Quote of the Day: Laurie Calhoun On The Absurdity of Just War Theory

It’s the culmination of about 10 years of my investigation into what I consider to be a puzzle, which is why it should be the case that a man in civilian dress who kills another man commits a crime, but a man in a uniform who kills another, say the same man, but has been ordered to do so by another human being does not commit a crime. So that was a real puzzle to me from the very beginning and I decided that I really needed to dive into just war theory and find out what exactly the justification was supposed to be…

What I determined through my investigation was that the Emporer’s theory really has no content. So it sounds really nice, and it’s very appealing, and its very handy for leaders. They can put their little just war requirements on a 3×5 card, but what I discovered is that on examination the theory is vacuous…

Reading off all the bullet points of the theory…you find that in fact they tend to be platitudinous and they’re used rhetorically by leaders to support their cause for war. – Laurie Calhoun

Recently on the Tom Woods show, Tom talked with Laurie Calhoun about just war theory.  First, this was a great talk. I highly recommend it.  She blows apart the very foundational justifications that neocons and other pro-war types have for war.  It turns out (if it wasn’t already obvious) that the powers-that-be do whatever they want, and use ideas like just war theory to make it legitimate and palatable to their subjects.  Just war theory is the primary set of ideas foisted upon the American people to make them accept every new engagement.  We are always told there is a just cause, we are acting appropriately, and so forth.  As if, as they point out in the podcast, rulers would ever state their true intentions outright, without the pretty soundbites and euphemisms.

Just war theory is the go-to principle for waging war. Most everyone accepts it and thinks it is good and moral. Basically, when you hear any politician, talking head, or “news anchor” (government propagandist) discussing war, there is a good chance they are utilizing some aspect of just war theory to promote the state’s latest adventure.

I would oppose the general use of just war theory because I don’t support any principle that is used as a tool for war promotion.  As they discuss in the show, there are always more options to look at before you start slaughtering each other.  In the real world, (absent the government monopoly, war mongering, cronyism, etc) war would be very unpalatable and unprofitable.  Only government can turn the world upside down though. If I got into a disagreement with someone else over some matter, my first response would not be to attack them.  There would be many other methods to remedy the situation.  But, government is that one institution that can somehow make violence acceptable, moral and practical. Just as they do with their Keynesian, crony-capitalist economy, they can socialize the losses of violence, while centralizing the gain (to themselves and their closely connected partners). When some politician gets in a quarrel with his neighbor he will probably do everything possible to fix the situation agreeably without violence.  But, when confronted by a problem (that the government likely caused in the first place) with some international group , prodded on to war by defense contractors, think-tanks, and other organizations, and being able to send some other guys kids off to fight the conflict, and being able to divert other people’s wealth to the war machine – he will be much more likely to resort to violence right away. Stated another way, the existence of government creates a moral hazard.  And just war theory provides the outward justification to make it all sound okay.

There are two ways everyone is told they must think about war – you either support the war or you are an “isolationist” and a “pacifist.” And of course, no one wants to be an “isolationist.” The media tells us isolationists “make America unsafe.”So naturally, with this 3rd grader paradigm of two false options, most people just cheer on war without understanding what it is all about.  This intentional promotion of all-or-nothing thinking blocks out all other possible viewpoints, and it helps us miss all the important points about international affairs and war. Where did the supposed conflict come from? Who fueled it and why? What is the complicated history of the “enemy”? What legitimate grievances do people have with one another or are there some other motives on one side or another that seek to create conflict? Does the proposed action have anything at all to do with the defense of our land and property or has it more to do with taking action that will benefit some at the expense of many. If “we” were attacked, are we retaliating against the right people? Or do we even know who perpetrated the attack? Was the CIA actually involved in creating, funding, training and arming the supposed “enemy?” Was the government actually involved in instigating a conflict? Does the government have a long history of actually fueling the very conflicts, tensions, and terrorism that they say just comes out of nowhere?

