Pacifism, the War on Terror, and Politics in the 2012 Elections

by Dr. Bruce Arnold

[I made a decision at the very beginning that this would not be a political blog. I have definite political opinions, but in general I think that politics get more attention than they should. Partisan politics are especially hideous. I’m going to sound off just a bit about politics here, because there are times when it is important. This is one of them.

In a larger sense, this is still not about politics as such. This is about issues which have a political context.

I always welcome comments, but I suspect that this post will invite comments that will have a pointedly political or partisan thrust. Do yourself a favor: post them on your own blog. I won’t approve them for publication here. Don’t be surprised or disappointed if yours never sees the light of day. Forewarned is forearmed.]

Politics should be the handmaiden of our lives, not the mistress. Too many people think of the government as “the decider”, to borrow George Bush’s famous oversimplification. People want government to do things. Every time some problem emerges — from a deadly hurricane to unemployment to the cost of health care — too many people look to government to provide the solution. Governments are notoriously bad at this sort of thing. There is little evidence to the contrary. What drives this, for most people, is that they really want a parent to take care of them.

What governments are good at, and necessary for, comes down to a few things: To secure our borders and protect the country from foreign invasion. To pursue a foreign policy that enables our citizens to travel and do business freely around the world. To coordinate efforts that affect all the states — not to provide or run those efforts, but to coordinate them. And, most importantly, to secure the civil rights of all citizens. Every one, regardless of race, creed, disability, mental status, gender, sexual preference, you name it.

So when I say politics should be the handmaiden and not the mistress, that is because there are many things that are much more important than politics, such as ethics, and commerce, and relationships between people and groups of peoples. To the extent that government can remove obstacles that make those things difficult, it is good. To the extent that politics is necessary to the conduct of government, it is acceptable. Anything beyond that, quite frankly, is delusional.

That’s pretty abstract. Let me give a more concrete example.

I am a lifelong pacifist. I don’t expect my government to be pacifist. Governments are based on force. Laws carry the threat of arrest and imprisonment, a form of force. Borders are secured by our armed forces. Foreign policy is conducted largely with the knowledge that some things lead to war if not managed better. I don’t expect this to change; I am no utopian. What a pacifist can contribute, is to keep the pressure on to find humane and peaceful ways of conducting foreign policy, border security, or law enforcement. That is no small project.

So when America becomes involved in torture, people of ethics in general and pacifists in particular say STOP! When massacres such as My Lai occur, people of ethics in general and pacifists in particular act to have the people who committed them held accountable. (The people who were most responsible for My Lai were never held accountable. While Lt. Calley should not have gotten off scot-free — we don’t accept “I was just following orders” as an excuse for atrocity — he was wrongfully used as a scapegoat by those who were even more truly responsible, the ones who set the policies and gave the orders which created the atmosphere in which the slaughter occurred.)

And when politicians use those humane impulses to win elections, and then go right on doing the very things they condemned in order to get elected, ethical people in general and pacifists in particular have to stand up to the deception.

I am not going to vote for Mitt Romney. Keep that in mind as you read what follows.

Barack Obama made a lot of political hay, talking about torture, extraordinary renditions, the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and other such policies of the Bush administration in his historic rise to the Presidency. What has he done since then?

* Guantanamo Bay is still operating the prison for terrorists. As of September 2012, 166 detainees remain in the facility. [LA Times, 9/23/12]

* The use of drones in targeted killings has increased under President Obama. Administration sources say that this keeps civilian casualties down. Yet reports increasingly describe how whole provinces in Pakistan — nominally our allies — are terrorized by the drones. Many die. More are kept in a state of terror as the drones fly overhead day and night, not knowing where the next explosion will occur.

* Assassination: how is the use of a drone to take out a targeted individual any different from sending in an assassin with a gun or knife? It’s not. Except the “collateral damage” (civilian deaths and casualties) is higher. We have had a longstanding prohibition of the use of assassination by the U.S. Apparently this has been overlooked by both the Bush and Obama administrations.

* Passing death sentences on U.S. citizens without a trial in a court of law: 16 year old native of Colorado:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/world/documents/abdulrahman-al-awlaki-birth-certificate.html

Google the name and learn more about this incident.

* President Obama followed neither the War Powers Act nor the Constitution in ordering military operations in Libya in 2011. Ralph Nader called him a “war criminal” for doing this. Good old Ralph. At least he is consistent. “If Bush should have been impeached, Obama should be impeached.” Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich said the same thing.

* Warrantless wiretaps: The ACLU has recently released findings that warrantless wiretaps have quadrupled under the Obama administration. http://www.aclu.org/blog/national-security-technology-and-liberty/new-justice-department-documents-show-huge-increase

What I don’t see is the same kind of outcry by the people who so strenuously opposed these things when done by the Bush administration.

People of ethics in general, and pacifists in particular, have to stand up against this deception, whether you like the guy or not.

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