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'A State of War Exists'

by Barnabas
September 11, 2002

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'A State of War Exists'_Barnabas-
“The tension was ratcheted up further yesterday when British and American warplanes bombed an Iraqi military air defence centre west of Baghdad in an operation involving 100 jets.”Guardian Unlimited, September 6.

“A state of war exists between the United States and the Empire of Japan,” declared President Roosevelt to a joint session of Congress after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He did not create the state of war by saying it. He acknowledged it.

The media keep asking whether or if war with Iraq is going to begin; yet ever since the conclusion of the land phase of the Gulf War they have been reporting attacks by Allied airplanes on Iraqi targets. This attack on Thursday was, I believe, bigger than most. How many aircraft in an attack constitute an act of war? Does the attacking side have the right to call it, or do those attacked have a say? In ordinary language — that is, sentences designed to communicate meaning — this act by Great Britain and the United States was either an act of war or a war crime. An attack by one hundred airplanes cannot be explained with “Oops. One of our pilots made a mistake.” That’s like an armed robber, after shooting a bank employee, declaring that he didn’t know his gun was loaded.

Innocent me. With my weak second major in history, I had always believed that the United States had legally declared war, in almost all instances until 1950, before committing our troops to hostile action; not so. Historically speaking, our behavior toward Iraq more follows the rule established by our practice than the rule established by the Constitution.

The historic precedent doesn’t make it ethical, though. Meaning is fundamental to ethics. That’s why fine print devised to obfuscate a contract is unethical. That’s why using the same word in more than one way in a single conversation is unethical. In this extended conversation, the public doesn’t know the difference between an act of war, a war crime, and a “military incursion.” Because we don’t know what war is, we don’t what peace is. We may not even know, in President Clinton’s famous words, “what the meaning of ‘is’ is.”

We are waiting for President Bush, or at least Tom Brokaw, to tell us when the war actually begins. This is willful ignorance on our part. A state of war has existed between the United States and Iraq since the summer of 1989. We know it too, and we have behaved accordingly for thirteen years.

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