War: Creative Destruction

In Western vernacular, “war” is synonymous with “intense conflict.” The United States is involved in the “war in Iraq,” but it is also fighting the “war on drugs” and the “war on terrorism.” Professional sports players call themselves warriors. Businesses fight “price wars,” and countries fight “trade wars.” Before we speak of the nation at war, then, we must define our terms. War is the state of armed physical conflict, either declared or undeclared, between two nations. A nation is a group of people organized under a sovereign government, including rebellious groups like the PLO which follow their own rules of law. Under this definition, the “war of terrorism” is more accurately defined as a war against several different groups of terrorists and supporters of terrorists which are working towards America’s physical destruction. The “war on drugs,” “war on poverty,” “price wars,” “trade wars,” and athletic contests do not qualify.

The nation at war tries to achieve its objectives, whatever they may be, by physically forcing the opponent into submission. Acts of war include battles between armies, efforts to destroy the enemy’s homeland and citizens, enforcement of contraband lists, and blockades of the enemy’s ports. Some belligerents establish rules of war, such as a moratorium on targeting the enemy’s officers, but these need not be followed; man makes these rules, and man can break them.

A leader in wartime has the same responsibility as a leader in peacetime: within morality, he should do what is best for his country. He must appear strong and resolute to inspire confidence in his troops and citizens. He must have a just reason for going to war and ample possibility of victory. If the possibility of victory disappears, the leader should surrender because continued fighting would result in meaningless death. Able advisors and generals are necessary for victory, and once the leader has appointed them, he should follow their advice. If his advisors are incompetent, he should fire them.

War is extremely destructive. It obliterates property, nature, and human lives. Destruction is not intrinsically immoral, however. Sometimes, we must destroy something to put something better in its place, as when we delete words to improve a paper or burn wood to make a fire. A nation fighting a just war is engaging in creative destruction. It is seeking to defend human rights by disabling or destroying a nation which is encroaching on them. After the opponent is defeated, the nation can construct a better arrangement and a more peaceful world.

The just war may be offensive or defensive. The invasion of a nation’s borders and the violation of a treaty are breaches of contract and violations of a nation’s right to rule itself which can be redressed with force. The killing of enemy soldiers or belligerent civilians is justified because these groups are actively participating in the destruction of others’ rights. Because innocent civilians are not active participants, deliberately killing them is wrong. It is permissible, however, to accidentally kill innocent civilians while attacking enemy combatants. In such a situation, the enemy has intentionally put its civilians in danger by putting soldiers and military bases in the midst of civilian locations, so the safety of the civilians is the enemy’s responsibility. Blaming the nation waging a just war for the unintended death of the enemy’s civilians is like blaming a parent who does not have enough ransom money for the death of a child who has been kidnapped. We should not be subject to “hostage logic.”

The legitimacy of a war also depends on the approval of the national government, the representative of the people. The actions of a few radical individuals, such as terrorists, do not indict the Middle East as a whole in the September 11th attacks. In a similar fashion, the unjust actions of individual soldiers during a war do not discredit the war itself. If they did, then every human institution, including religion and government, would be rendered useless because each has been abused.

Because war is so devastating, it should be fought only after diplomatic efforts are exhausted. Diplomacy can achieve the same result as war without the tremendous cost. Unnecessary war could easily erode human rights instead of increasing them.

Dynamite is a powerful tool of destruction. It levels mountains, vaporizes landmasses, and topples buildings. It is also vital for creation; thanks to dynamite, we have railroads, canals, and urban renewal projects. War is ten thousand times more powerful than dynamite. It has razed everything in its path, from societies and human lives to Nazism. War can be good; it can be great. We need only use it correctly.

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