Mother's Day, 2004, and We're at War Again

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Mr. Polner wrote NO VICTORY PARADES: THE RETURN OF THE VIETNAM VETERAN and most recently co-authored DISARMED AND DANGEROUS, a biography of the Berrigan brothers. He served in the U.S. army.

History Posters of All Kinds! Georgetown Bookshop

After the carnage of World War II the members of the now defunct Victory Chapter of American Gold Star Mothers in St. Petersburg, Florida, knew better than most what is was like to lose their sons, daughters and husbands in war. "We'd rather not talk about it," said Ceil Rindfuss whose son was killed in World War II. She told the St. Petersburg Times in 1960, "It's a terrible scar that never heals. We hope there will never be another war so no other mothers will have to go through this ordeal." But as a result of the invasion of Iraq, too many now mourn family members lost to war.

Few Americans know that Mother's Day was initially suggested by two peace-minded mothers, Julia Ward Howe, a nineteenth century anti-slavery activist and suffragette, and Anna Reeves Jarvis, mother of eleven, who influenced Howe and had asked her fellow Appalachian townspeople, badly polarized by the Civil War, to remain neutral and help nurse the wounded troops of both sides. While neither lived to see an official Mother's Day, it was eventually designated as a national holiday by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914, a president whose armies invaded Mexico, brought the U.S. into World War I and whose administration carried out brutal punishments against opponents of the World War I and the draft, such as Eugene V. Debs. It was too Wilson who once declared that, "A war of service is a thing in which it is a proud thing to die" - a sentiment by someone who had never served in the military and which recalls Charles Edward Montague's classic putdown of living room heroes, "War hath no fury like a non-combatant."

Though not a parent, my favorite female opponent of war and imperialism was the forgotten poet and feminist Katharine Lee Bates who wrote "America the Beautiful" as a poem in 1895, now virtually our second national anthem. My favorite Bates anti-war poem is "Glory," in which an officer heading for the front bids farewell to his tearful mother.

Again he raged in that lurid hell
Where the country he loved had thrown him.
"You are promoted!" shrieked a shell.
His mother would not have known him.

More recently, many no longer remember Lenore Breslauer, a mother of two children, who helped establish Another Mother for Peace during the Vietnam War. By the end of the sixties the group had 450,000 members and sympathizers, inspired by its ingenious and telling theme: "War is not healthy for children and other living beings." Years later, the message was not lost on three mothers on Long Island, N.Y., with the first name of Carol who initiated Mothers and 0thers Against War in 1979 to protest against Jimmy Carter's resurrection of draft registration. They stayed on to battle against Ronald Reagan's military intervention in El Salvador and Nicaragua. What these mothers and others recognized quite clearly was that war and the draft helped kill and grievously wound hundreds of thousands of troops and millions of civilians in places like Korea, Vietnam and perhaps eventually in Iraq.

On this Mother's Day we could use more of the anger and dissenting spirit of countless numbers of women and mothers who have condemned male-created and dominated wars. In Russia, mothers have joined together and protested using their drafted sons as cannon fodder wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya. In Argentina and Chile, mothers and grandmothers still protest the murders of the neo-fascist barbarians who ran their nations in the late seventies and early eighties. And in this country the anti-Iraq war movement has often been led by women, demonstrating in essence against "those who think that War is a glorious golden thing…invoking Honor and Praise and Valor and Love of Country" --- as a bitter Roland Leighton, a British combat soldier of WWI, wrote long ago to his fiancée, the British antiwar writer Vera Brittain.

Unhappily on this Mother's Day, peace seems further away then ever. Even so, my hope is that more and more American mothers and all other women who have remained silent will continue to work against our now and future wars and the ever-present possibility of drafting their young. Do we still need to glorify war and military service? Do we need yet another war memorial to the dead in Washington? Do we need more war widows and mothers sorrowing for the rest of their lives over their dead husbands and wives, children and grandchildren? Do we really need to continue disseminating the myth that an idealistic America always fights for freedom and democracy no matter the cost or cause?

On this Mother's Day, more than 700 U.S. troops have died and many more have been wounded in body and mind in an elective and ideologically inspired war. They all had mothers.

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Derek Charles Catsam - 5/10/2004

"The UN Wouldn't have allowed it"? The UN would not have had the power to stop us from entering in to stop the genocide in rwanda. That you would have wanted to forbid us from doing so reveals your willingness to acquiesce to mass muredr and genocide. As for my being ill-inflormed, Chris, I'd stop right there. I think it is prety clear what and where my credentials on Africa are, and I think that the extensive literature on the genocide backs me, not you, as do the NSA documents you absurdly claim support your position. Mr. Morgan has refuted this well.


