Just-War Reflections


Invocation:  Good Morning. 

And welcome to this morning's celebration of the Unitarian Universalist Society of the Daytona Beach Area.  This Unitarian Universalist Community welcomes and celebrates the presence and participation of persons of all races, nationalities, previous religious beliefs, and sexual orientations.  Our policy is one of inclusion of all persons who are attracted to our service.  And so, I welcome you all most cordially.


As is our custom, we would like to welcome visitors or anyone who has returned after a long absence.  To do so, we would be pleased if visitors or returnees would be willing to stand, to introduce themselves, and to tell us where they're from.  Please wait to speak until you have the microphone.  Is there anyone on my left?  On my right?

Announcements:  The announcement should be listed in the back of your order of this morning’s events.  If any committee chairs have announcements, please come forward to make those now.

Chalice Lighting: I light this chalice with the words of the preamble of the  Charter of the United Nations written in June of 1945:

We, the peoples of the United Nations

Determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetimes has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and

To reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and . . . for these ends

To practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors, and

To unite our strength to maintain international peace and security . . .

Have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims.

Prelude [Carol]

If any of you wish to express any concerns, please feel free to take the microphone for that purpose.


Let us take a moment of reflection and meditation about our concerns, each in his or her own fashion.

Sharing of Joys

If you have any joys that you wish to share with this community, please do take the microphone for that purpose.

Hymn—I pick the hymn that we’re about to sing just about whenever I do anything here up front for specific reasons.  (1) I love the tune. As Carol said, “You can’t go wrong with Haydn.”  (2) I think the changing lyrics show a sensible progression of attitude:  This tune began as the imperial hymn of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire under Emperor Franz-Josef.  It continued as the republican hymn of the early German federalists.  Note that the line “Deutschland über alles” refers to the elevation of national  unity over the petty squabbles of tiny principalities with their many ways of making life miserable for the commoner.  And now with the celebration of international unity in the lyrics we’re singing today, I think we’re getting closer to getting things right.  Let us stand and sing hymn 190, “Light of Ages and of Nations.”

Offertory: Let us now engage our generosity for the financial welfare of this congregation.

Reading:  I want to read a poem.  Siegfried Sassoon, a British anti-war poet, published this poem after Wilfred Owen, the author of the poem, had been killed at the front.  Sassoon’s antiwar protests were at first attributed to shell shock, and he was confined for a time in a sanatorium, where he met and influenced Wilfred Owen.  The quote “Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori” means “it is sweet and becoming to die for one’s fatherland” and comes from the Roman poet Horace.

Dulce Et Decorum Est

by Wilfred Owen

First Published in 1921

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime. — 
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Hymn: Pete Seeger’s song “Where Have all The Flowers Gone?”

Sermon:  Reflections About Just War

There are several traditions for “just war” morality.  Born April 10, 1583, in Delft, the Netherlands, and having died August 28, 1645, in the city of Rostock in Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Hugo De Groot or Hugo Grotius was a Dutch jurist and scholar, whose legal masterpiece, De Jure Belli ac Pacis (1625; On the Law of War and Peace), was one of the first great contributions to modern international law.  But the just-war tradition goes back farther than Grotius.  St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas had already addressed this issue.   In the Summa Theologica, Aquinas had observed that the Christian ethos forbids war outright: “According to Mt. 26:52: ‘All that take the sword shall perish with the sword.’ Therefore all wars are unlawful” (http://ethics.acusd.edu/Books/Texts/Aqui­nas/JustWar.html).  He goes on to come up with exceptions, much of which influences modern Catholic teaching on this matter.

That tradition begins with a very strong constraint against all war.  Overruling that strong constraint requires very strong reasons.  I have found the summary as published on the website of the United States Catholic Bishops’ Conference in November of 1993 to be succinct, concise, and intuitively obvious as one reflects about these reasons:  In the interest of overcoming injustice, reducing violence, and preventing its expansion, the “just war” tradition aims at:

(a)    clarifying when force may be used,

(b)   limiting the resort to force, and

(c)    restraining damage done by military forces during war. 

