Palestine, 9/11, Iraq, 7/7... (London: Continuum)
RIGHT AND WRONG, AND PALESTINE, 9/11, IRAQ, 7/7... (New York: Seven Stories Press)
by Ted Honderich
This new book, published in the United Kingdom under the first title above and in the United States and Canada under the second, consists in argument about what makes for right or wrong in general, and then argument about right or wrong with respect to Palestine, 9/11, the Iraq War, 7/7, and what is to come. Hence, with respect to the latter connected things, it also makes judgements as to shares of moral responsibility. Six of its 29 sections appear below. The first two are 'Our Questions' and 'A Division of Labour, Philosophy's Part'. The next one is one of three in the book on judging right and wrong by democracy. The fourth is one of several in the book about understanding, judging, and inciting terrorism. The last two sections are about the Iraq War. To locate this thinking in the context of the book as a whole, which justifies Zionism but not neo-Zionism, have a look at the table of contents at the end. There is also a German translation of the first half of the book. Have a look too if you want at a review of the book by Tam Dalyell, lately M.P. for Linlithgow and Father of the House of Commons, and a review by Steve Poole, author of Unthink, and at Italian and Belgian interviews on the subject. There is also a video of an eventually terrible 40-minute television programme made from the book.
1. Our Questions
Was the founding of Israel in Palestine in 1948 right or wrong? What about what has happened there since the 1967 war of enlargement? How was the terrorist attack of 9/11 on the twin towers of America right or wrong? What of our following war in Iraq, a freedom secured but so many dead? What of the horror of the day of 7/7 in London? Was the horror of what happened in the subway trains and the bus, like that of 9/11, itself a proof? And what of right and wrong with more of the same that is to come? There is more to come.
Let us think of these things together. Let us, if we can, come to agree on argued judgments about them. They are thought to be connected, a series of related events. Let us anyway come to our own different judgements after listening to one another.
The questions of right and wrong are close to questions about the moral responsibility and the moral credit of people involved. Indeed the question of who is to be held morally responsible for something is a question of whose wrong it was -- or the question of to what different extents it was the wrong of more contributors than one. This question of responsibility, of who needs to change or be changed, is of plain and immediate importance. But our fundamental and common concern is right and wrong, justification or the lack of it, what was permissible or obligatory and what was neither.
And hence, of course, right and wrong now. Nothing is ever only about the past. Indeed you can say nothing is about only the past. History, at the very least, is about present curiosity, present feeling. Recent history is almost always about present decision, present action.
In our societies we are well supplied with judgements, proposals and words, very often just enunciations of words, by our democratic politicians and those who speak with them. These words in answer to our questions are known and familiar, a kind of litany, and we hear them as if in a dream or some other suspension of judgement. We can do a real thing as well, which is to think and feel, think and feel for ourselves.
To give our own answers to the questions of justification with respect to Palestine, 9/11, Iraq, 7/7 and more of the same, and of moral responsibility, and of what is to be done now, will also be to give one more answer. To come to argued judgements in response to particular questions is necessarily and inevitably to to do what has a general implication, or rather to do what derives from a general view. You cannot look at a thing, even a group of things, in isolation.
For a start, you will have to worry about being inconsistent, about being in self-contradiction, thereby cancelling your own propositions, in fact having no thought at all. So, in addition to thinking of the three questions of this time, we will be thinking of the general and fundamental one of right and wrong in the world, sometimes said to be timeless. You can also call this the question of humanity, decency or justice. In fact we will start with it. This will not be an introduction to what follows, but the construction of a foundation and structure for it.
2. A Division of Labour, Philosophy's Part
With all of our questions, including the general one, there is a division of labour. This is certainly so with the question of the conflict between the Palestinians and Zionism -- with Zionism taken as being not something a little vague, but as the justifying, founding and defending of the state of Israel within more or less its original borders, those of 1948. There is a division of labour, too, with the different question of the Palestinians and neo-Zionism, the latter being the enlarging of Israel since the war of 1967 into still more of the land of Palestine, with all that this has entailed and may entail for the Palestinians.
There is also that division of labour about right and wrong, maybe just about the proof of wrong and getting rid of irrelevancies, with the terrorist attack by airliners on the twin towers and the Pentagon in the United States on September 11, 2001. Did the awfulness of it that gripped a nation settle the question of the nature of the attack and what to do?
So with the connected war by the United States and Britain in Iraq that began in March 2003. Was this war somehow like the terrorism of 9/11?Did it have justification anyway? That would not depend on the sincerity or general decency of the leaders of those countries, Bush and Blair. It would not actually depend on the truthfulness of the second of them, the leader who followed his leader. Even if he was not a man attached to truth, not capable of seeing its value, he might have been right.
So too is there the division of labour with the attack on three subway trains and a bus in London on July 7, 2005. Of what moral relevance, what relevance to right and wrong, if any, was the fact that the British army had been engaged in the killing of greatly more of a people with whom the terrorists identified? Of what relevance, as a newspaper article asked a week later, was the fact that the British prime minister put his own people at risk in the service of a foreign power?
Historians, including historians of population, have a part to play in the question of Zionism and the Palestinians and the question of neo-Zionism and the Palestinians. How many Palestinians and how many Jews were there living in Palestine in what times? In Iraq, there are other questions for historians. How many people have died, and how? Were those killed by the American and British forces, like those killed by the other side, fried or torn to death? Is that what missiles and rockets do? To turn to 9/11 and 7/7, and a harder question, has religion always served causes more real than itself? Has it been about desires for this life?
There is also a role for inquirers into international relations, first those who bring a power of knowledge and judgement to their work. They may not be in university departments of international relations. The professor of linguistics Noam Chomsky is the exemplar in our history. Some of the labour of right and wrong also falls to good journalists, and not just preparatory work. What were the feelings, the attitudes to us, of those in Iraq we said we were freeing?
So too, you can think, are there parts with large questions of justification for partisans and propagandists, persons on a side, maybe well beyond self-doubt. They make some contribution to progress towards moral truth, towards what we can have of that kind -- even if their commitment to it, and to truth itself, is weak or treacherous. John Stuart Mill argued along those lines, about the value of the expression of all opinions, however outrageous or appalling, in that foundation document of liberalism, On Liberty.
No doubt others can claim a part in the labour of trying to see what is right or wrong in general and then in Palestine and with those three things that have come after it, and, to say the very least, have something to do with it. Lawyers come to mind. Politicians too can claim a part in the labour of inquiry, I suppose, anyway some of them. They have got people to listen to them, which is some kind of certification. Political theorists can claim a part too. It is democracy that we are told we are bringing to Iraq.
Economists can help. What money has gone and goes from the United States to Israel, and what has it done and what does it do? International lawyers also claim a part, as you will be hearing more fully in a couple of minutes. So too do religious persons, some of them Islamic clerics, some of them rabbis, some of them American fundamentalists with what is kindly called a simple faith in the Bible.
Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leader of the Church of England, is less simple on his subject of how faith might begin to think and feel its way through such nightmares as 9/11:
Even vile and murderous actions tend to come from somewhere, and if they are extreme in character we are not wrong to look for extreme situations. It does not mean that those who do them had no choice, are not answerable; far from it. But there is sentimentality too in ascribing what we don't understand to 'evil'; it lets us off the hook, it allows us to avoid the question of what, if anything, we can recognise in the destructive act of another.
Does that help a little? Could be. Do you recognize yourself a little in a 7/7 bomber?
In the division of labour with respect to all the questions of right and wrong, philosophers have the possibility and maybe the obligation of a large part. The philosophers I have in mind have as their historical exemplars David Hume in Scotland and Immanuel Kant in Germany in the 18th Century, and Charles Sanders Peirce in America in the next century. Descartes in France, I guess. Their thinking is a little underdescribed as analytic in a wide sense of the term.
It is a general logic. That consists in a clarity about things that most often is analysis of things rather than any other kind of understanding, and consistency and validity in thinking and arguing about them, and a generality that also makes for a completeness. With this logic comes a scepticism and balance, and should come some self-doubt. It would be mistaken to say that the historians and others do not aspire to and sometimes achieve this logic. But it is not and cannot be their preoccupation. They have other things to do.
