Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

No more peacetime. Perpetual war instead

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Rosa Brooks writes in Foreign Policy:

Most of us view perpetual war as deeply inimical to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.

We’re not wrong: Since the 9/11 attacks, two successive U.S. presidential administrations have embraced indefinite detention, massive secret surveillance programs, covert cross-border targeted killings, and a host of other troubling practices. In reaction, those concerned with rights and the rule of law have called for an end to the post-9/11 “war paradigm,” insisting that counterterrorism should not be conceptualized as war and urging a return to a law enforcement framework.

That’s an understandable impulse. It’s also largely a waste of time and energy. A decade and a half after 9/11, the war on terror continues to open new fronts from Syria to Libya to Nigeria. And it’s hard to see this changing under a Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush administration. Perpetual war is unlikely to end in our lifetimes. Until we accept this, the post-9/11 erosion of human rights is likely to continue.

That’s counterintuitive, but bear with me. Consider, first, the question of whether war and peace have ever been as distinct as we like to imagine and whether war has historically been the exception or the norm. Second, consider the degree to which the protection of human rights and the constraint on untrammeled state power currently depends on our ability to draw sharp lines between war and peace (or, at least, between war and not-war). Much that’s considered unacceptable and unlawful in peacetime becomes permissible in wartime. Third, consider that today it has become virtually impossible to draw a clear distinction between war and not-war — not just because of bad-faith legal and political arguments made by U.S. officials (though we’ve seen plenty of those), but because of genuine and significant changes to the global geopolitical landscape. Finally, think about what we might gain if we abandoned the effort to draw increasingly arbitrary lines between peacetime and wartime and instead focused on developing institutions and norms capable of protecting rights and rule-of-law values at all times.

1. “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”

“I do not believe America’s interests are served by endless war or by remaining on a perpetual war footing,” President Barack Obama said in February. That this statement came as the U.S. president unveiled his request for Congress to authorize military force against yet another enemy — the self-styled Islamic State, this time — was an irony lost on few observers.

No modern politician will praise war. Individual wars, perhaps — but not war as such. American political culture regards war as an occasional but regrettable necessity, at best, and a tragic and wholly avoidable failure, at worst. Either way, we view war as the exception and peace as the norm. As Obama put it in a 2013 speech, “Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises.”

On the contrary: For much of human history, war has been the norm and peace has been the exception, though Americans have been largely blind to this reality. Foreign attacks on U.S. soil have been few and far between, and for most of U.S. history, the country’s wars have been fought by a small and highly professionalized military, making them largely invisible to the bulk of the American population.

The American Civil War — one of the few to visit its harms on the nation as a whole — occasioned the first U.S. government effort to codify the laws of armed conflict, a set of 1863 instructions issued to Union Army troops during the Civil War. “Modern times are distinguished from earlier ages by the existence, at one and the same time, of many nations and great governments related to one another in close intercourse,” declared General Orders No. 100, better known as the Lieber Code. “Peace is their normal condition; war is the exception. The ultimate object of all modern war is a renewed state of peace.”

This was an optimistic perspective in 1863, coming, as it did, in the middle of a century kicked off in Europe by the Napoleonic Wars, which lasted for over a decade and killed more than 3 million people, and during a bloody civil war that killed some 2 percent of the U.S. population. The 19th century was racked by conflict, from uprisings in Serbia and Greece to the Crimean War and the wars of Italian unification.

The 18th, 17th, 16th, and 15th centuries were similarly marred by widespread conflict, punctuated less by periods of peace than by periods of smaller-scale conflicts. Look back further, and the same is true. As historian Michael Howard put it in The Invention of Peace, “Archaeological, anthropological, as well as all surviving documentary evidence indicates that war, armed conflict between organized political groups, has been the universal norm in human history.”

And the century that followed the Lieber Code’s historical misremembering was no better: Two world wars wiped out tens of millions, to say nothing of the numerous non-Western conflicts that engulfed parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Even the fortunate United States was in a state of near-constant warfare throughout the 20th century. There were the two world wars, of course, and the wars in Korea and Vietnam. And there were many other conflicts between 1900 and 2000 that Americans have largely edited out of the national narrative. Between 1900 and 2000, the United States has also used military force in China, Cuba, Mexico, Haiti, Panama, the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Turkey, Russia, Cambodia, Laos, the former Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Grenada, Libya, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Guatemala, and El Salvador, among other places. Granted, these were mostly “small wars” — but as legal historian Mary Dudziak notes in her fine book War Time, “It is only through forgetting the small wars that so much of American history is remembered as peacetime.”

Why should Americans expect anything different from the 21st century? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2015 at 2:34 pm

Posted in Government, Military

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