Robert Greenwald, a documentarian is working on a new film, Drones Exposed, and though it is sad that we live in a world in which there has to be a documentary about drones and their repugnant aftermath, it is nevertheless important that we do not remain in the dark about what is happening in our name.
Regardless of the fraught so-called strategic outlook on why we use drones, having the blood of 178 children (if not more) on our hands is a national issue that we, as U.S. citizens or any conscientious person must address; it is the anti-War issue of our time. Imagine how many countless families we have brought pain and devastation to with these phantom-like air machines raining death and destruction from the skies? And just imagine the unheard repercussions of the drone strikes: each survivor will tell their family and friends that the bombs that killed their loved ones read, “Made in the USA.” Questions will be raised such as “Why do they hate us?”
A vital question remains unacknowledged: Do we have any idea what terrorism really is?
We utilize the best means at our disposal to go into foreign lands and blow up the people we consider the bad guys even if that means collateral damage in the form of civilian casualties. When someone does that exact same thing to us, don’t we call it “terrorism”?
Below is a short video and report by Robert Greenwald exposing what Drones truly do: destroy and terrorize:
During my recent trip to Pakistan as part of our upcoming documentary film, Drones Exposed, I was struck most by the stories told to me by children who had experienced a U.S. drone strike firsthand. The impact of America’s drone war in the likes of Pakistan and Yemen will linger on, especially for the loved ones of the 178 children killed in those countries by U.S. drone strikes.
War Costs’ latest video (with accompanying report) brings attention to the children who have died as a result of drone strikes. The video names some of the children who perished in these strikes, and points out the obfuscation tactics of American officials who will not own up to the significant amount of civilian casualties that have occurred due to this legally- and morally-dubious policy.
In addition to the video, War Costs offers this report detailing the effects of drone strikes on children. The findings come mainly from the diligent investigative reporting of TBIJ and the groundbreaking reports on the impact of drone strikes by Stanford and New York University researchers (Living Under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians from US Drone Practices in Pakistan) and researchers at Columbia University (The Civilian Impact of Drones: Unexamined Costs, Unanswered Questions).
In an effort to compel answers about why these innocent civilians have died without acknowledgement or explanation from the U.S. government, War Costs is calling on the U.S. House of Representatives to debate and pass Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s bill that calls for more transparency regarding U.S. drone strike policy. For more on War Costs’ upcoming drones film, visit our website, or at Facebook and Twitter.
Jihad Masharawi weeps while he holds the body of his 11-month old son Ahmad, at Shifa hospital following an Israeli air strike on their family house, in Gaza City, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012. The Israeli military said its assassination of the Hamas military commander Ahmed Jabari, marks the beginning of an operation against Gaza militants. (AP Photo/Majed Hamdan)
Operation Cast Lead Redux
A familiar script is being played out in front of the world’s eyes. After US Presidential elections and before national elections Israel is launching air strikes and threatening a ground invasion on the beleaguered Gaza strip, one of the most densely populated regions in the world, 1 million of whom are refugees from the 1948 creation of the state of Israel. The Israeli government says its attacks are only in “self-defense,” to put an end to militant rocket attacks when in fact the assault only re-energizes the cycle of violence and increases extremism and barely dents the capability of militant groups. Such operations are only meant to perpetuate the status quo, helping neither innocent Israelis or Gazans. As UC Irvine professor Mark LeVine notes,
It is deja vu all over again of the worst kind. Israel’s latest assault on Gaza will kill dozens and perhaps hundreds of civilians in a hail of hellfire from the ground, sky and even sea. Hamas will fire hundreds of rockets, likely killing a few Israeli civilians and terrorising tens of thousands of residents of the south of the country, but otherwise achieving little beyond helping to justify even more Israeli carnage in Gaza and who knows how many new housing units in the West Bank.
Outside of the benighted territory of Palestine/Israel sides will be chosen – at least for the cameras. The US will give “full-throttled support” for its ally. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood president will feign outrage, bring home his ambassador, and otherwise stay safely out of the way. The Arab League and the UN Security Council will meet and make strongly-vaguely worded pronouncements. Or not. It really doesn’t matter.
Meanwhile, death, destruction and hopelessness will continue until yet another truce is declared. Each side – or rather, the worst elements of each side, will declare “victory” and arrogate even more political and economic power to themselves. And then the whole process will begin again.
Gazans, stuck between two occupying regimes: a suffocating Israeli apartheid program of siege and occupation and an authoritarian and stupid Hamas regime are again bearing the brunt of Israeli military violence. See:Pictures of Israel’s Offensive in Gaza.
In the USA, the mainstream media is swallowing, hook, line and sinker the Israeli narrative that it is just “defending” itself when in fact the story is more nuanced. The recent operation dubbed “Operation Pillar of Defense” broke an informal ceasefire,
Israel is threatening to launch a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip after breaking an informal ceasefire with a series of ongoing deadly attacks. On Wednesday, an Israeli air strike assassinated Ahmed Jabari, the head of Hamas’ military wing. The bombing continued throughout the day and night, killing at least 13 civilians, including a baby and a mother pregnant with twins. More than 100 Palestinians were also wounded, and the toll is expected to rise. At least three Israelis were killed today when Palestinian rockets hit a residential building in the town of Kiryat Malachi, the first Israeli fatalities since the latest fighting began. Israel says it has launched the strikes to prevent Palestinian rocket fire, but the latest round of violence began last week when Israeli troops killed a young boy in Gaza. The situation has escalated since Saturday, when Palestinian militants fired at an Israeli military vehicle near the Israel-Gaza border. After Palestinian militant groups agreed to an informal truce on Monday, Israel broke two days of quiet on Wednesday.
Watch Amy Goodman’s interview with reporter Mohammed Omer, who is on the ground in Gaza:
Islamophobes Love Dead Palestinians
Of course nothing seems to give more joy to Islamophobes than dead Palestinians. It’s a running theme that was there before the recent conflagration of violence and will be there afterwards and so it is no surprise that they are cheerleading Israel’s assault.
Finally. Godspeed to the beleaguered Jewish state. A decade of rockets into Southern Israel and now daily rocket attacks into homes and schools, in concert with an American president who supports jihad.
In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel, defeat jihad.
Robert Spencer, frolicking in fantasy land is on the record denying that Israel ever ‘harms civilians,’ terming it “propaganda,” he also puts “Palestinian” in scary quote marks (implying they aren’t real),
They [international media] aid and abet the “Palestinian” propaganda about Israelis harming civilians.
There will surely be more kooky pro-Israel-attack-on-Gaza spin to come from the Islamophobic looniverse. We’ll keep you posted.
In the meantime keep the innocents in your thoughts and prayers. The two state solution is dead and all we are witnessing is a waste of lives, time and energy.
“Most USA media outlets are petrified of straying too far from pro-Israel orthodoxies. Time’s Middle East correspondent Rania Abouzeid noted this morning on Twitter the typical template: “Just read report in major US paper about Gaza/Israel that put Israeli dead in 1st sentence. Palestinian in 6th paragraph.” Or just consider the BBC’s headline. Worse, this morning’s New York Times editorial self-consciously drapes itself with pro-Israel caveats and completely ignores the extensive civilian deaths in Gaza before identifying this as one of the only flaws it could find with the lethal Israeli assault: “The action also threatens to divert attention from what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly described as Israel’s biggest security threat: Iran’s nuclear program.”
In what I know will be a fruitless attempt to avoid having this discussion subsumed by that tired script: I will recommend several outstanding, truly must-read pieces written by others over the last 24 hours in lieu of my own reciting of the various arguments. Begin with this article by Yousef Munayyer in the Daily Beast setting the crucial context for the rocket attacks from Gaza; then read this Daily Beast news-breaking account from Gershon Baskin, who details how the provocations from the Israelis were geared toward disrupting an imminent peace deal with Hamas (“The assassination of Jaabari was a pre-emptive strike against the possibility of a long term ceasefire”); also vital is this time-line of events leading up to the rocket attacks from Gaza, with ample documentation from Ali Abunimah; and finally, there is this very succinct but poignant summary of what Israel has done over the last three weeks.”
Update II: Israel ‘s military offensive “Pillar of Defense” in Hebrew is (עמוד ענן, Amúd Anán), named after a Biblical Hebrew war story about God terrorizing Egyptians, (h/t: Jack)
“By the way: the IDF ‘translates’ the name of the military operation (עמוד ענן, Amúd Anán) as ‘Pillar of Defense’ for English speaking audiences, but if you look up עמוד ענן in the Hebrew Bible, it really is the cloud of God smiting the enemies of Israel before it.
To back this claim, GSHM linked to a 2007 MSNBC article with the propagandistic title of Some young U.S. Muslims approve suicide hits, which in turn cited a Pew study that found that “[o]ne in four younger U.S. Muslims say suicide bombings to defend their religion are acceptable at least in some circumstances.”
This Facebook post is now making its rounds around the internet. Seeing as how LoonWatch monitors anti-Muslim loons–and Ayaan Hirsi Ali is among the best of them–I thought a response would be worthwhile.
