Before addressing your latest post, I’d like to look at some of the topics left over from last week.
Concerning the idea of the “just war,” I want to reconsider that concept, this time from the vantage point of what logicians call an analogical argument.
Consider the just lunch.
Of course you’re modern and contemporary, and conscientiously concerned with all the relevant and pressing issues of modern food production, distribution, and consumption. Of course! You’re appropriately post-modern. You’re trendily neo-urban. You’re cool with hints of transnational humanism. And you’re attractive with highlights of ecological awareness.
And then at midday, in the middle of the work week, you go out for lunch. And you go to your favorite little out-of-the-way place to order your favorite fare. Pub grub! Why not! You deserve what you like. You’ve put in a half day of hard work. And you’re well compensated for your labors. That’s just. Though an imminent raise would be even more just.
And, even better today, you’re going to lunch with a new and even datable colleague. And you’re going together — to lunch, that is — because at the water cooler this morning you discovered that you’re both into justice. Justice of all kinds. Justice for everyone and everything. And as you watched her form her soft lips around the sweet word “justice,” yes, you agreed, oh, yes, definitively yes, justice, yes, is wonderful, yes.
You take her to your little place — the restaurant, that is. In order to guide her, you familiarly greet the owner by his first name, and together you chat for a minute. Then, with an easy panache and breezy aplomb, you order your usual robust roast beef sandwich along with a hardy salad and a bracing ale.
And now you look at her expectantly with anticipatory deference.
And you discover your colleague is a radical vegan.
Meat production and consumption is unjust to animals.
You discreetly signal to the owner that he might begin with only your order for now.
Meanwhile, you’re thinking that you could put the beef aside. You can always take it home. You could even eat it tonight for dinner. What succulent slices! Oh, so why not eat it now? It’s a free country! Oh, but she has such a lyrical voice.
Anyways, there’s always that great salad.
But no, she’s also worried about the exploitation of third world agricultural labor in the production of fruits and vegetables, produce which is artificially underpriced by uncosted environmental and political externalities.
Inexpensive and exploitative all-season salads are unjust to farm workers, and such salads inefficiently allocate the limited resources of the earth.
You consider getting a go-box for the salad when it comes. She has such winsome lips.
At least you’ll still have that crunchy bun with the special home-made sauce on it.
Yes, but she’s very concerned about the mono-cultural production of grains, grains that are virtually factory-manufactured in industrial fields, fields which degrade the bio-diversity of the countryside, causing the collapse of butterfly populations.
Buns that are virtually mold-blown like foam from man-made grain are unjust to butterflies and the wild flowers they would have fertilized.
Alright, the crunchy bun could go with the succulent slices in the first go-box. What sweet teeth she has! And how they glisten and gleam when she talks of flowers and fertilization!
Of course, to show that you’re one-to-one with her in the spirit of culinary solidarity in the dedicated service of world justice potentially tête-à-tête, you’ve pointedly pushed your favorite ale slightly aside in a gesture of ethical significance. Beer is a culpable proxy in the exploitation world grain situation. Furthermore, every bottle opened increases the carbon footprint of humanity. And alcohol is under the interdiction of the mad mothers of America.
Perhaps the ale could go in a large carry-out coffee cup. And then there’d be another recycling problem. Oh, but her gaze is so openly ardent! The fiery iridescence of her opalescent eyes!
And, of course, you decide — or it decides for you — that love is worth even the most strenuous of efforts. Of course! Hasn’t that always been the way with love? Tristan and Isolde. Romeo and Juliet. Burton and Taylor. Didn’t they all endure the most traumatic of travails? Especially Burton?
Schopenhauer was right. Love is the crux of the deep pain of being! But Nietzsche was equally right. It’s worth it!
And you raise your glass of ice water in an unconscious toast to total love and your innermost world re-affirmation.
She wonders whether the ice was frozen with electricity generated from non-renewable carbon footprint fuels. And is the refrigerant ozone-safe?
Artificial refrigeration for the cultural indulgence of summer ice is globally unjust when the whole earth is getting warmer. But what ardor paints her complexion! What inner heat must fire her glow!
As you spoon out the ice and heatedly long to quench the rising dryness of your plangent words — her clothes fit her so well! — she asks if you know the source of the water. Did it come from a non-renewable aquifer?
Dehydration of the planet is unjust to Gaia. It wrinkles her sun-burnt skin.
Just then your lunch arrives.
“Enjoy! Ma’am, have you decided yet? No? Well, take your time! I’ll check back in a few minutes. There’s no hurry.”
You look at the succulent slices on the crunchy bun with its savory sauce, the deep green salad richly topped with the special house bacon dressing, and the tall cellar-temperature al. All wanting to be tasted. Enjoyed. Savored. Relished. Even ravished!