Richard Henry Morgan - 5/8/2004

"You found a very relevant treaty. unfortunately you missed my other post...stating that even were more troops to be needed, it would have been UN peacekeeping forces and not US military."

It's been a while since I've read the Genocide Treaty, and I'm a little rusty on Conflict of Laws, but I don't think that the UN deciding to do nothing absolves the parties to the Genocide Treaty of complying with its requirements -- to vaguely, if I remember correctly, undertake to prevent genocides. Thus, the contortions of the Clinton Administration to define away genocide were precisely intended to absolve them of their own responsibility -- a responsibility independent of UN action (I don't remember that the Genocide Treaty compels joint action).

chris l pettit - 5/8/2004

Applause Richard...

You found a very relevant treaty. unfortunately you missed my other post...stating that even were more troops to be needed, it would have been UN peacekeeping forces and not US military.

I am happy you acknowledge that the US played a large part in blocking UN action. Unfortunately you are a little off on a couple of points. First...the US did not supply the information on the weapons being stockpiled and the plans for genocide...the UN troops on the ground did. These troops and their commanders did not hail from the US and reported these developments themselves. Second...you discount the role of the US on Security Council and the political situation at the time. you will remember that the US had only recently suffered great embarrassment in Somalia due to our fiasco in trying to "promote democracy" there. We put extraordinary pressure of the SC to refrain from doing anything about the genocide. It actually surprises me that you are not jumping all over this Richard...for it is one of CLinton and Albright's biggest mistakes...and you despise both of them. It is one of the reasons that Clinton's human rights record may actually be worse than Bush II's...although W is catching up fast. If you check the UN website, you should find the SC documentation regarding the debates taking place in the SC and what came out of it. Dallaire asked for permission to confiscate weapons...arrest wrongdoers...and fortify defenses against the genocide. his messages got consistently more urgent. Gali ended up with his hands tied due to the fact that the security council..handcuffed by the US delegation, refused to let him act. Do you not recall the famous press conferences where US officials blatantly refused to use the word "genocide" and instead resorted to "genocide like activites" so that the Genocide Treaty would not be invoked? That would have obligated the US as a SC member to authorize the UN to take whatever steps were necessary to stop the genocide. The blame in the matter falls squarely on the lap of the SC and mostly on the US delegation.

If you have any proof that the US disclosed the information regarding the stockpiling and genocide plans, I would like to see it, for I am totally unaware of official documentation that comes from US sources that pre-dates anything sent by the UN forces on the ground. In addition, I would love to see any evidence showing any other nation doing as much to block the proposal to grant aid as the US did. I do not dispute that Belgium played a huge role in the genocide as well...but they were not on the SC at the time. To be fair, the French also played a large role in training and arming the Hutus and share a substantial portion of the blame as well. But the atrocious deeds and positions of other nations certainly does not absolve or justify US inaction or the fact that we were the leading factor on the SC that caused inaction.

By the way...in addition to the original genocide, I see you conveniently ignore Kagame's US military training and the thousands to millions of $$ poured into the Ugandan militias that he was associated with...as well as their role in crossing the border and slaughtering thousands of Hutu refugees after the Hutu militias fled as a sort of retribution.

And for the record...I never claim to be an "expert" on anything...if I do that will be your first sign that I am talking out my rear end.

Also for the record...you note yourself that Dallaire requested more troops AFTER thousands had already been killed and weapons had been stockpiled and pulled out for usage and the genocide had gained momentum. THis does not address my statement that there were enough peacekeepers to PREVENT the genocide from starting if Dallaire had been able to confiscate the weapons and deal with perpetrators in the weeks leading up to the fateful period. From our own National Security Archives we know the Clinton Administration and the UN knew from dispatches from Rwanda that genocide was being planned at least three weeks prior to it starting.

Richard...i feel this is one issue you and I might be able to almost see eye to eye on...even if we disagree on what should have been done. The US did not play its part and was the largest hindrance in preventing UN action. The UN completely failed its mandate to stop the genocide. You are quite correct that no one invoked the genocide treaty until way to late (although I will caveat that conspiracy to commit genocide is a rather precarious legal charge that is difficult to prove in court...and that is what we would have to charge if we invoked it prior to the genocide, which I think is what you are suggesting). The French may have directly contributed to the genocide, as the US may have contributed to the retribution after. The Belgians were also complicit.

This is the main reason, other than the Iraq sanctions and bombing of pharmaceutical factories in Sudan, that i find Clinton to be such a piece of trash in regards to his approach to human rights and foreign policy. The genocide could have been prevented...and it would not have taken much at all.

