Editorial from Church & State, Summer 2005 (Number 81)

War Morals

Recent wars involve some fine points of morality.

The Irish State facilitated the war on Iraq that was launched two years ago and that is still in process so far as continuity of action goes.

That war was conducted by the 'Defence' Departments of the United States and the United Kingdom. Neither of those states was attacked by Iraq, nor was Iraq making bellicose noises against them.

The United States did not claim to be under threat from Iraq. It fought a war of policy—"a war of choice" as it was put at the time. And a war of choice cannot be called a war of defence in any meaningful sense.

The United Kingdom did claim to be under threat from Iraq—and if not under actual threat, then under possible threat in the near future from weapons of mass destruction which Iraq either possessed or would possess in the near future—and if the Baathist State in Iraq gave no indication of hostile intent towards the UK, and had kept its territory free of the Islamic terrorist movement, it might happen in the future that it would undergo a strategic change of orientation and ally itself with the Islamic forces which it had hitherto suppressed, and might supply them with the weapons of mass destruction.

The British case, then, was a hypothetical defensive case based on an unlikely possibility, and an assumed fact (or at least an asserted fact) about Iraqi military capability.

What the Irish decision to facilitate the American war effort was based upon has never been revealed authoritatively. But Senator Mansergh has argued in substance that no decision was taken, that Ireland did not in fact take part in the war, and that it just let the US make use of Shannon airport in a routine manner for the purpose of waging this war without actually making a decision about the war, and that questioning the use of the airport by the Americans would have been a hostile act which Ireland as a small, weak state could not afford to indulge in; and that, if it had prohibited the use of Shannon for war purposes, that would not have prevented the Americans from going to war against Iraq, so that Ireland would have damaged its interests and the war would have gone ahead anyway.

There is in fact a perfectly reputable defence for the way the Irish State behaved, and one would have expected it to be made by somebody in high places at a time when Edmund Burke is so much in fashion. Burke said that there were two kinds of states. There are "great states", which "to be secure… must be respected. Power and eminence… must be commanded". And there are "small truckling states" in which "a timely compromise with power has often been the means, and the only means, of drawling out their puny existence" (Letters On A Regicide Peace With France). Mansergh pleads in effect that Ireland is a small truckling state which cannot afford the luxury of an independent foreign policy. That is certainly where the Taoiseach is taking it. So why not say it straight out?

The invasion of Iraq on the principle of self-defence is infinitely problematical on moral grounds if one takes morality to be anything other than the policy of strong states.

It is not problematical for the United States. From the time of its inception it has taken itself to be the standard of morality for itself, and for the world as far as its power can reach, and it has always refused to submit itself to any authority beyond itself. It is the force of the Rights Of Man in the practical affairs of the world. What the French Revolution merely proclaimed, the American State has put into effect. Such has been the case, at least, since Washington's attempt to establish an aristocratic ruling class on English lines gave way to the Jefferson's vision of universalist democracy.

When the United Nations refused to authorise an invasion of Iraq by the US and the UK, the White House ridiculed the notion that the Security Council was the source of morality that was higher than policy. It showed how the votes of the small fry were got by horse-trading or straight bribery, and how little the concerns of the other Veto powers had to do with any general morality distinct from particular interest. And where that approach was criticised by influential elements of the US, it was on the ground of political expedience rather than of higher morality to which the US should be subordinate. The argument was that the UN was sometimes a useful instrument of US policy by virtue of its mystique, and that its mystique should not be dispelled unnecessarily.

The UN refused to authorise the invasion of Iraq but the US/UK went ahead without it anyway. Lack of authorisation did not make the invasion unlawful in UN terms. The US agreed to the setting up of the formal UN organisation in 1945 on the strict condition that it should not be subject to its authority. The Soviet Union made the same condition. Britain was the broker, and naturally included itself in the exemption. China and France were added, and the exemption was conferred on them although they were in no position to demand it. China was at the time a client state of the USA, and Britain insisted on including France as an ally against the USA which was intent on demolishing the Empires of European states.

Each of these states may act as it pleases and the Security Council cannot even discuss a motion to condemn it.

It pleased US/UK to invade Iraq without UN authorisation. Britain pleaded that it had tacit authorisation. It did not relish American frankness in the matter. But it had no need whatever for UN authorisation.

The US/UK Departments of Defence took an obstacle to their policies to be an attack on their interests against which they were entitled to defend themselves. Iraq engaged in defence of a more old-fashioned and straightforward kind. It was invaded and it resisted the invaders. Did it have a right to defend itself, or did the only right of defence lie with the invaders?

Senator Mansergh is presumably the voice of the Taoiseach in these matters, but when he speaks on them it is not easy to see what he is saying.

