Memorial Day

by Henry on May 27, 2013

From James Scott’s recent book, Two Cheers for Anarchism.

A little item in the local newspaper informed me that anarchists from West Germany … had been hauling a huge papier-mache statue from city square to city square in East Germany on the back of a flatbed truck. It was the silhouette of a running man carved into a block of granite. It was called Monument to the Unknown Deserters of Both World Wars (Denkmal an die unbekannten Deserteure der beiden Weltkriege) and bore the legend “This is for the man who refused to kill his fellow man.” It struck me as a magnificent anarchist gesture, this contrarian play on the well-nigh universal theme of the Unknown Soldier: the obscure, “every infantry-man” who fell honorably in battle for his nation’s objectives. Even in Germany, even in very-recently East Germany (celebrated as the “First Socialist State on German Soil”), this gesture was, however, distinctly unwelcome. For no matter how thoroughly progressive Germans may have repudiated the aims of Nazi Germany, they still bore an ungrudging admiration for the loyalty and sacrifice of its devoted soldiers. The Good Soldier Svejk, the Czech antihero who would rather have his sausage and beer on a warm fire than fight for his country, may have been a model of popular resistance for Bertholt Brecht, but for the city fathers of East Germany’s twilight year, this papier-mache mockery was no laughing matter.
… Soon, progressives and anarchists throughout Germany had created dozens of their own municipal monuments to desertion. It was no small thing that an act traditionally associated with cowards and traitors was suddenly held up as honorable and perhaps even worthy of emulation. Small wonder that Germany, which has surely paid a very high price for patriotism in the service of inhuman objectives, would have been among the first to question publicly the value of obedience and to place monuments to deserters in public squares otherwise consecrated to Martin Luther, Frederick the Great, Bismarck, Goethe and Schiller.

I was born in a country which was of two minds about celebrating the fallen. There isn’t any real Irish equivalent of Memorial Day. Over here was a cult of blood sacrifice, in which the dead served as martyrs, exemplars and permanent reminders of the perfidies of Albion. Brian MacNeill, a grand-uncle of mine, fought for the Republicans in Ireland’s Civil War, and was killed under suspicious circumstances by government forces on the slopes of Ben Bulben (he was probably shot in cold blood after surrendering and disarming). When Maria visited the area in the 1990s, she saw his picture along with others on a pub wall, and asked the locals about it – she was told that he had been killed by the British rather than (as was the fact) his own recent comrades-in-arms. After his death, Brian had been assimilated into a story that reinforced the mythology rather than revealing its complexities.

Over there was a pervasive distrust of the military – both because the Irish independence movement got its legs from the anti-conscription movement during World War I, and because people had complex attitudes towards the state and the Irish Army in the wake of the Irish Civil War. It was a bitter little war, where both sides were convinced they were in the right, and both were entirely willing to carry out atrocities for a good cause. We could have done with more deserters.

{ 221 comments }

1

leinad 05.28.13 at 12:08 am

Related: a teacher once chided my teenage self for deriding mass-surrendering Italians in North Africa; saying instead that this was a very sensible, humane choice and asking why it was better to die in a ditch for Mussolini. That stuck.

To deserters and all who decided not to throw lives away in lost causes.

2

bob mcmanus 05.28.13 at 12:55 am

this contrarian play on the well-nigh Universal Soldier

Did you intend “Unknown Soldier?” Since I remember the Buffy Sainte-Marie song, this clangs for me in the context.

3

Henry 05.28.13 at 1:09 am

Had telescoped the phrase that Scott used. Fixed.

4

GiT 05.28.13 at 1:12 am

Seems like it would be a tad redundant to call the unknown soldier “obscure,” so perhaps it was intended. Or maybe he was just really struck by JCVD.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0105698/

5

GiT 05.28.13 at 1:12 am

JCVD it is. Too slow on the refresh.

6

john c. halasz 05.28.13 at 2:07 am

“The Good Soldier Svejk, the Czech antihero who would rather have his sausage and beer on a warm fire than fight for his country,”

Not Henry’s fault, of course, but the fictional Svejk wouldn’t exactly have been enlisted in a fight for *his* country, (assuming such is a generalizable cause anyway). The author was a Czech nationalist, and IIRC one of Svejk’s duties as an orderly, as he advanced to the rear as the army advanced to the front, was to deal with the consequences of his Hungarian officer’s trysts.

7

PatrickfromIowa 05.28.13 at 2:30 am

Long ago, as a hitchhiker in Eire, I got into an amiable conversation with a man who had given me a ride. What stuck was “Ireland has had too many willing to die for their country, too few willing to live.” Probably not original, but right, I think.

Where the Iraqi army began deserting in 2003, I thought they were the only ones with any sense. Too simple, I know, but still…

8

Amy Foster 05.28.13 at 3:35 am

I haven’t read that book yet, but with the thoughts laid out here at the comments section. I presumed it’s an interesting read.

9

Antti Nannimus 05.28.13 at 3:51 am

Hi,

The Good Soldier Švejk is an excellent book that should be required reading in schools. I read it many decades ago, and loved it. It was a formative experience at the time, and I’ve thought of it often since then too. The book is very funny, in a very serious way, and has a lot of humorous drawings to boot. It’s only when the politicians can no longer find good people to do their killing, that they will need to find other ways to conduct themselves. The good-natured, bumbling, Švejk is a model of resistance within a mindless compulsory military service.

Have a nice day,
Antti

10

mtraven 05.28.13 at 4:11 am

Amen to that. I’ve been posting similar sentiments on Memorial Day for a few years now, always feeling a little bit funny about it, but in the end deciding that honoring the nontroops is not the same as not honoring the troops.

11

Mark English 05.28.13 at 4:36 am

The trouble with Henry’s approach, it seems to me, is that it mixes up a lot of things and casts very general aspersions. Civil wars, other kinds of wars, revolutionary romanticism, conservative values like loyalty and bravery and obedience and respect for the dead.

War is bad. But things are complicated, and these debates too often become simplistic left/right affairs.

Hemingway got away with glorifying a deserter in one of his short stories. But he had earned the right to do it, and it was a subtle, human story.

12

Dero 05.28.13 at 4:55 am

I hesitated with this, but I am going to say it. A “pacifist” and a “deserter” are two different things. Sometimes more similar, sometimes very less. The English word “deserter” to me implies a sense of cunning and timed self-interest that might very well be lost in a translation of the German word “Deserteuere”.

13

bad Jim 05.28.13 at 5:10 am

Catch-22 presented desertion as the only sane response to a war in which American participation has traditionally been considered necessary.

14

hix 05.28.13 at 5:10 am

“Even in Germany, even in very-recently East Germany (celebrated as the “First Socialist State on German Soil”), this gesture was, however, distinctly unwelcome. “

Details? Context? Did they get no permit, as could be expected from anarchists and were just as unwelcome as anyone doing things without permit* by public officials? Or were there 10 times more opposing demonstrators as can be expected when the far right does a protest in the west (always including a bunch of intolerable violent self described anarchists)? And why should this be more welcome in east Germany, especially when it is done by some western anarchists? The east is more, not less receptive to nationalism because of the communist dictatorship past and the economic problems that came with transition. Outright extreme nationalism and racism are typical for the east, not the west.

“For no matter how thoroughly progressive Germans may have repudiated the aims of Nazi Germany, they still bore an ungrudging admiration for the loyalty and sacrifice of its devoted soldiers”

Did any progressive (whatever that word means exactly in that context) Germans protest the memorial? Seriously doubt that.

Svejk fits in a Czech nationalist narrative that is historical questionable (like any other narrative supporting the formation of a nation staate), about how the Czech nation always had to do the bidding of others, occupators, first Austria, then Germany, then Russia and sometimes even enlarged to now the EU and how thus all rules are stupid outside opression. So there is no reason to follow rules and the person who clever avoids the rules is the heroe. That story does not necessarily support a general anti die for your country attitude.

*No, getting a permit before a demonstration is not the same as folowing orders to kill people, so no no irony here.

15

Zamfir 05.28.13 at 5:36 am

The Netherlands have struggled for decades with the existence of Poncke Princen, a guy who deserted from the colonial war to join the new Indonesian army. As late as the nineties, there was still a large political debate about whether Princen should be granted a visum to visit the Netherlands before his death.

Younger generations tend to accept that he picked the right side, even praise him for it. That pisses off former soldiers from the colonial war. Who might have a point, it’s a bit too easy for my generation to wash its hands of the past.

I wonder if something similar is at play in Germany. If you make statues for deserters, or paint ‘Nazis raus’ on walls, you absolve yourself, put yourself on the right side with hindsight.

16

Salient 05.28.13 at 6:09 am

War is bad. But

See, far too many people can’t bear to part that at the third word and just leave some silence in its wake. Even for a devout pacifist, it’s unnerving to reflect on what that statement can imply. So we carve out some space to feel comfortable in. Too many people willing to say But, not enough people willing to say Therefore.

And pacifism really is starkly confrontational like that; it has to be, because it’s upending the whole traditional system of honor in which you can, by some trick of souls’ worth accounting, restore the value of the people you lost by recovering it from the people who wronged you. It’s so deeply embedded that esteeming forbearance and shaming vengeance compromises the entirety of the system, and it’s never going to be agreeable to extract the hope of reclamation from people who feel they have cause to use it, or who fear they will.

An individual deserter doesn’t have the capacity to make the argument for their pacifist act on their own behalf without compromising their own liberty, because publicly admitting they defected exposes them to derision, ostracism, silencing and state punishment. That’s part of why Monument to the Unknown Deserters of Both World Wars is so brilliant; it’s one step removed, exerting pressure for an atmosphere in which it’s safer to defect and admit to defecting, and less safe to scorn or punish it. (Man, I really need to read some stuff by James C. Scott, apparently. Or steal his newspapers.)

Anyway, if you want to stop short of pacifism/anarchism, there’s still plenty of room for aspersions you can endorse! You can get around most of “the trouble with Henry’s approach” if you’re willing to adopt the same language the United Nations did:

Acts of aggression are bad.

Less elegant, but maybe there’s less reflexive impulse to negate it. (Just don’t say “objectively” bad; that awakens the Ladon.)

17

John Quiggin 05.28.13 at 9:51 am

What Salient said

18

Rich Puchalsky 05.28.13 at 11:11 am

Dero: “I hesitated with this, but I am going to say it. A “pacifist” and a “deserter” are two different things. Sometimes more similar, sometimes very less. The English word “deserter” to me implies a sense of cunning and timed self-interest that might very well be lost in a translation of the German word “Deserteuere”.”

I mostly agree with Salient’s answer to this, but I’d add that I think the cunning or self-interested deserter is just as admirable as the pacifist. The pacifist has the assurance of a form of belief. The self-interested deserter is doing the same thing — refusing to kill or be killed — without being able to fall back on that. And what is admirable is the act of refusing to do it; the justification is not required.

19

engels 05.28.13 at 12:19 pm

I think the cunning or self-interested deserter is just as admirable as the pacifist. The pacifist has the assurance of a form of belief. The self-interested deserter is doing the same thing — refusing to kill or be killed — without being able to fall back on that. And what is admirable is the act of refusing to do it; the justification is not required.

How about draft dodgers?

20

Nickp 05.28.13 at 12:48 pm

Rich Pulasky:
he self-interested deserter is doing the same thing — refusing to kill or be killed — without being able to fall back on that.

Though there is obviously overlap between the two categories, “refusing to kill or be killed” phrase points to the difference between a pacifist and a deserter. Refusal to kill is necessary and sufficient for pacifism but not desertion. A pacifist is definitely refusing to kill, but he/she may or may not attempt to avoid being killed. A deserter is definitely attempting to avoid being killed, but he/she may be willing to kill in the process (e.g. frag an officer).

21

Ronan(rf) 05.28.13 at 2:42 pm

Indeed.
And then when they ran out of nationalist heroes and priests to commemorate, they erected a statute of Thomas Meagher in full (US) civil war regalia in (my hometown) Waterford. Such an odd set of priorities.
Thank God for anarchists and pacifists (and deserters, objectors, ‘cowards’ and, most of all, ‘traitors’)

22

Hidari 05.28.13 at 3:00 pm

George Bernard Shaw wrote a letter to the Times of London in August, 1914 two weeks after World War 1 began, advising soldiers to shoot their officers and go home.

23

Bruce Baugh 05.28.13 at 3:32 pm

Engels: My take is that draft dodging is just fine, right up to the moment you start cheerleading for the war and insisting on the importance of other people going and taking the risks you opted out of.

24

Ralph Hitchens 05.28.13 at 4:05 pm

It’s complicated, and those with no military experience who may be reflexively sympathetic to deserters should exercise some discrimination. There is a near-infinite variety of circumstances that may be characterized as “desertion” and only some of them are, in my opinion, truly honorable. Like most veterans I have respect for conscientious objectors who know precisely why they don’t wish to participate in a war, but progressively less regard for those who opt out when further along in the military pipeline — but here again, it can be complicated. At one end of the spectrum there is, e.g., the experienced transport pilot who was retrained to fly gunships in Vietnam and, after arriving at his new base, declined to fly any combat missions: “Do you know what can happen to you? I don’t want to die.” He was transferred back to the States and presumably court-martialed, although no one knew for sure — the smart thing would have been to keep him in the Military Airlift Command where he was useful, and he certainly should have drawn his line in the sand before undergoing combat training. One of the many court-martials I sat on as a junior Air Force officer involved a young enlisted man trained as a jet engine mechanic who had a good service record until he received orders for Vietnam, at which time he refused the transfer, telling his CO that God wanted him to stay here in America and “preach to the people.” (We sentenced him to six months breaking rocks at Ft. Leavenworth followed by a dishonorable discharge.)

At the other end of the spectrum you have those conscripted by a totalitarian government to be cannon fodder in a futile war. I’m not talking about Vietnam, because after all, we don’t have a totalitarian government and the futility was slow to sink in — to me, at least. But consider the conscripts in Saddam Hussein’s front-line divisions in Kuwait in 1991, division which because of outright or informal desertion (as I said, it’s complicated) were manned at little better than 50% in most cases. Those units unable to retreat in undignified haste when the Coalition ground campaign began surrendered en masse, to be greeted by their captors with only mild contempt. It was obvious to even the lowest-ranking soldiers in that army that to offer serious resistance to the American-led coalition would probably result in death. The same was true of German conscripts in 1945, but of course the Nazis favored “drumhead” courts-martial for deserters and summarily executed a huge number of their own soldiers in the war’s final months.

That the Germans honor their World War veterans, and we (by and large) honor our Vietnam and latter-day veterans, and none of us really thinks or talks too much about deserters, seems to be the right approach, in my opinion. After all, it’s complicated.

25

Harold 05.28.13 at 4:51 pm

Italian soldiers deserted in WW2 because they were not provided with equipment or even weapons. Also their commanding officers also deserted, many of them.

26

PJW 05.28.13 at 5:10 pm

I was going to post some quotes from Red Badge of Courage yesterday on FB but I chickened out. Two of my best friends from high school, and who are now FB friends, both have lost children to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively, and I was afraid of upsetting them being unsure how they might take it, even though one of them is vocally anti-war. Tough stuff.

27

Earwig 05.28.13 at 5:28 pm

The problem with the US war on Vietnam wasn’t its “futility” — the inability to achieve stated US goals — it was its immorality. The goals were evil.

28

Anderson 05.28.13 at 5:33 pm

I just finished David Gilmour’s “The Pursuit of Italy,” which I hoped would be a good book for someone ignorant of Italian history. He is scathing on the war-lust of Italian politicians around the turn of the century (can we still call “circa 1900″ that?), and on the almost opera-bouffe quality of their generals, etc.

29

john c. halasz 05.28.13 at 6:29 pm

Well, my late father was doing his national service when the Germans invaded Hungary, and he managed, through connections, to desert the Hungarian army. I think that might have been the finest thing he ever did in his life. (He went off to school in Transylvania to lay low. His unit went on to occupy northern Serbia, before being shipped off to the Russian front).

30

Stephen 05.28.13 at 7:02 pm

Various relevant statements.

1) A French philosopher, possibly Voltaire: a rational army would all run away.

2) Another French philosopher, certainly not Voltaire: alas, the choice is sometimes between Auschwitz and Verdun.

3) Hilaire Belloc, half-French and partly a philosopher:
Pale Ebenezer thought it wrong to fight
But Roaring Bill (who killed him) thought it right.

4) If you accept that some wars are justified, you will need a certain proportion of Roaring Bills on your side. If you believe that some revolutions are justified, ditto in spades (for the counter-revolutionaries are unlikely to hold mild liberal opinions).

5) @Salient 16: Acts of aggression are bad. Well yes, but who is to say what is aggression? In the recent WW I thread, people seemed to be arguing that:
Serbia was the aggressor, by killing the Archduke.
Austria-Hungary was the aggressor, by imposing unacceptable terms on Serbia and preparing to invade.
Russia was the aggressor, by mobilising in response to Austria-Hungary.
Germany was the aggressor, by invading Belgium and France in response to Russian mobilisation.
France and Russia were the aggressors, by making a treaty of common defence against Germany.
Britain was the aggressor, by having a large navy and coming to an entente with France.
France and Britain were both aggressors, by having colonial possessions that Germany envied, and by aiming after the war broke out to acquire mandates for further territories.

I don’t think anyone accused Belgium of being the aggressor, but I may be wrong.

6) In the cases of civil wars, it’s even more difficult to decide who was the aggressor. Henry: who was the aggressor in the Irish Civil War? Any US posters: have you ever heard your Civil War (in which I think desertion from the Federal army was far from admirable) described as the War of Northern Aggression?

7) un-US perspective; when you have a long history, over centuries, of one lot fighting another lot, does it make any sense at all to think of one lot being the aggressor and the other not?

31

bob mcmanus 05.28.13 at 7:19 pm

The bell was late in ringing, sorry.

I am not entirely clear as to the dates of the actions described in the original post, but a major meme, if not the main meme of tiqqun is “Revolution Through Desertion in Place” and it would be my guess that the displays, though pre-dating tiqqun, had as much to do with that post-Maoist idea as anything to do with war or military. Especially because of the image of running into a wall.