First of all, it should be noted that suicide bombing by itself is not illegal under international law. In a section entitled “Suicide Attacks and International Law”, Human Rights Watch (HRW) notes that “[s]uicide attacks are a method of warfare that in themselves do not violate the laws of war.” This is the case if the tactic is used by legitimate combatants against purely military targets in a time and place of war.
In fact, HRW finds that “as weapons [suicide attacks] are very discriminate: a suicide bomber is able to detonate with an accuracy that exceeds that of the most sophisticated guided weapon.” An Iraqi resistance fighter would inflict far fewer civilian casualties from a suicide attack against a U.S. military installation than a U.S. bomber would inflict from carpet bombing Iraqi cities. But because U.S. soldiers are the victims of suicide bombing and not carpet bombing, Americans hold the former as the epitome of evil and the latter as perfectly acceptable: hey, it’s war!
The American mentality is very easy to understand: they suicide attack our soldiers, so it’s terrorism and morally atrocious. We carpet bomb them, so it’s perfectly acceptable: what do you expect in a time of a war?
Forget just carpet bombing: “A Gallup poll in August [of 1945] revealed that 85 percent [of Americans] approved of the use of the atomic bomb against Japanese cities.” In fact, a poll for Fortune magazine found that another “22.7 percent of respondents agreed with the sentiment: ‘We should have quickly used many more of the [atomic] bombs before Japan had a chance to surrender.’” Worse yet, a “December 1944 Gallup poll found that 13 percent of respondents favored the killing of all Japanese” after the war: men, women, and children; or, in the words of the chairman of the U.S. government agency the War Manpower Commission, “[t]he extermination of the Japanese in toto.” (All quotes in this paragraph taken from pp.13-14 of Prof. Sahr Conway-Lanz’s Collateral Damage.)
That such sizable percentages of Americans support carpet and atomic bombings should really cause us to understand Pew’s poll results–and Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s rantings–with some much-needed perspective.
What MSNBC’s article, Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s quote, and the Global Secular Humanist Movement’s posting, fail to mention is that an even greater percentage of Americans–of many different religions or no religion at all–justify the targeting and killing of civilians. This is something I pointed out in an earlier article of mine: Gallup Poll: Jews and Christians Way More Likely than Muslims to Justify Killing Civilians. This showed that an overwhelming majority of U.S. Muslims (78%) stated that it is never morally justifiable to target and kill civilians, compared to only 38% of Protestants, 39% of Catholics, 43% of Jews, 33% of Mormons, and 56% of people with no religion/atheists/agnostics:
The wily Islamophobes feebly argued back, saying:
The survey is of American Muslims, who are unlikely to be representative of Muslims in Muslim countries or of Muslims in Europe.
Of course, the Global Secular Humanist Movement will quickly put up its hands and say: “But, we’re atheists!” To this, I point out that U.S. Muslims were much more likely to say attacks against civilians are never justifiable (78% vs. 56%). Aren’t these “secular humanists” beholden to scientific means? Why then don’t they mention in their posting the results from the control group(s)? Doing so would of course nullify their thesis. The fact that U.S. Muslims are more likely to condemn attacks aimed against civilians completely negates their argument that wow, look at how many Moozlums support suicide attacks!
Anti-Muslim ideologues always link present day Muslim violence to Islamic scripture: the implication is that such a sizable percentage of young Muslims believe in suicide bombing because of their religion. In fact, the opposite holds true: these young Muslims believe in suicide bombing in spite of their religion.
Indeed, such a large percentage of Muslims abhor the targeting and killing of civilians because of their religious canon, which–unlike the Jewish and Christian counterparts–condemns such a thing. Whereas Moses in the Bible orders his soldiers to “kill all the boys and kill every woman” (Numbers 31:17), Muhammad explicitly forbade targeting civilians on numerous occasions, saying: “Do not kill an infirm old man, an infant, a child, or a woman.” (Sunan Abu Dawood, book 14, #2608)
The Quran also forbids suicide, which is why the overwhelming majority of Muslims oppose suicide bombing, even against purely military targets. Admittedly, it is true that there exists a debate in some Muslim circles about the morality of suicide attacks against both soldiers and civilians. However, it is very simplistic to draw the following conclusion:
X percent of Muslims say suicide bombing is sometimes justifiable. If there exist Y number of Muslims, then that’s a lot of suicide bombers!
This is an erroneous and hasty conclusion. Rather, X percent of Muslims stating that suicide bombing is sometimes morally justifiable is often simply a manifestation of their sympathies and solidarity with Muslims fighting occupation, specifically Palestinians. The MSNBC article reads:
…Radwan Masmoudi, president of the Washington-based Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy…said most supporters of the attacks likely assumed the context was a fight against occupation — a term Muslims often use to describe the conflict with Israel.
Many of these Muslims may fear that condemning such tactics entirely would rob the resistance fighters of their moral high-ground. It does not mean that they themselves will go out and suicide bomb, no more than it would mean based on the poll results above that an average American would go out and start shooting Muslim civilians.
That a small but sizable portion of Muslims would justify Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians in the Occupied Territories may sound horrifying, but it ought to be understood in perspective: American and Israeli Jews are more likely to justify targeting and killing civilians (see results above). Disturbingly, a survey conducted by Haifa University’s Center for the Study of National Security found that a majority of Israeli Jews support a policy of ethnic cleansing against Palestinians.
To this day, Americans debate the morality of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with an unsettling majority of them thinking these attacks to be justified. It would not surprise me if some American readers of our site would go on to justify atomic bombing of Japan in the comments section below.
To be perfectly clear, I find both suicide bombing and atomic bombing to be morally repugnant. But, atomic bombing is more atrocious by an order of magnitude: it is the ultimate indiscriminate weapon of mass destruction. A minority of Muslims thinking that suicide bombing is sometimes morally justifiable is hardly as worrisome as a majority of Americans thinking that atomic bombing is perfectly morally justifiable.
* * * * *
Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s quote can be further criticized for focusing on Muslims in only one decade of life (aged 18 to 29). One could easily inflate the number of Christian, Jewish, or atheist/agnostic Americans who believe that targeting and killing civilians is permissible by focusing on that demographic with the highest results. For example, older Americans are more likely to think this way, meaning those percentages would be even higher.
As the MSNBC article itself notes, “nearly 80 percent of U.S. Muslims say suicide bombings of civilians to defend Islam can not be justified, 13 percent say they can be, at least rarely.” That 13% pales in front of the 58% of Protestants, 58% of Catholics, 52% of Jews, 64% of Mormons, and 43% of people with no religion/atheists/agnostics who argue that it is sometimes morally acceptable for the military to target and kill civilians.
Lastly, I would like to close with a message to the Global Secular Humanist Movement: shame on you for promoting an anti-Muslim demagogue and hatemonger like Ayaan Hirsi Ali. It is the equivalent of posting up a quote by David Duke on Judaism. But of course, the GSHM would find it very easy to levy attacks against an embattled minority in the U.S. (Muslims), but would never dare upset Jewish people in the same way. Muslims are easy targets; GSHM knows that if it did the same thing to Jews, it “would get f*@king buried.”
Religious tolerance is a key feature of secular, liberal democracy in the American tradition. Although I am not one to engage in nationalistic tribalism, I do deeply admire my country’s legacy of religion-friendly secularism, which stands in stark contrast to the religion-hostile (and un-American) French-style secularism. Indeed, this latter style of secularism was born out of, and led to, an orgy of violence. Intolerant secularists like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the Global Secularist Humanist Movement emulate the religious intolerance they supposedly decry. One can hardly tell the difference between the rantings of “secularist” Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Christian Islamophobes; in fact, one will find the two routinely sharing notes and being very cozy with one another. Case in point: GSHM’s quote of Ayaan Hirsi Ali has become very popular among Christian Islamophobic circles. New Atheists like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens lost all their credibility by jumping on the Islamophobic bandwagon; GSHM loses its credibility by posting Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s hateful screed.
Perhaps GSHM has taken up Ayaan Hirsi Ali because, as noted in yesterday’s featured article, “Ayaan Hirsi Ali (an exmuslim) has replaced Hitchens as the one of the Four Horsemen of New Atheism.” The truth is that she can hardly be considered a horseman: she’s just an ass. Ironically but unsurprisingly, it is asses like Ayaan Hirsi Ali who do more to undermine the cause of secularism and liberal democracy in the Muslim majority world than anybody else. But more on that another time.
According to Obama logic we should not care about the fact that the elected Parliament of Pakistan has called for a cessation to all drone activity.
And people wonder why America is hated? It’s because you’re killing people on their way to offering prayers. For every murdered “insurgent”, or “militant”, or “terrorist” (whatever you want to call it) 10s of 100s of more innocent civilians are being murdered.:
PESHAWAR –At least 10 people were killed and several others sustained injuries when unmanned US predator drone targeted a mosque in Mir Ali area of North Waziristan Agency on Thursday.
Sources said that earlier the death toll was put at six which later rose to 10 with several others were still in critical condition. The mosque was completely destroyed as two missiles were fired on it. Identities of the victims in the strike are not known immediately as North Waziristan is a far-flung mountainous tribal area bordering Afghanistan.
This was the fourth strike since Parliament in March demanded an end to the drone hits and first attack after the Chicago Summit.
