Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Justification for war: casus belli

In the process of preparing for the next Cafe Philo in New York City discussion topic of "What are the causes of war?" I have been doing some reading on the Web. Nothing exhaustive, but at least it is a start.

I am not usually into Latin, but I recall that the term "casus belli" was being thrown around a lot back in 2002 and 2003 regarding Iraq.

From the dictionary:

casus belli
Etymology: New Latin, occasion of war
Date: circa 1841
: an event or action that justifies or allegedly justifies a war or conflict

There is an old saying in Washington, "Never confuse public pronouncements with private intentions." A casus belli is more in the way of the public justification, separate from whatever the underlying true "cause" is. In the case of Iraq, WMD, alleged support for terrorism, and the "need" to promote democracy were given as the essential casus belli. The true underlying "causes" remain a matter of debate. There are plenty of conspiracy theories and mere speculation. Was it really all about oil? Was the so-called Pro-Israel "lobby" the "cause"? Was the WMD "evidence" merely faulty or intentionally misleading? Was the media coverage to blame to the level of being a "cause"? The speculation continues.

Wikipedia article on rationale for the Iraq war:

Wikipedia article on the Iraq war:

Wikipedia on war in general including causes:

Going back further, to a war that we are all aware of but have no personal emotional stake in, the Wikipedia article on World War I says:

The causes of the war can be traced to the unification of Germany in 1871, and the uneasy balance of power among the European Great Powers in the opening years of the 20th century. Additional spurs to conflict included continuing French resentment over the loss of territory to Germany in the 19th century; growing economic, military and colonial competition between Britain and Germany; and the continuing instability of Austro-Hungarian rule in the Balkans.

The proximate trigger for the war was the 28 June 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, by a Bosnian Serb. Austria-Hungary's demands for revenge against the Kingdom of Serbia led to the activation of a series of alliances which within weeks saw most European powers at war. Because of the global empires of many European nations, the war soon spread worldwide.

The U.S. was not involved in that initial struggle, but then...

In January 1917, after the Navy pressured the Kaiser, Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare. Britain's secret Royal Navy cryptanalytic group, Room 40, had broken the German diplomatic code. They intercepted a proposal from Berlin (the Zimmermann Telegram) to Mexico to join the war as Germany's ally against the United States, should the U.S. join. The proposal suggested, if the U.S. were to enter the war, Mexico should declare war against the United States and enlist Japan as an ally. This would prevent the United States from joining the Allies and deploying troops to Europe, and would give Germany more time for their unrestricted submarine warfare program to strangle Britain's vital war supplies. In return, the Germans would promise Mexico support in reclaiming Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.[67]

After the British revealed the telegram to the United States, President Wilson, who had won reelection on his keeping the country out of the war, released the captured telegram as a way of building support for U.S. entry into the war. He had previously claimed neutrality, while calling for the arming of U.S. merchant ships delivering munitions to combatant Britain and quietly supporting the British blockading of German ports and mining of international waters, preventing the shipment of food from America and elsewhere to combatant Germany. After submarines sank seven U.S. merchant ships and the publication of the Zimmerman telegram, Wilson called for war on Germany, which the U.S. Congress declared on 6 April 1917.[68]

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_World_War

But even all of that detail does not really get to the underlying root "causes" of U.S. "interest" and involvement in the war. For example, it does not explicate the role of U.S. private financial investment in funding various nations in the European conflict. So, once again, we can examine the superficial, public pronouncements, but what are the true, underlying, fundamental causes. Human nature and a desire to act out aggression? Desire to make a financial profit and the fact that the degree of profit will be higher if the misfortune of others is higher?

-- Jack Krupansky


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