It is easy to like philosophy as a field because it focuses on argument. It contrasts, for example, different ways of looking at the issue of what is, or what knowledge and scientific knowledge are, or what a decent regime is. More importantly, outstanding philosophers offer new ways of looking at things – for instance, among many others, Socrates, what is justice?, Hegel – what are the moments of a free will and how does this bear on abolishing slavery and achieving equal freedom, Marx how do ordinary people, in their everyday lives (exploited and despised), create forms of political struggle and decent regimes, Nietzsche, what is the trace of pride and envy in philosophy and in social epochs, Heidegger how should philosophy deal with personal mortality – which have forged intellectual movements, political realities, other disciplines. Philosophy, one might say, is least trammeled by money or status (though the profession is certainly influenced by these things). At its best, it stands aside from lies for money as Hilary Putnam suggests here characteristic in the corruption of learning, which marks I am afraid much of the social “sciences” (there is good work, but the corruption surrounded IQ testing or the “experts” on war and the inter-democratic peace hypothesis is startling (see here and here). As Plato put it, sophists sit “at the doors of the rich” (one can see this in the political Straussians, say those now at the American Enterprise Institute, of our time). There are more subtle corruptions, as Nietzsche suggests (see chapter one of Beyond Good and Evil), but this is a deep one. The drama of Plato’s Republic is on one important level, whether Glaucon, Plato’s brother, an Athenian general with a penchant for tyranny (“where’s the relish?” he asks of Socrates’s austere city, “the city of sows” as he names it), will become a tyrant. Glaucon is not himself cut out to do philosophy, it seems, but he can have enough interest in philosophy to be tamed. Perhaps in each of us there is some fight over which way we will go, whether we will become oppressors or whether we will, with Henry David Thoreau, say “no.”
In our time, professional philosophy is a highly technical enterprise, whose virtue is sophistication of argument and whose weakness is lack of broad intellectual significance and “professionalization.” That others should interest themselves in philosophy is for many a question. I found philosophy attractive both for its heritage of creativity and its emphasis on and skill in argument (in this, it contrasts markedly with social “science” which studies the deepest problems in a peculiar way, denying the only theories that have a chance of leading to some good explanations, for instance, variants on Marx, Freud and Aristotle, or reducing them to trivialities – references to Aristotle and political man – or hiding weak arguments in statistical calculations based on foolishly specified numbers. For example, the US government overthrew through covert action some 12 to 15 parliamentary regimes during and after the Cold War. That fact would seem to be significant for considering the bellicosity of a democracy against other democracies. Yet in wars, some government-funded political scientists insist, both powers together must lose 1000 soldiers. This is a silly criterion in two ways; first, the US suborned Pinochet and the coup against Allende in Chile in 1973 with little loss of agents who were, in any case, not soldiers; second, Pinochet murdered government leaders and thousands of civilians, yet even the disappeared fail to “count” in this vapid way of “counting,” Ignoring these fallacies, proponents then argue, democracies are not aggressive toward other democracies because they have not fought wars against one another. Some math does not qualify this as thinking.*
Hilary Putnam is an important philosopher because he works broadly, to reveal the problems in ways of thinking about seemingly technical problems in many aspects of philosophy, particularly about war. More importantly, since philosophy is less tied to the government than the social sciences, many philosophers have stood out against unjust wars and against racism, more than in other disciplines, They have not made a professional habit so much of writing about these matters, though Ned Block and Jerry Dworkin’s “IQ: Heritability and Inequality," Philosophy and Public Affairs, 1974-5 is a masterpiece. John Rawls, for instance, offers as the basis of the original position that it excludes slavery and racism.
Steve Wagner has sent me a letter and several striking pieces with his original anti-war argument which Hilary took up in “The Epistemology of Unjust War” here and here. I will put up two of the pieces in the next post. Consider this discussion an extension of the conversation about war raised in my comments on Hilary, Roderick Firth and Michael Walzer.
