second Gulf Wars, World War I, or any other especially unpopular war. They are the necessary features of all wars waged by all governments in all places. Each one of these factors is more than enough to unequivocally oppose any given war. It is for this reason that we must be prepared to say that we are “already against the next war,” not as a statement of probability, but one of certainty.