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Character flaws and circumstances in America's deadly warriors-in-chief

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Is any war just?

President Obama's chief antiterrorism advisor confidently claimed in a speech April 30, 2012 at the Woodrow Wilson International Center that the president's drone strikes were ethical, wise, and efficacious. [7] I think anyone with any conscience could easily refute him point by point, so I did in an article I wrote as soon as I read the transcript of his speech.[8]

But to refute the claim made by many authorities that war can be just (their wars in particular) requires not only my bone-deep conviction that no war can be just but also in my summarizing what I think are irrefutable arguments for it. I will not summarize the arguments for a just war. They are rooted in philosophical and theological thinking and all amount to moral rationalizations. Throughout history religion has been an instigator, accessory, or silent accomplice of one war or other cruelty after another. If I had to align my thinking with any religious figure it would be with Erasmus, an early sixteenth century monk. War, he said, was "repugnant to nature," and noted that no one had "ever heard of a hundred thousand animals rushing together to butcher each other, as men do everywhere." [9]

Howard Zinn wrote that the supreme test for whether any war can be just is the U.S. military involvement in WWII. He then went on to raise several questions about it. Was the U.S. involvement for the rights of nations to independence and self-determination? To save the Jews? Against racism? For democracy? No, not at all according to his review of the evidence; the U.S. involvement in WWII had no such high-minded purposes, and he concluded that "Looking at World War II in perspective, looking at the world it created and the terror that grips our century, should we not bury for all time the idea of just war?" [10]

Two more touchstone wars need to be tested. One is America's first, the American Revolution. It was fought for the partial right of independence and self-determination. It was a clash between two privileged classes 3,500 miles apart. It did not save the Indians. It led to their decimation and subjugation. It certainly wasn't against racism. And it certainly was not for a democracy of, for, and by all the people. Had the war not been fought there might have been a negotiated settlement eventually or British control would have eventually dissipated, just as the "Mother Country" eventually lost all of its other colonies, and an America of a less militant nature might have eventually emerged.

The second touchstone is the Civil War, the most deadly for Americans of any military interventions launched by a U.S. president. Zinn makes it clear in his book that President Lincoln provoked the attack on Fort Sumter that launched the Civil War not with the primary purpose of freeing the slaves but "to retain the enormous national territory and markets and resources." [11] Lincoln, in other words, was an early practitioner of imperialism by deadly military means.  

After reading Zinn I did not remove the image of the Washington statute of our 16th President that is displayed on my website, I like the looks of it. Before reading Zinn I had written an iconoclastic piece about President Lincoln in my book on which the site is partly based. It was in reference to the rash of states around 2002 rushing to pass laws declaring states' rights in defiance of federal regulations. Here are some extracts of what I wrote: "What if they left the Union and formed their own---There might be two Americas and two smaller corpocracies instead of one monstrous one. ---President Lincoln may have made a colossal mistake in entering the Civil War. Slavery probably would have ended peacefully without [it] ---because plantation owners were beginning to realize that share croppers were economically a better option than slave holding and thus emancipation would not have been forced by the Union on slave holders. Concomitantly, racial hatred and prejudice might not persist to this day---With two Americas so divided each would not have been strong enough to do much warring around the globe. And with two Americas so divided, the corpocracy as it exists today might not exist today." [12] President Lincoln, in my opinion, should have adopted the sentiment of President Thomas Jefferson who exclaimed "If any state in the Union will declare that it prefers separation ... to a continuance in the union .... I have no hesitation in saying, Let us separate." Most political leaders up to the Civil War agreed with that view. They thought states had the right to secede. But so much for reverse history; we can all make of it what we will.

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Two final questions need to be raised about war. First, wouldn't a war of self defense unravel a pacifist's argument that no war is just? The best defense against modern warfare initiated against the U.S. is prevention through the U.S. having the right kind of foreign policies in place over time. Unfortunately, the question is less hypothetical than it may seem. As it stands today, the administrator of our foreign policy, the Department of State is a subsidiary of the Department of Defense. Our foreign policies are in reality militant military policies.   

Second, what about military interventions for humanitarian reasons? Are they not just? "As Einstein once said, "War cannot be humanized. War can only be abolished." There should never be inhumane means to a humane end. Witness the case of Amnesty International-USA urging NATO's military intervention in Afghanistan to protect human rights for women and girls. Rationalizing military interventions as humanitarian interventions "is a sign of progress," David Swanson, author of War is a Lie says, adding, "That we fall for it is a sign of embarrassing weakness. The war propagandist is the world's second oldest profession, and the humanitarian lie is not entirely new. But it works in concert with other common war lies." [13] Finding and using a genuinely humane intervention requires ingenuity and a moral conscience, not military might.

Can America's endless wars be ended for good?

War is not inevitable. There have been peaceful periods throughout history here and there in the world. And war can be ended, possibly forever. Doing so will require changing the personal characteristics and circumstances of our future U.S. presidents.

As for the four character flaws, they won't change in a sitting president. They have been crystallized and hardened during his formative years. We must elect an entirely different kind of president, one whose characteristics are the mirror image of the four. We know when the four positive sides exist by looking at the candidate's personal history. We give ourselves a better chance of electing a candidate having no character flaws by changing how we elect the candidates and, in the long run by grooming them early. The way we elect presidents needs to be changed from winner-take all to an approval voting or an alternative, scored voting. Either approach leaves the Constitutional requirement of an Electoral College intact. Besides possessing the four positive character traits, the person ought to be a female. Not just any female though. Rule out Hillary Clinton, she of the "we came, we saw, we killed" morality and wife of a man who some argue is an international war criminal. And rule out Elizabeth Warren, the brand new U.S. Senator from Massachusetts. She apparently believes Iran is a significant threat to the U.S. and is too closely allied with AIPAC, the American/Israeli lobby group reportedly just itching to get the U.S. into a war with Iran. Future candidates need to be groomed through training, mentoring, and being down-ballot candidates and office holders for progressive, non-imperialistic causes.

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As for getting rid of the "badvantagious" circumstances I devoted much of my book about the corpocracy on that very goal. [14] In the book are numerous proposals for legislative, political, judicial and economic reforms. In one of the chapters I propose "waging war on war" with more than 20 major reform initiatives such as nationalizing and reorienting the defense industry, joining the International Criminal Court, and creating a dual community versus military service draft.

We cannot afford to leave President Barack Obama out of the equation notwithstanding what I said about intractable personal characteristics. He needs to be pressured daily by antiwar and peace groups to stop his drone strikes, and these same groups need to stop acting as if their existence depends more on war than on peace and to start uniting and orchestrating corporate and government reform strike forces against all members of the industrial/military/political complex.

I started this article with some doggerel. I will end it with some more: "America was born in the womb of war. Will she die in her arms?" Whether you do or do not agree with any of this article, my guess is that at least some wars and military interventions have been over the top for you and that you do not want anymore than I do the risk of the transgressions of our history continuing unabated and descending some day on our descendants in a climatic and irreversible finale. 

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Retired organizational psychologist.

Author of The Devil's Marriage: Break Up the Corpocracy or Leave Democracy in the Lurch; America's Oldest Professions: Warring and Spying; and Corporate Reckoning Ahead.

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