Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Going to war

Recently, I have experienced some convergence of views with a friend, a noted journalist who is generally accounted a conservative. My friend is now having some second thoughts, embodied in a book. Well, you might as well know: his name is Andrew Sullivan. Sullivan now concedes that he was too trusting in accepting the Bush administration's case for the Iraq war. To his great credit, he is one of the leaders in the campaign to stop torture at the behest of our government.

I think that Andrew and I agree that we are not isolationists, and that our country should not sit idly by while an aggressor makes plans to attack us. But when is military action justified on our part? There seems to be no clear answer. Just-war theories only apply within a specific philosophical framework, neo-Thomism or some version of Natural Law. As these overarching philosophies do not command universal assent, and indeed have been waning for a considerable period, this approach does not seem to work. Besides, just-war criteria are usually invoked after the fact. What we need is a theory that will offer guidance before we act.

So far I have seen only versions of the medieval adage "Si non caste, tamen caute"--if not chastely, at least cautiously. This, at any rate, seems to be the advice proffered by Francis Fukuyama in his latest. We should go to war--but not too frequently. This doesn't seem to work at all. Should one engage in gambling or prostitution--or for that matter acts of charity--but "not too frequently"?

I suppose that we are necessarily in a period in which the proverbial dust is settling. Some dust--as the Iraq adventure looks to end up costing us nearly a trillion dollars, not to mention those killed, maimed and otherwise injured in an unnecessary and unwise war.

Still, going to war is in fact justified under some circumstances. I am one of those who believe that Pearl Harbor was to some extent the product of a manipulation on the part of Franklin Roosevelt. Nonetheless, it was imperative that we take on imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. The Korean War also seems to have been a necessity. Beyond those examples, though, the matter becomes moot.


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