There is a second reason for philosophy's part in the division of labour. The general question of right and wrong and related questions have been and are the principal subject of that part of philosophy that is moral philosophy or ethics. It is a strong and rich part of philosophy.
It has in it distinctions our leaders pretend not to know, or which are overlooked by them, or which they have never known. It knows that the connection between the wrong of a killing and someone's moral responsibility for it is not simple. Moral philosophy knows, say, that to hold a leader morally responsible for something, or to have a part in the responsibility for it, is or may be to do a certain thing -- seek to stop him from doing more, maybe worse, and not to be fixed only on his past. It knows too the connection and also the want of connection between such virtues of character as sincerity in an action and whether it is right.
It may be that no kind of proposition of morality that comes up with Palestine, 9/11, Iraq, 7/7 and what is to come is news to moral philosophy. Every kind of proposition has been the concern of prolonged inquiry and dispute. Demands of consistency, of single rather than double standards, have always been defended and examined. It would be as ignorant to put aside this reflection as to put aside, say, such works as The Population of Palestine: Population History and Statistics of the Late Ottoman Period and the Mandate.
Something the same is to be said of that part of philosophy that is political philosophy. There has been more superiority about it as against moral philosophy in what perhaps are the most relevant places, good philosophy departments in universities. Political philosophy is moved by actual political commitments. Some political philosophy tolerates the intolerable. But in fact there has often been real inquiry in political philosophy, different in kind from the declamations of elected democrats and the ideology in the partisan think-tanks on the web. To have a hold on this philosophy is to have a hold on something useful.
Again it is the more or less analytic part of it that I have in mind rather than, if you will allow me to say so, the recent French philosophy. The latter is rather more creative, another kind of thing. It can see the reality of 9/11 as being an image prefigured by a dream. That is interesting, but it seems to leave out the dead. Whether or not much of analytic political philosophy can get into a short inquiry, to know some of it is to know that it is necessary to proceed with caution. Say about democracy.
Still, what we are about to engage in, neither my part nor yours of our joint inquiry, can aspire to quite the detachment of Professor McCarthy's book on the population of Palestine. Or, if there is one, an entirely independent military history of the war in Iraq from March 20, 2003 up to May 1, 2003, when Bush said the war was over but in fact there were still many people to be killed. Or the detachment of what unloaded journalism there is on the personal histories of the 7/7 bombers.
The logic of philosophy, or the aspiration to that logic, when it is pursued within moral and political philosophy generally, or with respect to such questions as those we are about to consider, finds itself engaged in a kind of advocacy, an advocacy of arguments and judgements. A decent philosopher dealing with moral and political questions, as has been remarked before now, is in a line of life higher than that of a trial lawyer, but not out of sight of that line of life. If there is what can indeed be called moral truth, it is not ordinary truth. Desire gets into it.
There have indeed been and there are indeed philosophers who are only partisans of the sort mentioned earlier, not loyal either to factual or to moral truth. I trust it is possible to distinguish between them and those other philosophers true to their calling, advocates more constrained by moral truth and by truth. In our conversation I hope to be among them.
To which needs to be added one thing with respect to your expectations about my part in our inquiry. What you are about to read is not the final communique on four particular subjects and a general one from a World Congress of Philosophy. It is the communique of one of us, no nearer to being a majority than any other, further away than a lot, but trying to make use of our joint tools.
10. Democracy's Freedom
Once you get started in actually thinking about democracy, it is hard to stop. Something else can come to you. It has to do with what was mentioned as the first of the three features of democracy in both the traditional and the up-to-date conceptions -- the people freely choose governments in an election and then freely influence governments between elections and also the agenda for the next election, what comes up for consideration.
What we have so far is that the worth of the judgements of our democracy is at least put in doubt, surely made worthless sometimes, by the fact that it is nothing like true in our democracy that all heads count equally. Does that leave untouched something that has been distinguished from the matter of equality? That is indeed freedom. You will not need reminding that freedom by itself is made much of by our political leaders. When they are not contrasting democracy itself with terrorism as they understand it, they are contrasting our freedom in particular with terrorism.
And, to press on with our present inquiry, freedom is taken as another reason for trusting the upshots of the democratic decision-procedure.
This needs to be distinguished from something else we can grant and put aside, another and lesser recommendation of the freedom in democracy. That recommendation is the exercise or experience of political freedom. That in itself is a satisfaction -- leaving aside the upshot of the exercise in terms of legislation or starting a war or whatever. Having a say is good in itself.
But the main recommendation of the political freedom in democracy, anyway the main possible recommendation, is indeed not the experience of it but exactly what we have been considering in connection with the equality, the consequences or results of the freedom, what it contributes to, the good or better judgement. So where we are in the story is that if our democracies are not to be trusted greatly more than those other governments on grounds of the equality in them, maybe they are to be trusted on grounds of freedom in them. The citizens in a democracy are not silenced, constrained to vote one way, compelled to go on demonstrations.
But you can think a little more about this freedom, and, as it turns out, equality again.
There used to be a conservative and maybe liberal refrain in politics and political philosophy. No doubt there still is. The refrain is that freedom, also called liberty, is inconsistent with equality. You can't have them both. Pretty clearly, then, they are two things, such that you can have one without the other, indeed such that you have to have one without the other. Whatever else we have been assuming so far in connection with democracy, we too have been assuming that equality and freedom are two things.
That turns out to be wrong -- another reason, incidentally, for reflecting on the intelligence of the conventions of our societies. Equality and freedom can instead be said to be one thing in an important sense. At any rate, they rise and fall together. That is the result of a certain line of reflection.
The central facts in it are simple enough. Freedom, as we have been supposing, is deciding and acting as you want, without being compelled or constrained to decide or act in one way rather than another. Freedom is thus a matter of degree -- we may be under no compulsion or constraint at all, or a little or a lot, or, as we say, be left with no choice at all. And the degree of freedom you have, to come to another point, may be dependent on the degree of freedom I have. Or, as it may sometimes be better or more natural to say, the degree of freedom you have depends on the means you have, and your amount or worth of means may depend on my amount or worth.
For example, you have a lot less freedom than me in a certain situation if I have a gun. You have a lot less freedom in some situation if you are poor and I am better-off or rich. You have less political freedom than I do if I can buy a lot of television commercials to get my candidate elected. These freedoms, to come to the principal point in all this, depend on degrees of equality or inequality in them or the means to them. As equality in freedom or means to freedom decreases, so does somebody's freedom, right down to zero.
In general, freedoms may have to be something like equal, really something like equal, in order to be freedoms at all. Or, at any rate, any worth of freedoms depends on their really being something like equal.
So you have to ask a question about a freedom or a freedom so-called before you are sold it as worth something, maybe as giving rise to good judgement in a society. You have to ask what degree of equality or inequality it involves. You have to ask about any freedom or freedom so called, before you are sold it by a salesman for democracy as a guide to right and wrong, what degree of equality or inequality it involves. This freedom and the good of it is a function of how equally it is shared. This freedom or freedom so-called, like any other one, shades off into unfreedom. It shades off into constraint, impotence or oppression as the degree of equality lessens.
The conclusion to which we come is clear. Just as there is no real or strong argument for the good judgement of our democracy based on the supposed equality of it, so there is no real argument that can be based on the supposed freedom of it. We cannot really proceed by way of either an argument from equality or an argument from freedom to the conclusion that our hierarchic or primitive democracy should be our guide as to right and wrong in the world, and in particular right and wrong in Palestine, Iraq and elsewhere.
If you want to go back to the conservative and maybe liberal refrain on the supposed conflict between freedom and equality, by the way, the reality there is clear enough. It is not some general conflict between freedom and equality at all, but really some or other conflict between one especially chosen freedom, somehow or supposedly equal, and another somehow or supposedly equal freedom. It can be the conflict between a freedom having to do with private property or a market and a freedom having to do with health-care or poverty. So, too, incidentally, was a supposed conflict between rights and equality just a conflict between various different rights, but let us not get into that.
Maybe a word or two are needed on something else. In my saying freedom depends on equality, do you think I am confusing freedom and power? Do you say not having freedom is indeed being compelled or constrained to do something? And that that is quite different from not having the power to do the thing? And that what equality may affect is power, not freedom?
