Raise your hand if you think war is sometimes legal?
War was banned in 1928, and again but with loopholes in 1945, but none of the current wars qualify for the loopholes. Developing an understanding of this is a necessary step. Also illegal is threatening war, even if you call it "fire and fury."
There's a medieval doctrine called Just War Theory that has held on in the West beyond any of the rest of the worldview of the people who created it. Its criteria for making a war just are each either unmeasurable, impossible, or amoral. For some future war to actually be just, it would have to be so just as to outweigh all the killing and destruction it did, plus all the unjust wars inevitably created by keeping the institution of war around, plus the risk of nuclear apocalypse maintained by the institution of war, plus the murderous impact of the diversion of trillions of dollars every year in military spending, trillions more in lost economic opportunities, and trillions more in property destruction by war, plus all the environmental destruction, the government secrecy, the erosion of civil liberties, the corrosion of culture with violence and bigotry, etc. Nothing in the history of the world has ever been that just and nothing can be.
I think in many cases it does not take much to dissuade racists, which is why Trump's apparent sanctioning of racist violence, promising to pay legal bills for thugs at rallies etc., is so damaging. People can be shown directly that others they despise are intelligent, generous, friendly, and on their side. People can be taught that racism is unacceptable. That can be all it takes.
We need greater efforts put into anti-racist, pro-humanist education and rallies and counter-rallies. We need the right to assemble and speak unarmed and without threats of violence. We need a major nonviolent and disciplined movement that invites supporters of racism to dialogue, even while insisting that they disarm and be held to the rule of law. Just today, Charlottesville's daily paper finally acknowledged that the First Amendment might not include the right to speak and assemble while armed to the teeth.
People can be shown similar things about war. Every time we're told we urgently need a war on Iran, and public pressure helps prevent it, and the world does not end, we can ask people to notice that and to question the urgent cries to start that war the next time they arise. And yet some will still imagine that a war might be needed, or that once an unneeded war is begun they must cheer for it or be on the side of the enemy. So when we think of ending war, people imagine ending it only by defeating enemies, not by turning enemies into friends. This won't work any more than punching Nazis will work to end Nazism, or shooting guns at hurricanes will turn climate change into a liberal myth.
Now, I've said that you cannot have a just war, and our entire culture is founded on the myth of the Justest War Ever, World War II, so before I take questions I have to say a few words about that. Here are 12 points that can help begin challenging what we've learned:
World War II could not have happened without World War I, without the stupid manner of starting World War I and the even stupider manner of ending World War I which led numerous wise people to predict World War II on the spot, or without Wall Street's funding of Nazi Germany for decades (as preferable to communists), or without the arms race and numerous bad decisions that do not need to be repeated in the future.
The U.S. government was not hit with a surprise attack. President Franklin Roosevelt had quietly promised Churchill that the United States would work hard to provoke Japan into staging an attack. FDR knew the attack was coming, and initially drafted a declaration of war against both Germany and Japan on the evening of Pearl Harbor. Prior to Pearl Harbor, FDR had built up bases in the U.S. and multiple oceans, traded weapons to the Brits for bases, started the draft, created a list of every Japanese American person in the country, provided planes, trainers, and pilots to China, imposed harsh sanctions on Japan, and advised the U.S. military that a war with Japan was beginning. He told his top advisers he expected an attack on December 1st, which was six days off.
The war was not humanitarian and was not even marketed as such until after it was over. There was no poster asking you to help Uncle Sam save the Jews. A ship of Jewish refugees from Germany was chased away from Miami by the Coast Guard. The U.S. and other nations refused to accept Jewish refugees, and the majority of the U.S. public supported that position. Peace groups that questioned Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his foreign secretary about shipping Jews out of Germany to save them were told that, while Hitler might very well agree to the plan, it would be too much trouble and require too many ships. The U.S. engaged in no diplomatic or military effort to save the victims in the Nazi concentration camps. Anne Frank was denied a U.S. visa. Although this point has nothing to do with a serious historian's case for WWII as a Just War, it is so central to U.S. mythology that I'll include here a key passage from Nicholson Baker:
"Anthony Eden, Britain's foreign secretary, who'd been tasked by Churchill with handling queries about refugees, dealt coldly with one of many important delegations, saying that any diplomatic effort to obtain the release of the Jews from Hitler was 'fantastically impossible.' On a trip to the United States, Eden candidly told Cordell Hull, the secretary of state, that the real difficulty with asking Hitler for the Jews was that 'Hitler might well take us up on any such offer, and there simply are not enough ships and means of transportation in the world to handle them.' Churchill agreed. 'Even were we to obtain permission to withdraw all the Jews,' he wrote in reply to one pleading letter, 'transport alone presents a problem which will be difficult of solution.' Not enough shipping and transport? Two years earlier, the British had evacuated nearly 340,000 men from the beaches of Dunkirk in just nine days. The U.S. Air Force had many thousands of new planes. During even a brief armistice, the Allies could have airlifted and transported refugees in very large numbers out of the German sphere."[i]
The war was not defensive. FDR lied that he had a map of Nazi plans to carve up South America, that he had a Nazi plan to eliminate religion, that U.S. ships (covertly assisting British war planes) were innocently attacked by Nazis, that Germany was a threat to the United States. [ii] A case can be made that the U.S. needed to enter the war in Europe to defend other nations, which had entered to defend yet other nations, but a case could also be made that the U.S. escalated the targeting of civilians, extended the war, and inflicted more damage than might have occurred, had the U.S. done nothing, attempted diplomacy, or invested in nonviolence. To claim that a Nazi empire could have grown to someday include an occupation of the United States is wildly far fetched and not borne out by any earlier or later examples from other wars.
We now know much more widely and with much more data that nonviolent resistance to occupation and injustice is more likely to succeed--and that success more likely to last--than violent resistance. With this knowledge, we can look back at the stunning successes of nonviolent actions against the Nazis that were not well organized or built on beyond their initial successes. [iii]
The Good War was not good for the troops. Lacking intense modern training and psychological conditioning to prepare soldiers to engage in the unnatural act of murder, some 80 percent of U.S. and other troops in World War II did not fire their weapons at "the enemy."[iv] The fact that veterans of WWII were treated better after the war than other soldiers before or since, was the result of the pressure created by the Bonus Army after the previous war. That veterans were given free college, healthcare, and pensions was not due to the merits of the war or in some way a result of the war. Without the war, everyone could have been given free college for many years. If we provided free college to everyone today, it would then require much more than Hollywoodized World War II stories to get many people into military recruiting stations.
Several times the number of people killed in German camps were killed outside of them in the war. The majority of those people were civilians. The scale of the killing, wounding, and destroying made WWII the single worst thing humanity has ever done to itself in a short space of time. We imagine the allies were somehow "opposed" to the far lesser killing in the camps. But that can't justify the cure that was worse than the disease.
Escalating the war to include the all-out destruction of civilians and cities, culminating in the completely indefensible nuking of cities took WWII out of the realm of defensible projects for many who had defended its initiation--and rightly so. Demanding unconditional surrender and seeking to maximize death and suffering did immense damage and left a grim and foreboding legacy.