Reevaluating the Standing of Statehood in Evaluating Pre-emptive Wars

Jeffrey R. Tiel

Ashland University

401 College Avenue

Ashland, OH 44805


            The problem of preemptive war has taken on renewed significance since the current administration referred to it as part of the basis for the second attack on Iraq and part of a new overall strategy for waging war on terrorists and terrorist-supporting states.  The usual conception of the conditions under which preemptive war may be waged falls under the category of a special case of imminent or highly threatening aggression by another state.  Thus, the Bush administration tried to develop an argument in its case for war against Iraq that focused on exposing this threat to US security, involving terrorist support, attacks on patrols in the no-fly zone from the First Gulf War, and the threat of military or terrorist use of biological and chemical weapons.


            As the picture of Iraq’s pre-war capabilities has become clearer, however, analysts originally supporting this preemptive strike argument have begun to withdraw their support for the objective (the subjective justification based on what the administration knew at the time may differ from the objective state of Iraq’s capability and actions) moral justification of the war.  The biological and chemical weapons failed for the most part to materialize, and the relationship between Iraq and the primary terrorist threat to the United States proved rather elusive.


            But the foregoing analysis presupposes something crucial: namely, that Iraq was a state.  Pre-emptive war conditions apply only to states, but are countries like Iraq actually genuine states?  To answer that, we must identify the conditions of statehood, specifically the moral conditions of statehood.  United States foreign policy seems to be based upon a formalist or legalist paradigm for evaluating statehood.  Thus, nations like Iraq, North Korea, and the Sudan are all assumed to be states for purposes of evaluating aggression (whether under preemptive conditions or not) in jus ad bellum.  Once a country is “recognized,” a legal condition, its status as a state is granted.


            But there are substantive moral criteria for states as well as formal ones, as our tradition of free republics makes fairly clear.  In the argument that follows, I will identify and then justify these criteria.  Next I will apply them to the case of aggression, particularly pre-emptive war conditions on defeating aggression, in jus ad bellum.  Third, I will show that given the morally substantive conditions on statehood, the general conditions on war are in fact much less restrictive than has been thought.  But since auxiliary conditions based on prudence and the constitution of our republic must also be considered, after developing their moral grounding I will finally offer a compelling theory for a morally grounded US foreign policy that entails a seriously constricted application of jus ad bellum war conditions with surprising conclusions for evaluating American military actions from the 20th century onward.




The Moral Conditions of Statehood


            The American legal tradition was grounded on a doctrine of moral critique, a doctrine that enabled a people to evaluate the legitimacy and authority of their regimes.  In the Declaration of Independence this doctrine was declared to be universally recognizable and was applied to the abuses of the British Parliament in general and to the British Crown in particular (for his legal and moral failure to reign in the Parliament).  A king, or executive, acquires no genuine authority (a moral category) unless he first acquires his powers legitimately (so that he is no usurper) and secondly uses them within the fine strictures of the moral law (so that he is no tyrant).  Any alleged executive who uses force beyond right undermines his own authority and enacts the people’s right of self-defense against him.  This is the doctrine of just revolution that we Americans advanced at our country’s inception.[1]


            What follows from this doctrine is the capacity to evaluate the moral standing of any government whatsoever on the basis of its adherence to the legal and moral conditions of legitimacy.  Even though Adolf Hitler’s regime was constitutionally brought to power, the actions of his regime in violating the moral, constitutional, and legal rights of German citizens delegitimized his government.  Since Saddam Hussein’s ascension to and sustenance in power was occasioned by continuous horrific violation of natural, or human, rights, it follows that he never had nor ever will have any moral authority to rule.  Thus, his government never had any legitimate moral claim to the protections of international law, particularly to those against invasion by third parties offering assistance to his people.


            Third-party defense has long been a mainstay of the self-defense tradition.  In fact, it proves the far more difficult doctrine for the pacifist, since while he may be willing to throw his own life away, it proves difficult for him to stand by and do nothing to protect his neighbor on the usually appealed-to grounds that love of neighbor forbids him to take action against a violent aggressor.  And since the morally legitimate actions of states are derived from the morally permissible actions of individual persons,[2] it follows that third-party defense may be invoked in international affairs.  Thus, Poland in 1939 was perfectly legitimated in calling for help from any true nation state who would have helped her resist the German invasion.  Similarly, had the plotters in July of 1944 been successful in assassinating Hitler and had then called for international assistance to rid Germany of the remaining Nazi governors, states such as England and America would have been strictly[3] morally justified in lending military support.  In fact, if the Jews of Europe had been noticed by the free nations of the world to be facing complete liquidation, any such state would have been morally legitimated in lending assistance, even without an official call by some representative Jewish body for help.  For third party defense requires no official or even unofficial appeal for aid, as an aggressor who would make war upon one member of the human species does by that act put himself in enmity with us all.[4]


            Given the third party defense argument coupled with the moral illegitimacy of Hussein’s regime, the people of Iraq were de jure at war with him from the moment he seized power.  As such, his people could at any time have deposed him justly.  Hence, any free state could likewise have at any time deposed him, for his continuing enmity with the lovers of liberty, lovers of the natural rights belonging to all persons, put him and his government on a kind of international death row.  Just as external aggression by a tyrant against a neighboring country activates defensive war claims by the victim, so internal aggression by a tyrant against his own people activates their self-defense claims against him and third-party offers of aid.  What is puzzling then is our penchant for describing Iraq and the many other countries similar to Iraq, including the President’s Axis of Evil countries, in legitimate-state terms.  Why, e.g., was a UN resolution necessary to employ military force against Iraq in the Second Gulf War?  Why was it necessary in the First Gulf War?  Why were Iraq and the many other tyrannical regimes treated as “states” at all?[5]  And most importantly for the subject of our conference today, why was so much made of the President’s employment of the “preemptive war” doctrine?


