I appreciate the high standards by which you judge yourself without sympathy or contempt. But if you didn’t think of a point I made in the last round before I did, that might be because I’ve thought about some things a bit longer than you have, some of them longer than you’ve been alive, some of them even twice as long as that. Some of these points are matters of history. And history can be hard enough to think your way through. But some of these points derive from philosophy, which some people say is impossible to think! True! For them. Meanwhile, some philosophical topics have been thought about for centuries. Or at least they’ve been rigorously word-mulled by lexical logicians for ages until someone once again thinks the things themselves.
I’ve done that once or twice.
More pertinently and imperatively here, thinking about anything that’s visible can be hard to do. But thinking about invisible things is even harder. No, I don’t mean ghosts! I mean hearing the dog of history that doesn’t bark in the dark, but just looks at you and salivates. Call it the zeitgeist. Or, in the case of MacArthur and the Viet Nam War, the polterzeitgeist.
Consider Sun Tzu.
Sun Tzu famously preferred wars that are won without fighting over wars that are won on glorious battlefields by splendid generals. In other words, Sun Tzu celebrated victories won by statesmanship: by concession, conciliation, calculation, coercion, cunning. He celebrated such wars because they’re won at a lower expenditure of people and resources and fortitude. And luck.
Luck cannot be philosophically defined in causality. But if you have it, you shouldn’t squander it. Or rely on it too often. Or even presume on it ever.
Now, like Sherlock Holmes hearing the dog that didn’t bark, observe how Sun Tzu’s non-wars don’t make flashes and bangs, or produce victory parades and souvenir collectibles, or even get headlined on The Evening News or in The People’s Truth. Thus most people never notice non-wars. Or their causes. Or even their effects as effects. Most people go through life unconscious of the inexpensive victories in which they live with affluence and happiness.
Generals, of course, dislike such wars. Unfought wars win generals no additional stars, no newer hardware, no bigger staffs. Indeed, such bargain wars could be the military definition of peace. Therefore an occasional blood battle might be useful or even necessary. Such warfare cleans the cobwebs off the equipment. And it vents the resentful agitations of frustrated warriors. And it’s also good for heads of state to see if their parade ground McClellans can actually fight — or if they even dare to scuff their beautiful boots. As for finding a cause to start a callisthenic war, that’s not so hard to do. Human nature provides war causes every day for anyone anywhere who wants one. The wonder isn’t that humans fight so many wars, but that they fight so few. Humanity is a casus belli.
And notice that not only generals love wars. There are also civilian devotees of war — or at least war stories, fictional and factual. Compared to war, peacetime training novels and warehouse logistics histories are as exciting as the memoirs of a sink manufacturer in Toledo or a tomato canner in Northumberland. Actually I’ve read the latter with considerable interest. And for deeper readers — or for insomniacs which nothing can put to sleep — there’s diplomatic history. But even assuming the archives are open, the secrets of diplomacy lack shock and awe, blood and guts, even raised voices! And statesmen’s autobiographies typically read like amateur novels: fiction lamely written. And when statesmen do write well, they sound like they’re lying! Thus shooting wars provide responsible citizens with robust entertainments along with the patriotic reminder that peace is an art work of war.
And while we’re at it, let’s give some consideration to movie lovers, too. Which do you think will get shot — with a camera —and opened on a thousand screens: “Tank Commander!” or “Foggy Bottom”? In “Tank Commander!” Patton’s armoured lovers surge across France winning their way to victory amour: from armor to armoire! Meanwhile, in “Foggy Bottom,” a pipe-smoking Secretary of State puzzles over a much-folded and fingered pocket piece of notepad paper. The most action-filled moment occurs when the gentleman reaches for a pipe cleaner, coughs, pauses, puts his pipe aside, and then smiles with a single definitive nod. Obviously such cerebral history — assuming it’s accessible — can be made into a movie only with ample auxiliary action. For example, the Secretary’s dashing and intelligent young assistant gets catapulted into explosive espionage adventures. Or, for the keyboard crowd, the young man is a fumbling but lucky guy-cute tech nerd with similar perilous adventures. Throw in a mysterious assassination or two with ricin-tipped umbrellas or handy VX spritzes. And introduce some arousing romance, either reconciliation in a tumultuous homeland marriage with appropriate bed bonding, or some personnel alliance across hostile lines with appropriate bed bonding. Cut to “Uncle” clearing his throat. And then, as Uncle cleans his pipe, the credits roll.