With justice in the balance — O love! — you launch into your lunch with the primal delight of excited teeth as you urge her with a mouthful to order something just. Or even just good.
And now to the rhythm of your rigorous mastication you recollect that you once took a college course in which the professor had proven that justice isn’t just. Or was it Plato and the good — and that the good is bad? No, it was that justice is situational and celebratory. Or was it salvational and celibatory? Hey, you got a B+! Remember!
And now, as you gaze out over the triumphant sauce-dripping sandwich clutched in your conquering hands, and you luxuriously meta-savor the magnificence of high noon justice, you think, “For most people most of the time most places most everywhere, what passes for love is just a bluff. So why try to change human nature!”
As for those great lovers and the strains of their embraces, Tristan and Isolde got into adultery. Romeo and Juliet advanced to suicide. And Burton and Taylor did divorce. No, thanks! You’re still passing on all those activities —and their prerequisites! Who needs an emotional heart attack! Besides, where can you find a work-out gym for that great organ of love anyways!
With wounded and righteous calculation, she’s now stood to denounce you in a tone of outraged dismay along with any number of unjust epithets. And then she contemptuously exits your favorite restaurant. Well, not even her power make-up could hide the ugliness of her inner intolerance and the alpha-primitive ambitions of her will to dominant allegiance. Besides, you think as the sandwich piques the subtleties of your sense of cuisine — and didn’t some famous French philosophy guy named Foocoe crave just such un-French relaxed and robust food? — you’ve just saved the environment two go-boxes, and, hey, a cup and a lid, too!
Ahhhh! For anything that ails man, there’s an ale. Besides, these days, everyone who goes to college has perfect teeth.
When the owner returns to inquire what the lady’s wishes are, you indicate that she’s gone on a search and rescue mission for some hand-crafted fair-trade small-plot organic tofu with a salad of holistic third world weeds sprinkled with nutritional yak urine. The maître delicatessen delicately understands all. And you both sadly nod to acknowledge your experienced wisdom in the gender-specificities of love. And you wonder: Who could ever have designed such a system of joint ecstasy.
You return to your robust delicatessen delight— your Foocoe club sandwich — and you become contemplative. Even philosophical. Your firm has just begun its hiring campaign. And the cooler is always well stocked with spring water. Who knows what that legally means in America. Or even cares. The mood of the label and the feel of its idea are the important things. Next time, though, you’ll mention the names of some of your favorite restaurants first. The Contented Carnivore. The Whole Hog. Gibbet and Giblet.
And now let’s leave our stalwart worker who, after contemplating a delicious but possibly undeserved desert, then returned to his corporate cubicle, but only after a long refreshing pause at the water cooler in the hallway of the corporate veldt.
Once again we can see that “just war” is a comfortable and even complacent sounding concept. The phrase sings a melody of substance to the untrained conceptual ear. And yet the word “just” hasn’t said anything adjectival about the noun. Not a thing. And “justice” by itself also never will. Aristotle made a similar observation about the problem of “happiness” at the beginning of his Ethics. Happiness, Aristotle observed, is what everyone agrees is the goal and the purpose of human life. But no one agrees on what happiness consists of. Whereupon Aristotle wrote a book about the correct content of the word. His content.
In other words, the phrase “just war” by itself only indicates that the subject of war is at hand, and that some portion of it will soon be interdicted or forbidden. Otherwise, the phrase is a pleonasm of presumption. It’s a piece of good-feel propaganda for the conceptually challenged.
Another subject you’ve returned to in your post is collateral damage. The question of collateral damage isn’t only interesting in itself. It’s also of great significance in current American affairs. In recent years, precisely because of the possibility of collateral damage — such as deaths to family members — leaders of Al-Qaeda who were in the sights of drone-borne Hellfire missiles have been allowed to live and further to irritate America for years to come. The rules of engagement then — and possibly still now — were on a short leash at the end of which was a choke chain.
The contrast between that sensibility and WWII’s isn’t only startling. It’s astonishing. Germany never militarily struck the American homeland any closer than torpedoing merchant ships off the Atlantic coast. And yet our ethical sensibility then of strategic bombing was the following: ‘America stands for the daylight precision bombing of enemy military and industrial assets. Collateral damage to German citizens and their property is never intended. But if we accidently burn Germany to the ground, too bad for Hitler and his citizens. They declared war first.’ Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda perpetrated the worst foreign strike on American soil ever. And yet the rules of engagement have been squeamish to the point of incapacitated priggishness. Such voluntary restraints are a study in emasculated considerateness. They’re even more self-destructively pusillanimous than the grand strategy of the boardroom war run by McNamara and Johnson, the Abbott and Costello of military statesmanship. I’d call them Laurel and Hardy. But they’re not that funny.