I won’t link to revleft just steal a comment or two

“I think it differs from a “drop-out” theory in the it is almost closer to a post-Maoist conception of building “base areas” – differentiated by the fundamental change in territorialization, etc. within the imperial metropole. Rather than fleeing to the mountains, one creates an unnavigable terrain “within” (since looking for an “outside” at this point is pretty hopeless). Desertion, in a way “dropping out” isn’t usually, can be understood as sympathetic to an insurrectionary practice – or even necessitating it (capital as hydra, etc.).”

“This method is desertion. The best way to destroy a system is to simply walk away from it. To ignore it and refuse to comply with it. To acknowledge the injustice and swear to yourself that you will resist it no matter what the consequences.”

32

bob mcmanus 05.28.13 at 7:27 pm

Googling “tiqqun desertion” gets you link after link after link…not that it only belongs to tiqqun, I assume it is a part of the current anarchist vocabulary.

Why am I the first or only one to notice?

33

Anderson 05.28.13 at 9:10 pm

“have you ever heard your Civil War (in which I think desertion from the Federal army was far from admirable) described as the War of Northern Aggression?”

I live in Mississippi, and happily the only uses of that term I’ve heard have been arch ones. It’s a warning flag when anyone says it seriously.

I would sympathize even with a Northern deserter, but I would also appreciate the practical necessity behind capturing and punishing him. War is ugly like that. (I think Northern deserters *would* have the argument that “conscientious objectors” were not recognized, leaving them with no good alternative.)

34

Salient 05.28.13 at 9:26 pm

I mostly agree with Salient’s answer to this, but I’d add that I think the cunning or self-interested deserter is just as admirable as the pacifist

All I’d feel comfortable asking of a self-interested deserter is that they do no harm to people in the course of their desertion, excepting side effects, and that they take no actions to prevent others from deserting.

As for ‘just as admirable as’ — Neither disagreement nor agreement from me, on this one. Lately I’ve been trying to actively avoid moral assertions that contain ‹ or › or =, because at some point recently I realized I have never, ever gained any perspective or insight or intuition or value from statements about “just as good as” or “worse than” or “better than” in these contexts. Ever.

Not only that, moral quantification has led me into all kinds of statements I don’t want to commit to, not because I believe they are false, but because any system in which they are capable of being true or false is warped, inherently both emotionally supercharged and apologetic. At best, rank ordering as a moral precept has proven useless to me; on average, it gets me in exhausting spats that nobody benefits from or learns anything from; at worst, it’s the core enabler of all apologists.

So rather than make statements that say (for example) that Hitler is worse than Mao, or that Gore would have been better than (or no better than) Bush, or even that a self-interested deserter is less admirable than a pacifist one, I’m trying to just reclassify those kinds of statements in my own mind as glossolalia. It has done wonders for my peace of mind. :)

35

James Wimberley 05.28.13 at 11:08 pm

Thousands of Wehrmacht soldiers in WW2 were shot for desertion or disobeying orders, both after regular courts-martial and by SS drumhead gangs in the closing months. These men were doing the right thing.

36

Substance McGravitas 05.28.13 at 11:11 pm

These men were doing the right thing.

Which men?

37

novakant 05.28.13 at 11:15 pm

#24

Göring: Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.

Gilbert: There is one difference. In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.

Göring: Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

38

Anderson 05.29.13 at 2:01 am

Goering was always one of the smarter ones. Depraved, but smart.

39

between4walls 05.29.13 at 7:52 am

“2) Another French philosopher, certainly not Voltaire: alas, the choice is sometimes between Auschwitz and Verdun.”

I’m no pacifist but I can’t take that quote seriously. Does no one remember who the hero of Verdun was and what exactly he did during WWII?

40

Neville Morley 05.29.13 at 8:28 am

Minor footnote on changing nature and meanings of war memorials in different national contexts – my guess is that the Deserteuredenkmal is more likely to have been directed against public war memorials than statues to Goethe or Schiller. Tradition starts earlier in France and Germany than in Britain, because the former have conscription – British battle memorials before WWI celebrate regimental victories won by volunteers rather than commemorate deaths of citizens doing their duty. Post-WWI, French memorials largely triumphant with a certain amount of mourning for brave sons of la patrie; British (and ANZAC) memorials offer wide variety of responses, but are strongly associated with mourning dead (even if justified by cause); establishment of German memorials – with exceptions of some cemeteries in France and Belgium – is almost entirely dominated by right-wing groups and small veteran organisations (with considerable cross-over), and commemoration is used for more or less expressly political purposes. Post-WWII, debates on commemoration and politics thereof in Germany focus largely on the Holocaust (there’s a substantial scholarly literature on this). So it’s entirely understandable that such a gesture should happen in Germany, where war memorials rarely show any ambivalence about war being a good thing – but at the same time I can’t help feeling that it would be far more controversial if it had happened in the UK, where there is now much less ambivalence in the dominant public discourse about war sometimes being a good thing, regardless of the intended message of many WWI memorials.

41

Lurker 05.29.13 at 12:00 pm

where war memorials rarely show any ambivalence about war being a good thing
I’d read this as “German war memorials are usually anti-war.” To me, the plaque inside the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche, the ruined church on the Kurfürstendamm of Berlin (former centre of West Berlin), was striking: “To remind us of the time when the punishment of God was laid heavily on us.” You can’t get much more downbeat than that.

42

Lurker 05.29.13 at 12:11 pm

As a person with some military training (up to officer, but only as a reserve officer), I can’t fully support desertion as a means of political protest. The deserter causes some danger to his comrades-at-arms, regardless of the situation, but especially in combat, the deserter may cause the death of several people who had a good-faith dependance on him. Such action, the betrayal of people who have lived in the most intimate circumstances with him, is morally even more repugnant than fighting the most unjust war. So, if you truly must desert, you should do it outside immediate combat and not on your own guard shift.

Second, the deserter remains a member of society even after his deed. He is a fugitive, often armed and most likely short on rations. To survive to safety, he must, most likely, resort to stealing or robbing. Because this happens in a combat zone, any such action will quite likely leave someone else, a soldier or a civilian, on short rations. In addition, when he is pursued, it is possible that quite blameless people are hurt, if and when the deserter is stopped by violence. All these secondary effects are directly caused by the decision to desert.

43

vasvas 05.29.13 at 12:22 pm

The last bit ” In addition, when he is pursued, it is possible that quite blameless people are hurt, if and when the deserter is stopped by violence” strikes me as particularly weird. For example Jews fleeing the Warsaw Ghetto would bear the responsibility that “quite blameless people are hurt, if and when the [escapee] is stopped by violence “

44

Consumatopia 05.29.13 at 1:20 pm

“Such action, the betrayal of people who have lived in the most intimate circumstances with him, is morally even more repugnant than fighting the most unjust war.”

I understand that desertion in the middle of combat imposes costs on others to you, but this is madness. If one is truly fighting the most unjust war, then betraying the people fighting can’t be that bad, and is probably good.

45

E.J. Manuel 05.29.13 at 2:15 pm

It is quite sad to see the dignified gestures and noble sentiments of the German anarchists violently ripped from their context, shorn of meaning, and used as a makeshift mortar to score grubby points in Ireland’s fetid history wars. The clever point that Henry Farrel thinks he is making by using the German anarchists in this way, really falls flat when more recent developments than Ireland’s Civil War are considered.

Ireland’s political elite (which contains many, if not all, descendants of Brian MacNeill and all profiting ably, it has to be said) have recently decided to pardon those deserters who fled the Irish Army and may have joined the British Army during WWII. In this way the political elite of Ireland seem to be mocking the sentiment of the German anarchists by using deserters – not to challenge – but to continue the old lie (or ‘the cult of blood sacrifice'; dulce et decorum est pro patria mori). A large part of the Irish political elite and ‘intelligentsia’ today have absolutely no qualms with ‘the cult of blood sacrifice’ as long as it is not infected by any (Irish) nationalist sentiments.

In Ireland, they could do with a lot less deserters and a lot more conscientious objectors willing to speak truth to power.

46

Rich Puchalsky 05.29.13 at 2:17 pm

“As a person with some military training (up to officer, but only as a reserve officer), I can’t fully support desertion as a means of political protest.”

But that’s what I was trying to get at above. Not, as Salient says, trying to create a moral hierarchy within which I assert that one thing is just as good as another, but saying that the act of desertion is good without trying to judge the rationale. If desertion is “a means of political protest”, that’s awfully bloodless and suitable for cost-benefit calculations. And (within English, anyways) people generally don’t refer to it as “desertion” if you show up at the recruiting office and say you won’t serve. No, most desertion is done by people who flee battle because they’re frightened, or for other disreputable reasons, and good for them.

Here’s a poem about recruitment. Better for people not to be recruited, but if they are, sure, better for them to desert.

47

Andrew F. 05.29.13 at 2:59 pm

There’s another view towards certain deserters that Ireland has taken recently. Ireland Pardons Wartime Deserters

Re some of the comments: Violence is a bad thing – there is a “but” because sometimes what we view as the evil of violence is outweighed by the good it helps accomplish. Only the ideologue lives in a world without qualification. Imho, absolute pacifism bears all the hallmarks of the more astonishing varieties of libertarianism, that would surrender the planet to an asteroid to avoid the unclean touch of an encroaching tax.

The progress of human rights and human welfare has required, among many other things, the existence of armed forces subordinate to the civilian governments of liberal democracies. The existence of those armed forces has required women and men willing to serve, and sometimes to die, even when the policies they furthered were believed by them or others to be mistaken. They exemplify not only physical courage, but often moral courage as well. Remembering them, and their importance, is not to endorse every war they fought; and surely remembrance of the fallen is a better spur to the achievement of our ends without death and injury, when possible, than is a monument raised to those who ran away.

If you live in a Western democracy, then your way of life and the protections of your rights that you enjoy were purchased, in part, by the sacrifice of the fallen who were honored on Monday.

As for those who deserted – not merely refused to obey an immoral or illegal order – society has been given nothing by such acts, and owes them nothing in return.

48

Earwig 05.29.13 at 3:16 pm

“If you live in a Western democracy, then your way of life and the protections of your rights that you enjoy were purchased, in part, by the sacrifice of the fallen who were honored on Monday.”

No.

“The fallen” soldiers of US wars in my lifetime have done NOTHING to protect democracy or life, mine or others. The US wars of my lifetime have been fought to suppress the rights of the indigenous and to assure control of resources by reliable dictators.

49

Neville Morley 05.29.13 at 3:45 pm

@Lurker #40: to clarify, I was referring to war memorials in the conventional sense, those commemorating soldiers (either individually or collectively, or the ‘unknown soldier’ kind) – those memorialising war in general or civilian victims (in both cases I can’t think of any examples pre-WWII) are a different sort of thing.

50

Niall McAuley 05.29.13 at 3:51 pm

Ireland pardoning deserters is an unisual one: the people being pardoned deserted from the army of our neutral nation to go and fight in WWII. So, definitely not the type who deserted because war is dangerous, stupid and immoral.

51

Rich Puchalsky 05.29.13 at 5:41 pm

“If you live in a Western democracy, then your way of life and the protections of your rights that you enjoy were purchased, in part, by the sacrifice of the fallen who were honored on Monday.”

It may be worth while to recall, for a moment, that the original anarchist gesture was to salute deserters from WW I and WW II in Germany. Are we really supposed to condemn those deserters? Or should they have stayed loyally on, serving the Kaiser or the Fuehrer?

Now let’s turn our thoughts to the U.S. troops who killed and tortured civilians during the wars of the latter half of the 20th century — not following “illegal orders”, but quite legal ones. Like the troops who helped to train the death squads in Iraq. Should we really say that they were protecting our rights?

Sure, there have been soldiers who fought on the right side in history — I’m willing to say that people on the Allied side in WW II were on the right side. They’re an exception. We’d do a lot better with a default attitude honoring refusal to serve in war and have to go through contortions to justify it in the rare cases when it’s necessary.

52

Stephen 05.29.13 at 5:44 pm

Niall McAuley@47: I think you’ll find that the Irish authorities who imposed vindictive measures against Irish soldiers who had deserted to go and fight in WWII did so precisely because they thought that going to fight on the side of the British was dangerous, stupid and immoral.

53

Stephen 05.29.13 at 5:53 pm

Rich Puchalsky@48
“I’m willing to say that people on the Allied side in WW II were on the right side. “
Well, that’s generous of you. Does it apply to the Soviet allies also? Does it not apply to Finns or Romanians on the other side?

Are there other post-WWI I cases where some people were fighting on the right side?

54

William Berry 05.29.13 at 5:55 pm

I was going to respond to Andrew F., but no need.

What Earwig and Rich said.

55

Ralph Hitchens 05.29.13 at 6:02 pm

Earwig, I respectfully disagree. I don’t see how our Cold War goal of preserving an independent Republic of Vietnam in the south was immoral. The Saigon regime was corrupt but they were, like South Korea, a work in progress. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam was hardly a paragon of virtue, and is famously corrupt today even as peace reigns throughout Vietnam and between Vietnam and the USA. Bombed ‘em from one end of the country to the other, but they are an amazing people and don’t hold a grudge.

On the other hand, the futility of our involvement in Vietnam is very clear to me. There was really only one difference between the Korean War and Vietnam, and it was military geostrategic distinction that made success possible in Korea but not in Vietnam. A glance at a map is all you need. In Korea the peninsula was flanked on both sides by seas we controlled. In Vietnam, one flank was jungle and mountains through which the North Vietnamese could and did resupply and reinforce their troops in the South, and we could do very little to stop it. One US military theorist, Col. Harry Summers, proposed that the US extend the DMZ across Laos to the Mekong River, totally sealing off the South from the North. Although extremely difficult to accomplish, I believe it would not have been impossible, and would have preserved South Vietnam. Of course we would still have troops there manning the DMZ, as we do in Korea.

So, futility I accept, but immorality I can’t quite see — particularly for a war after which time seems to have healed all wounds.

56

Consumatopia 05.29.13 at 6:35 pm

It may be worth while to recall, for a moment, that the original anarchist gesture was to salute deserters from WW I and WW II in Germany. Are we really supposed to condemn those deserters? Or should they have stayed loyally on, serving the Kaiser or the Fuehrer?

This past weekend, my local paper did a story on two veterans who had been on different sides of the Normandy landing who had become friends in their old age. What struck me as weird about this is that the paper said “both men did their duty”. Not that I cast a lot of blame on someone for being a conscripted into the German army, but it’s bizarre for an American newspaper to cast fighting for the Axis as a matter of fulfilling a duty.

I can’t relate to that kind of thinking at all. We, as Americans, certainly do owe something to people who took risks to avoid fighting against us. If they betrayed their comrades in doing so, all the better–their comrades were apparently on the wrong side. We ought to build monuments to our enemy’s deserters.

I can only guess that we don’t do this because there are a great many of us who want to believe that it’s okay–or even obligatory–to do evil things if someone with authority orders you to do them. But Western democracy does not depend on anyone having that mistaken, immoral belief.

57

Suzanne 05.29.13 at 7:11 pm

@52:
I would suggest that a futile (and stupid) neocolonial war is an immoral one, even if, as you note, the Vietnamese have been uncommonly forgiving about having been bombed back into the Stone Age and even granting the questionable notion that we were in the war for only the best of reasons. As for time having healed all wounds – it seems to me the war was very much a live and painful issue when John Kerry was running for President (and not long before that there was the never-quite-resolved matter of Bob Kerrey and those dead villagers).

58

Andrew F. 05.29.13 at 7:32 pm

Niall – yes, I agree – my point was to show an addition to the two minds in the post

Rich – I was not speaking of desertion in all cases, but rather in the case of liberal democracies.

Your default principle is appropriate for the civilian government, I believe, who should strive for solutions that avoid violence. But for a military professional subordinate to the civilian government, carrying out the orders of the elected commander in chief cannot be a matter of discretion so long as those orders are legal and not immoral. Nor, obviously, can one have an effective military if every member is free to leave whenever she or he wishes, or to choose which operations to participate in. Nor can one rely on volunteers to enlist themselves temporarily for military operations as the need for each operation arises.

An effective, professional military in a democratic system is one that necessarily heeds the choices of the civilian government, regardless of whether those choices are prudent or unwise. It is one that suffers casualties regularly in training to maintain its effectiveness; it is one that loses lives in wars and operations that were ordered in error or by hidden corruption; and it does those things to be both effective for those fights that are truly vital and conducive to the functioning of a liberal democratic system of government.

So, was the Iraq War necessary to preserve the rights and welfare of the US, or any of the Western democracies? No. Neither were, by themselves, various military operations in Somalia, the Balkans, or many other places.

Was it necessary though, over the long run, for the military to be willing to fight such wars? Yes. And as terrible as death or serious injury is when incurred in the most justified and desperate of acts, how much harder is the sacrifice when in the course of an unnecessary war, for an ill conceived operation, for a careless mistake during training? What we honor on Memorial Day, imho, is not the decision to enter into war, but those who bore the weight of both wise and unwise decisions alike, the necessary burden of an enterprise riven with error, corruption and malice, yet still worthy.

I agree that we should celebrate the moral and physical courage of those who stood for the right principles, including those who refused to participate in or contribute to clearly unjust causes. I disagree that this means we should begin celebrating desertion in itself on Memorial Day, or that military sacrifice ought be less recognized than it already is.

59

Rich Puchalsky 05.29.13 at 7:33 pm

Sure, time heals all wounds, except for those of the hundred thousand people or so that we killed in the Vietnam War. But they don’t matter, I guess, because those dead people are certainly not complaining about it now.

60

john c. halasz 05.29.13 at 7:44 pm

“the hundred thousand people or so that we killed in the Vietnam War.”

You might want to fact check that a bit.

61

novakant 05.29.13 at 8:23 pm

It is indicative of our authoritarian and militarized societies that people reflexively find the deserter suspicious and not the soldier. It is the deserter who has to justify himself and is held to the highest moral standards, while the soldier is by default a hero, or at least a brave lad and will get away with most anything unless he kills babies or something (and even that isn’t such a big deal if it’s done from a sufficient distance).

Especially in a volunteer army soldiers should be held accountable not only for their individual, but also for their collective actions – and no, the Nuremberg Defense just doesn’t cut it.

62

Trader Joe 05.29.13 at 8:32 pm

@57 and 58

The “official” tally of U.S. soldier deaths is 58,282.