Lastly...and I apologise for being long winded...I would encourage you to see or speak with Gen. Dallaire if you ever get the chance. he is a very knowledgeable man, and can provide a lot of background and context on the matter. He has spoken a few times regarding the genocide and what could have been done. his greatest regret is not stopping the genocide and now having to go back to Rwanda and see the devastation that was wrought there.


Richard Henry Morgan - 5/8/2004

"Ill informed? It is you who is advocating military action by the US...the wrong kind of military action. The UN could have prevented this...and the US was the one who blocked it...and they did not even need to use their own troops! The troops already there were adequate."

From PBS:

Day 1, April 7, 1994
8,000 estimated killed. General Dallaire, the UN commander is ordered by the UN not to intervene and to avoid armed conflict. Just to repeat for the hard of hearing; the UN orders Dallaire -- not the US.

During the next few days Dallaire requests a doubling of his force to 5,000. Apparently he hadn't received the memo, from internationally recognized military expert Chris Pettit, that he already had adequate forces on hand.

April 15:

Belgium withdraws its forces and requests the US to support a full pullout of troops. The US agrees, and demands a full pullout, but after opposition, the US pushes for a pullout that would leave only a token force.

April 19:

Dallaire is down to 2,100 troops.

April 21 and 22:

The US and the full UN Security Council votes for a pullout of 90% of the troops. Estimated death toll at this point is 112,000.

April 25:

Dallaire is down to 450 troops from developing countries.


The UN did not have adequate forces on hand, according to the UN commander Dallaire, who hailed from Canada, a nation famous for its imperialist designs and sense of overkill. The US and the rest of the UN Security Council created the conditions for the success of the genocide, by supporting the withdrawal of even the inadequate numbers of troops already present. The US then proceeded to block any attempts to reverse UN policy.

I would add that Daniel fairly leaps over the requirements of the Genocide Treaty, which demand action. I find it fascinating that there is no mention of this from our lawyer friend who, in other circumstances seems to have the requirements of international law at his fingertips.

"We knew about the stockpiling of weapons...and did nothing to allow UN forces to proceed. We knew of the plans of genocide...and did nothing."

Actually, we informed the UN of the stockpiling and the plans, and the UN ordered Dallaire to do nothing. We then helped the disaster along by pushing for withdrawal and then blocking a reversal of policy.

chris l pettit - 5/7/2004

I was using it in the sense that it means that you are taking a position that is so ill informed and advocating an approach that would cause such a negative reaction and level of chaos as to be incredulous that a respected scholar would even consider it. Which your current position...without proof of the contrary (of which there is none) is a fine example of. The UN never would have allowed a US occupation and whatnot. There would have been a UN force...of which one existed...not under US command...the command structure had no problems. It was US inaction and prevention of action that was the problem. In law it would be called guilt by omission. Again...our National Security Archives affirm this.


chris l pettit - 5/6/2004

Derek you worry me...

Ill informed? It is you who is advocating military action by the US...the wrong kind of military action. The UN could have prevented this...and the US was the one who blocked it...and they did not even need to use their own troops! The troops already there were adequate. I am amused that for all my lack of intellectual prowess you can offer nada in the way of rebuttal other than ill thought out nationalism. I again urge you to reconsider your position. It is not that you disagree with me...I am not important. What is important is that you are taking a position that is simply not able to be sustained without arguing for the loss of many Rwandan lives and dragging the US into a quagmire...because we do not do intervention correctly. We do it imposing our own self righteous interests. If you choose to be nationalistic and impose the right makes right...fine. but please do not make any rule of law arguments, human rights arguments, or anything other than that position which you are taking: that the US has the might, is the sovereign, and can dictate the rule of law and international affairs. THis position, while being very intellectually immature and poorly supported in this day and age, also places you in the company of some fine militarists and colonialists...Germany, Britain, the Ottoman Empire...etc. The problem was not too little US force...it was too much US inaction and blocking of viable UN solutions. I urge you to join the international community and stop thinking with nationalistic blinders or we will continue with our world of perpetual war.

And go read a book about Rwanda...travel there and actually learn about the history and culture...and then come talk to me about it. I assure you that you have much to learn my friend.


Derek Charles Catsam - 5/6/2004

Chris --
I do not care what you think is "unfathomable." People who find it "unfathomable" that someone could disagree with their position, especially a position that all of your verbiage aside is wrong on the fact of whether or not US troops could have stopped genocide in Rwanda, tend not to be worth engaging with, and usually they make good totalitarians. And I have no idea what the hell you are arguing with when you claim that it was US and UN inaction that alloweds the genocide to go on -- that is precisely, 100% my point, as I've written here and elsewhere. My point is that we could have stopped it. Clinton and Albright chose not to. The problem is using too little force, not too much. I'm a little bit tired of your little ill-informed lectures. But then you find it "unfathomable" and "disgraceful" that anyone could disagree with you. You find it disgraceful that I think we should have used troops and concomitant with that force to stop the deaths of 800,000 or more even as you utterly and wholly misunderstand my argument, which incorporates much of what you have said. Your intellectual sloppiness is not my moral shortcoming.

chris l pettit - 5/6/2004

Lay off a bit buddy...