Forty-five US missile strikes were reported in Pakistan’s tribal belt in 2009, 101 in 2010 and 64 in 2011.
Agencies add: The attack, in the Khassokhel village near Mir Ali in the North Waziristan, was the second to take place in less than 24 hours.
Aimed at a suspected militant hideout, Uzbek insurgents made up the majority of the fatalities from the strike, which will surely work to further the growing governmental tensions between the United States and Pakistan.
Local tribesmen said 10 bodies were pulled from the debris and that efforts were underway to retrieve others.
“The drone fired two missiles and hit the village mosque where a number of people were offering Fajr (morning) prayers,” local tribal elder Roashan Din told NBC News.
We are told that in Afghanistan they only get upset when the occupying forces “burn Korans.” The protests, we are told, have nothing to do with the bombing and murdering of innocent civilians, you know the Greater Islamophobia.
Now we have one more instance of a soldier liquidating the lives of innocent Muslim civilians in a clearly premeditated fashion. How much do you want to bet he gets off scott free or with a suspended sentence like the last guy?
Sixteen Afghan civilains including three women and nine children have been shot dead in their homes by a rogue US soldier in a pre-dawn rampage.
President Hamid Karzai condemned the slaughter on Sunday as “unforgivable” and furiously demanded an explanation from Washington.
“When Afghan people are killed deliberately by US forces this action is murder and terror and an unforgivable action,” Karzai said in statement.
Senior US officials were scrambling to determine what caused the soldier to go on a shooting spree after leaving his base in southern Afghanistan, apparently heavily-armed and carrying night-vision equipment.
Officials confirmed that the soldier was being detained in Kandahar and that the military was treating at least five wounded.
One US official said the soldier, an Army staff sergeant, was believed to have acted alone and that initial reports indicated he returned to the base after the shooting and turned himself in.
Gen. John Allen, the top US commander in Afghanistan, issued a statement pledging a “rapid and thorough investigation” into the shooting spree, and said the soldier will remain in US custody.
The US embassy in Kabul sent out an alert to its citizens in Afghanistan warning that as a result of the shooting “there is a risk of anti-American feelings and protests in coming days”.
An AFP news agency reporter at the scene of the killings counted the bodies of 16 people. In one house, an elderly woman screamed: “May God kill the only son of Karzai, so he feels what we feel.”
The shootings come at a particularly sensitive and critical time for the US, just as violence over the burning of Muslim holy books at a US base was starting to calm down. At least 41 people were killed in the violence.
Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith, reporting from Herat, said the soldier entered three houses near the base and opened fire on civilians.
“We are now being told by the police sources that the US soldier left his base at three o clock this morning. It would have been pitch-black wherever he walked,” he said.
“The soldier went through three separate houses, shooting at people as they slept in their beds. After the soldier shot these people, he turned himself in.”
“It is frankly disastrous. It is not just a disaster for the people who were murdered and killed in their houses, it is disaster for the country I suspect,” our correspondent said.
Najeeb Azizi, a Kabul-based Afghan analyst, said the shooting will have deep repercussions on the already tenuous relations with the US.
“It is a very tragic incident in particular because the Afghan and US governments are trying to sign a strategic agreement for a long term,” he said.
“A very bad message the Afghan people are getting – that if US military remains in Afghanistan beyond 2014 and their attitude and behaviour remains the same – of killing innocent civilians- what will be the consequences, and how will the Afghan people respond to it.”
(Note: Image quality has improved, thanks to a reader named Mohamed S.)
However, he wrote:
(I generally agree, but there are a couple of problems here, see below)
Prof. Cole’s first problem with my article was with regard to shading Iran red (red = countries the U.S. or Israel have bombed):
I may be having a senior moment, but I actually don’t think the US has bombed Iran. It shot down an Iranian civilian air liner in 1988 and has backed the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) or People’s Jihadis to blow things up in Iran. It also gave tactical support to Saddam Hussein’s military in the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988, and so bombed Iran by proxy. But I can’t remember any direct US military strike on the country.
In my article, I explained why I shaded Iran red. I wrote:
Explosion follows two blasts that occurred in Iran in recent weeks at sites linked to Tehran’s nuclear program.
At least seven people were killed Sunday night in an explosion at a steel mill in the Iranian city of Yazd. Foreign nationals, possibly North Korean nuclear arms experts, are believed to be among the dead.
The explosion follows two blasts that occurred in Iran in recent weeks at sites linked to Tehran’s nuclear program…
The explosions in the past few months join a series of assassination attempts on Iranian nuclear scientists over the past two years…
Attacks targeting nuclear scientists and sites lead some observers to believe that the U.S. and Israel are trying to derail Iran’s programs…
However, many former U.S. intelligence officials and Iran experts believe that the explosion — the most destructive of at least two dozen unexplained blasts in the last two years — was part of a covert effort by the U.S., Israel and others to disable Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. The goal, the experts say, is to derail what those nations fear is Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons capability and to stave off an Israeli or U.S. airstrike to eliminate or lessen the threat.
Therefore, I did not feel it unreasonable to include Iran in countries that America/Israel have bombed, although I did preface it with “[a]ccording to some experts…”
Then, Prof. Cole wrote:
Also, the US has had no base in Uzbekistan since 2005.
Uzbekistan is once again allowing the US to use a base in the south of the country for operations in Afghanistan…
US troops were evicted from Uzbekistan in 2005 after the US condemned it for shooting protesters in Andijan city.
However, Prof. Cole is correct: these U.S. troops are using an Uzbek, not American, base. This is something I should have pointed out and is an error on my part for which I thank Prof. Cole for pointing out.
Nonetheless, this error makes little substantive difference: there is still a U.S. military presence in that country, regardless of if they are stationed on a U.S. base, an Uzbek one, a farm house, or a dog house.
In retrospect, perhaps I should have entitled the image “Countries the U.S. and Israel Have Bombed and Have Troops Stationed in,” (which doesn’t flow from the tongue as easily).
Finally, there is a logical fallacy because having a US base in a country is the result of a bilateral agreement and it isn’t always unpopular, even at the level of the person on the street. In the Cold War, Turks were very happy to have the US presence to deter the Soviets.
I humbly disagree that this was “a logical fallacy” on my part. I never denied that there was a substantial difference between a military base resulting from “a bilateral agreement” and one resulting from a military occupation.
However, there is also a difference between (say) “a bilateral agreement” with the U.K. on the one hand and Pakistan on the other. The former is treated as an ally, whereas the latter is treated as a vassal state. The U.S. strong-armed the Pakistani leadership into acquiescing to American demands (do what we want or else “we will bomb you back to the Stone Age”) even though it was clearly not in their national interest to do so (well, not being bombed back to the Stone Age made it their national interest).
This leads to the second issue: these “bilateral agreements” are often highly unpopular among the people of such countries. As a democratic country, shouldn’t we care about the will of the people? Or do we follow a long tradition of colonialism and make deals with the elite crony leadership that has ingratiated itself to us at the expense of their people?
Prof. Cole goes on to argue that U.S. military bases arranged through bilateral agreements aren’t “always unpopular, even at the level of the person on the street.” He gives the example of Turkey in the Cold War. However, there is a greater issue at stake here: even if a U.S. military base is popular in one particular country, we must consider its popularity in neighboring countries and the region overall. If the Soviet Union had created a military base in Cuba (which the Cubans may have very much liked), would we have liked it? Or would we have (rightfully) considered it threatening?
So, even if a U.S. base in (say) Saudi Arabia was arranged through “bilateral agreement” and was (let’s pretend) popular with the Saudi people, this would still be problematic since its presence is threatening to other countries in the region, whose people view the United States and Israel as the two greatest threats to their safety.
The bottom line is that the overwhelming military presence of the United States in the Greater Middle East is responsible for creating resentment in those people who are either living in lands we occupy, station our troops in, or whom we surround.
* * * * *
I should mention that I hold Prof. Juan Cole in very high regard. He is a respected expert in the field, and I issue my response only very timidly. Furthermore, I welcome the very real possibility that I am mistaken.
Prof. Cole just added:
Still, that there are a lot of resentments because of knee-jerk US backing (since the late 1960s) for Israeli hawks and because of the way the US and its ally have sought hegemony in the region, so the mapmaker has a point.
I agree, but would just add that it adds resentment not just in people who live in Turkey but those who live in the region in general.
Lastly, I should point out that I doubt Turks still view the U.S. bases in their country positively, based on the fact that a plurality of Turks view America as the greatest threat to their national security (not surprisingly, Israel comes in at number 2).
An Informed Comment reader named Shannon pointed out that in fact the United States bombed Iran in 1988 during Operating Praying Mantis, an act that “cannot be justified” according to the International Court of Justice.
Under Barack Obama, the U.S. is currently bombing Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya. According to some reports (see here and here), we can add Iran to this ever-expanding list. [Update: An Informed Comment reader named Shannon pointed out that in fact the United States bombed Iran in 1988 during Operating Praying Mantis, an act that "cannot be justified" according to the International Court of Justice.]
Thanks to American arms and funding, our “stalwart ally” Israel has bombed every single one of its neighbors, including Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. Israel has also bombed Tunisia and Iraq (how many times can Americans and Israelis bomb this country?).