            The first thing to be said about the administration’s appeal to the conditions on preemptive war is that it’s not clear that the President’s people meant by that language what we military ethicists mean by it.  For according to the National Security Strategy document released by the National Security Council in 2002, the President has in mind two applications of the language.  The first and most immediate is its use not as a moral justification for warfighting, but rather as a tactic within warfighting, particularly in terrorist warfighting.[6]  In short, given that a terrorist coalition attacked the people and territory of the United States, self-defense rights permit the destruction of that coalition.  As that coalition involves states as well as terrorist groups (in order to offer the intelligence, financing, logistics, command and control, et al), the President included in his list of permissible targets nations that ‘harbor’ terrorists.[7]  That list includes the countries that have been on the ‘terrorist watch list’ for decades, countries who, oddly enough, four years after 9/11 continue supporting terrorism as though no war between them and the United States exists.  Thus, while the President apparently meant to put those nations to the threat of war, he has not carried out that threat.[8]  But had he actually followed through with his stated doctrine, he would have “preemptively” attacked these countries’ ability to wage a terror war against the West by striking them in their own territory before they could engage Western targets.  Thus, in its first use, “preemptive war” means nothing more than the old adage that it’s best to fight a war offensively on enemy territory rather than defensively on your own.  The war in Iraq is a case in point: why fight the terrorists here in Virginia, when we can lure them into battles in Iraq and destroy them on their own or allied territory?[9]


            How does an ethicist look at this doctrine of preemption?  With hardly the bat of an eye, for it is wholly consistent with standard practice by nations against murderous groups with shadowy though real connections to states.  The very language of “harboring” enemies is a nautical one that hearkens back to the days of piracy.  Terrorists merely conduct piratical operations on land (or in the air) but for reasons involving greed on a significantly larger scale, namely an imperial scale, as the Islamic terrorists desire the return of the Islamic expansionism that was the mainstay of Islam from its inception to its military defeat in the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.  Islamic terror began shortly thereafter.[10]  Rules governing actions against pirates are quite clear: pirates have no rights as citizens and may be destroyed on a group-association basis (rather than for individual acts of murder or pillage) with the warfighting powers of the state.  Thus, ships of the Royal Navy would hunt down pirate ships and hang all the pirates, bringing infamous captains to trial for propagandistic purposes, as trials are not necessary in the cases of pirates.  Pirates are neither citizens nor POWs and have no claim to protections as such.  The United States engaged pirates and the states that harbor them in its assault on the Barbary States, showing a clear precedent for assaulting states that support terrorist operations.  And in cases where a state was used as a launching platform against its will, the United States simply gave its army a free hand in entering that nation and pursuing the terrorists, as the case of the American invasion of Mexico to pursue Pancho Villa reveals.  Governments incapable of policing their borders lose any claim to oppose invasion by the aggrieved country in that country’s pursuit of aggressive actors.


            Therefore, the administration’s first use of the term ‘preemptive war’ is not that use that we military ethicists employ in our discussions of specific conditions relating to imminent or sufficient threat.  It is merely a tactical doctrine of pursuing a declared enemy of the United States.  And as I’ve just illustrated, this doctrine as a measure of warfighting against pirates, raiders, and terrorists has a very long history.


            Before turning to the second use of the term ‘preemptive war,’ let me just draw out the implications of the forgoing discussion: international “recognition” does not immunize a tyrant from responsibility for his actions, and thus, attacks on such ‘states’ are permissible without recourse to specific violations of jus ad bellum by said ‘states,’ without UN resolutions of any kind, and without the satisfaction of the peculiarities of any specific ethical doctrine of preemptive or preventative war.  Thus, both attacks on Iraqi forces in the first and second gulf wars were strictly justified.  US attacks on Sudan, Syria, Iran, North Korea, China, et al would likewise be strictly justified.  It’s only when one insists on solely formal conditions of statehood that one winds up trying to squeeze the specific conduct of Iraq into the framework of some ethical preemptive war doctrine.  By instead employing the substantive moral conditions on statehood I’ve just explained, it becomes clear that Iraq possessed no legitimate claim to statehood or its protections in the first place.


            One might object that while this argument applies well to the tyrannical governments of countries, it does not apply to their status as states as such, since by definition, a ‘state’ consists of more than a specific government but must include its constituted people and their laws.  Thus, the critic might conclude, Iraq’s government lost legitimacy, but not her statehood.  To answer this objection, we should distinguish a ‘people’ from a ‘nation’ from a ‘state.’  A ‘people’ is a group of persons largely identified by ethnicity.  The Gypsies come to mind here.  A ‘nation’ is a people with a past or emerging claim to statehood but who for whatever reason do not possess their state status.  The Jews prior to the creation of Israel come to mind here.  It would not have been improper in 1880 to call the Jews a ‘displaced nation,’ for historically they had been displaced more than once.  The Kurds also come to mind here, as do other so-called separatist groups with some claim to state status.  A ‘state’ or a ‘nation-state’ is the combination of a national people constituted into a state with laws aimed toward protecting their natural or human rights; that combination includes a government as that body which constructs such laws and executes them.  Thus, an illegitimate government undermines a nation’s claim to statehood, at least to their current expression of statehood.  If the people overthrow the tyrannical regime and restore a commitment to law and natural liberties, then statehood and its protections are restored.  (It’s worth noting in passing that an illegitimate state is not morally subject to imperial conquest, as replacing one tyranny with another one is itself morally illegitimate.)


            Now let’s move to the second use of the language of “preemptive war” that the Bush administration appears to employ in the National Security Strategy.  Independently of its war on terror, the administration puts forward the claim that it wishes to create a balance of power among the free states vis-à-vis the non-free states.[11]  The President’s people still erroneously cling to the notion that these regimes constitute ‘states,’ something as I’ve tried to show complicates their foreign policy objectives.  Furthermore, depending upon how one interprets the NSS, the administration might intend to maintain such military superiority that no other nation will be permitted to acquire military power sufficient to threaten US military power.  Nations that do so could then be subjected to ‘preemptive action’ by the United States to reduce them to acceptable military levels before they participate in any overt act.[12]  It is in this second sense that the language of preemption becomes important ethically, because if this interpretation of the NSS is correct, it appears that the President is arguing that the traditional conditions of preemptive war have been ‘clarified’ by the use of mass-casualty terrorism.  What constitutes a ‘sufficient’ or ‘imminent’ threat is now defined in terms of the increasing capability of foreign powers (not just the currently designated ‘rogue states’) to wield weapons capable of inflicting mass civilian casualties, including WMD terrorist operations.[13]


            What is puzzling about this use of the term ‘preemptive war’ is that if the President has in mind countries like North Korea or Iran or Syria, he already possesses sufficient justification to strike these countries on both standard warfighting theory as well as my previous argument concerning statehood.  For Iran directly attacked the United States in her assault on our embassy in 1978 and in terrorist support since, while North Korea has violated the terms of its ceasefire repeatedly in its tunnel digging and covert espionage/sabotage against the South.  And independently of the specific acts of these powers, neither is devoted to the protections of the human rights of her or other countries’ citizens, as Iranian sponsorship of terrorism abroad and North Korean violations of her own people’s rights have made clear for decades.  As such, the President has little cause to introduce this new doctrine against the states likely to be the target of US action.


