More Than Rumors of War

Trump’s attack against Syria needs not surprise anyone following his bellicose pronouncements about women, minorities, the disabled, and others. Bullies seek to express their anger toward others in all sorts of unacceptable ways and the victims are usually weaker. Following the 2001 attacks in the U.S., all the stops were pulled and civilians were fair game in the wars the U.S. wages. Drone warfare and collateral damage from drone warfare are examples of acts of war  where international law falls far short, or are completely ignored.

What was a bit surprising, however, even within the parameters of bald-faced U.S. militarism, was the reaction of the established media. Brian Williams led off the cheerleading on MSMBC with his description of the cruise missiles being fired as “beautiful.” Imagine a reporter for a major mainstream news outlet describing the launching of a weapon of such destructive power as “beautiful” (“Brian Williams is ‘guided by the beauty of our weapons’ in Syria strikes, The Washington Post, April 7, 2017).

And the leader of the pack of so-called liberal news reporting, “the newspaper of record,” expressed the attack this way: “It was hard not to feel some sense of emotional satisfaction, and justice done, when American cruise missiles struck an airfield in Syria on Thursday” (“After the Airstrikes on Syria, What’s s Next?,” The New York Times, April 7, 2017). Obviously, the Times editorial writer doesn’t get quite enough satisfaction from the normal interactions in life, so those “bombs bursting in air,” must be the stuff of great solace.

A rational analysis to the chemical attack in Syria and the U.S. response to it could only be found in left media. In “Wilkerson: Trump Attack on Syria Driven by Domestic Politics,” The Real News Network, April 7, 2017), Col. Lawrence Wilkerson makes the argument that the chemical attack in Syria may not have been the work of Assad and that there has been no independent investigation that Assad spearheaded this heinous assault in Khan Sheikhoun.

The Middle East was divided up among the major powers of the 20th century, with England being the predominant superpower prior to the dominant position taken up by the U.S. following World War II. Oil was the name of the game in the Middle East and all manner of mayhem was tolerated as long as that black gold poured into the coffers of the West and fueled their economies and militaries. Democracy was most often squelched before it could develop in places like Iran, Egypt, and the Palestinian territories. Some of the worst reactionary regimes operated in places like Saudi Arabia, now underwritten by the U.S. in the former’s war in Yemen. When proxy wars were fought in places like Afghanistan, most often rubble was left behind. Regime change ended in endless wars that made trillions of dollars for arms’ manufacturers. And majorities in the U.S., out of both fear and anger, could be counted on to support just about any war after the attacks of September 2001.

Given the tortured history of the Middle East, is it any surprise that a monster like Assad would come to power in Syria?

I doubt that if the rules of war were explained to Donald Trump he would be able to comprehend  them. If indeed he did understand them, he’d laugh them off. The problem would be that the concepts about what is acceptable action in times of war (war technology has made nothing acceptable) would fall on the unhearing ears of this caricature of  Narcissism.

The Laws of War, edited by Michael Reisman and Chris Antonio (1994), provides the framework for the 20th century’s refinement of the just war theory. The just war theory simply stated outlines the conditions under which nation states may go to war. An attack by an aggressor must be grave, the response must be proportional to the attack, wars must be waged by recognized states, force can only be used by states after all other alternatives to war are exhausted, and civilians and prisoners of war must be protected in times of war.

The Covenant of the League of Nations states that war or the threat of war “is a matter of concern to the whole League.” It further elaborates that any act of war not supported by League members is an act of war against all members of the League. The U.S. was not a signatory to the League.

The Kellogg-Briand Pact states that contracting parties to the pact “condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies.”

The Charter of the United Nations states emphatically that members “refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”

The Hague Convention Respecting The Laws And Customs of War on Land states that those who have signed the convention must instruct their soldiers in the law of war.

And most importantly are the Geneva Conventions that concern the treatment of prisoners during war, the use of chemical and incendiary weapons, and the protections of civilians during war,. The Conventions delineate many acts in times of war that are prohibited between waring parties. Many of the Conventions were written following the horror of the fascist march across Europe, Asia, and the Pacific during World War II, with its attendant grotesque disregard for the rights of civilians, noncombatants, and captured soldiers. That same disregard for humanity goes on daily in Syria today. Many nations have blood on their hands in regard to Syria.

The Nuremberg principles set the framework for what constitutes a war crime and the responsibility of individual soldiers in times of war to respect civilians.

And most of the international rules of war are supported by laws, both military and civilian, passed in the U.S.

None of these rules of war matter to any great degree in the current climate of endless warfare. In “North Korea ‘ready for war’ after US navy strike team redeploys,” (The Guardian, April 10, 2017), it is not difficult to comprehend why the Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has been set at 2 and 1/2 minutes to midnight. There are more than just rumors of war!

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).