The total number of Muslim countries that America and Israel have bombed comes to fourteen: Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Iran, Sudan, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Tunisia.
Here’s what that looks like on a map of the Greater Middle East:
(Note: Image quality improved thanks to a reader named Mohamed S.)
I wonder where those silly Muslims come up with the conspiratorial, absolutely irrational idea that the U.S. is waging war against the Muslim world?
If you haven’t already seen this video, I strongly suggest you watch it:
With seven active wars in seven different Muslim countries, it is quite an amazing thing that Americans can have the audacity to ask: “why are Muslims so violent and warlike?”
But, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The New York Times reports that President Barack Obama “widened” the war, which is now being waged across “two continents” in “roughly a dozen countries — from the deserts of North Africa, to the mountains of Pakistan, to former Soviet republics,” using “robotic drones and commando teams” as well as “contractors” and “local operatives.”
Even more worrisome, the Washington Post reports that America’s “secret wars” are waged by “Special Operations forces” in “75 countries” (and “that number will likely reach 120″); in other words, the United States will have engaged in military acts in over 60% of the world’s nation-states. After all of this, Americans will turn around and ask: “why are Muslims so violent and warlike?”
Could it possibly be more obvious that the War on Terror is just a pretext for global domination?
* * * * *
Every four years, Americans get the illusion of choice: the choice between Democrat and Republican. In terms of foreign policy, the difference is like the difference between Coke and Pepsi. In the last election, John McCain sang a variation of the famous Beach Boys song “Barbara Ann,” changing the lyrics to “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran!”; meanwhile, Barack Obama hinted at expanding the war to Pakistan. The American voter was given the choice not between war and peace, but between war against Iran or war against Pakistan.
In the national discourse, there exists a bipartisan consensus on the need for perpetual war: both candidates agreed on the need to expand the War on of Terror and attack more Muslim countries. There was no confusion about whether or not to bomb, invade, and occupy–the question was only where to do this. If the Muslim world were imagined to be a turkey, the question was then only whether to begin munching on the leg first or to start with the breast.
President Barack Obama may have disagreed with his predecessor’s tactics, but he agreed with the Bush/Cheney world view. Obama may have thought we could move around troops here and there–let’s move some of these troops from Iraq to Afghanistan–but he did not disagree with the basic premise, overall methods, and goals of the Bush/Cheney War on of Terror.
Interestingly, Obama was considered to be “the peace candidate”; even more absurd of course was that he ended up winning the Noble Peace Prize. While it is true that the Democratic Obama has tended to use less hawkish language, in terms of actions Obama has a worse record than Bush: Obama has expanded the War on of Terror, both in terms of covert and overt wars.
Why did a “liberal” Democrat (Barack Obama) end up being more warlike than a “hawkish” Republican (George Bush)? There is of course the obvious explanation of war inertia. But aside from this, there must be something deeper, which is apparent if we look at the situation between what were historically the two large parties in Israel.
Western media (see Time Magazine, for example), portrays the Labor Party as “dovish” and Likud as “hawkish”. Certainly, in terms of rhetoric this is true. But, is it really true? According to experts in the field–such as Prof. Noam Chomsky and Dr. Norman Finkelstein–Labor has had a far worse track record toward Palestinians than the Likud. Labor and Likud play good cop, bad cop toward Palestinians–or rather bad cop, badder cop. But while the two parties disagree on rhetoric and tactics, they share similar overall goals.
The same is the case with Democrats and Republicans. The Democrats use softer rhetoric, whereas the Republicans continually push the national discourse (the “center”) rightward. But, because a Democratic president must counter the accusation that he is “weak” on matters of “defense” (Orwell: offense is defense), he must be Strong and Tough against Terrorism. Effectively this means that his war policy becomes virtually indistinguishable from that of the political right.
Furthermore, President Barack Obama has done something that no Republican could do: he has brought bipartisan consensus to the state of perpetual and global war. During the reign of George Bush, prominent liberal progressives criticized his warlike policies. In fact, this was one of the motivating factors behind electing Obama, who would bring “Change.” Yet, when Obama brought more of the same, most liberal progressives fell silent, a hypocrisy that did not go unnoticed by conservatives.
It took a “liberal” Democrat to expand the War on of Terror and give it bipartisan consensus, just as it took a conservative Republican (Richard Nixon) to make peace with Communist China.
Under the two-party system, it really does not matter which side wins. A Republican candidate might sound more warlike than a Democrat, but once in office, he softens his position somewhat due to Democratic opposition (even though most of the Democrats won’t vote against war resolutions). Meanwhile, a Democrat president must prove that he is Strong and Tough against Terrorism, so he hardens his position. In the end, Democratic and Republican presidents are moved to the political “center” (which keeps getting pushed ever more to the right), so that the two are virtually indistinguishable from each other. Perhaps Barack Obama was onto something when he said:
There’s not a liberal America or a conservative America; there’s the United States of America.
It is true: America’s politicians are united in their endorsement of perpetual and global war.
The United States has a long history of bipartisan consensus when it comes to waging wars of aggression. In 1846, the country was divided between the hawkish Democratic party led by President James K. Polk and the supposedly dovish Whig party. Polk’s administration saber-rattled against Mexico in order to justify invading and occupying their land. Meanwhile, “[t]he Whig party was presumably against the war,” but “they were not so powerfully against the military action that they would stop it by denying men and money for the operation” (p.153 of Prof. Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States). In fact, the “Whigs joined Democrats in voting overwhelmingly for the war resolution, 174 to 14.” They did so, because “[t]hey did not want to risk the accusation that they were putting American soldiers in peril by depriving them of the materials necessary to fight.” The only dissenters were “a small group of antislavery Whigs, or a ‘little knot of ultraists,’ as one Massachusetts Congressman who voted for the war measure put it.” Perhaps among them was Ron Paul’s great grandfather.
The measure passed the Congress (174 to 14) and the Senate (40 to 2), “Whigs joining Democrats.” The Whigs “could only harry the administration with a barrage of verbiage while voting for every appropriation which the military campaigns required.” In any case, “the United States would be giving the blessings of liberty and democracy” to the Mexicans. Any of this sound familiar?
Flash forward to today and we see the establishment left consistently supporting America’s wars of aggression. Even while these avowed liberals criticize right-wingers for warmongering against Iran, they themselves often saber-rattle against Pakistan and even Saudi Arabia. The right thinks we’re doing something great in Iraq and wants to expand the war to Iran (which we may already have done). Meanwhile, the left thinks we were right to bomb Afghanistan and that we should expand the war to Pakistan (which we’ve already done). Neither left or right opposes foreign wars altogether. The difference is only with regard to the names of the countries we bomb, which doesn’t really matter since the truth is that we are bombing all of them now.
This is because both left and right agree with the Supreme Islamophobic Myth: that Islam (or radical Islam) is the greatest threat to world peace. This inevitably leads to the central tenet of Islamophobia, which is to endorse the Supreme Islamophobic Crime: bombing, invading, and occupying Muslim lands.
Peace can only be attained when one is disabused of this mother of nationalistic myths. This can only be done by realizing that it is the United States that is the greatest threat to peace in the region (look at the map!). Consider that the U.S. has bombed at least a dozen Muslim countries in recent history, whereas zero Muslim countries have bombed the U.S. If “wars of aggression” constitute “the supreme international crime”–as decided during the Nuremberg Trials–then what does it say about the situation when America has initiated multiple wars of aggression against the Muslim world whereas no single Muslim country has done so against the United States?
No Muslim country has attacked us because the risks of doing so are far too great; it would mean almost certain destruction. This is why, even though the map of the Middle East in the image above looks like it does, no Muslim country has the audacity to retaliate. Meanwhile, the U.S.–as the world’s only superpower–can attack multiple smaller countries without fear of significant retaliation to the American heartland. Therefore, it only makes sense for people of conscience, especially Americans, to be highly critical of U.S. foreign policy.
* * * * *
Something else troubling I’ve noticed about the national discourse is how even those opposed to war (or at least one set of wars) will frame their opposition in financial terms. The primary argument to convince Americans against war seems not to be the fact that war is immoral, that bombing countries and killing so many countless civilians is morally repugnant, but rather that it’s just too costly to do so. It’s our wallets, not our soul, that is at stake.
Another argument that takes precedence over the moral argument includes the idea that too many of our troops are dying (victim inversion); alternatively, it is argued (rightfully) that such wars increase the likelihood of terrorism against us (another example of victim inversion).
During the Nuremberg Trials, it was decided that initiating a war of aggression constituted “the supreme international crime”:
To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.
Of what moral character would you consider a Nazi official if he argued against Hitler’s wars on the basis of “it will cost too much German tax payer money” or “it will kill too many German soldiers” or “it may result in retaliation against Germany?” (Refer to Glenn Greenwald’s article on Godwin’s law.)
Would it not be better to use as one’s central argument against America’s wars that it is morally repugnant to bomb and kill people?
Note: This article is page III of a series on the Christian just war tradition. If you haven’t already, might I suggest that you first read page I (the introduction) and page II (about the early Church).