I have been to Rwanda and spoken to the people there. You would do good to read the comments of the commander of the UN force stationed there who had a chance to stop the conflict...could have stopped the conflict, BUT FOR (legal argument) the inaction of the UN and the intentional blocking of UN peacekeeping action of the US government. our own national archives documents support this. US troops weren't even needed per se...what was needed was support. It is unfathomable to me that you do not support Daniel's position. Legally, morally, logically...he is absolutely right. it is not self righteous nor "morally superior" thinking. he has historical and legal support for his claims. Your solution seems to be very narrowly defined when preventing the genocide was totally possible. We knew about the stockpiling of weapons...and did nothing to allow UN forces to proceed. We knew of the plans of genocide...and did nothing. The blame is solely on the UN and mostly on the US...the biggest obstacle to taking action. hell...the commander even disobeyed orders to stay and try and protect innocents when we wouldn't help. it is disgraceful that you take such a position and I really expect more from a scholar who I respect and admire. I ask you to reconsider your position on the matter.


Daniel B. Larison - 5/5/2004

One final thing: I resent the idea that supporting peace means that one does absolutely nothing about injustice elsewhere in the world. It was you who defined peace as 'inaction', and it has been you who have claimed that not intervening militarily in Rwanda means "sitting back" and watching the massacre. There are such things as diplomacy and negotiations, and at no point have I ever suggested that the foreign policy of the United States should not aim to have our government serve as a mediator for the sake of peace. There are a number of other options besides throwing troops into situations in which we not only have no stake, but in which we have no right to involve ourselves directly.

There could have been a peaceful resolution to the Kosovo crisis--your government wanted war. I expect that you bought the entire 'genocide' story hook, line and sinker, and probably still do. There need not have been a war in Iraq, and tens of thousands of people would be alive today who are dead; the country would not be in utter chaos; most people there would not live in constant fear and insecurity. But your government was not interested in a peaceful settlement to the fake disarmament question or any other issue, and apparently neither were you.

Daniel B. Larison - 5/5/2004

Let's suppose that it didn't cost too many additional lives to intervene in Rwanda. All right, I'll grant that. The possibility that an intervention in central Africa could become a long-term, running conflict ought to be taken seriously, but let's just ignore prudence for a moment. After all, we're starting wars for the sake of goodness! The American forces would still have to had to kill some considerable numbers of people to stop the killing in Rwanda. It would have been an act of pure aggression--they had done nothing to us--and this is unjustifiable. How is this so hard to understand?

If you can't bring up anything better than the lamest of justifications that this was a 'continuation' of the Gulf War, then don't even bother to reply anymore. Legally, you're wrong, and for every neocon hack 'lawyer' who supports your position there are a hundred international lawyers who reject it. As a matter of common sense, it is absurd to blame any continuation of the war, if there was one, on Iraq, since the U.S. and Britain had been waging virtually unrelenting air war on Iraq for twelve years before the invasion. The ceasefire resolution, if one were to take your claim seriously, also stipulated that the coalition forces would respect Iraqi sovereignty. That was violated as soon as the illegal no-fly zones were erected and enforced unilaterally. The war over Kuwait ended in 1991. Get over it.

I haven't recast any facts. You haven't presented any evidence to the contrary, which isn't surprising--you haven't got evidence, only assertions that Hussein is always the sole culprit for everything that has ever gone wrong in Iraq since he took power. Take such chatter to FoxNews or someone who will take it seriously.

Iraqi people did not starve or die of disease and malnutrition at such a high rate before the sanctions were imposed, in spite of Hussein's dreadful wars and despotic rule. They did die of starvation, disease and malnutrition after the sanctions were imposed, and after their water-recycling facilities were bombed and after their economy crippled. Every Western policymaker must have known, at some level, that the people would suffer the most from the sanctions, as this is what always happens in such blockades of necessary goods, while the dictator would not suffer in the least. They certainly did not have the interests of the Iraqi people at heart when they set up their policy, in spite of the rhetoric that such policies were aimed at removing a dictator. The sanctions were a deliberate policy of cruelty and inhumanity, theoretically designed to provoke internal unrest to unseat Hussein--this is the supposed 'silver lining'!

