combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 02 Number 01 Winter ©Jan 2004

Casus Belli

The capture of Saddam Hussein does not mean the end of violence in Iraq. We still face terrorists who would rather go on killing the innocent than accept the rise of liberty in the heart of the Middle East. Such men are a direct threat to the American people, and they will be defeated. We've come to this moment through patience and resolve and focused action. And that is our strategy moving forward. The war on terror is a different kind of war, waged capture by capture, cell by cell, and victory by victory. Our security is assured by our perseverance and by our sure belief in the success of liberty. And the United States of America will not relent until this war is won.
by George Walker Bush [14 December 2003 nat'l address]

On every playground in the world, children contend. They agglomerate into mobs, for innocent competition or devilish imposition; and they willingly victimize the defiant and excluded. They dare and double-dare each other, until push comes to shove, and somebody gets hurt. Every juvenile witness to these games has been on the receiving end at one time or another ... or has played the aggressor ... and in their childishly trembling spirit, they are gratified to have escaped the torment on this particular occasion. Their immature ethics and puerile schemes do not differ substantially from the terrible world of adults. It is only by degree that mature strategies differ from the playfulness of the young ravening beasts who shall inherit our future.

Not only is the indulgent paternalism shown by omnipotent adults toward their children transparently offensive to their charges, but those legalistic fictions alleged to warrant supervening acts by arrogant cultures and purportedly advanced civilizations toward their inferior states are transparently offensive to those enemy violators! It is not just that we Americans, as a paradigm of integrity, selectively interpret applicable conventions and spheres of influence, but that these pernicious contradistinctions are blatantly contradictory. We flout the very laws we pretend to espouse, and we flaunt our confutations from our ostensibly impregnable bastions.

Please don't misunderstand this thesis. This is an appeal to our better nature, because America is being scorned as she saves the world, and the blood of her valiant tribunes is unappreciated. The world wants Yankee dollars but not the ideology that generated our wealth ... Yankee Go Home! ... and that schism is even rending our own foundations! Our Supreme Court, arbiter of all things Constitutional, has now turned to international law for metaethical precedents; and our enforcement authorities have now seen fit to abrogate our rights in order to protect our rights ... an ironic parody of the mythic attribution: "We had to destroy the village to save it!". President Bush has, by both Congressional and United Nations authority, sent the American Armed Forces into an international peacekeeping coalition based upon treaty violations; which essentially says: "Our lawyers can beat-up your lawyers!". In recent memory, President Truman essentially said: No Japanese combatant is worth a single American life! ... and I much prefer that kind of political courage. Make no mistake, there can be no debate among honorable men after a war begins, and while our neighbor's lives are at risk; but our leaders owe the widows and orphans an honest explanation.

America is proud to be a nation of laws, but when Americans don't like their laws, they violate them. They don't bother to repeal or to adjust these allegedly bad laws ... they just ignore them ... and eventually some avid pol will get himself elected as the champion who can improve the mistakes of the past by making more mistakes for the future. This is not cynicism ... this is reality. The practical point, and the only germane one, is that the ultimate power rests with the people, and nobody will fight any battles that they don't absolutely have to fight. The everyday person is under-appreciated for their tolerance, for their live and let live attitude, which seems to me to be our finest trait. When citizens are pushed into a corner, over the issue of seatbelts or tax reform or abortion, they will vote ... usually with their feet! Because ordinary taxpayers know that the popularity of an idea does not make it true or correct, they have an advantage over politicians and bureaucrats in recognizing that most battles are not worth fighting. The people know that the important battles are for the protection of their homes and the preservation of their families. These people also know that pride and ambition are without value by themselves; but are essential elements of self-respect. If a culture does not respect itself and acknowledge its attainments, then no other nation shall esteem it.

It has been said that America has more lawyers than the rest of the world combined ... and yet we are not more free of crime and violence for all of these pettifoggers, legislators, and jurists. Americans are a litigious people, which niggling trait is in contrast to the stereotypically open-handed and hard-working pioneer simulacrum. Ours is the only revolutionary government that has endured; but our invention of least government has blossomed into a bureaucracy rivaling Mandarin China. We have converted our God-fearing institutions into secular edifices; and abolished the origins of common law, as well as common sense. America's greatness was once equated with the goodness of her people; but as the people have replaced righteousness with legalisms, our greatness has declined. We are not unlike the corrupt and complacent empires of yore, so permeated by distrust and dissent that our shining city on the hill is apt to extinguish itself.

Consider that Jefferson, instead of transferring them, annulled the King's colonial grants and rulings. Despite the fact that New England sought secession before the South, consider that Reconstruction only required emendation of the statutes for the seceded states, without amending the others. Consider that every AmerIndian treaty was violated, including the ones pleaded for specificity before the Supreme Court. Consider that there was no declaration of war for Vietnam because the Tonkin Gulf Resolution was adequate ... until the lack of moral courage by non-combatant representatives reversed the process. Our founding fathers knew, from their reading of history, that power corrupts and that pols are utter dastards! Given the least opportunity, these inherent poltroons will swathe themselves in patriotism while picking our pockets and lying us into battle!

