Posts Tagged ‘War’


(Posting a school paper as is. No works cited page at the moment. This will be corrected.) Notable sources include Noah Feldman, Michael Walzer, and Jurgen Habermas. All geniuses.


The demand for justice after a terrorist attack on the scale of the 9/11 events may warrant the type of knee-jerk declaration of war (specifically, the War on Terror) that we have seen in the time that followed. The United States government has done a good job of justifying ad hoc its response to the threat of terrorism, with the general consent or indifference of the citizenry. That is, up until recently. Granting that the situations immediately after 9/11 required the United States to enter into a Supreme Emergency modus operandi, it appears the desire for constitutional law to remerge. Now a swell of dissatisfaction, always present but nary as lucid, has begun to make its humanitarian and ethical case against the continued War on Terror. The criticism isn’t so much about lack of necessity for there to be an anti-terrorism force, but that the means and motives by which it is carried out are increasingly malevolent. By reexamining the justifications of certain practices and policies it might be possible to help clarify what values we carry into an effective anti-terror strategy. This might also help to garner popular support for the operations that have become prima facie oppressive or even terrorist-like on behalf of the American agencies engaged in anti-terrorism. The question the US is facing now warrants an answer: Are the affects of anti-terrorism worse than the threat of terrorism?

            Even if we had established concrete definitions of war, crime, and terrorism, it would stand to reason that the urgency for an immediate response to 9/11 would force the US to hastily cobble together some kind of argument for going to war in the middle east while still riding high on the surge of retributive justice sought by the people. The state of affairs the United States found itself after the attack was unstable to say the least. Jurgen Habermas recalls, “the repeated and utterly vague announcements of possible new terror attacks and the senseless appeal to ‘be alert’ exacerbated the vague sense of dread and the indefinite state of alarm—in other words, precisely what the terrorists intended” (p4). Justice must also include elimination of the threat. Bringing these terrorists to justice was synonymous with killing them it seemed, and the US saw it fit to blend what ever justification it could find in order to take an action. Feldman writes, “To maximize flexibility, the US government would probably try to give itself the option of invoking either the crime paradigm or the war paradigm at any moment,” (p477).

At the early stages of the War on Terror, it didn’t matter which paradigm of justice the US chose, either treating terrorists like enemy combatants or as criminals though ultimately it adopted the language of war. The US used what ever methods reaped the most desirable goals including torture, indefinite detention without trial, drone strikes, etc. This is reason enough to invoke a philosophy of consequentialist considerations with regards to justifying how the US has acted in the past, and how it can defend decisions and actions going forward. While it is true, as Walzer critiques, that consequentialism can’t assign exact values to what aspects of anti-terrorism should be measured and how heavily, it does establish polar extremes from which to avoid or achieve. Without much valediction, reducing superfluous civilian killing, financial cost, and oppression and fear can be seen as morally sound principles. If there was a need for this excess in the past to bolster the might of a culture that won’t be bullied by terrorism, that time has apparently now passed. While apparently effective, as we have seen with the death of Osama bin Laden, and the lack of fulfilled terrorist attacks, it can be equally argued that the methods of effective anti-terrorism is police-like. The US can raise its level of legitimacy by reenacting the rules of law, and relinquishing the policies of emergency ethics.