The most common tally for deaths resulting from the conflict, civilian and miliatary, is 1.1 million, although predicatably there’s a wide circle around this number which depends on who you care to believe or not.

1 or 1.1 million, Rich’s comment is on point.

63

William Berry 05.29.13 at 9:20 pm

@Ralph Hitchens, 56:

Sorry, but that doesn’t cut it. The Eisenhower Administration opposed a U.N. sponsored vote on the question of unification in the mid-50s, because it was a certainty the population of the South would vote for unification with the Communist North. The question of what form the government would take would then be an internal political matter, making it much more difficult politically to intervene. This should be the background for any discussions concerning justification of the Vietnam War.

By no stretch of the imagination does that war come close to meeting just war doctrine, which, IMO, is the only defensible standard.

Rich: your Vietnamese casualty count is low by more than an order of magnitude. Without googling, I am confident that reasonable estimates range over a million. fifty-eight thousand (and few U.S. civilians) as against more than a million (relatively, nearly all civilians). This does not count the deaths (estimates 200-500,000) caused by the illegal bombing of Cambodia, a neutral country.

These fatality rates represent the traditional colonial ratio, which has continued to be met by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. It reminds me of Twain’s powerful polemical essay on the genocidal suppression, by the U.S., of the Aguinaldo revolution in the Philippines: “Thirty Thousand Killed A Million”.

Twain was our first, and arguably greatest, anti-imperialist.

64

William Berry 05.29.13 at 9:33 pm

Apologies to jch and Trader Joe on the casualties question.

65

Rich Puchalsky 05.29.13 at 9:55 pm

I didn’t want to fact check it because numbers were not really the point, but of course now they’re the point.

66

mpowell 05.29.13 at 10:11 pm


Sorry, but that doesn’t cut it. The Eisenhower Administration opposed a U.N. sponsored vote on the question of unification in the mid-50s, because it was a certainty the population of the South would vote for unification with the Communist North. The question of what form the government would take would then be an internal political matter, making it much more difficult politically to intervene. This should be the background for any discussions concerning justification of the Vietnam War.

This. 100x this. If you’re talking about Vietnam and you’re not taking this into acount… then you should stop talking.

67

Harold 05.29.13 at 10:29 pm

More like 4 or 5 million killed. Up there with the greatest historic atrocities — but when we do it, it’s not a war crime.

68

Ronan(rf) 05.30.13 at 2:16 am

This is well worth reading, interesting and beautifully written

http://www.aeonmagazine.com/living-together/margaret-paxson-peace-conflict/

69

david 05.30.13 at 5:16 am

South Korea, Taiwan, South Vietnam, Singapore, etc. would almost certainly all have enthusiastically voted themselves into communism and ensuing poverty. This isn’t hypothetical; insofar as votes were permitted to happen, they did. And then – with the obvious exception of Vietnam – their most murderous authoritarian capitalist periods in history would be their periods of greatest growth and prosperity, with stagnation and liberalism occurring together.

If you don’t take that into account either…

70

John Quiggin 05.30.13 at 6:48 am

Stephen @30 In the Great War, as in most wars, there was more than one aggressor, and, of course, more than one loser. In fact as you say, all governments involved except maybe Belgium’s were engaged in aggression. And, apart from a handful of individuals who rose as a result, there were only losers – every class in every country suffered horribly for no benefit. The fact that even here at CT, these points remain controversial is an indication of how far we have to go before we can get rid of Salient’s “but”.

71

Asteele 05.30.13 at 7:08 am

68. Yes we can’t let them make the desicion between communism and fascism. We must make it for them, in the way that benefits us.

72

novakant 05.30.13 at 11:11 am

The fact that even here at CT, these points remain controversial is an indication of how far we have to go before we can get rid of Salient’s “but”.

Neither you nor salient are helping the anti-war position by trying to shut off any discussion with a three-word statement and calling everybody who dares to say anything beyond that a warmonger. I totally grant that there can be a slippery slope between historical explanations of war and the justification of it and that there’s also often a nationalist undertone to these debates, but it’s simply ridiculous to use that as a baseline assumption applying to everybody with an interest in the matter that goes beyond moral judgement and tries to explain the motivations of the players and how and why events unfolded – which is simply a historian’s job.

73

Andrew F. 05.30.13 at 12:15 pm

My reply to Rich was stuck in the moderation queue for a bit, but is up at 57.

I really only have this to add, given recent comments: whether a given war is justified does not determine (though it is related) the duty of the military operating under a liberal democratic government. The more complicated question for the military is whether a war is so clearly unjustified, so obviously unethical, that it becomes justified to disobey the orders of the civilian government, with all the attendant consequences.

These are separate questions from whether particular conduct in war is justified, of course.

For some here, imho, the purpose of Memorial Day may seem indistinguishable from an endorsement of war generally (indeed, of every war in which the US fought), and this is emphatically not the case.

My only criticism of Memorial Day is that, while I believe the barbecues, outings, and general holiday spirit are fitting, a national moment of silent recognition during the day would be appropriate as well. There is one designated, but it is not well publicized, and goes unobserved (it seems) in most of the US.

74

John Quiggin 05.30.13 at 2:26 pm

@Novakant A change of conjunction would be enough for me. Instead of “War is bad, *but* we must understand the complex circumstances, and motivations of the actors that led events to unfold as they did” with the implication “after which we would judge matters differently or not judge at all”
how about
“War is bad, *so* we must understand the complex circumstances, and motivations of the actors that led events to unfold as they did” with the implication “if we are to stop wars in future”.

75

Rich Puchalsky 05.30.13 at 2:55 pm

Having now read Andrew F.’s moderation-delayed reply up at #57, I don’t disagree that strongly with him. It’s a matter of emphasis. I think that our societies are currently so overbalanced in favor of war that I see no harm in celebrating desertion without inquiring why any particular person deserted. If the majority of people were condemning soldiers who served honorably according to the principles that Andrew F. talks about, and desertion became as celebrated and socially reinforced as war service is now, then I’d have to argue in the terms that he does, probably.

But this isn’t merely contrarianism. He’s presenting the non-jingoistic case for service in war. I think it’s an important question to ask whether his rationale can ever realistically obtain. There’s a reason why I don’t think the counterfactual that I present in the paragraph above is ever likely to occur.

76

Anarcissie 05.30.13 at 3:14 pm

War is bad? You’re all going to get rid of the state now? What’s the plan?

77

Consumatopia 05.30.13 at 3:29 pm

Memorial Day in the US was created after the Civil War. Which sort of negates all the talk about “civilian control of the military”–we were honoring, among others, traitors. For them, desertion would have been the far more ethical–and honorable–choice.

novakant and others are clearly right. People will have combination of motivations for anything they do. Someone who would have bravely stayed to fight in a just war might find it a lot harder to find the courage themselves for a war they believe to be wrong. Someone who stays to fight might only be doing so because they fear punishment, shame, or other personal consequences of leaving. In general, human beings are going to be more motivated to guard their own lives, or those of their countrymen, then foreigners, so it’s wrong to apply a different standard of judgment to the deserter than the combatant.

If we must judge them, we should judge them by whether the war is justified–deserting a justified war is wrong, staying to fight an unjustified war is wrong. Orders from a civilian leader are necessary but not sufficient to morally justify (or oblige) participation in a war as a soldier. But in general, we should probably avoid that kind of judgment. Once someone has been ordered into combat, whether they decide to follow orders or desert they’re stuck in a horrible situation, and they probably merit our sympathy and compassion more than our judgment.

Furthermore, there is no dividing line between an unwise and immoral wars. Not just because, as Suzanne@56 was saying, an imprudent war with good intentions still causes mass suffering. But because the soldier themselves is still a human being with a legitimate claim to life. Even supposing an imaginary war that imposed no risks on anyone but soldiers on our side, if that war is unwise the solider can still make a moral claim against it: it’s immoral to ask someone to risk their life pointlessly, and a soldier might find it immoral to comply with that request, even if the only life at stake is their own.

I’m not saying it’s always wrong to punish deserters, but those punishments should be seen as a necessary evil in peculiar circumstances, like conscription. If the only way to prevent everyone in the village from being slaughtered is to threaten to kill any villager who runs away (e.g. Seven Samurai), it’s hard for me to condemn that. It’s wrong to force someone to fight–it’s even wrong if they say they will fight but later change their mind–but it’s the kind of wrong that’s harder to condemn when it’s the only way to survive. I share Anderson@33’s sympathy with both the deserter and the people trying to capture and punish deserters. But rather than normalize the (sometimes) necessary evil of punishing deserters by doing so even when we aren’t fighting desperate existential wars, it’s something we should only do in emergencies, like suspension of habeas corpus.

78

Ronan(rf) 05.30.13 at 5:09 pm

“but those who bore the weight of both wise and unwise decisions alike”

For me this is where it breaks down, because we *don’t* by any stretch of the imagination remember those who ‘who bore the weight’ of those decisions. Those who bore the weight were overwhelmingly civilians. When they were soldiers they were also aid workers, nurses, doctors, contractors etc
These days of national grieving make no sense in the context of todays wars, it was for a time when populations in the west lived war, but now that the fighting is done by a very small segment of the population, and the suffering is done by people who aren’t us, it just feels like intruding on (expropriating?) other peoples grief. (And imagining them speaking with one voice, rather than the mass of conflicting experiences/perspectives that really exists)
A healthy political culture doesn’t abuse its soldiers, but it doesn’t glamourise them either. These days aren’t for the war dead, they’re for us, so we don’t have to give up our myths or complicate our past

79

novakant 05.30.13 at 5:32 pm

I agree with that, John. And to that end I would add that wars should be studied academically and depicted in the media from the perspective of civilians much more than it is currently done. It is civilians who in the vast majority of cases suffer the most in wars and academic debates about war or the pictures we see on CNN are far removed from the gruesome reality as it happened on the ground. People very close to my heart have lived through wars as civilians and listening to them certainly changes one’s perception.

80

Harold 05.30.13 at 5:42 pm

@78 The city of Hiroshima has a wonderful museum that does just that.

81

Salient 05.30.13 at 6:16 pm

@novakant

Neither you nor salient are helping the anti-war position by trying to shut off any discussion with a three-word statement and calling everybody who dares to say anything beyond that a warmonger.

The very fact that ‘anti-war’ is a readily recognized and accepted term is telling, I think. We generally don’t label people as anti-burglary, anti-cruelty-to-pets, or anti-enslavement. These would be assumed as the default among everyone reading CT, and it would just feel weird to use those labels unless there was a very peculiar context justifying them. “My anti-war cousin called to wish me happy birthday” actually sounds like a coherent sentence in a way that “My anti-burglary cousin called to wish me happy birthday” does not. And this dovetails with the change-in-conjunction premise — generally speaking, almost everyone in our society nowadays would feel more impulse to think “Burglary is bad. Therefore” than “Burglary is bad. But” — even though the latter is legit, and worth considering, it’s not the default impulse.

But, whatevs. I didn’t call anybody a freaking warmonger. I said there are too many people who, when war is the topic, spend far more thought on what should constitute an exception to the rule than they do contemplating the rule’s implications. That’s a far cry from warmongering, which I would characterize as something somewhat like, “war is good as long as it’s enabling people I identify with to assert and exercise power over people I don’t identify with.” Something like that.

I also didn’t say that a perfectly ideal society would have to have very few thinking “War is bad. But” — I just said (1) that in our culture nowadays, proportionally speaking, that angle is waaaayyy over-represented relative to “War is bad. Therefore,” and (2) that this imbalance has a strong adverse effect, which I specified as a general intolerance for, and ill will to, people “War is bad. Therefore I refused to participate.”

The idea being, generally, most folks are in effect placing the burden of proof on the pacifist, justify why this particular war you intend to abstain from is unjust. Instead, I’d rather live in a society in which pacifists (and people generally) are always placing the burden of proof on the soldiers and officers, justify why this particular war you intend to participate in is just.

82

Salient 05.30.13 at 6:19 pm

@Rich

I agree with “the act of desertion is good without trying to judge the rationale” completely. It’s sorta like, helping put out a housefire is good even if your only motive was to impress people. There’s only one meaningful difference I saw between self-interested desertion and principled desertion (for lack of a better term). Those who abstain for pacifist reasons can–albeit at risk to themselves–publicly express their reason for abstaining and encourage others to do so, which benefits society.

The problem here is that, I was trying to say that that act of expression is a good thing — I would not demand that any given person/people do it, but if lots of people did, then society would be better off. That’s totally separate from judging pacifist/vs/nonpacifist deserters, and it was clumsy of me to suggest otherwise. (In an edit I changed “difference I see” to “difference I saw” above.) People who were never asked to serve the war effort could undertake that act of expression too.

Come to think of it, I guess a self-interested deserter could also publicly offer the same ‘I’m a pacifist’ justification and make those same arguments in pacifism’s favor, insincerely or without conviction, and they’d deserve admiration for making the arguments. If it walks like a pacifist, and talks like a pacifist…

83

Anderson 05.30.13 at 6:27 pm

In fact as you say, all governments involved except maybe Belgium’s were engaged in aggression.

Oh jesus, this again? (MAYBE Belgium’s?) Incorporate the two relevant recent threads by reference.

… This thread has been excellent in exploring the ethics of desertion, but I fall a bit short of agreeing with those who say all desertion is good. It was not, I think, a good thing that so many French deserted (or actively gave themselves up to the Germans, more or less the same thing) from 2d and 9th Armies in 1940.

84

Ronan(rf) 05.30.13 at 6:38 pm

..Just as an addendum to 77, I should have written it more carefully and stressed this was only *my personal perspective* (also as an outsider in the country where it was being commemorated) and didn’t mean it to sound trenchant or declarative.
I know these occasions mean different things to different people..

85

Stephen 05.30.13 at 6:45 pm

JQ@69: “In fact as you say, all governments involved except maybe Belgium’s were engaged in aggression.”
No, that wasn’t what I meant to say. I meant: all governments except maybe Belgium’s were thought by somebody or other to be engaged in aggression. There is an important difference.
Anyone who might have thought (I doubt if anyone did) that the Belgian government were aggressors by not wanting to be invaded is, in my opinion, far away from reality.
Anyone who thought that the French government were aggressors by not agreeing to surrender their frontier fortresses to the Germans is equally distant.
Likewise anyone who thought the British government were aggressors by having a powerful fleet and not abandoning their treaty obligations to Belgium.
My point was not that all were aggressors: but that people at the time, with varying perspectives, had great difficulty in deciding who were the aggressors. Which is a considerable problem when you come to deal with Salient’s “Acts of aggression are bad.”

86

Stephen 05.30.13 at 6:50 pm

Novakant@78: “It is civilians who in the vast majority of cases suffer the most in wars.”
Nowadays, yes. Bear in mind that civilians do not have the option of deserting.

87

Stephen 05.30.13 at 6:59 pm

Salient@81: “I agree with “the act of desertion is good without trying to judge the rationale” completely. “
Ummm. Desertion from the Union army in the US Civil War, desertion from Washington’s army, desertion from the Allied armies in WW2, desertion from the Republican armies in the Spanish Civil War, desertion from the Vietnamese army against the Americans: these acts were good in themselves?
Really?

88

Harold 05.30.13 at 7:01 pm

Roman soldiers had to swear a terrible oath of allegiance, the “sacrementum militare” which subjected those who broke it to summary execution/ or (rarely) decimation if a Legion. Some Christian fathers objected on the grounds that one should swear allegiance only to Christ. The conflict – i.e, over whether there is any allegiance owed to a transcending morality beyond that of civil religion — is still with us. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacramentum_(oath)

Some governments regarded being taken prisoner of war as the equivalent of desertion, believing its soldiers obligated to fight to the death. In the Italian army of WW1 (modelled on that of Prussia), for example, the Piedmont-based monarchy refused to send food or supplies to its prisoners of war interred in Germany, who frequently starved or died of cold as a result. I gather the Japanese army in WW2 had analogous rules.

89

Rich Puchalsky 05.30.13 at 7:34 pm

“Ummm. Desertion from the Union army in the US Civil War, desertion from Washington’s army, desertion from the Allied armies in WW2, desertion from the Republican armies in the Spanish Civil War, desertion from the Vietnamese army against the Americans: these acts were good in themselves?”

The dialogue below is made up:

A: “I think that it’s always a good thing to refuse to shoot people!”
B: “But wait. In some circumstances, it may be necessary for a police officer to shoot a depraved criminal because that’s the only way to stop him. How can you say that it would be a good thing for the police officer to refuse?”
A: “Those cases are very rare. Why not just congratulate everyone who doesn’t shoot, and not bother to worry about the rare cases in which they really should have?”
B: “Because I’m really, really interested in those cases. In fact, have you ever considered that if a terrorist knows the location of a ticking bomb, it may be the right thing to do to torture him?”
A: “What?”
B: “Why are you condemning torture in such a blanket way? There are some cases in which it’s the right thing to do to torture someone. “
A: “Um.. torture is bad. Even if you come up with some rare case in which it seems to be the best of a number of bad options–“
B: “How can people keep up their morale for righteous torture if you won’t even congratulate them in the cases where they must have had to do it? Simplistic “torture is bad”” etc etc.

90

Trader Joe 05.30.13 at 7:41 pm

@85
Nowadays, yes. Bear in mind that civilians do not have the option of deserting.

Bear also in mind that many modern armies are primarily volunteer armies, particularly among segments that are actively deployed to war areas. My compasion for a deserter who willingly signed up, fully knowing he might at some point be asked to fight for something he disagrees with, is far different that for the conscript who was placed between two difficult choices.

In the case of the volunteer deserter I might full well support his particular objection to the war at hand, but I’d strongly abhor one who’d accept a commitment to serve, knowing he might not always agree with his CO/govt. and then choose not to be there when the chips were down. To some extent signing up to be a soldier (as compared to being conscripted) has to include accepting a willingness to follow legal orders without reinterpretation.

91

Salient 05.30.13 at 7:42 pm

Desertion from the Union army in the US Civil War, desertion from Washington’s army, desertion from the Allied armies in WW2, desertion from the Republican armies in the Spanish Civil War, desertion from the Vietnamese army against the Americans: these acts were good in themselves?