Instead, the sanctions strengthened his position vis-a-vis a weakened and more dependent people, whose ability to resist was reduced more and more. Sanctions strengthened his despotism and turned the Iraqi people against the outsiders who were adding to their burdens, just as occurred in Yugoslavia in the 1990s with Milosevic and just as has happened in Cuba since the 1960s. Such isolation does not hasten freedom, and it serves only to ruin people's lives, yet this was the policy of our government for thirteen years (on top of which there was the regular bombing of Iraqi territory and installations in pursuance of the illegal no-fly zones). The isolation was more extreme in the cases of Iraq and Yugoslavia because of the total nature of the embargoes against them. If you cannot at least admit that sanctions have been cruel and inhuman, and that our government is responsible for that cruelty, regardless of whether you think it can be justified, then I have nothing more to say to you.

One would think that opposing aggression is an easy and fairly obvious thing, but some people seem incapable of doing it. You obviously shed no tears for the dead of this war, or any of the dead of the other so-called 'humanitarian' war of recent years against Yugoslavia, so spare the harangue. In Yugoslavia the false lesson of Rwanda--we must "do something" about genocide, real or imagined--killed 5,000 civilians and some undetermined number of Serbian soldiers. That campaign ruined a country because its government had the temerity to police its own territory. Many people were so hysterical over the so-called Albanian genocide in Kosovo that some had no compunctions about targeting civilian targets in Yugoslavia. I expect that you would have been counted among such people.

Daniel B. Larison - 5/5/2004

An intervention might have stopped some of the initial genocide. It is also likely by the time any deployment reached central Africa that much of the killing would have been over, but I won't stress the point. I am not so naive as to believe that there were not forces in Rwanda armed with guns, and that militias could have readily acquired guns in the event of a foreign intervention. There would have been American casualties, but more to the point it is not worth risking Americans in a mission that has nothing to do with our country and it is unacceptable to invade another country to settle its disputes. The practical issue is actually beside the point, but you must be kidding me if you claim that an outside force could have effectively thwarted the general central African war that followed in subsequent years.

I am not claiming that I am a superior person. I do claim that it is not a moral error to oppose the war in Iraq, and I also claim that opponents of that war do not bear responsibility for the crimes of Hussein. I do argue that my position is the more moral one, and the one advanced by Mr. Morgan is egregiously immoral in its advocacy of aggression. The principle at stake is rejecting aggression and interference in the affairs of other nations. If you gentlemen cannot understand why aggression is a fundamentally vicious thing to engage in, then I don't see much point in persisting in this conversation.

Richard Henry Morgan - 5/5/2004

I can't agree with you less. The idea that intervening in Rwanda would have cost more lives than sitting back and watching 800,000 people being hacked to death in a low-tech manner, strikes me as grossly implausible.

As for starting a war, that too is wrong. Hussein started the war when he invaded Kuwait. There was no treaty, there was a ceasefire, which he violated -- even UN Secirity Council Resolution 1441 stated he was in material breach of the ceasefire accords.

Blaming the sanctions for what Hussein did to his own country during sanctions is morally perverse. I admire your ability to recast facts so as to provide you the easiest of paths to a morality without without tears.

Derek Charles Catsam - 5/5/2004

Anyone who has read even a tiny sliver about Rwanda knows that there is no seriously doubting that a small force of American or UN soldiers (as opposed to peacekeepers) would have stopped the genocide in its tracks. This was a genocide carried out primarily with machetes. It is naive, indeed ignorant, to claim that American intervention would have resulted in dead American soldiers in any serious numbers. But it's good to see that in a blind adherence to ideology, truth is merely an inconvenience to be cast off for a larger sense of self righteousness. I love that you're better than the rest of us because you wouldn'e intervene to stop the genocide of 800,000 Africans. Forgive me if I don't bow down before your self important superiority.

Daniel B. Larison - 5/5/2004

My view carries with it a number of moral duties, and I don't pretend that I have fulfilled them all as well as I could. Nonetheless, one of them just happens not to be calling for aggressive warfare as a remedy for injustice. I don't know about you, but as a Christian I cannot advocate starting a war with some government that has never done me or my country any wrong. Indeed, actually starting a war, when none is required to protect my own land, is such a vicious thing that I cannot conceive of any justification for it. War is a great evil, perhaps the greatest of evils, and the root of very many, and it is not to be embarked upon simply because there are vicious rulers in the world.