I have added to this statement by the Bishop’s Conference also a reflection by Immanuel Kant about the rights of military personnel during war and the moral obligations that the state has to its military.

The first criterion is: Just Cause: force may be used only to correct a grave, public evil, i.e., aggression or massive violation of the basic rights of whole populations;

What is most intriguing about this criterion is that it has a tremendous persuasive and popular appeal.  When Hitler attacked Poland in 1939, he justified the attack as a counterattack.  I heard a documentary audio where he rumbled “ab 3:30 Uhr wird zurueckgeschossen” (beginning at 3:30, we are returning fire).  The Spanish-American war began with the explosion of the battleship Maine although it is far more probable that the warship’s coal compart­ments had exploded rather than that the Spanish had planted a bomb on it.  The Vietnam War began with Lyndon Johnson’s reaction to two unprovoked attacks by North Vietnamese torpedo boats on the destroyers Maddox and C. Turner Joy of the U.S. Seventh Fleet in the Gulf of Tonkin.  The First World War began with the Serbian attack on the Austrian-Hungarian Empire’s heir to the throne.  You will never find any war that the leaders do not claim to be an act of defense, rather than an act of aggression. 

Look at our shift of metaphors.  Where in earlier days, nations spoke non-euphemistically of the Secretary of War or the War Department, we now speak of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of Defense. No wars are aggressive wars anymore; all wars are defensive.  But, it is up to an informed and quizzical citizenry to reflect about how far such claims are likely to be true.  I was stunned that the US-American public was taken in by the current self-defense myth of the weapons of mass destruction’s being a potential threat to US security.  In the first place, the US government knew what it had given to Iraq: it knew, for example, that the shelf-life of biological and chemical weaponry is only three years and that it had given no additional weaponry after those first three years, a fairly tight embargo restraining any such development in Iraq.  That embargo was so tight that two head administrators of the food-for-oil program, one of them the German diplomat von Sponek, had resigned in protest because they had designated that program as blatantly genocidal as administered by US pressure.  We might want to remember here the calloused reply that Madeline Albright had given to the information that 500,000 Iraqi children were dying because of lack of vaccine and medical supplies: “It’s a price to pay.”  And we wonder whose price it is to pay and for what?

Again, we must come face to face with the fact that aggressive wars can and have been made palatable to the public and sometimes even to public officials by cynical staging of phony attacks that require the “defense” on the part of the actual aggressors.  How gullible we can be was obvious when the first Iraq war was initiated on the basis of the witness testimony of the nurse that observed Iraqi soldiers stealing medical technology in Kuwait after throwing the babies on the floor to die.  I will never understand why the public didn’t shake the rafters as soon as we found out that the nurse was a Saudi woman well drilled by an ad agency so as to “perform” this lie to Congress.

Let me also take another most unpopular angle to this issue.  Did not the attackers of the World Trade Center  and the Pentagon also justify their action as retaliatory, responsive, and self-defensive?  Osama bin Laden had specifically stated the purpose of the attack as being a response to the food-for-oil program that the two leading diplomats had already designated as with obvious genocidal intent on the part of the US.  Bin Laden alluded specifically in his justification to US policies in the Middle East and at the millions of Iraqi children who had died in the aftermath of the first Iraq war and the embargo.  In moral terms, did that counter-attack claim not hold up every bit as solidly as the WMD myth? 

Another criterion is Comparative Justice: while there may be rights and wrongs on all sides of a conflict, to override the presumption against the use of force, the injustice suffered by one party must significantly outweigh that suffered by the other;

This is where aggressive warriors have a very hard time to make their claim stick.  Only propaganda and deception and disinformation will succeed here.  Even if some Polish border police had shot at German border police, one cannot justify a 90-day Blitzkrieg to devastate an entire country by that reason. Even if a Vietnamese gun-boat had taken a shot at two American battleships, is the ensuing defoliation of the Vietnamese countryside and the massive slaughter of civilian populations and the sacrificing of soldiers there really in balance with those two torpedoes?  Ultimately, we must also ask whether the death of 2,823 victims in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon can really justify the massive devastation of Afghanistan and the meanwhile obvious intent of the US government to do nothing about the re-building of Afghanistan. 

