Thursday, September 16, 2004

The Morality of War - Part 1

It should be clear to many people, that this election has come down to essentially two basic issues, Money and War. Money is acknowledged to be largely out of the President's control, as far as guaranteeing jobs and a certain level of wages and working conditions is concerned, so that returns the focus this year to War. And certainly there are abundant reminders to consider War.

9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, Terrorism, Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Saddam Hussein, Vietnam, Swift Boats, Air National Guard, and other stories and debates remind us daily that War is an essential element in deciding the White House for the next four years. There is a clear and important difference between the style of National Security presented by President George W. Bush, and the type offered by Senator John Kerry. Leaving aside the tactics of the campaign, and the standings in the polls at this time, it seems meet to me, that the morality of War should be considered, as each man would practice it.

No sane being is happy with warfare. By definition, War means deliberate killing, much destruction, and no matter how precise the technology, innocents die and suffer. However, War is also a fact of History, and there is no question, that there are occasions where not to fight is to choose to bring death and suffering to innocents, where War, however horrible, may be less unjust. It is an accepted assumption that humans have fought since before the first record in history. Small wonder, given that control of water and arable land meant the difference between living and dying for early tribes and nations. It is believed that the first wars were for vital foods and water and territory, with the losers being driven away. In some situations, however, there was nowhere left to go, and so in those situations, war was to the death.

Long before Clausewitz coined the term, 'total war' was a fact of the world. This was because tribes feared letting the loser survive, as he would have motive to come back for revenge. But there were three problems with total war. First, killing all of an enemy meant your own army would be more tired and exhausted than was wise to allow, which would provide an opportunity for an enemy canny enough to wait for you to weaken. Next, killing all of your enemies would make your new neighbors mistrustful of you, and might drive them to form alliances with each other against you, to destroy you lest you kill him. And third, warriors trained for battle, and there was a sense that it was not correct to kill people who did not fight. I don't doubt that even in primitive tribes, it would have become distasteful to kill women and children, no matter what reasons were presented.

Ironically, Slavery began as an option of mercy. To our sensibilities it sounds cruel, but it provided armies with three advantages. First, it was a way to remove enemies from the land the victors took, with little chance they could come back later and take it back. Second, it was a means by which the victors could make peace through commerce with their new neighbors; a cunning leader would know who his defeated slaves' enemies were in nearby lands, and could sell or give them to that nation to gain good relations. And third, it meant money, a way to pay the army, which was always important to a king.

Fast forward to the empires of ancient Egypt, China, and Rome. Without going too deep into their histories, it becomes obvious that a warrior class emerges, and the king/pharoah/emporer was expected to lead the armies, often by example. The Bible notes that many kings rode into the thick of battle, trusting their armor and superior chariots to win. The Chinese are less clear about what a king was expected to do, but they certainly expected their kings to be good generals ( a la Sun Tzu), and to be able to fight. So, the culture of warrior leaders is a long one, running all the way through at least the 19th Century. Check the portraits of the European kings, for example, and they all are shown with uniforms and swords, even the ones who never once mounted a horse. Even American Presidents are known for their military service, and it is considered an important attribute in leadership, a lens for their measure as men.

All this history is presented here to make two points: War is a fact of history through civilization, and the leaders of nations are judged by their martial abilities. It now makes sense to address the different schools of thought in War.

In many nations of the past, there was a warrior class. Japan comes to mind as the most obvious example, but it also applies to pretty much every nation which came to a degree of power, whether they were merely secure in their borders, or enjoyed a level of regional hegemony. The military academies of many countries not only bred their cadets to be leaders in the field, but to be social and civic leaders, as well. This required a code of honor, flexible enough to meet any situation, yet rigid enough to set a high standard. As a note, this first became obvious in the Meritocracies of Babylon and the Song Dynasty in China.

(to be continued in Part 2)

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