Saint Ambrose (Fourth Century)
The relationship between Christianity and imperialism traces itself all the way back to the early Church fathers who enlisted themselves as “prayer warriors” for the Roman armies (read page II: Was the Early Church Really Pacifist?). However, even though they prayed for the success and preservation of the Pax Romana, the early Christians felt uncomfortable serving as soldiers in a largely pagan military.
This changed with the conversion to Christianity of Rome’s emperor, Constantine the Great (272-337 AD). Wim Smit writes on p.108 of Just War and Terrorism:
With the reign of Constantine (306-337) and the acceptance of Christianity as the state religion, the attitude of most Christians towards military service changed. The question no longer was: can service to God be reconciled with service to the emperor, but what kind of conditions and rules should be satisfied during battle? This revolution in Christian thought started with Ambrose…and was later systematised by his pupil Augustine (354), who can be seen as the founder of the just war tradition.
Saint Ambrose (340-397 AD) served as a Roman imperial officer and sought to justify the Empire’s wars. Prof. Christopher Tyerman writes on p.33 of God’s War:
The conversion of Constantine and the final recognition of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman empire in 381 prompted the emergence of a set of limited principles of Christian just war which, by virtue of being fought by the Faithful, could be regarded as holy. The identification of the Roman empire with the church of God allowed Christians to see in the secular state their protector,the pax Romana being synonymous with Christian Peace. For the state, to its temporal hostes were added enemies of the Faith, pagan barbarians and, more immediately dangerous, religious heretics within the empire. Eusebius of Caesarea, historian of Constantine’s conversion, in the early fourth century reconciled traditional Christian pacifism with the new duties of the Christian citizen by pointing to the distinction between the clergy, immune from military service, and the laity, now fully encouraged to wage the just wars for the Christian empire. Ambrose of Milan (d. 397), as befitted a former imperial official, consolidated this symbiosis of the Graeco-Roman and Christian: Rome and Christianity were indissolubly united, their fates inextricably linked. Thus the war of one was that of the other, all Rome’s wars were just in the same way that those of the Old Testament Israelites have been; even heresy could be depicted as treason. Ambrose’s version of the Christian empire and the wars to protect it which constituted perhaps the earliest formulation of Christian warfare was, therefore, based on the union of church and state; hatred of foreigners in the shape of barbarians and other external foes; and a sharp intolerance towards dissent and internal debate, religious and political.
The term “barbarian” comes from the Greek word barbaros, meaning “anyone who is not Greek.” The Romans expanded the word to refer to anyone outside of the Greco-Roman world. It was thought that the “civilized world” referred to the Roman Empire, which was surrounded by “barbarians.” Prof. Glen Warren Bowersock writes on p.334 of Late Antiquity:
The term barbarian[ was] derived from Greek ideals of cultural “otherness”…The image of barbaricum began at the frontiers…There was the idea of a wall around the empire, separating Rome from the other gentes [nations]…Every “good” emperor set up inscriptions of himself as domitor gentium barbararum [conqueror of the barbarian nations]…Barbarians were contemptible, unworthy enemies…Many stereotypes were simply ethnocentric [racist]…Barbarians were natural slaves, animals, faithless, dishonest, treasonable, arrogant, drunken sots…
Christians were not detached from the construction of these images…Some, like Ambrose, projected barbarians as drunks and faithless savages…
The pax Romana had to be “defended” against these “barbarians,” something which was done by conquering their lands. This imperial mentality was, from the very start, accepted by Christianity. The early Church fathers, for example, believed that “God ordained the imperial powers” to “advanc[e] the gospel;” they appreciated “the value of a Pax Romana maintained by force.” The “barbarians” surrounding the Roman Empire threatened not just the state, but also the Church; their paganism and heresy was a threat against true belief. Therefore, war against them had to be justified. Who better to justify this than the former imperial officer Ambrose of Milan? Prof. Frederick H. Russell writes on p.13 of The Just War in the Middle Ages:
The fuller development of a Christian just war theory was furthered in the writings of Ambrose, a new kind of Christian. Trained in imperial administration and the former prefect in Milan, Ambrose brought a Roman political orientation to his ministry…The courage of soldiers who defended the Empire against barbarians…was full of justice, and Ambrose prayed for the success of imperial armies.
Prof. Russell writes further:
To the Roman animosity toward the barbarian was added the element of religious animosity between believer and unbeliever, thus rendering the internal and external threats to the Pax Romana more politically explosive. To point the way out of this crisis Ambrose about 378 the De Fide Christiana for the Emperor Gratian, who was at the time attempting to consolidate Roman authority on the Danube after the defeat of the Arian Valens by the Visigoths. Ambrose assured Gratian of victory, for it had been foretold in the prophecies of Ezekiel and confirmed by Gratian’s faith. Ambrose even identified Gog, the wicked enemy of Ezekiel’s prophecies, with the contemporary Goths, who were thereby destined to destruction.
The just war theory was thus generated as a way “to point the way out of this crisis,” the crisis being the need “to consolidate Roman authority.” Ambrose believed that “Christians engaged in combat against an alien faith should have the aid of an orthodox Emperor” (Ibid., p.14). Prof. Russell goes on to say:
Ambrose instinctively regarded all barbarians as enemies (hostes) of the Roman people. Wherever heresy, or perfidia as Ambrose legalistically termed it, broke out, attacks on the Empire would soon follow. Thus in Ambrose’s mind catholic orthodoxy stood or fell with Pax Romana. Fides Romana and fides catholica were coextensive and mutually interdependent. Should the amalgam of those two qualities disintegrate, the world would come to an end. In response Ambrose desired a sort of perpetual holy war motivated by the bellicose virtues of Joshua and Maccabees who had fought for God and their rights.
Civil wars and rebellions within the Empire were to be avoided, whereas Rome’s foreign wars were to be justified. Indeed, the emerging doctrine was to be applied to fellow Christians in order to prevent themselves from fighting each other when they could be fighting the infidel instead. Prof. Alex J. Bellamy writes on p.24 of Just Wars:
Ambrose was the first thinker systematically to blend Christian teachings with Roman law and philosophy (Johnson 1987:54). He followed Cicero in acknowledging the possibility of justifiable wars and recognizing the difference between abhorrent civil wars and wars fought against barbarians (Swift 1970:533-4). Wars against barbarians, Ambrose argued, were legitimate because they protected both the empire and the Christian orthodoxy.
Ambrose, the first thinker behind the just war theory, justified his belief in two ways: (1) He was inspired by the wars in the Old Testament, and (2) He argued that Jesus’s non-violent teachings in the New Testament applied only to individuals but not to states. Prof. Bellamy writes:
Ambrose argued that there were two grounds for justifying war. First, he found evidence in the Old Testament to support the view that not only was violence sometimes justified in order to protect others from harm, it was sometimes required on moral grounds or even directly commanded by God (Swift 1970:535). Second, Ambrose agreed that Jesus’ teaching forbade an individual from killing another in self-defence…Nevertheless he argued that whilst an individual may not kill to save himself, he must act in the defense of others…
Ambrose argued that “wars could only be fought in self-defense (broadly understood, as in the Roman tradition), when directly commanded by God, or in defence of religious orthodoxy”(Ibid.). He “demanded that the state should not tolerate any religion other than Christianity” (p.112 of Ralph Blumenau’s Philosophy and Living). Heretics and pagans should be fought, both within and outside the Empire.
Ambrose melded the Church to the state’s powerful military. “Ambrose proposed that the incorporation of nails from the Cross into the imperial helmet and bridle symbolised Christianity’s support for enduring secular military authority” (p.77-78 of Prof. Michael Witby’s Rome at War). He ”used Christianity to uphold imperial power” (Ibid.), but also used the imperial power to uphold Christianity. The Church provided the state with the religious justification for war. The Church, in return, benefited from these wars by using the state to enforce the faith and punish “barbarians” (pagans and heretics). Prof. Mary L. Foster writes on p.156 of Peace and War:
Ambrose, former praetorian prefect and then bishop of Milan (339-397)[ was] the first to formulate a “Christian ethic of war.” He drew upon the Stoics, particularly Cicero (106-43 B.C.), and legitimized the view by referring to holy wars spoken of in the Old Testament from Abraham and Moses to Maccaebus. Ambrose further justified the view by arguing that Christianity was, and must be, protected against the barbarians by the armed force of the Roman Empire. Both Augustine and Ambrose saw the Christian Empire as empowered to resist paganism and heresy.
For Ambrose, wars fought against pagans and heretics were, by definition, just: “if a Christian general fought a pagan army, he had a just cause” (Prof. Joseph F. Kelly on p.164 of The World of the Early Christians). In fact, the machinery of the state should be used to conquer the world under the banner of Christianity. Prof. Reinhard Bendix writes on p.244 of Embattled Reason:
Ambrose justified war against those who do not belong to the community of the faithful [pagans and heretics]…Warlike actions are justified [against the non-believer]…The goal of Ambrose was to establish a universal faith. All people should be brothers in the common, Christian faith, even if wars against non-believers were needed to accomplish this ideal…
Discrimination against pagans was justified in the eyes of Christian Fathers like Ambrose by the absolute belief in Christ as the only road to salvation. Accordingly, it is man’s religious duty to proclaim, and fight for, this truth in the whole world. Ambrose wrote his commentary decades after Christianity had become the dominant religion of the Roman world, recognized and supported publicly. With this support, Ambrose could presuppose a universal ethic based on a shared belief in [the Christian] God and on that basis fight in the name of the church against the heathens who were still the great majority [outside of the Roman Empire].