@everyone but Stephen
Let me pull a Graeber here; it’s warranted. This is exactly the kind of confrontational derision a person knows to anticipate if they’re gonna speak up about pacifism. Warisbad BUT WHAT ABOUT FIGHTING THE NAZIS AND THE CONFEDERATES.

If enough people demand that you immediately and explicitly exert a lot of energy carving out counterexamples, you learn to just shut the fuck up. Stephen isn’t requesting information, here. (Either he’s fairly certain that I wouldn’t endorse enabling the Nazis, or he’s an idiot. He’s not an idiot. Ergo.)

I would probably be more sympathetic with Allied and Union deserters than Steven would be, insofar as it’s even possible to quantify and compare emotional reactions. But these questions aren’t phrased to invite a consideration of that.

Nothing’s gained by Stephen asking these questions or by me answering them (or me just conceding his point). So what’s the point of asking them? Why waste the breath, why write the sentences? Pushback.

Hard to hold Stephen individually responsible for this — it’s the kind of pushback I always receive the moment I speak up for even a carefully hedged pacifism (some people go so far as to invest a lot of creative energy into re-characterizing Nazis so that they slip past the hedges). It’s a climate thing, exactly the climate thing I’ve been going on about.

@Stephen
Are you being dense intentionally? We were implicitly talking about circumstances in which we consider unjust or at least non-imperative, and contemplating whether or not we should distinguish between deserters who justify their act on principle and deserters who either don’t justify their act or justify it on purely self-interested grounds. There should be no need for us to make that explicit; in fact, part of my earlier point was that way too many people experience the impulse that compelled you to hammer out a whole series of dumb rhetorical questions about fighting the Nazis and the Confederates.

92

Anderson 05.30.13 at 7:58 pm

When your moral principle has so many counterexamples that it’s close to useless, maybe the problem is with your principle, not with those horrible people propounding counterexamples.

If the argument is that pacifism was the morally correct response for France in May 1940, then say so. (If there weren’t some unspoken discomfort with saying just that, I think we would get less voluminous indignation, but I may be wrong.)

93

novakant 05.30.13 at 8:05 pm

“Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have sat us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!

“But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.

“I shot him dead because —
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
That’s clear enough; although

“He thought he’d ‘list, perhaps,
Off-hand like — just as I —
Was out of work — had sold his traps —
No other reason why.

“Yes; quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You’d treat if met where any bar is,
Or help to half-a-crown.”

94

john c. halasz 05.30.13 at 8:14 pm

@ 91:

I think your case would be better served by focusing on the French High Command in 1940, and not the pacifists or deserters. (Also the von Manstein/Guderian plan was actually a desperate gamble that succeeded beyond their wildest expectations).

95

Rich Puchalsky 05.30.13 at 8:16 pm

“When your moral principle has so many counterexamples that it’s close to useless, maybe the problem is with your principle, not with those horrible people propounding counterexamples.”

I haven’t yet heard an exception to “War is bad, although there are some very rare cases when every other course of action seems worse.”

Stephan has come up with maybe one or two cases. Clearly Vietnam as a whole would have been better off, both then and today, if the Vietnamese had surrendered en masse. The Spanish Civil War Republican armies were in fact doomed, and I certainly wouldn’t blame anyone who sloped off rather than getting shot. Washington’s army? Without the Revolution, the U.S. would now be in the horrible position of being Canada. The U.S. Civil War? I guess that we’re not allowed to blame everyone who let it get to that point. So sure, as Salient writes above, it’s “WHAT ABOUT FIGHTING THE NAZIS AND THE CONFEDERATES.”

Why does your moral principle depend on two cases? I think that mine covers a whole lot more cases than yours does.

96

bob mcmanus 05.30.13 at 8:20 pm

90: Yossarian was fighting the Nazis when he malingered, misdirected bombs, and abandoned the plane.

I think the message of C-22 was that it isn’t about what you are fighting against, but what you are fighting for. And lesser-evilism may not motivate, at least at the moment you are trying to stuff your buddy’s entrails back in.

We have come a long ways from the sixties.

97

bob mcmanus 05.30.13 at 9:13 pm

Come to think about it, I don’t think Heller even mentions the Enemy, so lesser-evilism may not even come into play. It is all about looking around and asking:

“Am I going to kill and die for THIS”

The Authority will try to tell you what the THIS is that you must kill and die for: Mom, apple pie, little sister’s virtue, cherry blossoms, linden trees, freeing the slaves or keeping the Union, saving Democracy or Socialism. The prior sacrifices of heroes.

But you have eyes like Yossarian and you know who always win all the last wars.

You can fight;you can go fishing; you can turn your gun around on the bosses; you can go Bartleby in place.

What you can’t do is believe you are the good guys.

98

Andrew F. 05.30.13 at 10:14 pm

Worth noting: The statute designating Memorial Day, 36 U.S.C. 116, requests first a prayer for permanent peace. Worth repeating: honoring and recognizing sacrifice in war is a poignant way of recalling and remembering the costs of war.

Rich @74: There are really two questions about the counterfactual, I think. We need to ask not just how often the counterfactual you raised actually does occur, but also how often it would occur without the existence of a military. The latter seems crucial to me, although reasonable minds differ on the best answer.

Consum @76: my understanding is that Memorial Day traces to Gen. John Logan’s General Order No. 11, which emphatically honors those fought against the Confederacy – and that some southern states refused to acknowledge Memorial Day until World War 1.

I fully respect the need for each individual to follow his conscience, but I do not see how the principle you describe, wherein each member of the military may participate or not in a military action based upon her judgment of its wisdom, is compatible with the existence of an effective, professional military. Imho, so long as the government is legitimate, then its laws, and lawful orders, should be followed, unless they are clearly and shockingly unethical. That war is a matter of life and death does not remove it from the legitimate ambit of government power.

In societies with a more recent history of authoritarian governments, perhaps desertion has greater resonance as a symbol of righteous disobedience. For the US, though, while there have been actions within wars that were unethical, and warranted emphatic disobedience, I cannot think of a conflict since the so called “Indian Wars” that would merit desertion. At the very least, monuments to the act of desertion would be controversial and divisive; and the best argument for peace would surely show it to be a unifying concern.

99

basil 05.30.13 at 11:07 pm

The 2013 UK TV series, The Village explores this subject through the lives of an English village during the Great War.

a farmer’s son who’s Shot at Dawn for ‘desertion’ after being physically unable to return to the front-line and fight on,

a toff tortured by his family’s ability to get him an exemption, and who finally manages to get himself over to France,

a Methodist preacher who sermonises against the war and the characterisation of the German as evil, including before a class of boys at the local school

a school teacher who refuses his conscription and suffers for it in jail, and on his return to the village after the war.

I thought it interesting that this went on air in the UK this year. What conversations did it provoke? Did anyone else watch it yet?

Also, Un long dimanche de fiançailles (2004).

100

Anderson 05.30.13 at 11:26 pm

93: well sure. But disintegrating units didn’t help either. You can see why I picked that example.

Perhaps the best argument against punishing deserters is that no country should require conscription for a truly defensive war. A country whose people won’t defend it must not be worth defending. But in a volunteer army, desertion violates a contract one has made. Tho as a lawyer, I see few cases where breach of contract is punished by firing squad.

101

Consumatopia 05.31.13 at 12:45 am

It does seem that I was wrong about Memorial Day and Confederates, I was just going by a combination of the top of the wikipedia article and my vague memories of a description of Decoration Day from a high school textbook.

Although I’m not pacifist, I can’t be certain that pacifism is wrong, therefore I think it’s wrong to force someone to fight. Even those who have previously agreed to fight–one should not be able to contract oneself into slavery. The military could better compensate those who stay and fight (or their next of kin), or sue the deserter for breach of contract, but moving beyond civil penalties to incarceration or execution is morally wrong. (Though in an emergency it might not be the worst wrong.)

Immoral government orders should not be obeyed. Authority cannot replace individual responsibility–if we kill someone, that is always on our own individual conscience. Someone ordering you to killing might share the blame, but they can never take the entirety of it. The government has every right to order me to avoid killing, they even have the right to kill me. But they do not have the moral right to force me to kill someone else. (That goes way beyond requiring me to buy broccoli!)

The military might be less effective if it couldn’t impose criminal penalties on deserters, if people were leaving when they felt their orders were immoral. (An order asking someone to risk their life without good reason is immoral.) I say “might”, because I’m not at all convinced–perhaps if the military didn’t have such a culture of coercion, it wouldn’t have quite the problem it has now with rape (it’s not hard to imagine that a rape victim would be more willing to report rape if they had the option of leaving the service immediately as they reported it.) Maybe commanders, military and civilian alike, would take better care when issuing orders if their subordinates had more agency. And, at times, the world would be a better place if the American military were less effective.

But assuming all that away isn’t enough to justify something fundamentally immoral like forcing one person to commit an act of violence against another. As I said above, in desperate emergencies that kind of coercion could be justified, but it’s madness to make something fundamentally wrong into standard practice.

“At the very least, monuments to the act of desertion would be controversial and divisive; and the best argument for peace would surely show it to be a unifying concern.”

Peace is not unity. It is tolerance. To say that we must unjustly disrespect someone in order to avoid controversy or division is disgusting.

102

bad Jim 05.31.13 at 6:05 am

Harold @ 88: It’s my understanding that the U.S.S.R. had the same policy during the Great Patriotic War., and I seem to recall Solzhenitsyn recounting that officers went straight from German P.O.W. camps to Siberia.

Basil @99: “Un long dimanche de fiançailles (2004)”, shown in the U.S. as A Very Long Engagement, a treat for fans of Audrey Tautou.

103

bad Jim 05.31.13 at 6:28 am

A personal note: I regarded the Vietnam war as a crime and demonstrated against it, but I was of an age that made my unwilling participation in the U.S. military all but inevitable. Assuming I’d be drafted as soon as I graduated from college, I planned to join the navy, supposing they’d have a better use for a newly minted mathematician than the army, and that this would at least not put me in a position of having to kill other people. As it happened, the lottery had been instituted meanwhile and I wasn’t called up.

I consider myself fortunate in having been required to demonstrate neither moral nor physical courage.

104

Bruce Baugh 05.31.13 at 8:19 am

I would be a lot more worried about the standard objections to pacifism and support for desertion if there were any sign of the US being likely to engage in a war that will need to be fought in the way it actually will be fought. I was born in 1965. We haven’t had any of those in my lifetime, nor is there any sign of one looming, unless I’ve missed something. I don’t feel like a principle for guiding individual judgments about war and involvement in it in the modern day need to account for stuff that happened more than half a century ago any more than I worry that my sense of what’s desirable in copyright law would be difficult to implement if we suddenly reverted to 1930s technology.

The national security state exists, in one form or another, in pretty much all developed nations. It is an entrenched fact of life, and will be for a long time to come, barring remarkable changes of the sort we can hope for but not expect. I’m entirely comfortable with a doctrine that I think works for pretty much every war that national security states wish to wage, and that applies to a great deal of others as well. And since part of the principle is “The key thing is to pay attention to the actual, individual realities of the situation you are in.”, it’s really not compromised by a few cases where I’d have to say “I’m not sure that this specific action would be the right thing in that particular context.”

105

hix 05.31.13 at 9:40 am

“they still bore an ungrudging admiration for the loyalty and sacrifice of its devoted soldiers.”

Just dont think this is true at all, for me certainly not. I feal sorry for all those who died, or had to suffer otherwise, no matter under which circsumstances, even when they were quite evil people. Admiration? No, not at all. I have some admiration for the communist leaning grandfather who was against the war right from the start and dodged war participatin as good as possible by driving an ambulance during the war, even so this was more likely than not based on self interest for the most part. I am not going to blame the other grandfather either who enlisted in the army volunarily before the war started and im sure going to admire anyone who enlisted in the US army and deserted at some point during the Afgahnistan or Irak war, even when the decission includes a large dose of self inerest.

It still makes perfect sense to have more memorials for dead soldiers, since those are far more numerous, those do not even exclude dead deserters in the first place. Those who advocated to desert during WWII and were excuted for it, sure do get quite a bit positive press reporting and similar when, and no negative one at all.

106

Ralph Hitchens 05.31.13 at 1:49 pm

A very interesting, multi-faceted discussion. This is what the Internet was created for.

If I have trouble accepting the proposed immorality of the Vietnam War (in light of what was said above) it’s due in large part to the fact that I participated in it, and would like to continue regarding myself as a moral person. When I served in Germany some years after the war, and met some German veterans, I felt a degree of moral superiority to them while wondering what I might have done in their circumstances. I think it might be ambiguous, complicated, and even risky to claim “morality” as an absolute.

107

bob mcmanus 05.31.13 at 5:00 pm

1) I am not very good at the moral, immoral, just-war stuff. As my list above shows, if you believe wars can be “justified” you will always be able to justify your war. And as the Athenians told the Melians,you don’t really need no stinking reasons. The only important reason you go to war is because you can.. If we had been 1/10 the size of Japan, Pearl Harbor would not justify social suicide.

2) This capability is of course complexly determined, especially in a democracy. Here I invoke Schmitt, sotto voce. The polity is that which can choose to go to war, risking its existence, moving beyond politics, and negating all previous contracts. If you think you can choose otherwise, declaring “this is an unjust war” then you have deserted the polity.

And deserting the polity is about the neatest thing you can do.

Besides reading the James C. Scott this week (not his intended audience, he is way under theorized), I have also spent some time looking up these “Monuments to Desertion.” The Germans do understand what they really mean.

At the end of the Wiki article on “Conscription” under Arguments for Conscription they redirect to “Social Contract” and “Social Solidarity”

You think you aren’t contracted to fight, kill, die, give up your labor and possessions, when the screaming hordes cross the border? You think you are not the Army reserve?
You think that your property and personal rights, positive and negative, that you own by residency or citizenship are not entailed?

If you do think so, if you think you are free of such obligations, then you are a deserter. Or perhaps a “nomad,” not committed to a place and without much property.

This also applies to “refusing to work” in most propertarian societies.

108

Stephen 05.31.13 at 5:33 pm

Rich Puchalsky@89
If it makes you happy to suppose that somebody might believe that, because some wars need to be fought, therefore we should all be in favour of torture, go ahead. Anything that increases human happiness, however slightly, and does no harm to others must be considered good.
Just don’t expect people to take your logic seriously.

109

Rich Puchalsky 05.31.13 at 5:35 pm

It’s your logic, dude. The same logic used to say that we can’t blanket condemn torture because there was a case once.

110

Ronan(rf) 05.31.13 at 5:36 pm

What if Seal Team 6 had all deserted?

111

Stephen 05.31.13 at 5:57 pm

Salient@91.
I think you may have misunderstood me (and I am sure you are mistaken in thinking I am SHOUTING AT YOU IN LARGE CAPITALS).
I’m not putting forward rhetorical examples.I’m responding to your statement that “I agree with ‘the act of desertion is good without trying to judge the rationale’ completely”. I have provided real examples (and I could have provided many more) of cases in which complete agreement with the act of desertion being good seems to me to be a serious misjudgment. Rational disagreement would have been welcome.
Instead, you seem to believe that pacifism is always good, and desertion justified, but there are some cases where few people would agree (Nazis, Confederates), so anyone who mentions these is the enemy, and these are rare cases that can almost be ignored. Have I misunderstood you?
My actual position is that peace is usually preferable to war (not an original thought: intensified, in my case, by growing up expecting there might be another major war that I would not survive, and later by seeing the effects of local minor war) but there are cases where war could not justly be avoided. We would, I think, agree that N&Cs are two such. I would suggest there are a large number of other cases about which reasonable people may reasonably differ. Would you agree?

112

Bruce Wilder 05.31.13 at 6:02 pm

@ 109

And, your “logic”, Rich?

It is all very well to assert, “War is bad” — who is going to argue? But, where is the philosophy, which is going to convince people to avoid war? Or, prosecute leadership for choosing war? Who are you going to convince? Who do you need to convince? Who are you going to prosecute or penalize for choosing war inappropriately, or conducting war badly?

People are going to organize and people, and their organizations, are going to come into conflict. Fighting will follow. Now, what?

I am really not seeing where pacifist sentiments or analysis get you, beyond an unfounded self-satisfaction.

113

John Quiggin 05.31.13 at 6:45 pm

@Bruce “Who are you going to convince?” Well, you and the rest of the anti-anti-war commenters here would be a start.

Your argument is equally applicable to any subject whatsoever. Cross out “war” and put in anything from “torture” to “underpaying workers” and your comment would be equally valid or invalid.

114

Trader Joe 05.31.13 at 6:56 pm

“People are going to organize and people, and their organizations, are going to come into conflict. Fighting will follow. Now, what?”

It would seem like the answer doesn’t have to be “WAR!” in every possible instance.

The not long ago strand about whether Iraq had WMD seemed to have numerous adhernts who argued quite ably that armed conflict could have been avoided and a different solution implemented (an unknowable to be sure) but one where a bit more pacifism might have saved a great deal of lives and money. Would speaking firmly but still carrying a big stick have worked?

The old saw that when a man holds a hammer, every problem looks like a nail seems to apply. When a government has a large and advanced arsenal, every conflict seems like one that can be solved with war.

While any nation can become emboiled in a conflict from time to time such that it behoves them as a matter of prudence to employ an army, there is a big difference between keeping a standing army primarily for defense vs. using it as a tool for global policy implementation…

Perhaps that’s the line that the pacifists and halks should really stare across in a modern world full of non-state threats to national security.

115

Stephen 05.31.13 at 7:08 pm

Rich Puchalsky@95
No, it’s not just one or two counter-examples, it’s (as Anderson recognises) a shoal of them, in the opinion of many if not of yourself.

You may be thinking only in terms of wars involving the USA. Well, one particular US-related counter-example you mentioned: “Washington’s army? Without the Revolution, the U.S. would now be in the horrible position of being Canada” is I think uncertain. As many of the anti-war party in England maintained, there is a good case for thinking of the Revolution as being fought in defence of the traditional rights of Englishmen against the encroachments of Hanoverian authoritarianism: and also for thinking that the current superior position of Canada is due to the British governments having learned the lessons of the Revolution.

