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Donald Rumsfeld vs. Robert H. Jackson

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Message John Mann

In a recent speech to the American Legion's national convention, Donald Rumsfeld said this in reference to Iraq war protesters: "Any kind of moral and intellectual confusion about who and what is right or wrong can severely weaken the ability of free societies to persevere."

For once I'm on exactly the same page as Mr. Rumsfeld, although my perspective concerning his words differs radically from his own. In searching for morality and intellectual clarity, I offer the American take from the days shortly after WWII.

In 1945 our national policy and moral philosophy were clearly outlined for the whole world to see. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, chief US delegate at the Nuremberg Tribunals, formally defined America's position at the end of WWII this way: "We must make clear to the Germans that the wrong for which their fallen leaders are on trial is not that they lost the war, but that they started it."

Enter June 2002 along with announcements that the Bush Doctrine of preemptive warfare is now official White House policy, one that clearly reserves for America a unilateral right to project offensive warfare/invasion anywhere in the world, anytime leadership sees fit.

It's obvious, academically and morally, that the principles embodied in Justice Jackson's words clash directly with those of the Bush Doctrine.

That beggars two basic questions: On which of these sets of principles should a responsible citizen base his understanding of what his country is really about? And most importantly, which principle does he want his country to be about in truth?

I think a majority of us believe that fomenting genuine international harmony is a much truer American value than foreign invasion, our recent history notwithstanding.

Those who feel the 9/11 attacks justify the Bush Doctrine should heed something else from Justice Jackson's Nuremberg writings, "...our position is that no grievances or policies will justify resort to aggressive war. It is utterly renounced and condemned as an instrument of policy..."

Jackson continued, "If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.... We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well."

A poisoned chalice - to our own lips as well.

Policy wise the United States has completely forsaken the morality and common sense found in our nation's post WWII reflections. During the war crimes trials US prosecutors insisted on and procured the death penalty for a substantial number of captured Nazi elite. This for practicing murderous policy that's now been repackaged and is ceaselessly pitched by the White House as something all-American.

Insistence on holding the conduct of the Bush administration, military command and Congress to the level of responsibility prescribed by Justice Jackson would result in a long string of executions for those currently enjoying national leadership.

Many Americans of all sorts uncritically swallow the Bush administration's fear-soaked claims, the kind particularly exemplified by Rumsfeld's remarks to the Legionnaires. They cite the 9/11 attacks as supreme justification for using foreign invasion, starting wars that is, as a necessary tool for ensuring national security.

They're dead wrong.

Americans who closely study the results of our recent military efforts are beginning to understand something: That our style of democracy can't be forced on another culture at the tip of an invader's bayonet, no matter how 'democratic' the hand is that wields it. Unrelenting asymmetrical warfare is the invariable result.

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Donald Rumsfeld vs. Robert H. Jackson

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