Peaceful Means Are Important For Victims Of Empire, Too

by | Sep 30, 2018

What do we make of the Iranian Navy flexing its muscles in the Strait of Hormuz?

I have a somewhat unique perspective within Libertarianism.  I’m anti-war – okay that’s not special – and anti-empire – that’s hardly at all special.  However, I’m a proponent of peace, and I think I go farther in this direction than many libertarians.  The issue of Iran’s military posture presents a good opportunity to delve into this nuanced view.

I’m not a pacifist; I do believe in self-defense.  If it’s your life or an aggressor’s at stake, then because they’re an aggressor, justice leans to your side if you use deadly force in self-defense.  However, justice is not absolute.  As a libertarian, I don’t have a notion of ideal, absolute justice.  I don’t think a monopoly state is legitimate.  Instead, justice is contingent on circumstance and evidence.  Self-defense is only legally legitimate when evidence, through due process, can establish that deadly force was the only available recourse, that it was in proportion to the potential harm, and that the self-defender was not somehow aggressing proportionate to the escalation to deadly force.

This standard parallels the army’s official “Rules of Engagement” until the last point.  When you invade another country wearing arms and armor, this constitutes a reasonable threat of deadly proportions.  Thus, no army can really ever use RoE or the Law of Armed Conflict to justify their use of deadly force.

What if you’re a completely defensive force?  First of all, do you imagine that each and every soldier, every bullet fired, every action and reaction in battle will be subject to courtroom scrutiny?  Gang vs. Police fights, in theory, require some level of courtroom scrutiny.  But not war.

Isn’t war simply a situation where you can’t scrutinize the details?

If you can’t scrutinize details, then you can’t prove that self-defensive force was justified.  A soldier can make a game of war, and pick off the enemy one at a time when it really has no bearing on the outcome of the battle.  Can the fog of war protect from the demands of justice?

Traditionally, society has made an exception for war.  Because it’s too difficult to scrutinize justice during war, we won’t bother!  I say, NO!  Because it’s too difficult, let us then not lend war one iota of legitimacy, and call it what it is: inherently unjust.

In Iran’s case, one can see how their geostrategic position abreast the Strait of Hormuz represents good leverage against an aggressive, hegemonic world power.  In the “underdog” rules of global justice, one might sympathize with Iran.  Even peace activists could find the “self-defensive” sense of Iran sitting on this channel provocatively.

And yet, most swords have two edges.

Iran’s threat to Hormuz is defensive leverage.  It’s also offensive leverage, and it could be used to bully concessions out of more powerful rivals.  I don’t mean the “please don’t bomb us” kind of concession.  I mean the “do us a favor” kind.

That alone is enough for a military, competitive mind to completely disregard Iran’s claims of innocent self-defense.  We might sympathize with those claims, but a professional worrier in a position of power would never ever think twice about this.  When and where possible, Iran would have to be subjugated, for security purposes.  This is the logic of war, driven by a competitive race to the bottom.

Looking at Yemen, Libya, and even North Korea’s example, one might conclude that a strong military posture is necessary to dissuade “the Empire” from causing immeasurable harm to your people.  Yemen has no Strait of Hormuz to threaten, and look what’s happened.  North Korea made big bad nukes, and has artillery pointed South.  If this wasn’t so, they’d have been invaded by the year 2000.

One way or the other, Iran faces a threat of aggression from the US.  However, should they become a victim of that aggression, their muscle flexing in Hormuz will be a stain against their innocence.

Our notions of justice can’t make the world right.  However, conversely, if the world is ever to be right, it needs a notion of consistent justice.  One day, if we move beyond hegemonic aggression, we won’t keep the peace unless people begin to adopt a mindset that war is fundamentally unjust – even when defensive.

The Quakers of Pennsylvania were among the few peoples of Colonial America to avoid major conflicts with the American Indian populations in their proximity.  The Quakers policy?  To never fight.  The Indians learned this, very quickly, and respected it.  The hot heads had no bogeyman to rally their people around, since the Quakers were so famously pacifistic.  Well, maybe I’ve got that wrong.

Still, if there’s room for war to “make sense”, someone will make it make sense for whatever power pursuits they have in mind.

Point is: be careful Iran, remember what happened with the Lusitania.

About Zack Sorenson

Zachary Sorenson worked for the United States Air Force for six years as a Navigation Officer. He recently quit because of a principled opposition to war. He considers himself to be a Libertarian, and studied Economics at the University of Maryland, College Park. He would like to see the resurgence of a non-political commitment to peace for its own sake, across the spectrum of ideologies.

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