There is obviously little more important in life and political philosophy than the question of war and peace. Steve rightly worries about how little attention has been devoted to this central subject among philosophers, noting instead a certain linguist at MIT (Noam Chomsky) and one writer on the CIA (William Blum) and that Hilary pointed out Hegel to him. There is some truth in this thought. Philosophers have been unable to do much about war, and have only spoken about it, though often significantly, at the edges or at least not in the center of their work.
Yet war seems obviously wrong particularly around here, for the US is the great launcher of unjust and foolish wars, Vietnam and Iraq (in Vietnam, the American government took the lives of some 3 million Vietnamese wantonly). Despite disparagement in “official” sources like the commercial media and “expert” commentators, it has been met by huge domestic and international opposition movements from below. It would seem natural for philosophers to write about unjust war, at least as citizens. Steve is forthright about this issue, and has raised it with young philosophers, for instance, lecturing to and contributing to a discussion in the philosophy club at the University of Illinois, reading (at a different time) writers about war, and trying to think about how to stop war’s murderous inanity. Who looks back today on the arguments of LBJ, McNamara and Bundy – the “Fog of War” captures the aging McNamara with serious worries about war criminality for the firebombing of wooden Japanese cities, and some willingness to try to speak for something more decent after the fact, but as a public official…) or Cheney, Bush and Rice with respect or thinks of them as morally serious people? The words of Martin King, on the other hand, speaking on April 4, 1967, a year to the day before he was assassinated, are sadly as relevant about the empire today, under Obama, as they were when he wrote them. Their weight will grow with time (I would guess that that speech, along with the “Letter from the Birmingham jail” and Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” will be read as long as American English continues to be spoken).
I want to comment first on what Steve says about the state of philosophy on war and then about his very interesting suggestions for what to do about specific wars. War is as near around here as a discussion of the day’s politics; it is the central aspect of what America does and produces – for the moment, still the “unipower” – in the world. If one points out that these wars and belligerences are harmful, one runs the risk of saying what will, in elite circles, not be heard. As Montesquieu puts it in book 26 of Spirit of the Laws condemning the burning of a teenage Jewish girl at the stake by the Inquisition in Lisbon, “when one says things so clear, one is sure never to convince.” It is why one needs mass movements – see here – to accomplish something decent (compare the beautiful words of the orator/campaigner Obama to the warmaking of much of his Presidency). I suspect that this conflict between clear moral standards (see Democratic Individuality, ch.1 ) and the behavior of states is the driving motive of social theory, historically (for instance in Montesquieu).**
There is, in fact, a great deal of philosophical literature about war; it is in the center in the Greeks if one pays attention (as Steve does about Plato’s Republic). Today we often do not or they are studied, as with the followers of Strauss, from the Right, or just on the periphery of arguments, partly because it is so difficult to do something about. Rawls, for example, wrote the Law of Peoples to bar aggression. Further, Rawls presciently wanted at least the ideal of well-ordered hierarchical regimes, ones that might not be aggressive, to head off American crusades in the name of democracy. He died before the second Iraq War, but his argument rules out the Bush-Blair aggression.
Steve rightly invokes Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, not a philosophical work, but a profound warning to democracies or republics that imperialism leads to reaction and tyranny at home. This thought is taken up by Aristotle and later, for instance, by Montesquieu (The Grandeur and Decadence of the Romans), the Federalists and Marx. There is also a contrary trend among philosophers to like war. Plato and Heidegger are not always obviously political in their framing of the arguments, but merciless reaction and imperial war-mongering has emerged from some of their views, in Heidegger’s case, intentionally (he was a reactionary political activist, desiring a “repeat” of World War I, before he became a Nazi; he imagined a true Nazism based on the rule-setting of the guardians who were to be philosophers.) *** In Steve’s talk on just war to students, he derides realists (both Kennan and Kissinger), suggesting rightly that text book comparisons of just war, pacifism and realism are not usually intellectually worthy.
But Steve does not notice that there is a classical or tragic realism, the sort, based on Thucydides, that worries about imperial crusades. During Vietnam, Kennan rejected “our military-industrial addiction” and saw two party competition as a way of keeping reactionary and failing wars, like the US in Vietnam. going. And Morganthau, whose Politics among Nations is noticeably weak on argument (see my Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, ch. 2), becomes very clear that there is such a thing as a national interest, a kind of common good, during Vietnam, and that the US elite is relentlessly opposed to it.
Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? is a philosophical exploration of the former anti-imperial thesis in two ways. First, it does an internal or Socratic critique of all the leading versions of realism and neorealism (John Mearsheimer’s striking The Tragedy of Offensive Realism was published after I wrote – see here), showing that with a minimal notion of a national interest as a common good rather than some implausible idea that it is the state’s interest, **** all major realist arguments lead to the notion that citizens often have common interests with citizens elsewhere against the corrupt policies of their own states (what I call democratic internationalism from below). See also here.
Second, political philosophy often suggests arguments which are better stated (know that there is such a thing as a common good, or a republic or democracy based on equal basic rights) than contemporary, misguidedly “value-free” political science. See here. Aristotle has the amusing remark that Thales, to show that philosophers could be practical if they chose, bought up olive presses during a shortage and cornered the olive oil market. I had fun with Thucydides and Marx as proponents of striking versions of the notion that imperial democracies (as I have elaborated here, with vast war complexes) tend to destroy themselves, military, economically and as centers, for citizens, of freedom. In today’s terms, I name this phenomenon the anti-democratic feedback of foreign interventions. Thus, the Bush administration went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, passing the Patriot Act, illegally spying on Americans, and introducing a regime of torture affecting even some Americans like Jose Padilla.
Among the examples I used were President John Adams’s racism toward the French Revolution, the concocted “XYZ affair” [supposed French spies trying to suborn followers of Jefferson] and his urging of the repressive Alien and Sedition Acts. The latter initially sought to make criticism of the President a capital crime and jailed Scottish and Irish editors of newspapers favorable to Jefferson and the new Democratic-Republican Party as dangerous illegals and breeders of a “democratic disease,” ***** Jefferson’s defeat of this Presidential use of foreign policy to squelch domestic opposition and common good-furthering dissent resulted in the emergence of two party competition in 1800.
I also invoked World War I and the Palmer Raids, the Cold War and Truman-McCarthyism, Vietnam and the crusade against intellectuals who thought the war was a “mistake” under the name “Project Morganthau,” etc. Bruce Russett has a useful table in chapter one of Governing the Sword, suggesting that Presidential interventions abroad go up in election years (it is a good way of mobilizing “patriotic” support, or in the case of Johnson in Vietnam, of “gambling for resurrection” by escalating hopelessly an already losing war - George Downs and John Rocke have a very interesting mathematical piece on the latter phenomenon in Optimal Imperfections). Noam Chomsky gave a wonderful talk in Boulder, invoking a citation from Madison which I had used as an epigraph and theme:
“Exhortations to disregard domestic usurpations [President Adams’ use of the XYZ affair to promote the Alien and Sediciton Acts] until foreign dangers shall have passed, is an artifice that may ever be used, because the possessors of powers, who are the advocates for its expansion, can ever create national embarrassments, to be successively employed to soothe people into sleep whilst that power is swelling silently, secretly and fatally. Of the same character are insinuations of a foreign influence which seize upon a laudable enthusiasm against danger from abroad , and distort it by an unnatural application, so as to blind your eyes to danger at home.”
Much of Chomsky’s work eloquently delineates the horrors of American foreign policy, using evidence from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal (what the latter consider accidents of course are the pattern and purpose of much of imperial foreign policy). But the difference between my account and Noam’s is that I emphasize how that foreign policy deters reform, violates a common good, and tends toward a police state at home. It also generates counter or democratic internationalist movements from below.
Thus, we had a near miss with Nixon, the actual establishment of “executive” or “commander in chief” power under Bush, and sadly, its bipartisan confirmation, in many regards, by Obama. In two losing occupations and economic collapse, the empire is teetering, despite Obama’s almost miraculous election (that the country of bondage and segregation and the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, could elect,40 years later, the smartest and most decent candidate, a biracial – black candidate – rightly startled the world. The crass imperialist Niall Ferguson has just published an article in Foreign Affairs here about how quickly empires vanish (he does not quote the Brecht-Hans Eisler song “on the bed of the Moldau the pebbles are stirring, in Prague three emperors lie dead, the big do not stay big, the little don’t stay little, the black night has twelve hours, the red dawn is red…” perhaps because Marxian insights are unmentionable in that intellectual crowd). His point here is a good one, however, and I may post on it. The air went quickly out of the British empire, the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe, the Ottomans. In Blowback, Chalmers Johnson warns of a similar fate for the American regime. The end may come startlingly swiftly.