            So, who else might the President have in mind?  If he intends the broad coalition of free nations against the non-free nations, or what I’m calling the non-states, then he doesn’t need the doctrine at all.  And that suggests the possibility that either he or his administration have in mind something more worrisome, namely the establishment of a US protectorate over large portions of the earth.  Currently, a number of countries depend upon US military protection; Japan and South Korea are just two.  But the United States is involved with non-reciprocal military aid treaties with a great many countries, hinting at a much broader protectorate concept.  And if the doctrine is to be taken seriously, such that if Germany or Russia were to attempt a major imperial-footing rearmament, she would be subject to US action of some kind, then we are faced seriously with the worries of those who argue that our traditional republic is well on its way toward empire, that we have crossed the line and established a hegemonistic regime.[14]  Intriguingly, this appears to be the complaint of many parts of the world toward US action already.  They fear a new semi-enlightened Roman empire,[15] the Pax Americana that neoconservatives endorsed ten years ago, and if one looks at the deployment of US ‘legions’ all over the world (even before the recent world-wide terror-war), their reactions are not surprising.  What US interest is there in maintaining all of these cold war bases past our most recent conflict?


            Of course, with my argument concerning non-states masquerading as states, one could argue that the Bush administration really means to maintain the right to attack only these non-states as soon as or even before they constitute a ‘threat’ under the revised post-9/11 definition of ‘terrorist threat’ thereby not intending a wider hegemonistic application of preemption.  And that brings me to the second tier moral restrictions on the employment of forces abroad, namely the conditions of interest and prudence.  Since almost any US action abroad immediately raises the questions of whether it meets with US interest from the political Right and whether it is sufficiently divorced from US interest from the political Left, any theory of military action must consider the moral status of prudential considerations in the evaluation of foreign military action.  In the next and final section, I intend to offer a morally grounded theory of national interest which will reject both the Right’s pragmatic hijacking of the term ‘prudence’ and the Left’s rejection (on quasi-Kantian grounds) of interest as a legitimate moral category.


A Moral Theory of National Interest


            I’m going to approach this problem historically, because I find convincing the arguments of our nation-state’s founders, but I want to be clear that I’m not arguing from tradition alone.  Rather, I’m trying to maintain twin theses: first, our founders had a compelling moral argument on the role and nature of “interest” in US foreign policy, and second, we have departed from our own moral tradition, the very moral tradition that enabled the United States to prosper in peace for her first 120 years, as the empires of Europe dismembered one another.


            One of the first clear statements of US foreign policy emerges in the Preamble to the US Constitution:


We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.


The Constitution of the United States was established in part to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.  The blessings of liberty involve two elements, first, the liberties themselves grounded in the natural rights of the Declaration and partially specified in the national and state constitutions and bills of rights, and second, the prosperity resulting from American industry secured by the establishment of said liberties.  But notice for whom the prosperity of defended American liberty is secured: ourselves and our posterity.  Not the rest of the world.  Thus, American security is for the benefit of Americans.  Constitutionally, there is no basis for American sacrifice for causes not securing the liberties of Americans.  Any Presidential Order or Congressional Act that violates this restriction is unconstitutional.


            What is the moral argument for why American lives may not be sacrificed for the freedoms of other peoples?  The primary reason is enshrined in our Declaration where we state that we have the right to protect our lives, our liberties and the results of our industry.  We constituted ourselves in this more perfect Union in order to defend these liberties, starting with our very lives.  Thus, a Presidential order requiring US troops to risk and sacrifice their lives for any cause other than one defending American citizens’ liberties is an immoral[16] as well as an unconstitutional requirement.  The President was given his executive powers for the express purpose of protecting the lives of Americans, including the lives of our soldier-citizens.  He may not therefore order them to their deaths for any other cause save that of protecting American liberties and lives.  Notice that requiring our soldiers to fight for ‘freedom’ is immoral, for that is nothing but an abstraction.  Requiring them to fight to defend the liberties of the citizens of Virginia is perfectly proper.


            That this understanding of the limits on warmaking was the understanding of our founders should be clear from a few examples.  First, consider how George Washington warns us against becoming passionately attached to or opposed to any foreign power, arguing that such attachment to foreign interest


. . . gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.[17]


Washington worries about foreign commitments that require the “sacrifice” and thus “betrayal” of one’s own country, commitments popularly commended by talk of national obligation, responding to public opinion, and caring for the public good.  Who hasn’t heard in the last decade of “America’s Time,” or our duty to bring “democracy to the world,” or our international responsibility in being the “world’s last superpower,” or our role in world “leadership” in “shaping the democratic destiny of mankind”?  All of this ‘noblesse oblige’ rhetoric is offered to convince us to engage in military alliances, security guarantees, and foreign military ventures on the basis of a supposed duty or obligation to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others.  Yet this alleged duty not only is wholly without foundation, but it contradicts the clear moral and constitutional duty of our military forces to fight for no one save US citizens.


            Washington further warns that


. . . nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated.  The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave.  It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest.[18]


Washington argues here that passionate attachments or animosities toward foreign peoples are easily sufficient to lead us astray for our real duty and interest, a duty and interest toward ourselves, toward our own children.


            In opposing US entry into the French war with Britain, Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s key foreign policy thinker, explained the principle behind Washington’s doctrine:


It is not here meant to recommend a policy absolutely selfish or interested in nations, but to show, that a policy regulated by their own interest, as far as justice and good faith permit, is, and ought to be, their prevailing one; and that either to ascribe to them a different principle of action, or to deduce, from the supposition of it arguments for a self-denying and self-sacrificing gratitude on the part of a nation which may have received from another good offices, is to misrepresent or misconceive what usually are, and ought to be, the springs of national conduct.[19]


Hamilton maintains that this policy of self-interest is not identical to selfishness,[20] nor should it give way to an interest in other nations, for self-denial and self-sacrifice are what no country can or may demand from its citizens for any other cause save their own defense.  Why?  Because those citizens entered into a constitutional union for their own protection, and since soldiers are likewise citizens, they too are protected by the shield of that Union.  Soldiers may not therefore be sacrificed as global charity on the part of the Congress or the President, for no person may be deprived of his life without his consent.  And US soldiers take oaths solely to defend this Constitution of States, no other.[21]


            Hamilton explains that charitable acts, those generated by generosity, differ in the scope of their effect when practiced by individuals as opposed to nations.  And therefore, he greatly reduces the extent to which a motive like national generosity may be employed to promote warfare.  Such actions must be grounded in the real interest and advantage of one’s nation.


