Military Ethics War has always been, and will always be, a necessary action perpetrated by the human race. There are many different reasons for war: rage, passion, greed, defense, and religion to name a few. When differences cannot be solved or compromised through mediation with an opposing party and anger burns with a fiery passion, war is the last remaining option. Obviously, the purpose of any war is to win. How are wars won?
Perhaps if we were to ask a member of the Defense Department during the early stages of the war in Iraq, his answer might be, “To win this war we must force the enemy into submission by means of ethical warfare. ” If we were to ask a marine in the Second World War what he was told by his commanding officer he would reply, “To close with the enemy and destroy him. ” (Fussell, 763). The member of the Defense Department and the marine have a common goal; to win the war. But there is a difference in their mindsets. The politician, safe behind his desk, has never experienced the fear and terror of being in battle.
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He has not seen the blood or heard the screams of suffering soldiers. He has not watched his best friend die in his arms after being hit my enemy fire. He is an onlooker, free to analyze and critique every aspect of the war from the safety of his office. He is free and safe to talk of ethics and proper war etiquette. The marine, immersed in battle, fighting for his life, can think of only one thing. Kill or be killed. When bullets are flying past his face and mortar shells are exploding all around him, he is not mindful of fighting ethically. Nor is he even mindful of fighting for his country.
He is fighting for his life. To stay alive, he must kill the enemy, destroy the enemy. The longer the war persists, the more likely he will not go home alive. In regard to Friedrich Hegel’s quote, “What experience and history teach is this–that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it. “, it is clear that the way in which the United States approached the war in Iraq was in fact due to, in some regard, the dropping of the atomic bombs in Japan, and the ensuing debate that it created thereafter.
It is first important to realize that WWII and the Iraq war are entirely different wars. In WWII the United States was engaged in battle with an entire country. Intense hatred for the country as a whole spurred relentless battles. The theme of this war and the mindset of American troops is best said by Paul Fussell: “Among American’s it was widely held that the Japanese were really subhuman, little yellow beasts, and popular imagery depicted them as lice, rats, bats vipers, dogs, and monkeys.
This obliviousness of both sides to the fact that the opponents were human beings may perhaps be cited as the key to the many massacres of the Pacific war. There are no civilians in Japan. ” (p. 770). After hundreds of thousands of American casualties, the reality of invading the heart of Japan would have meant hundreds of thousands more. The politician, in hindsight, questioning the ethics behind the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima was clearly not the soldier who was ordered to invade Japan if President Truman had decided not to drop the bomb.
The purpose of war is to kill the enemy and spare as many of your own soldiers as possible. That is exactly what the atomic bomb did. It spared American lives at the expense of the enemy, who in this case, was relentless. The war in Iraq, which continues today, is a different than WWII. This was not a war against an entire country, but a war waged against a group of extremists; a war waged against terrorists that threatened the freedom of our country. Iraq as a whole was not, and is not against the United States of America.
Our troops are fighting amongst innocent civilians, doing their best to track, close in on, and destroy the terrorist groups. The A-bomb killed many civilians in Japan during WWII but the circumstances were entirely different. According to Joseph Alsop in The New York Review of Books, The Japanese plan to deploy the undefeated bulk of their ground forces, over two million men, plus 10,000 kamikaze planes, plus the elderly and all the women and children with sharpened spears they could muster in a suicidal defense…” (Fussell, 767).
These were desperate times for American soldiers that called for desperate measures. Dropping an atomic bomb in Iraq to ensure the deaths of our enemies of freedom and save the lives of American soldiers would turn the entire Middle East against us! Department of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld learned from the dropping of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima to end WWII. This is not to say that it wasn’t the right decision for that particular circumstance, as I think it was. It is to say that the Iraq war is an entirely different war that must be fought on entirely different grounds.
Attention to war ethics is much more important in a war such as the one we are still engaged in. Different wars are fought for different purposes and call for different military plans to carry out those purposes. Ultimately, the way in which every war is won is by killing the enemy. That will never change. But the way in which an army goes about killing the enemy will constantly change due to ethics, new technology, new levels of hatred, and so on. There are always protesters to every war: “Stop the war! No more killing! Peace on earth! Who doesn’t want these things? Do they think that the soldiers fighting for our country want to experience the horrors of war? Of course not, but if we do learn anything from history, it is that the human race will never stop waging wars on each other. People will inevitably die at the hands of war and the best that we can do is protect our troops at all costs, destroy the enemy, and spare as many civilian casualties as possible. I agree with General W. T. Sherman who said, “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it. ” (Fussell, 774. )