Part of the reply to the objection is that we can talk either way -- take freedom as including not being compelled and also having the power to do something, or take freedom as just being the first thing. The other part of the answer is that it doesn't actually matter to the argument we have gone though if you talk the first and more inclusive way. In this case a certain good depends on both freedom and power, and both these things are goods dependent on equality and inequality.
Another thought. What you have heard about the connections between freedom and equality is in fact truistic, or should be. What you have heard is assumed in our ordinary talk about freedom and equality, including the earlier talk in these sections of this book. Look back to the top of p. 00 and the sentence you read 'The people are not compelled or constrained in this choosing and influencing of governments'. You understood the freedom to involve equality, didn't you? How could you fail to? What is not a matter of truism is the operation of convention in our society, the making of assent, whereby it is possible to think otherwise for a while or forever.
One more thought. It is worth noticing in anticipation of something coming soon in our inquiry about human goods and equality that the dependency of your freedom on mine does not make our freedoms into only what are called relative rather than absolute goods. An absolute good is some or enough or much or a lot of something. A relative good, usually taken to be less important, is more than another amount of something. An absolute good, to put the point differently, is something at some point on a scale of some sort or other, not necessarily a numerical scale. A relative good, so-called, is something's being to an extent higher on the scale than something else -- a relationship in which various other pairs of goods up and down the scale may also stand.
It should be absolutely clear, even to Bush and Blair, that my freedom's dependence on yours does not make my freedom into only a relative good.
20. Understanding, Endorsing, Inciting
If you want to think about right and wrong with respect to Palestine, 9/11, Iraq, 7/7 and what will follow them, and if you first come to a general view of right and wrong, a view of what is decent, it will indeed have certain judgements as logical consequences. It will have these logical consequences, anyway, if you have got hold of something clear, a morality that is determinate, and if you can be confident about the facts of the situations. You don't have a choice about the consequences. It is not as if you can come to a confidence in the Principle of Humanity, and can see enough of the facts, and then it is up to you what is right.
To speak differently, if you are serious about right and wrong, which in fact is something that is in our natures as reason-users, you have to come to some summary of right and wrong. Anything else, any mixing of competing principles, values, virtues, insights, intuitions, feelings or whatever, will almost certainly be at least a kind of what Sartre called bad faith, a means of pretence. And it will not deal with the world you face, actually give you verdicts you need for action. In any case, the mixing will in any case have a summary, whether or not you attend to it. Given the summary, and the facts of a situation, it is indeed true, isn't it, that you can't have it both ways when you are in trouble? You can't both step back from a judgement of justification and also hold onto the summary and the facts, can you? There isn't a third way for you, is there? You're not a politician in New Labour, are you?
The questions bring to mind a larger subject, which might be called the taxonomy or range of approvals and assents, and also Cherie Blair, a human rights lawyer and the wife of the British prime minister. A few years ago, in June 2002, as has been remembered often enough since, she attended an event in London at which an appeal for funds was launched by the charity Medical Aid For Palestinians. There was a presentation of graphic photos by a delegation just returned from Palestine. One of the delegation, Sir Andrew Green, chairman of the charity and former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said the situation of the Palestinians was shocking. For example, Palestinian towns were surrounded by Israeli barbed wire and ditches. Palestinians needing medical attention were kept waiting for hours at checkpoints by Israeli soldiers. He said that 'some Israelis themselves are now saying this amounts to a systematic oppression and humiliation of a people'.
The charity event took place some hours after a suicide bombing by a young Palestinian woman. Cherie Blair had something to say to journalists after the charity event.
As long as young people feel they have got no hope but to blow themselves up, you are never going to make progress.
Her husband's office in Downing Street was put under pressure the next day by the effectively neo-Zionist newspaper The Daily Telegraph of Lord Conrad Black. She was presented as at least having shown sympathy with terrorism. The Israeli embassy in London attacked her comment, saying
No political grievance or circumstance can justify the wilful targeting of civilians for political gain, nor can those who glorify and encourage such atrocities, teaching and preaching hatred and violence, be absolved of their responsibility for this terrible phenomenon.
In Jerusalem, a senior spokesman for the Israeli government said
This is justification for terror. The suicide bombers are not doing it out of desperation. They are doing it because they are being cynically recruited with the promise of money and heaven.
Downing Street then made an apology for what had been said by the prime minister's wife. The prime minister himself said that hopes for the future in Palestine lay in the political process taking the place of the extremists, and that he was sure that was what his wife was saying.
What is the distance between arguing to the judgement that the Palestinians have had a moral right to their resistance to the taking of their land and Cherie Blair's saying that young Palestinians feel they have got no hope except to blow themselves up? The question is not perfectly simple. The Israeli embassy, as you have heard, effectively speculated that Cherie Blair was justifying the wilful targeting of civilians for political gain -- justifying terrorism. The senior spokesman in Jerusalem declared that she was.
In fact the prime minister's wife was pretty clearly among those very many people who say they understand Palestinian terrorism. What do they mean? Do they mean no more than that they see why or how it has come about, as they might see why the door won't shut? Do they mean no more than what is meant by, say, a Jewish biographer of Hitler we can imagine, properly horrified by the Holocaust? He says that after considering Hitler's childhood, the development of his personality, pressures on him in the Nazi Party and various weaknesses in him, he the biographer now understands how it came about that Hitler carried forward his moral crime.
Evidently the many people may not mean just that kind of understanding. They may not be talking about bare or purely intellectual acceptance of or agreement with an explanation. They understand Palestinian terrorism in another of the dictionary senses of the word, where to understand some human action or practice is to be sympathetically aware of the nature or character of the action or practice. This understanding of a thing does fall short of arguing and judging it to be right, maybe a matter of a moral right. And, to persist for a while with the taxonomy or range of approval, it is clear that the latter asserting or expressing of an argument and opinion is different from inciting anyone to the action or practice in question.
The difference between arguing and judging something to be right and inciting someone to action directly or indirectly has long been established in and given value and honour to English and American law. English common law separates what is sometimes called argued endorsement or reasoned argument from incitement. Argued endorsement is what we have been much involved with -- arguing something to be right, justifying it. Incitement is encouraging, inducing, inflaming, fomenting or indeed causing impassioned, emotional, unreflective or unthinking action by someone else. It is at least to share responsibility for his action. There is sense in the excess of saying that the action done is also the inciter's action.
English law recognizes a freedom to speak your mind or free speech that is not incitement. American law is stronger and goes further. Justice Learned Hand of the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the legal right to speak your mind so long as your words are not 'triggers to action'. Justice Felix Frankfurter affirmed that right even when you are advocating violence to bring about political change -- presumably including a change of government. Justices Holmes and Brandeis distinguished advocacy from other speech that causes a 'clear and present danger'.
It is plain that argued endorsement, reasoned argument, justification, speaking your mind or speaking freely or putting a case in such a way is different from incitement, including actual incitement by glorification, exaltation or celebration -- say by really intending to encourage or induce people to act by describing an act of terrorism in a certain circumstance in such a way that a listener would infer that he should emulate it. As John Stuart Mill said, there is a difference between expressing an opinion in a certain way, maybe in a newspaper, that corn-dealers are starvers of the poor, and declaring it to an excited mob before the house of a corn-dealer.
It would be innocent or foolish to deny that there are particular kinds of approval or assent that do not fall easily and clearly into either argued endorsement or free expression as against incitement. That is a wholly familiar truth about most differences and distinctions. It does not touch the main fact that there is a clear difference between almost all argued endorsement and almost all incitement. There remains a difference between endorsement and incitement despite the obvious truth, of which a low government may make use, that endorsement shades into incitement, that there is no gap between them, that in some cases it may be a decision rather than a discovery that separates two things. Endorsement and incitement remain as different as green from yellow, intentional from non-intentional, vehicles from non-vehicles, despite the fact that the greens shade into the yellows, the intentional into the non-intentional, and the vehicles into the non-vehicles. The fact of shading does not touch the main fact that there is a clear difference between almost all argued endorsement and almost all incitement.
Nor does the difference depend on law and lawyers and Mill. Remember that you can give your judgement that something is right, and indeed to be or to have been someone's right, where there can be no question whatever of exciting, stirring, impassioning or enraging the actor into action. There is the obvious case where the action judged is by someone dead, maybe in the distant past, and there is no significant and maybe no conceivable possibility of a repetition by somebody else. Further, you can say to someone that their doing something would be right and also their right, but that it definitely would not be in their self-interest -- with the intended and comprehended meaning that they should not do it.