            The arguments over whether a terrorist should be granted the rights of a criminal can tip the scales with regards to the legitimacy of the anti-terrorism movement. By subjectively assigning the identity of terrorists to the category of enemy combatants, the US burdens itself with a heap of moral risk. Firstly, it is not all together clear that terrorists are enemy combatants of war. Under Just War theory, there must be a cohesive body for which to wage war against and according to Noah Feldman, “The terrorist mastermind…is different with respect to provenance than a general who plans an attack that will be made on the U.S. by an army attacking from without,” (p469). In the case of a homegrown lone terrorist, it would seem strange to declare war on him/her. It is also unclear that a terrorist, in this case al Qaida, represents the ideologies of a legitimate state. Just war would necessitate that there would need to be a reachable peace and a political body to negotiate with, amongst other criteria, that rule out fundamentalist-based terrorism. This example rules out 2 out of 4 of Feldman’s criterions for determining whether a terrorist is an enemy combatant: provenance and identity. The remaining two of Feldman’s criterions that help to support the idea that they are indeed enemy combatants seem pyrrhic in their victories. The intentionality of a terrorist to discredit a state or not recognize it as legitimate is only nominally important in that there is no reason to take their intention seriously once terrorism is used—they have disqualified themselves by their sheer abhorrent and immoral nature. The scale quality says that the magnitude of a terrorist attack might push a regime over the threshold of criminal to enemy combatant, but the threshold seems morally arbitrary. Secondly, the policies of pursuit with regards to enemy combatants, “shoot first and ask questions later,” give rise to a host of human rights violations that serve to undermine favorability to the continuation of warring with terrorists. By a systematic gathering of intelligence, pursuit, and execution, there is an engine of assault without a check or balance to determine whether each strike is worth investing in. Now we are forced to look at the policy as a whole. Lastly; the unilateral practice of using torture, drones, and indefinite detention as tools of waging war raises the culpability for impeccable accuracy to a near implausible standard. Michael Walzer describes the ethics of anti-terrorism and puts it lightly when he writes, “The terrorists hold that there is no such thing as ‘collateral’…damage. All the damage for them is primary…The more deaths the more fear. So anti-terrorists have to distinguish themselves by insisting on the category of collateral damage, and by doing as little of it as possible” (p9).

In order to maintain legitimacy, it is absolutely crucial that the US does not act terroristic while combating terrorism in this way. In defending the potentiality for collateral damage for drone strikes, the US has painted all people associated with a potential terrorist, as potential terrorists. Whether terrorists are or aren’t enemy combatants, it must be said that the term “innocent” is not up for mitigation. Walzer writes, “[Innocents] are ‘innocent’ whatever their government and country are doing and whether or not they are in favor of what is being done,” (p1). It is in this way, that even consequentially speaking, it is damning for the US to continue the War on Terror and instead adopt a policing policy of anti-terrorism. If the methods of anti-terrorism as they are carried out now continue, then the western world serves to embolden the fundamentalist terrorist and public sympathies within their influence. Walzer continues on this theme in another work, “repression and retaliation [of terrorism] must no repeat the wrongs of terrorism, which is to say that repression and retaliation must be aimed systematically at the terrorists themselves, never at the people for whom the terrorists claim to be acting,” and later on, “The refusal to make ordinary people into targets, whatever their nationality or even their politics, is the only way to say no to terrorism. Every act of repression and retaliation has to be measured by this standard,” (p60-61). While being interviewed, Habermas makes the same point, “the state runs the risk of being discredited by the inappropriateness of the measures it deploys, whether internally by militarization of security that undermines the rule of law or externally by mobilizing a disproportionate and ineffective military and technological supremacy,” (p8). This language rises in the minds of anyone who travels the awful banality of the TSA. Without the moral high ground, anti-terrorism begins to look like oppression or terrorism in kind.

The War on Terror, while initiated on emergency standards of supposed necessity can be justified only through a consequentialist view. All things considered, the best course of action was to suspend the status quo of natural or constitutional law to achieve a certain goal. Ostensibly, the threat of utter catastrophe has subsided and now we must change gears as well. Consequentialism with the goal of establishing a world with the greatest amount of well being for all, offers the ability to evolve in light of new evidence and circumstances. As it has become blatantly evident that our practices directly related to our war-like approach to anti-terrorism has undermined our legitimate claim to just war, or justice in general, then it becomes increasingly necessary to adopt a criminal approach. With considerations to a more global society, it might be finally time to take a supranational justice system seriously. Globalization has rendered the inherent value of our borders worthless. The moral weight of killing citizens (read as innocents) in another country that happens to harbor terrorists is equally immoral as killing our own.

