Friday, January 02, 2009

War according to John Locke

It's interesting in light of the current wars going on to consider what's regarded in Lockean theory as a state of war and what that implies. Basically, people are protected by their engaging in society. Their rights are safeguarded by the association known as society, which should exist not for plunder or expansion but to facilitate a peaceful existence. My rights balance yours and if you don't infringe on my rights I won't infringe on yours. I won't break into your home if you don't steal my car, because in the end mutual respect for rights benefits everyone. But if someone or some entity breaks away and declares war on society---and follows through on it--systematically violating those rights and disregarding them for their own purposes, then it's permissible to break certain peacetime rules in order to stop the violation of those rights. Once the threat is gone and rights are restored, the war should end, and it should always be defensive.

In a state of war, legally recognized combatants have certain rights that can't be ignored. It's not ok to murder people in society--in certain circumstances in war it is legal, although there still are rules, and consequently people who fight in war cannot be tried for murder. Which brings up, on a side note, the Bush administration's idea of "Unlawful Combatants". This is a legal fiction because there's no war that these people can be lawful combatants of. In normal practice unrecognized combatants receive much heavier penalties for actions engaged in war time, yet they still have human rights.

The idea of legally recognized combatants is that if someone declares war on you, or somehow you become involved in a war, you have a right to resist with comparable violence. Despite the pretensions of some liberal pacifist circles, resistance to invasion is recognized as completely legal and justifiable, no matter if you disapprove of it or not. Fighting should be conducted with the minimal of casualties and no atrocities because the goal is to restore some state of affairs where basic human rights can exist for the citizens of the society.

The fact is that pacifism is a luxury for the well off, and rich liberals---either literally rich or extraordinarily rich compared to the people of the third world--who crow about people doing largely low level resistance to invasion and assault, and complain about the rhetoric accompanying it, have no fucking clue what's actually goingon on the ground floor. They expect people who are being shot and bombed to kneel, pray, and engage in passive resistance, not wanting to confront their oppressors because that would be dirty or tainted in some way. If they don't hold hands and sing cumbaya while they're being slaughtered they're evil evil evil and are unworthy of sympathy--and of course an actual history of violent acts is grist for the mill. The sum total is a pile of lies that justify never being sympathetic to any struggle because no one is pure enough for you. No one is as pacifist as you want or as pretty as you want, they don't have the political rhetoric that you like, their organization is not what you'd put together (you think) . So you can't be in sympathy with them, even if they represent the will of the people, for better or for worse.

This thinking is ignorant of the real problems of war, of its seriousness, how things are different during a state of war, likely because they have never either directly or indirectly experienced it, or are even just unaware of history. It's unpopular because the Bush administration testosterone ball jockeys have commandeered it and used it to justify two invasions plus the illegal imprisonment of over a thousand people, but a state of war cannot be judged according to the standards of the regular, civil, world.

So what's the alternative, what's there if pure pacifism fails? Well, you know there have been meetings after meetings, treaty after treaty, and much ink spilled and much thinking applied to the problem of what's permissible and what's not during war. It's not like people have never considered the question.

End of ramble.

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