And yet in no way am I now suggesting, let alone celebrating, area bombing or any other means of mass destruction. I did graduate work in Germany for a year. During that time I traveled extensively. Very extensively. One of my favorite arts is architecture. Given my love of the arts, that’s saying something. My feelings about the wastage of the great and wonderful buildings and cityscapes of Germany cannot be stated in any polite or even any impolite form for this post or any other verbal medium.
And then there are the other countries’ WWII collateral damage gratis America. Consider the B-25s’ atomization of Mantegna’s frescos in the Eremitani in Padua.
I’m completely opposed to any unnecessary wastage of any kind for the accomplishment of any goal through war for any purpose governmental or otherwise. I also affirm the nuclear bombing of Japan as I did in a previous post in detail.
Because there’s obviously no inconsistency or hypocrisy here, what I’m suggesting might not be obvious.
What I’m suggesting is the dominant American national sensibility.
The thoughtless, self-considerate, and even pleasant implication is that Americans are kinder people. I’ve seen the English suggest something similar of themselves: that they’re a nicer than other nationalities. That could be so. Nationalities suffer and enjoy their real national differences regardless of what socialist preachers godlessly sermonize on their secular sabbaths. Meanwhile, no world-experienced person can maintain that the English have as much snap as the Brazilians do. To insist that everyone is actually the same is no less racist than saying some people are intrinsically superior.
On the contrary, I think human nature is the same across humanity. And it hasn’t changed in any significant or even discernible way since the beginning of reliable records: first, in visual art works, and then in written records and reflections, especially philosophy, history, and literature.
Of course, various genetic mutations and modifications of humanity can be cited from recent millennia. The human head is growing rounder. Blue eyes are novel. Lactose tolerance in adults is recent. But none of these modifications represents a change of human nature, in either a big or even a small way. I’ve never detected any discontinuity in my empathy with any human representation of human nature from any civilization from any time period. Of course, the styles of representation can take some getting used to at times: outback rock art, or urban expressionism. Originally I wrote “cave art,” but the great works of cave art are rather more immediately sympathetic in style than many acclaimed 20th century paintings from Europe and America. Meanwhile, the wasteland sub-cavemen may have had their socio-economic reasons for their rude crudeness. For example, there were no art supply stores in the pre-history outback. But our urban near-contemporaries have no excuse except their own internal wretchedness.
We’ll assume that Americans’ attitude towards the unnecessary wastage of the enemy in war isn’t a matter of intrinsic ethnic superiority. Besides, that subject in reference to Americans is silly to the point of ridiculousness: an intrinsic American ethnicity! I’m French-American! That is, if we must continue to violate Teddy Roosevelt’s superb denunciation of any and all usage of “hyphenated American” designations. Regardless, the policy of no unnecessary wastage is recognizably a better sensibility than Germany’s scorched earth vengeance in WWII, or Genghis Khan’s enjoyment of scorched everything everywhere. When he wasn’t into green diversity.
What, then, is the cause of this American superiority?
The answer must lie in the political regime of America: what in The Republic and everywhere else I call the big republic civil society free market arrangement.
A market economy with self-sufficient citizens has no systemic interest in the random wastage of economic assets of any kind: plant, equipment, mines, quarries, animals and humans, the latter whether unskilled, skilled, professional, managerial, or entrepreneurial.
To wantonly waste resources of any kind is to reduce present and future opportunities, markets, expansions, mergers, and profits.
And notice that the historian, the pragmatist, the theoretician, and the cynic will all answer in the same way. And that isn’t a dogma, trick, a coincidence, or an irony. Their interests of fact, convenience, idea, and absurdity are all satisfied in the same substantial and significant world structure. In the same way, the etiological greatness of The Federalist consists of its unusual and astonishingly clear combination of historical knowledge, political experience, philosophical savvy, and an understanding of human nature from the front lines and general headquarters of reality.
In other words, the non-destructive proclivity of the American national sensibility isn’t due to some better grade of human nature that God or genetics granted America, but because of a social political economic complex that isn’t wantonly wasteful.
The excellence of this arrangement for modern sensibilities is two-fold. One is for Democrats. The other is for Republicans. And both are for those who are world lovers in the know. There’s no superior ethnicity in terms of human nature. Humans are all one and the same creature, beast, occurrence, effort, project, wonder, and astonishment. What distinguishes humans are theory social political economic arrangements for the cultivation of civilization and the enjoyment of a quality universe. And the American order is the best yet found or made for human enrichment, personal liberty, social considerateness, and the enjoyment of life with relaxed and unhassled self-realization.
