Bainbridge Aids the Theocrats

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

In case anyone wonders why the Middle East hasn't been turned into glass by now, one need go no further than this Stephen Bainbridge article at TCS Daily for an executive summary. In the article, the author, more widely known by his nom de blog as "Professor Bainbridge" takes up a defense of the Vatican's condemnation of Israel's recent actions in Lebanon -- on the basis of Just War Theory.

Interestingly, Bainbridge kicks off his article by noting that another prominent Catholic blogger, "Captain" Ed Morrissey, expressed strong disagreement with the Vatican. Perhaps surprisingly, but not coincidentally, Bainbridge and Morrissey (in an update to his post) both cite -- as moral grounding for their positions -- the same four conditions of Just War Theory under which the Roman Catholic Church sanctions war. These are:

  1. the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

  2. all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
  3. there must be serious prospects of success;
  4. the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
In one fell swoop, Bainbridge has done two things. First, he has listed the standards by which he thinks a war should be judged. Second, and far more important, he is attempting to establish himself as a moral authority. This is why, in addition to quoting a pro-Israel blogger who attempts to argue from the same premises, Bainbridge also notes the long history of Just War Theory and, alas, its broad acceptance, including by a respected author in the journal of the United States War College, Parameters. And when he says, "Just war is a part of both the natural law and the positive international law," he is hoping that his readers will take old age and popularity -- as substitutes for the argument he never gives -- to back up his assertion that, "[T]he principles of [Just War Theory] apply to everyone, not just Catholics."

On the one hand, it is not entirely surprising that, in a time of war, when our survival is at stake, we are holding moral debates. We are, after all, civilized men. We do not simply start killing people for the hell of it, but because we need to in order to survive. As civilized men, we will ask ourselves before taking such a drastic step whether what we are doing is right. Furthermore, it is important to make our reasons for fighting clear at the outset in order for us to focus our efforts rationally and so that the other side will understand what it ought to do in order to cause an end to hostilities. This is the example set by our Founding Fathers when they wrote the Declaration of Independence.

On the other hand, it may surprise some that Professor Bainbridge is taking so much trouble to persuade us that the standard for how we should wage this war is not "How quickly and effectively can we eliminate this threat?", but rather, "Are our actions, (considered out of context), 'proportionate' to what our enemy has most recently meted out?" This is not unlike someone at the time of the American Revolution wringing his hands over whether the rebellion against England was a "disproportionate response" to some isolated grievance against the British, like the Stamp Act of 1765.

If this analogy seems incredible to you, then consider that Bainbridge himself, after accepting -- only "for the sake of argument" -- that Israel is justified in its response to Hezbollah, still holds it should only react to (the latest) Moslem predations with "proportionality" and "discrimination" (between military and civilian targets).

And if this doesn't convince you, consider that he also is morally opposed to the strategic bombing campaign against Germany and Japan during World War II by what he refers to as the "so-called greatest generation" [my bold]. In fact, Just War Theory causes him to all but equate this campaign with terrorism by ignoring the moral difference between those who started the war in the first place and those who fought to end it. He approvingly quotes Niall Ferguson in this vein.
Such bombing was precisely what the U.S. State Department had denounced as "unwarranted and contrary to principles of law and humanity" in 1937, when the Japanese bombed Chinese cities. And it was precisely what Neville Chamberlain, Winston Churchill's predecessor as prime minister, had dismissed as "mere terrorism," to which "His Majesty's government [would] never resort."
Never mind that Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan were bent on conquest while America and Great Britain were fighting to remain free. The only thing that matters to Bainbridge is that isolated acts by each power resembled one another, when yanked out of context.

As a Westerner, Bainbridge is among those "invited" by the likes of Osama bin Laden to convert to Islam, submit to its rule, or die. How on earth can he fail to understand what a war is? How can he even imply a moral equivalence between actions of Hezbollah and Israel now? Or those of Imperial Japan and the United States during World War II? In short, why the hell is he urging even one jot of restraint at a time like this?

It is only when one recalls what the purpose of morality is that any of this makes sense. Morality is a code by which man guides his actions. There are many theories of morality, but one thing in common to each is that there must be some standard, some means of determining whether an action is good or not.

Evaluating Bainbridge's moral theory in this light, we can see clearly why he proposes a method of waging war that he does not even attempt to argue will assure our side of victory. The standard by which he judges whether an action is moral or not has nothing to do with rational self-interest, of promoting one's own life here on this Earth. As a Catholic, he is concerned only with doing what he claims to be is God's will and, given that he sees a conflict between God's will and really waging a war, he chooses the former.