Iraq lacked the means of defending itself. Was it therefore wrong to try to defend itself? Is defence without a reasonable prospect of success evil? Is there any established law or any agreed morality that applies to such a situation?

The war as a formal battle between armies ended with an American declaration of victory in the early Summer of 2003. Was there then a moral, and perhaps even a legal, obligation on the populace of Iraq to submit to the victorious armies without further resistance?

It is always the contention of the victor in the formal battle that the right of resistance by the enemy ends when he can no longer maintain an army in uniform in a definite territorial space, and that resistance of any other kind is terrorism which is illegal and immoral. But on occasions when a State accustomed to victory is defeated in formal battle it usually invokes a sacred duty of irregular resistance. In 1870, when the French Government made war on Germany and lost, it called for a general resistance of the populace. But in 1939-40, when it again declared war on Germany and lost the battle, it made a peace settlement despite British calls for guerilla resistance. Britain then made its own arrangements for instigating terrorist activity in France, calling it "ungentlemanly warfare".

And it has recently been revealed that Churchill made extensive preparations for terrorist resistance in England in the event of a German occupation. An underground army was organised—literally underground in some instances. Local units were to operate autonomously in accordance with secret orders which were to be opened when the German occupation forces arrived. One of the first things they were to do was assassinate the local Chief Constable and figures in the local government in order to ward off the possibility of collaboration.

If on the British view that was the right thing to do in Britain following a conquest by Germany, why is it the wrong thing to do in Iraq following a conquest by Britain and America?

The resistance in Iraq is attacking both the Occupation forces and the collaborationist Government which they are trying to install. And that was Churchill's plan for England. And he expected that collaboration would be extensive.

Is it not the case that there is no general standard of what is right and wrong operating in the world today any more than there was a hundred years ago, or a thousand, and that states vary the particulars of what they call right and wrong in the service of their interests in particular circumstances?

Britain has taken part in the killing of between 25,000 and 100,000 civilians in Iraq. It asserts its right to do so, and it does not take kindly to requests for information about how many they have killed. And it absolutely denies any right of retaliation in Britain.

As we go to print the British Government has announced the intention to make it a crime to "validate" suicide bombings anywhere in the world, specifically including Palestine. But the case for the Palestinians is so strong that the Prime Minister's wife did just that last year.
The Palestine problem is the core of a general Middle East problem created by Britain by its destruction of the Ottoman State in the 1914 War. In 1917 it adopted the policy of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine within the British Empire, opening up Palestine to large-scale Jewish immigration in order to do so. Its purpose was to rally international Jewry to its support in its war against Germany, which had not been going well. After 1918 it used its influence to commit the League of Nations to the project, which was taken up by the United Nations a generation later.

Anyone who gave the matter a moment's realistic thought must have seen that it involved the replacement of the actual inhabitants of Palestine with another people brought in from foreign parts and establishing the settler people into the state of Palestine. It was a project of ethnic cleansing verging on genocide.

Is there some code of morality under which a United Nations resolution, passed by the joint pressure of the USA and the USSR on their client states, imposed a moral obligation on the people who were being displaced not to resist displacement? Do the dominant Powers in the world have a right, which is something more than a mere expression of power, to do as they please with subordinate parts of the world in disregard of the feelings of the peoples in those parts?

By a process of reverse reasoning, it is argued that the decision to open Palestine to Jewish colonisation was taken because the Jews were an endangered people in Europe and were in need of a safe haven. Leaving aside the strange location of the safe haven—the colonising conquest of a territory inhabited by another people who were certain to resist—the chronology is wrong. The Jews were not an endangered people in Europe when the Balfour Declaration was drawn up, and it was not issued for the purpose of saving them. It was issued for a British Imperial purpose. And, by raising the Jewish Agency to the status of a virtual state at the post-war Versailles negotiations, it was part of the causation of the problem of the Jews in post-war Europe, rather than an alleviating measure. The Jewish Agency began to do to the Arabs in Palestine what the Versailles states in Europe wanted to do to the Jews.

The Versailles states in Europe came about through the destruction of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. That Empire was not destroyed by nationalist movements within it. It was destroyed by the decree of the victor states, Britain and France, who put in its place a series of nation-states with little regard for social viability. The Jews were the chief casualties. They had been the middle class of the Empire, enjoying a coherent existence throughout all its parts, and little troubled by the weak developments of local nationalisms before 1914. The destruction of the Empire destroyed their basis of existence. They could not be the nationalist middle classes of the new states, and they occupied the positions which the ethnic elites of the new states saw as being theirs as of right—and which were certainly theirs according to the rights inherent in the doctrine of nationality implemented in east Europe by the Versailles Conference (though not in Ireland).

