War consists of killing people and destroying property. That’s all there is to war. Any honest soldier will tell you the same thing: His job is to kill people and destroy property. That’s true of all branches of the service.
The difficult question is, When is a nation justified in making the decision to kill other people and destroy their property? I think the rule is the same as it is for individuals. You are justified in killing only in defense of your own life or the lives of others for whom you are responsible.
By that definition, the U.S. has fought only one justified war in this and the past century. That was World War II. Putting aside the fact that the U.S. government provoked Japan into attacking, attack it did, and the U.S. had a right to respond. We were not attacked, however, in Korea, Vietnam, Libya, Lebanon, Panama, Grenada, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan or Iraq.
In Korea and Vietnam, we intervened in a civil war as two sides of a divided country fought for supremacy. We bombed Libya in a reprisal raid for a terrorist attack in Germany. Reprisals, in World War II, were considered war crimes. We weren’t attacked by Lebanon. In Panama, we attacked to change the government. I don’t really know why we attacked Grenada. The pretense was that it was building an airport that could handle Soviet airplanes. I suspect it was really a political ploy designed for domestic consumption.
I don’t know why we decided to bomb Yugoslavia. That, again, was a civil war that should not have concerned us. The now-late Slobodan Milosevic was only trying to do what Abraham Lincoln did — prevent the secession of states from Yugoslavia.
Our problem in Afghanistan was not the Taliban government. It was al-Qaida. We overthrew the Taliban government but failed to destroy al-Qaida. Only God and George Bush know why we attacked Iraq. That was clearly a war of aggression, no different from the German invasion of Poland in the 1930s.
It’s ironic that the president likes to claim to be promoting peace, when we are the most warlike nation on Earth and the one with the largest war-department budget. We are also the biggest arms peddler in the world. It seems there is no country on Earth that’s immune to U.S. officials telling it how to run its internal affairs.
The problem is that war, except in self-defense, is a total waste. Human lives are wasted. Accumulated wealth is wasted. The results of war are debt, taxation, human sorrow and human bitterness. The billions of dollars we spend killing other people and destroying their property are billions that can’t be spent on improving education, America’s infrastructure, the health of our people and preserving our land, water and air.
Wars also destroy truth and trust with their secrecy and propaganda. Instead of patriotism, which is a love of the land and the people, the war state substitutes jingoism, which is a love of the government and support of war. In America today, both liberals and neoconservatives have been corrupted by the imperialist war state. The liberals are too cowardly to oppose unjustified wars, and the neoconservatives instigate and applaud them.
It is a triumph of imperial war-state propaganda that people are afraid they will be called unpatriotic if they oppose their government’s foreign wars and their domestic consequences.
Well, a continuation of the present policy will eventually destroy America. We are already $8 trillion in debt. Most of the world views us as a rogue nation. Our manufacturing base is being depleted, not to mention our natural resources. Our education system is sick. Our culture is decadent. Our government is corrupt.
It’s no longer a question of supporting or not supporting any particular administration. It’s a question of survival. Those who value liberty and the rule of law and believe that foreign policy should be based on the Golden Rule had better assert themselves now.
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.