What is the essence of war?

Let’s say your neighbor asked you to kill somebody.  Would you do it?  Would you ask some questions first? Would it matter if the intended target were a very bad person?  If the target were a bad person, would you have to know he was a bad person based on your own, first-person experience, or would you be willing to kill based on somebody else’s observation or assertion of the person’s supposed badness?  What bad things would that person have to have done for you to seriously consider acting on your neighbor’s request?  What if that person was not necessarily bad himself, but part of a group in which other members of his group had done bad things; would you then seriously consider acting on your neighbor’s request?  What if your neighbor had a demonstrable history of claiming to know things that later turned out to be untrue?  Under that condition, is there any way to justify acting on your neighbor’s request in good conscience?  In fact, if your neighbor were a proven liar, could you possibly consider your neighbor’s request with anything but contempt?

If you acted on your neighbor’s request because you were ignorant of his history of deception, and then, after killing at his behest, came to understand that his assertions regarding the moral turpitude of the target were at least inaccurate and probably intentionally deceptive, would you ever kill for him again?  Would you speak out to warn others about your neighbor’s propensity to lie to convince you to kill for them?

Chalmer’s Johnson, author and professor of international relations at the University of California (Berkeley and San Diego) for over 30 years, who worked as an analyst for the CIA from 1967 to 1973, addressed the evidence laid before the American people as justification for the wars after 9/11:

“The third great cost of empire is a tendency toward official lying, toward propaganda on the part of our political leaders, the refusal to be candid with the people, and the growth enormously of official secrecy; The best example is the speech given to the UN council on February 5, 2003 by Secretary of State Cohn Powell, telling us of the tremendous threat posed by Saddam Hussein and Iraq. We now know in detail that virtually everything Cohn Powell said was a lie, and he knew it was a lie, and the people like George Tenet, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency; who was sitting behind him, above all, knew that it was disinformation. That now becomes common, and it’s a terrible cost to the republic.

There was also the President’s 2003 State of the Union address. I have to admit that as a professor of international relations I simply find it unimaginable that in the most authoritative speech the President gives every year, the State of the Union, a speech given to a joint Session of Congress and broadcast all over the world, you could have the president put in intelligence known to be false by our hyper-secret, very expensive intelligence agencies. The president and his advisors put in this intelligence stating that Saddam Hussein had tried to acquire raw uranium from a source in Africa when we knew that that was not true. It was a piece of fake intelligence. It is quite literally unbelievable that the President could make such a statement, that his advisors could have allowed him to make such a statement. I would have to say today that it would be an extremely naive person who would take any statement of the federal government at face value, who would not attempt to verify it through their own personal sources, sources they trust, and find other ways to confirm what the government is saying.”

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Let’s say your country asked you to kill people in other countries.  Would you do it?  Would you ask some questions first? Would it matter if the intended targets were very bad people?  If the targets were bad people, would you have to know they were bad people based on your own, first-person experience, or would you be willing to kill based on somebody else’s observation or assertion of the people’s supposed badness?  What bad things would that people have to have done for you to seriously consider acting on your country’s request?  What if that people were not necessarily bad themselves, but part of a group in which other members of their group had done bad things?  If that were true, would you seriously consider acting on your country’s request?  What if your country had a demonstrable history of claiming to know things that later turned out to be untrue?  Under that condition, is there any way to justify acting on your country’s request in good conscience?  In fact, if your country were a proven liar, could you possibly consider your country’s request with anything but contempt?

Ultimately, is there a moral difference between paying somebody to kill for you and doing it yourself?  What is the moral, patriotic reaction to this understanding, regardless of past orientation or deeds, once you recognize the validity of your country’s justification to kill others?

An avoidable war is an immoral war.  Bring the troops home today.

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