Given the above definition, can a true liberal be a promoter or defender of that most ancient flaw of humanity–war? Is such a thing as a “liberal hawk” logical or possible?
One of the oldest ideas in all of human civilization is the idea of war (and all kinds of violent oppression) as a way of resolving conflicts, during which, practically speaking, there is no way to be respectful of human rights and freedoms. History proves that “war crimes” and the killing of innocent people are inevitable in any war. Though war is often justified in terms of protecting “freedom” and human rights– “humanitarian intervention” is the euphemism– the means of war are inherently inhumane and stand opposed to many kinds of religious values, including the Christian call to “love one’s neighbor” and, harder, “love your enemies.” Nor is war democratic, even in defense of democracy. To kill people indiscriminately (like dropping bombs or invading cities) to “save lives” and defend rights is moral hypocrisy in which the ends are said to justify the means. Given the ancient, old-fashioned failure of war, and given war’s inherent violation of human rights, how can any “liberal” be anything but an anti-war activist?
It is now fashionable to make distinctions between liberal and progressive; a progressive is a more liberal liberal, or a left-liberal, or a populist liberal, etc. Then there is the “democratic socialist”–more liberal, or radical, I guess, than a progressive. But concerning foreign policy, almost the entire “left” side of the political spectrum are apologists for war, as long as war is not used too often or allowed to last too long in any one location.
There are, of course, various anti-war organizations that spring out of liberal or liberally religious sympathies: Code Pink, Peace Action, War Resister’s League, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, World Beyond War, Religious Society of Friends, Pax Christi, Jewish Voice for Peace, etc. But these are liberal fringe groups without much, if any, influence on the Democratic Party or most “liberal” members of Congress at present.
If the term “liberal” is no longer liberal enough to signify an anti-war perspective, I prefer to adopt the old term, once used pejoratively, of “bleeding-heart liberal.” This relates directly to the sense of compassion and Christ-like renunciation of violent means which can resurrect liberal as the all-encompassing intellectual and emotional word for truly humane and democratic civilization.
So the United States suddenly felt the need to give our MOAB (“mother of all bombs”)–more officially known as GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast–a try on Thursday in the desert of Eastern Afghanistan. Though the bomb has been around for awhile, neither Presidents George W. Bush nor Barack Obama cared to actually use it because it has a “blast-radius” of a mile in all directions and the “collateral damage” could be, let’s say, excessive. But President Trump has no such qualms about the consequences of bombing as long as it doesn’t involve chemical weapons. It is heartening to know that at least we have evolved morally enough in the U.S. to take into consideration how many innocent people we will kill when we drop a bomb. When we dropped the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan we quickly killed an estimated 120,000 civilians. As we guessed we would.
In the case of MOAB, we apparently tried to make sure no one but ISIS militants would suffer the fatal effects. According to reports, the “mother of all bombs” wiped out the lives of 36 members of ISIS. An Afghan ministry spokesman says not a single civilian was killed. But one member of the Afghan parliament told The Guardian that he had a local report of a teacher and his young son killed in the MOAB blast. Given the size and power of the bomb, some civilian casualties and damage to nearby homes would not be at all surprising. Were there women and children among the militants in the tunnels and caves? We don’t know.
After Trump launched missiles at Syria, his “job approval” went up a point to 39% and many pundits (and even some leading Democratic politicians) approved. Having dropped the “mother of all bombs” will Trump’s approval rating shamefully go up again?
But perhaps we are making too much ado about this quaintly named bomb. For as Jeffrey Lewis of the confusingly named Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (how did Vermont get to California?) has pointed out in the Washington Post, the MOAB isn’t really all that powerful and deadly compared to the atom bomb. Perhaps the shock of its use has something to do with the erratic, warmongering nature of our current president and the fact this is the first time such a weapon has been used? Or maybe we are all a little appalled by big bombs? Here’s Lewis:
As our technological capacity to wreak destruction has grown from machine guns to poison gas to nuclear weapons, more than a few people have observed that our species’ tendency to resort to violence may be our undoing. Eliminating war, though, seems unlikely. And so, falling short of that lofty goal, we try to prohibit the worst weapons — those that cause unnecessary or gruesome suffering and, most important, those that do not discriminate among combatants and noncombatants. If our lines are imperfect, we know they are better than no lines at all.
