On February 12, 2018, I debated Pete Kilner on the topic of "Is War Ever Justifiable?" (Location: Radford University; Moderator Glen Martin; videographer Zachary Lyman). Here is video:
Pete Kilner is a writer and military ethicist who served more than 28 years in the Army as an infantryman and professor at the U.S. Military Academy. He deployed multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan to conduct research on combat leadership. A graduate of West Point, he holds an MA in Philosophy from Virginia Tech and a Ph.D. in Education from Penn State.
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org. Swanson's books include War Is A Lie and War Is Never Just. He is a 2015, 2016, 2017 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee. He holds an MA in philosophy from UVA.
Prior to the debate, people in the room were asked to indicate in an online system that displayed the results on a screen whether they thought the answer to "Is War Ever Justifiable?" was yes, no, or they were not sure. Twenty-five people voted: 68% yes, 20% no, 12% not sure. After the debate the question was posed again. Twenty people voted: 40% yes, 45% no, 15% not sure. Please use the comments below to indicate whether this debate moved you in one direction or the other.
These were my prepared remarks for the debate:
Thank you for hosting this debate. Everything I say in this quick overview will unavoidably raise more questions than it answers, many of which I've tried to answer at length in books and much of which is documented at davidswanson.org.
Let's begin with the fact that war is optional. It's not dictated to us by genes or outside forces. Our species has been around at least 200,000 years, and anything that could be called war no more than 12,000. To the extent that people mostly shouting at each other and waving sticks and swords can be called the same thing as a person at a desk with a joystick sending missiles into villages halfway around the world, this thing we call war has been far more absent than present in human existence. Many societies have done without it.
The notion that war is natural is, frankly, ridiculous. A great deal of conditioning is needed to prepare most people to take part in war, and a great deal of mental suffering, including higher suicide rates, is common among those who have taken part. In contrast, not a single person is known to have suffered deep moral regret or post-traumatic stress disorder from war deprivation.
War does not correlate with population density or resource shortages. It is quite simply most used by societies most accepting of it. The United States is high on, and by some measures, dominates the top of that list. Surveys have found the U.S. public, among wealthy nations, the most supportive of --quote-- "preemptively" attacking other countries. Polls have also found that in the U.S. 44% of people claim they would fight in a war for their country, while in many countries with equal or higher quality of life that response is under 20%.
U.S. culture is saturated with militarism, and the U.S. government is uniquely devoted to it, spending almost the same as the rest of the world combined, despite most of the other big spenders being close allies whom the U.S. pushes to spend more. In fact, every other nation on earth spends closer to the $0 per year spent by nations like Costa Rica or Iceland than to the over $1 trillion spent by the U.S. The United States maintains some 800 bases in other people's countries, while all other nations on earth combined maintain a few dozen foreign bases. Since World War II, the United States has killed or helped kill some 20 million people, overthrown at least 36 governments, interfered in at least 84 foreign elections, attempted to assassinate over 50 foreign leaders, and dropped bombs on people in over 30 countries. For the past 16 years, the United States has been systematically damaging a region of the globe, bombing Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and Syria. The United States has so-called "special forces" operating in two-thirds of the world's countries.
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