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Those opposing Hitler were certainly justified in opposing him. Even so the world still reverberates from his dirty work that left some fifty million dead. So also for the Japanese who raped Nanking (now Nanjing) not to mention similar atrocities everywhere they went. So WWII, to any reasonable mind, began as a justified war--on the defender's part.

Much has been written about whether it ended on a justified note: Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Was our use of atomic arms justified?
What long-term consequences were not foreseen?
  • Ever since our society has worn the garb of a genocidaire.
  • Ever since, the US has been the most capable military power in all of history.
    • The US sent a searing message to the rest of the world.
    • We shoot first, think later -- think Johnson's Vietnam and Bush's Iraq.
Are we ready to add Iran?
What about Pakistan?

To be sure, living on this planet is an emotional experience. Just as certainly, we are each captives of our nature and nurture. And most of us are vulnerable to the charismatic. Beginning with Carter, progressing through Reagan, Clinton, Bush II, and Obama, five of the last six presidential elections were decided by the electorate on emotion. That feature is still with us. Why else would Sarah Palin be able to draw larger crowds than John McCain, given their vast differences in experience and qualifications? Why else is Obama using his charisma so selectively? Each knows the power it gives them. Each knows we are basically a nation of sheep.

We cannot remember anything but good being said about the three most major of wars in our history: The Revolution, Civil, and Second World War. America glorifies war; we see it in every bar room. We march to the tune of Onward Christian Soldiers and justify that by our National Anthem.

We are a warrior people. We just had a self-declared war president and adminstration. However history-writ-by-emotion works out, is there a common thread in the logic of war? There seems to be three:

Wars are led by the rich and powerful.
Wars are fought by the poor and patriotic sheep.
Wars enrich the already-rich and powerful.

When does war make sense and when not?

Howard Zinn ("A Peoples's History of the United States") has addressed that issue. We borrow from his wisdom here.

With compelling logic, he recasts three wars which Americans revere to the extent they have entered our collective psyche as paragons of justice fought for and justice attained. Zinn asks the "traitorous" question: Should they have? Let's see what Zinn has to say.

The Revolutionary War

Historic Justification:
Freedom from England.
Actual Justification Eliminate taxation without
Was there another
Canada found a peaceful way. We
could have, too.
What was gained? Freedom from the King;
Continued taxation;
Legacy of violence.
Rescinding the Crown's Proclamation of 1763 enabled genocide of Native Americans.
And yes, several of our founding fathers were considerably enriched.
How many died? At least 25,000; maybe 50,000.
Equivalent to 2.5 million today.

Our national anthem celebrates this war. Need any more be said? The legacy is the problem. In the heat of nationalism and battle it is devilishly hard to think of the future, much less predict it. We are commenting here from hindsight.

The Civil War

Historic Justification: Free the slaves!
Actual Justification: Holding the nation together for the Yankees.
A way of life for the rebels.
Was there another way? Other New-World nations threw off slavery without civil war.
What was gained? Nominal freedom for slaves;
(Escalated racism in fact);
J.P. Morgan made his fortune.
How many died? 600,000 during the war
Equivalent to 6,000,000 today!

American wars have affected history in profound ways. These two, in particular, along with the totally unjustified 1812, Mexican and Spanish-American wars, cemented our national precedent for war as a means for settling conflicts whether justified or not. Americans now realize that Iraq was and remains an unjustified war. This is painful to think about when we realize that ever since our nation came into existence, we have repeatedly engaged in unjustified wars.

Isn't it time we asked ourselves:
"What is the value of a human being?"

World War II

Historic Justification: Our navy was decimated by a surprise attack.
Save Europe and Asia from conquerors.
Actual Justification: Eliminate Nazism and Japanese Aggression.
Was there another way? Not in either theater until near the end of the war.
There were alternate means to demonstrate to the Japanese war lords that the end was near: Obliterating an island or two in the Okinawa archipelago would have done the trick.
What was gained? Fascism is still around;
So is militarism;
So is the Military-Industrial Complex;
We now have a government, not of, for, and by the people, but a government of, for, and by special interests.
How many died? 50,000,000 during the war
Equivalent to 100,000,000 today!

WW II was a human tragedy 100 times worse than Rwanda! Howard Zinn sums up our challenge:

"We've got to rethink this question of war and come to the conclusion that war cannot be accepted no matter what. No matter that the reasons given, or the excuse: liberty, democracy: this, that. War is by definition the indiscriminate killing of people for ends that are uncertain. Think about means and ends, and apply it to war. The means are horrible, certainly. The ends, uncertain. That alone should make you hesitate." ...

"We are smart in so many ways. Surely, we should be able to understand that in between war and passivity, there are a thousand possibilities."

Yes, Zinn is idealistic. We are, too. We just don't see his philosophy being adopted anytime soon by the world's societies at large. But we must remember countries like Sweden and Switzerland have not fought wars recently and neither have many other nations. So society can do it. In the case of America, we first need to get over our hang-up that began with our founding. We hope the slogan of last fall, "YES WE CAN," will not ring hollow with time.

There are those who would call us traitors. Our reply is twofold:

  • We believe in the Constitution as it was established by our founding fathers (evidenced by the Federalist Papers) and if there must be war, the Geneva Convention. Like Mark Twain, we support our nation all the time and our governors when their governance reflects a government truly of, by, and for the people.
  • We believe it is traitorous to start and pursue unjustified war. This does not mean we accept tyranny anywhere on earth. But war must be justified, not by the immediate horizon, but by its end result. The end results of Hitler/Tojo wins were self-evident. That for Hiroshima was not.


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