Time Magazine Photo of the War torn city of Homs

We get overwhelmed. Rightfully so. If we had only to focus on one international travesty, the rest of the world united behind us, solutions would be simple. Bad guys would be identified. Good guys would mete out punishment. Our emotions would be backed by concise opinions and it comes easy to imagine that the backlash for war crimes would be swift and justified. Unfortunately we live in a diffuse world, and the multitude (sometimes magnitude) of crimes against humanity can be demoralizing. Fraught with dissolution, we turn a blind eye to the mess. The far-off problems of other countries and cultures are not of our particular interest. Besides we have our own problems here, right? We are not morally obligated to help. We are not even morally obligated to care. Shit, all I do is write about it and I express a markedly higher level of concern than most people. So to what do we owe the millions of citizens across the world? How do we determine what the right reaction is? And forget about helping. That seems a far cry from what the majority of people are willing to do. But I do think we are obligated to know and open discussion about the affairs of other nations. During the uproar of the Kony2012 campaign, there was a tug-of-war between the compassionate and the skeptical. Neither side maintains an accurate account of virtue, but the fruits of that argument are what make the campaign worth while. It forces us to defend our opinions with knowledge. It follows from that knowledge that we take on the responsibility of correcting those who are false, or in turn reexamine our own platitudes. This is our moral obligation. We, as a populace without censorship, without oppression (in comparison), should take up the responsibility of the moral high ground. We should judge other nations and cultures for their indiscretions and we should be able to defend our opinions in doing so. When an authority violates the basic rights most of the world agrees that its citizens have, and they are unable to defend themselves, we become compelled to (at the very least!) chronicle the disaster. Let us argue over the worth of other lives.

For many of the lay people here in the States, of all generations, the Arab countries are the paradigm of turmoil, violence, sectarianism, and more recently terrorism and religious fanaticism. Between the rogue American Soldier murdering Afghan civilians, Koran burnings with subsequent riots, and the girl in Morocco that committed suicide to not suffer the indignity of marrying her rapist, it is easy to dismiss the prospects of a thriving, civilized Arab world—one, in which America takes place in the civilizing process. Let us not debate the accuracy of those descriptions and grant for now that it is a troubled chunk of the globe. Within the last year we have seen a turn for the better though! And with the advent of the “Arab Spring” we have seen major change in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. Protests against a culture of oppression have accumulated in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and Oman in relative peace (particularly in comparison with our own revolutionary war). While the results of these protests and revolutions remain to be seen, there is still hope that over the horizon there is an era of peace, prosperity, and justice—even if it is only marginally so. What is important is that these movements, similar to the Occupy or Tea Party crowds here, is that they are movements of the people. The powers that be are being challenged by the general consensus of citizens, not political factions (that comes later on). This is very important because it says something about the youth movement against traditional regimes, and about the power of quiet rumblings of dissatisfied civilians.

Speaking of regimes, the ruling faction in Syria is fighting the dream of liberalism to the best of its ability. While Egypt and Tunisia were stealing the spotlight for much of 2010 and ’11 Syria was quietly boiling over. What started as school-age mischief has turned into mass extermination. A quick and (overly)simplified introduction to how the Syrian rebellion began:

1)      The unrest started in the southern city of Deraa in March when locals gathered to demand the release of 14 school children who were arrested and reportedly tortured after writing on a wall the well-known slogan of the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt: “The people want the downfall of the regime.” The protesters also called for democracy and greater freedom, though not President Assad’s resignation. – As BBC reports.

2)      When the people marched for their release which was a minor protest, the government’s security forces opened fire on the crowds, which included suppressive sniper fire.

3)      The following day, mourners of those killed in the protests were fired upon during funeral processions by the police forces under orders from the government. It is an act of protest to mourn the loss of loved ones that were considered traitors, and apparently this act is punishable by death.

From there the rebellion spiraled out of control, as I’m sure you could imagine. Uprisings against local police forces in isolated cities prompted a military response using heavy artillery, including tanks. The cities of Deraa, Baniyas, Homs, Hama, Aleppo, and the capital of Damascus have been targets for leverage used by rebels and the government. Homs in particular has been the most heavily shelled city.

