Thursday, May 3, 2007

War and Murder

A coworker of mine, who is a veteran, recently challenged the contention that war involves murder. In the strictest sense, murder is the voluntary killing of one person by another, but I now realize that there should be a distinction between those who initiate war, and those who defend themselves from aggression: the “offensive” forces are murderers, and the “defensive” forces are not. Using this logic, the murder rate associated with a war will be less than its death rate.

I suspect that my coworker was actually probing my opinion about whether military personnel should be qualified as murderers. If a military action is offensive rather than defensive, then the answer is “yes.” I also believe that, to a lesser degree, civilians who politically or economically support such action are also responsible.

Roughly speaking, in the first half of last century, military action by the United States was defensive, and the second half it was offensive (and even more blatantly so in this century with the Iraq war). Regarding political support, it is interesting that the last time Congress issued an official declaration of war was for our clearly defensive part in World War II, but it has not issued such a declaration since then.


BradJ1001 said...

"Defense" can include "police actions," where people use deadly force to keep others from being killed. This will be addressed next.

PonderPatron said...

Try looking at the last half of the century (with the exclusion of Korea and Vietnam) with a historical eye to the Marine excursion into Tripoli around the 1790's when in years previous, newly independent U.S. merchant vessels were besieged in open waters by Barbary Coast pirates (without British naval protection) and hostages were held for ransom.

Even during negotiations in London in 1786, the Caliph of Tripoli told Thomas Jefferson and John Adams that "it was written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave.” He claimed every one of their guys who was “slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise."

Eventually, ransoms paid to free U.S. hostages equated to approximately 10% to 20% of taxable revenue acquired in the U.S., and without any assurances of safety for U.S. personnel.

Finally, Jefferson created the U.S. Navy in 1794, and even though congress continued to fail to act, Jefferson sent six frigates (including the newly completed USS Constitution) into Tripoli waters where U.S. Marines launched an invasion (led by Sicilian troops) and finally invaded the town of Tripoli (hence the words "from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli").

There is an interesting correlation between the aggression against the U.S in the late 1700's and the aggression against the U.S. (and other "sinners") in the late 20th and early 21st century. Those who believe in Jihad seem to continue to sound the same mantra.

While the U.S. has been fighting against this type of aggression for over 200 years, countries like Israel have been at it for a couple of thousand. The turn of a century does not change the face of the defender into that of an aggressor. The face of terrorism remains the same.