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ISSUE 115 VOL 21 PUBLISHED 5/10/2002

Iraqi conflict an act of hypocrisy

By Dan Schramm
Staff Writer

Friday, May 10, 2002

All right students, welcome back to school. After a summer of letting your brains atrophy, it’s time to get those neurons firing again. Our first class today is History 101: Beginnings of the American Revolution. The date is April 19, 1775. The place is Lexington, MA, where a small group of Minutemen fighting under Captain John Parker have assembled to delay a contingent of British troops moving from Boston to seize a rebel arms cache hidden at Concord, MA. While the British commanding officer, Maj. Pitcairn, orders the Minutemen to lay down their weapons, shots are fired. A brief “battle” ensues, leaving a number of Americans dead, and precipitating our great national struggle for independence from Britain. Everything else is history, except for the lingering question: Who fired first?

Both the Americans and the British went to great lengths for years afterwards to demonstrate that the other was the culprit. The question remains unanswered, but we don’t have time to get to it now. Our second class of the day is starting, Philosophy 101: Ethics.

While some scholars might argue to the contrary, the question of who fired first is morally, if not historically, important. Captain Parker is said to have uttered the famous line to his men, “Don’t fire unless fired upon! But if they want war, let it begin here!”

Wise and beautiful words --but also pragmatically calculated. In any violent struggle, regardless of the relative merits of either party’s cause, moral superiority is almost always granted to the party who suffers the first blow. Though this rationale may be too conventional for our modern political theorists, it seems to hold water for the majority of us, and with good reason. After all, if both sides in a conflict refuse to be the first to take recourse to violence, then violence will not ensue, and a peaceful resolution may be possible. Furthermore, while the violence that one hopes to prevent may be hypothetical, the pre-emptive attack is very real, and ensures a violent confrontation.

A pre-emptive strike may grant strategic superiority to the party who carries it out. The eloquent words of Captain Parker might have granted something much more valuable: a perpetual peace. On to our third class of the day, Contemporary Issues 101: American and Middle Eastern Relations. Our nation is now preparing for a war with Iraq, a war that Henry Kissinger has deemed legitimate under a never-heard-before doctrine of “justified pre-emption.” A number of members of the Bush administration have taken a similar approach. They have their reasons. In a cost/benefit analysis of the situation, it would be far more beneficial to eliminate the threat Saddam Hussein poses to our national security now than to wait passively for that threat to manifest itself tangibly in an actual attack against American interests. This may or may not be true, but the premise of the argument rests on the questionable assumption that there is nothing intrinsically immoral about firing the first shot. If we initiate a shooting war with Iraq, are we not granting moral superiority to a dictator and a regime that are in no way deserving of it? Regardless of the political transgressions Saddam has committed, an unprovoked military reaction by the US ensures a violent struggle that before was only hypothetical. In the eyes of the world, will we not have become the aggressors, rather than the great Defenders of Peace we have claimed? The weapons our forefathers first stockpiled to defend Lexington and Concord have since grown to hideous proportions. Our nation’s military is now the most potentially destructive force on the planet. The only legitimate reason we have for maintaining such terror is that it be used only under great military provocation, and then only to defend the liberty of the weak. It is a feeble excuse to say we must rid ourselves of a threat posed by a petty dictator on the other side of the world, whose military resources are far inferior to our own. If we rely on our military for any other purpose, we do a great injustice to the people of the world, ourselves, and the principles on which we stand. Class dismissed.

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