I don't see you taking on many moral duties or responsibilities in your view, for what it's worth--I see you telling other people to go fight to ease your conscience. In this case, your profound sense of duty seems to extend to encouraging violence and calling for the deaths of other human beings, because you are righteous and wise enough to see the consequences of such violence. After all, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette, right? What are 50,000 lives compared with your easy conscience and the myth that Iraqis are now free? Oh, yes, many are 'better off', unless they happen to be arbitrarily detained, or tortured or killed by random fire. Of course, those 50,000 aren't better off, and I have no time for utilitarian claptrap that says their lives are expendable for 'the greater good' of some mythical 'free' Iraq. This is the logic that said fire-bombing whole cities in WWII was 'moral'--spare me such morality!

If, in five or ten years, a new dicatorship arises in Baghdad and reverts to the old brutalities, what has killing all those people accomplished? Nothing. But those people are gone forever--your government did that, and you were cheering it on. Think about it.

You mentioned Rwanda--what would an intervention have achieved, except to add American dead and more dead Africans to the cost of that maelstrom? Presumably, since we are so deeply moral, we would not take only one side, but fight all sides to a standstill. Of course, that war rages on even today in the eastern Congo. There are atrocities going on even this year in northern Congo-Kinshasha--when are you volunteering to go save the people there? Which side will you help more, if you even know the sides? Of course, you are not going anywhere. This is not really about your sense of moral obligation, but about striking a pose of self-righteous concern. Had we intervened in Rwanda, we would still be there, probably becoming little more than an additional army fighting to avenge its injuries. How many extra dead in that hellish war would satisfy your sense of moral purpose? How many years of death and sacrifice of Americans, who never agreed to fight for Hutus or Tutsis, would it take before we have done our supposed duty?

I blame those who supported sanctions for the ill effects of those sanctions, because the sanctions aided Hussein in his despotism and deprived Iraqis of necessary goods and medicine. The sanctions deprived them, not Hussein. The sanctions did those things. In other words, our government and its supporters did those things. Hussein took advantage of the situation, but it was supporters of the sanctions who aided in the creation of that situation. Hussein exploited Western sympathy for the plight of the Iraqi people, sure enough, and he and others robbed the oil-for-food program. No one is denying this, least of all me. The trouble is that the program was only considered necessary as a humanitarian measure because the 'international community' (i.e., our government) was deliberately besieging an entire country for the crimes of its dictator.

Mr. Bush's more stringent enforcement of sanctions, because he is ever the lover of his fellow man, was even depriving Iraqis of the isotopes for cancer treatment (lest they be used for 'dirty bombs', of all the absurd excuses) as well as other necessary medical treatments. Our government did that. I suppose that you supported the government when it was doing that. That decision caused the premature deaths of sick people--your vicious concept of compassion is such that you would blame those deaths solely on the dictator, even though your government had an active part in the tragedy. You cannot defend that, and attempting to do so will hardly help your position. Those who support such a siege are at least partly responsible for the civilian casualties of it. It is not a hard concept. At least, it is not hard for most people.

It is you who should be ashamed for your unstinting support for a war of aggression. It was such wars, more than anything else, that the United Nations was established to prevent or counteract. Your approach only promises more such wars, and there is nothing to be said in defense of such a position.

Richard Henry Morgan - 5/5/2004

The way I see it, you're not a peacemaker, but a peace advocate -- a less than strenuous morality that seems to impose few moral duties, leaving you in comfort to enjoy the good life, while you congratulate yourself for not "adding" to the woes of the world. There may be no place in the UN charter or the Constitution imposing a universal obligation on the US, but there is the Genocide Treaty which obliges us -- and your proposed inaction, if I remember correctly from previous posts, can be reasonably extended to Rwanda.

I have no problem with taking responsibility for the effects of sanctions which we, as a nation, helped impose. I refuse to take responsibility for what Hussein did to his people during the sanctions regime. And that is perhaps my greatest complaint: it is not enough that you congratulate yourself for your attenuated sense of responsibility, you then turn around and lay responsibility for what Hussein did at the feet of those who supported sanctions. Shame.

Daniel B. Larison - 5/4/2004

Everyone is responsible to his fellow man. I will not invoke the logic of Cain here. It does not follow that everyone is obliged to support the use the coercive power of a government to attack another government ostensibly on the basis of the latter government's inhumanity.

I lay the sanctions at the feet of the governments involved: the U.S. and Britain, who imposed the sanctions, the government of Iraq, that profited off of the sanctions system, and the whole gang of member states of the U.N. that allowed the sanctions to remain in place. But the peoples of democratic nations are implicated in the acts of their government in a unique way: in some sense, "we" have approved of them, and continue to do so at every election that they are not reversed. The thing is that our government's actions represented the American people, and it is also the case that the American people consented to this policy of sanctions out of the erroneous belief that this would somehow overthrow Hussein. That consent makes the people in this country, at least those who supported sanctions, in some sense culpable for the ill effects of those sanctions. To advocate neutrality, peace or 'inaction', as you say, is not to consent to an evil somewhere else. To consent to an evil in which you have a part is to consent to an evil. The difference should be obvious. If you think that this distinction between participating in an immoral choice and refusing to add to a violent, immoral situation is doublethink, then that says a great deal about your conception of your morality.

