Issue: Justification of War
The Independent Thinker--Critical Thinking, Activism, Dissent, Metanoia

a mini-documentary on war.
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War as Business | Some Facts
Marilyn Waring makes the following point:

"The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines war as "a quarrel usually between nations conducted by force, a state of open hostility, suspension of ordinary international law." Use figuratively, the word means "hostility or contention between persons"; used to describe a "war of the nerves," its definition is " an attempt to wear down an opponent by gradual destruction of morale."

Would you call the following war?

"The argument that there are just wars often rests on the social system of the nation engaging in war" (Zinn 233). This argument is used often in the United States. The leaders say that we are a democracy and must defend freedom from the incursions of socialism, communism, and other social evils.

The following quote is from Zinn (233+):

Ancient Athens has been one of the most admired of all societies, praised for its democratic institutions and its magnificent cultural achievements. It had enlightened statesmen (Solon and Pericles), pioneer historians (Herodotus and Thuciydides), great philosophers (Plato and Aristotle), and an extraordinary quartet of playwrights (Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes). When it went to war in 431 BC against its rival power, the city-state of Sparta, the war seemed to be between a democratic society and a military dictatorship.

The great qualities of Athens were described early in that war by the Athenian leader Pericles at a public celebration for the warriors, dead or alive. The bones of the dead were placed in chests; there was an empty litter for the missing. There was a procession, a burial, and then Pericles spoke. Thucydides recorded Pericles' speech in his History of the Peloponnesian War.

Before I praise the dead, I should like to point out by what principles of action we rose to power, and under what institutions and through what manner of life our empire became great. Our form of government does not enter into rivalry with the institutions of others... It is true that we are called a democracy, for the administration is in the hands of the many and not of the few... The law secures equal justice to all alike... Neither is poverty a bar... There is no exclusiveness in our public life... At home the style of our life is refined... Because of the greatness of our city the fruits of the whole earth flow in upon us... And although our opponents are fighting for their homes and we on foreign soil, we seldom have any difficulty in overcoming them... I have dwelt upon the greatness of Athens because I want to show you that we are contending for a higher prize than those who enjoy none of these priveleges.

The tendency, especially in time of war, is to exaggerate the difference between oneself and the opponent, to assume the conflict is between total good and total evil... [Athens'] democratic institutions only applied to a minority of the population. A majority of the people--125,000 out of 225,000--were slaves. Even among the free people, only males were considered citizens with the right to participate in the political process...

Athens was more democratic than Sparta, but this did not affect its addiction to warfare, to expansion into other territories, to the ruthless conduct of war against helpless peoples. In modern times we have seen the ease with which parliamentary democracies and constitutional republics have been among the most ferocious of imperialists...

...the eath toll [for Athens] was enormous. Pericles, on the eve of war, refused to make concessions that might have prevented it. In the second year of the war, with the casualties mounting quickly, Pericles urged his fellow citizens not to weaken: "You have a great polic\s, and a great reputation; you must be worthy of them..."

Pericles' kind of argument ("Ours is a great nation. It is worth dying for.") has persisted and been admired down to the present.

Just before the United States entered WWI, Helen Keller pleaded with an audience at Carnegie Hall:

Strike against war, for without you no battles can be fought! Strike against manufacturing shrapnel and gas bombs and all other tools of murder! Strike against preparedness that means death and misery to millions of human beings! Be not dumb, obedient slaves in an army of destruction! Be heroes in an army of construction!

Once the United States entered the war it was made a crime to speak against it. Hundreds of people were imprisoned for objecting to the war.

"When that war ended, 10 million men of various countries had died on the battlefields of Europe, and millions more had been blinded, maimed, gassed, shell-shocked, and driven mad...

"When the war was studied years later, it was clear that no rational decision based on any moral principle had led the nations into war. Rather, there were imperial rivalries, greed for more territory, a lusting for national prestige, and the stupidity of revenge" (Zinn 238).

The poor go to war, to fight and die for the delights, riches, and superfluities of others.
- Plutarch

"It's the international dedication to law and order that binds the leaders of all countries in a comradely bond. That's why we are always surprised when they get together--they smile, they shake hands, they smoke cigars, they really like one another no matter what they say... Basically, it is us against them.

"Yossarian was right, remember, in Catch-22? He..said, 'The enemy is whoever is going to get you killed, whicever side they are on.'

"...we must remember that our enemies are not divided along national lines, that enemies are not just people who speak different languages and occupy different territories. Enemies are people who want to get us killed" (Zinn 406-7).

Works Cited

Waring, Marilyn. If women counted: A new feminist economics. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988.

Zinn, Howard. The Zinn Reader: Writings on Disobedience and Democracy. NY: Seven Stories Press, 1997.

Please send comments to: Colby Glass, MLIS

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