Between individuals, occasion is not unfrequently given for the exercise of gratitude.  Instances of conferring benefits from kind and benevolent dispositions or feelings toward the person benefited, without any other interest on the part of the person who renders the service, than the pleasure of doing a good action, occur every day among individuals.  But among nations they perhaps never occur.  It may be affirmed as a general principle, that the predominant motive of good offices from one nation to another is the interest or advantage of the nation which performs them.

Indeed, the rule of morality in this respect is not precisely the same between nations as between individuals.  The duty of making its own welfare the guide of its actions, is much stronger upon the former than the later; in proportion to the greater magnitude and importance of national compared with individual happiness, and to the greater permanency of the effects of national than of individual conduct.  Existing millions, and for the most part future generations, are concerned in the present measures of a government; while the consequences of the private actions of an individual ordinarily terminate with himself, or are circumscribed with a narrow compass.

Whence it follows that an individual may, on numerous occasions, meritoriously indulge the emotions of generosity and benevolence, not only without an eye to, but even at the expense of, his own interest.  But a government can rarely, if at all, be justifiable in pursuing a similar course: and, if it does, ought to confine itself within much stricter bounds.  Good offices which are indifferent to the interest of a nation performing them, or which are compensated by the existence or expectation of some reasonable equivalent, or which produce an essential good to the nation to which they are rendered, without real detriment to the affairs of the benefactors, prescribe perhaps the limits of national generosity or benevolence.[22]


Hamilton does not oppose national acts of benevolence,[23] such as sending a disaster aid to foreign peoples, which may be “indifferent to the interest of the nation performing them.”  But warfare is the single most dangerous activity in which any country can engage, and so for the sake not only of the present citizenry but also for the sake of future generations, such actions must be circumscribed strictly by a principle of genuine national interest, namely the liberties of the American citizenry.  I think therefore that his arguments prohibit sacrificing the life of even one soldier in any foreign venture not directly linked to the defense of the liberties of US citizens.  Today we rarely hear political appeals to threats against the liberties of US citizens, but instead are inundated by appeals to vague abstractions like “US Security.”  But just what does that mean?  It’s far too ambiguous to be useful in discriminating between foreign military ventures, and is used with increasing permissiveness toward an interventionism as harmful to our citizen-soldiers as it is irresponsible to our constitutional duty.


            The principle of neutrality with respect to foreign wars because of the absolute importance of defending the safety of the American people (including our soldiers) was tested and maintained by President Madison as he contemplated the horrors of the European wars instigated by Napoleon.  In his First Inaugural Address he explained first, that our neutrality in those wars permitted unrivaled growth in the population and industry of the United States.  Why should Americans sacrifice their blood and treasure to stop yet another European war? he asked.  Why should Americans care whether England, France, Prussia, Germany, or Russia acquires ascendancy?  Second, Madison identified what he took to be his primary obligations as Chief Executive:


To cherish peace and friendly intercourse with all nations having correspondent dispositions; to maintain sincere neutrality toward belligerent nations; to prefer in all cases amicable discussion and reasonable accommodation of differences to a decision of them by an appeal to arms; to exclude foreign intrigues and foreign partialities, so degrading to all countries and so baneful to free ones; to foster a spirit of independence too just to invade the rights of others, too proud to surrender our own, too liberal to indulge unworthy prejudices ourselves and too elevated not to look down upon them in others; to hold the union of the States as the basis of their peace and happiness; to support the Constitution, which is the cement of the Union, as well in its limitations as in its authorities; to respect the rights and authorities reserved to the States and to the people as equally incorporated with and essential to the success of the general system; . . .[24]


Notice how Madison links the responsibilities of a non-prejudicial neutrality toward foreign conflicts with the true foundation of American prosperity: upholding the union of the States as the basis of their peace and happiness through an observance of the Constitutional “limitations” of executive authority in order to respect the rights and authorities reserved to the States and to the people.  In other words, federal governmental acts may not threaten the liberties and lives of the people of the states, for the foundation of our happiness and prosperity is not international glory-seeking or the satisfaction of some Wilsonian ideal of international democracy but the preservation of our Union.  And two hundred years of history has yet to show that crusading interventionism does anything to advance our preservation.


            John Quincy Adams offered perhaps the most compelling account of our founders’ strictly nationalist foreign policy in 1821 when he opposed US military intervention on behalf of the freedom-fighters in Greece rebelling against Ottoman Turk occupation.  Beginning with what America had offered the world, he identified our trumpeting the principles of liberty in our speech, our example, and in our non-interference in the conflicts of others even “when [that] conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart.”  And then he offers his rationale for this nationalist foreign policy:

She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of . . . the European world, will be contests of inveterate power, and emerging right.  Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be.  But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.  She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.  She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.  She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.  She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.  The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force . . . [America's] glory is not dominion, but liberty.  Her march is the march of the mind.  She has a spear and a shield: but the motto upon her shield is, Freedom, Independence, Peace.  This has been her Declaration: this has been, as far as her necessary intercourse with the rest of mankind would permit, her practice.[25]

Adams argues that liberty cannot be forced upon a people, for in doing so not liberty but dominion will be emplaced.  The best the British Empire, the self-described “empire of liberty,” was able to accomplish in centuries of “benevolent empire” was to imbue the peoples under her dominion with the education necessary eventually to revolt and sink their countries into civil war.  Our own history with attempting to govern foreign peoples is similar, for from the Philippines conquest of 1898 to the attempt to ‘re-educate’ people in Vietnam, Somalia, and even in Afghanistan and Iraq, US forces end up inextricably involved in the envy and ambition of others thereby usurping our stated goals.  For while President Bush is correct in his estimation of human nature that we all love freedom, he is mistaken in thinking that we naturally love freedom for anyone other than our own.  The Iraqi factions only love “liberty” for themselves, to the degree that it will offer them ascendancy.  But that isn’t a love for liberty at all, but a love for dominion over others.  The love of liberty that generates within a man a willingness to observe the natural rights and liberties of his neighbor when he possesses the power to seize them is one of the rarest virtues in the world.  The only instances in which such liberty may literally have been imposed are the cases of Germany and Japan following WWII, but these nations were unmade, as they suffered the torments of hell for enough time to eradicate the social, political, and even religious bonds that made them independent peoples.[26]  Only a willingness to employ a despotism that can slaughter 200,000 people per day (the number killed per day in Allied bombings in the last months of the war) can so crush a people’s resolve that truly radical reordering is possible.  And we should caution our use of Japan and Germany as counterexamples, because the cold war threats to both those country’s security made their fifty year acclimation to Western democratic principles clearly in their interest.