And notice that any idealist position wouldn’t be a superior, nobler, or more hopeful height, but just the usual tedious excitation of fantasy and recitation, and of memorization rather than of innovation.
Meanwhile I can now fulfill an old promise to address a particular topic from a few weeks ago. Or, rather, since this is a conversation, not a promise but a desire. There are no goals or outlines in a conversation, referees or time keepers, choreographers or judges. Conversation is a liberal art. It’s a skilled leisure activity of the free. It’s an idea orgy of the unchained love of words.
Why did America commit British-style area bombing in WWII? And notice that I don’t deny that America did this in the way some Americans deny that the Philippines was an imperialist acquisition.
There are several reasons, all of them simple and predominantly unavoidable.
First, the promises of precision bombing celebrated before the war — a bomb in a pickle barrel from 30,000 feet, and great wars won from the air alone — were total nonsense, and therefore demotic propaganda, opiated hope, outright mendacity, or all of the above. The precision bombing of the precision bombers in the war was so bad that fleets of high-altitude American bombers, when sent out to sink ships, almost never hit any target throughout the entire war. They usually hit the water, though, with impressive effects. But the Air Corps was so indoctrinated in its Billy Mitchell beliefs, it went in denial of the facts for most of the war.
Second, the military and industrial assets of the enemy needed to be destroyed. Therefore, a little spill-over became acceptable to the war effort. Even some spillover. Even a lot of spillover. Hey, they elected Hitler — including the women! Bombs away, Fritz! Greetings, Brünnhilde, from Omaha!
Third, the strategic air infrastructure was in place, and the generals who loved it were on hand with seniority. To stop this war-winning weapon would have been almost politically impossible in both Britain and America. One theory of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki strikes is that after $2 billion in 1944 dollars was secretly spent on the Manhattan Project, if the Pentagon didn’t use those two very different and very expensive bombs, Congress would have nailed the ears and other appendages of the Pentagon to the barn door and lit the war farm afire. Meanwhile, the B-29 program apparently cost even more. And we used that weapon, too, right, Mom?
Fourth, we were copying the British who entered the war a few years ahead of us, and we wanted to do what they were doing on our own to strut our stuff to the world.
Finally, fifth, national vengeance and organized mayhem can be bureaucratically fun. However, many a GI dogface and foot grunt, when finally marching into Germany, expressed astonishment and dismay — note that second reaction — at the wastage of the German cities. Precision bombing had been advertised to the American people, not the Sodom and Gomorrah of Germany.
Obviously these reasons aren’t equally admirable.
I like the issue you raise about whether death in war is necessary because — as some people insist — war is unnecessary.
Since the collapse of the God-geometrical deductive model of the universe, nothing is thought to be necessary except possibly the conclusions of axiomatic proofs. These are found in mathematics, logic, and other such calculi. Even the practitioners of such exercises now agree that their results are formal, empty, or even whimsical, if also sometimes accidentally applicable to human affairs and nature. After all, such oddities as up, color, and strangeness now parameterize some of the fundamentals of the universe. Meanwhile, nothing human or natural is necessary as far as anyone can conceptually assert, determine, or infer with any plausibility. The empty axiomatic necessities of mathematics and logic aren’t somehow essential mirrors of reality. They’re only pragmatic maps of universal contingencies. Indeed, the necessity of the universe is itself a topic that’s either unresolvable or meaningless. Nonetheless, it’s a great subject over ale with or without club sandwiches and assorted side fare in abundance. Never underestimate the great pickle!
Therefore, as a start, a discussion of the necessity of death in association with the necessity of war is a twinned non-starter. But I’ll accept the fraternal topic in good faith.
Humanity has long known that only two types of life go to war: humans and ants. And then recent close observation of chimpanzees has discovered that they, too, are warlike. Instead of being peace-loving vegetarians, chimps are meat-eating warriors. For those who still seek the hope of humanity through the moral guidance of apes — at least they’re not monkeys! — the recent scientific discovery or taxonomic invention of bonobos apparently answers their need. Bonobos are pacific chimps. They’re good chimps. Nice chimps. Safe chimps. But they still don’t make such good pets as humans do — like Gertrude Stein’s pet Alice or many people’s token children.
As for humans and war, the historical record shows that humanity is inseparable from that activity. Humans engage in war as universally as they engage in art. Why humans do these things has exercised philosophers and psychologists since humanity began thinking. And humans also engage in thinking as universally as they engage in art and war. Why humans do this is also mysterious. Indeed, why humans even exist is a mystery. And why the universe exists is even more mysterious — perhaps.
By the way, what is the universe?
Und “Was Heisst Denken?”
“Kellner, noch einmal, bitte!’