The death toll in the conflict is nearing 10,000 by some reports, though the exact number is hard to calculate because no one is offering a clear representation of the conflict.

Of course sympathizers to Syria’s ruling regime are the wealthy minority—minorities, both economically and religiously. This illuminates the driving force of the identities within the conflict though it doesn’t appear anyone has lit the fires of sectarianism. It remains just a near-civil war between the poorer youth and the reigning power of al-Assad. The battle for the government has been to paint the rebels as unsavory terrorists, the type of people no one wants to associate with. If the government is able to cut off popularity amongst the people, it will crush the uprising and come out looking like heroes.

Recently, a series of bombs targeting government buildings have sparked outrage in the capital city of Damascus. The people there, some ways off from the battles of other cities, thought they were safe from the uprising. As one of the most thriving areas in the nation of Syria, it’s easy to imagine where most of the sympathies lie within the Damascans. Local media sources there have tried to cite foreign forces as being responsible for the bombs which killed 27 and injured nearly a 100 more, though interestingly enough it is not being attributed to the Syrian National Council (SNC, the united group officially representing the rebels) or the Free Syrian Army (FSA, a group of defected military persons). This seems like it is obviously a move to sway national opinions in their favor, and preemptively cutting off the possibility of sympathetic countries like the U.S. and Turkey interfering. Aljazeera’s video here shows the complexities of the bombings in Damascus, and the reaction from the people:

The United Nations in their inception was not designed to meddle in the affairs of sovereign nations. Though, as Hillary Clinton has argued, when it comes to crimes against humanity, where better to mediate and interfere? Al-Assad is making all the noises of a war criminal, in which the U.N. would be able to interfere, but in order to facilitate a peaceful transition to a post-Assad government it becomes important to not label him as such, as it will also dissuade other despots from relinquishing power peacefully. China and Russia have voted against motions that were near unanimous in declaring Bashir al-Assad as a war criminal, therefore putting him in the scope of possible military action. As major players on the world stage this is a critical blow the suffrage of the oppressed people of Syria.

Kofi Annan, a major member of the U.N.’s security council has been trying to open talks with the Syrian government to reach a diplomatic solution to the war. However, his role has not been without controversy as he was voted against by Russia and China as the choice for the position. Many fear that the attitude towards Syria has been one that is already predetermined by western and Gulf forces as being similar to those of the Libyan example. Strong arming the ruling party could incite further violence and further destroy and already tarnished image of western foreign policies.

It has been tough for Obama to make a public stance on the matter because it is election season. He runs the risk of losing blocs of voters no matter how he responds. In a speech he had said that all options are still on the table for Syria, though military action is still premature. The declarations of war from the conservative campaign have shown the irrationality of shoot-first foreign policy, not to mention the irrationality of the party itself. It’s unfortunate, though perhaps circumstantial, that an international crisis becomes a risky topic to address to the public. It appears that the diplomatic actions taken by President Obama and Hillary Clinton within the parameters of the U.N. supports the willingness to coalesce an ideal world government. This is by and large a laudable course of action, though the crack downs by the Syrian government has made it hard to not intervene. At what point will it become completely necessary for military action either sanctions or unsanctioned by the U.N.? How many deaths? What kind of tactics? 25,000? 100,000?

What now for us? Well it seems that for the time being we are forced to maintain the discussion about countries like Syria in the same way the virility of the Kony2012 sparked discussion about the accuracy and intentions of the Invisible Children group and their goals. The yaw and pitch of opinions gives a direction that is ultimately desirable for all groups. While it seems that the social fervor for Joseph Kony and the nay-sayers that haughtily criticized the supporters of the campaign were taking pot shots on social media, they were really participating in a learning process! The lull in the post-viral stage of the campaign I think is due to the better understanding of who Invisible Children really are, and how successful, emergent countries like Uganda have dealt with issues like Joseph Kony. We can apply the same argument here with Syria. Let us argue the finer points of diplomacy and military action. Let us delve into how the Syrian people feel. We can debate the legitimacy of government crackdowns or social uprisings, as we did with Egypt. Raising the bar of social conscience is how we take part in the realm of things like foreign affairs and moral dilemmas. The more we argue the more refined and defensible our opinions become. By becoming responsible for our personal opinions we defend our own moral ground, which in turn advocates for the moral grounds of others. This is where our moral obligations lie. Everything else is compassion.

