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Jacksonian America

Posted By Grim • [November 18, 2012] According to Dr. Mead, we don't much care about Just War.
Readers of Special Providence know that I’ve written about four schools of American thinking about world affairs; from the perspective of the most widespread of them, the Jacksonians, what Israel is doing in Gaza makes perfect sense....

Americans as a people have never much believed in fighting by “the rules.” The Minutemen who fought the British regulars at Lexington and Concord in 1776 thought that there was nothing stupider in the world than to stand in even ranks and brightly colored uniforms waiting to shoot and be shot like gentlemen. They hid behind stone walls and trees, wearing clothes that blended in with their surroundings, and took potshots at the British wherever they could. George Washington saved the Revolution by a surprise attack on British forces the night before Christmas; far from being ashamed of an attack no European general of the day would have countenanced, Americans turned a painting of the attack (“Washington Crossing the Delaware”) into a patriotic icon. In America, war is not a sport....

The whole jus in bello argument sails right over the heads of most Americans. The proportionality concept never went over that big here. Many Americans are instinctive Clausewitzians; Clausewitz argued that efforts to make war less cruel end up making it worse, and a lot of Americans agree.

From this perspective, the kind of tit-for-tat limited warfare that the doctrine of proportionality would require is a recipe for unending war: for decades of random air strikes, bombs and other raids.

I respect Dr. Mead, but this argument is half-baked. It's true that in Jackson's time America had no use for rules of war that would have rendered in incapable of fighting back successfully. It's likewise true that those same laws, now, are just another weapon to which you might lay a hand: they are the rules that allow you to treat unlawful combatants to a quick hanging or a trip to GitMo, because their lack of uniforms and discipline does not privilege them.

It's not that we don't get the rules. It's certainly not that they go 'over our heads.' It's all about war not being a sport. When we take to fighting, we mean to win.

And we do take seriously the women and children. Clausewitz's formula isn't against them, it's in their favor. Air strikes are one of the worst ways to wage a war, even especially a war of this type. Ask the Haqqani how kind our drones have been to their women. I have heard it said that the ideal weapon for this sort of war is a knife, followed by a rifle. Poison and silenced pistols are good too.


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