To choose 'inaction', which is to say peace, it is to believe that responding to a given evil by adding to it with more unjustified violence (i.e., unprovoked military intervention) or oppression (i.e., sanctions) is pointless and wrong. Taking the conviction that you should help someone who is being harmed, you have applied it to a justification for war. That is to say, because someone somewhere is being harmed by one group or government, you believe it is ethical, indeed imperative, that other people be sent to kill defenders of that group of people, who have themselves done nothing to the intervening forces and most of whom have done nothing to the victims. In addition, you are willing to accept that perfectly innocent bystanders who never did anything to anybody will get killed in this noble quest, and you will probably laugh at anyone who dares to have sympathy for this "collateral damage" as being soft and decadent.

Your sympathy for the victims leads you to advocate having someone else kill people who have done no wrong to you and perhaps not even to the victims--can't you see how absurd this is? The one person in Iraq who undoubtedly deserves death is Hussein, yet he is alive and well, while some 50,000 Iraqis, many of them conscripts and civilians, lie dead. That is the fruit of this so-called 'moral' warfare: the people who deserve to die most seem to survive, and everyone else pays the price.

Perhaps if your outrage was so powerful, you might convince yourself that you personally had the right to try to kill those responsible for the atrocities. There is no circumstance in which you can rightfully send off soldiers, who did not agree to fight the enemies of abstract good, to do that fighting for you. The leap from sympathy to justifying mass violence is such a radical and unreasonable leap that I find it hard to believe anyone takes it seriously. That way lies barbarism.

Once you depart from the very narrow justification for war, which is for defense or redress of one's own real grievances, you become no different from the guy who thinks that someone's suffering justifies his blowing up a cafe full of people. Once aggression becomes legitimate, so long as it is for 'humanitarian' reasons, then terrorism and indiscriminate slaughter cease to have any meaning.

This is all purely theoretical, of course, since there never has been nor ever will be 'humanitarian' wars, by which I mean wars motivated strictly by humanitarian concerns. (Most people who supported this war would not have gone to war for those concerns alone, yet it is the reason most of them now conveniently trot out to justify their aggression.) Governments do not go to war based on such concerns; governments only go to war when there is something to be gained or something of its own to be protected. These other concerns will always contradict the 'humanitarian' mission and pollute whatever was good about its original intention. In its execution, though, any 'humanitarian' war must necessarily be unjust.

I do not recognise the universal jurisdiction or obligation of the United States government to solve the problems of other countries or protect the people in all other countries. If that makes me immoral in your bizarre scheme, so be it, but your position doesn't have much of an argument going for it. You apparently hold the view that the government does have this jurisdiction and obligation--where does it come from? Where in the Constitution, for instance, can it be found? Where in the U.N. Charter? In fact, the U.N. Charter, for what it's worth, explicitly forbids aggression under any circumstances. Is it some religious injunction that has laid this universal power on our government? Which one? It certainly has nothing to do with Christianity.

I do expect that our government act in such a way that respects the basic humanity of all people in accordance with our common political principles, and I expect Americans to regard the unjustified taking of human lives by their government as a deeply offensive and vicious thing. You apparently don't worry about that, so long as it is in a 'good cause'. I do not pretend that our government can protect any other people (it does a pretty poor job protecting us, when it comes down to it), and I do not fault it when it 'fails' to protect people over whom it has no authority, but I do expect that our government will never commit aggression and all the evils that flow from it.

Those who support that aggression participate in the wrongdoing, at least indirectly. Those who refuse to support aggression to stop a crime on the other side of the world do not participate in any wrongdoing.

"Blessed be the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."

Richard Henry Morgan - 5/4/2004

I give you credit for being up front on this -- you quite explicitly say that in the absence of an attack against the United States, no Americans (I would think that would apply to non-Americans too) have a right to interfere in Iraqi affairs, tout court. You don't pretend that "the business of other nations" is your business, even to the point, apparently, when their "business" is the murder of their citizens, and business is good. We differ in our conceptions of morality -- I'll let others decide which view of morality they prefer.

We also differ on other issues. The negative results of the sanctions regime, whose results were visited on Iraq by a Hussein who seemed to have no trouble building palaces as he starved his people of food and medecine, you have managed to lay at the feet of Americans. Really quite remarkable how we're not responsible for our fellow man, but somehow we're responsible for what Hussein does to his people. Interesting case of doublethink.