Some people cheer war and violence as a great solution to human disagreements, but also reject just war theory. They mentioned this briefly in the show. These are the sort of people who would say “why are we talking about principles at all, when we need to take action right now to ‘defend America’?” They’ll say something like “This is war. There should be no rules for engaging the enemy.” In other words, they’re looking at just war theory and it’s supposedly noble intentions as if they meant anything.  They’re worried these principles are going to get in the way of “defeating” “the enemy”, i.e. waging unlimited war. You’ll often hear things like “if only our troops were allowed to fight this war.”  These people tend to be the most rabid neocons, and sadly many Objectivists.  The neocons have ulterior motives, and the Objectivists refuse to look at their own government’s actions, cause and effect in the world, and the agendas of powerful people and groups. They cling to the romantic notion that the American government is the same great institution as it might have been in the 1700s, and that we are a shining city on the hill, whose government is not to blame for anything beyond its borders, and there are these irrationally evil people out there who simply live to do violence against good people like us.

Here’s the truth, though. Our government and other governments go around obliterating human life, manipulating entire nations, and having their way with the world. As Laurie Calhoun and Tom Woods make very clear in the podcast, just war theory is merely the rhetorical stamp of approval that governments put on their actions.  They will sniper kill innocent people, drone bomb little kids, arm terrorists and overthrow elected leaders as long as they have something to gain from these various actions.  To reiterate, just war theory or any other pretty sounding doctrine is simply the state’s tool to justify their warmongering and make it sound like they are the good guys.

People tend to only see in the present moment and try their best not to question their comfortable beliefs. They say “What are we going to do about problem X?” as if problem X just came out of nowhere and exists in a vacuum. We are told we either must bomb some random place (which creates enemies, increases tensions, worsens relations, further enriches those who profit from war, and altogether stops the progress that markets and voluntary exchange could be making) or if we don’t immediately accept all the bombing, we’re just irrational pacifists, and might be “making America unsafe.” Or we could throw in some other meaningless phrase like “appeasing the enemy” or something.

Some warmongers, like globalists and neocons, actually desire war for war’s sake. They’re really a different animal altogether. But, others are just warmongers because of faulty thinking, lack of information, or contradictions in their ideas. It is these people we must make our case to.  Today on Facebook I saw a post questioning the use of spanking as a moral or useful tool in parenting (And I agree.  There are better ways to parent than needing to resort to hitting a child.) People were posting in the comments attempting to refute the sentiment by saying “well how am I supposed to discipline ” or “ok, well what other kind of punishment should I use.” They were saying this, thinking they were winning the debate, because of course, you must have order, discipline, and punishment, right?. Well, you really don’t.  You parent differently in the first place so you don’t have a screaming child, you think like an adult, and communicate and learn new ways to talk with your child and figure things out together.  You’ll both be better off.  This might sound off topic; but I mention this because when I read the comments about punishment, the first thing I thought of was foreign policy.  It’s really the same concept at play here.

The uninformed warmonger is simply thinking “well, how else am I supposed to discipline” and “what other kind of punishment should I use.” The same concept applies.  Parent differently in the first place, and you’ll have no need to use violence against your kids.  Interact with the world differently in the first place, and you’ll have much less need to use violence upon the world. (Though honestly I’m way off point here, because it isn’t about the need to go to war.  We can equate need with just war theory.  Need is the justification.  In reality, certain interests want war since war is the health of the state.)  Practice the same principles as with parenting.  Communicate, figure things out, and don’t resort to hitting each other like eight-year-olds.  Other concepts apply as well.  There is always cause and effect.  As much as we are told things just happen out of nowhere for no reason (i.e. – “senseless violence”, “hate us for our freedoms”, etc.), there is almost always some cause and effect actually going on.  Could it be that say, the government of Iran (typically not the people, but the government) has a tense relationship with the US government for a reason, because the US government has been meddling in Iranian affairs since the 1950s.  I mean, I don’t know, I think I’d be upset if some outside governments overthrew my president, and then installed a puppet to serve US and British interests.  Then does it make sense that the same government, upon ousting the puppet, would close off ties to the outside, centralize control, be wary of outsiders, especially the US, and rightfully be worried that they’re being meddled with all the time (which they are). The point is, there is a deeper story we are not being told about ALL of the “enemies” of America.  And there are many deeper stories to US, British, and Israeli involvement in the affairs of other nations.  The irrational warmongers say, we’re “blaming America.” Well, no. I think we’re looking at ALL possible causes, reasons and facets of complicated international relations.  The mainstream approach is that of the tribalistic caveman; “We good. They bad. Let’s kill bad guys.”