But the point of my argument is not just that American interventions and wars are almost always bad, but that they harm ordinary Americans, that they violate a common good. These wars have led, and should lead, to great resistance. In 1800, Americans stood up for decency by electing Jefferson. Similarly, the American and international anti-Iraq War movement, the biggest movement against a war before a war in the history of the world as Chomsky rightly named it, and the isolation internationally of the Bush-Cheney-Blair aggressors, was a startling example. It saved many thousands of civilian lives in Iraq compared to “Shock and Awe” (the original Pentagon plan aimed to make of Baghdad a “Nagasaki”), even though a tremendous number of innocents were killed in the U.S.’s putting of Iraq to the sword (perhaps one million; the Pentagon “does not keep count” of the damage its wars do to lesser humans). The eventual election of Obama also came out of such anti-war sentiments.
My argument stresses how most ordinary people, who have a core interest in democracy and a common good, are hurt by the wars routinely engaged in by the elite, and often come to oppose them. This is truer of losing wars like Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan than successful blitzkriegs. Moral opposition and insights into how aggressions harm ordinary people, by themselves , cannot stop powerful interests in making war (the huge international working class movements opposed to World War I and World War II had many positive consequences before, during and after the Wars but could not stop them). But blitzkriegs are rare and as in Iraq, often reveal themselves as hollow. This imperial power cannot sustain its wars and belligerences. Either Obama will ultimately carve out a new and more intelligent path or the collapse of the Empire will come pretty quickly (unfortunately, the blindness of this “great” power, like a Cyclops without an eye, may well take the world down with it). Still, morally decent anti-War movements on behalf of a common good, have real possibilities. See The March 4th resurgence of student protest here.
Third, in my book Democratic Individuality, ch. 1, I emphasized the core moral standard – resistance to or self-defense against aggression characteristic of just war theory. Michael Walzer’s striking Just and Unjust Wars underlines this point. This judgment connects opposition to wars in ancient Greece, among Europeans and Americans, in Islam, and the like. Yes, leaders lie about war in this vein. Hitler said invading Poland was just because Poles were harming Poles of German extraction (not quite “aggression” but good enough for “the master race”). LBJ spoke of North Vietnamese aggression in South Vietnam, even though Eisenhower had prevented the elections mandated in the Geneva Accords of 1954 because Ho Chi Minh would have won the vote, and LBJ’s aggression pitted a white American invader against the Vietnamese. The idea that the Vietnamese were the aggressors in their own country – previously colonized by white France, an American ally - was boosted in the American papers against the evidence of the naked eye. But colonialism and racism were still pretty big in America at the time, particularly in the elite, and no one in the State Department spoke Vietnamese...
The core moral standard – that murder is bad for humans and that mass murder, the crime of aggression, is worse - is not, even slightly, unclear. It figures in more complex moral judgments, often embroidered with false factual and sometimes social theoretical or biological claims, such as Hitler’s or LBJ’s. The criminals were not wrong that someone committed the crime of aggression which war inevitably involves. Instead, they were trying to shift the blame from themselves.
So I think Steve’s account of the implausibility of Just War Theory, while useful, misses - or more correctly, understates - the central point about aggression. Most war is aggression, particularly by great powers. Aggression, as he says, should prompt resistance to war (alternately, self-defense or militant pacifism). But nothing in the moral case is unclear.
Fourth, in Democratic Individuality, ch. 1, I also write on Aristotle’s claims about just war – fighting aggression and capturing slaves - and Montesquieu’s and Hegel’s rejection of the latter as a biological error (there are no humans who are mere bodies, to be justly ruled by those which are supposedly intellects). Similarly, Lenin disagreed with Lloyd George, Clemenceau and Woodrow Wilson about World War I. The latter said it was caused by German aggression against Belgium. Lenin said that it was a war among colonial slaveholders for the redistribution of the slaves. In retrospect today, any decent person – today’s liberals, conservatives and radicals as opposed to neocons or authoritarians - agrees with Lenin (not that most people are taught enough about these debates to realize it; it takes a moment’s thought…).