It's sad, but true. Most of the time, leaders are like children with a chip on their shoulder ... they seek an excuse to do what they want to do anyway. Not only do they manipulate and coordinate elements so as to adequately rationalize their original objectives, but if they prevail, they have the opportunity to distort the past so as to improve the future. They seek a preponderant justification or a sufficient provocation to authorize warrantable acts. Ostensibly, the only time these political excesses are curtailed is when a leader has seemingly lost the support of his constituency; but this is actually more political subterfuge, since the duplicitous counteractions of the opposition, alleged to be the will of the people, is intended to deceive the public about the deus ex machina. Since every politician knows that the will of the people is apathy, and that an aroused public would wreck their lucrative Temple of Preferments, the pol must practice guile and legerdemain to sustain his illusory power over the populous masses. This was as true for the Abolitionists promoting the war of Northern aggression over the peculiar institutions of the Southern lifestyle as for the Pacifists resisting the war of imperialism among the agrarian belligerents of Indochina. That there is a Hate Bush campaign and an anti-war movement against nation-building in the Middle East has more to do with political exploitation than with moral justification. It may also have a great deal to do with the burned-out core values of aging Baby Boomers attempting to resurrect their pathetic Glory Days!

Our Declaration of Independence itemizes a host of intolerable acts committed by a sovereign against his loyal subjects. And our revolution commenced with the shot heard around the world ... but was any of it necessary? Did the war have to begin then, or could it have begun earlier? ... or later? And a close reading of our history shows that we were something less than loyal subjects, that independence was desired by many emigrants, and that an incident occurred which could serve as a casus belli for both parties. A casus belli is a military event or sociopolitical occurrence that brings about, or is used to validate, a declaration of war; it's the cause of war being literally an occurrence of war. Until Vietnam, the American Revolution was our longest and most unpopular war; and in common with the Vietnam War, it almost collapsed due to a lack of funding and manpower. It was a war that would affect the acquisitions of Oregon, Alaska, and Hawaii, would affect the settlement of the wars with Mexico and Spain, would influence the American Civil War, and would be revisited in the War of 1812. During the TaiPing and the Boxer Rebellions we would find common cause with our estranged relatives; and during the Twentieth Century we would cleave to our mother country as if never parted. It is now widely noted that Americans pay more taxes and enjoy less representation than did our colonial forebears ... so what have all of our bloody effusions brought?!

It doesn't matter whether the cause célèbre is called a Christian Crusade or Democratic Revolution, Lebensraum or Manifest Destiny, colonialism or communism, for the casus belli will coincide with the motive. From Tripoli to Haiti, Colombia to El Salvador, Grenada to Panama, Korea to Laos, America has identified a warrantable sphere of influence. In the Spanish Civil War, the Hungarian Revolt, the Czechoslovakian Uprising, the Cambodian Holocaust, and the Tiananmen Square massacre, America could not find the same warrant that our Great White Fathers discovered for Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, Kurdistan, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Kuwait. It really doesn't matter that the Tonkin Gulf incident was secondary to a covert maritime project, because the USS Pueblo incident didn't open a second front in the same era; just as the Quemoy - Matsu incident did not provoke another war. It doesn't really matter that the sinking of the Maine was an accident, and the sinking of the Lusitania was justified as a treaty violation. It doesn't really matter that Pearl Harbor was payback for Perry's battleship diplomacy, because we would waste another vital generation just to prove that we could willfully partition Korea and Vietnam. It doesn't really matter that persistent encroachments culminated in a border dispute with Mexico that resulted in the transfer of even more land ... and that Canada was next. It doesn't really matter that the rescue of American lives also results in trade concessions. We would emulate our English cousins in the manipulation of Arab states, and then wonder why our political and pecuniary presence is so unwelcome. It doesn't really matter that nobody died when Fort Sumter was seized by secessionists who were resolved to end the seventy year debate about state's rights, because tariffs were punitive, court decisions were contradictory, and everyone wanted to settle the issue. Where there's a will, there's a way!

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand led to World War One, but the recent assassinations of Sweden's prime minister Olof Palme and of Sweden's foreign minister Anna Lindh hasn't seemed to interest anyone, not even within their own socialist paradise. It's none of our business when China integrates Tibet, but it is somehow very much our business when South Africa refuses to integrate her Black denizens. We can normalize international relations with Maoist Red China and Stalinistic Vietnam, and we can even pay pensions to our former Russian adversaries, but we will not relent in our shunning of Cuba ... as if it could possibly be worse than Rwanda or Chile or Bulgaria, worse than Zaïre or Ecuador or Albania. We can complain about the restrictions of the Iron Curtain and the Bamboo Curtain, but we will not restrict our own borders, and we grant our wet-back and frost-back illegals more rights than they have at home. We favor free trade, political proselytizing, and coalition sanctions, as long as our own sovereignty is ensured ... but we will not compel dictatorships to adopt the Universal Rights of Man. In such foreign regimes, unbelievers receive the modern equivalent of the Inquisition, and critics are silenced, and witnesses are disappeared. Based upon such inconsistencies, propounded as doing the right thing, our moral gyroscope seems to be either malfunctioning or fickle ... or its calibration is subject to some unwarrantable influences.

