My Uncle Dave has challenged me to discuss whether the War In Iraq is moral. My impression is that he believes it is not, and wishes me to trap myself. Perhaps I do him a disservice on that, and he is really asking my opinion. I mention two or three parts to this in my first paragraph. Here at the site it will be more. I will break it up to keep y'all from going to sleep, however.
You asked me to reveal my thoughts on that question, and it has been fun to get started on it. I will comment in two parts, perhaps three, and the latter parts are not very organized at present. So here is the first part:
Our standards for war have changed over the years, and this is likely a good thing. It is hard to draw exact comparisons – America entered its various wars not only with various degrees of provocation, but different types of provocation. We try and draw analogies, but no war is that much like another. Despite that difficulty, I think you can show pretty quickly that going into Iraq is morally justifiable.
This rather banal fact has been almost completely neglected in criticism of the war (and somewhat in its justification as well). When discussions start by neglecting the most obvious facts it is frustrating to me – I wonder whether I should bother to enter such a discussion at all.
So if we start by comparison to our other wars, our invasion of Iraq easily exceeds all our previous standards. We went into WWI because the Germans sunk some of our ships (bringing supplies to their enemies), sent a telegram to Mexico suggesting that they’d help get Texas back for them if they entered the war, and then topped it by sinking ships with civilians. That is well below the standard of what has been happening with international terrorism since 1979, and especially since 1993.
That is one of the differences in choosing our data for these evaluations. If we start on Sept 10, 2001, then no, we don't have near the justification to have gone to war with Iraq, and even Afghanistan is doubtful. But if one regards 9-11 as a final straw, an escalation of what had been building for decades, it's quite a different story.
We regard the Civil War as one of our moral high points because it got rid of slavery. But our provocation was secession, which we tried to prevent. By what right do we prevent secession? And according to the Constitution at the time, southern states did have the right to do whatever they damn well pleased without anyone invading them. “Preserving the Union” has a nice ring to it, but what is the legal or moral underpinning for that idea? Even WWII, the gold standard for entering wars, isn’t as clean as we pretend. The Japanese attacked a military base, but it wasn’t just for the hell of it. We were supplying their enemies. They had no plan or desire to invade the US and rule it, they just wanted to dominate the Pacific. They knocked out a bunch of ships in hopes of winning the war before we could recover, presenting us with a fait accompli of Japan unhindered in the Pacific.
King Phillip’s War, Spanish American War, War of 1812 – way ahead of all of those.
America’s entry into Iraq, therefore exceeds in moral justification all our previous wars, with the propable exception of WWII. That the question of moral justification even comes up, rather than being laughed off the table, tells us that our standards for going to war have changed. Maybe we were right then, maybe we are right now, but it’s different. Neglecting this obvious fact makes any subsequent discussion rather pointless, like discussing communication without mentioning the internet.
What has changed? Are we gradually becoming a more moral or rational people? There might be evidence for that. We are a less physically cruel people, for example. Animal fighting has a long tradition in the world up until very recent times, even in America, but now we send even famous rich people to jail for sponsoring dogfights. Much of what we call torture of prisoners now does not approach what was done to prisoners by even the Allies in WWII. It might be that we are dimly approaching some kinder, gentler stage of human interaction, and should do everything possible to hold to highest standards and not drop back except under the most extreme provocation. There are many who believe that this is precisely what is happening, and such a belief guides what they think about warfare and international conflict.
I also believe that is happening, but that this improvement is a small part of how our view of war has changed. I think the major change lies elsewhere.