Arbitrary War Morality: Selective Outrage on the Path to War

By A. G. Moore 9/4/2013


 According to the Potsdam Agreement, populations of ethnic Germans were transported to Germany after WWII.
 Photo form Wikimedia Commons, uploaded from the Sudetendeutsches Archiv
On August 21, 2013, approximately 1,500 Syrians lost their lives in a devastating event– this much appears certain. Little else about the Syrian tragedy is clear. The Obama Administration claims that circumstantial evidence proves the Syrian government was responsible for the catastrophe and that the agent of destruction was lethal gas. It is the last detail, the use of chemical weapons, and not the reality of 1,500 lost lives, which offends President Barack Obama. The President’s selective outrage betrays the hollowness of his argument for launching an attack against Syria.Is death by means other than gas more humane, more acceptable, to the President? If history is a guide, the morality of war, as interpreted by Obama, is arbitrary, even whimsical.Take, for example, a specific instance of civilian casualties: Europe, at the end of WWII. In this post-war period, an estimated 12 to 14 million civilians , mostly women, children and the old, were uprooted and transported, cross-continent, to Germany. To war-ravaged Germany, where survivors of Allied land and air assaults were scratching through rubble for scraps of food. One witness to the forced migration described a scene. He said he heard “screams….(in a) darkened cattle car crammed with deportees” . In all, it is guessed that 500,000 souls lost their lives to the Allied civilian reorganization. I ask: were these 500,000 deaths less tragic than the 1,500 lost in Damascus? Was there greater regard in this European event for innocence, or frailty? I ask further, who has been held responsible for the deaths of 500,000? Where is the outrage?Another example of selectively assigning morality to rules of war: England’s blockade of Germany during WWI. This strategy, which prevented the importation of foodstuffs, did not spare children or the frail. The strategy was a calculation, a tactic designed to bring the enemy to its knees. Lives lost to starvation as a result of the blockade are estimated at 763,000.  Were these 763,000 deaths less tragic than those suffered in Damascus on August 21?  Would the 763, 000 have died more tragically if the agency of death had been gas? As an interesting aside and commentary on England’s cynicism, the naval behemoth continued its blockade after hostilities had concluded, after danger to its own forces had ended. England wanted a submissive Germany, a foe so humbled that it would agree to whatever peace terms were offered. Civilian starvation was merely a means to an end. Who has been held accountable for the 763,000 dead. Where is the outrage? Finally, I turn to Shock and Awe, for demonstration of the whimsical application of morality to rules of war. In 2003 the U. S. Congress approved, with an almost unanimous vote, the invasion of Iraq. That same Congress today debates whether or not to give Barack Obama authority to launch another invasion against another government that has purportedly used chemical weapons. Shock and Awe, the nomenclature used to describe the U. S. tactical approach to the attack on Baghdad, was a combat strategy cooked up by two employees of National Defense University of the United States (an educational institution funded by the U. S. Joint Chiefs of Staff). . The Defense employees, Harlan Ullman and James Wade, described Shock and Awe as the use of “overwhelming force“, which which was meant to disrupt or destroy “means of communication, transportation, food production, water supply, and other aspects of infrastructure”. During the assault on Baghdad, U. S. residents watched their TV screens as the sky over Baghdad lit with the fiery display of massive bombardment. Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, the unrestrained destruction of the Iraqi capital was regarded with disgust and dismay, more an act of terrorism than one of justified self-defense by the U. S..Barack Obama is horrified that gas may have been used to kill 1,500 slumbering souls in Damascus in the early morning hours of August 21st. Obama wants to “punish” Bashar Assad for a breach of international law. But Obama’s outrage is curiously selective and his war argument full of holes. There’s plenty of horror to go around, an abundance of world leaders who deserve “punishing” and  horrific acts that warrant notice.  What must be avoided is turning the deaths of 1,500 Syrians into an even greater tragedy, one that satisfies the long and short-term goals of some very cynical politicians but does nothing to help the Syrian people.

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