Sunday, August 10, 2008

King and Country

"People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."
-- George Orwell

"Once we have a war there is only one thing to do. It must be won. For defeat brings worse things than any that can ever happen in war."
- Ernest Hemingway

"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."
- John Stuart Mill

None of the quotes tell us anything about justice, or even the just causes of war. It only begs the question of why we fight wars. It is upsetting how so many militaristic-minded people in the United States can sidestep questions of justice and skip right to concerns about patriotism and allegiance. It is ironic too that patriotism alone is used as an argument for going to war, since patriotism, when disconnected from justice, is ambiguous.

Assume you are presented with these arguments from behind a veil of ignorance, so you don't know which country, state or king your allegiance is supposed to be for. If two states tell their subjects what Mill, Hemingway or Orwell said above, they would both go to war for the exact same arguments. This is what strikes me as ironic about all the quotes here. Anyone's enemies could say the exact same thing to 'their people'; all who are foolish enough to fall for it would be fighting each other without ever asking whether their side is justified in waging war in the first place. Most nationalists believe that of course our country is justified in fighting whomever we are fighting, so all they need is a bit of belligerent language to get them onto their feet. A world full of sentiments like these is hopeless.

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