But Lenin does speak for movements from below. Aggression is often stopped, as in the case of Japan in China or the French and the US in Vietnam or England in America by resistance from below. Giving the moral standard and the role of standards of aggression in stereotypical just war theory, Steve is mistaken to rule out these examples on the basis of an alleged arbitrary criterion of Just War Theory – only a state can counter aggression. As Steve says, he is not wedded to insisting on this, and I suspect, that he would probably agree with both points, upon reflection. But his exercise – to show there are few just wars and to try to specify epistemologically how to head them off beforehand - is good in pointing out just how much is wrong with current American policies.
Steve also sent me a note about a smart professor of just war theory at a leading university who thinks, oddly, that NATO in Kosovo and Israel in Lebanon are examples. Steve himself, he suggests facetiously, may live on Mars. No, it is Thoreau’s point. If everyone else supports a Constitution which purports to be the slave’s and mine, it cannot be mine. One must stand against slavery [or against aggression], regardless of what the powerful and those under their spell say. No, one will often not be elevated in public or even university life for taking such stands – or at least for going down the line for them. But Socrates is the paradigm of a philosopher. Philosophers cleave to the truth, even when the powerful punish or murder truth-seekers.
Now there is some likelihood that America will just go down. It is in decline economically, has a financial casino rather than a productive economy, has politics so broken, particularly in the Senate, that measures for green jobs and to head off radical climate change, life-saving measures for America’s position and decency in the world, look increasingly unlikely. But who could have predicted the election of Obama? And to Christopher Hedges, who is quite despairing about Reaction except for individual resistance, who would have foreseen the sudden and novel student uprising here? As in the anti-Iraq war movement, democratic internationalism from below is a real and invigorating possibility.
Steve also makes the criticism that a dependence on democracies like Hilary Putnam’s argument runs the danger of Eurocentrism. That is mistaken. India and Chile are, for example, democracies, and as far as it goes, Hilary was just trying to give a benchmark for when it is very likely that American wars go wrong. One couldn’t have sold Vietnam in India or Chile either.
In any case, my argument is on behalf of democratic insurgencies (coercive of the elite, but preferably nonviolent from below) which thus applies in and against authoritarian regimes as well – it is the unity of ordinary Americans or Europeans with Vietnamese or Iraqis – both in interests and in protest movements against aggressions which counts. So it is hardly on behalf of regimes “of our type” (though democracies are in general better than authoritarian regimes as Amartya Sen’s argument against famines suggests; see Development as Freedom, ch. 10 and here).
Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? was published in 1999, At a panel on it at the American Political Science meetings in 2003, Ethan Kapstein spoke of the view as “eerily prescient” about the Afghanistan/Iraq wars and the Patriot Act. Fortunately, for democracy, Bush wasn’t very competent. Had the conquests succeeded quickly in Iraq, there might have been no future elections and just a tyrannical, torturing, reactionary regime here until the economy finally collapsed. But in that case, opposition from below would have faced a far more difficult challenge. Still, as Obama’s wars, equivocations on state secrets and many other matters reveal (his latest is to continue the Bush “briefing” on secret projects of 4 in the House and 4 in the Senate,****** the dangers are still great.