According to academics, war is the state of armed conflict or the condition of hostile contention between nations or factions, which is prosecuted by force so as to compel the will of the victor upon the vanquished; and is principally caused by ideology, economics, religion, and ethnicity. Wars are also the result of nationalism, imperialism, and militarism. It is equally valid to assert that wars ensue from injustice, recalcitrance, arrogance, deception, jealousy, avarice, and foolishness. Just as the incitements to war differ, so do their executions; from hot to cold, incremental to sequential, recurrent to expanding. The conventional wisdom posits, especially since the onset of a peace movement organized to counter militarism, that war destroys all that is good and right. The historic justification of war is more reasonable: war makes the world a better place. The neoclassical version of this argument is: war prevents the world from becoming worse. The September 11th terrorist attack on America, which generated more casualties than the attack on Pearl Harbor, is a good example of how intricately these arguments amalgamate.

The solution to problems seems obvious to anyone unaffected, to those outside the fray. It is a truism that reason cannot resolve emotion, that irrational problems cannot be repaired by logic, because mankind is only semi-rational and quasi-gregarious. Nothing is unalloyed. Everything is admixed ... and our supposedly principled decisions are actually compensatory. We aver that civilized cultures are recompensed by extended liberation, but we still discriminate. No act shall dictate our will. We cannot be compelled to fight. So we will declare a state of war only when we are ready and willing to combat the relentless evils of the world. We shall fight only when the combination of sufficiencies is convincingly triggered by the final straw.

Just as every child knows that a confrontation has only two outcomes, so every adult, secure within their nation or faction instinctually knows that a fight avoided is only averted until its postponement alters circumstances enough to favor another conclusion ... the protracted saber-rattling of the Cold War is a case in point. Our legal dilemma is that good morality does not need law, and that no law will ever restrain an immoral person ... or nation. The laws that forbid violence are for the law-abiding, and serve only to regulate the aftermath ... as in sanctimonious war crime trials by the victor. But whether the criminal courts are impotent or the national culture is defenseless, anyone inclined to a breach of the peace will not be halted by law or treaty, by police or military, by journalist or historians. Chamberlain's peace in our time pact essentially directed all good people to relinquish their neighborhoods to the roving gangbangers after dark each day! Lawbreakers feel just as unbound by the terms imposed upon them as do sociopaths who are unconstrained by the absence of inculcation. Foreign governments are aware that good Americans break bad laws for better reasons, so they resent the coercions and inhibitions that enjoin them. Under no circumstance can a breached treaty be construed as a bloody-shirt!

If history does nothing else, it teaches us that we tend to do things in similar ways. We've been in this kind of war before. The pundits are wrong ... Iraq is not another Vietnam, no matter how often they wish it so, or repeat their lies. Iraq is more reminiscent of the 1846 Mexican War ... and many of us would like to make it resemble a thermonuclear ashtray of the Third Punic War! ... dumping the perennial bellicosity of the Fertile Crescent onto the ash heap of history. The Mexican War stemmed from violations over an unsatisfactory treaty quelling a previous dispute, and resulted in a toppled dictatorship, the institution of a reform government, the rejection of American suzerainty, and indemnification of all usurpation. That this fair deal, protested against then as now, has particular benefits is seemingly a political axiom. That it could be worse is indisputable. Scholars, like casuists of old, will have to parse the nuances of fairer and fairest, which niceties are beyond the finesse of combatants.

It is a brave leader who will complicate his administration and invite censure by forestalling imminent disaster, when a day that shall live in infamy would suit his purposes so much better! Decisions would be easier with irrefutable proof, with another ugly incident, with another terrible episode, with a bloody-shirt to brandish before the hypocritical Fourth Estate! But some things are still beyond the pale for a few honorable men ... men who do not need to desecrate our national standard in order to justify themselves. There are still a few of us who will do what is right, even when it's unpopular. God bless you, Mister President.

Here's what I took away from September the 11th, 2001 — that any time a President sees a gathering threat to the United States, we must deal with it. We can't pick or choose like we used to, could in the past. In the old days, oceans protected us from harm's way, and a President could stand back and say, well, maybe this gathering threat is an issue, maybe it's not. After September the 11th, that complacency, I guess may be the right word, no longer is relevant.
by George Walker Bush [15 December 2003 press conference]

by Bock Pauldron
... who is a Vietnam War veteran, a social worker, and freelance writer; with works published in professional journals and literary magazines.