            Lest one think the founders politically naïve, they did not argue against alliances for causes clearly within US interest, but since threats to US citizen’s liberties would be short-lived, so should have been the alliances.  Thus, Washington argued against “permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world,” instead maintaining the importance of “taking care always to keep ourselves, by suitable establishments, in a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.”[27]  One wonders why after the fall of the Soviet empire, NATO, a vital temporary alliance, should not only have been extended in duration but enlarged by the inclusion of the Soviet satellite states.  Why should US troops be committed to protecting Bulgaria or Romania or Latvia against a Russian invasion?  And why have US troops not been returned to pre-WWII bases?  Why hasn’t our defensive line been restored to the Monroe Doctrine requirements?  Is it any wonder that nations all over the world are deeply suspicious of US intentions?  Leaving troops after a war is complete (and the end of the Cold War was really the conclusion of World War II) is called a “garrison” and is anything but friendly.  Moreover, Cold War deployments of US troops to Korea and Japan need serious review, for a North Korean attack on Seoul or a Chinese attack on Taiwan pose no threat to the liberties of US citizens.  Why then have we made major war guarantees to these countries in spite of nuclear counter threat to our home territories by both China and North Korea?

            I think that the answers to these questions lie in the political discussions that followed the fall of the Soviet Empire, for we most definitely set off in search of “monsters to destroy.”  The first gulf war was like a breath of fresh air to our military and hawkish political establishments, an apparent justification for the huge expenditures necessary to maintain a cold war era military force.  And prior to 9/11 the US was still searching for monsters to destroy, as our conduct toward China shows pretty clearly.  Not only did one of our bombs “happen” to land on an official Chinese building in the Bosnia bombing, but provocations included our scout aircraft pushing right up against the international border limits culminating with the collision of the interceptor and our scout plane.  The rhetoric of the time shows that we were building toward a conflict with China, while what is astonishing is the way in which that entire rhetoric vanished after 9/11.  As a new monster emerged, all our troubles with China vanished from the people’s purview.  It makes one wonder whether those troubles were real to begin with.  In such an atmosphere it behooves us to seriously reconsider our foreign policy in light of not only the strict moral principles of a morally substantive theory of states, but in terms additionally of the prudential moral considerations of our American Constitutionalism.


            If threats against the liberties of American citizens are the only grounds for sending those citizens into combat in defense of one another, then we must also re-examine the prudential justice of a number of our most recent wars.  According to the principles with which I began this essay, the attack on Iraq in the First Gulf War would be strictly justified even without an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.  And with that invasion, the Kuwaitis could justly call upon all freedom loving nations to come to their aid.  But how was Kuwaiti independence a necessary condition for the preservation of American liberties?  The usual argument revolves around oil, namely that had Kuwait fallen into the hands of Saddam Hussein, a much greater proportion of Mid-east oil would be under his control.  Even if true, so what?  The oil of the Middle East is already monopolized under the OPEC cartel, and we have yet to declare it a war aim to break that monopoly, so why should the oil possessions of one member of that organization affect the liberties of our citizens?  We can buy oil from whoever owns Kuwaiti territory, whether it be the 19th Province of Iraq or not.  The real question is how we justify the deaths of over 300 of our servicemen in that war.  They were citizens sworn to defend the Constitution of our people, not some foreign people serving a monarchy.


            The Somalia venture likewise falls into question, as we wonder how the liberties of US citizens were preserved when we first fed, then defended the feeding, and finally attacked those who interfered with our feeding the Somali people.  That it was not a US interest became quite clear as our troops were withdrawn immediately following the so-called ‘defeat’ of our special forces.  Moreover, the Bosnian war also requires review, for following the Somalia Conflict we fought a war in which casualties were actually prohibited.  Why?  Because nothing in the Bosnian war affected the security of our citizens.  The US people will endure horrific casualties for wars genuinely fought in their interest, but in situations where even one casualty becomes a political liability, we should control our passions and refuse military involvement.  Yet some argued that halting Milosevic was a genuine US interest, stating that he was another Hitler in the making.  But the history of the world has been full of would-be and actual Hitlers.  Hitler was exceptional only in the methodical and efficient way in which he disposed of his enemies, not in the numbers of dead or in his quest for glory and empire through war.[28]  To which one might rebut by asking whether I am suggesting that we stand idly by while millions die through genocide?  To which, I ask whether we stood by “idly”[29] while Stalin slaughtered over 60 million?  While Mao killed tens of millions?  While Pol Pot murdered 3 to 4 million?  Horrific slaughter is the mainstay of human experience, as even a cursory reading of history will show.  Free republics devoted to the principles of liberty are the exception, and their citizens have the right to preserve their own freedom rather than recklessly risking it on ventures on behalf of other peoples.  Let those peoples free themselves if they value their liberties so highly.  So, to the objector, I answer, “Yes,” this government has a moral obligation against sending our forces into harm’s way solely on behalf of the lives of a foreign people.  If you personally wish to go and fight Milosevic or the Somali warlords, because of a sense of noblesse oblige or knight-errantry, then organize a privately funded and voluntary force and fight these tyrants.  But do not use the coercive powers of the United States to require our people to sacrifice themselves.  If congress wishes to sacrifice the lives of our sons, then perhaps we should pass a Constitutional amendment which declares that for each congressman who votes in favor of war, all of his sons must immediately enlist and join front line infantry units.  Maybe then they’d think further about whether their wars are really our wars.