“Eliminating war, though, seems unlikely.” So much for that lofty goal. Yet our species’ tendency to resort to war is counterbalanced by the same species’ tendency not to resort to war or violence. The religious denominations all contain tenets or ideals opposed to war, and a few are outspokenly pacifist. Humanism has a strain of pacifism as well. No war is inevitable. The fact that the United States devotes 48% of its federal funds budget to military spending is a choicethat makes resorting to military action far more likely and acceptable. The creation of the United Nations was meant to help make war as a method of conflict resolution obsolete. So far, the U.N. has failed to end war, but the principle and promise of discussion and diplomacy, as opposed to war, remains.
Creating highly destructive weapons is also a choice, as is choosing to actually use them. If we make such massive weapons, justifying doing so by appealing to “national security” and fear of other nations, we are at some point likely to use them. That the making and selling of arms is a very profitable business at present only adds to the likelihood of war. Not much money to be made in the peace industry, as peace activists can well attest.
If we are appalled by really big or really lethal weapons like MOAB, chemical and nuclear weapons, why are we so willing to accept the death and destruction caused by smaller, so-called “conventional” weapons? The child-like bombs of the “mother of all bombs” are just as deadly and, as we are now witnessing daily in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, are continually killing people, many of them innocent, many of them real children and mothers.
To say that we humans are doomed to state violence and personal violence, that we have to accept an acceptable level of violence, strikes me as maladroit, masculine malarkey. It may be that human beings, imperfect as we are, will always struggle against violent impulses and sometimes tragically give in to them. But equipping ourselves with powerful weapons, be they carried personally or dropped out the back of huge cargo planes, is not something done without a lot of thought and planning. We can choose not to kill and destroy in the name of nations or politics or tribes or religions. We can choose to cherish what mothers do.
Surely it’s time to refute the great American myth our elected representatives in Washington, D.C. so believe in: an armed citizenry and war abroad will protect us from criminal and terrorist violence. There is a sort of mass mental incongruity going on, a splitting of the political brain in which the epidemic of “mass shootings” is deplored and denounced but ignored while generally bipartisan calls for real action (more war) elsewhere in the world, particularly in the Middle East, grow louder each day. The American motto is simply this: In Guns We Trust.
At bottom the solution to violence both here and in foreign nations is claimed to be the making of more weapons available (which inevitably fall into the wrong hands) in the hopes that armed “good guys” will entirely eradicate armed “bad guys.” Every new act of mass violence, whether domestic or foreign, is said to be a brand new, isolated event which must be met, we are solemnly told, with more guns (armed citizens) and violence abroad (war). The result tends to be a lot of killing and dying, including the killing of innocent, unarmed people both in the U.S. and abroad.
“Coming on the wake of the terror attack here in Paris, this horrific murder underscores that we are at a time of war. Whether or not the current administration realizes it or is willing to acknowledge it, our enemies are at war with us.”
At this point we still do not know conclusively the motive behind the deaths of those 14 people and the wounding of many others, but whether the suspects were acting out of personal or religiously radical animosities, it doesn’t really matter. They were able to legally obtain some really dangerous weapons, just as did the suspect in the attack on the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, whether he was acting as a deranged individual or a Christian terrorist or both.
In short, In Guns (and bombs, missiles, drones, etc.) We Trust. When domestic “mass shootings” occur, we offer our “thoughts and prayers” in the hope that God will do something (maybe prevent?) anymore such violence. But as for our foreign enemies, all pretenses to prayer and thought and faith in God are dumped in favor of as much mass bombing and shooting as we can militarily muster. Either way, the gun is held sacred, as American movies declare over and over again. No problem or evil we can’t blast our way out of. It’s a dangerous and adolescent myth of unconquerable power which is now the primary American dream we are spreading to the world. Who needs democracy when you can accumulate power and control through weaponry and edict? This is the “fascism” some of our GOP presidential candidates and voters are flirting with while the Obama administration is continuing the counter-productive, not to mention legally dubious, “targeted killing” and ramping up of more war in the Middle East.
If we want to be a genuine democracy, we will have to learn to trust in something other than guns and bombs. It’s democracy (including civil rights, human rights and humane, reasonable gun control) or bust.
P.S.– More succinctly . . . Can we claim “In God We Trust” when we trust so much in guns at home and abroad?
Declaring “war” on ISIS is, as Noah Feldman argues, a mistake for a number of reasons. Most importantly, an official “war” is precisely what such terrorists are seeking in order to gain prestige, power and more recruits. And once the word “war” is used and accepted, a military response becomes more likely, and thus a limited, democratic seeking of bringing murderous criminals to justice becomes an all-out and indiscriminate retaliation in which violence escalates into air strikes and armed invasions.