Daniel B. Larison - 5/4/2004

I don't pretend that the business of other nations is the business of my own--that's the burden you have seen fit to impose on all of us. As for my 'moral burden', at least I attempt to judge things in the light of morality. That's more than can be said for most of the heroic champions of war calling for righteous bloodshed from behind their keyboards.

But I should have been more careful in my language. When I said 'silent complicity', I should have said willing assent. Perhaps 'obedience of the dull-minded herd' would be even better, since that is what most public responses on foreign policy seem to be. But consenting to something is a kind of action. It is an act of approving of a given course of action. Most Americans must have consented to the sanctions policy on Iraq, since they kept electing the people who imposed it, and at least half the country would recoil in horror at the prospect of lifting the sanctions. We wouldn't want to "appease" anyone, now, would we?

In contrast, no American citizens consented to Hussein's murders, and they cannot be held accountable for failing to 'do something' about them. Moral philosophy isn't one of your strongest suits, is it?

Richard Henry Morgan - 5/3/2004

Wow, what a strenuous moral burden you've taken on!! How do you get through the day without popping a moral hernia? Or rather, how do you avoid the nosebleed from dictating de haut en bas?

First, by your view, one is responsible only for actions, not for inactions -- that is, until one is an American, at which point one may be held to account for "silent complicity". Coherence isn't exactly your strongest suit, is it?

Daniel B. Larison - 5/3/2004

Another typically fallacious argument from one of our pro-war friends. The standard you set is so absurdly high that no one will escape responsibility for a host of evils over which they had no realistic control or influence. By this standard, we are all presumably indicted for complicity in the deaths of some 4 million Congolese and other central Africans during their recent hideous war. Indeed, "we" have all failed to prevent any numbers of wars and civil wars in which atrocities occurred--how can "we" be considered responsible for these atrocities through inaction?

Indeed, why only blame the pacifists, neutralists and national defense crowds? At some point, every person on the planet has failed to speak out against some atrocity, if only because there is a limited amount of time in the day and limited access to information. Are you rushing off to volunteer to save the oppressed of Darfur? Are you even aware of this disaster? If you plead ignorance, does that exonerate you of responsibility for the atrocities of others? Of course, this whole idea is arrant nonsense. I am no more responsible for those deeds than you are. The only person who is morally implicated in an atrocity or an act of aggression is someone who cheers it on, apologises for it and tries to justify it. That is real complicity, and it is the sort of thing of which more than a few defenders of the current war in Iraq are guilty.

Likewise, no American is responsible for the deaths of Hussein's victims (except perhaps the CIA goons who helped him to power), just as no America was responsible for the victims of Mao or Mengistu or Nyerere. By your standard, "we" all failed to act in all of these cases (no great liberation of Tanzania, alas!), and are therefore condemned as partners in crime, even though a war to depose those governments might have caused untold numbers of more deaths. Just war theory exists to delineate the rare occasions when war is considered acceptable or a necessary evil, because it is based on the assumption that most wars in most places are unjustifiable. Your proposal would turn all of that on its head: failure to go to war to 'save' someone else is worthy of condemnation, while warfare is considered a generally legitimate response to any atrocity out there.

In the absence of an attack against the United States, no Americans had any right to interfere in Iraqi affairs or to attack that country. To presume that Americans are responsible for other evils of the world because they refuse to commit evil acts (e.g., aggression) themselves for a "good" cause is to assume an omnipotence and omnicompetence for Americans that we have never possessed. Indeed, no nation of the world, much less individuals within any nation, has the means and the authority to do what your moral standard requires.

I'll tell you what Americans may rightly be held to account for: their silent complicity in the deliberate siege of Iraq for thirteen years, resulting in some hundreds of thousands of innocents' deaths. That is the fruit of action, the fruit of "doing something," and there is very little admirable about it. Add to that some 50,000 Iraqi dead from this war (and rising). When there is not some genuine, clear danger to my own country, when war may be justified, I will take my chances with peace everytime.

Why do some people so resent advocates of peace that they must engage in this kind of blood libel against them?

Richard Henry Morgan - 5/3/2004

No doubt war has been used for personal ends and for ends that bring no honor to the country that initiates war. It would be a strange species of inductive reasoning to thereby conclude that there can be no war that demands our service. Let Mill have the last word:

"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."

Couple this with Mill's other idea:

"A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury."

I invite mothers everywhere to oppose all war -- just as long as they are willing to take responsibility for those who die because they refuse to oppose evil by force of arms. Make no mistake about it. Just because the 300,000 Iraqis who Hussein planted aren't now before your eyes, your inaction, and the inaction of others helped kill them.