Concerning the Bush administration’s fervently desired war with Iraq, Thomas Friedman writes in the New York Times that: "I have no problem with a war for oil — if we accompany it with a real program for energy conservation."
Now there is a blank check to make war as a matter of routine public policy.
First, consider what Friedman has asserted. It is acceptable to make war for oil, i.e., to seize natural resources by combat.
Friedman, of course, qualifies the notion of a "just war" for natural resources with the idea that one must not waste the resources acquired by bloodshed.
Second, consider the logical implications of Friedman’s statement. If a war for oil is justified, then Japanese aggression in the Pacific in the 1930s and 40s was justified. The Japanese, after all, were motivated in part by the need to acquire natural resources.
Moreover, consider what other actions would be "justified" by the twin desire to: (a) seize natural resources; and (b) conserve resources.
The Bush administration, to be logically consistent, could invade any nation anywhere to seize resources. Mr. Bush could start with nations possessing large amounts of gold and silver, or perhaps uranium.
Why uranium? Well, why not invade nations to seize "human resources," i.e., talented people, in addition to natural resources? (As an aside, aren’t human beings "natural" resources; perhaps Bush could not invade to seize persons conceived in test tubes.)
The Bush administration, then, could do the really responsible and conservationist thing by not only seizing all the world’s supply of uranium, but also all the nuclear scientists necessary to discover clean, safe nuclear power. Then, having also seized the world’s supply of oil, the United States could ban the use of oil and make the eco-crowd very happy. This hypothetical course of action, however, cannot be justified.
There are a few problems with Mr. Friedman’s idea.
First, the idea of war to seize natural resources is immoral. War is a great evil, for the reason that human life is precious, and that human lives are necessarily destroyed during war. Men, women and children will die. War, then, may only be justified for grave reasons, namely, defense.
Second, it makes no difference whether a thief intends to make wise use of the item he steals. Theft is immoral. It is therefore wholly irrelevant to a moral evaluation of the proposed American war on Iraq that the United States would be a "good steward" of any conquered oil.
Third, what standard does Mr. Friedman propose for deciding which nation gets to make war to steal natural resources? Are the United States justified in making war for oil, while other nations are not? If so, are the United States justified by some alleged moral superiority to other governments?
In the end, the attempted justification for the American war on Iraq, whether for oil or not, is based on the repugnant notion that might makes right.
Might does not make right. Oil or no oil, war on Iraq is not justified in the present circumstances.
Mr. Dieteman [send him mail] is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.
© 2003 David Dieteman