Arguing against military retaliation/intervention is not appeasement or surrender; it is an attempt to limit violence everywhere rather than escalate and provoke more violent extremism–above all, do no harm, do not add fuel to the fire. It is, ironically, a conservative and democratic response–do not get involved in justifying violence and hurting innocent people.
But many Republican politicians and pundits (and some Democrats) in democracy/peace-loving America are calling for yet another full-blown, armed invasion of a foreign nation in order to “destroy” ISIS with war. Just as we were going to destroy al Qaeda with war and bring harmony and peace to Iraq with war. A National Review editorial– “A Serious War Calls for a Serious Strategy“– is representative of this warmongering sentiment:
“Americans are understandably weary of war, but jihadists are still eager to fight, and wars do not end when one side grows tired of battle. Through its fecklessness and appeasement, the Obama administration has taught us all that bitter lesson. Withdrawal emboldens enemies and gives them new life.”
In fact, wars do end when one side chooses not to respond militarily; it takes two to tango and two, at least, to make war. What ISIS apparently wants, for some sense of legitimacy, is “war.” But we should treat terrorists, even terrorists as well-armed and organized as ISIS, like the stateless, violent extremists they are, that is, ideological criminals. They should be arrested, if possible, and tried.
When we wage war and war doesn’t work despite mass slaughter, or “works” only through mass slaughter, including slaughter of non-combatants, we then say, “Let’s try more war!” And those that cry the loudest for more war are those that because of age or education are not going to actually fight the war.
One question not heard at last night’s Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee was anything about what we might call “Patriotgate.” This has nothing to do with deflated footballs but does include the New England Patriots, as well as the Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Brewers and the UW-Madison Badgers.
Why is this paid sports sponsorship of the military a big deal?
Senators McCain and Flake object to the idea of teams receiving payment for what appears to fans and the public as patriotic generosity on the part of professional and collegiate sports. It’s as if someone were to pay you to fly an American flag on your house or pay you to vote. The senators don’t want love of country and honoring the military to be a matter of economics. Senator McCain is an especially hawkish, straight-laced fellow who likes his patriotism and militarism served pure.
But there is a far more crucial and democratic reason to object to sports teams being paid sponsors for the military: the question of equal time. The Wisconsin Army National Guard defends the payments and military displays as a recruitment tool. As the Wisconsin State Journal reports:
“Maj. Paul Rickert of the Wisconsin Army National Guard defended the spending, saying an in-game promotion can build viewers’ interest in enlisting and could lead them to talk with recruiters who have a booth in the stadium.”
Fair enough. But should sports teams be serving as on-field military recruiters? Or put another way: how much would a group of peace activists have to pay, say Veterans for Peace, to have one of their members throw the first pitch or sing “God Bless America”, perhaps wearing a T-shirt adorned with “War is not the answer”? The Pentagon, as everyone knows, has a humongous budget and spends billions of dollars annually on recruitment. Peace groups do not have such cash on hand, nor do they have, generally speaking, the conventional clout and prestige of the military. As far as I know, no anti-war organization has a booth in any professional or college stadium in the United States. Nor can they afford to watch sporting events from luxury boxes.
Since at least the days of ancient Greece, the relationship between athletes and soldiers has been a close one in Western Civilization, and team sports are especially given to military metaphors –a long pass is “a bomb”, for example–and fanatical loyalty. Still, as violent as football sometimes is (too violent, some say), it ain’t war.
But athletic competition is also a way of bringing nations and peoples together, thus the great popularity of international sporting events like the Olympic Games (also a tradition from the ancient Greeks.) Though the Games have been used in the past for purposes of national propaganda, generally the world recognizes that sport is a friendly and humane form of competition, something that cannot be said of war.
If professional and collegiate sports teams want to honor soldiers and veterans, they, of course, have a right to do so. They do not, however, have to a right to do so with direct compensation from taxpayers. And why is it that the Pentagon has a monopoly on patriotic displays at sporting events? Is there no patriotism involved in diplomacy and other nonviolent alternatives to war? The least our sports teams can do is be good sports and give peaceable patriots a chance.
“These are people who had been working hard for months, non-stop for the past week. They had not gone home, they had not seen their families, they had just been working in the hospital to help people… and now they are dead. These people are friends, close friends. I have no words to express this. It is unspeakable. “The hospital, it has been my workplace and home for several months. Yes, it is just a building. But it is so much more than that. It is healthcare for Kunduz. Now it is gone.