As for other US wars: there are arguments for the justice of their involvement in WWI, in the UN action in Korea, in Grenada, in Bosnia, in Kosovo, in the Kuwait war, doubtless others. There are even arguments for the justice of (though not for the execution of) the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Also for the US being prepared to go to war (which would have been catastrophic if they had, and I am very grateful they never had to: but the effects of their retreating from their positions would also have been catastrophic) in western Europe before the collapse of the USSR.

If the possible justice of non-US wars is permissible: leaving WW1 aside as too debatable, and WW2 as too obvious, try the Polish resistance to Soviet invasion in 1921, the pro-Treaty side in Henry’s original example of the Irish Civil War, the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War (eventually doomed, but when did desertion become forgivable?), the Chinese opposition to the Japanese, the Malayan war, the Indian invasion of East Pakistan, the Tanzanian invasion of Amin’s Uganda, the Vietnamese invasion of Pol Pot’s Cambodia, the Vietnamese resistance to the subsequent Chinese invasion, Chad’s Toyota War against Gadaffi, the Falklands, the minor campaigns against the IRA from the 1920s to the 1960s, the small war in northern Ireland until the Good Friday …
There are no doubt more. Add or subtract according to taste. But to call it “a couple of counter-examples” is odd.

116

Anarcissie 05.31.13 at 7:16 pm

Much of this conversation seems fairly unrealistic to me. Few of you are anarchists, yet states exist because a group of people, usually called a government, are willing and able to control territory by force, that is, to make war, or at least threaten to make war believably. If you believe the state is a positive good or at least a necessary evil, you believe in war, as in ‘War is bad, but.’

Once you have decided to conduct wars, however virtuous you think they are, things are going to get messy. For one thing, you will have to kill or maim or terrorize or starve a lot of innocent people. For another, you will have to shoot deserters because one of the ways you keep your soldiers facing the enemy is making it more frightening to face their officers and their officers’ cops. In a serious war, you will have to propagandize, surveille and police the home front, with serious consequences for dissidents and slackers. After a few weeks of combat, many fine distinctions will fade away and what will matter to your soldiers will be their survival and that of their units, their packs, to whom they will bond very strongly. Rape, pillage, wanton destruction, torture, and murder will hardly seem like a big deal to them; these are simply the currency of the kind of life they necessarily must live. (For a more artistic version of this, recall the speech of the French commander in The Battle of Algiers.)

One can recognize these facts and decide to have as few wars as possible, and then only the nicest, justest of wars; but it turns out that the boundaries one sets are going to be highly permeable for the kind of people who want to have wars and consequently get themselves into government. The logic of government and the state, that a class system is necessary, that some should subordinate and control others, seems to extend itself inexorably whenever those who embody it have the power to do so — just as some people should control and exploit (or destroy) others, so some states should control others. For empirical confirmation of the working-out of this principle, see the recent history of that model democracy the United States of America.

The only thing that seems to save states from complete moral degradation is defeat. ‘Victory is death.’ But the benefits of defeat may be temporary.

By a process of elimination, the alternative to war, the state, and the class systems associated with them, would have to be some form of anarchism. A very long shot, it is true, but with the constant improvement in the technology of death and destruction, the alternative is self-annihilation, is it not?

117

Rich Puchalsky 05.31.13 at 7:17 pm

“It is all very well to assert, “War is bad” — who is going to argue? “

People here, apparently. But yes, as John Quiggin already wrote, what’s the alternative that you’re proposing to what you describe as “unfounded self-satisfaction”? Surely you must have one that’s better, right? Describe it, please.

You’re done this argument before, and it’s silly. I’m not making policy for the U.S., and it would be kind of delusional to act as if I were. I don’t have the ability to write a philosophy that everyone’s going to follow, and I’m not in charge of setting up a system to prosecute war criminals. Are you in charge of these things?

118

Stephen 05.31.13 at 7:20 pm

Bob McManus @107
” if you believe wars can be “justified” you will always be able to justify your war. “
Logical prolapse here. I believe some (by no means all) wars can be justified, as all but extreme pacifists do. Does that mean I can always justify “my” war?
Depends what you mean by “my”.
If “war in which my country is involved”: no, of course not, and this statement is meaningless unless it is meant to attribute extreme bad faith to anyone who disagrees with Bob McManus.
If “war which I think justified”: tautology in the highest degree.

119

Stephen 05.31.13 at 7:24 pm

Rich Puchalsky@117:
“It is all very well to assert, “War is bad” — who is going to argue? ‘ People here, apparently”
Please provide one example of anyone here who has argued that war is not bad.

120

Ronan(rf) 05.31.13 at 7:27 pm

“If “war in which my country is involved”: no, of course not..”

Out of curiosity, which wars that Britain has been involved in do you object to? I guess Iraq and Afghan going by past comments, but we can blame those on the Americans..

121

Rich Puchalsky 05.31.13 at 7:39 pm

“Please provide one example of anyone here who has argued that war is not bad.”

You did. You just listed a whole bunch of wars that you said were not bad. “the Polish resistance to Soviet invasion in 1921, the pro-Treaty side in Henry’s original example of the Irish Civil War, the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War (eventually doomed, but when did desertion become forgivable?), the Chinese opposition to the Japanese, the Malayan war, the Indian invasion of East Pakistan, the Tanzanian invasion of Amin’s Uganda, the Vietnamese invasion of Pol Pot’s Cambodia, the Vietnamese resistance to the subsequent Chinese invasion, Chad’s Toyota War against Gadaffi, the Falklands, the minor campaigns against the IRA from the 1920s to the 1960s, the small war in northern Ireland until the Good Friday …”

That’s 13, not even counting the U.S. ones. Are there two people posting as Stephen?

How many wars do you have to say are not bad before someone can describe you as saying that war isn’t bad? Should we pick a number and have you shave your list up or down a little?

122

John Quiggin 05.31.13 at 7:39 pm

@Ronan You’re joking, right? You’ve seen the map of countries Britain hasn’t invaded? And, if they had used darker shades for multiple wars, most of Europe would be a deep blood red.

If you’d prefer text search, try “N years war” for values of N between 7 and 100, or “War of the X succession”, where X is any European country.

123

Consumatopia 05.31.13 at 7:53 pm

@111, Stephen, the last paragraph of Salient’s post @91 should have made this clear, but the issue is whether we should judge deserters by their rationale for desertion. If you go back to Rich’s post @46, where that “desertion is good” quote comes from, you can see he’s talking about the difference between people who desert “a means of political protest” and people who flee because they’re frightened. That distinction simply doesn’t have anything to do with Nazis or Confederates.

It’s like you’re just taking your standard arguments against pacifism and applying them against desertion. They’re two different issues.

The same may be true for you arguments @115 and elsewhere that some other wars might have been good. I can’t condemn someone for fleeing a war “about which reasonable people may reasonably differ”.

124

Ronan(rf) 05.31.13 at 8:05 pm

@John Q

I’m not sure if I’m missing something, but.. I was more responding to Stephens claim that he doesn’t support wars on nationalistic* grounds (not as a gotcha, but because I don’t see the evidence that he doesnt) .. and if he opposses them not because they were strategic mistakes, but because they were morally indefensible..and if he opposses them at times when they were explicitly fought to expand British influence or secure British interest (rather than as multilateral missions etc..)

*I know Im making some assumptions here, so apologees to Stephen if theyre wrong

125

Ronan(rf) 05.31.13 at 8:13 pm

..ah, okay. I can see how my 120 could also be read

126

Anderson 05.31.13 at 8:25 pm

This torture analogy is silly. First, the ticking-bomb shtick is b.s. Second, the decision whether to torture — a foolish alternative to professional interrogation — is not comparable to the decision whether to resist the invading Germans by force.

The fact that some wars, like some of those Stephen listed, need to be fought, does not make them “not bad.” All war is bad. The alternatives may be worse.

127

Anderson 05.31.13 at 8:29 pm

John Q’s link at 122 is excellent, btw. And tying into this thread nicely, it seems that the Telegraph “has joined the Bomber Command Association to help raise funds to erect a permanent memorial to the 55,000 bomber aircrew killed in the Second World War.”

Is that a permanent memorial to Allied war criminals? How will this memorial to men who burned women and children to death be materially different from Japan’s Yasakuni Shrine?

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bob mcmanus 05.31.13 at 8:31 pm

91, 123:contemplating whether or not we should distinguish between deserters who justify their act on principle and deserters who either don’t justify their act or justify it on purely self-interested grounds.

Yossarian: Those bastards are trying to kill me.
1st Lt. Milo Minderbinder: No one is trying to kill you sweetheart. Now eat your dessert like a good boy.
Yossarian: Oh yeah? Then why are they shooting at me Milo?
Dobbs: They’re shooting at everyone Yossarian.
Yossarian: And what difference does that make?
Dobbs: Look Yossarian, suppose, I mean just suppose everyone thought the same way you do.
Yossarian: Then I’d be a damn fool to think any different.

It wasn’t Gandhi, who wouldn’t even kill Nazis, or Yossarian, who just didn’t want to die, who were the crazy ones. Running and/or hiding feels like the irrefutable option.
“Join the stronger side if you can” is still the default. Ask Yemen.

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Rich Puchalsky 05.31.13 at 8:34 pm

“This torture analogy is silly. First, the ticking-bomb shtick is b.s. “

While defending the vital need to fight over the Falklands isn’t?

The war-defenders here are only willing to treat “war is bad” as a bromide that no one really believes. They get very indignant about it. “What?! You just heard me say ‘War is bad!’ Of course I believe that war is bad, who doesn’t? And by the way we should totally go to war the next time something like the Falklands comes up, or Grenada.”

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Anderson 05.31.13 at 8:41 pm

“While defending the vital need to fight over the Falklands isn’t?”

Grenada was silly (Yank talking here); I think the self-determination of the Falkland Islanders for British rule matters.

War *is* bad. The U.S. should not have fought in Vietnam, or Iraq (2003). And it was criminal to let MacArthur storm through North Korea, rather than rousting them back over the 38th parallel. Spanish-American War: bad. War of 1812: bad. The alternatives in those instances were not worse than fighting.

So even if you’re not creating a straw man, you’re painting with a broad brush. Made of straw, possibly … gotta be some way to yoke those metaphors ….

131

Ronan(rf) 05.31.13 at 8:46 pm

“This torture analogy is silly. First, the ticking-bomb shtick is b.s. Second, the decision whether to torture — a foolish alternative to professional interrogation — is not comparable to the decision whether to resist the invading Germans by force..”

I think this is one of those moments when the ticking time bomb scenario works..It has no *practical* value as a thought experiment (neither does ‘should be resist a German invasion’)..but as a way of highlighting a moral certainty, (wherre you stand on torture/war) I think it’s effective enough

132

Anderson 05.31.13 at 8:48 pm

“but as a way of highlighting a moral certainty, (where you stand on torture/war) I think it’s effective enough”

I guess I’m not understanding your point. Anyone who thinks the ticking-bomb example justifies torture is ignorant about torture, hasn’t thought it through, and is unfamiliar with the phrase “Dantooine … they’re on Dantooine.” Because that’s all it takes, under the premises of the example, for the victim to foil his torturers.

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Rich Puchalsky 05.31.13 at 8:56 pm

“Grenada was silly (Yank talking here); I think the self-determination of the Falkland Islanders for British rule matters.”

All right, so we have an actual disagreement, not one based on straw. And we’re finally not talking about the Nazis. What atrocities would have occurred if the British had said “OK, you can have the Falklands”. Or if once the British decided to fight, the Argentines had said “You know what? Never mind, you can have the Falklands after all.” What benefits accrued that balanced out the 907 people killed?

Is there any sense in which you treat “war is bad” as having actual relevance when talking about a war that you’ve decided that you like, for some reason?

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Ronan(rf) 05.31.13 at 9:00 pm

Fair enough, and in the back of my head Im aware* that you’re a philospher and all the rest of it, so Im not making this point with any conviction, but curiosity ..but isn’t there a difference between saying something has no real world application (which I agree the TTB doesnt) and using it to ‘discover’ (I guess) where you stand on an issue

So.. would I allow torture in a ticking time bomb scenario, as unrealitically imagined? Yes, probably..Do I think it has any use making decisions in the real world? No. Do I think it should drive policy? No
But it shows that I dont have an objection to torture in all cases etc..

Ditto should we allow the Germans invade: it has no real world application, but it stakes out the pacifist position quite clearly

*I’m also aware Im missing the context in which the TTB scenario was used above (so ill leave it go after this)

135

Andrew F. 05.31.13 at 9:07 pm

Here’s a reasonable list of wars from 1816 to 2007: Correlates of War Project

There appear to be nearly 650 of them. Although I have not yet found the Excel function for sorting them into just and unjust wars, it seems fair to say that Stephen is correct in that there are a non-trivial number of just conflicts, and that Rich is correct in that an alarmingly large number of wars are quite unjust.

Since the CoW methodology defines a war as sustained combat between organized forces causing at least 1,000 battle-related deaths, there are also a fair number of military actions resulting in casualties that are not included.

“War is bad” as a deontological rule, a moral absolute, strikes me (and nearly everyone else it seems) as incorrect. As a generalization used to inform a more consequentialist mode of reasoning, though, I’d imagine that everyone here would think it correct. So as Rich said above, the difference may simply be one of emphasis.

On the question of how war is considered in the US and elsewhere, though, the default position in liberal democracies is peace. Offensive military operations require some government authorization, and the larger actions we would call wars require extensive government authorization (and, usually, are the occasion of significant national discussion and debate). There are very few people in the US who believe in some 21st century version of manifest destiny. Service and combat overseas are generally viewed as a regrettable burdens, like the need for firefighters to enter burning buildings, not as glorious endeavors in imperial conquest. Americans – almost entirely I would say, though I have no polling data – view the descriptors “imperial” and “conquest” as criticism, not praise. I do not see either political party in the US as eager for war, though the dominant view in each may differ somewhat on what policies will produce the least amount of war.

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Anderson 05.31.13 at 9:07 pm

Is there any sense in which you treat “war is bad” as having actual relevance when talking about a war that you’ve decided that you like, for some reason?

Offhand I’d say it has more to do with the decision to go to war in the 1st place. But part of recognizing that war is an evil in itself is adhering to int’l laws of war to ameliorate its evils … like for instance not firebombing an entire city.

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Ronan(rf) 05.31.13 at 9:15 pm

“On the question of how war is considered in the US and elsewhere, though, the default position in liberal democracies is peace..”

Im not sure if this is right..Afaik the correlation between regime type and propensity to go to war is far more complicated (unless youre talking solely about public perceptions of war, but I dont see how that could be measured comparatively etc)

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Ronan(rf) 05.31.13 at 9:17 pm

139

Anderson 05.31.13 at 9:19 pm

“On the question of how war is considered in the US and elsewhere, though, the default position in liberal democracies is peace..”

Yeah, I’m a bit skeptical on this one. Perhaps the error is to assume the U.S. is a liberal democracy ….

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Rich Puchalsky 05.31.13 at 9:24 pm

Anderson: “Offhand I’d say it has more to do with the decision to go to war in the 1st place.”

You’re looking back, with the benefit of hindsight, and saying that the decision to go to war in the first place was correct in this instance of the Falklands. And that, if history is any guide, we should make the same decision the next time an equivalent situation comes up.

And how are those international laws of war doing at ameliorating its evils? Very effective, are they? In that case, I guess that war isn’t so bad after all, right?

Andrew F.: “Service and combat overseas are generally viewed as a regrettable burdens, like the need for firefighters to enter burning buildings, not as glorious endeavors in imperial conquest.”

I guess that Andew F. must be a very young student of history, because he apparently didn’t experience the years 2001-2005 in the U.S.

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novakant 05.31.13 at 9:26 pm

what’s the alternative that you’re proposing to what you describe as “unfounded self-satisfaction”? Surely you must have one that’s better, right? Describe it, please.

I believe that abstract moral arguments will only ever convince a small minority of people – and when we’re talking about war they tend to be on pretty shaky ground, since we cannot simply characterize all armed conflict as immoral, e.g. self defense against an invasion or rebellion against an oppressor.

One alternative is to work on a more personal level, i.e. intercultural exchange, e.g. through the media/arts and student exchange programs – war requires dehumanization of “the other” and people are much less susceptible to this when they’ve met a couple of those others in person or identified with them by reading a book or watching a film.

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Rich Puchalsky 05.31.13 at 9:33 pm

“One alternative is to work on a more personal level, i.e. intercultural exchange”

And what makes you think that these are mutually exclusive alternatives? I don’t offhand know any pacifists who are like “OK, I really went to town on a blog’s comment section, I’m done.”

And actually… I don’t expect my arguments here to do any good at all. Let’s imagine that Stephan and Anderson and so on all saw some incredible force in what I write, and completely changed their minds. What would that do? Nothing.

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Anderson 05.31.13 at 9:34 pm

You’re looking back, with the benefit of hindsight, and saying that the decision to go to war in the first place was correct in this instance of the Falklands.

I was addressing war in general, not that one. Though I don’t think much hindsight is required. If Cuba seized Puerto Rico, I don’t think that would be a hard case, either.

And how are those international laws of war doing at ameliorating its evils? Very effective, are they? In that case, I guess that war isn’t so bad after all, right?

I’m not sure what your point is there, other than obnoxiousness.

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Anderson 05.31.13 at 9:35 pm

142: Actually, this thread has helped me regard deserters more sympathetically. But yeah, nobody at the Pentagon is calling for my advice.

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yabonn 05.31.13 at 9:38 pm

how war is considered in the US [...] the default position in liberal democracies is peace. [...] very few people in the US who believe in some 21st century version of manifest destiny. Service and combat overseas are generally viewed as a regrettable burdens [...]

If trolling, congratulation. If not, this is probably hopeless. If not, please have a nice cup of reality based community.

146

Bruce Baugh 05.31.13 at 9:42 pm

I’m A-OK with saying I don’t feel qualified to work out moral rules for actual wars of liberation from colonial overlords. Criticizing the behavior of a colonial power doing anything but withdrawing already, yes; declaring the limits on acceptable tactics for fighting them, no. But then it’s not like the powers that be would listen to me even if I had a sure-fire formula.

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js. 05.31.13 at 9:59 pm

Criticizing the behavior of a colonial power doing anything but withdrawing already, yes; declaring the limits on acceptable tactics for fighting them, no.