A related criterion is Proportionality: The rule of Proportionality suggests that  the overall destruction expected from the use of force must be outweighed by the good to be achieved;

A real situation that illustrates how this principle works is No Gun Ri.  You may remember that, during the Korean war, American soldiers were ordered to shoot a group of refugees because it was assumed that some Northern spies may be hiding among the refugees.  Certainly the death of more than one hundred refugees is not proportional to the few spies—even if there had been some—who might have been so eliminated.   

To reflect about comparative justice and proportionality, let me take a look at a few figures from the British Observer.  This newspaper publishes a set of comparative numbers on its website at http://www.observer.co.uk/Print/0,3858,4483780,00.html.  The normal number of people working at the World Trade Center before 9/11 was 50,000 with an average daily number of visitors of 140,000.  If the attack were to have been directed at the US public, the attackers should have flown their attack at a time of high business-activity. Observing proportionality, they did not.  Compare these figures to the military action in Afghanistan: Number of bombs dropped so far and they’re still falling on Afghanistan: 22,000.  Percent of bombs that probably missed their targets: 25 percent.  Percent of bombs that didn’t explode, leaving landmines: 10 percent.  Estimated Afghan civilian deaths from US bombing so far and the bombs are still falling: 3,620—approximately.  We still do not know the casualty rate in Iraq.  We do know of the mass graves that Saddam Hussein’s government has left behind.  How do we do the moral mathematics here? 

A few weeks ago, the local paper published some first statistics of the Iraq war to refer to at least about one thousand civilian deaths in Baghdad.  Add to that the dead Iraqi soldiers, the dead in all the other cities, and the dead yet to come from the destruction of the entire infra-structure and all the forces of order in the country.  What will it all add up to?  Even though the unjust regime of Saddam Hussein has killed thousands, I suspect that the toll paid for the war will be far greater than the damage done to those victims.  We know that the first Iraq war involved 150,000 to 300,000 casualties on the Iraqi side. Add to that the victims of Saddam’s crack-down on the Shiites which was a direct result of that war, and the figures are staggering.  I would be very surprised if the figures will be much different once we have access to more information.  Sabaens, a small sect that speaks Aramaic and goes back to John the Baptizer and had Saddam’s protection, fear for their right to practice their religion—and with some justification, for, if Iraq becomes a democracy, the Shiites will rule the country, and theirs is not a tolerant majority.  Large groups of Palestinians, whom Saddam had offered asylum, are now in tent cities along the Jordanian-Iraqi border, not knowing where to go from there after having been kicked out by the Iraqis who are now ruled by the US and its allies.

We must also add to these figures the devastation expected after the war; in fact, we must think here in terms of generations.  Here a report from Basra after the first Iraq War:  Dr. Alim Yacoup; Dr. Imad Al-Sadoun; Dr. Genan G. Hassan of the College of Medicine at Basra University report: “Information on the incidence of malignancies among children below 15 years of age in Basrah, southern Iraq, was updated to include 1999 in addition to what was already reported for the period 1990-1998. There has been a 100% rise in the incidence of various forms of leukemia among children in 1999 compared to 1990 while the reported percentage increase 1997 compared to 1990 for the same forms was 60%. The corresponding rise for all malignancies among such children in 1999 compared to 1990 was 242% while the percentage increase in 1997 compared to 1990 was 120%. . . . The findings reported in 1999 provided further epidemiological evidence that the increased incidence of malignancies among children in Basrah is related to exposure to depleted uranium used by the western allies during their aggression on Iraq in 1991.” The figures suggest that every year the victim rate is climbing exponentially.   I am no scientist, but I believe that I am correct in asserting that, without clean-up, this radioactivity will persist for another 20,000 years or so.

