On History and Ethics


Interesting things get said when talking politics with others.
For example, our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Discussing these wars with those who support them provide a frightening look into the minds of brutes. I encountered one of these dark souls upon reading Dahr Jamail’s most recent article about a war resisting soldier, Victor Agosto.
Victor has served in Iraq, learned-up on international law and how this relates to the justification and legality of the wars. His argument, which is correct, goes like this.
A soldier takes an enlistment oath where they swear to support and defend the constitution and to obey orders per the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and other regulations. Per the UCMJ they are only obligated to follow "lawful orders."
Article Six of the US Constitution – the Supremacy Clause – states that all treaties signed are the "supreme Law of the Land." Being a signatory of the UN Charter the organizations laws governing the use of force have become the supreme law of our land.
Our wars on Iraq and Afghanistan don’t meet the criteria because neither were we attacked by those nations nor did the UN Security Council (UNSC) authorize our use of force.
But even then there are laws governing the proportionate use of violence. Using disproportionate amounts of violence is illegal.
If a Taliban soldier shot a government official in Washington, DC it would still be illegal to carry out a massive display of force or to invade and occupy Afghanistan. I know many Americans might think that this would legitimate our wrath but I wonder if they feel the same about the Nazi wrath that followed the murder of Ernst von Rath, who was killed by a Polish assassin, Herschel Grynszpan.
The purpose of the Charter’s legitimizing of state violence is not to inhibit a nation’s right to self-defense. In other words, the very law that makes our wars illegal makes the Afghan and Iraqi resistance legal! Launching a full-scale war and invasion against a country where only an isolated incident occurred is not self-defense. It is aggression. No matter how scarred or outraged we were by the events of 9-11, our response a month later was not defensive. It was aggressive.
Let’s bring some historical context to the table.
Long before the events of September 11, 2001 the US was engaged in crimes throughout the world. Our policies in the "Muslim World" have created a lot of anger, hostility and enemies. This played a big role in the rise of radical Islam, and in particular, al Qaeda.
Pointing this out does not justify what happened in New York, but it helps to understand things and put them in perspective when analyzing our actions and investigating their legitimacy.
What happened happened. And it was unjustified. But it was an isolated incident. It is not as if al Qaeda was invading us. The incident occurred and that was that. A response was justified but our particular response was no more legitimate or justified as al Qaeda’s was to the long history of events that provoked their crimes.
What is worse is that when we attacked Afghanistan we did not know who was behind the attacks. Several months later our FBI Director, Robert Mueller, publicly acknowledged we only thought we knew who was behind the attacks. This means we used disproportionate violence (illegal and immoral) against one of the poorest and most defenseless countries in the world because we only thought those involved were in Afghanistan (again, illegal and immoral).
And the Taliban routinely offered to hand over bin Laden, but President George Bush refused. On one occasion they asked for evidence and if we could provide something to show he could be guilty then they would hand him over to a neutral third party. Bush said he didn’t "negotiate with terrorists."
(On a side not and for comparative purposes: At the same time we were asking for bin Laden, Haiti was asking for Toto Constant, a Haitian terrorist living in Queens, New Yorl and wanted for killing thousands of Haitians. President Aristide was willing to present evidence of Constant’s guilt. If our actions were legitimate then we cannot deny that Haiti an equal right to do the same to us.)
Soldiers like Victor Agosto are right to resist the illegal wars and occupations. They would not be defending us nor would they be making us safer. And the Taliban being "bad guys" is no justification to wage a war of aggression.
Let’s go back to some events that occurred before World War Two in order to see how somewhat similar occurrences have played out in history.
Some might say we were right in attacking Japan following their bombing of Pearl Harbor. And if we left things out of context and began with the bombing, as if we had never heard of Japan and at that moment that is when everything started, they would be right. But altercations were going on long before then. And we were hardly innocent. The US government had pretty tough words (see hypocrisy) for Japan, who was carrying out their own Monroe Doctrine – their Manifest Destiny. On the eve of 1939 the US said:
This Government does not admit . . . that there is need or warrant for any one power to take upon itself to prescribe what shall be the terms and conditions of a ‘new order’ in areas not under its sovereignty and to constitute itself the repository of authority and the agent of destiny in regard thereto.
Consider the Monroe Doctrine and that Japan was trying to appeal to us on just that ground. We don’t "admit" to the legitimacy when it is Japan, but we and other powers reserve the right.
Japan, like the other powerful states, were following the same path of colonialism and imperialism as the rest but were not allowed in the club. It was like competing mafias. One didn’t recognize the legitimacy of the other because the other was moving in on their turf.
Now there is a good reason to believe that we were trying to provoke Japan into an "overt act of war" so that we could join WW2 – i.e. the McCollum memo, whose eight things to do for just such a provocation were carried out.
Knowing that neither side was "good" and that the US carried out many provocations, with a clear understanding and possible purpose of provoking "an overt act of war" and that all of this could have been avoided, is the firebombing of Tokyo really justified?
Or take Nazi Germany and their invasion of France. Was this government a "good" government? Considering their history of colonialism, imperialism and class warfare, were they innocent? Of course not. It is not as if the French were minding their own business and had no altercations with Nazi Germany. But that didn’t justify Nazi aggression and it was right for them to be tried for their crimes at Nuremberg.
The point here is that many of our actions mirror those of Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany, and many of the lessons we applied to them for them to atone for and learn from are applicable to ourselves.
We have no right to "prescribe what shall be the terms and conditions of a ‘new order’" nor do we have the right to use disproportionate force against those we only suspect of being behind isolated incidences of "terrorism." We are not defending ourselves in Afghanistan or Iraq. What we are doing is waging a war of aggression. And if our soldiers take their oaths seriously and if they respect the laws that should be governing their actions then they must resist.

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