Objections & Replies


            No doubt the objection will arise that we have a moral obligation to help the suffering, and that there is no greater suffering than that occasioned by the ravages of genocidal war.  But this objection is premised on a major conflation.  True, moral obligations to one’s neighbor exist in everyday cases, such that failure to fulfill them is a species of negligence, but in cases where one’s own life and liberty are at risk, this is not the case.  Consider two examples to make this clear.  Imagine a man sun tanning on a beach who suddenly notices a young girl drowning in two feet of water in the lake.  Let’s further imagine that he considers whether to save her, worrying that doing so will affect his sun tanning time and his ability to pick up beautiful women.  We would clearly call his failure to help that girl a species of moral insensibility of the highest magnitude and a shirking of a fundamental moral duty.  But let’s imagine a second scenario, this time one in which the little girl is hurtling down a river with class five rapids towards a water fall with a 200 foot drop.  Is hesitation in this case negligence occasioned by cowardice?  I think not.  If the man dove into the water to save that little girl, he’d be acting heroically, not courageously, for courage ends where heroism begins.  Courage is the moral virtue of holding to true belief and just conduct in the face of threat, and as such is a duty.  But heroism is acting beyond the call of duty.  Therefore, one cannot be morally required to act heroically.  The man diving into the raging river can choose to risk himself to save the life of the little girl, for it is his life to risk.  But nations are not like individuals.  Nations may not heroically sacrifice their citizens’ lives for the lives of non-citizens, for to do so automatically violates the consent of those forced to risk that sacrifice.  And that violation is immoral.  Thus, self-sacrificial ‘heroic’ action on the part of nations not only is not heroism but is morally prohibited.  Thus, the standard positive duty to help my neighbor does not devolve onto me as a citizen to move my country toward war action on behalf of a foreign people.  I must learn how to sympathize with the sufferings of others without feeling some responsibility to employ the coercive powers of the state to act on their behalf.[30]  I can instead act heroically as a human being and try to raise up a group of volunteers who will act to aid those people.[31]  There are excellent examples of this in American history.[32]


            In reply my objector might raise the refrain from Edmund Burke that the only thing necessary for tyranny to triumph is for good men to do nothing.  But as is usual with little quips, this hardly addresses the point.  Certainly, inaction on the part of our founding fathers would have led to continued British tyranny over the colonies.  But if this phrase is supposed to be the justification for endless wars of intervention, for the elimination of any peace save one guaranteed by a world dominated by an American hegemony that will ultimately fall as all empires fall, then who are we kidding?  We might rephrase: he who would drink the blood of his own sons should develop a national superhero complex and go off in search of monsters to destroy.  Americans have never seriously thought about their power; they have been led only to imagistically feel it, and thus are swayed by every passion that enters the imagination, leading to a helter-skelter interventionist foreign policy.[33]  We have fallen into just the traps that Washington and Hamilton warned us against.


            It will be further objected to this doctrine of prudential moral restraint on foreign military ventures that this is nothing but the nose of the camel of isolationism again entering the tent.  And we all know where isolationism leads, to the appeasement of Chamberlain at Munich and to the ill-preparation of the United States for World War II.  In answer, this is one of the cases in which the rhetoric of my objector is so far out in front of the facts as to require a fairly comprehensive answer.  First, ‘isolationism’ is nothing but a term of derision that doesn’t even properly name the doctrine I’m describing.  For while Europe burned itself out in seven major wars during the 1800’s, the American continent grew from a near Stone Age existence to a major industrial giant.[34]  Our commerce is our engagement with the world, as all of our founding fathers knew well.  Commerce is not isolation, not at all.  A defensive policy that defends our commercial interests is not isolationist in any moral prohibitive way.  Second, the objector has his facts all wrong.  A doctrine of national liberty preservation was not the cause of World War II.  This is simply ludicrous.  World War II was caused by the imperial ambitions of Germany and Japan over the imperial ambitions of England, France, Holland, and Russia, and our interventionist involvement in that imperial mostly-European war cost us half a million American lives.[35]  For proof of this, let’s begin with Japan.


            The territories that Japan invaded in order to secure oil were themselves part of a European Empire, namely the Dutch.  So, why did we think it necessary to oppose the Japanese Empire’s moves against the Dutch empire?  The answer: the supposed “open door” to China.  From the late 1890’s onward, the European powers and the United States wished to exploit the trade potential of China (not unlike the current claims concerning China), and in order to preserve her markets, several of the powers agreed to an “open door” policy in which all could trade with China in a quasi-free market.  Japan’s invasion of Manchuria threatened this ‘open door,’ so Roosevelt effected an oil embargo against Japan.  And as a Bataan death march survivor recently explained to me, it was that oil embargo that forced the Japanese into a life-or-death decision about seizing the Dutch East Indies.  Since the US had already made war threats regarding Japanese moves, the Japanese felt strategically compelled to strike at Pearl Harbor.  Now, the question is this: why was who controlled the Chinese market a compelling US interest?  How was its defense critical to the liberties of US citizens?  And how were the lives of our citizens compensated by its openness?  As with Poland’s enslavement following WWII, the so called “open door” was likewise closed by the Chinese Communists, and the US did not initiate hostilities to re-open it.  Apparently, neither Poland’s freedom nor China’s market freedoms constituted genuine security interests.  The upshot of this is that it wasn’t isolationism but interventionism that led to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor!  Had Roosevelt not had his own delusions of grandeur in trying to engage the US in a foreign war, instead of starting an oil embargo, he might have pulled US defensive forces to a truly defense-capable perimeter (Hawaii, instead of the Philippines), and built up the Pacific fleet to make a Japanese attack on American territory or assets unthinkable.  Then Japan might not have had any motive to go for the Dutch East Indies, and even if she had, she’d see a US pullout from the Philippines as a clear indicator that their protection was not a US interest.  And then Japan might have ruled the Pacific Rim for a time until her empire fell the way all empires fall.  It’s hard to understand why defending British, French, and Dutch imperial assets in the Pacific was a US interest.  Of course, the Chinese did their best to enflame the passions of the American people toward themselves and against Japan, but this is just what Hamilton and Washington warned us against.  As with the Roman Republic of old, calls for military assistance against every would-be usurper will always be made to the Senate.  And unlike the Roman Senate,[36] our Senate should consistently reject them, and advise the plaintiffs to pick up several copies of our Federalist Papers to distribute to their own people for good reading.  A clear policy to this effect would not only stabilize our foreign relations, but would force other nations to defend themselves through their own military production and regional alliances.