Another clear non-inciter, come to think of it, wrote a line in the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights that you will remember about a people's right to rebellion against tyranny and oppression. There was the small extent of glorification in the line, by the way, that is open to a drafter of international law. The U.N. declaration is a little reminder, then, that while glorification and the like in certain circumstances can of course be incitement, there can be glorification, exaltation and what-not that definitely is not incitement.
Remember too all those governments, almost all of the United Nations, who by implication somehow supported but did not incite the Palestinians when they condemned neo-Zionism in their resolutions. Also various other non-inciters who have expounded parts of just war theory that have to do with what can be done against ethnic cleansing. They have included Popes.
The whole matter of free expression is in fact misdescribed or weakly described as being about an individual's human, civil or other rights, by the way. It is in a way more important than this. What we all depend on is truth, factual truth above all but also moral truth. This is not only a commitment of the Principle of Humanity but the first necessity of life, the first necessity for our individual actions as well as our actions together. Often the truth does not announce itself. It needs help, usually against people who are against it. To deny truth the help of endorsement is to deny to ourselves what is fundamental to us. As Mill also maintained, there is an argument for the free expression of what is in fact false. To have it heard may make clearer and more forceful the opposite truth.
Can you still suppose that someone who comes or is driven to think that the Palestinians have had a right to their self-defence should say less or not speak out their judgement for some reason, perhaps say no more than that Palestinian self-defence is understandable? Should he or she give up the kind and degree of condemnation of neo-Zionism that is owed precisely to the assertion of a Palestinian right to kill in order to defeat it?
Or should he or she instead say what they believe? Should he or she run a risk, despite the precedents of English law, of attracting the attention of a government? A government that may be moved to action both by being disgraced for its part in a war elsewhere and apprehensive about terrorism at home and well able to make low use of the threat of it partly somehow to suggest they were right all along about something? A government that seeks to blur and makes vague the difference between reasoned endorsement and incitement, and pretends that some argued endorsement directed against that government is what has hitherto for good reason been regarded as incitement? For a time after 7/7 that seemed possible despite honourable resistance from English judges and indeed the English law.
Well, you can come to believe in a principle and a morality, and it can issue not only in a conclusion about a moral right, as you have heard already, but in an obligation to state it, and to state it with all the force that truth allows. You can have an obligation to resist a government that threatens to widen the category of legal incitement beyond what is truly incitement and to subtract from the category of what is truly and rightly free speech. You can have an obligation to resist a government trying to run together glorification that is not incitement with glorification that is incitement.
You can have this obligation for more reasons than the great one having to do with the great value of argument and free expression. You can want, as I do, to keep the actual and good law on incitement effective because unconfused, and because you do not want ineffective and self-defeating steps to be taken against terrorism.
That is not all you should do in connection with neo-Zionism. You should take every rational step against it. You should not be quiet about the violation of the Palestinians because you are Jewish. You should get hold of Michael Neumann's book The Case Against Israel. You should support the simple solution to the simple Palestinian problem -- the immediate and unnegotiated withdrawal of Israel from all of what remains to the Palestinians of their homeland. All of us should join those in the Church of England who want to divest from the company that makes the caterpillar bulldozers that destroy the homes and lives of Palestinians. All of us should take part in all forms of boycott against retail stores and other businesses dealing with neo-Zionist Israel, civil disobedience, non-cooperation, not voting, picketing, ostracism, naming, symbolic public acts, strikes and whatever else is rational against neo-Zionism. We should see the need for a new disrespect, especially disrespect for a compliant political class. We should do what the New England Henry David Thoreau did in the 19th Century, and not pay taxes to such a government as goes along with neo-Zionism.
We should not wait to disdain conventions exemplified by the one to the effect that a people on whose part terrorists act never support those terrorists. No one should have waited in their disdain until the democratic election of HAMAS in 2006 by the Palestinian people.
There was more than 9/11 in the past of the almost entirely American and British war on Iraq or at any rate on Iraqis that began in March 2003.
Saddam Hussein had carried forward Iraq's history of autocracy, hostility, and conflict -- monarchy, nationalist agitation and repression, coups, military government, purges and treason trials. This history was owed in part, after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War 1, to the fact of the British protectorate under the mandate of the League of Nations. This late imperialism forced together territories of the Shia and the Sunni Muslims and also the Kurds, mainly for the benefit of the protector.
Saddam Hussein came to power officially in 1979, having killed some hundreds of political opponents. He had the ambition of leading the Arab world against the West and Israel, and continued to rule by repression and persecution, much of it carried out by security police. As the president of the United States noted later, he made use of torture in his jails, notably Abu Ghraib in Baghdad. He also used poison gas to continue Iraq's suppression of the Kurds in the north of the country, killing more than 5,000 in the town of Halabja, for which he was especially remembered thereafter. In fact about 500,000 Kurds seeking independence had been killed, mainly by Iraq and Turkey, since 1923.
In the Iraq-Iran war of 1980-1988, said to be about a waterway, the United States favoured Iraq, having given it a green light for the war and to some extent armed it. Dual-use technology was supplied that could be used to make chemical and biological weapons. Allegedly gas was used by both sides in the war, during which 1,000,000 lives were lost. To the United States, Iraq was preferable to the radical Islamic Iran of the ayatollahs, which had showed its revolutionary zeal and unpredictability by holding 52 Americans hostage in Tehran. The war also carried a possible threat to America of Iran coming to control the oil in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Israel's bombing of an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, in extraordinary defiance of international law, added to Iraqi hostility to Zionism and neo-Zionism.
Kuwait was a creation of the British and French after World War 1, and was thereafter a kind of estate of an installed royal family, the Sabahs. With some reason it had long been claimed as a province by Iraq. Saddam's 1990 invasion and attempted annexation of it was also owed to a dispute about oil revenues. He may have thought, as a result of a careless American communication, that he had got another green light. The invasion resulted in the defeat of Iraq by an international alliance led by the United States and Britain. About 13,000 civilians were killed by American and allied forces, and about 70,000 died later from war-related causes. During the war, Iraq launched missiles against Israel.
This 1990 war and the conditions of the peace treaty were followed by United Nations arms inspections and prolonged international trade sanctions against Iraq. These were a persistent attempt to prevent the regime's having or coming to have chemical, biological and nuclear weapons -- such weapons of mass destruction as were already possessed by Israel. Some or all of Iraq's chemical weapons were destroyed, as was a nuclear project. Saddam Hussein's regime was not fully cooperative, taking the view that the inspections were concealing American and in effect Israeli espionage against Iraq. This had to be admitted in part subsequently.
The sanctions were in at least one way effective. The U.N. reported in 1997 that deaths due to hunger or lack of medicines owed to the sanctions exceeded 1,000,000. Of these, 570,000 were of children.There were also American and British air raids against military targets from 1998 to 2003, and continued threats of war.
The first large American response to the terrorism against it of September 11, 2001, however, was not the war on Iraq that began in March 2003, but a previous one worth noting, partly for reasons of comparison. The first response was the attack in Afghanistan on the radical fundamentalist Muslim movement, the Taliban. It had won control of the country, partly by the use of American arms supplied to it earlier for its struggle against the Russians. The Taliban, having refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, at least the inspiration of 9/11, paid the price. Also, American bombs and missiles caused over 3,000 civilian deaths, many of them horrible.
As you have heard, it has been my view, shared with so many, that our immediate response to 9/11 ought to have been both to fight Islamic terrorism and to fight the causes of Islamic terrorism, causes for which have had a responsibility, causes that were wrongs done by us.
You can try to argue that the attack on the Taliban with the civilian deaths, the collateral damage, was defensible on grounds of which you know, at bottom the Principle of Humanity. To that justification of the attack can be added, so far as it can be added consistently, that a country subjected to an atrocity of the kind of 9/11 has less choice open to it than may be supposed. Human nature exists. A fact of it not mentioned so far is that it puts limits on our reactions to such horrors as 9/11. What we have little choice but to do, having been attacked, is not all that would be right if we were not so human. Not all too human. 'Ought' implies 'can' in more than simple ways. So does 'ought to refrain' imply 'can refrain'.