At the end of your last post, you refer to a just war. “Just war” is an ongoing concept industry complete with classical literature and colorless conferences. At their rational jamborees, academics read “papers” at each other to justify their travel vouchers. Of course, the subject of “just war” sounds ethically imperative today. America is continually getting involved in wars. America has military bases everywhere in the world for world peace. But the rest of the world callously calls America a warmonger, which causes upstart countries to attack it. By why would you attack the world’s peace keeper? That’s like biting the guard dog at the bank!
Fortunately we have at hand an outstanding example of American exceptionalism. Upon election in 2008, Obama instantly won world acclaim for defeating a warlike Texan clan, and then announcing the imminent closure of Gitmo. The world even tossed Obama a Nobel Prize to show its appreciation of a rare peace-loving American. But soon enough Obama had to go to Afghanistan to defend America against another distant attack. And Gitmo’s still open. Even Obama could understand reality’s reasoning. The world chants peace at the Pentagon, then it attacks it wherever it is — everywhere! Meanwhile the news tells us that Afghanistan is America’s longest defense ever. And the rest of the world looks at us with wonder. Stupor mundi. Or something stupid.
Just war is thus a topical and even just topic. After all, who’s in favor of injustice? Who even could be? Even skinhead Nazis hopped on schnapps insist they’re just! That’s why in my book Reality 101: Everything you need to know about reality so you don’t spend the rest of your life in total stupidity (forthcoming), I address the subject of justice at the beginning of the book as an illustration of how to think about concepts.
Aristotle observes at the beginning of his great book on ethics that everyone ag rees what the purpose of life is: to be happy. But no one agrees what happiness consists of. Whereupon Aristotle sets out to produce the correct specification of happiness for human nature, a nature whose grounds and bounds are coterminous with the universe, a thing which Aristotle providentially provides in that and other books with Aristotelian specifications. In other words, happiness requires a world.
Now consider justice.
Justice suffers from the same problem as happiness. Everyone agrees that humans want only to do what is just. But no one agrees what justice consists of. Of course, there are quibblers out there like the characters in Plato’s concentration camp country, “The Republic,” who, for nihilistic novelty, insist they favor injustice. But such logic adolescents are only power punks who treat human consciousness like a soccer stadium. We’ll ignore the verbal riffraff here except for the occasional conceptual police action, and that only to keep the constabulary — us! — active and happy. In a republic, every man is a part of the concept posse comitatus.
And now also notice in passing several other popular words related to justice — fair, good, right — that signify their meaning in the same troublesome way that justice does.
The reason for this inconvenience of words is simple if deep. When the just-wars people begin discussing just wars, they’ve begun by saying nothing substantive. True, they’ve made a start. We know they’re discussing war. And we can infer through linear logic that there are two kinds of wars: just wars and unjust wars. And we can further infer from the experience of words that just wars are good and that unjust wars are bad. But if “good” and “just” are siblings in a family of evaluative words, then not very much has yet been said. Or — as Bertrand Russell insisted — nothing! But don’t despair. Read my Reality 101 instead. On the other hand, if despair is your favorite world emotion, go ahead, despair!
Meanwhile, cosmologists say the universe began with not much, and then, after an unsettled beginning, it got going into its now considerably extended operations. Likewise, we’ll credit the just-war crowd with a similar stalwart beginning of something rather than of nothing.
But cosmologists must now tell us what that something is: they must tell us what the universe is.
And so, too, the just-war people must now tell us what a just war is: they must tell us what they mean by justice. And they must do so because, as I point out in Reality 101, “justice” is a laudatory word like “good,” and has no content of its own. But precisely now the IOU of that nice word “justice” must be paid in full.