It’s been said that sports are just simulations of war. It’s interesting to me that the latter should then abide by similar rules as the former. Beginning most notably in the 1800’s and through the Geneva Convention, War has had undergone a civilizing process much in the same way our sports have, but this doesn’t mean we should hold an unrealistically civil ideal of it. We decry coma-inducing hits in football, beaming in baseball, and low blows in combat sports, but shouldn’t we allow for a little more space in contests of life and death? If we do, then what about certain types of celebration? The sportsmanship of war has taken on an ethical approach that we attribute to spectatorship. We begin to worry more about the integrity of the team than the well being of the players.

Over the last week a video has made its rounds in the media of Marines urinating on what are presumably dead members of the Taliban. I don’t doubt that certain red-blooded Americans cheer at this kind of behavior, or that many others think it’s a horrendous act of desecration. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, “I find the behavior depicted in it utterly deplorable. I condemn it in the strongest possible terms…This conduct is entirely inappropriate for members of the United States military and does not reflect the standards or values our armed forces are sworn to uphold. Those found to have engaged in such conduct will be held accountable to the fullest extent” as reported by This rebuke harkens back to the perpetrators of Abu Grahib, which is by far more abhorrent in that it was committed against live, suffering humans. However, the urination incident does call into question our perceptions of the neatness and business-like endeavors of war.

To say we have come a long way is dubious if not misleading. While war amongst the more affluent nations no longer involve androcide (the act of wiping out all the men) and then raping all the women, and decimating the village to rubble (to say nothing of children), we should not mistake war to remain on the benevolent line of the humane. The cold cleanliness and impersonal usages of drones, and tactical/strategic/smart artillery make for a much less unsavory application of brutality. Without going into the psychological afflictions that one endures while at war, or the banality of evil that all humans possess, we should consider what it is that reaches us from the periphery of our world view. To be cynical for a moment, the media plays on this instinct to condemn the far away misgivings of different worlds. The Taliban’s response to the video was much less severe, perhaps because they have a better understanding of what it means to be at war. Both sides have much to be guilty for in their treatment of the living, and should be concerned less with our sacrosanct fetishes of the dead.

I think it’s a safe assumption that urination is probably one of the least lewd acts marines have committed upon dead (or living) bodies of the opposition. I’m not, by any means, condoning this type of behavior, but perhaps what social media and the spread of information should be used for is to show the seedy underbelly of humanity at its least refined. When we saw videos of Gaddafi’s last moments in Libya, containing a knife penetrating his anus, our first instinct might have been to consider them barbaric. Indeed it was! But by what standard do we hold ourselves to be much different when war is thousands of miles away from our sofas and dinner tables.

As Iran goads several nations into vindicating its views on the imperialism of America, we should cautiously seek out means to squash the animosity. This tit-for-tat tactic of military action is not a good look for the United States any longer. We learned that from impulsive retaliation on an ambiguous “War on Terror.” It’s time we recognize what war entails, and not just on economic terms, or death tolls, but within the scope of ethical behavior and leadership. Marines urinating on corpses shouldn’t elicit a response of shame, but a spurning of prolonged violence, sympathies for the men who endure it, and at the very least acceptance of the allowance for it to go on this long. While I do find war and military action to be, at times, necessary, it should not come from the irrationality from our monkey-traits – desires for vengeance and dominance. There are no more spoils for the victors of war because there are no more victors.

For all the information you could handle on war and violence and their inner workings I HIGHLY recommend this book: The Better Angels of our Nature – Steven Pinker