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What It Means to be Against the War

by Norman Madarasz

War is one of the great privileges of civilization, quite characteristic of our own. It’s a moment to join together in a group celebration in which deep passions are allowed to arise, the clearest of which is hate itself. War is a time for displays of masterful reasoning and the rational perfection of logistics. War is also the time of suffering and casualties. By now everyone should know that the first casualty of war is the truth.

It’s never easy to figure out how truth dies in such circumstances. At least spotting the bigot is easier. Nor is it easy to find human victims, even through mangled and bloodied TV body images. What we hear when we wish to listen are the double standards set by military-speak: what has become ours through choice will be theirs by destiny.

Anyone who speaks out in moments of tense conflict has interests to defend. It’s just that some speakers work with the aim of seeking justice, while others put justice to the service of seeking work. Interest in social justice vs. corporate interests set themselves up as the frontlines of conflict, though not of war. Amid pressure to rally behind the war effort, we are all too eager to forget lessons of the past proving that no war is a just war. The best-kept secret is that war takes place for none of the reasons most stated by the majority. That’s not because being against war is the affair of a minority, though often it has been. Rather, it’s waging war that throughout history has only benefited minorities-just say it: classes-, though the criterion for success has been popular support.

In times of peace you often hear how conflict is at the heart of human behavior. Yet when the real bombs are pounding, theorists and ideologists scurry for shelter behind sets of justifications. Isn’t it odd then that such beings of natural conflict should require so much effort to be convinced of it?

Say that conflict is, in fact, at the heart of human behavior. As human behavior enjoys turning the heart to advantage, there is no dearth of those who benefit from conflict. Whether conflict plays a stronger part in human survival through evolution than does benevolence is a chicken-and-egg question. While conflict may remain a dire expression of human intellectual need, there’s no mistaking war. What the general public can only mistake is whose need war fulfills.

Nor does everyone have access to the kind of information by which to figure out how far off one is from the truth. Conflict may trigger your curiosity, and your past selves may be left behind. Incisive historical analyses often prove how painful the incision is when operating on the denial that a war is fought on the public’s behalf. Which is why it is utterly ideological and propagandistic to claim that those who oppose war also reject conflict.


Label those who oppose war as doves or pacifists, peaceniks and hippies. But remember that the idea of a just war is made possible by evolutions in justice, instead of war. The chicken-and-egg question then turns to the coop: justice, law and rights have hatched the empty shell of just wars. But they’ve allowed us to justify-and that’s the point. When pushed far enough justifying dishevels any single-mindedness. That’s because arguing is inevitably set in standards of disinterested objectivity, no matter how forced. Time tells the same facts that are denied in the spur of patriotic passion. But there is little time to avoid the murderous outrage exploding from the wounds of the mighty.

The glittering history of the US since WWII has been splattered with war. Above all, war means killing a lot of innocent civilians. Which is why no coherent logic of any sort accepts belief in the US as a peaceful nation. Some journalists ask us to contemplate the actual situation, the fact that yet again “Muslim” countries are at war. Yet when the question of how refined our attention ought to be to spot the specialized interests behind the scenes, silence and anger then become the debater.

So the basic reason for being against this war in particular has everything to do with illegal blood shedding in general. In that sense legality on an international scale turns into the problem-at least for the US. The “Students of Islam” are not the first dictators our southern neighbors and allies have supported for gain. They’ve done so to help destroy the USSR in the latter’s “Vietnam”. They’ve crushed either hands-on or remotely popular revolts that have aimed for land and profit sharing where Northern fruit and oil companies have dug in their stakes. Now we expect those we kept in subjection to overthrow their own government upon the threat of a B-52?s deadly wrath? Fanaticism is confirmed when we cannot doubt for a second that we’re right. But international law will outlast the merciless act of bombing an entire people into submission and outreach what an aggressor nation seeks to attain by state punishment.


Capital punishment has been rejected in Canada on grounds that no state authority should be endowed with the solemn right to decide over another human being’s life. The analogous argument applies to war, but how often is it upheld? Canadians who remember once being the social conscience of the US know how the analogy’s only been flipped over in the south. Many States do indeed hold the right to put their own citizens to death, as the Federal State does citizens and soldiers of other nations. This is why few in the US consider the attack on Afghanistan as illegal. But you have to push art. 51 of the UN charter very far, perhaps all the way to the Eurasian plateau, to consider the US as being permanently under attack, just as you had to during the Kosovo attack when the US used the same clause to skirt over UN leadership. What we are seeing nowadays–and yet again–is repetition of some of the very acts that stand as reasons for September 11th.

Denouncing and censuring citizens who oppose the war effort may prove the consumer’s point: we’re in need of the economy, not a polity. Consumption is more propitious to human passion than is politics, they would add. The ideals of our nation, as well as those of our southern neighbors, were surely built on passion, but channeled and controlled by reason. The rise of Anglo-American culture in the 18th century gave a new political sensibility to the need of bracing passion with reason by enshrining the human territorial instinct into law. Now North America’s territorial instinct has been torn asunder. Its gut has been wrenched out in a sentiment of attack not felt on our continent since the First Nations were robbed of their lands.

Nothing will ever be the same anymore, sure enough, other than war itself. Indeed, things have never been the same since the US started overthrowing democratic governments, like Chile’s on September 11, 1973. And nothing has been the same since the murderous masquerade of the war on Iraq-it’s just that we still pretend to not know, and act like we don’t care. Then again, given the channeling of information and news during a war-under the refrain of “the dead cannot be confirmed”- this is no surprise. Which is why the American bombing campaign of Afghanistan must be stopped immediately to give credible means to international law in its search for the perpetrators of September 11 and the anthrax scare. CP

Norman Madarasz lives in Montreal. He is editor and translator of Alain Badiou’s Manifesto for Philosophy, published by NYU Press.

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