What will the justice lovers fill it with? Or, as William James would say, “What’s the cash value of their conceptual pow-wows?” On our behalf, if not theirs, too, we’ll avoid any typical hedging of triple-negatives or other such infelicitous prolixity or ponderous delay of academic equivocation. But notice that CIA analysts use the same career insurance techniques. Such deniable writing provides cover for surprises from enemies, bosses, and the universe.
To continue. The answer to the question “What is justice?” will then be — whatever the speaker happens to like.
“But that’d just be an opinion!” some people will immediately gasp. Notice how their indignation loudly attempts to cover up their own intellectual laziness and emotional complacence. Indeed, as most people know all-too-well in their quiet private moments — one or two a year — most people’s opinions aren’t backed by fact or analysis or anything thoughtful, but only an assertiveness of themselves or some other such orthodoxy. Thus most civil “debates” in America quickly degenerate into shouting matches inflamed by wounded feelings. The facts and the analyses of such “discussions,” assuming there were any to begin with, are soon exhausted, and all that remains to be said is an endless reiterated reassertion of fixed and insistent positions in ever increasing crescendos. You probably have this experience in the dorms. Or, more likely, you’ve had such experiences. And now you wisely steer your way around the verbal futilities of your dormitory contemporaries. And your stoical experience acknowledges them with apodictic grins.
In fact, the subject matter of justice in “just wars” will always be a community in accord. In the just-wars crowd, the community will typically be identified as reasonable people. The Democratic Party. Post-modern diversity. The United Nations. Good guys. Aquinas. Pufendorf. Grotius. Us.
And note in passing there’s no such thing as a justice of one person. Plato noticed that 2400 years ago.
In less ideologically loaded group agreements — such as ours — communities of justice will also include the US and other nation states. NATO. The West. Commercial interests. Global ideas. World fashions. And none of these is world neutral in natural law or any other such love-mushy religion proxy.
And now a consumer universe warning. Any time you find yourself at a world love fest, ask yourself: When does a happy and panting global hug tighten into a global and total breathless mugging?
And now we can see how justice is like happiness. Happiness requires a world. And so does justice. The only question then is, ”What is your world?”
The same people will again protest, this time shrilling existentially, “But then it’s all relative!” True! If by relative you mean not absolute. But what absolute? Where? How? I’m not aware that any such thing is provided for in the Constitution, or that it’s ever referenced in The Federalist. So we’ll be satisfied here with contemplating factions in action: political constellations, economic productivities, population fertilities. In other words, power reality manifested in significant cultures and signifying civilizations. And we’ll leave the absolutists to their hopeful pleasures and their imaginative persuasions.
At the end of your remarks, you raise the problem of nuclear weapons use. It takes a lot of bombs to destroy a planet. That’s why the creepy Kim regime of North Korea doesn’t deprive me of sleep at night. Nonetheless, even one dropped bomb could make a geopolitical mess of the soundest sleeper’s waking hours. Hiroshima has already done that to some pacifists of love. I’ll tell you a story sometime, if you want, about one such faculty member I knew back when I was a graduate student.
It’s therefore with good cause and power prudence that Trump has stated in public: a North Korean attack on the United States would be answered with a frightfully magisterial response. A paranoid Korean attack could only mean a nuclear strike, and that delivered to the West Coast by ballistic missile, and that on Los Angeles because it’s the biggest target. But what would America do in its outreach to North Korea after the Kim regime had killed or poisoned a million Americans? What would America demand for compensation? For retribution? For deterrence? Termination of North Korea as a habitable geographical address?
But now war-think an even subtler case. What if North Korea decided to blast Seoul instead in the name of the natural justice of Korean national unification? Nuclear redux 1950. What would be the just war response? By South Korea? By Japan? By China? The US? NATO? The UN? By the lovers of humanity and the devotees everywhere of the civility of the cultural life which flourishes in the comfortable confidence of an affluent peace?