Monday, February 11, 2008

What Ever Happened to: War of Necessity Only?

By: Dr. J. P. Hubert

Once upon a time it was part of conventional wisdom--based as it was in the "golden rule ethic" that "picking a fight" was immoral--whether by nation states or individuals. This moral tenet flowed from the first and second principles (of right reason) of the Natural Law: 1) do good/avoid evil and 2) treat your neighbor fairly--summarized by "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

When/where the golden rule ethic still reigned, it was understood that even though one could legitimately defend oneself against aggression, it was always and everywhere morally wrong to instigate hostilities. That is to say, it is always morally licit to defend against aggression but never to cause it.
Several fundamental underlying assumptions are basic to understanding the “golden rule” as it is applied to war.

First,in traditional (scholastic) moral philosophy one assumes that human nature is fixed and not changing that is to say, all human beings are deemed to be of equal worth and their essence (nature or quiddity [what-ness]) is constant i.e. unchanging.[1] For the unlikely few who would object, it is important to note that there is no empirical (scientific) data to suggest that human nature is changing—cumulative evidence establishes the opposite (man remains the same "fallen creature" he has always been in spite of our modern scientific and technological accomplishments). Of course Divine Revelation calls for a fixed human nature as well.[2] Thus there are no defensible bases on which to assert that all human beings are not of equal worth which do not reduce to vacuous claims of unwarranted entitlement.

While a “fixed human nature” may conflict with what radical Darwinists who embrace metaphysical naturalism may propound, such a view is a philosophical not scientific notion and an incoherent one at that. The very notion that it would be possible to determine right and wrong--if human nature is constantly changing—is pure fantasy. Only if human nature is fixed does it become possible to hold that right and wrong in the moral sense exists or is discernible. If human nature is evolving; then right and wrong is evolving as well—a situation which is unintelligible. Under such a circumstance, virtually any behavior is justifiable since it can be effectively argued that some people are more evolved than others and therefore their behavior no matter how apparently objectionable is also acceptable. This leads to complete social Darwinism—survival of the fittest where “might” alone “makes right”—a prescription for total moral anarchy.

Second, any moral philosophy worthy of the name must include the notion of universality—that is, its moral tenets must be applicable to all human beings—a reality which flows from the existence of a fixed human nature (anthropology). If this is not the case, it becomes impossible to determine right and wrong at all. Identical behavior(s) can be considered morally acceptable by one person and not another or by one nation but not another simply by refusing to apply the relevant moral principles universally. What otherwise would always and everywhere be wrong for example might be right for some but wrong for others simply because of who it is that is performing the moral calculus in question--an example of the complete moral relativism which is so common in our age--nevermind the fact that it is contradictory (self-referentially absurd). Under these unfortunate circumstances, “intent” is allowed to become controlling since it can make behavior which is obviously wrong appear justifiable. Such a situation is very common in contemporary International Relations where the classical tripartite Aristotelian/Thomistic synthesis (means, ends, and circumstances) that is, moral calculus has been abandoned for rank Utilitarianism—too often resulting in obvious moral injustices.

Starting with the Bush administration in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, the United States discarded a 2000+ year old golden rule ethical proscription against starting wars of aggression in which only legitimate defense not offense was understood to be acceptable—i.e. defensive war as a last resort only! It is difficult to overestimate just how radical this notion is. Particularly troublesome is the fact that the attacks themselves--in the words of Osama bin Laden--were the result of perceived immoral behavior on our part--the unilateral support of Israel over the Palestinian Arabs including our dismissal of their terrible plight and our garrisoning of US forces in the Holy Lands of Mecca and Medina; apparently contrary to the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed among other things.

While the intentional killing of innocent human beings (as occurred on 9/11) can never be morally justified, it would be foolish of us not to recognize that our behavior abroad can have disastrous consequences when we fail to consider our actions in terms of the two principles outlined above. That is to say; Palestinian Arabs are unwilling to accept that their lives are not worth as much as are Israelis and rightfully so since all human beings by virtue of their fixed human nature are equally valuable--by first principles if any are valuable at all. For Theists and particularly Christian Theists this is axiomatic of course because man is created in the image of God (Imago Dei). Moreover, we would by the principle of universality detest the stationing of foreign troops on our land and thus the fact that Muslim Arabs do as well is completely understandable. To suggest otherwise is irrational and or dishonest in the extreme.

For anyone to allege that the use of nuclear weapons in an offensive manner could under any conceivable set of circumstances be morally licit (Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain all have done so) is to completely depart from the golden rule ethic which has governed humanity for over 2 millennia. By their very nature, both strategic and tactical nuclear weapons intentionally kill innocent human beings. This is virtually 100% certain from an objective perspective and therefore provides the moral certitude required in performing the relevant moral calculus. Under no circumstances can nuclear weapons be used offensively. Moreover, it is extremely doubtful that they could ever be utilized defensively either due to the fact that they invariably would be associated with the killing of innocent non-combatants.[3] While conventional weapons are potentially useable in a morally licit way (for defensive purposes only), from a moral perspective, it is clear that the use of nuclear weapons under any set of circumstances is morally prohibitive due to the moral certitude that doing so always results in the intentional killing of innocent human beings and in tremendous numbers.

We have over the past 7+ years in a sense crossed the Rubicon where the waging of war is concerned, meaning we have stepped over the “red-line.” It has now become acceptable ala the “Bush Doctrine” to instigate offensive wars of aggression based on nothing more than a probability calculation that a given country might someday under certain imagined circumstances represent an actual or imminent threat to American national security or survival. This cannot be justified or accepted when subjected to rational/traditional (scholastic) moral philosophical precepts and must be rejected by all human beings of good will.


[1] This in no way means that all human beings have equal talents and abilities.
[2] All the major Theistic belief systems ascribe to this view.
[3] It is impossible for the author to see how such a use could avoid the mass intentional killing of innocent human beings. It is not legitimate to argue that such killing would represent so-called “collateral damage “since it would be completely foreseeable and thus avoidable.