Another criterion is that of Legitimate Authority: only duly constituted public authorities may use deadly force or wage war; 

While no one will argue that a country does not have a right to defend itself, even that decision must come from duly authorized public authority. In the absence of direct attack, the kind of war that was fought in Afghanistan and in Iraq required sanction and authorization by the United Nations.  If extradition of Osama bin Laden from Afghanistan was sought, then extradition procedures should have been engaged in, not an all-out war.  One would ordinarily assume that the peoples of a country are responsible themselves for seeing to it that they are duly governed.  Seeing to proper governance of one nation can never be the task of another nation, no matter how enlightened it believes its government to be. 

Even if Osama bin Laden were a duly recognized sheikh and patriarch of the people gathering around him, we do not recognize his authority to wage war on US-America on behalf of the Iraqis, whom he does not represent in any way except by way of an affinity with their religious base and even that is only very tenuous since he is Wahabi-Sunni and the majority if Iraqis are Shiite.  He is not duly recognized as public official.  I am sure you have heard all kinds of glib comments about the questionable authority that George W. Bush has had after his doubtful election. But neither authority is the question here.  A war that seeks to help out an oppressed faction in another country can only occur after the suppressed faction has requested assistance and after the world community—these days in the form of the United Nations—has signed off on that plea for assistance.  Kofi Annan has just last week (May 20) asked the European Union’s military assistance in the Congo’s factional fighting, a perfectly sound approach to military assistance to oppressed factions.  There was a far greater need to help the suppressed when Hutu and Tootsie were killing each other in Rwanda.  So, why did the US exercise restraint?  Why was there no invasion of South Africa when Apartheid ruled there?  It is simply the case that nations have a right to be viewed as sovereign in their borders.  Wrongs of various degrees occur everywhere, unfortunately.  So far, no world nation has ever threatened to invade the US for blatant abuse of the death penalty, maltreatment of the poor, and abusive policies toward minorities.  As long as a nation does not present a danger to its neighbors, it has a right to evolve in its own way.  And even if it attacks a neighbor, only the attacked neighbor has an immediate right to defend itself—by the just-cause criterion. Beyond that, only duly constituted authority at the level of the world community has any legal or moral right to wage war to free anyone whatsoever. 

Another criterion is Right Intention: force may be used only in a truly just cause and solely for that purpose

European commentators severally referred to this criterion implicitly when they criticized the Bush administration’s lead-up to martial action in Iraq.  Bush would offer a reason for an attack.  Several days later, he’d offer another reason.  And then there would be a few more reasons.  Some of the justifications for the search for WMD’s were obviously ludicrous.  Powell’s presentation at the UN was quite completely unconvincing.  All of these fuzzy charges pointed to a lack of right intention.  We know meanwhile also that the contracts that the French company ELF had for the oil-wells around Basra with the Saddam regime have moved to Halliburton Oil.  And the Russians have lost their contract for developing the wells in the vicinity of Mosul.  Under the title:  "US more keen on oil than Iraqi people,” Ruben Banerjee wrote in Al-Jazeera News on Sunday April 27:  Deeply concerned over the anarchic turn of events in  Iraq, Amnesty International charged the US-led forces on Tuesday with being more concerned about Iraqi oil wells than the Iraqi people.  ‘There seems to have been more preparation to protect the oil wells than to protect hospitals, water systems or civilians,’ lamented Irene Khan, the secretary-general of the international human-rights group in what is the strongest indictment of the US and its allies to date for their inability to restore normalcy in Iraq since they ousted the government of Saddam Hussein.” 

So, why doesn’t the Bush administration have the moral fortitude to call a spade a spade.  If I am running a war for cheap oil and for the continued dominance of resources to enable our citizenry to continue being wasteful with these resources, why don’t I simply call this the First Oil-War of the new century.  Let’s just ‘fess up, rather than pussy-footing around with mythical yearnings for Iraqi freedom and such.