Ambrose declared an all-out war against paganism, and recruited the Roman emperors to do so. ”No one was more determined to destroy paganism than Ambrose,” who was “a major influence upon both [Emperors] Gratian and Valentinian II” (Ted Byfield on p.92 of Darkness Descends). In a letter addressed to the Roman emperor, Ambrose wrote:
Just as all men who live under Roman rule serve in the armies under you, the emperors and princes of the world, so too do you serve as soldiers of almighty God and of our holy faith. For there is no sureness of salvation unless everyone worships in truth the true God, that is, the God of the Christians, under whose sway are all things. For he alone is the true God, who is to be worshiped from the bottom of the heart, ‘for the gods of the heathen,’ as Scripture says, ‘are devils.’ (Ibid., p.93)
Here, we see a reciprocal relationship emerging between the Church and Roman state. The Church legitimated Roman wars to expand the Empire and protect its hegemony, so long as the state enforced the Christian religion by fighting against heretics and pagans.
Jews, for example, were infidels worthy of death. James Carroll writes on p.104 of Jerusalem, Jerusalemthat Ambrose “wanted to kill Jews (since, after all, Christian heretics were being killed for denying details of orthodoxy, while Jews rejected the whole of it).” Prof. Jan Willem Drijvers writes on p.144 of Helena Augusta:
Ambrose evidently presents Judaism as a force by its nature opposed to Christianity. At the same time he identifies Christianity with the imperial rule…Ambrose is undoubtedly of the opinion that the emperors should combat Judaism and that the Church and the secular authorities should consider the ruin of Judaism their common cause.
Hand-in-hand then, Church and state were to combat pagans and heretics. Prof. Daniel M. Jr. Bell writes in Just War as Christian Discipleship:
[F]or Ambrose just war was a deeply religious undertaking. This is to say, just war was undertaken for reasons of faith, including defending the faith against pagans as well as the spread of heresy, and the outcome of such wars was determined not by the strength of arms and guile of humans but by the Lord.
Prof. Madeleine P. Cosman writes on pp.262-263 of the Handbook to Life in the Medieval World (Vol.3):
The church’s attitude toward war would indelibly be changed by Constantine’s conversion to Christianity and the so-called Edict of Milan (313), which recognized Christianity as a religion that could be practiced openly; church and state could now be conjoined in the same cause. A momentous meeting in the year 397 of Saint Ambrose, the bishop of Milan (d. 397), and the emperor Gratian resulted in the declaration of Christianity as the official state religion and the concomitant outlawing of other “pagan superstitions.” Church leaders began to encourage rulers to wage a holy war on pagans for the sake of God and the church to defend the empire from heretical “traitors.”
Prof. Tomaz Mastnak writes on p.63 of Crusading Peace:
Along with Augustine, Ambrose of Milan before him and Pope Gregory I later in the sixth century may be credited with doctrinal formulations allowing–or demanding–the use of force against heretics and infidels. Ambrose, for example, eloquently defended Chrsitian violence against the Jews and heretics, representing it as “the judgement of God.” Because the believer had nothing to do with the unbeliever, he argued, the “instances of his unbelief ought to be done away with together with the unbeliever himself.” Inspired by victories granted to Moses, Joshua, Samuel, and David, he wrote about the “presence of the divine assistance” in battles fought by emperors of his day. They went to war against the barbarians to safeguarded “under the shield of faith, and girt with the sword of the Spirit.” The Roman army was led to battle by “Thy Name, Lord Jesus, and They worship,” sure of victory that was given to it by the aid of the Might Supreme as the prize for the Faith. It was “sufficiently plain” that “they, who have broken faith, cannot be safe.”
In principle, war was permissible against heretics and pagans, for the protection of the purity of the Church within, and for the spread of the faith without.
Prof. James Turner Johnson, considered “one of the most influential contemporary interpreters of the [just war] tradition today,” notes on p.38 of The Holy War Idea in Western and Islamic Traditions that the early Christian tradition accepted “[h]oly war as war fought to enforce religious conformity and/or to punish [religious] deviation. This is the sense of holy war found in Ambrose’s suggestion that war might be waged for the purpose of protecting Christian orthodoxy (Ambrose of Milan, On the Christian Faith 2.14.136-43, in Schaff et al. 1896; cf. Swift 1970, 534)” from heretics and pagans.
On p.79, Prof. Johnson notes that “Ambrose and Augustine called for the use of the Roman military…[T]heir calls to arms amounted to episcopal authorization for war against enemies of the faith (Ambrose, On the Christian Faith 2.14.136-43; Augustine, Contra Faustum 22.74-75; Russell 1975: 22-26; Swift 1970).”
There is much discussion, even in some scholarly circles, about “just war” vs. “holy war.” I have read countless books wherein Western authors write of how it “was only during the Crusades that the Christians developed the concept of ‘holy war’ like the Islamic concept of jihad.” These are all bogus discussions. Quite clearly, the Christian just war tradition was the legitimization of “a holy war on pagans” from its very inception. This is the case starting with the originator of the doctrine itself, Saint Ambrose, who harnessed imperial power to promote the Christian faith, a partnership that would outlast the Roman Empire itself.
It is often argued that Jesus Christ (7–2 BC to 30–36 AD) preached pacifism and that this was the stance of the early Church. According to this standard narrative, the Church “fell from Grace” with the conversion of Constantine and it was only then that pacifism was abandoned. Such conventional wisdom, however, is not very accurate.
As for Jesus of the Bible, a closer analysis shows that he was not opposed to violence (see: Jesus Loves His Enemies…And Then Kills Them All). He was (basically) non-violent during his lifetime, all the way up until he was nailed to the cross. At that time, Jesus was not in a position of authority, power, or capacity to do otherwise. He was at the mercy of his enemies.
However, in the Bible itself Jesus promises to kill all his enemies when he returns. At that point in time, he would no longer be a persecuted preacher but a “Warrior King” commanding large armies of both heavenly and earthly beings. How can it then be said that Jesus of the Bible believed in pacifism? His use of non-violent means was temporal and tactical, not principled and value-based.
It hardly matters what people do when they are not in a position to do otherwise. It is once they are in a position of power and authority that what they do really matters. Imagine, for instance, if the Dalai Lama practiced non-violence while his people were still under Chinese authority but at the same time he issued proclamations that he would wage war against the Chinese and kill all their leaders once his country is liberated. Would anyone think of him as pacifist if this were the case?
As for the early Church, the characterization of it as pacifist is also problematic. Modern scholarship has moved away from this outdated conception. For example, Prof. James Turner Johnson, considered “one of the most influential contemporary interpreters of the [just war] tradition today,” notes that the “evidence presents a picture not of a single doctrine [within the early Church], but of plurality; not of universal rejection of war and military service, but of a mixture of acceptance and rejection of these phenomena in different sectors of the Christian world” (p.17 of Johnson’s The Quest for Peace).
There was no one view among early Church fathers with regard to war and military service. Instead, the evidence suggests that there existed a multitude of views on this issue, a fact that “challenges the conventional view of the early church [as uniformly pacifist]” (Prof. J. Daryl Charles on p.108 of War, Peace, and Christianity). Prof. James Turner Johnson, Prof. J. Daryl Charles, and many others have argued the point that even those Church fathers who were opposed to military service were so not because of a principled belief in pacifism but (1) because they believed the return of Jesus to be imminent and (2) because being a part of the pagan Roman military would involve idolatry.
Prof. J. Daryl Charles notes that the early Church’s abstention from military service was due to “the predominance of a conspicuously otherworldly expectation–the expectation of the coming of Christ’s kingdom” and the “rejection of idolatrous practices within the Roman army” (Ibid., pp.109-110). Neither reason could be used to support a principled belief in pacifism. As for the first reason, this implies that the early Church was not opposed to the use of violence, only that they were waiting to use it upon Christ’s return (an event they believed would occur imminently, even in their own lifetimes). If, for example, the Tamil Tigers abstained from violence until their leader was released from jail, would anyone believe this to be support for pacifism?
Furthermore, this “otherworldly” attitude applied not just to military service but to all “worldly matters.” They were in a state of “praying continually, watching and fasting, preaching to all they could reach, paying no heed to worldly matters, as things with which they had nothing to do, only accepting from those whom they taught as much as was absolutely necessary for life” (p.86 of Henry Donald Maurice Spence-Jones’ The Church of England, Vol. 1). They did not involve themselves in matters of state at all, including but not limited to military service. One cannot equate this to a belief in pacifism any more than it would mean a rejection of governance.