For Bush set in motion changes which are very hard to undo, and as Kennan, Mearsheimer (see here) and I suggest, which the reactionary two step of ordinary two-party competition – the competition when not pressed by democratic revolt from below - reinforces. Currently, the two major parties are on the verge of confirming a bipartisan “legal” regime, in Jack Balkin’s phrase, which denies habeas corpus and – against previous American law and international obligations – ignores the crime of torture.*******
As a way of illustrating how distorted knowledge claims about war from the elite, echoed in the centralized corporate media are, Steve suggests an independent body modeled on the knowledge-gathering wing of the CIA or the General Accounting Office to assess war. He proposes rightly that such a modestly competent body would make fools of today’s politicians. One has but to think of the Iraq war where the knowledge-gathering wing of the CIA – which should, from a legal, moral and democratic standpoint be its only wing – was “dangerous enemy territory.” Only the Pentagon, the machinations of Straussians like Shulsky or Wolfowitz and neocons like Feith, could be relied on the echo the lies that Cheney commanded. See What the torturer knew here
I have contrasted Ali Soufan and FBI interrogation techniques with CIA torture (done hastily with imbecile advising; Jessen and Mitchell, two arrogant psychologists who had designed programs for Americans to resist torture and thus had bells and whistles about “walling” and careful, “medical” supervision of each waterboarding, counting just the amount of water, but had never done an interrogation, see here. The operations wing of the CIA is strategically and morally hopeless as Steve suggests. But some real check by an independent, knowledge-gathering body would be useful. Of course we would also need a free press, as Steve aays, which the internet approximates to a limited extent against the commercial media, think tank and military “expert” component of the war complex.
Steve makes several suggestions here for a, once again, modest proposal to curtail the madness of war:
“some public information-assessment agencies work fairly well—the GAO for instance. Or, weirdly, in a certain respect the CIA. As you know, some (admittedly naive!) people conceived the CIA, back when, as a research agency only. No sabotage, killing, manipulating elections, bribery, Air America and USAID, heroin pipelines, etc. Their pure research is still considered quite good. Now consider...
(a) I was thinking of raising the epistemic standard for belligerent policy decisions from the present level, which is so low that virtually anything would be an improvement—and any improvement would avert countless deaths and disasters.
(b) Start with CIA-quality research, then (i) make everything totally transparent; (ii) researchers/staff selected/elected by publicly acceptable criteria roughly in the way that, under slight idealization, decent university departments in geography, history, etc. are constituted; iii) Appropriate guards against bribery, manipulation, etc. — not as though this can't be done
(c) Continued public oversight and transparency. Incl. but not at all restricted to appropriate representation, in staff or oversight, of the classes/sectors who would bear the burdens of warfare.”
These proposals would be good, though even this kind of supervision, at least without something resembling a militant democratic movement from below, is likely utopian. In effect, Steve offers a thought experiment which reveals how bankrupt the American war complex is. It has money and power and relentless, false communications going for it, but little else.
I also suggested a similar measure, though one less reliant on experts: referenda on wars whenever possible, Where possible: in the situation where America has not been attacked or was not endangered in taking some time before responding. Such a measures could not have headed off Afghanistan (not because of "danger" but because of politically-manipulated fear); it is doubtful that the two party system can avoid such wars – even though the US did not hunt Osama Bin Laden ("dead or…I can’t remember his name – Saddam") or take effective measures, within its reach, against Al-Qaida. But the Iraq war, despite the hysteria about Saddam’s missiles “45 minutes form London” (the actual violations were of missiles that might go longer than 50 kilometers, not enough even to get them to Israel..), could have been the subject of a referendum with say a three month campaign. The Iraq war was never popular. There was no one except the talking heads who was for it. Both during Vietnam and in protesting Israel’s policies, I have been threatened with violence; about Iraq I frequently debated the war with neocons on educational tv and talk radio; people would come up to me in the street and thank me for what I had said; the most anyone wanted to do was to argue.
Just one example, I was outside Wild Oats and my van had a sticker “Islam is not the enemy” on the back. I was bringing groceries out, and a van drove by, the fellow stuck his head out, and bellowed: “What do you mean, Islam is not the enemy?”
“A billion people aren’t the enemy,” I replied.
“Are You a Muslim?”
“Have you read the Quran?”
“It talks about raping 9 year old…”
“It is Christian fanatics like you who have gotten us into this crazy…” I said, walking towards him, and he drove away. And he was an outlier.