Glad you brought this up — it’s what I’ve found myself thinking of throughout this thread. Leaving aside the specific questions of desertion (which I’m all for), I’m pretty much with Salient/JQ/Rich Puchalski on the “war is bad” bit. But I find myself extremely hesitant to extend this to a blanket condemnation of violence—even with Teh Nazis excepted, etc.—because even granting the virtues of non-violent resistance, which are of course legion, I can’t bring myself to violent or armed resistance to systematic oppression, whether colonial or not.

Note again that this isn’t a question of an exception or a set of exceptions. It seems to me a categorical distinction, though with all sorts of in-between cases (superpower attempts to subdue sovereign state, triggers violent insurgency, etc.). (Sorry if this somewhat OT.)

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js. 05.31.13 at 10:03 pm

Whoops. The last sentence of first para above should read:

…I can’t bring myself to object to violent or armed resistance, etc.

Also, should be: I’m with Salient/JQ/Rich Puchalsky—sorry for misspelling.

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Rich Puchalsky 05.31.13 at 10:11 pm

“But I find myself extremely hesitant to extend this to a blanket condemnation of violence”

I didn’t actually call start with calls for a blanket condemnation of anything. I called for a blanket congratulation of deserters. I think there’s a difference. Similarly, “war is bad” is — if you actually believe it — a reason not to go to war. Not a condemnation as such.

That said, I invite people to consider the example of Vietnam again. Should the U.S. have involved itself in that war? Of course not. Should the North Vietnamese have just surrendered, once the U.S. intervened? Of course. Would the atrocities have in fact been greater if the U.S. took over the country than they were in the actual war? How long would the U.S. have held the country? Would it still be under U.S. rule now? How well did they do under the rule of their own home-grown despots?

150

Ronan(rf) 05.31.13 at 10:11 pm

On the resistance to colonial rule bit, Perry Anderson made this observation recenty vis a vis Gandhi:

“While this drama was unfolding in India, a battle in parallel was being fought in Ireland. By the summer of 1920 Non-Cooperation and the War of Independence were in progress together. Gandhi called off the first in February 1922, as British forces were sent packing by the second: the treaty conceding the Irish a Free State had been signed just two months before, and by August the 26 counties were shot of them. Since the mid-19th century, Britain had always stationed a much higher number of troops relative to population in Ireland than in India, with a lower proportion of local recruits: typically, a military establishment of about 25,000, and a constabulary of 10,000, for an island of 4.5 million inhabitants, less than a hundred miles from England – a ratio of 1:130. In India, 4000 miles away, where the machinery of repression mustered some 400,000 for a population of 300 million, the ratio was 1:750. Yet within less than three years, an Irish guerrilla of not more than 3000 combatants at any one time had destroyed the colonial police and effectively driven the colonial army – upped to 40,000 for counter-insurgency – from the field in the larger part of the country. Had there been any synchronised campaign in India, with its hugely more favourable balance of potential forces, not to speak of logistics, the issue could hardly have been in doubt. Instead, there was the fiasco of Bardoli, and the postponement of independence for a quarter of a century. The price of national liberation was not small in Ireland: division of the country and civil war. But it was tiny compared with the bill that would eventually be paid in India.”

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v34/n13/perry-anderson/gandhi-centre-stage

Although I don’t know how accurate it is.
The Irish historian Ronan Fanning has also recently made a similar argument (that there was no realistic constiutional/peaceful solution in Ireland) and that to achieve independence force was neccessary

That’s not to take a position one way or the other (or on the larger questions of war in general, WW1 etc) because I dont know what my position is, but still..

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Anderson 05.31.13 at 10:14 pm

very few people in the US who believe in some 21st century version of manifest destiny

*Besides* the Republican Party? Because Daniel Larison spent much of 2011-12 calling those Repubs out for exactly that.

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Rich Puchalsky 05.31.13 at 10:37 pm

“Though I don’t think much hindsight is required. If Cuba seized Puerto Rico, I don’t think that would be a hard case, either.”

And I shouldn’t pass this one up. Looking at wiki, it seems that Cuba’s population is about 11 million. Puerto Rico’s population is about 3 million. If Cuba seized Puerto Rico to bring the island the self-determination that they clearly lack under U.S. rule — and the Puerto Ricans decided on non-violent resistance — don’t you think the Cubans would have a certain amount of difficulty? Of course, maybe the Cubans would decide on mass executions. Those Cubanazis.

That’s the example of someone who knows in some abstract sense that they’re supposed to say that war is bad, but who has difficulty applying it to actual situations. Or, what I think is more likely, someone who really doesn’t believe that war is all that bad, at least when it comes to defending colonial possessions against other colonizers.

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js. 05.31.13 at 10:53 pm

I didn’t actually call start with calls for a blanket condemnation of anything. I called for a blanket congratulation of deserters. I think there’s a difference.

I get this. I think I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said. At the same time, I find it hard to assent to, “The North Vietnamese should have surrendered,” but I’m not even sure I can defend that adequately. I guess I find it hard to give any clear sense to “should” in that sentence — so, e.g., I’m not any happier assenting to, “The N. Vietnamese should’ve fought tooth and nail.” But I do think it was quite legitimate of them to fight rather than surrender. (Anyway, like I said, my comment might’ve been a bit off-topic to begin with, and I’m happy to not push it any further.)

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js. 05.31.13 at 10:54 pm

Ronan @150:

Yeah, I was pretty struck by that passage when I read it. I still have no idea what to make of it.

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Rich Puchalsky 05.31.13 at 11:11 pm

“I guess I find it hard to give any clear sense to “should” in that sentence — so, e.g., I’m not any happier assenting to, “The N. Vietnamese should’ve fought tooth and nail.””

One way to resolve this is to say that since you’re not Vietnamese, you shouldn’t be telling them what to do at all. But in a consequentialist sense, what did they gain and lose by winning that war? National pride, and a million dead. Oh, and “self determination” which consisted of rule by an internally generated despotic elite rather than an external one. I can only say that insofar as I can imagine myself being Vietnamese, I would have been looking for any way to desert that I could.

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Antti Nannimus 06.01.13 at 1:22 am

Hi,

When the push comes to shove, and we are forced to make up our own minds under a compulsory military conscription system, or even later once conscripted or volunteered into a painful moral military predicament, no matter how we may have arrived there, then it’s too late to work out all the moral, ethical, philosophical, social, criminal, political, and practical arguments pro and con. At some point either before or during that dilemma, if we are unlucky, we are forced to decide what we, as individuals, will countenance in our own behavior. It isn’t necessary to question, criticize, or condemn any other person’s choices under those circumstances. In fact, often they are mostly irrelevant. We simply need to decide, at some point, who we want to be ourselves. There will be consequences either way, and others will presume to judge us no matter what we decide.

There was such a decision once forced on me, never mind the circumstances. In my “heart of hearts” at that time, I felt, believed, and understood that making war on other people is an act of insanity, and that all war is ultimately a collective insanity.

I recognize that other good people might come to other decisions, and I don’t presume to judge them. I respect their right to make different moral choices. However I don’t feel particularly obligated to “honor” those choices, and I resent those who might now feel entitled to condemn mine.

We walk through this life often faced with difficult and complex decisions. Nobody should presume to judge the character of others who are forced to make them in a different way.

Have a nice day,
Antti

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Consumatopia 06.01.13 at 2:15 am

Fair enough, and in the back of my head Im aware* that you’re a philospher and all the rest of it, so Im not making this point with any conviction, but curiosity ..but isn’t there a difference between saying something has no real world application (which I agree the TTB doesnt) and using it to ‘discover’ (I guess) where you stand on an issue

Before I respond to this, I have to point out that anyone who hasn’t followed your links @150 and @68 had better not be wasting any time reading stupid things I have to say.

I think, even just for the philosophical project of sorting out the reasons for our moral beliefs, the TTB is suspect. Consider the following arguments against the use of torture.

1). In any situation, torture will decrease utility. (E.g. I will be misled by a lying detainee, or torture would interfere with some more effective interrogation method. Note that the latter is especially relevant if there is a literal ticking bomb that will detonate hours from now–there is a good chance that any kind of torture sufficient to break a person in a matter of hours will cause the detainee to pass out or die, leaving you unable to try anything else.)

2). It is possible that torture might increase utility in some situation, but it’s not possible, in the moment at which you are considering torture, to distinguish between those times and the much more likely cases when torture would decrease utility. In every situation, the expected utility of torture is negative, even if torture does sometimes work.

3). There are some situations in which a perfectly rational being would conclude that torture has positive expected utility. However, no human being is perfectly rational, our minds are likely to be clouded by our anger at the detainee for concealing life-saving information from us, and the desperation of our situation. When looking for situations in which torture has positive expected utility, we’re far more likely to make type I than type II errors. Simply put, if I think that torture has positive expected utility, I also expect that I’m wrong about that.

4). There might be some situation in which it’s so overwhelmingly obvious that torture would help that it overrides the concerns enumerated above. However, these situations occur rarely, if ever. The probability that that situation occurs, times the expected utility of torture in that situation, is less than the utility we would gain by committing ourselves to avoid torture no matter what, even if that commitment were enforcible (e.g. if Asimov-style robots physically prevented us from torturing no matter what the situation).

5) There might be situations in which we should torture, and it could be so important that we torture in those circumstances that we should avoid any enforcible commitment that would prevent us from torturing when necessary. But explicitly thinking about and discussing what we would do in those rare situations is harmful or dangerous. It’s better to craft morality to fit the cases we expect to happen, rather than spend time enumerating all situations like “would you personally do X, Y and Z to your own children to stop the Death Star?”.

6). Torture is categorically wrong, no matter how many lives you expect it to save.

The problem with using the TTB to separate our intuitions about these topics is the continuity between each of these positions. If someone says “torture doesn’t work”, that could mean any of positions 1-4. If someone says “torture is always wrong, whether or not it works”, they could really believe any of positions 4-6. Moreover, anytime you’re talking about decreased utility in 2-5, there’s room for 6 to sneak in–the intrinsic wrongness of torture itself imposes utilitarian costs (and 1-5 all provide reasons why simply making the bomb bigger isn’t enough to surpass those costs).

At the most abstract level, we could wonder if in an alien world in which TTB situations happened all the time (an alien species had evolved some biological exploding mechanism) and torture was somehow always successful in averting them if our human intuitions about torture would make any sense whatsoever. Torture simply wouldn’t be the same thing to such aliens as it is to us. In that sense, I think all moral claims, even the most deontological, rest on an unstated understanding of how the world works. Imagining elaborate TTBs or trolley problems or phaser dilemmas puts us on that alien world and expects our human intuitions to remain meaningful.

Coming back to pacifism, obviously WW2 isn’t like the TTB, let alone an alien planet of constantly torturing aliens. WW2 was a real event rather than a hypothetical. However, I think each of 2-6 above can be adapted, without much work, to apply to war rather than torture. I’m not sure I find those adaptations convincing, but I do find them reasonable.

I guess that my position would be that we live in the kind of world in which torture is always wrong, but not in the kind of world in which war is always wrong. But I think the pacifist has a good objection to me. The world changes, and the beliefs we hold about it might change the world into a different kind. The kind of world in which pacifism were a widely held and adhered to ethical doctrine that seriously influenced public policy or mass behavior in North America wouldn’t necessarily work the same way that the world we know today does. To insist that pacifists, or anyone else, consider these hypotheticals, even hypotheticals based on past events, is to reject the effort to change the kind of world we live in. The hypothetical assumes that the project has failed, that we will always be fighting Nazis and Confederates.

(Obviously there is something self-undermining about this comment I’m posting–if considering some kinds of hypotheticals is bad, it’s probably clear from this post that I’ve spent way too much time considering exactly those kinds of hypotheticals.)

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roger nowosielski 06.01.13 at 2:30 am

@ Anarcissie 05.31.13 at 7:16 pm, #116

Let me take a pot-shot at this since nobody has.

Don’t you think that your anarchist-driven narrative of ever warring nation-states, apart from being far-fetched, is quickly becoming outdated as well? The kind of model you’re alluding to, though it had definitely played a role in my own intellectual development resulting in strong anarchistic leanings, is about to become obsolete.

What I have in mind here is the underlying theme of Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man</i<, arguing on behalf of global capitalism as the dominant economic world order for times to come, supported as it invariably has got to be by the political arm – which is to say, the coming together of the nation-states which have the greatest stake in maintaining that order. Ergo, wars are no longer necessary.

Interestingly, the same conclusions are being reached from the Left, the insurrectionary left. Tiqqun, for instance, in that spirit, no longer speaks of individual nation-states but of the Empire, signaling the coming together of nation-states for that very purpose, and end of war.

Perhaps bob mcmanus (#31) would care to comment on this further, since he’s familiar with their literature, but in any case, that’s my impression so far.

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Anarcissie 06.01.13 at 3:12 am

@158: Empirically, I don’t see the notion of ever-warring nation-states as far-fetched, although I suppose the targets may shift from sovereign nation-states to insurgencies and ‘terrorists’ should our lords and masters run out of regular old states to attack.

In the last decade of the 20th century, when the Soviet Union retired from the fray (and then from existence), the response of the U.S. was to push NATO eastward, to look for trouble and empire. (Hence Serbia-Kosovo and Georgia-Abkhazia). According to my desultory reading among bourgeois publications, China is also to be a target, with India an ally, or maybe the other way around. Although things have not been going very well in this regard.

People were talking about capital-e Empire (a la Hardt and Negri) back in the day, which would be quite a different development, sort of believable under Clinton in spite of his numerous military operations, but is capitalism sustainable when it no longer has an outside, a surface? I guess we have to wait and see, because it isn’t happening yet. A state with no one to fight except its own people will be a novel thing, although it has probably happened on a small island somewhere sometime by chance.

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roger nowosielski 06.01.13 at 3:32 am

A state with no one to fight . . .

But wasn’t that the main impetus behind the original concept in the minds of political philosophers from Plato onward? The Athenians, at the height of their Empire, certainly did not envisage it ever coming to an end. And neither have the Romans. And what of Alexander’s great dream? Absorbing all “states” under one fold, under one beneficent rule, has always been the basis of any lasting piece, Pax Romana, for instance. A one universal state means no competing states, no wars and no conflicts.

And what is the anarchistic solution you have alluded to in post prior, as an alternative to the species self-destruction, if it doesn’t translate to that? For only under those conditions, when the state is unchallenged, can it properly tend to administration of justice, it’s highest call, according to classical philosophers.

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roger nowosielski 06.01.13 at 3:52 am

btw, I like the outside/surface metaphor, visual image, which is to say, it can thrive only when there’s something else left to exploit, a marked difference. But once you attain homegeneity, perhaps the unintended though inevitable consequence, can one speak of capitalism in any meaningful sense? What else would be there to contrast it with?

Just a Wittgensteinian comment, but what the hell.

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john c. halasz 06.01.13 at 3:54 am

” A state with no one to fight except its own people will be a novel thing, although it has probably happened on a small island somewhere sometime by chance.”

Maybe Guatemala?

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roger nowosielski 06.01.13 at 4:12 am

I’d surely love to have Marthe Raymond to comment on the situation because of her first-hand knowledge and expertise.

Unfortunately, she’d taken a graceful or not so graceful exit from this forum. As a result of having ruffled some feathers, she’d been declared null & void.

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bob mcmanus 06.01.13 at 4:39 am

158: I try to reserve my evenings for art-movies.

Here is a taste. Not long. I am very far from an expert or activist.

http://www.softtargetsjournal.com/v21/tiqqun.php

tiqqun is in part a reaction to Hardt & Negri, and might be considered the Lenin to H & N’s Bernstein. The anarchists can claim them, but their appeal to Marxians is that they are well theorized with bleeding-edge Continental Philosophy. Agamben and Baudrillard. Schmitt. The stuff that looks like poetry to Anglo-American political economists.

Capital can’t survive without the nation-state and global gradients.

Nah, not on Friday night.

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bad Jim 06.01.13 at 7:57 am

I’m having trouble with the idea that it would have been sensible for the Vietnamese not to have fought the Americans, first because they had a reasonable expectation of winning, and second because they would have had to get around to it sooner or later. The present situation of the country is certainly less than wonderful, and perhaps worse than some of its neighbors, but leaving half the country occupied might not have been a recipe for success.

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Ronan(rf) 06.01.13 at 11:30 am

Thank you for the response Consumatopia!

I don’t really have anything to add to it, not because I dont appreciate the effort and find it informative and largely convincing, but becase we’re way above my paygrade here and I have nothing (even less than usual) of value to add….

….also, that article @68 really is brilliant, isnt it?

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Andrew F. 06.01.13 at 11:39 am

Rich @140, Anderson@139, Ronan@137, et al

We’ve all strayed a bit from the original subject of the post, but not too far, and given the subject matter, the thread has been remarkably civil and consistently substantive.

On the question of the default position in liberal democracies: it’s simply a legal and political fact that the default position is peace, in that to go to war requires a vote (in the case of a large-scale conflict) or a decision (in the case of smaller operations) to do so. If one does nothing, then one does not go to war. Therefore the default position is peace – at least ordinarily. However – and I admit that this is a big however – there is a fair concern that the global campaign against al Qaeda and “al Qaeda affiliates” is turning into a default position, a new long term normal, without end. I think this concern would make for an interesting discussion, but it’s a topic too large for this thread.

Now there’s a different way of reading default position, that reads “peace is the default position” as the claim that liberal democracies have high burdens of persuasion which must be met before they are willing to go to war.

The latter reading may not have always been true of liberal democracies, but I believe that it is true today.

Rich, neither Afghanistan nor Iraq were undertaken lightly, or for the sake of imperial conquest. Afghanistan was and is a clear case of self-defense; it was viewed as a grim necessity by the public, by everyone, mixed with an understandably vengeful desire to kill AQ. Iraq was preceded by months of debate and discussion, and efforts at resolution short of war; the invasion itelf, moreover, occurred less than 1.5 years after 9/11, and after intense months of argument which included misleading, significant claims about the level of confidence that should be placed on assessments of Iraq’s WMD program. For the political group within the executive that pushed for the war, the aims were more complex, but they accorded with the public on one item: the fighting should be as brief as possible, and US involvement post-fighting should be as minimal as possible. Such was the plan, anyway, such as it was.

