Several character flaws predispose leaders to abuse their power in harmful ways whenever they are in tempting or pressuring circumstances of their own or others' making. Four flaws in particular would seem to apply perfectly to our presidential warriors; greed/ambition, moral frailty, narcissism, and close-mindedness.
1. Greed/Ambition. Greed is when
enough is never enough, wanting more becomes a craving, getting more later
isn't soon enough, and thus motivates the abuse of power. In the corner offices
of the corporate sphere, the profit motive and greed go hand in hand. In the
political sphere greed becomes excessive ambition and in the Oval Office
motivates an imperialistic drive. It has been a hallmark of all
2. Moral frailty. This characteristic is the sine qua non of people for whom the ends justify the means. The late psychologist Lawrence Kolhberg's theory about levels of moral development and how by adulthood the person's moral development would come to rest at one or the other of the levels is instructive here. I've condensed his six levels into three; unconditional ("wrongdoing is wrong"), conditional ("it depends"), and unprincipled ("do whatever is necessary") morality. People at these last two levels always rationalize their bad actions as good ones Most of our presidents rested at the third level. Historian John Dower refers to them as "moral imbeciles' for "grossly misunderstanding or simply ignoring their enemies, their own impulses, and history itself."
3. Narcissism. One of the abnormal profiles recognized by the American Psychiatric Association is the "narcissistic personality disorder," which exhibits such characteristics as "a grandiose sense of self-importance, is interpersonally exploitative and lacks empathy." I think the hubris that pushes decisions to use military force is a corollary of narcissism. The "poster child" of hubris ought to be President Bush in his military attire standing on the aircraft carrier proclaiming "mission accomplished." When narcissism goes over the edge it becomes sociopathic, which exhibits such characteristics as "disregard of social norms, deceitfulness, and lack of remorse." Historian William Manson, author of The Psychodynamics of Culture, claims that President Clinton exemplifies narcissism and that President Bush has sociopathic tendencies (Bush allegedly firecracker bombed frogs as a youngster.  Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon ought to be case studies of this character flaw in its entirety.
4. Close-mindedness. One of the
so-called "big five" personality traits is that of "openness." It's the least
well understood of the five but it seems to reflect a person's mental ability
for comprehensive and objective thinking and a keenness for a variety of
experiences. Close-mindedness, narrow-mindedness, and myopia would seem to
reflect the opposites. Consider President Lyndon Johnson, for instance. I think
he was either an ignoramus about or downplayed the past history of
All people deal in one way or another with circumstances, some of their own making. Circumstances usually involve temptations and pressures. I call those circumstances "badvantages" because they give advantages to bad behavior. U.S. presidents, like CEOs, are bombarded by them, most especially by occupying a seductive position, by presiding over the best or worst of times, by a warfare culture, by upside down incentives, by global enticements, and overall by the powerful corpocracy, the collusion between corporate interests and corruptible officials in all three branches of the government.
1. Seductive position. History is replete with
characters seduced by the powerful positions they held. Power is readily
available to be exploited and abused. The
2. Best or worse of times. The best of times, which
stokes greed, tends to bring out the worst in human nature just as the worst of
times, which stokes need, tends to do the same. Fortune 500 companies, for
instance, tend to get into legal trouble more often when times are good. In the
3. Warfare culture. The triumvirate is adept at creating and sustaining a culture in which continuous military interventions are accepted and expected. Besides relying on spreading lies (e.g., WMDs), half truths and propaganda through corporate-controlled mainstream media, on infiltration into the educational system at all levels, and on entertainment (e.g., war movies) the triumvirate has mastered the art of what we psychologists call "operant conditioning," continuously pairing a negative or less favorable item with a more favorable one until the former becomes more like the latter. That explains, for example, why basketball fans will without reservation watch a game played on an aircraft carrier.
4. Upside Down Incentives. CEOs
5. Global enticements. Globalization is the
contemporary euphemism for imperialism. The globe is one giant opportunity for
market expansion, resource exploitation and political manipulation. The
prospect of installing or protecting dictatorships in the pretext of spreading
and defending freedom is just too much of a temptation for CEOs and
6. The powerful corpocracy. The first five circumstantial factors are all part and parcel of this sixth one, the powerful corpocracy. It took me about 10 years to study and then write a book about what the corpocracy is, what it does, and how it can be ended and democracy reclaimed. A U.S. president is a member of the corpocracy and is influenced by it, especially when it comes to making decisions about military interventions.
A murder happens when someone is killed intentionally. A surrogate is someone acting on the behalf of someone else. If you accept these definitions, does it not follow that the making and selling of murderous weapons and the authorization by agents at the highest levels of government of the use of those weapons is a form of surrogate murder? And if men, women and children not targeted for killing but killed as part of the "collateral damage," is that not a form of involuntary homicide or manslaughter?
Is any war just?