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Actually, It’s Aggressive War That’s Immoral

Winning is everything. Fighting ruthlessly may not please the safe-at-home moralists, but it’s losing that’s immoral. ~Ralph Peters

But if winning were everything, we could take a page out of Dean Barnett’s handbook and bomb the place into oblivion.  Since winning isn’t everything, we don’t do that, because we are, thank God, not quite the hideous monsters Ralph Peters would like us to be.  There’s a reason why it is exceedingly difficult to try to dominate another country by force in a just way: in the end, either you cease to be just, or you cease to dominate.  This is why highly civilised empires and great powers cannot retain their dependencies and colonies and satellites when the native people decide that they must go; attempts to retain the colonies or satellites by force always degenerate into brutality and then often fail anyway. 

Upon their return in 1945, the French committed summary executions of Algerians to show that they were once again in control (perhaps because “the only thing they understand” is force?), which marked the beginning of the end of French control: such ruthlessness, which would presumably be applauded by Peters because it shows a desire to “win,” caused profound resentment and hatred and a desire for independence, which was eventually realised after a long and nasty war.  Peters’ recommendations were followed in Algeria.  Ruthlessness was the order of the day before very long, and this was effective in winning battles and equally effective in losing the war by pushing more and more Algerians into the independence camp.  We no longer live in the age of Timur, when a reputation for building mountains of skulls will intimidate and horrify a people into submission.  Some might even call this progress.  In modern warfare, ruthlessness by an occupier is met with ever greater levels of resistance once the people in a country believe that the dominant power has no particular right to exercise any power over them.   

Peters’ line only makes sense in the context of a just war, since loss in a just war would also be a defeat for the effort to remedy some great wrong committed against you.  Failure to see a just cause through to a successful end would indeed be immoral (this does not mean that unconditional surrender is therefore somehow a moral demand to make).  But we’re not talking about a just cause.  We’re talking about the occupation and domination of Iraq.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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