As for dealing not with Islamic terrorism itself, but with the causes of it, including suffering, distress and deprivation, we did nothing. None of the articles by thoughtful Americans in the International Herald Tribune about addressing the matter of Palestine, or any related wrong, had any significant effect whatever. In Britain, Blair's speeches were only Blair's speeches.
The forces that invaded Iraq after March 2003 consisted in about 135,000 Americans and about 45,000 British. They were accompanied by token contingents from other countries -- including 3,000 men from Italy, 2,000 from Australia, and 900 from Spain. There were a few personnel or gestures of help from about 25 other countries as a result of strenuous invitations from the United States. France, Germany, Russia and most of the world declined them.
Now as these words are written in 2006, the bloody occupation that followed on the war continues. There are ongoing killings by insurgents of Americans and those taken as collaborating with them. People die every day, sometimes by the dozen. More than 2000 American soldiers have been killed. As remarked earlier, about 60,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed, the possible count of them by the occupiers not made or kept secret. Those crippled or maimed are far more numerous. Presumably there is less torture and sexual violation of prisoners by Americans in the Bagdad prison than before it leaked out. The democratic Iraqi government denies that it does very much of the same torturing that was done by Saddam. If some or many Iraqis wanted liberation from him, they don't want what they have got. The pretence that resistance consists mainly in other Arabs than Iraqis has been given up.
Was our starting of the war right or wrong? Has its continuation since May 2003, when Bush in effect announced that it was over, been right or wrong? In my view, as you know, the answers to these questions must come from the morality of the Principle of Humanity. As in the case of answers given to questions about Palestine, they will also depend on judgements of fact, perhaps less disputable judgements of fact. In sum, was going to war and keeping at it, on the best available judgement and knowledge, the rational means to the end of getting or keeping people out of bad lives, Iraqis in particular. Was that the probable outcome of invasion and occupation?
A way of coming to and organizing or setting out an answer to the question is firstly by way of given and other reasons for our embarking on and continuing the war and secondly by way of reflection on those reasons.
Firstly, what were the reasons or intentions or whatever that moved our leaders and their supporters, whether announced or unannounced reasons, whether correct or incorrect anticipations of consequences? To see them, as always, was to be to be able to form a judgement of what would happen in the war and after it. Also, relatedly, what was the effectiveness, weight or strength of the various considerations in the thinking and feeling of our leaders? What size of contribution would particular reasons make to what would happen? To answer the question was also to be able better to judge what would actually happen in the war and after it.
Secondly, to come to the reflection on the reasons, were the given and ungiven ones good or bad? Could they add up to a consideration of consequences that justified war?
There was much loose talk about why we were attacking Iraq. Much of it assumed, like our leaders, that the full explanation was simple. But hardly any full explanation is simple. Think of a causal circumstance for any large human endeavour or policy that in turn has many effects, diverse effects. It is as good as certain that the causal circumstance itself will have in it many elements. In fact there is some kind of truth about causation there. The complex is not produced by the simple.
In America, Bush said that America and the world were in imminent danger of attack by horrible weapons of mass destruction. We in Britain were told by Blair that we were going to war to defend ourselves against the possibility or probability of imminent attack. Blair said we could be attacked by existing weapons of mass destruction 45 minutes after the order was given by Saddam Hussein. Rarely has a national danger been declared to be more clear and present by a head of state. Never, perhaps, has it been so gravely affirmed that an attack by us would pre-emptive self-defence. It was crucial that the dictator, unlike the democrat, could not be trusted to tell the truth about things, above all about his weapons of mass destruction. He had some record of deception. He would lie.
Perhaps this reason or explanation of our going to war, attack in 45 minutes, is better described in another way. It was that our leader and those around him were aware that he would be allowed to make use of what his fellow-citizens did not really or fully believe. They would in effect defer to their elected prime minister. They would go along with him despite at least an uncertainty as to literal truth. He had a convention on his side. Still, here was a reason for war.
A second reason given was that we needed to go to war against Islamic terrorism in general. We needed to go to war to reduce the probability of more of this terrorism. The American president connected Iraq with 9/11. He allowed half of his countrymen to suppose the attack of 9/11 was somehow the work of Saddam Hussein in person. This he did by the juxtaposition of paragraphs in speeches and the useful proposition that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were both enemies of America.
It is likely that in fact the president had grasped from his advisors that Iraq and what was called al-Queda were not at all bedfellows, that Iraq under Saddam Hussein was precisely not a nation of religious radicalism. What the president and others were engaged in, being unable to find bin Laden, was choosing the best available target, however relevant, in order to convey threat, determination and the like to all the targets unavailable to them. The war on Iraq, in part, was plainly a war pour encourager les autres.
Something else, already alluded to, was not precisely a third reason for going to war, but a kind of excuse, more implied than stated. This was a smaller fact related to the fact about the Taliban and Afghanistan -- that human nature and a nation's nature are such that there are certain impossibilities, or anyway near-impossibilities. If we had a choice about Iraq, it was none the less the case that we were subject to a kind of necessity, compulsion or constraint. We could not let affronts to us and the world go without reply. In particular we could not but take action against a barbaric regime not quickly complying with what we said to be international law, not quickly complying with resolutions of the United Nations, requirements laid down by civilization.
We were told more explicitly, although belatedly, after doubts arose about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, that there was the clear reason for going to war that we would be toppling a vile dictator, saving his people from him. He had used chemical weapons on his own people, these being those unfortunates included in Iraq who were Kurds. He could do worse, cause more suffering. This was a humanitarian intervention on our part. This was what international conscience required. This was not about oil, as the American vice-president in particular declared finally and forever.
Also, this was not only a war against an evil man and somehow evil itself, but a war for democracy and by democracies. We would would bring democracy to Iraq, the freedom and equality of it. That was our mission. Further we would in our attack have the particular confidence of which you have heard. We would have the confidence of being in the right that attaches to democracies when they are in disagreement or conflict with a non-democracy.
These five considerations already added up to something else. War would take lives. American and British soldiers, if not very many, would lose their lives. But this, we were given to understand, would be a case where the end would justify the means. A price would have to be paid for safeguarding ourselves from immediate attack, reducing the probability of more Islamic terrorism generally, acting on a kind of necessity of nature, bringing down a monster, and giving democracy to a people. But it would be a price worth paying.
There were yet more considerations. One was the proposition that the war would be legal, according to international law. It would have been worthwhile getting a U.N. resolution actually permitting the war for reasons having to do with Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. But there already was a perfectly adequate resolution. It required suitable interpretation, but we could have the assurance of our government law officer in his independence of his leader and of politics that it was entirely sufficient. As in the case of the 45 minute danger, there is also a more realistic version of this reason for war. It was, simply, that the government could pretend legality and be known to pretend it without paying much price.
In Britain we all knew that something else was also moving our British leader and those around him. This seventh thing was alliance with America. The alliance had in it politics of reality. It was in our national interest to be less independent of America than the French, the Germans and the rest of the world, who took the war to be at least illegal. We had more reason than, say, the Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. Our alliance also had in it a shared history and language. We had fought other wars together. There was also something to be discerned more important than the shared history and language and at least as important as the politics of reality. In fact it stands by itself as part of what took us to war.
This factor was an ideology. It was an ideology shared by Bush, Blair, Cheney, most of the New Labour Party and all of the American administration. Most of the British government and almost all of the American government were within and subject to the political tradition of conservativism, a tradition open to analysis and evidently serving the self-interest not of a nation but of part of a nation. It now had privatization in it, the buying and selling of even more of life, with the main profit to a part of a society.You heard something of this tradition earlier, along with the tradition of liberalism, and then a little more of it in connection with our hierarchic or primitive democracy and what was called the consortium.
Do you perhaps say that this idea about ideology as among the causes of a war is imagination, maybe akin to conspiracy theory? That the war against Iraq has had nothing much to do with ideology? That to put it forward as part of the explanation of a war is the weightless speculation of a philosopher, maybe a philosopher too attracted to and too impressed by ideas?