Neither case shows a nation eager to go to war for the sake of conquest; neither case shows a nation that goes to war lightly, without enormous deliberation beforehand (if possible) or without enormous provocation. Certainly neither case shows a nation eager for conquest – far from it.

This all becomes more complicated, of course, when we consider military and paramilitary operations short of war, or when we consider other aspects of US foreign policy.

I realize that we probably disagree on some, perhaps all, of these items. But I’m not raising them to simply provoke a reaction. I know enough about this area to know that I am being reasonable, but then I also know enough to realize that I may be wrong. So, all of this is said with an open mind.

168

Rich Puchalsky 06.01.13 at 12:17 pm

bad Jim: “I’m having trouble with the idea that it would have been sensible for the Vietnamese not to have fought the Americans, first because they had a reasonable expectation of winning, and second because they would have had to get around to it sooner or later.”

Just like India had to get around to fighting the British sooner or later? Or, in South Africa, how there just was no way for the black majority to ever get their rights other than by killing people? Or, worst case, let’s say that the Americans settle their military bases there permanently, as we like to do. Which would you rather be living in, North or South Korea?

As for “they had a reasonable expectation of winning” … yes, they did, by adopting the tactics of letting the Americans kill a million people and waiting for them to wear down from the stresses of a guerrilla war. If you think that war is worth winning under those conditions, then you’re pretty much by definition supporting war, aren’t you? No one goes to war to lose.

169

Rich Puchalsky 06.01.13 at 12:29 pm

“Iraq was preceded by months of debate and discussion, and efforts at resolution short of war; the invasion itelf, moreover, occurred less than 1.5 years after 9/11, and after intense months of argument which included misleading, significant claims about the level of confidence that should be placed on assessments of Iraq’s WMD program. For the political group within the executive that pushed for the war, the aims were more complex, but they accorded with the public on one item: the fighting should be as brief as possible, and US involvement post-fighting should be as minimal as possible.”

The purpose of the war was imperial conquest, openly announced by the neoconservatives, who published articles were about how we should be proud to consider ourselves to be an empire. The ruling party of the country boasted about how we were going to change the whole country of Iraq to be like us; there was no plan for the occupation to be as minimal as possible, but rather for wholesale redesign in our interests. The invasion of Iraq did occur 1.5 years after 9/11, but our leaders openly claimed a connection, and a majority of the country believed that there was one.

The armed forces and political leadership of America participated in war crimes, the most important of which is that of aggressive war, from which all the others follow. Both our political and military leaders should be in jail, if the precedents of Nuremburg were going to be followed. Instead, our current leadership has colluded in shielding these criminals from any legal reckoning, and has therefore become war criminals themselves.

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engels 06.01.13 at 12:44 pm

“I’m having trouble with the idea that it would have been sensible for the Vietnamese not to have fought the Americans…”

Just like India had to get around to fighting the British sooner or later? Or, in South Africa, how there just was no way for the black majority to ever get their rights other than by killing people?

You can’t infer that because non-violent resistance was successful in some contexts it is always a worthwhile strategy. Also, handing out one size fits all advice on how to resist Western imperialism might be just a little patronising.

171

Rich Puchalsky 06.01.13 at 12:56 pm

“Also, handing out one size fits all advice on how to resist Western imperialism might be just a little patronizing.”

I guess that the anti-colonialist revolutionaries who had the operation all ready to go but were waiting for my advice will have to give up in disappointment. If only I hadn’t patronized them.

172

Harold 06.01.13 at 1:10 pm

The leaders of Britain and the US rode roughshod over the expressed wish of the citizenry NOT to participate in the Iraq misadventure. They lied their heads off in a disgusting manner. Just as happened previously in the case of Vietnam. The war was conducted in an even more stupid manner. Everyone connected with it is covered in shame.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.01.13 at 1:16 pm

I tried to remember how the country felt then, wondering how Andrew F. could so badly misremember. (No, I don’t really believe that he’s too young to remember.) Here’s a poem I wrote some time in 2004:

It drips red
From the grand liberation
of limb from limb
The bombs of freedom and bullets of freedom
Red as the face smashed through the glass
Caught in a sudden checkpoint
Red as the thousands
— can you imagine thousands? –
only collaterally dead
the desert watered
preemptively

It chills white
White as the knuckle-twisting fear
From the rainbow of yellow, orange, red alerts
Is some one of us, somewhere, a traitor?
Better not to make waves
only to freeze
they say that almanacs are suspicious
better to go nowhere, say nothing
only recite the national anthem
with an eye to the neighbors
sung low

It feels blue
The grade school homilies were false
This is not a special country
It really can happen here
Oh, enemies could always kill us
but only we could destroy the idea
only we could turn the open sky
to the underside of a Tupperware lid
inside, sealed leftovers
outside, bacteria

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Anarcissie 06.01.13 at 1:37 pm

Andrew F. 06.01.13 at 11:39 am @ 167
‘Rich @140, Anderson@139, Ronan@137, et al
… On the question of the default position in liberal democracies: it’s simply a legal and political fact that the default position is peace….’

It is not. The existence of a state and its government assumes either war or the believable threat of war, either by the state itself or by others who wish to uphold its existence. The fundamental political fact of the state is the Gewaltmonopol, prepared to use whatever force is necessary against those who threaten its territory and its existence, externally or from within. Democracy so-called is beside the point, and in any case is easily side-stepped, as the run-up to the invasion of Iraq demonstrated.

175

engels 06.01.13 at 1:58 pm

‘The existence of a state and it’s government assumes either war or the believable threat of war…’
-
Indeed, and see also Hobbes. The liberal state’s reason for being is to save us from he war of all against all which otherwise inevitably ensues.

176

Jerry Vinokurov 06.01.13 at 1:58 pm

Rich, neither Afghanistan nor Iraq were undertaken lightly, or for the sake of imperial conquest. Afghanistan was and is a clear case of self-defense;

Pull the other one!

177

Anderson 06.01.13 at 2:29 pm

Sorry, I’m calling bullshit on the bogus pacifists who say war is always wrong, unless white colonialists are being killed.

Apart from the obvious hypocrisy, privileging nationalism over pacifism is bizarre, at least for so-called pacifists.

I’m happy to support anti colonialist war, but as I’ve said, war can be the least bad choice.

178

bob mcmanus 06.01.13 at 2:31 pm

A lot of this is oldthink now, for conditions of Imperialism or Fordism. I refer you to #164 and well, what is going on. Like in MENA. Syria, Libya

“Empire does not deny the existence of civil war—instead, it manages it…Nothing is more irrelevant to Empire than the question, “who controls what?”—provided, of course, that control has been established.”

Civil war and (semi-) failed states on the periphery, and even in the core, are now a goal in order to establish regimes of arbitrage. Hegemony and ISA is now impossible, and by the dialectic, unnecessary.

A key lesson of the GRC and Great Recession is that no faction has a clue as to how to establish hegemony and legitimacy, and yet extraction of profits to the oligopoly continues and accelerates. Empire is post-political and post-nation state. They are marginally useful, but only as to minimize annoyances.

We are Tea Party versus Firebaggers now, or Alawites versus al Qaida, and the elites couldn’t really care less. In fact they will provide the weapons, material and ideological.

179

bob mcmanus 06.01.13 at 3:05 pm

Empire has established Dominance over what matters to it. For the rest if us, who don’t much matter to Empire, we get anarchy and civil war as a form of personal expression and identity consumption as production of surplus. Everything you can be, everything you can do, will just be another profit center. Capital is now immanent, and resistance produces property, social capital for Facebook and twitter to leverage.

A deserter is not a rebel. She runs. She hides.

Desertion-in-place is about a) not producing *anything* including intellectual property, and b) wasting, destroying, communising existing property.

180

Rich Puchalsky 06.01.13 at 3:13 pm

“Sorry, I’m calling bullshit on the bogus pacifists who say war is always wrong, unless white colonialists are being killed.”

Which pacifists are those? Hopefully you don’t mean me, because I thought that I’d been saying exactly the opposite. Although I should note that I don’t even consider myself to be a pacifist, for various tedious reasons.

“I’m happy to support anti colonialist war, but as I’ve said, war can be the least bad choice.”

And one of those tedious reasons is that casting it as pacifism vs non-pacifism is a binary choice. I would describe your position is that you’re happy to support any war that we’re actually likely to get into. Your willingness to go to war is in my opinion far too high; you’d be willing to do it in cases like the Falklands. If you’re not willing to say that the Falklands war was bad — from either or both sides — then you’re just not really willing to say that war is bad, for the range of predictable wars that we’re likely to face.

181

Ronan(rf) 06.01.13 at 3:30 pm

“Sorry, I’m calling bullshit on the bogus pacifists who say war is always wrong, unless white colonialists are being killed.”

Yeah Im with Rich on wondering who these pacifists are..

182

Harold 06.01.13 at 3:53 pm

Those who like war the most are the armchair soldiers who have never experienced it. The wish to avoid war is not the equivalence of “pacifism” – it is sanity and decency.

183

Uncle Kvetch 06.01.13 at 4:14 pm

Rich, neither Afghanistan nor Iraq were undertaken lightly

This would be hilarious, if not for all the dead and maimed people and everything.

184

roger nowosielski 06.01.13 at 4:25 pm

@ Anarcissie, 174

“Democracy so-called is beside the point, and in any case is easily side-stepped, as the run-up to the invasion of Iraq demonstrated.”

Which is why a conscription system, such as via draft, e.g., is better suited to so-called democracies, not because it’d ensure that the war the state is about to embark on is a just one, but by virtue of the possible opposition to the draft — indicating that the contemplated war/operation is not a popular one (and therefore possibly unjust). At the very least, a draft system, when unopposed, ensures public support for the war, along with public responsibility. The use of drones as instruments of warfare, on the other hand, removes the decision making from public arena, and because of virtually no human cost to the aggressor, it also absolves the public of any responsibility.

As Norman Mailer once remarked concerning sex that since it’s a dangerous thing, the use of prophylactics obscures the danger or, in any event, makes light of it, the same stance should be adopted concerning was: there had better be a great human cost involved on the part of the aggressor, or we’re apt to regard the business of war too lightly.

185

john c. halasz 06.01.13 at 4:31 pm

Is Andrew F. a botnet?

186

roger nowosielski 06.01.13 at 4:54 pm

@ bob mcmanus 06.01.13 at 2:31 pm, 178

As much as I try and want to, I can’t read some of Tiqqun postulates in any other way than poetry. More significantly, perhaps, as a form of resignation and a kind of lament of the Western mind’s inability to come to terms with its own impotence. I try to come to grip with some of these notions here, for example, not successfully though, I’m afraid.

One the other hand, what you post in #179 seem more “down-to-earth,” with traces of Foucault and the early school, and very much in line with a rather rigorous analysis in “The Politics of Incivility:
Autonomia and Tiqqun,”
also by Jason Smith.

187

roger nowosielski 06.01.13 at 4:57 pm

@185

You mean, something akin to a computer virus with trollish subroutines?

188

Andrew F. 06.01.13 at 5:04 pm

Rich @169: The purpose of the war was imperial conquest, openly announced by the neoconservatives, who published articles were about how we should be proud to consider ourselves to be an empire. The ruling party of the country boasted about how we were going to change the whole country of Iraq to be like us; there was no plan for the occupation to be as minimal as possible, but rather for wholesale redesign in our interests.

Well, some of this depends on how you’re using the word imperial.

Were American goals “imperial” in the sense of Nexon and Wright’s use of imperial? Yes, in part. But there’s a distinction to be drawn between the way Nexon and Wright use the word, and the way that the word is used normatively in ordinary discourse. When the term “imperial” was used to criticize US policy towards Iraq, it was undoubtedly being used in the normative sense. In the normative, ordinary sense of the word “imperial”, I don’t think US goals were imperial.

“Conquest”, in either its dusty legal sense from obsolete parts of international law, or its ordinary sense, doesn’t fit well here at all.

Here is a fairly comprehensive assessment of the post-war planning for the Iraq War. It reviews not only the military process and plans, but also those of civilian agencies, as well as proposals from NGOs.

What emerges from that report is consistent with what numerous other authors have written, that influential neoconservatives within the Bush Administration believed that Iraqi society would quickly become self-governing, and that the US would be welcomed as liberators. The number of US military personnel, according to them, would be reduced to 30k-40k (less than those in South Korea) within a year. There were those who were much less optimistic, of course, and recommended force levels above what the US used during the invasion to keep order – recommendations which were rejected by the Bush Administration. As to transforming Iraq, the neocons are actually much dumber, in a grander way, than you think: remove the hand of the oppressor, they believed, and the Iraqis (as assured by various exile groups, who were duly flown to Iraq to help) would step forward to create their own representative institutions, a shining example to other oppressed populations that “freedom works” (see, e.g. Michael Ledeen’s op-ed in the Wall St. Journal).

But, the (imho) stupidity of certain plans and factions notwithstanding, what every plan and every faction has in common is the goal of handing power to a self-governing Iraq as quickly as possible. And within the Bush Administration, neither Rumsfeld (with his deep commitment to “military transformation” and the strategies it entails – a reliance on precision strikes from long range), nor Bush (with his aversion to nation-building and his interest in re-election), nor Powell, nor anyone else had an interest in or commit to the “imperial conquest” of Iraq as those terms are ordinary used.

Motives and goals, of course, don’t necessarily imply particular consequences; an action can be one of “imperial conquest” even if those who undertook it intended otherwise. But the US has withdrawn most of its forces from Iraq, and is doing so from Afghanistan. These aren’t indicative of conquest in any sense of the word.

Finally, as to whether there was any serious discussion or debate leading up to the war, here is a quote from an article published in the US Army War College’s Parameters shortly before the invasion:

The heart of the threat is al Qaeda, not Iraq, and a US war against Iraq inevitably will divert strategic attention and military resources away not only from the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and the destruction of al Qaeda, but also from America’s still unacceptably weak homeland defenses. It was precisely for this reason that former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft warned against an American attack on Iraq. “Our pre-eminent security priority . . . is the war on terrorism,” he declared in August 2002. An attack on Iraq “would seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, the global counterterrorist campaign we have undertaken,” in part because the international unpopularity of a US attack on Iraq would result in a “serious degradation in international cooperation with us against terrorism.” In that same month, The New York Times’ Frank Rich commented that in Iraq “we have chosen a first-strike target, however thuggish, that may be tangential to the stateless, itinerant Islamic terrorism of the youthful Mohamed Atta generation.” The Wall Street Journal’s Gerry Seib agreed: “Saddam Hussein is 65 years old . . . and represents the threat of yesterday and today. These young terrorists [of al Qaeda] are the threat of today and tomorrow. And we shouldn’t fool ourselves: By itself, taking out the Iraqi leader will do little to eliminate them as a threat. In the short term, in fact, going after Iraq may stir them up further.” For former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, “It makes little sense now to focus the world’s attention and our own military, intelligence, diplomatic, and financial resources on a plan to invade Iraq instead of on al Qaeda’s ongoing plans to murder innocent people. We cannot fight a second monumental struggle without detracting from the first one.”

Our impressions of that time period may simply differ, Rich. I remember, vividly, a lot of passionate, thorough discussion – followed by a bad, but legitimate, decision of the government. Lots of dishonesty, incompetence, and errors on the part of policymakers along the way. And for me, quite frankly, that makes it all the more important to underscore why the service of those who died in that war is important.

189

engels 06.01.13 at 9:04 pm

For some reason, I’m reminded of this piece by the artist Hassan Khan:

http://artasiapacific.com/image_columns/0004/2137/expanding_asia_07.jpg

190

LFC 06.01.13 at 10:58 pm

Andrew F. @167

However – and I admit that this is a big however – there is a fair concern that the global campaign against al Qaeda and “al Qaeda affiliates” is turning into a default position, a new long term normal, without end. I think this concern would make for an interesting discussion, but it’s a topic too large for this thread.

Hello? I assume you are aware that the Pres. of the U.S. recently gave a major speech on this precise topic. Odd that you don’t bother to mention it.

191

roger nowosielski 06.01.13 at 11:09 pm

I don’t follow presidential speeches, so perhaps you might enlighten us all. A link would help.

192

LFC 06.01.13 at 11:18 pm

Sure, Roger N. — here you are
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/23/obama-drone-speech-transcript_n_3327332.html

(cd have done some other link eg WaPo or NYT or White Hse Press office — this is just the one i had bkmarked)

193

LFC 06.01.13 at 11:29 pm

There’s been a lot of reaction to the speech — see e.g. (and these are not the high-traffic newspaper or web sites — I’m omitting all the big, obvious ones; and, disclosure — the first one listed is my own post):

http://howlatpluto.blogspot.com/2013/05/a-rebuke-to-misguided-doctrine-of.html

http://www.whiteoliphaunt.com/duckofminerva/2013/05/obama-drones-and-the-matter-of-definitions.html

http://democratic-individuality.blogspot.com/2013/05/obamas-turning-point.html

194

Rich Puchalsky 06.01.13 at 11:48 pm

“And before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – the highest standard we can set.”

The speech is valueless propaganda. No one was punished when fabricated evidence about WMDs was used to get us into war with Iraq, and no one will be when this turns out to be just as much a lie for future drone strikes as it has been for prior ones.

195

John Quiggin 06.01.13 at 11:56 pm

@rich Any hope that Administration crimes will be punished is long gone. But, in wildly optimistic moments, I hope that, as with torture, the use of assassination or “signature strikes” will be disavowed as, at least, a mistake. Obama’s speech can be read that way, and the number of drone strikes does appear to be falling.

Looking at the bigger picture, it really does seem at times as if Obama is acting against his own wishes, unable to take on the power of the national security establishment. At other times, as with the vindictive attacks on whistleblowers, he’s at least as bad as they other. But this is all Kremlinology – no one can tell what goes on inside, or at least no one can tell the truth and escape retribution.

196

roger nowosielski 06.02.13 at 1:21 am

@ LFC, 190

Thanks for providing the links. Yes, I’ve read the POTUS’s speech, or shall I say, struggled through it. The speech writer ranks among the likes as Goebbels, but that’s just my humble opinion.

Which brings me to my query: What exactly was the point of your retort in #190 to Andrew F? I fail to grasp the significance.

