Why Fox News Would Call Me a Pacifist   Leave a comment

So, if you put me into a box, I would wind up calling myself a pacifist. I my college town was more interesting, I’d be attending demonstrations against the Afghan War, the war in Yemen, the war in Pakistan, and the war in Somalia.

But I don’t like being put in boxes. It’s cramped and uninformed in boxes. I glare at my refrigerator every day, but I can’t figure out how to keep my food cold outside that particular box. So, let’s add some nuance to this picture.

My grounding in just war theory started off in high school and was based on the Augustinian/Aquinas tradition that in more recent times has boiled down to five basic points:

1) Just cause – today, the only cause that is considered to justify war is defense. No preemptive wars!

2) Chance of success – If failure is a foregone conclusion, then it is immoral to use violence

3) Proper authority – Only sovereign authorities can declare war

4) Proportionality – The losses of going to war are offset by the supposed losses of not going to war

5) Just means – No targeting civilians, no torture, proper treatment of prisoners. That kind of thing

So, when I was in high school, those were the basic criteria by which I judged whether or not it was moral to go to war. I was (and still am) confused about violent revolutions, but for inter-state war, these criteria did the trick for me.

“So,” you’re wondering, “What made you decide to become a pacifist? What made you decide to turn your back on the Catholic just war tradition?”

Well, to answer your first question, information. Information made me a pacifist. To answer your second question, I haven’t turned my back on the Catholic just war tradition.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a huge fan of the above criteria because I feel like just stating those criteria gives politicians a way to game the system and excuse wars they would have undertaken anyway as “just.” But if I felt that all the above criteria had really and honestly been met, I’d probably say that war was justified.

But yeah, in box world, I’m still a “pacifist.”

You see, the real kicker of those criteria is number four. Proportionality is an absurdly high bar to leap. Back in high school, I only thought about proportionality in terms of military casualties. Since I’ve gone to college and read up on the difference between life under Saddam Hussein and life under the Americans in Iraq, I have a bit more perspective.

Proportionality shouldn’t just be about military casualties because war doesn’t just affect soldiers. War affects the economy, crime rates, and health outcomes, so all those things need to be factored into proportionality. And once you do that, war becomes almost impossible to justify.

When people cite total casualties in the Iraq War, the number cited usually ranges between 100,000 dead and 1,000,000 dead. The disparity is fairly easy to explain. The first number is how many people we know with absolute certainty died a war related death. It’s a low ball figure. The second number, the number I think better reflects reality, is based on what Iraq’s projected population should have been if the United States had not intervened. Most of the deaths in this number are not due to the war itself. Rather, they reflect early deaths or people who were malnourished and then got sick. They reflect the damage we did to Iraq’s health infrastructure. In short, the 1,000,000 figure is the total cost of the war. It is the number that reflects all of the people who should be alive, but aren’t. It is the hurdle that needed to be passed. And I don’t think there are many people who would argue that living under President Al Malaki rather than Saddam Hussein was worth a million dead Iraqis and a few thousand US and NATO soldiers.

Likewise in Afghanistan. I am really and truly glad that Al Qaeda no longer has training camps in Afghanistan. I am. I do not think, however, that Al Qaeda not having training camps was worth twenty million Afghani’s getting PTSD or other anxiety disorders, and the Afghan Ministry of Health estimates.

You yeah, when you look at what wars do to mental health, physical health, the economy, and everything else that goes wrong during war, proportionality is almost impossible to beat.

I do still give some credence to just war theory. Really, that aspect of my thinking hasn’t really changed. But the information I now have makes “just war” such a lofty goal that pacifist is probably the best word for me. I’m so likely to oppose a war that “pacifist” is a good functional description for where I am. But my ideology didn’t change. Was I a pacifist in high school too?

Damn boxes.


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