In other words, just because early Christians did not believe that they themselves should not participate in such functions did not mean they thought it was wrong for others to do so. For example, many Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel enroll in religious schools and are thus exempted from military service. As religious students and rabbis, they believe that their lives should be dedicated to Jewish studies and many expect the rest of society to support them. But even though they themselves refuse to serve in the military, many of them strongly support the Israeli military and indiscriminate violence against Palestinians. When other Israelis criticize them as chickenhawks for refusing to serve in the military (even as they push Israel to perpetual war), the standard response by these Ultra-Orthodox Jews is that they serve the IDF in a religious capacity: they pray for the military’s success. No rational person would have the temerity to say that these Ultra-Orthodox Jews are pacifist. They might not want to go to war themselves, but they are certainly not opposed to it.
Likewise, the early Church was not opposed to war or the Roman military itself; they just didn’t want any “worldly” function in it themselves. The Church fathers actually prayed for the success of the Roman military in its imperial wars against “barbarians.” Here, we see the emergence of a theme that emerged with the early Church and sustained itself throughout Christian history: the support for European imperialism. Prof. Gabriel Palmer-Fernandez writes on p.78 of The Encyclopedia of Religion and War:
In fact, numerous Christian writers in the first three centuries already affirmed that God ordained the existing imperial powers, including their coercive functions, for maintaining order, restraining sin, and advancing the gospel. The injunction of Paul to “be subject to the governing authorities” whose authority has been “instituted by God” (Romans 13:1-7 NRSV; cf. 1 Peter 2:13-17) was echoed in the writings of Justin, Tertullian, and Origen (185?-254?). Each author acknowledged the benefits of Roman order as part of God’s plan and assured the authorities of Christian support and prayers.
Prof. Palmer-Fernandez goes on to say that “these early writers were also expressing appreciation for the value of a Pax Romana maintained by force.”
The Church fathers saw themselves very much in the same way that Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel see themselves, and as pagan Roman priests in that time also did. Prof. Darrell Cole writes in a section entitled “Fighting Through Prayer” in his book When God Says War is Right:
The Christian pacifism movement claims Origen (A.D. 185-254) as a hero, but it’s hard to decide whether the term “pacifist” can truly and fairly be applied to him, at least in the way we think of it today. To modern ears, pacifism means the complete rejection of warfare as an inherently immoral practice. This was not Origen’s view, though he was certainly opposed to Christians becoming soldiers.
The only work where Origen was concerned with Christian participation in warfare is the polemical Contra Celsum written in response to a Roman philosopher named Celsus…[He argued] that all Christians should be give the same considerations as those in the pagan priesthood who were not required to give physical service in the military, but instead served the cause by praying for the emperor and the soldiers to triumph in battle.
[Origen wrote:] And, of course, in war time you do not enlist your priests. If this is a resonable procedure, how much more so is it for Christians to fight as priests and worshipers of God while others fight as soldiers. Though they keep their right hands clean, the Christians fight through their prayers to God on behalf of those doing battle in a just cause and on behalf of an emperor who is ruling justly in order that all opposition and hostility toward those who are acting rightly may be eliminated. (VIII.73)
Moreover, Origen added, Christians supplied an irreplaceable aid to the emperor. By overcoming in prayer the very demons that cause wars, Christians actually help more than soldiers. So even though Christians did not go on campaign with the emperor, they did go to battle for him “by raising a special army of piety through our petitions to God” (VIII.73).
This support and prayer for Rome’s military was at a time when the imperial armies were ever expanding the Empire’s borders. During this time, the Roman Empire was involved in many wars: in the first three centuries A.D., Roman legions conquered lands in modern day Germany, Britain, Wales, Scotland, Romania, etc. Also included in these conquests (and prayed for by the Church) was the conquest of parts of the Middle East.
The early Christians remained passive participants in the military effort not for long. In fact, the “evidence…is fairly strong that from A.D. 170 onward there were significant members of Christians in the [Roman] army, and ‘the numbers of these Chrisitans began to grow, despite occassional efforts to purge Christians from the army [by the Romans], through the second and third centuries into the age of Constantine. We may estimate the number of Christian soldiers at the beginning of the fourth century in the tens of thousands’” (p.112 of Prof. J. Daryl Charles’ War, Peace, and Christianity; he is quoting Johnson’s The Quest for Peace).
Once Constantine converted to Christianity, the early Christians no longer faced the barrier to military service they once had: they no longer needed to fear indulging in the pagan practices of the military. Furthermore, by this time, the Church had realized that Jesus Christ may not be coming back as soon as they thought. As such, it is no surprise that soon afterward Christian theologians would formally tackle the issue of war. Is this not a strong indication that it was the issue of paganism, not a principled adherence to pacifism, that compelled the early Church to be so uneasy with military participation?
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According to the “fall from Grace” theory, the Church suddenly changed its views about pacifism with the conversion of Constantine. If this were really the case, then the question arises: of what relevance is early Christianity’s supposed pacifism during a time when it was not in a position of power? What does it say about such a belief if, the moment Christianity assumed power, this “pacifism” was suddenly abandoned for a policy of imperialism?
The truth is that there wasn’t a sudden reversal of opinion, but rather a gradual development of an idea that had already taken root with the early Church. With the Christianization of the Roman Empire, the West’s imperial power and Christianity would formally fuse together. It would be, as we shall see, a bond that would endure the test of time.
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As I mentioned in the introduction, my intention is not to demonize the entire faith of Christianity. There exists no shortage of Christians today who endorse pacifism and oppose America’s unjust wars in the Muslim world. Such people have my utmost respect. If some of them base their pacifism in their belief that the early Church was pacifist, I don’t see any reason to expend energy trying to set the record straight. I only chose to address this issue since some anti-Muslim Christians forced my hand by continually arguing this point (the early Church was pacifist, look how peaceful our religion is compared to Islam, etc.). Peter Partner writes on p.28 of God of Battles: Holy Wars of Christianity and Islam:
There is a widespread conviction today that [Christianity] is an essentially pacifist religion, and is to be absolutely distinguished from Islam on this account. It is understandable that people bred in Christian tradition should often think in this way, but a careful examination of the evidence seems to point in exactly the opposite direction.
Having said that, I don’t think pacifist Christians should think any of this should stand in the way of their pacifist beliefs. As I mentioned earlier, the early Church fathers seemed to differ among themselves. Anti-military views certainly existed, and even if one cannot find clearly principled pacifism, this is still a starting point that the modern-day Christian can draw on.
Furthermore, I think people of all religions–Jews, Christians, and Muslims–would be a whole lot better off if they didn’t feel the need to validate their beliefs by looking at how their religion was practiced in a mythical “golden age” of the past. This very much limits freedom of thought and religious interpretation. What is needed are new, more merciful and compassionate readings of the text.
By knowing the reality of one’s tradition, reformist believers will be better equipped to deal with the arguments raised by right-wing followers who will bring up a lot of the same points I brought up to justify their beliefs. See, for instance, this article by none other than “Dr.” Robert Morey. Reformist, liberal adherents of religion will be in a stronger theological position if they base their views in fact instead of myth. Instead of always needing to validate your beliefs by citing some guy who lived hundreds of years ago, why not just use a much simpler line of argumentation like the following:
The early Church had a mixed view with regard to war, with a portion of them rejecting military service. After reflecting on the issue myself, I tend to be on the pacifist side. My own reasons might not be the exact same as those held by earlier Christians, but there is much overlap. Furthermore, I don’t need to be 100% beholden to their views.
It is common to hear comparisons between the so-called “just war tradition” in Christianity and the jihad of Islam. We are told that Jesus of the New Testament was non-violent and that the early Church was pacifist. According to this standard narrative, it was only with Constantine that the Church “fell from Grace” and accepted a very limited concept of defensive war, one that sought to limit, restrain, and constrain war. We are told that the violent acts committed by Christians throughout history were done in contradiction to this doctrine.
Many Westerners seem to be under the impression that we can draw a straight line from the ancient Greeks to St. Augustine to Thomas Aquinas to Hugo Grotius to modern international law. This very selective, cursory, and incomplete understanding of history creates a very “generous” depiction of Christian tradition. Once this mythical and fabricated history is created, it is compared to the jihad tradition of Islam. No such “generous” depictions of Islamic tradition are harbored; if anything, the most cynical view possible is taken.
Such an unfair comparison–coupled with a completely Western perspective on contemporary world affairs–begs the question: why is Islam so violent? Why is the Islamic tradition so much more warlike than the Christian one?
Many right-wing Christians and even secular people of the “Judeo-Christian tradition” exhibit a great deal of religious arrogance, especially when it comes to this subject. Repeatedly, we are told to compare the supposedly peaceful Christian just war tradition with the allegedly brutal Islamic jihad tradition.
Occasionally, Christian polemicists have some level of shame and recognize that the history of Christianity has been marred by war and violence: the Crusades, the ethnic cleansing of the Americas, and the colonial enterprise come to mind. We are assured, however, that these occurrences were “in direct contradiction” to official church doctrine. This is what career Islamophobe Robert Spencer argues, for instance, in his book Islam Unveiled. This is, we are told, completely unlike the Islamic offenses throughout history, which were supposedly in line with traditional Islamic thought.
In this article series, I will prove that this understanding of the Christian just war tradition is mythical, fanciful, and misleading. Throughout history, there were serious shortcomings to the Christian understanding of just war–both in matters of jus ad bellum (the right to wage war) and jus in bello (right conduct during war). Specifically, just war doctrine was restricted to Christians and Europeans. Its constraints simply did not apply to “infidels”, “pagans”, “heathens”, “barbarians”, and “primitives”. The Christian just war tradition was not just exclusivist but through-and-through racist.