We must also consider the Probability of Success: arms may not be used in a futile cause or in a case where dispro­por­tionate measures are required to achieve success;

Does anyone recall the running mate of George Wallace?  This ex-general advocated taking Vietnam by tactical use of nuclear bombs.  This is not a situation that has probable success since extraordinary means would have to be used.  Military success was far more likely in the Iraq war.  However, Al-Jazeera is perfectly correct in asserting that there appears to have been no planning for the population at all.  A simple count would have revealed that over half of the country consists of Shiites.  Shiites are not tolerant people; they are religious fanatics.  Can you imagine a country were Jerry Falwells were in the majority?  Now, would you, if you were in your right mind—not drunk and not high on something more evil—would you offer such a country a democratic government where you’d assume the majority will rule, when the country is now under the rule of a secular dictator who is trying to keep religious factions from dominating each other?  We’ve had a laboratory case of this before.  Does anyone remember the Shah of Persia, whom the US supported in his efforts to modernize the country?  We do know what happened to him and the country when the Shiites took over there, don’t we?  So, why would anyone believe that there is any kind of probability of success in attempting to bring democracy to Iraq?  This kind of analysis is a straightforward Utilitarian consequentialist reflection; it should have been possible for US leaders to engage in it.

And finally, we must be sure that any war is a Last Resort: force may be used only after all peaceful alternatives have been seriously tried and exhausted.

Hans Blix had not given up on peaceful means; the UN had not given up on peaceful means; most of the world had not given up on peaceful means; and the neighbors of Iraq were not afraid of imminent attack.

But these criteria (jus ad bellum), taken as a whole, must be satisfied in order to override the strong presumption against the use of force: the war must have a just cause; comparative justice requires that the defending party have been actually hurt severely enough to warrant counter-measures of equal value; people declaring war must be proper public agencies; right intention requires that there be no ulterior motives to the war; the war must be reasonably expected to lead to success without extraordinary measures;  the rule of proportionality requires that no greater damage be done by the war than can be expected in good results after the war; and finally, the rule of last resort specifies that truly all other options have been exhausted.

The just-war tradition seeks also to curb the violence of war through restraint on armed combat between the contending parties by imposing the following moral standards (jus in bello) for the conduct of armed conflict:

While one conducts a war, one must preserve Noncombatant Immunity: civilians may not be the object of direct attack, and military personnel must take due care to avoid and minimize indirect harm to civilians; 

Do we remember the shot at the International Hotel and the death of, I believe, three international, non-embedded journalists?  Do we remember the three rockets on Al-Jazeera news in Baghdad during the same night?  Do we remember those horrific pictures of the bombs raining on Baghdad?  Do we recall seeing the hideous disfigurements caused by cluster bombs, the objective of which is personnel deaths, not military targets.  The administration should have known the casualty rate of the first war in Iraq.  Can one not extrapolate the likely casualty rate for another such war?  Can we analyze the damage to civilians by way of depleted uranium, disruption of water supplies, and a break-down of all semblance of order?  Where is the non-combatant immunity there?

While one conducts a war, one must make sure to preserve Proportionality: in the conduct of hostilities, efforts must be made to attain military objectives with no more force than is militarily necessary and to avoid disproportionate collateral damage to civilian life and property:  In the interest of time, I’ll just limit myself to mentioning cluster bombs and depleted uranium here.

Since we saw all reporting from embedded journalists, I know only of the German reports how much these journalists were restrained in their reporting.  So, I do not know when some balanced reporting is likely to reach us to let us know how far proportionality was or was not preserved.  The use of depleted uranium and the use of cluster bombs is clearly a strike against this moral restraint.  Depleted uranium, as you have heard from the physician’s reports, will go on killing and maiming for years after the cessation of all hostilities.  So, even if we do not know everything right now, we know enough to see that this principle has been seriously violated.