Bainbridge is not guilty of misunderstanding Just War Theory. In their superb essay, "'Just War Theory' vs. American Self-Defense", Yaron Brook and Alex Epstein explain what "proportionality" and "discrimination" mean, and Just war theorist Michael Waltzer (among others) backs them up.
Given that the purpose of war, according to Just War Theory, is the well-being of others (including those who are, in fact, one's enemies), it is logical that Just War Theory also precludes a nation from waging war in a manner that will destroy its enemies. It is imperative, according to Just War Theory, that war be fought by unselfish, sacrificial means, in which great value is accorded to the citizens of enemy nations. This is the meaning of the requirements of "proportionality" and "discrimination." Proportionality is the idea that the value gained by the ends a war seeks must be "proportional" to the damage incurred during the war. To advocate that ends and damage be "proportional" presupposes a standard of value by which these are to be weighed. What is the relative weight, for example, that the U.S. government should accord an American civilian and an Iraqi civilian? Since Just War Theory holds that a government's intentions are "good" to the extent that it places value on other peoples, including enemies, by its standard of value a government of an innocent nation should place equal value on the lives of its citizens and those of enemy nations. On this view, in America's "War on Terrorism," we have to "balance" the lives of American soldiers and civilians with the lives of the enemy nation's soldiers and civilians. According to Walzer, "In our judgments of the fighting, we abstract from all consideration of the justice of the cause. We do this because the moral status of individual soldiers on both sides is very much the same: they face one another as moral equals."
Got that? A civilized country is to wait until its enemy has done "lasting, grave, and certain" damage, and then may react only "proportionately" and while taking care not to harm civilians on the other side, even though in many cases those civilians either have failed to overthrow the aggressor government or openly support it.

Imagine what Bainbridge's ideas would have meant in the war against Japan, when America last faced an enemy whose people agreed that war was the path to glory.
The bombings marked America's total victory over a militaristic culture that had murdered millions. To return an entire nation to morality, the Japanese had to be shown the literal meaning of the war they had waged against others. The abstraction "war," the propaganda of their leaders, their twisted samurai "honor," their desire to die for the emperor -- all of it had to be given concrete form. This is what firebombing Japanese cities accomplished. It showed the Japanese that "this" -- point to burning buildings, screaming children scarred unmercifully, piles of corpses, the promise of starvation -- "this is what you have done to others. Now it has come for you. Give it up, or die." This was the only way to show them the true nature of their philosophy, and to beat the truth of the defeat into them.
How could a "proportionate" response consisting of only surgical strikes against military facilities have caused the Japanese to reject that part of their culture that made war with America inevitable? It would not, and if we weren't Japanese slaves by now, we'd either be fighting Japan to this day or in some kind of tense stalemate with it. But that question never occurs under Just War Theory because Just War Theory has nothing to do with winning wars.

Therefore, in addition to tying Israel's hands in its current battle with Hezbollah, Just War Theory ties those of the West in its current war against the followers of a barbarous faith who will pose a threat to the West until they are killed, sent back to the stone age, or made to reject the call of Islam to political dominion over the entire world.

The other day, in a somewhat rambling post, I said two things that bear repeating here. First:
In religion, morality has nothing to do with living on earth and everything to do with fulfilling the alleged whims of an otherworldly being only rumored to exist. Too bad that such ethereal nonsense has such bloody real-life consequences -- both at the hands of its more consistent practicioners, the Moslems and due to the hand-tying by their religious sympathizers in the West.
And second, "Followers of Islam seem unstinting in their efforts to disabuse us of [the] notion [that religion is good]." It is no accident, in a war caused by savages who regard attacks against those who are not of their faith to be perfectly moral, that among those who object the loudest to the proper course of action are those who also base their actions on otherworldly grounds.

The longer that followers of Islam continue to wage war against us, the clearer the need to defeat them overwhelmingly will become, and the longer our hands remain tied by the proponents of Just War Theory, the clearer it will be that the alleged whims of an imaginary being are no basis for living a life on earth proper to man. In both cases, those of us who want to live are being told that we cannot by people for whom life is of no earthly value. The Islamists exist at the mercy of an opponent who could annihilate them very quickly. If there has ever been a clearer demonstration of the power of philosophical ideas on the world stage -- in this case, to paralyze an entire civilization with self-doubt -- I haven't seen one.

-- CAV

Below is a list of related articles for those interested in actually fighting this war for a change.

Today: (1) Fixed typo. (2) Added link (HT: Amit Ghate).


Anonymous said...

"How could a "proportionate" response consisting of only surgical strikes against military facilities have caused the Japanese to reject that part of their culture that made war with America inevitable?"

Awesome post and a great statement. I think Yaron Brook's and Alex Epstein's Just War essay may be one of the most important contributions to the war effort produced by Objectivists. It lays out exactly how the moral code of altruism is helping to destroy us.

It also does a great job of showing how it was religious theologians who helped in originating Just War Theory. (I also find it interesting that its origins were in Christian Rome and not Pagan Rome.)

Lastly, your comments on Japan reminded me of an argument a libertarian once made on one of their forums. He said that a proper response to Pearl Harbor would have been to arrest the pilots, try them and "bring them to justice".

Only an egoistic approach to war will defeat the Islamists. I hope America is capable of that some day in the not too distant future, but I wont keep my hopes up.

D. Eastbrook

Anonymous said...

Well, I'll keep my hopes up, D. Eastbrook. I'll also send a link to this article, with a recommendation to read the linked articles, to everyone I know. I'll use the link when I make arguments in other forums.

And give thanks to the bloghead for the help.