One could reasonably argue that such a critique suffers from a modern bias: using contemporary standards to evaluate pre-modern societies is not something I generally encourage. Yet, if we insist on critiquing historical Islam based on such standards, then surely we should be willing to apply the same to Christianity.
Additionally, this shortcoming–the lack of application of the just war principles to infidels–is hardly a tertiary issue. Instead, it lies at the very heart of the comparison that is continually invoked between Christianity and Islam. One could only imagine, for instance, the reaction of anti-Muslim critics if the dictates of war ethic in Islam were applicable to fellow Muslims only. Had this been the case, such a thing would not be seen as a mere “shortcoming” but indicative of the “Islamic supremacist attitude.” This wouldn’t be understood as something that could be relegated to a footnote or a few sentences buried somewhere deep in a huge text (which is the case with books talking about the Christian just war tradition). Instead, pages and pages would be written about the injustices of the Islamic principles of war.
This double standard between believer and infidel, were it to exist in the Islamic tradition (and it does, to an extent), would become the focus of discussion. But when it comes to the Judeo-Christian tradition, such things are relegated to “by the way” points that are minimized, ignored, or simply forgotten. Western understandings of the Christian just war tradition create a narrative by cherry-picking views here and there to create a moral trajectory that is extremely generous to that tradition. Meanwhile, Islamic and Eastern traditions are viewed with Orientalist lenses, focusing on the injustices and flaws (particularly with regard to religious minorities). This of course may be a result of a primarily Eurocentric view of history: how did their war ethic affect people that were like me?
Yet, if we wanted to extrapolate an overarching theme of the Christian just war tradition, it would have to be this: the Christian just war tradition did notlimit war (as is commonly argued) but instead, for the most part, served to justify the conquest and dispossession of indigenous populations. This was not merely a case of misapplying or exploiting doctrines. Rather, the doctrines were themselves expounded in a way so as to facilitate such applications. Many of history’s famous just war theorists were generating such theories to provide the moral arguments to justify colonial conquest. The tradition was more about justifying wars than about limiting violence to just wars. The Christian acts of violence throughout history were not in spite of Church doctrine; they were more often than not because of it.
Why is it that, even in some scholarly books, the Christian just war tradition towards fellow believers is compared to the Islamic attitudes towards war with unbelievers? Either the Christian treatment of Christians should be compared to the Islamic treatment of Muslims, or alternatively the Christian treatment of infidels should be compared to the Islamic treatment of the same. It is the unfair comparison between apples and oranges that serves to reinforce this warped understanding of the matter.
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An error we must avoid is conflating the modern-day just war doctrine with the historical Christian just war tradition. Although St. Augustine laid down some principles that, through a long process of evolution, found themselves in today’s doctrine, it should be noted that Augustine’s views of just war were, by today’s standards, extremely unjust. One must compare this proto-doctrine with what was practiced in traditional Islam, instead of retroactively superimposing the modern concept of just war onto Augustine.
Indeed, “one of the most influential contemporary interpreters of the [just war] tradition today, James Turner Johnson, goes so far as to say that to all intents and purposes, ‘there is no just war doctrine, in the classic form as we know it today, in either Augustine or the theologians or canonists of the high Middle Ages. This doctrine in its classic form [as we know it today], including both a jus ad bellum…and a jus in bello…does not exist before the end of the middle ages. Conservatively, it is incorrect to speak of classic just war doctrine existing before about 1500″ (Prof. Nicholas Rengger on p.34 of War: Essays in Political Philosophy).
In other words, for 1500 years–roughly seventy-five percent of Christian history–there was no real just war doctrine. Shouldn’t this fact be stated when comparing Christian and Islamic traditions? The just war doctrine–as we know it today–arose during a time when the Christian Church’s power was waning, hardly something for Christians to boast about.
And even after that–lest our opponents be tempted to use this fact to their advantage (that the Christian world distanced itself from the Church unlike in the Islamic world)–the just war doctrine that was established continued to be applied, from both a doctrinal standpoint and on-the-ground, to only Christians/Europeans. This continued to be the case in the sixteenth century and all the way through the nineteenth century.
It was only for a fleeting moment in the twentieth century that just war doctrine became universal. It is an irony that in no other century was just war theory so horrifically violated, and this by the Western world (with the United States dropping two atomic bombs on civilian populations).
This brings us to the situation today: Jewish and Christian neocons and extreme Zionists in the United States and Israel are leading the charge against the just war doctrine, trying to use legal means to change it to accommodate the War on of Terror. Many of our opponents are the most vociferous proponents of doing away with such quaint principles as just war, at least when it comes to dealing with Muslims.
Is it this fleeting moment in Christian history, in which for a fraction of a second the just war doctrine really existed, that our opponents use to bash Muslims over the head with?
Among the many other “fall back” arguments used by our opponents, we are reassured that Judaism and Christianity have “interpretive traditions” that have moved away from literal, violent understandings of Biblical passages–altogether unlike Islam (so we are told). Robert Spencer writes on p.31 of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades):
When modern-day Jews and Christians read their Bibles, they simply don’t interpret the passages cited as exhorting them to violent action against unbelievers. This is due to the influence of centuries of interpretive traditions that have moved away from literalism regarding these passages. But in Islam, there is no comparable interpretive tradition. The jihad passages in the Qur’an are anything but a dead letter.
The Islamophobes then temporarily move away from quoting the scriptural sources but instead focus on comparing (1) the traditional interpretations of the canonical texts, and (2) the modern-day understandings of said texts. In both respects, we are told, the Judeo-Christian tradition is more peaceful than the Islamic one.
In the previous article series (entitled Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?), I addressed the Jewish side of “the Judeo-Christian tradition.” [Note: That article series is being modified before the last couple pages will be published. I have decided to take reader input and mellow it out quite a bit, i.e. remove the images, change the title, etc.] I proved that both traditional and contemporary Jewish understandings of the scriptural sources could hardly be used to justify the argument against Islam.
But when it comes to such matters, it might be more important to address the Christian side of the coin. Considering that Christians are in the majority in this country, it is more common to hear right-wing Christians invoke bellicose comparisons between their faith and Islam. Robert Spencer, an anti-Muslim Catholic polemicist, relies on this comparison routinely.
In order to shield himself from possible “counter-attack,” Spencer uses an interesting argument. In a section entitled “Theological Equivalence” in his book Islam Unveiled, Spencer writes:
When confronted with this kind of evidence [about Islam's violence], many Western commentators practice a theological version of “moral equivalence,” analogous to the geopolitical form which held that the Soviet Union and the United States were essentially equally free and equally oppressive. ”Christians,” these commentators say, “have behaved the same way, and have used the Bible to justify violence. Islam is no different: people can use it to wage war or to wage peace.”
I am one of these “Western commentators.” Spencer cites ”the humanist Samuel Bradley” who noted that “Central America was savaged” because of “this country’s God.” Bradley quoted “Spanish conquistador Pizarro” who slaughtered the indigenous population, by his own admission, only “by the grace of God.”
But, Spencer rejects such “theological equivalence,” arguing that Pizarro violated “the Just War principles of his own Roman Catholic Church.” Spencer is not just arguing that the modern-day just war theory would prohibit the European conquest and dispossession of the Native Americans, but that even in the time of the conquest and dispossession itself the Church’s just war doctrine did. He is arguing that the Christian acts of violence throughout history were “fundamentally different” than those committed by Muslims, since–according to him–the former were done against the just war doctrine of the Church, whereas the latter were endorsed by the Islamic religious establishment.
But, as I have argued above, this is patently false. The Christian just war tradition was used to justify the conquest and dispossession of the Native Americans, one of the greatest crimes in all of history. In fact, these doctrines were formulated for that exact purpose in mind.
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Naturally, as was the case with the article series on Jewish law, there is the chance of offending well-meaning and good-hearted Christians. Let it be known, again, that nowhere am I trying to paint the entire Christian faith or community with a broad brush. There exists no shortage of Christians who oppose war (especially America’s current wars in the Muslim world) and who advocate peace, tolerance, and mutual respect.
Critically evaluating religious traditions can be uncomfortable, but the problems therein should not be ignored nor should we pretend they don’t exist. Honest evaluations of the past can be the key to coming up with more tolerant answers for the present and future.
I have already discussed some of the problems with the Jewish tradition. This article series deals with the Christian tradition. Rest assured, however, that a future article series of mine will take a critical look at the Islamic tradition as well. However, because Islamophobia has become so rampant and pervasive in our culture, I do not think that this should be done before we first look at the problems inherent in the Judeo-Christian tradition that our society is based on. Once that is done, we can then look at the Islamic tradition from a more nuanced, balanced, and helpful perspective. This is the purpose of this somewhat controversial article series.
To be continued…
Update I: A reader pointed out that I made many claims above but did not back them up with proof. I should clarify that this page is just the introductory piece to the article series and simply states what I will prove. It is just a statement of my thesis; the proof to back the thesis up is still to come–hence, the “to be continued…