While one conducts the war and at the cessation of hostilities, one must preserve Right Intention: even in the midst of conflict, the aim of political and military leaders must be peace with justice, so that acts of vengeance and indiscriminate violence, whether by individuals, military units or governments, are forbidden.

I am sure that we all have seen the looting and the destruction and the lawlessness of those so-called freed Iraqi people, including Rumsfeld’s cynical remarks about that lawless behavior and the little understanding smiles one gets when pointing out that US soldiers stood by while the German and French embassies were ransacked by looters. 

Another set of criteria is relevant to a just war.  We must also be concerned about the rights of military personnel involved in a war.  And, again, we tend to buy into these kinds of sentiments with gusto.  “We must support our troops,” is on virtually everyone’s lips.  I see yellow ribbons and flags everywhere.  And yet, when I asked my son, who is a fire technician aboard a submarine, what the motivation was on the part of the people who joined the military, he pointed out that most young people, as far as he knew, were there to make money.  Just like he, they were there because they were tired of being poor.  It seems that many of us forget that we have a professional army.  We do not have conscripts; we have people who are most likely emotionally detached from what they do.

Having a professional army presents a serious problem for Immanuel Kant:  Kant rejects  any professional army, which he says is an unsettling provocation for the rest of the world.  That reflection can give you a whole new perspective on terrorist activity, doesn’t it?  I seem to recall that the sailors of the tiny little rubber boat that exploded a huge gash into the USS Cole saluted the soldiers aboard as they blew themselves up.  Ships of War are designated as instruments of war and thus provoke ipso facto.   Instead of provo­cation, Kant acknowledges the occasional requirement of a citizenry in uniform—the militia that has a right to keep and bear arms, but the nature of that citizenry may not be perverted by way of its military service.  Had Candy Lovett, veteran of the first Iraq war, been able to be here today, you would have heard and seen first-hand evidence of a government’s doing wrong to its military. 

We always hear of the minimal casualties of the first Iraq war. But what we do not hear is the massive deaths still occurring from Gulf-War Syndrome. According to Candy, she acquired Gulf-War syndrome and her oldest son died of it because of her exposure to depleted uranium and because of her task to clean the road from Kuwait to Basra.  If you remember the first Iraq war, you may remember the massive air-force attack on the refugees lining the road from Kuwait to Basra.  The death count was staggering.  The victims were almost exclusively non-military.  Most cars were private vehicles.  Candy showed pictures of the dead: incinerated bodies with cars hardly touched. I have no idea what kind of weaponry was used in that attack, but Candy says that also animals in the vicinity were quite dead.  She was employed to act as clean-up crew there. She and several others were charged with putting the dead in body bags. Candy reported several dead women, in their arms corpses of children.  She was issued one mop-suit but reported working mostly in shorts and shirt because of the heat. 

Back home, she reports blackouts, during which she has had suicidal episodes.  She also reports of other Gulf-War veterans who have blackouts with episodes of violence.  All these issues are addressed by Kant under the consideration that governments have an obligation to their military not to harm them for the peace that is to follow.  Kant writes, “All means of defense are permitted for the state under siege of war, except those, the use of which would make it impossible for its citizens to function as citizens. . . . Part of this constraint is not to use the state’s soldiery as spies, not to use the state’s soldiery or even foreigners to assassinate, to poison, to act as sharp-shooters from ambush, or to spread incorrect news—in short, a state must not use malicious means which are likely to destroy the confidence and trust which are necessary for the establishment of a lasting peace afterwards.” (Suhrkamp edition, p. 471). 