Jewish existence in Europe became a problem under the Versailles system. It was not a problem when the Balfour Manifesto was issued. And, by the time the problem became intense in the late 1930s, the resistance of the native population of Palestine to the Jewish colonisation had reached the level of warfare with the Imperial state which was organising the colonisation.

The appearance of the Zionist Organisation amongst the states of the world, as a state without a territory, and its conduct in Palestine, lent credibility to the idea that the Jews were one of the great Powers of the world, a power operating by finance and conspiracy.
And when the moment came when there was great need for a safe haven for European Jews, the haven that was chosen for them (and that some of them chose for themselves) was closed to them because it was a battlefield. The natives who had to be cleared away so that Palestine might be made a Jewish haven were still resisting the colonising conquest, and the Imperial Power had more than one fish to fry in the region. The haven was not a haven when a haven was needed. The dire need for it resulted from the British decision to make war on Germany over Danzig, which was a trivial occasion for a great war. That decision was attributed to Jewish influence by the German Government, and the campaign against the Jews intensified in the course of the war. But the worse the predicament of the Jews became, the less Britain could afford to proceed with the Zionist colonisation. It needed allies in the world, and it could not afford to turn the Arab world into an active enemy. And the natives of Palestine were hardly under moral obligation to sacrifice themselves to a colonising nationalism which was intent on doing to them what the Nazis were doing to the Jews in Europe.

There is a close similarity in this respect between Zionism and Nazism, up to the point where the Nazis began systematic extermination. Both were extreme irredentist movements which held people who got in their way in utter contempt, and there were influential Zionist leaders who were as frank about what the Zionist project had in store for the Arabs of Palestine (by which they meant a territory much greater than what is now called Palestine) as Hitler was about what he had in mind for the Slavs.

Zionist colonisation led to an Arab revolt in Palestine in 1936-9. The Imperial Power eventually curbed the revolt, but as a condition of restoring some semblance of peace it closed Palestine to further legal Jewish immigration for the duration of the war on Germany.

The haven was closed when it was needed, but was established as a state when the need for it had passed, and its establishment in 1948 was accompanied by a revolutionary campaign of ethnic cleansing. The Jewish State would not have been viable with an Arab minority close to 50% (as was the case with the territory allocated for a Jewish State by the United Nations), therefore the Arab population was drastically reduced by terrorist action. And this of course intensified the hostility towards the Jewish State in the surrounding Arab states and populations. Moreover, the Zionist movement was never content with the territory allocated to it by the United Nations. It has always been an expansionist state. It doubled its territory by conquest in 1948, and since 1967 it has been systematically colonising the Occupied Territories.

Because of its nature Israel is inherently incapable of being a safe haven. Its only safety lies in overwhelming military power. That power is now supplied to it by the United States, but it now emerges that it was Britain that enabled it to produce nuclear bombs around 1960.

On the 60th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing it is still asserted as an indisputable truth—or a truth which can be disputed only by people who are committed to evil—that there can never by any justification of the killing of innocent civilians for any purpose whatsoever. But this truth is never applied to the deliberate killing of 100,000 civilians in the twinkling of an eye for the purpose of compelling the Japanese Government to surrender, or to the repeat action a couple of days later at Nagasaki.

The scientists who created the atom bomb to be an instrument of indiscriminate destruction of human life on a mass scale justified themselves at the start with the thought that they had to beat Nazi Germany to the punch. When Germany surrendered they had not yet made the bomb. But they continued working on it, and produced it in time to use it on Japan, even though nobody thought that Japan was a nuclear threat. And the justification for incinerating the civilian populations of two Japanese cities was that it reduced American military casualties.

As we said, there are fine points of morality that are as yet unresolved.

Contents of Number 81

War Morality

A Minute's Silence—But For Who?

What About John Buchan?
Stephen Richards

US Army Recruitment
Robert Burrage

Auld Ben Ladin's Lamp
Liam Dubh Mac I Shearcaigh (poem)

Memoir Of A Radical
John Martin (review of Nell McCafferty)

Poor Nuala!
John Martin (review of Nuala O'Faolain)

The Da Vinci Code
Conor Lynch

Robin Bury's Strange Silence
Jack Lane

An Cor Tuathail: Liam Grogan's Austin Clarke
(Compiled by Pat Muldowney)

The London Bombings
Nick Folley (Letter)

Settler Graffitti At Hebron

Scullabogue, 1798 And Revisionism
Pat Muldowney

Revising Culture
Nick Folley

Their Morals And Ours
Seán McGouran

The Christian Brothers
Brendan Clifford

Vox Pat: Guess Who?; 'Benefit of Clergy'; Archbishop Neill Gets The Shivers; Pope Benedict; Nuns Leaving; Billy Graham;
Compiled by Pat Maloney

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