In “An Unjustified War” (Views, February), Srdja Trifkovic brilliantly summarizes the Iraq war as being “a disaster for the United States, for the Iraqis, and for the stability of the region. All putative justifications were based on outright lies or gross errors of judgment. It was an unjust and unjustifiable war.”
Given the truth of this summary, which is irrefutable, what bothers me is that no one bearing responsibility for this has ever been held accountable in any way. People have been fired and have been sent to prison for less. Doesn’t justice call for punishment for wrongdoing, or are officials in government above accountability as long as they are a member of the “team” and show their loyalty to the “team”?
1812 and All That
Thank you for the discussion of the critical issue of Just War Theory in the February issue of Chronicles (“Mission Accomplished: Postmortem on an Unjust War”).
I have recently made some attempt to understand the War of 1812, so I was very interested in Dr. Fleming’s parenthetic statement in “Lessons of the War” (Perspective) that the War of 1812 was a just war. My impression is that a limited defensive naval war by the United States in the early 19th century against both England and France would have been justified. Both countries were frequently seizing American ships, and the British were also seizing American sailors.
However, I don’t see the justice of the invasions of Canada in the War of 1812. The War Hawks of that period blamed England for Indian depredations in the American Northwest. If this were true, invasions of Canada to drive out the British would have been just, but I have not seen any convincing evidence that the British caused the hostility of the Indians toward the expansionist Americans. The British did support the Northwestern Indians’ aggression, but they did not incite the hostility, as far as I can see. Even without British assistance I think the Northwestern Indians would have resisted American expansion, like the Southwestern Creek Indians who in 1813-14 fought fiercely against the Americans (mainly the Tennessee militia under Andrew Jackson) without any involvement of the British, who seem not to have had any contact at all with the Creeks.
West Seneca, NY
Dr. Fleming Replies:
I agree with Mr. Porreca’s reasoning, generally, but I think one has to be realistic. Once a war starts, the side that views itself as the victim of aggression will find it difficult if not impossible to restrict its military actions to carefully designated targets. Canada was a British possession, not an independent country or sovereign state, and thus was fair game. Naturally, the true motive was the unfulfilled longing of New Englanders to seize Canada, particularly Quebec, as they had attempted more than once.
I should also add that it was British and French policy to stir up the Indians against rivals and enemies, even when they were not at war. No side had clean hands in this respect. Indeed, it was one of the complaints in the Declaration of Independence that the king had “endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”
Fair enough, but Americans would learn to play the same game. The criteria for a just war are useful in evaluating the justifications used for aggression. If, however, they are applied overzealously to difficult circumstances, they will, first, impede a nation’s defense of its own interests and, afterward, be jettisoned as irrelevant to the real world.
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