I am sure that Kant would have also included military “high-stress and duress interrogation units” here, in part because of the damage done to the psyche of the interrogators themselves.  Do you remember the facility with which Timothy McVeigh spoke of collateral damage, which he regretted, when he had blown up the governmental building in Oklahoma?  Do you remember the Vietnam vet who let bullets rain on the campus of the University of Texas many years ago?  Do you remember Mr. Anderson in Ormond Beach, almost doubled over on his bike and his collection of tin cans, while the City of Ormond Beach razed his house?  His long shifts zipping body bags for shipment in Vietnam most likely unhinged him, but what is the nation doing for him now?  Do you know of the prolonged fights that Gulf-War syndrome and Agent-Orange damage required of the veterans who had returned?  These are all incidents that give evidence of the country’s abuse of its soldiery.   I wonder to what degree we know that the members of the military are more likely to come from the economically deprived and that thus the obligation that the country feels toward them remains largely at the level of empty rhetoric.

In addition, Kant says: “No war of independent states can be a punitive war (bellum punitivum), for punishment can occur only in the relationship of a superior to a subordinate, but that is not the proper relationship between independent nations” (Suhrkamp edition, p. 470/471).   And so Kant also argues in favor of a full amnesty at the secession of hostilities as part of any war.  The deck of fifty-five that the US is trying to hunt down in Iraq is not consistent with that view either.  It is highly unlikely that so-called war-criminals are always in the ranks of the vanquished and never in the rows of the victors, but that is the somewhat skewed system that is being advocated where might makes right.

So, wrapping this all up, where am I going here?   I think that many people buy into the values of the just-war tradition; but in their hearts, they know that none of this is so.  This kind of thinking executed with malicious intent is hypocrisy.  But I don’t think that people are being hypocritical; they believe in what they are asserting. So I’ve been speculating about reality shifts that must be occurring by virtue of subtle differences of meaning of words.  The US policy in terms of Iraq makes much more sense when one makes the assumption that “freedom” is to be interpreted as “economic advantage over other citizens of this world.”  In that case, soldiers are indeed dying and being maimed there in mind and body because they are protecting US freedoms.  The US military and economic superiority is probably subsumed under the phrase “God bless America,” very much in the puritanical tradition where God shows economic favor to those he loves and punishes the bad people with being poverty-stricken and starving have-nots.  It is indeed a blessing of sorts if one controls 50 to 60 percent of the world’s resources and when one seeks to maintain that superiority militarily and in terms of economic policies.  As long as one strains to see what’s really lurking behind the pious phrases and the patriotic sentiments, a moral consistency appears to be taking place, but it’s much more akin to Nietzsche’s aristocratic superman morality or an us-first/me-first ethics or a chosen-people complex than to the just-war tradition. 

As John Dewey remarked, “People wave the banner of principle, but march to the drummer of expediency.”  The more people find out about these discrepancies, the more they may begin to suffer from sufficient cognitive dissonance that may lead them to some form of resolution and moral denouement.  But I suspect that, instead, many people are in moral denial as a form of resolving cognitive dissonance in terms of these problems.  When I asked my son about depleted uranium, he could tell me instantly what it was and how it was being used; he also resolved cognitive dissonance, I suspect, by way of a refusal to pursue the topic to where it might lead him.  And I suspect that the many of the US military deal with these very problems in that manner of denial.

This is not a time to relax into the belief that the Iraq war is over with; this is a time for vigilance all around.  An administration and a culture that experience such an immense lag between moral myth and actual reality is unpredictably dangerous.  Furthermore, it is important not to believe that nothing vile can ever happen in a great democratic country.  I am sure people look at me as though I were mad when I say that, considering every­thing, the distance from the concentration camps to Iraq is not all that far—particularly when we also consider the motivations and the lingering damage of the instruments of war that have been used there.

Extinguishing of the Chalice/Closing Words: I extinguish the chalice with words from Carl Schurz, German-American senator (from 1869 to 1875) and Secretary of The Interior under President Rutherford B. Hayes (from 1877 to 1881):  “My country right or wrong!  When right to be kept right, and when wrong to be got right.”


presented at the Unitarian-Universalist Society of the Daytona Beach Area on May 25, 2003

Reinhold Schlieper

May 25, 2003