            The German case is even more egregious than the Japanese case, for as Britain engaged in a naval blockade of Germany and Germany engaged in a U-boat war against her shipping, our navy began to aid British escorts to the point of attacking U-boats.  In other words, Roosevelt secretly launched a naval war against Germany, and this was one of the provocations cited by Hitler in his rationale (however imprudent) for declaring war against the United States in December 1941.  What’s more, Roosevelt sought deliberately to involve us in the European war, participating in planning with Churchill, and even working with British intelligence in broadcasting the so-called ‘secret Nazi plans’ which allegedly proved that Hitler had plans to invade the Americas and create vassal states in South America, abolish all religion, liquidate all clergy, and establish a Nazi church in which Mein Kampf would replace the Bible.[37]  This was overt deception on the part of an American President to involve us in another European war that the vast majority of our citizens wanted no part in.  Moreover, even after Hitler declared war on the US, it’s not clear that there was any compelling interest in engaging him on the continent, as our naval powers grew to the point of eliminating all subsurface threats to our commerce with England.  In the 1790’s John Adams fought a naval war with France after some 300 of our ships were seized in her war with England, but it was short-lived and never became a serious threatening land war, so why with her naval forces defeated was there any reason to prosecute a land war against the powerful German army?  Finally, why was a German occupation of Europe a major threat to US interests when the Napoleonic French occupation of Europe never threatened US interests?  German empire is bad, while French empire is good?  What are we to make of this kind of analysis?


            The World War II case is further complicated by the conduct of England in 1938-1941, for while most people believe that it was Chamberlain’s abandonment of Czechoslovakia that motivated Hitler’s invasion of Poland, the actual story is far more complicated.  Hitler had outlined his German expansionist plans against his chief ideological enemy, Soviet Russia, and the goal all along was an invasion of Russia.  British interventionism on behalf of Poland drew her into the war in the first place, but how was Polish independence a British interest?  Moreover, without British intervention in Poland, Germany would likely not have signed the non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, and in all probability the war against Russia would have commenced much sooner.  The really intriguing question is why it wasn’t in the interest of the free nations of the world to simply sit back and watch the two greatest totalitarian nations in recent history bleed each other dry.  Why was it necessary for the United States to lose half a million soldiers to help defend Soviet Russia, while that country was murdering more people than Hitler’s Germany ever did?  It certainly wasn’t for Poland, as that country languished under Stalinist tyranny for fifty more years.  Thus, the argument that a prudential foreign policy is dangerously isolationist fails to consider the manner in which our own interventionist policies moved us toward making other people’s wars our wars, leading to hundreds of thousands of dead American citizens.


            Finally, one might object that the reason America must go abroad and establish democracies throughout the world is that only democracy makes the world safe, and a safer world lies squarely in American interest.  But is it true that democratic nations fight fewer wars and have less imperial ambitions than non-democratic ones?  The history of the world suggests otherwise, as the great republics of the world all fought numerous wars: Rome, Carthage, Athens, and Britain.[38]  It is not democracy as a form of government that makes the world safer, but respect for the rule of law, most of all, submission to the moral law even when one is powerful.  But democracy is no safeguard against this, as the great political theorists from Plato to the Federalists maintained in recognizing the dangers of democracies to collapse either into mob rule or into the tyranny of the majority.  Nothing in a democracy prevents a demagogue from passionately rallying the people to a cause both unjust and dangerous to their interest.  Our own experience with William McKinley in the Philippines, Woodrow Wilson in WWI, Franklin Roosevelt in WWII, and even George H. W. Bush in the First Gulf War, shows that people can be moved by their passions to take on forces outside the genuine national interest, namely the safety and liberties of the citizenry.




Tyrannical regimes are repugnant to the lives and liberties of their people.  As such they should not be treated as states, and therefore no ethical preemptive war doctrine is necessary under jus ad bellum to justify wars against them.  While this might seem overly permissive at first, the moral conditions of third-party state interest must often prevent their participation in wars against tyrants or even against tyrannical assaults by one country against neighboring countries.  The moral requirements of state interest require that states maintain their military forces only for threats against their own citizens’ lives and liberties, since the state is constituted precisely for the protection of all its citizens—including its soldiers.  While this limiting principle does not prevent forward-looking alliances toward genuine threats to one’s liberties, it does require that states not engage in charitable military actions for four reasons: first, because states may sacrifice their citizen-soldiers only to defend their citizens; second, charity is inconsistent with coercion, and charitable military deployments require coercion of the armed forces beyond their Constitution-defending oaths; third, because heroism is inconsistent with duty, and thus no duty can compel one toward international military heroism; and fourth, because all warfare entails real dangers not just to “existing millions” but to future generations.


The United States is a prosperous constitutional republic, not an empire or an Arthurian Round Table.  All wealthy republics depend upon their citizens’ ability to maintain wisdom and self-control, the wisdom to build and maintain an army sufficient to defeat an imperial threat, and the self-control never to succumb to the temptation to use it for hegemony, even if it be a democratist hegemony devoted to freedom.



[1] John Locke, The Second Treatise on Civil Government, (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1986), 107-110; Locke defines a “tyrant” as an executive who misuses his powers to violate the natural rights of his people.

[2] The Lockean doctrine of derivable just powers is a mainstay in the English republican tradition that Americans espouse, so I will assume its veracity for this paper.

[3] I will use the term “strictly” for moral justifications for war that fail to include the auxiliary moral conditions of prudence (morally grounded self-interest); once these latter conditions are added, what may in general be permissible will be seen in specific cases to be impermissible.

[4] Locke, 10-13.

[5] Calling them “rouge states” fails to go far enough linguistically and certainly has not been followed up by political treatment.

