Obama shouldn’t view Afghan war as a just one

President Barack Obama started off his presidency by distinguishing between the two wars America is currently fighting: The war in Iraq is the one that is unnecessary and the war in Afghanistan was the one of “necessity.” But what makes a war necessary? Obama argues that the Afghan war is being fought for the immediate safety and security of the United States. But is that reason enough for war?

Renowned historian and author, Howard Zinn has recently been traveling around the country and speaking out against war — he himself came to the revelation that his own service in World War II was wrong.

Zinn makes the important distinction between a “just cause” and a “just war.”

“Our culture is so war prone, that we immediately rush and make this logical jump from ‘this is a just cause’ to ‘it deserves a war,’” he said.

Indeed, a war and a cause are very different things, but what distinguishes the moral justness appropriate to each?

Zinn argues that, without exception, the means of wars have not been justified by their ends. For instance, during the Korean War from 1950–1953, an estimated 2 million Korean civilians were killed. The situation after the war was almost identical to that before the war — with a dictatorship in power in North Korea and a dictatorship in power in South Korea.

The word “civilian” is too abstract and technical, and doesn’t adequately communicate what a “civilian death” truly is. Maybe wars would be seen in a different light if, in print and on TV, the word “civilian” were replaced with “completely innocent person minding his own business, who likely had a spouse and children, and a mother and a father, all of whom he loved and who loved him dearly.”

There are many parallels between these other unjustified wars and the current war in Afghanistan. Estimates of total civilian deaths from the war — including direct deaths from bombs and guns and indirect deaths from lack of access to hospitals and food — range in the tens of thousands.

Many experts have claimed that the terrorist groups that the war in Afghanistan was supposed to defeat have in fact become even stronger as a result of the war. In a 2005 paper, the Oxford Research Group stated that “Al-Qaida and its affiliates remain active and effective, with a stronger support base and a higher intensity of attacks than before 9/11.” Claims like these cast serious doubt on the justness and necessity of the war in Afghanistan.

How do countries get tangled up in all of these wars and death? Zinn frequently cites psychologist Gustave Gilbert, who interviewed extensively high-ranking Nazi officials before, during and after their trials. In talking to Hermann Göring, the second ranking official under Adolf Hitler, Gilbert recorded Göring as saying, “Naturally, the common people don’t want war … But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along … That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

This is obviously not the evidence for the case to cease all wars, but it does aptly describe how war is initiated.

Zinn is often presented with the notion that war is part of human nature. If this were true, however, why do governments bend over backwards in their efforts to persuade the populations to go to war? Wouldn’t hoards of people just spontaneously jump up, guns in hand and ready to fight, at the mere mention of bloody battle?

Rather, the American government has to spend months and years and billions of dollars persuading its people to consent and pick up arms. The current public opinion doesn’t seem to be very strong for continued operations in Afghanistan: a recent New York Times/CBS poll found that half of Americans are disaffected by the war and the majority want all troops back within two years.

Hopefully, Obama will soon come to see the Afghan war — not just the Iraq war — as one of wasted resources and life instead of continuing to believe in its necessity.

Obama has a lot riding on the war in Afghanistan, from the thousands of jobs it generates to the keeping of his own word. But if he thinks it over and decides to pull American forces out as soon as possible, it would be the bravest decision any president has made in a long time.

Max Hoiland is a senior majoring in cinema-television critical studies.

2 replies
  1. Jennifer Vitela
    Jennifer Vitela says:

    War is bad, peace is good, yadda yadda yadda….

    This is a message to Mr. Max Hoiland, the senior majoring in cinema-television critical studies who, thanks to a war, lives in a country that secures his freedom of political speech:

    As a young student at USC, you should be forgiven for your naivete about world events, international relations and the difficult decisions that plague our leaders as they attempt to secure our nation. But, from s a USC alum who has served in Iraq and is preparing to deploy to Afghanistan at the end of this month, your opinion is uninformed and your arguments against the war in Afghanistan are careless.

    I am curious: according to your logic, how should we have responded to the thousands of deaths we suffered on 9/11? What is the world’s responsibility when a tyrant is committing genocide, as Saddam Hussein did when he massacred the Kurds? Should we neglect the abhorrent abuses of millions of women by the Taliban and allow them to continue to harbor the terrorists who are plotting to kill US civilians, people you suggest we refer to as “completely innocent person minding his own business, who likely had a spouse and children, and a mother and a father, all of whom he loved and who loved him dearly.” And, according to this same logic, are you suggesting we should have looked the other way when Hitler was murdering millions of Jews?

    I hate to break it to you but Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are imaginary. And so is the world you live in if you think pulling American forces from Afghanistan would be a prudent choice. The terrorists who hide behind Islam to justify their jihad against America will continue to recruit and train more followers, followers who will continue to plot attacks against America and our sympathizers. And they will be able to do so freely in the Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan because currently the people of that country are too vulnerable and the security forces are unprepared to stop this activity within their borders.

    The casualties of war are terrible…but this is considered a “just” war because the potential casualties if we were to withdraw are far greater. It is an unfortunate truth but a likely truth nonetheless. And, might I suggest, that you should abandon the theory of the delusional (and the Nazi you quoted) for the truth and reality of the world we live in today.

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