I’ll go so far as to say, there aren’t that many natural conflicts on the world stage.  Without certain governments and non-governmental groups creating and fueling conflicts, people don’t actually want to go around killing one another as much as they do in this government-centered environment.  It’s risky, costly, time and wealth consuming, and is simply bad for life, happiness, and business (Would be bad for business in a free market that is. It is great for business in the state-controlled crony capitalist system we have.) When you really dig into it, governments are directly or indirectly responsible for creating, funding and promoting all war and violence.  Simply put, without them, it would not be possible on such a large scale.  Governments, all of them, are the elephants in the room.  They have the influence, the power, and they dictate the difference between criminal activity and “just war.” Random groups of private individuals don’t get together, convince millions of others to support them, and go off killing other human beings.  We’d look at that as criminal anyway.  But government, with its tricky tools of taxation, propaganda, politicians and conscription can do that.

Think about any war.  World War I starts because some supposed government authority figure is killed. So governments rally together and send off young men to kill each other.  In World War II, willing individuals elected and cheered on a crazy man to rule them and then wage war on a continent.  Other governments and their “authority” figures answered the call, and we get 60 million dead people.  We could keep going, but you get the point. Government is the common variable here.  It is always present.  Where there is relative peace, there is a relative lack of government.  Where there is more war there is relatively more government. Private crime doesn’t even come close to government-caused death and destruction. Wars are started because some people want them to start.  That is all.  We rarely see just, defensive wars.  Even on the defensive side, someone usually wants it to happen. Someone always imagines a glory or profit to be gained and then violence is promoted on both sides.  It’s all a sham. Governments do not serve us.  They exploit.  Everything we think we need government for, could be provided in other ways that don’t involve the gleeful perpetuation of mass murder.

Bottomline, if you’re still falling for the propaganda, there is more out there than what you think you know to be true.  If you might be wrong about something, would you want to know the truth? Take the chance for yourself.  Dig in and the official narrative on government, history, war, terrorism, politics, and economics will start to fall apart before your very eyes.  Your government does not want peace. Peace would mean they have no purpose.  We wouldn’t “need” them if there weren’t continual threats hiding around every corner…so they desperately cultivate continual threats, and the defense contractors and bankers are all too happy to play along.

A couple more quotes from the podcast:

The aspect of your thesis that really stuck with me and that I couldn’t quite shake was that it is basically impossible to think of a case in which somebody was supporting a war, and then became acquainted with just war principles, and then abandoned support for the war. On the contrary, what people do with these principles is what people do with all kinds of principles that stand in the way of something they want; they twist them to yield whatever outcome they need them to yield. – Tom Woods

The best example of this is last resort. The last resort “requirement” on just wars really doesn’t preclude anyone on doing anything, and in fact, just war theorists themselves have interpreted last resort metaphorically so that it doesn’t really mean last resort anymore. It means we think war is a good idea, or it means we think war is feasible, or it means we can’t think of any other better way to adjudicate this conflict.  It doesn’t mean it is a last resort.  There is always something else that can be done. So it is really a metaphor, but it is very powerful when leaders come forth and say “this is the last resort”…Even Donald Rumsfeld, former secretary of defense under George W. Bush called the invasion of Iraq in 2003 a “last resort.” So these little principles and concepts; they tend to be persuasive to people because they figure “oh, there’s this whole tradition and these really smart people since the middle ages have been talking about this and, so of course, we have to defer to these experts.” – Laurie Calhoun

Further Reading:

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Laurie Calhoun’s Book: War and Delusion: A Critical Examination

Listen to the full podcast here: The Tom Woods Show, Episode 553: The Failure of Just War Theory


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