Well, consider for a start whether in this circumstance it would have been likely, as likely, that Britain's New Labour Party would readily have become an essential ally of a nation of a significantly different ideology. Would we have responded well to a government not so like to ours in seeing the reality of the world, the imperatives clear to those who have made their way in the real world and also made money? Would we have stood so firmly with a government not informed by an orderly and proper religion, an understanding of the natural way with respect to societies, a good sense of the problems of the ideal of equality? What about standing so firmly with the insufficiently reformed or perhaps too reformed government of Russia? I take it that you are pretty sure that we would not so readily lined up with Cuba in the possible world where our interests in other ways fell in with those of Fidel Castro?
Bush and his supporters and Blair and New Labour did indeed see a war as an assertion of the rational, the realistic and the proven over more or less the opposite, a darkness, extremism and fanaticism, and indeed evil incarnate and otherwise. That in effect they said so is not what the proposition depends on. Who, on reflection, can doubt it?
Something else can be separated not only from ideology but also from alliance and the politics of reality. This was a conviction as to the interest of America, Britain and friends in terms of exactly oil, such corporations as the American vice-president's old one, and so on. Occasional economists and maybe more journalists specializing in economics have informed us that Iraq was all about the world's oil resources in Iraq and in the Middle East generally and the petro dollar. That cannot be true. No doubt it is a very considerable part of the truth.
That ninth item is not the end of the elements in a decent explanation of our going to war against Iraq. One, the second last, is larger than at least some of those above.
All of us who read a decent newspaper in either America or Britain knew too that another thing taking us to war was more particular than the political tradition of conservatism, although somewhat adventitiously connected with it. That was what was called neo-conservatism in Washington. The principal part of this thinking and feeling, or a part as principal as any other, had to with Palestine. Certainly neo-conservatism was somehow supportive of Israel, a continution of the opposition noted several times in the brief history of Iraq with which we began. It was a matter of some Jewish Americans and some other Americans with divided or dual loyalties.
There is a further question about this support, the nature of neo-conservatism. Was it Zionism or neo-Zionism? Well, there is a fact that might have been remarked on before now, and needs to be remembered in other connections than the present one. It is that there is a big difference between Zionism and neo-Zionism. I do not mean to add something to one of their definitions, which you will remember, but rather to remind you that the first, Zionism, has actually been achieved.
Taken as the project of the founding and security of Israel in its original borders, 80% of Palestine, Zionism is a fact. It is a notably settled and secure fact, about as much so as most such national facts. There is well-known pretence to the contrary by neo-Zionism, of course. But a nuclear power, a military power greater than all others but three in the world, a nation guaranteed by the world's only superpower, is not about to be driven into the sea, whatever ritualistic threats may be heard from a speechifying head of another state. Any other idea, founded on whatever ritual speech or document, is absurd illusion or culpable abuse of truth.
It follows, if any argument is needed, that an indubitable element in the explanation of the war against Iraq, neo-conservative support of Israel, was precisely neo-Zionism. It seems there is a general truth here. In general, if a question arises about the aim and purpose of support of any kind for Israel now, the question has a certain answer. The aim and purpose can hardly be for what exists and in fact is under no threat and is not insecure.
Finally, there was the element in the explanation of the war that was the personal motivation of our leaders, often said to be their desires to secure their places in history. What went with this was the satisfactions, self-esteem and the excitement of more members of what it is reasonable enough to call the political class. It has an interest that it defends, a power whose exercise satisfies it.
It is not true, as I read on a university wall, that all politicians are shits. A few exceptions who come to my mind at the moment are Benn, Cook, Dalyell, Foot, Galloway, Gilmour, Hattersley, Jefferson, Mullin, Adlai Stevenson, maybe Clinton, and Profumo, the last of whom had the distinction not only of resigning office for having lied but of then removing himself from the scene. Their honourable existence does not put in question the natures of so many around them.
24. Iraq Conclusions, Killing Innocents
We have assembled reasons or intentions with respect to war on Iraq, spoken or unspoken. They include anticipations of consequences and the like that were taken by our leaders and their supporters as justifying the war or useable in pretence of justification. Let us look through them, in the order in which they were set out. Let us try to see what would have been the best possible judgement on these reasons and supposed reasons for war, these anticipated or pretended consequences of starting and continuing the war, as distinct from the judgement of our leaders.
To begin not with the first item on the list, but with the bit of history of Iraq under Saddam, it is a grim story. It is not overwhelmingly different, however, either from what preceded it in Iraq or what has taken place under other dictatorships, military governments and the like. Indeed it is not even much different. Saddam Hussein added very little to the terrible history of the Kurds. He added less than our uninvaded ally, Turkey. In fact he added greatly less than us.
But the principal point about this history is that we were fully implicated in almost all of it, despite the conflict over Kuwait. We were not at all involved in rescuing a people from vicious leaders. Our contribution to Saddam's own career was considerable. So was our contribution to the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children.
These considerations at the very least put in serious doubt the idea that war on Iraq was importantly a humanitarian intervention. They raised the question of whether selective humanitarianism is humanitarianism. You could not expect, in 2003 or thereafter, given the history, and if you looked over other reasons for war, that the consequences of American and British action would in fact go far to fulfill the official aims of the United Nations, the Red Cross, or Amnesty International. You would not expect them to go far in serving the end of the Principle of Humanity.
The most salient of the purported reasons for war was the first one, pre-emptive defence of America and Britain against possible immediate attack. Blair and Bush lied or else indulged in self-deception as vicious, half-conscious self-deception. They were close to suborning less compliant parts of their intelligence services in order to secure useful judgements of danger, which they then manipulated and falsified.
No one properly sceptical had to wait for the mounting evidence, the accumulation of it ending in flat proof, to see that there was no reason whatever for war in the proposition that it was needed to save us from imminent attack by weapons of mass destruction. Indeed it took something close to a fool actually to believe that Saddam Hussein, clearly no fool himself, and no mad idealist and no martyr, would take such a suicidal course. That American and Israel are nuclear powers is not some fantasy of their detractors.
In fact Bush is not only the president of whom the car bumper sticker says that some village in Texas has lost its idiot. Blair is not just a salesman of social panaceas who has educated himself only in the law. Both had some grip on the actual probabilities as to Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. They knew that imminent attack was nonsense. The importance of this fact is not in the judgement of their moral personalities in themselves. One importance is that it could be judged in 2003 that they could not be trusted as to any probable consequences of the war in general -- consequences, after all, over which they would have continuing control or influence.
What of the idea that a second reason for war was to reduce Islamic terrorism in general? In fact it was a very good judgement in 2003 and thereafter that no significant probability attached to the proposition that the war would deal with or even begin to deal with Islamic terrorism in general. There was the opposite probability, that it would increase it, as so very many saw and said.
They could have added that it is often or always a dangerous policy, when you can't find the actual persons who attacked you, to attack some distantly related people. You are, after all, killing the wrong ones. They won't like it. Neither will those who feel with and for them. Many will fight back for this reason alone.
What of the idea that after 9/11 our American and British natures and societies were such that it was humanly impossible not to assert our civilization against a barbarian. Was it the case that America, having suffered the atrocity of 9/11, having suffering what is underdescribed as the affront and insult of that atrocity, had little choice? Was the case like Afghanistan, just after 9/11? Clearly it was not. Time had passed, getting on for a year and a half. You can stop merely reacting and start thinking of the best thing to do in that time. The war was not forced on America, nor of course Britain.
As for democracy as something to be bestowed on the Iraqis and a kind of guarantee of our own wisdom and rectitude in bestowing it, you will know I think there was the need to remember what our democracy actually is and what its general and greatest recommendation comes to. It is hierarchic democracy. In general it is better than dictatorship. There must be a hope that in some future decade Iraq will be better than it was under Saddam Hussein. But it is the democracy that denies to a large minority of its citizens many of the great human goods. It is a democracy that denies to the bottom tenth of its citizens so much that many of the rest of us can think of their lives as barely worth living.
Still, here with democracy for the Iraqis, as was not the case with the supposed need for self-defence from immediate attack, or the prevention of Islamic terrorism in general, we do have a reason for war, not a weightless consideration. That is not all that is to be said on the subject of democracy.
American and British hierarchic democracy took the United Kingdom into war without the democratically-elected representatives in the second democracy, British Members of Parliament, being allowed to debate and vote on the question -- as you have heard. This going to war as a whole, the process and event, the reality of the reason we are considering, is a summing-up or at least an excellent snapshot of our democracy. It might have been more considered in our earlier thinking on it.
