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The Morality of Violence

The dilemma Bush and Blair and Powell set for us is: the bottom line is violence. If the tyrant won’t disarm and will use diplomacy to flaunt and manipulate, the only recourse is to take him out–‘regime change’ in political speech. They say the only thing that has brought even token cooperation from Saddam Hussein is massive arms buildup at his borders and time is up for talking. This is The Art of War, Machiavelli, the law of the west. Might makes right. But is it moral?

The Pope says no, that preemptive war is aggressive war. Time counts in the violence play: you can answer but not precede. This line has always been part of the ‘just war’ concept. To some righteous or high moral horse mentalities it’s a weasling technicality. We know who’s good or bad. When George Bush sees signs and polls which say people consider him more dangerous than Saddam Hussein, that war is terror, he shall not be moved. He’s righteous. He acts to save his people from another Saddam-fueled 9/11, to liberate the Iraqi people. Those Vietnamese villages which got burned to be liberated are not in his mind. He’s thinking ahead. We’ll rebuild and set them free. As the Tom Toles cartoon had it ‘if you wait til he gets the irony you wait too long.’

Religion generally fuels the fire. St. Augustine argued that the purpose of war is peace and that paradox or oxymoron or mythologisation of violence underlies most religious stances. Israel is bulldozing peace activists, Islam is issuing jihad calls, Christian Bush is leading the crusade. Give us time and we will remake the world in our beautiful image and new order-that’s the promise. Give us time-a little irregularlity/sacrifice/violence in the moment and then peace. The Hebrew preacher Ecclesiastes wrote that “that is why men’s minds are full of evil and madness is in their minds while they live because their only future is to die.” Obsessed with death, we do evil to try to exorcise death, limited evil to escape the ultimate evil which we cannot escape. We resign ourselves to violence and we rationalize and plunder it to feel alive.

There is no logic to the morality of violence. As the sixties protesters had it “fighting for peace is like fucking for virginity.” There is no morality to violence. It’s the defeat of morality, of a way to live. The Pope is right on this one–war is always a defeat for humanity.

DIANE CHRISTIAN is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at University at Buffalo. She can be reached at: engdc@acsu.buffalo.edu

 

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DIANE CHRISTIAN is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at University at Buffalo and author of the new book Blood Sacrifice. She can be reached at: engdc@acsu.buffalo.edu

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