PostHeaderIcon When is A War A War?

Since the original ideas expressed in The Slope Just Got Slicker have morphed into a discussion of the meaning and ethics of war, I am starting this new thread for just that purpose. As an aside, it is nice to be having a real give and take again!

At the time our Constitution was created, WAR inevitably meant an armed confrontation between two governing entities, usually ending with one entity surrendering to the other. Over time, a body of ethics had been developed, intending to allow the conduct of a war while still somehow constraining its destructive effects.

Today, the word war has been so misused that it is hard to have a rational conversation regarding what is and what is not war. Starting with the Korean Conflict, Americans don’t always use the word war to describe what has classically been understood to be actual war, while, at the same time, misusing the word war to describe political activities that are anything but. For instance, we have formally declared a War On Poverty, a War On Drugs, a War On Common Sense (aka Political Correctness), and so on. Yet, none of our recent activities that seem to truly be wars are formally declared as such.

The so-called War On Terror fits somewhere in the middle of the muddle. For sure, it involves people killing each other using the various weapons one associates with a real war, it has sorta-kinda been formally declared, yet, the entities supposedly at war are, in classical terms, ill defined and in constant flux. In a word, it is hard to know for sure whether we are in a true war or whether we simply have people killing each other because they disagree. This matters because the laws/rules and the ethics are different, depending on which thing we are about. I believe it is this difference that spawned the lengthy discussion in the other thread.

What I propose in this thread is a discussion of this quandary… can (or how can) the so-called War On Terror be made to conform to the classic and Constitutional laws/rules of war – or, should each act of terrorism be considered a breach of common law and treated accordingly?

As it now stands, our government seems to want it both ways at once, in each instance, using which ever definition best suits their political purposes (as opposed to the true safety of the nation). As should be clear from my own contributions to the other thread, I think that allowing this ambiguity to continue is a threat to our values as well as to our laws.

The gauntlet has been thrown… let the games begin.

Troy L Robinson

4 Responses to “When is A War A War?”

  • Good topic, Troy. I’ll have more to say presently; but in the meantime, here is a clue:

  • Daedalus says:

    War, what is the definition? This is not too easy a question to answer. Following is the definition in my 1896 dictionary.

    1. A contest between nations and states (International War), or between parties in the same state (Civil War), carried on by force of arms, and resorted to for purposes of advantage or of revenge. The one party possesses, or takes possession of something which the other has resolved to seize, or has inflicted some real or supposed injury on the other, which he determines to punish by the infliction of a corresponding chastisement. Formerly, war was waged at the will of despotic monarchs; now wars usually arise, in the first instance, from disputes concerning territorial possessions and frontiers, unjust dealings with the citizens of one state by another, questions of race and sentiment, jealousy of military prestige, or mere lust of conquest. Civil wars arise from the claims of rival competitors for the supreme power in a state, or for the establishment of some important point connected with civil or religious liberty. In all cases, the object of each contending party is to destroy the power of the other by defeating or dispersing his army or navy, by the occupation of some important part of his country, such as the capital, or principal administrative and commercial centres [original spelling], or the ruin of his commerce, thus cutting off his sources of recuperation in men, money, and material. An international or public war can only be authorized by the sovereign power of the nations, and previous to the commencement of hostilities it is now usual for the state taking the initiative to issue a declaration of war, which usually takes the form of an explanatory manifesto addressed to neutral states. An aggressive or offensive war is one carried into the territory of a hitherto friendly power; and a defensive war is carried on to resist such aggression. Certain laws, usages, or rights of war are recognized by international law. By such laws it is allowable to seize and destroy the persons or properties of armed entities, to stop up all their channels of traffic or supply, and to appropriate everything in an enemies country necessary for the support or subsistence of the invading army. On the other hand, though an enemy may lawfully be starved into surrender, wounding, except in battle, mutilation, and all cruel and wanton devastation, are contrary to the usages of war, as are also the bombarding of a defenseless town , firing on a hospital, the use of poison in any way, or torture to extort information from an enemy.

    2. Any contest.

    3. 4. 5. Not relevant

    6. A state of hostility or violent opposition; a hostile act or action; hostility, enmity.
    Under this definition is a relevant sub definition:
    (4) Holy War; A war undertaken from religious motives; a crusade: as the wars undertaken to deliver the Holy Land from the infidels.

    This last is probably the kind of war we are dealing with. The problem is there is no equivalent “Papal State” directing this. It becomes difficult to direct action against an almost anarchistic Islam.
    Sorry for the lengthy message.

  • Troy says:

    (4) Holy War; A war undertaken from religious motives; a crusade: as the wars undertaken to deliver the Holy Land from the infidels.

    This last is probably the kind of war we are dealing with. The problem is there is no equivalent “Papal State” directing this. It becomes difficult to direct action against an almost anarchistic Islam.

    I beg to disagree. The Crusades were traditional wars in every sense of the word. The underlying motivation is not what makes wars different from civil crimes.

    In my mind, terrorism is not war — it is an extreme form of harassment. Effective terrorists only infrequently actually conduct a real attack – often a civil crime of some sort. The rest of the time, they simply act like they might be about to do something, thereby driving their antagonist to defeat itself. In our case, they are driving us toward the destruction of our civil liberties and the bankrupting of our treasury. Do you have any idea how many billions we waste, and how many new rules we enact every time some would-be terrorist does a head-fake?

    If you truly want to treat Islamic terrorism as an entity with which we are at war, then you must focus on the root of Islam. From both a monetary and a spiritual basis, that would mean war against Saudi Arabia.

    Since we are not doing that, I submit that out “leaders” are simply strutting around, ordering the occasional assassination to make them seem to be doing something while they take away our liberty.

    If terrorism has provoked a war in America, that war is between the US Government and its people. None of us can win such a war.


    • Troy, it may be 5 years late; but I just reread this thread while surfing through “Related Posts,” and I find this comment to be rather profound! Very well said!

      Instead of wasting our time on the current election, perhaps we should revisit some of these old more philosophical posts, and update the comments. 😀 â—„Daveâ–º

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