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Martin LeFevre: No Such Thing as ‘Just War’

Meditations - From Martin LeFevre in California

No Such Thing as ‘Just War’

Two items in the news last week provide overwhelming evidence that the country that established the post World War II order has taken it hostage, and that things have gone off the rails. Both occurred where the ‘global war on terror’ began, in Afghanistan, and neither directly involved the United States.

During hours of NATO bombing in the dead of night near Kandahar, after Taliban fighters had infiltrated the area in southern Afghanistan, between 60 and 85 civilians were killed. Using the same mealy-mouthed excuses as their American masters, NATO commanders said the Taliban used the civilian population as cover for their activities. "Any civilian deaths, no matter how they were caused, are regretted by NATO,” blathered Squadron Leader Jason Chalk in Kandahar.

A member of the provincial council for Kandahar, Bismillah Afghanmal, exclaimed, "These kinds of things have happened several times, and they only say ‘sorry.’ How can you compensate people who have lost their sons and daughters?"

NATO has become part of the problem. The Brussels based “military alliance of democratic states in Europe and North America,” now has about the same number of troops in Afghanistan as America—20,000. By stupidly tying itself to Bush’s policies and ‘the global war on terror,’ NATO has done what the ending of the Cold War couldn’t do—rendered it irrelevant to a legitimate international security framework.

The second item involved German soldiers in Afghanistan using human skulls in macabre desecration poses. Pictures published in the newspaper Bild showed German soldiers kissing skulls balanced on their biceps, simulating fornication with skulls, and other barbaric behavior. The fact that there were several batches of pictures from different times indicates that this outbreak of barbarity could be widespread. Is anyone surprised?

Afghanistan and Iraq are not different types of war--the former right and the latter wrong. They both demonstrate that, in a global society, an approach to terrorism and weapons of mass destruction predicated on war is doomed to failure.

Condi Rice’s advisor and foil at the State Department is a hard-working, fingernail-biting man named Philip D. Zelikow. He has described Iraq as an impending “catastrophic failure,” and has called for a reconsideration of the phrase “war on terror.” Not a reconsideration of the policy of course, just the phrase. Even that the White House strongly opposed.

As long as the focus remains on the chaos in Iraq, rather than the entire concept and execution of ‘the global war on terror,’ the Bush Administration and its lackeys, I mean allies, can continue with their disastrous policy. The resurgence of the fanatical Taliban, funded by an explosion of opium production, is the best evidence that the propagandistic ‘war on terror’ is a failure, and the idea and tradition of war itself obsolete.

The horrors of thousands of wars over recorded history have not abolished the idea that war is legitimate, necessary, and heroic. Yet humankind will do away with war when its obsolescence becomes undeniable, when its heroism becomes hollow machismo, and when its victories become as meaningless as the chaos in Iraq.

We must make a clear distinction in the global society between the use of force, and war. War is a breakdown of relations between nations or groups, not “the continuation of policy with other means." Nations or groups may be forced into conflict, but there is no such thing as a “just war.”

The use of military force for humanitarian intervention is another matter. But as Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch has pointed out, military force must be a last resort, motivated by humanitarian concerns, in compliance with international law, and legitimated by the UN Security Council. Darfur fulfills these conditions, and yet of course there isn’t the political will to stop the “slow-motion genocide” there.

Why? Because despite the fact that it is now a global society, the sovereignty and power of nation-states is still the basic philosophical premise and operating principle of world affairs.

As David Held, director of the Centre for the Study of Global Governance has said, “We need new bodies at the global level for weighing evidence, making recommendations, and testing options. These need to be separate and distinct bodies which embody a separation of powers at the global level.”


- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: The author welcomes comments.

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