I was talking to a Christmas-tree seller at a make-shift venue in the mountains (the area which elected Tancredo its representative). People live a pretty isolated and in certain ways, disconnected life up here (some also revel in the beauty and the nearness to nature – one is, as it were, in the weather, and often, the storm). He said, “Powell used to be a straight guy. He would look you in the eye. But when he talks about Iraq, his eyes go down. He looks all over the place.” A more typical reaction in the run-up and even the early part of the War…
I think the American population, with conditions on a referendum to achieve even a modicum of fairness (more accurately, a limited unfairness) would have voted down the war. There would have to be limits on funding, ideally equal amounts for proponents of the pro and anti- war view. But my guess is that even if the government pursued its point of view through the media, if anti-War speakers could have been 1 in 4 (rather than 3 in 200 by one account of CNN, etc. coverage), it would have been good enough. None of the lies of the Bush administration have stood the test of time. They were actually lies then to anyone paying attention, even in the mainstream press. One just had to read the truth on page A20 of the New York Times by James Risen and others instead of Judith Miller and Michael Gordon’s Cheney-encouraged propaganda on p. A1 or listen to the Gannett newspapers (much better reporting than the Times but not in Washington or New York) or Al-Baradei of the United Nations’ IAEA or to marine Scott Ritter, the head of the UN weapons inspection teams, to have a pretty good idea. I helped produce a collection of clippings form the mainstream press Target Iraq with Omar Jabara which underlined the startling foolishness of the claims for war.
But my proposal is equally utopian to Steve’s. It is only the strength of anti-war movements from below and citizen anger that eventually does something about war. Yet in our circumstances, any such proposals are good because they reveal – satirize – the bizarre secret conduct of debates about war and the unified publicity for anything dreamed up by the government in the mainstream press. In this context, one of Roderick Firth’s and Hilary Putnam’s criteria for knowledge about avoiding war's evil consequences – that wars be supported by leading democrats (however specified) in other countries - underlines an important point. To go to war in ordinary circumstances is to kill a great number of innocent people, mainly children (the central prey of 20th century wars). One is especially not to go to war, as it used to be said in a somewhat sexist vein, against the “opinion of mankind.” That criterion reveals the falseness of the Israel government – they are so isolated that they spit in the face even of the Israel-advocate Joe Biden coming to affirm the America-Israel alliance. As I have emphasized, the project of “greater” Israel is a profoundly sad case.
Proposals such as Steve’s, mine and Hilary’s, are useful in encouraging thought – why, if our cause is decent, are our leaders thuggish propandists? – and furthering antiwar movements. The think tank “experts” and generals on cable survive only because unchallenged. Were they to get in the ring with anti-war people, they would not do well.
Nonetheless, a specific proposal to damage aggression is necessarily political - one that emphasizes, for example civil disobedience. I and my wife went from Colorado to the anti-War march on January 15, 2003 in Washington, D.C. The immortal civil rights march of King's "I have a Dream" speech had 200.000 and filled half the mall. This march filled the mall, and buses were still coming in. The Times had a reporter who filed a story at 10 o’clock and left; the rally began at 12. The Times and National Public Radio reported that only 10,000 had come and that the organizers were disappointed. Deluged by thousands of calls and emails from all over the East Coast, the Times and NPR had to revise their estimate up to 100,000 on Wednesday (p A10, 4 days after the march). Democratic pressure from below sometimes permits some approximation of the truth to make it though the filter of “all the news that ‘s fit to print.”
The rally was supposed to march to the naval yard. But that permit had been taken away at the last moment. The organizers however, specifically Answer, a group working with the Workers World Party, a Trotskyist organization, was so enamoured of speaking before half a million people that it didn’t want to take a chance on doing anything that would threaten having another rally of the same sort. So I and other people from Colorado tried to get the crowd, filing like sardines across the great boulevard beside the White House, to sit down in protest around it. If say a fifth of the march, 100,000 people had sat down and Cheney had had to clear us away by force, it would have made an international impression. It would have struck a major blow against the war.
There was plenty of anger. People did not like being marched by the naval yard and back onto the buses. They wanted to do something. But there was not enough of an organized force to get a nonviolent sit-in around the White House started.
