An Antiwar Polemic Against America's Wars

Note: Repost from the old blog.
Commenter James Schipper makes the following comments, first about the US war against Japan in World War 2, and then about all US wars since the War of 1812, which he regards as a necessary war of self-defense. Schipper is a Canadian.
My perspective is different. I did support the war against the Axis in World War 2. My feelings are much more mixed on World War 1. The Spanish-American War and the Mexican War were obviously wars of imperialism. The Civil War may have been justified, if only to free the slaves. My relatives fought on both sides of the War Between the States. Of course, I supported the Union in that war.
I’m agnostic on the Revolutionary War, though cynically I would argue that we have been an imperial power ever since, and seem to have opposed every single anti-colonial war since our own Revolution! Disgusting!
The interventions in Central America and the Caribbean were sheer imperialism. The Wars on Panama and Grenada were preposterous. Iraq War 1 may have been justified to get rid of Saddam. I supported the war against the Serbs in Bosnia and Kosova. The intervention in Somalia was well-intentioned.
The latest Iraq War was one of the most criminal undertakings since the Spanish-American War. The war in Afghanistan may have been justified. Even though I’m a Marxist, the Korean War may have been justified since North Korea did invade South Korea. The Vietnam War and resulting wars in Laos and Cambodia were unnecessary.
Anyway, I thought I would give some space to an anti-war and anti-imperialist point of view. I do support the anti-imperialist argument. Pace Frantz Fanon, imperial powers never relinquish empire until they spill a lot of blood. Sad but true.
James Schipper:
First, Pearl Harbor didn’t come as a bolt from the blue. It followed American economic sanctions against Japan and failed attempts at negotiations. The Roosevelt government had put the knife at Japan’s throat. The Japanese had two options left: go to war or renounce their emperor. Predictably, they chose the first.
What is amazing in all this is how important American leaders considered access to the pitifully small Chinese market to be. From 1949 to 1975, the Chinese market was hermetically closed to the US, without noticeable ill effects on the American economy.
Second, Japan behaved in exactly the same way with Russia in 1905. After negotiations had broken down, Japan carried out a surprise attack on the Russian fleet in Vladivostok and sank it. Somehow it is not remembered as the Day of Infamy.
Third, American wars since the War of Secession have not been very bloody because they were fought far away from American territory. In the War of Secession, about 2% of the American population perished. Proportionally, that would be 6 million today.
Fourth, every war which the US fought since 1812 was a war of choice. There was no immediate threat to the US and certainly no attack on American territory. It wasn’t as if the US had its back to the wall and had to choose between fighting or being overrun.
Fifth, when the aim of war becomes unconditional surrender, the Clausewitzian dictum that war is the continuation of politics by other means is inverted and politics becomes the continuation of war by other means.
Sixth, the aim of war should not be victory but a better peace. Victory in war is rather ambiguous. It is much more useful to think in terms of costs and benefits. The expected benefits of war should exceed the probable costs. If the costs of war exceed the benefits, victory is pointless. It is like recovering a debt of $2000 through a lawsuit that costs $5000.
Seventh, one of my pet distinctions is between a national defeat and an imperial defeat. A national defeat involves having to accept undesirable terms from the enemy. An imperial defeat means a failure to impose one’s will on the enemy without having to accept his terms. For instance, in 1940 the French suffered a national defeat. In 1954 they suffered an imperial defeat in Vietnam. Which was worse?
Imperial defeat is a blessing in disguise. It means that the imperial power, whose security is not threatened by the enemy, can go home. What harm did the Americans suffer from their imperial defeat in Vietnam, the French from their imperial in Vietnam or Algeria, the Dutch from theirs in Indonesia, the Portuguese from theirs in Angola in Mozambique?
In all those cases, the imperial power only benefited from the end of the war. It meant the end of loss of life and waste of money.
Down with imperialism.

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One thought on “An Antiwar Polemic Against America's Wars”

  1. Good to see that Mr. Schipper regards the War of 1812 as a necessary war of self-defense. If Canadians had not risen to defend themselves they would probably not exist today. England was too busy fighting Napoleon to offer much help.
    When the War of 1812 started America’s leaders thought an invasion of Canada would be “a mere matter of marching,” as Thomas Jefferson confidently predicted. How could a nation of 8 million fail to subdue a struggling colony of 300,000? Yet, (despite odds of 25 to 1) when the campaign year of 1812 ended, the only Americans left on Canadian soil were prisoners of war. Three American armies had been forced to surrender, and the Canadians were in control of all of Michigan Territory and much of Indiana and Ohio.
    After two more years of War and another seven invasion attempts, none of Canada was occupied by American Forces and Canadian/British forces occupied large chunks of land within the U.S.
    By the end of the War U.S. trade had been strangled to practically nothing, and the nation’s capital city lay in ashes. … And the issue over which America had gone to war — the impressment of seamen — was tactfully ignored in the peace treaty and the captured American territory returned.
    As American History Professor Donald Hickey states in his new book (Don’t Give up the Ship: Myths of the War of 1812): Who Won the War? “there are actually five groups of participants that must be considered: The biggest winner was Canada; then came Great Britain; and then the Indians living in Canada. The biggest losers were the Indians living in the United States [98% of them were exterminated by the end of the19th Century]; after them came the United States itself, which … for the first time in its history lost a war.”

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