197

Chip Daniels 06.02.13 at 1:24 am

“War is bad, but” does in fact sound like a sly dodge, a way of paying lip service to the moral injunction against killing while embracing it.

Maybe it is more honest to simply say “war is less bad than the alternative”.
Because we never get to choose between war and peace. By the time a discussion of war takes place, violence and atrocities are already begun somewhere.
Our choice is always only to take part in the violence, or to try to affect the outcome in other ways.

Trying to untangle the morality of joining in the violence is maddeningly difficult if only because while real life circumstances are always muddy, with conflicting information and agendas and motives, with never any clear white or black, ultimately it becomes the most binary decision imaginable- either to kill or not. It doesn’t help that morality is also combined with utility, since tilting at windmills becomes immoral in its own right.

Arguing for or against joining in the violence should at the very least, involve accepting responsibility for the consequences. Or to be more blunt- criticising the behavior of the different parties in the conflict is pointless, a form of moral posturing if it doesn’t shed light on the consequences of joining or avoiding war.

198

Ronan(rf) 06.02.13 at 1:31 am

Andrew F

Im not sure what you’re arguing @188? That Iraq could have been a success with better planning? More troops? Or is that all in response to Rich’s use of the word imperial?

Just to add, I’m not sure there was really a disavowal of torture. Instead there was a fear in the CIA of being prosecuted for being involved in torture and so a move towards targetted assasinations, and a reaction in the executive branch to the very specific ways torture was justified post 9/11 and so a disavowal of that justification specifically. The same might happen with drones, but I’d be very sceptical that it will with targetted killings as a policy, more generally, or with the concept of the WOT, aside from dropping the moniker

Other than that, I would imagine the ‘United States’ will take part in torture again (just as it did prior to the torture program) but in a different, less systematic manner. And if agents of the US themselves cant for a while, someone else will do it for them

199

Andrew F. 06.02.13 at 2:24 am

LFC, it seemed a little off topic – the speech was on my mind when I wrote the comment. Since it’s been brought up though…

Here’s a White House summary of the “Presidential Policy Guidance” referred to in the speech.

With respect to the question of so called signature strikes, the footnote on page 2 may be of particular interest. That said, also of particular interest are the statements to the effect that the President reserves the authority to act outside the policies set forth when the President deems it justified, that the policies may still be in a process of transition, and that the policies are being continually refined.

I tentatively agree with you LFC that the address may be important in that it confirms a pivot away from some of the more expansive conceptions of the “global war on terror.”

However, I’m not entirely certain as to all the purposes of the speech, or its implications. Does it portend a dramatic scaling back of the US use of lethal force, or was it an attempt to change the topic of conversation from the number of “scandals” suffered by the Obama Administration recently?

As a hard restriction on the use of lethal force, the policy strikes me as ridiculous. The winning move for a targeted combatant would obviously be to ensure that he is traveling with a non-combatant at all times. The President says in his speech that he would have been “derelict in his duty” not to have ordered the strike on Awlaki. Would that still be the case if Awlaki had been traveling with a non-combatant?

In reality, I suspect the presence of non-combatants in a given case will simply require that the President himself, or someone he delegates, to explicitly authorize the use of lethal force in that instance (I also suspect that this is already the case for UAV counterterrorism strikes).

Also faintly ludicrous was his directive to the Department of Justice to review the Department of Justice’s guidelines for investigations. Nothing about the subpoena for call records relating to the AP’s phone lines appears improper, notwithstanding the media’s melodramatic theatrics. The leak being pursued by the DOJ seems to be more serious by an order of magnitude or two than the Valerie Plame leak (the prosecution for which was completely justified). Imho, the handful of leak prosecutions and investigations is simply evidence of a responsible President.

200

Ronan(rf) 06.02.13 at 2:40 am

“The winning move for a targeted combatant would obviously be to ensure that he is traveling with a non-combatant at all times”

Well what is the criteria for deciding who is a combatant? Afaik it’s primarily based not on the person, but how they are behaving, so this would continue to leave significant room for maneuver

201

Ronan(rf) 06.02.13 at 2:56 am

..sorry just read footnote one, I think that leaves some leeway:

“or an individual who is targetable in the exercise of national self defense. “

202

Ronan(rf) 06.02.13 at 3:05 am

..that was also meant to be more of the footnote (rather than that one caveat). But its there in the link..still, Im not sure why this should be such a ‘hard restriction’?

203

LFC 06.02.13 at 4:11 am

r. nowosielski:
Which brings me to my query: What exactly was the point of your retort in #190 to Andrew F? I fail to grasp the significance.

roger: Andrew F. wrote:
there is a fair concern that the global campaign against al Qaeda and “al Qaeda affiliates” is turning into a default position, a new long term normal, without end.

…and I just thought it strange he hadn’t mentioned the speech since it was very recent and dealt w precisely this subject (and indeed he says above he was thinking of it when writing). I guess ‘significance’ is in the eye of the beholder.

As to the details of the new policy guidance, Andrew F., I haven’t gone into them and I can’t rt now, but I will try to do so in the next day or two. I think the importance of the speech may well lie mostly in the conceptual rejection of an endless war, which was the clear implication of the ‘GWOT’ a la Bush. Given presidential proclivities — no matter who the president — to leave room for flexibility in decision-making, I am fairly sure the new guidelines will not be interpreted as a ‘hard restriction,’ much as some of us might like them to be.

204

LFC 06.02.13 at 4:12 am

p.s. but I am not sure on that last point.

205

LFC 06.02.13 at 4:16 am

@rich
the speech is valueless propaganda

I disagree. Even a quick, cursory reading indicates that it represents a rejection of the endless war approach, in Andrew F.’s words “a pivot away from some of the more expansive conceptions of the “global war on terror.””

You have to look not just at the drones part of the speech, but the whole thing. Generalities may sound like propaganda but they can actually matter in the formulation of policy; history suggests that they do.

206

Rich Puchalsky 06.02.13 at 4:20 am

“When the term “imperial” was used to criticize US policy towards Iraq, it was undoubtedly being used in the normative sense. In the normative, ordinary sense of the word “imperial”, I don’t think US goals were imperial.”

Let’s look at the model for imperialism, the Roman Empire. They often didn’t turn a newly conquered area into a province. Instead they’d put in a client king, make some military improvements so they could move troops to there quickly, put in some bases, and tell the client to keep out the barbarians on the other side of the border. That’s what the U.S. does with client states in the Middle East, and that was the plan for Iraq. I’ll skip the bit about tribute, because “War for oil” is too simplistic, but people certainly talked about Iraqi contracts for U.S. firms.

We would still be there if the Iraqis hadn’t told us to leave; we didn’t leave voluntarily. Of course they couldn’t have forced us out easily, but in soft power terms it would have been catastrophic to restart a new Iraq War, and both we and they knew it. Your lack of acknowledgement of this recent bit of history is a bad sign. The plan that said that we’d have a client government that would allow troops to stay may have been a stupid plan, but it was the plan, and so it was a plan for continuing control.

“I remember, vividly, a lot of passionate, thorough discussion – followed by a bad, but legitimate, decision of the government. Lots of dishonesty, incompetence, and errors on the part of policymakers along the way. And for me, quite frankly, that makes it all the more important to underscore why the service of those who died in that war is important.”

It was an aggressive war under the command of war criminals. I am certainly sympathetic to individual soldiers who often had no real choice but to do what they did under penalty of military discipline. And of course all of the deaths were tragic. But their service was service to evil, and everyone — themselves, the Iraqis, and the country of America as a whole — would have been better off if they’d refused to do it.

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LFC 06.02.13 at 4:36 am

Ronan(rf):

Just to add, I’m not sure there was really a disavowal of torture. Instead there was a fear in the CIA of being prosecuted for being involved in torture and so a move towards targetted assasinations, and a reaction in the executive branch to the very specific ways torture was justified post 9/11 and so a disavowal of that justification specifically. The same might happen with drones, but I’d be very sceptical that it will with targetted killings as a policy, more generally, or with the concept of the WOT, aside from dropping the moniker

One of the first acts of the Obama admin, as I recall, was officially to disavow torture.
i
As to drones: I don’t think anyone thinks drone strikes are going to stop entirely as a result of the speech. They may well decrease. It remains to be seen how it plays out.

The Obama admin’s discomfort w the WOT moniker — which it officially dropped or tried to, IIRC, long before this recent speech — is not meaningless inasmuch as it suggests that Obama is not at all comfortable, at a conceptual level, w the notion of a permanent ‘state of exception’ (if you’ll pardon the jargon) which the Bush admin was, it seems to me, comfortable with. The speech confirms that Obama envisions a transition to an era of relative ‘normality’ w/r/t terrorist ‘threats,’ wherein they are acknowledged as a continuing problem but the govt is not obsessed w them.

The level of self-conscious reflection and even agonizing in this speech, plus the way he dealt w Medea Benjamin’s interruptions, is unusual, to the say the least, for a U.S. president, and one need not be an Obama cheerleader (a la A. Sullivan, for ex) to recognize that.

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Anarcissie 06.02.13 at 5:01 am

I thought the thing with Medea Benjamin might have been staged, an opportunity for some ‘hippie-punching’ of a genial, I’m-totally-and-calmly-in-charge-here sort. Benjamin need not have been in on the game; offered an opportunity to speak up as she did, she might feel she had to go for it, regardless of any suspicions that she was being used. She interrupted three times; it is a bit difficult to believe that the Secret Service does not know how to deal with those who disturb the established order of things more quickly, quietly, and efficiently than that. It’s almost as if they were winking at us.

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LFC 06.02.13 at 5:20 am

She interrupted three times; it is a bit difficult to believe that the Secret Service does not know how to deal with those who disturb the established order of things more quickly, quietly, and efficiently than that. It’s almost as if they were winking at us.

It’s possible, I suppose, that they knew she wd be there and that Obama told the Secret Service (or whoever) not to remove her immediately but to let her talk. It’s also possible that the Secret Service, being familiar w Benjamin from previous occasions of her activism/interruptions and seeing Obama engage her, decided on the spot not to remove her immediately. I obviously don’t know for sure which scenario applied.

In any case, no one who has read the transcript can call this ‘hippie punching’ with any accuracy. That description is grossly wrong, imho. Unless you think that, by definition, any time a President exchanges in words w a protestor, no matter what is said, it constitutes ‘hippie punching’. Note esp what Obama said rt after the exchange about her concerns meriting being listened to. That’s not ‘hippie punching’.

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LFC 06.02.13 at 5:25 am

Btw, I hate the phrase ‘hippie punching’. Afaik, ‘hippies’ is a word w a specific temporal context, ie ‘the 60s’ (c. 1963-1974). God only knows why the word has been revived in this rather stupid, IMNSHO, way.

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LFC 06.02.13 at 5:30 am

p.s. Medea Benjamin is 60 years old. So maybe she was a hippie in the 1960s. But she isn’t a hippie now. She is a peace activist and professional protester.

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Bruce Baugh 06.02.13 at 6:57 am

LFC: Hippie punching is an accurate description of what the people doing it think they’re doing. You don’t have to listen long to “centrist” and other bullshit to find that in their heads, hippie-dom is alive and well, simultaneously so threatening it must be suppressed and so irrrelevant that suppressing it is a freebie without consequences as far as anyone else’s reactions go. The fact that they’re utterly wrong about the whole thing has very little bearing.

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Ronan(rf) 06.02.13 at 12:42 pm

LFC

That read more cynically than I intended. The point I was trying to make is more along the lines of that I think it’s more useful/honest to acknowledge this for what it is, the next stage of the WOT, when the baggage of the first stage which isnt needed anymore (such as the Bush AUMF, or drone strikes in Pakistan which were largely dependant on the Afghan campaign) is discarded
So that’s good, in so much as (hopefully) it means there will be more accountability in the WOT and the most destructive aspects of it are over, for the time being. But it doesnt mean that its over, just that its becoming institutionalised. (How this might work out I obviously dont know, he might develop a genuine coherent effective legal framework for prosecuting it, or he (or those following him) might resort to targetted killings and proxy wars and security measures tagetted at specific communities at home)
I’m not denying that Obama’s speech was thoughtful, or that his options are limited, or that he’s better than the alternatives, or that he has put serious thought into the next stage and how he would like to see the WOT develop. All I’m trying to say is that I dont think he should be given credit for this, for ‘disavowing’ tactics that are no longer needed, or that have become institutionally unpopular – I think that’s more a case of American institutions (rather than his conscience) beginning to do their job again

(Personally, I dont think his disavowal of a torture program which had already ended – which wasnt backed up with any prosecutions for those responsible for it – is worth much. And I dont think those of us who live in liberal democracies should fool ourselves into believing that this was an abberation – that liberal democracies ‘dont torture’, generally)
Which isnt to say that this isnt a potentially positive development

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Ronan(rf) 06.02.13 at 1:05 pm

….or what I’m trying to say is.. it’s a reaction to circumstances, the threat that now exists is different than the one Bush faced – and it has changed in the context of the tactics that were used in the WOT for the past 10 years
So I just feel uneasy, I guess, with ‘celebrating’ (for want of a better word) these changes, or with assigning Obama to much credit (or blame) for the way this conflict has developed.
Which is less, I think, holding out for a Utopian resolution than just being tired with these ‘big moments’ (Im not expressing this well, so Ill think it over a bit more)

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Andrew F. 06.02.13 at 2:08 pm

Rich – yes, the Iraqi democratic government (peculiar that an imperial conqueror would allow one – albeit a very imperfect one – much less expend enormous effort to aid in its creation), for domestic political reasons, set conditions on their consent that the US did not want to meet. The US therefore left. Rather odd behavior for an imperial conqueror. As to whether we’d be better off if the military had refused to obey the President when he ordered the invasion, this returns us to the earlier discussion about the implications of such refusals over the long term. As to whether their service was “evil”, I think that claim is deeply incorrect, for reasons already stated above.

LFC @205: Generalities may sound like propaganda but they can actually matter in the formulation of policy; history suggests that they do. Very well put – I agree that the general signal in the speech is likely the most important part.

Ronan – a non combatant is a civilian not taking direct part in hostilities. The definition is clear enough, imho, to result in the perverse incentive I described under the conditions I postulated.

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LFC 06.02.13 at 2:11 pm

Ronan:
I just feel uneasy, I guess, with ‘celebrating’ (for want of a better word) these changes, or with assigning Obama too much credit (or blame) for the way this conflict has developed.

Fair enough: it’s true that circumstances have changed, and even Bush’s policies — if not in terms of the WOT specifically, then at least in terms of overall rhetoric — showed some change between his first and second terms (though at the moment I can’t recall the specifics of many of those changes too well).

I think of it in roughly this way: any U.S. president who manages (or will manage in the foreseeable future) to get elected faces constraints deriving from the power of the natl security ‘establishment’, the influence of foreign policy elites, the ‘boxes’ into which he/she has placed her/himself by virtue of campaign speeches, the constraints of Congress and public opinion, etc. Even a Dennis Kucinich, for ex., would have faced constraints on his freedom of action in foreign policy and ‘natl security’/defense policy in the (extremely unlikely) event of his having been elected. Within these structural limits and within the context of changing circumstances, there remains a certain amount of room in which a president’s convictions and predilections can make some difference — and the history of presidencies suggests that presidents can often make quite a substantial difference esp. in the area of articulating the broad outlines of policy. I agree that one should not celebrate a president for doing something which is simply a reasonable and logical reaction to events, but at the same time one should recognize there is some room for presidential freedom of action and different presidents will use it differently. Obama’s speech is noteworthy, I think, partly for his willingness to discuss publicly the conflicted-ness that many presidents probably feel about their decisions but usually keep private.

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Rich Puchalsky 06.02.13 at 2:59 pm

” yes, the Iraqi democratic government (peculiar that an imperial conqueror would allow one – albeit a very imperfect one – much less expend enormous effort to aid in its creation)”

The whole point of having a client is to have them run the area for you so you don’t have to yourself. Again, this is hardly advanced political theory that I’m talking about, this is imperialism going all the back to the original imperialists. Typically the U.S. props up a strongman, but they hardly could this time after having to grasp at “democracy” as one of the many reasons for why they had to conquer. So the plan was to put in a complaisant democratic government, limited in the decisions it could make by being dependent on the U.S. Once again, the stupidity and failure of execution of the plan doesn’t mean that it’s not a plan.

And no, I’m not saying that “the military” should have refused as a whole. That implies a decision by the top-level officers in the military, and brings up all sorts of well-founded concerns about military control and military coups. It’s very different from having the ordinary soldiers walk away.

Do I expect that it’s possible for ordinary soldiers to desert en masse in great enough numbers to stop a war? No. The U.S. and other militaries have had a long time to perfect methods of mental conditioning to keep soldiers in line, and punishment for desertion, and these, not a commitment to serve, are what keeps the war machine going.

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Ronan(rf) 06.02.13 at 3:01 pm

LFC

Yep, I agree with you.That’s a more coherent articulation of what I was trying to get at

Andrew F @215

I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree so. I think by the time it becomes policy and is watered down through various stages of review, the definition of non combatant will be loose enough to suit national security concerns

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Anarcissie 06.02.13 at 3:03 pm

On ‘hippie punching’, see http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=4663 — apparently the term is current enough. The practice is certainly a standard feature of certain kinds of political discourse, and a graphic yet silly term like ‘hippie punching’ serves well to refer to it.

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roger nowosielski 06.02.13 at 3:55 pm

@218, Ronan

I second. I agree that LFC’s formulation in 216 is more “realistic.” At least it takes into account the overriding fact that no Democrat could be elected present were he to go soft on national security issues. Contrary to some of you, however, this is of no comfort to me, nor does it alleviate my concern, expressed by Andrew F, that “the global campaign against al Qaeda and ‘al Qaeda affiliates’ is turning into a default position, a new long term normal, without end,” the presidential speech notwithstanding. In that respect, I agree with Rich Puchalsky.

So LFC, perhaps now you understand why I was confused about your response to Andrew F. I simply don’t see any silver lining there. The state of exception is becoming the norm.

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Mark 06.03.13 at 3:25 pm

What is all this bad but bull?

War, as in why don’t I let somebody else tell me who to kill?

Just say, “No” boys and girls, and turn away.

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