It is as true that British democracy conceived as something other than our hierarchic and primitive system did not take the country into war. The democratic decision of the British, otherwise conceived, was not for war. As you will anticipate, I have in mind a democratic decision where that is something truer to the judgements and feelings of a people as a whole than in the case of the decision taken by hierarchic democracy. Such a democratic decision in a matter of overwhelmingly consequence, a matter of war and many deaths, will also be a clear one. Such a democratic decision in favour of war will not be uncertain, and perhaps not close. There was no such decision in Britain to make war on Iraq. About a million people marched against it. Rather, there was a reason of democracy against war.
At this point in our assembling of reasons for war we contemplated the idea that we already had enough to enable us to see that the end would justify the means. In fact, as I trust you will agree, those reasons could not be regarded as amounting to anything like a price worth paying. How many would die in the war? There was an awful uncertainty about that. Something else of a more general kind is as important.
You will remember that the Principle of Humanity is not well expressed as the idea that an end justifies certain means. Rather it is that an end and certain means may justify the means. Our leaders were not of such a moral attitude. In fact they were of another attitude. They were not thinking a lot, not enough, of the costs in the means. They did not know what those costs would be. They could not and perhaps would not judge that crucial fact. In fact our leaders were, as those of us given to the Principle of Humanity are not, doing something very like taking the end to justify the means in a terrible and culpable way. They were taken up with the end and not thinking enough of the costs of the means.
To come now to the reason for war that it was legal, remember our earlier thinking about international laws in general and international resolutions in particular. What we said is that what is legal is patently not necessarily what is right, but that some of the laws and resolutions, such as the body of U.N. resolutions against neo-Zionism, are of very considerable weight in judging right and wrong.
And thus the law and resolutions with respect to the war on Iraq? Whatever importance you would give to an international sanction for war, if it had existed, there was no such thing. There was, rather, American disdain for law and resolutions, and a British pretence of legality carried forward by a supine and unprincipled lawyer of the government. That is the judgement of all the world save for the personnel in question.
The continuation and aftermath of the war, further, would have in it at least something of the level of honourableness of the opening arguments for it. The continuation and aftermath could be low and might be bestial. The continuation and aftermath might be, as in fact they have been, violations of the Geneva and Hague Conventions and Protocols, the Nuremberg Charter of 1945, and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. These violations have included conducting an aggressive war, indiscriminate killing, collective penalties as in the case of the killing of 600 women and children in Fallujah in 2004, failure to record deaths and injuries, use of chemical munitions, economic exploitation of occupied territories, torture, rape, sexual humiliation, religious humiliation, the use of dogs in partricular, and merely partisan declarations by the American government purporting to suspend the Geneva Conventions.
The war waged by us against the Iraqis has therefore been terrorist war. There can be no alternative to this conclusion. The fact of its illegality contributes something to movement in the direction of a moral verdict on the war and our operations in its aftermath. Whatever anticipation of judgement you bring to the subject of terrorism on account of its illegality, you have as much or as little reason to engage in such anticipation with this terrorist war. The larger importance of this terrorist war, however, is that it must obstruct any verdict on terrorism, including any terrorism by Iraqis in Iraq, that is owed to an idea or supposition about any special or unique illegality.
To go on with our assembled reasons, say what you want of the alliance of the British government with the American one, Britain standing together with America. Assign some importance, in thinking of thousands of deaths in Iraq, to whatever benefit you suppose was conferred on the British people by its government playing what probably was a necessary part in bringing about the war. Would Bush and those around him have succeeded in taking America to war by itself? Whether or not, add in to our considerations the profit secured by the British government for the British people.
There was also the somewhat wider proposition, mentioned in passing, that all things considered the war could be judged to be in Britain's interest, that it was in accord with the politics of reality. One thing to be said of this now is that that judgement was one formed or shaped by the ideology of the New Labour Party. It was a matter of our interest from that point of view. Would any other judgement agree? None did. Nor, if the best informed and capable judgement had produced that verdict of self-interest, of course, would it follow that it was right.
To come now to the subject of ideology, you know something of my view of the political tradition of conservatism, enough to know a judgement to be made about what recommendation was conferred on the war by it. You will know too, what can be said of oil, the dollar, and capitalism. We here have no clear recommendation of the war. We have nothing that has the ring of an argument for anything from the premise of the great human goods, the premise about bad lives that is the Principle of Humanity.
You know still better my view of the recommendation that was conferred on war by its being of very great service to neo-Zionism, to the further violation of Palestine and the Palestinians. And add what reflections you will on the political careerism of leaders and the contribution of so many members of the class of democratic politicians. You might have a look at Plato's Republic in that connection sometime.
A summary is needed. The possible elements in a full explanation of our war on Iraq were a falsehood about imminent danger to us, a proposition absurd and dangerous about the defeat of Islamic terrorism generally, a weak idea of necessity, a declaration about saving a people from a dictator and therefore suffering, appeals about hierarchic democracy, dishonourable effrontery about legality, an alliance of uncertain relative value, the politics of reality, conservative ideology, thinking about oil and the corporations and so on, neo-Zionism, and a political class.
Let us now move towards a conclusion.
There was a report in The Guardian a while ago of findings by two independent research groups about deaths in Iraq. In the two years since the invasion of Iraq, according to the report, 24,865 Iraqi civilians had been killed. 9,270 were killed by American, British and other troops. About 8,950 were victims of the criminal violence, as distinct from resistance by insurgents, owed to the social collapse owed to the war. 1,281 were children. At least 50 were babies. Other counts and calculations of casualties have been much higher. It transpires that there is considerable reason to accept medical research published in The Lancet to the effect that there is a 90% chance that there have been more than 44,000 civilian deaths and a 50% chance that there have been more than 98,000. Let us say, again, 60,000. Or, if you want, just say 24,865.
Bush and Blair justify these killings. They do so in large part, by way of the reasons for war at which we have looked. They do so, in another part, by a considertion that needs attention. It has been of such importance that it will occupy us for a while.
It is the familiar line of thinking to the effect that these deaths were not intended by Bush and Blair or by our men dropping the bombs or firing the missiles. They did not intend to kill innocent people. Their actions were not directed at the civilians. They would have chosen, of course, to proceed in such a way as to avoid all civilian deaths if that had been possible consistently with their own safety. What our leaders and the men intended was the killing of Iraqi soldiers and then insurgents. The deaths of innocents were not of actual targets but rather, as you know, what American military people call collateral damage.
This, you will allow me to say, is moral nonsense. It is worse than that. It is viciousness. It is the moral nonsense and viciousness about the deaths of innocents that is so useful here and elsewhere to our leaders. It is useful here in trying to defend a war and useful elsewhere in attacking terrorism.
What makes something right or wrong is what it will do. What makes something right or wrong, to speak a little more carefully, is what it is reasonably expected to do. It is nonsense to suppose that something is to be judged right as a result of ignoring some of what you know or believe it will do. This is on a level with supposing that a murderer who kills a husband in the course of achieving his aim or goal of killing the husband's wife is to be judged only in terms of the killing of the wife.
But let us think some more about the killing of innocents. Consider a young Palestinian woman who carries a bomb onto a bus in Israel to kill innocents and herself. Consider the American who fires a missile at a house or into the neighbourhood of a house said to have insurgents in it. In the house or thereabouts there are innocents, maybe a wedding party, and they are killed. What is typically said, as you know, is that there is a difference or a gulf between the two cases, because the American did not intend to kill innocent people.
It is true that there are ways of looking at the two actions that can be expressed in terms of intentions somehow conceived and that one or two of these ways do or may make a difference between them. The question is whether they make a difference of right and wrong. Is it that they are irrelevant to the question?
To say someone intended something in an action, or that somebody above them or commanding them intended something in the action, may be to say, roughly, that they foresaw the probable consequences of the action and went ahead. This is the way of looking at the thing, as you have heard before now, that does indeed make for the right or wrong of the action. It is what is relevant. This is not something peculiar to the Principle of Humanity, but common to most or many moralities and to most or much law.
As the casualty figures for innocents killed by American soldiers mount, and more innocent deaths are foreseeable and foreseen, it is impossible to make a difference between the action of an American soldier and the action of the Palestinian woman in terms of killing innocents -- whatever else can be said of either of them. Both the American and those above him, as much as the Palestinian woman, intend in this way to kill innocents. Beyond question of doubt we here have a way of looking at the killing of innocents in terms of intention that makes no general difference or right and wrong between the two kinds of actions. It does nothing whatever to make the American action less wrong.