Part of the difficulty of movements from below is that they are often disorganized, or their leaders are divided or surprisingly conservative, and don’t want to upset the powers-that-be. At the King march, as Malcolm X rightly emphasized, at the pusillanimous behest of the White House, the leadership pressured John L. Lewis of SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) to edit a speech which told the truth – the Kennedy administration would not enforce the law in the South, and civil rights workers were being beaten and murdered (my friend Andrew Goodman would lose his life in Philadelphia, Missisippi, because John and Robert Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, being Democrats,********* would not enforce the law even to the extent Eisenhower had at Little Rock and at the University of Mississippi. King moved beyond supporting the national Democrats; his speaking out against the War in Vietnam probably sealed his death (LBJ at the least did not make any effort to protect him against attempts on his life).
But as the civil rights movements and the anti-Vietnam War movement showed, much can be accomplished, nonetheless. Such movements, for all their debilities and weaknesses, rather than proposed institutional mechanisms, useful from the standpoint of satire and ideally but unlikely to be enacted (unless the popular movement from below becomes very big and demanding), are the only likely basis to stop aggressions of the kind the US standardly engages in.
Steve also rightly speaks of belligerences referring to drone strikes or Israel’s recent recent murder, with people using phony foreign passports, in a foreign hotel of a Hamas leader. That is perhaps a good way to see it. The US does have troops on the ground and fires drone missiles at Pakistan. I have referred to this, and its efforts in Somalia and Yemen as wars. I think those victimized by the missiles, particularly the civilians, certainly see them that way (in addition, as wars waged by cowards, from Langley, West Virginia, among other matters). But it is possible that belligerence is a better term. Nonetheless, the Israeli killing is belligerence that is part of an ongoing war and murderous occupation of the Palestinians (it is something that shocks onlookers, including Jews, and isolates Israel even further as a column by Bradley Burston in Haaretz underlines here).
Just a final note on Steve’s argument on just war. He rightly sees Nazism as the worst, but depicts the war between the US and Japan as “an imperialist catfight.” As Chalmers Johnson’s Peasant Nationalism in China reveals, the Japanese fascists murdered some twenty million people in three provinces of Northern China in the winter of 1941. The guerillas were “fish in the sea of the people.” The Japanese tried to “drain the water.” Both Japan and the US – the fire-bombings killed perhaps 10 million Japanese civilians, and were in many ways even worse, than Hiroshima and Nagasaki (though the fate of humanity may have been decided by the American use of atomic weapons). These were crimes which rival the Nazis. It was no mere imperial catfight, in fact I am not sure that is ever a term appropriate for what Empires do (consider the wanton murderousness of the otherwise laughable King Leopold, guessed at 20 million people – and Belgium would be swiftly eaten by Germany in World War I - in the Congo…).
* I exempt Michael Doyle, who boldly proposed this hypothesis on a Kantian basis during the Cold War in Philosophy and Public Affairs, and was initially not taken seriously; the transformation of the hypothesis into an apology for American imperialism, has occurred in the post-Cold War epoch.
**I have an unpublished essay on this called “Satire and the Origins of Social Theory in Montesquieu."
***Tracy Strong has sent a citation to me from the Essence of Truth 1943 version, 73 – Heidegger expurgated later versions - which is startling on this point:
****Ch. 1 analyzes the ambiguities in Krasner’s notion in In Defense of the National Interest.
*****The phrase "democratic disease" comes from Harrison Gray Otis, a Congressman who supported Adams; it is what the political scientist Samuel P. Huntington would name in 1976, writing for the Trilateral Commission, a “democratic distemper.”
******As Pelosi complained, the briefings are short, elliptical, and those briefed can not take away or study documents. It is a good tool to keep nefarious war, torture and illegal spying on citizens secured darkly even against Congress, let alone the American people. Blowback, the CIA term Johnson has made part of our vocabulary, barely captures how hidden from public view the Empire of bases, or the depradations of Israel, using American helicopters, in the occupied territories, or many other, supposedly "pro-American" slaughters are.
*******This was a tendency before, but kept hidden; the CIA oversaw torture in Guatemala and throughout Latin America, but it was not proclaimed, as Republicans do today, as the American way – see Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, ch. 5.
*********The racist Southern Democrats have now become, with Trent Lott, Southern Republicans.