But, you say, it is true that in some other sense the Palestinian woman intended exactly what she did and the American didn't. Maybe you mean she actually saw her victims, saw them living and breathing, and went ahead anyway, and this was not true of him. But does that fact about the experience of two persons make a difference of right and wrong in their actions? How could it? It could not possibly do so, for so many reasons. Killing more innocents horrifically but out of sight would by this supposition be less wrong than killing fewer innocents in sight. Anybody with a long-range sniper rifle or capable of planting a roadside bomb could thereby make his killing less wrong.
Do you say that on the way to the bus the woman had the forward-looking intention of killing innocents but the American on the way to the target did not? I wonder what you mean. Is it that she pictures her coming victims -- that, as philosophers say, this was the representative content of her intention? And this was not so with the American? He pictured doing his duty, following orders, serving freedom, killing insurgents against it. But it is absurd to try to make any such general difference between the two. The Palestinian woman may picture serving the cause of her people or whatever. The American cannot put out of his mind by hypnosis that there are people in the buildings he is about to incinerate, and that they may not all be insurgents.
That similarity or sameness is not the main point, however. The main point is a little like an earlier one about acts and omissions. Who really says, when they slow down to think about the thing, that you can kill 20 men, women and children horribly, which thing was a known possibility or probability, partly because you have fixed your mind on something else? No one to whom we need pay attention says this. They may have some other reason for justifying an action, but it cannot be this.
Maybe you are resolute and now repeat something already noticed, that the American and those above him, if they had the choice or possibility, would have chosen to kill the insurgents without killing any innocents. Well, it is certainly not always true that military people and those in charge of them choose to avoid civilian deaths. Sometimes they aim at them. It is claimed with reason that this has happened in Palestine. But suppose our sample American is just as supposed. He would prefer not to kill the innocents if he could, and so there is this sense in which he does not intend to kill them.
There is a clear reply. The Palestinian woman, if she had the choice or possibility, would have chosen without killing innocents to kill Sharon or Israeli soldiers or leading or committed neo-Zionists or to affect these people as much. Is any significant difference made by the fact that Sharon and so on are not going to be victims of her bomb along with the innocents? I leave you to work that out, maybe to come to thoughts about moral agents or moral personalities or whatever. What I have to say is that if it is known that two actions will or are likely to kill innocents, no difference of rightness is made between them by what either actor would have done instead if reality were otherwise than it was.
Is there hope, finally, in the simple idea that it was certain that the Palestinian woman would kill innocents but that there was only a chance or a probability that the American would kill some? That in this sense the American did not intend the deaths? Well, as a war goes on, and the numbers of dead innocents mounts, maybe day by day, this recourse becomes more or less impossible. The Americans may be known to be killing more innocents than their adversaries, whatever the probability that attaches to any particular attack. It is not merely possible but a fact that a president who orders a high probability of many thousands of innocent deaths is patently more in the wrong than anyone who with certainty acts so as to produce a few innocent deaths.
The short story, then, is that there is a way of looking at actions in terms of intention that is common, clear and inescapable. This way of looking at actions, in terms of foreseeable consequences, does indeed make for judgements of right and wrong. It does not make our actions in Iraq less wrong. It goes no way at all towards justifying them. It does not make a significant difference between the action of the Palestinian woman and the American. As against this, there are ways of looking at the actions that may or may not make a little difference between them, but are irrelevant to right and wrong.
Take another moment, before we go on, to remember something about definitions of terrorism. What was said earlier of defining terrorism as the intentional killing of innocents was that this by implication would assume that all terrorism is wrong, and would have certain counter-intuitive upshots, and would merely impede rather than make any significant difference to serious inquiry. More important, the definition would have a particular effect. In thinking of or discussing a war and terrorism, the definition would cheat by forcing the deaths of random innocents in terrorism on our attention and diverting us from the deaths of innocents in war. It would do this with any war, including terrorist or criminal war. What needs remarking now is that the outstanding case in our history of this lowness is provided by the talk of governments of terrorism and the Iraq war.
We had Bush and Blair on our minds, and their justification of killings in Iraq. Let us return to them.
What they must do to justify the killings of the innocents in Iraq, is to abandon weak stuff about intentions. What they must do is maintain that the killings have been worth it in terms of all the expected consequences -- worth it on the basis of the best judgement as to all its probable effects. In terms of the Principle of Humanity, what is required in order to justify the killings is to show that in the best judgement it was rational to kill the 24,865 persons or the 60,000 or the 98,000 with respect to the end of keeping and getting people out of bad lives. The idea, I repeat, is morally vicious.
You will say I have strayed off the main point, and indeed I have. The main point is what could be judged of going to war in 2003, not what can be judged now. Well, the answer to that is that it could be judged in 2003 that a good many thousand Iraqi civilians would be killed, maybe 10,000, maybe more. So would a lot of soldiers, our young men with vulnerable bodies and families, like those who would take up arms against them. Whatever else was said about what would be a brief and easy war, this was what could be judged to be in some significant or great degree probable. Very many said so. It is relevant to the correctness of that
judgement of probability, to put it no higher, that it is what turned out to be true.
Something needs to be made more explicit about that. There is a difference between (a) going to war and (b) not going to war with the danger that a dictator, maybe a cowed or now prudential dictator, will cause more suffering to people. The first course of action carries with it the dead certainty of killing and maiming many. The second carries only some probability that people will suffer. That is an elementary and crucial difference.
Given these propositions, no decent morality, no morality worth disputing with, could conclude that the reasons assembled for the war, that mess, could justify embarking on it. The morality of humanity condemns it. No decent morality, no morality above contempt, could justify our leaders and political parties who embarked on war. They have been deficient in moral intelligence. The morality of humanity condemns them absolutely. It places them on a level with bin Laden. It brings them together with Sharon. It joins them to Saddam Hussein. Bush and Blair are greater contributors than these to the killings.
They are also in that company for other reasons. They are there for their earlier contributions in the history that led to the war. They are there, in particular, for the fact of neo-Zionism, without which the war on Iraq would not have happened. Neo-Zionism stands in connection with it. They are there for not having got around to learning from the fact of 9/11. That failure in moral intelligence was also a necessary condition of the war on Iraq.
And the question of right and wrong now, of what to do now? It is not hard. It follows from what you have heard. It follows too from the photographs of naked men on leashes in the American prison in Baghdad, and the film of the savage beatings of young captives by British soliders. This is barbarism, barbarism exactly, barbarism that trickles down from the leaders of two democracies. You make a mistake if you think a rich people cannot be a people of a barbarian government.
Of course we should take our armies and security guards and corporations and contractors out of Iraq. We should let the Iraqis have the government or governments they want, not the government we want for them, or the government that Texans and our oil strategists want for them. We ourselves in Britain should get decent leaders in the place of the ones we have, leaders who disdain the nonsense that the reasons are troops have been kept in Iraq are humanitarian ones, say the danger of civil war. The most likely thing about that proposition is that it is owed to self-interest, maybe reassuring and profitable self-deception.
We in Britain should not be quiet about our leader who by clanking repartee has joined us into the killing of the 24,865 or the 60,000 or the 98,000 people. We should not go back to political business as usual.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A Division of Labour, Philosophy's Part
Negotiation, International Law
Just War Theory
The Politics of Reality
Conservatism and Liberalism
The Principle of Humanity
The Character of the Principle
The Strength of the Principle
The Ends and the Means Justify the Means
Some Conclusions about Palestine
A Terrible Conclusion About Palestine
Understanding, Judging, Inciting
9-11 and a Troubling Question
7-7 and the Importance of Horror
7-7 and Who Are the Enemies of This Terrorism?
Uncertainty and the Effect of Not Judging
Postscript on Anti-Semitism
For excerpts from Honderich's other two books related to terrorism, go to Terrorism for Humanity: An Inquiry in Political Philosophy and Humanity, Terrorism, Terrorist War: Palestine, 9/11, Iraq, 7/7.... A review of Humanity, Terrorism, Terrorist War by David Swanson.
An interview by Jon Bailes and Cihan Aksan.
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