[6] National Security Strategy of the United States of America (2002), Section III: “Our immediate focus will be those terrorist organizations of global reach and any terrorist or state sponsor of terrorism which attempts to gain or use weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or their precursors; defending the United States, the American people, and our interests at home and abroad by identifying and destroying the threat before it reaches our borders. While the United States will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community, we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self defense by acting preemptively against such terrorists, to prevent them from doing harm against our people and our country” (italics added for emphasis).  As the italicized section shows, the President conceives of the preemptive war principle as applying to those with whom our country is already at war.  (cf. the NSS Introduction too.)  Also, Section V is most instructive: “For centuries, international law recognized that nations need not suffer an attack before they can lawfully take action to defend themselves against forces that present an imminent danger of attack. Legal scholars and international jurists often conditioned the legitimacy of preemption on the existence of an imminent threat—most often a visible mobilization of armies, navies, and air forces preparing to attack. We must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today’s adversaries. Rogue states and terrorists do not seek to attack us using conventional means. They know such attacks would fail. Instead, they rely on acts of terror and, potentially, the use of weapons of mass destruction—weapons that can be easily concealed, delivered covertly, and used without warning.”

[7] In Section V of the NSS the President calls terrorist-regimes “rogue states” and identifies five tyrannical traits that subject them to this designation: they “brutalize their own people and squander their national resources for the personal gain of the rulers; display no regard for international law, threaten their neighbors, and callously violate international treaties to which they are party; are determined to acquire weapons of mass destruction, along with other advanced military technology, to be used as threats or offensively to achieve the aggressive designs of these regimes; sponsor terrorism around the globe; and

reject basic human values and hate the United States and everything for which it stands.”

[8] One possible reason for this delay or abandonment of the original doctrine’s application may be the shift from destroying governments willing to harbor terrorists to attempting to rebuild the constitutions of entire countries.  Just war fighting does not require and prudence would seriously caution against rebuilding enemy territory or political institutions.  The World War II successes in this arena were based on very specific sociological and temporal conditions being satisfied (as I’ll discuss later in this essay), and so should not be looked to as examples.  Nations that engage in terrorist support should have their governments destroyed, their military and political leadership executed en masse.  Those nations should then be freed to construct whatever new government they wish with the future threat that a return to terrorist support would entail subsequent government destructions.  Ancient empires such as the Babylonians and Romans used this tactic to good effect.  Destroying—not rebuilding—our enemies is the proper function of the US military.  With the majority of our military forces freed from urban warfare in a country that should be permitted to collapse into civil war (not a stable environment for global terrorist planning), the President would have the military ability to pressure Syria, Iran, the Sudan, and the other terrorist states.

[9] It is often said that terrorists do not occupy territory, but they do in fact operate from some place that affords them a reasonable measure of security and as recently seen in Iraq and the Taliban Afghanistan occupy territory.

[10] For a list of terrorist actions against the West since the early decades of the 20th century, see

[11] NSS, Introduction.

[12] Neither the NSS nor the President’s West Point speech of 2002 explicitly move from the specific claim that preemptive action will be used against terrorists and their sponsoring states to the general claim that the US will prevent any potential enemy state from acquiring comparable military power.  But the fact that the President views “rouge states” as states for whom US attacks require preemptive strike justification (implying that he views them as a case in point for states in general) suggests a general application of the preemptive action/preventative action principles in the NSS.

[13] NSS, Section V: “Given the goals of rogue states and terrorists, the United States can no longer solely rely on a reactive posture as we have in the past.  The inability to deter a potential attacker, the immediacy of today’s threats, and the magnitude of potential harm that could be caused by our adversaries’ choice of weapons, do not permit that option.  We cannot let our enemies strike first.  In the Cold War, especially following the Cuban missile crisis, we faced a generally status quo, risk-averse adversary.  Deterrence was an effective defense.  But deterrence based only upon the threat of retaliation is less likely to work against leaders of rogue states more willing to take risks, gambling with the lives of their people, and the wealth of their nations.”

[14] Patrick Buchanan is among the most compelling of these traditional (small-‘r’) republicans; in his book A Republic, Not an Empire he offers an intriguing analysis of American history and her founding principles in an effort to show a decided and worrisome shift in our foreign policy since 1898 generally and since the fall of the Berlin Wall specifically.

[15] The term “empire” is understandably pejorative in these discussions, but there are different kinds of empire, some of which might be worse than others, but all of which are inconsistent with US traditions.  The Babylonian empire forced the mass-migrations of people groups, while the Romans tended to allow peoples to stay in their home regions and even practice limited self-rule.  The British Empire likewise was distinct in its form from the French empire, the advocates of the former calling themselves an “empire of liberty” to be distinguished from the French “empire of tyranny.”  Hence, the British imperialists claimed to be doing the world a favor by deposing the French emperor Napoleon!  But the real issue of empire is the use of one’s national power to compel the actions of foreign powers, particularly but not necessarily exclusively by military means.

[16] I mean this argument to follow both from the US Constitution per se (and thus applicable to the United States) but also from national ethics per se (and thus applicable to all nations), for the purpose of political compact is the defense of its citizens’ natural rights, and Locke’s arguments to this effect have yet to be superseded.  A second moral argument grounded in the distinction between heroism and courage will be offered later in this paper.

[17] George Washington, Farewell Address, (1786).

[18] George Washington, Farewell Address, (1786).

[19] The Works of Alexander Hamilton (July 10, 1793), Henry Cabot Lodge, ed. (New York, 1885), IV: 175.

[20] Since Hamilton does not oppose national benevolence of all kinds such as charitable operations to aid tsunami victims, he differentiates his self-interest doctrine from selfishness.  Self-sacrifice and selfishness are the twin vices (of extreme and deficiency, respectively) of proper self-interested benevolence (the virtuous mean, to employ Aristotelian language).

[21] Thus, Michael Walzer’s argument for the moral equivalence of soldiers as persons who have traded their right to life for the right to kill is misguided (Just and Unjust Wars, 2nd ed., [Basic Books, 1977]).  A soldier is first and foremost a citizen, and his rights are opposed to those of the enemy combatant on opposing citizen grounds rather than on some supposed clash of knight-combatants grounds (Walzer’s supporters have yet to solve the problem that conscription poses for their theory of combatant-consent).  The rightness of our cause makes the death of every one of our soldiers murder.  The attack on Pearl Harbor’s naval and air forces was no less murder than was the assault on the citizens in the WTC on 9/11, for we are all Americans first.

[22] Hamilton, IV: 175.

[23] Hamilton’s argument should thus be distinguished from the Randian argument of Peter Schwartz in his The Foreign Policy of Self-Interest: A Moral Ideal for America, (Ayn Rand Institute Press, 2004).  Schwartz argues that any act of benevolence on a state level is an act outside the proper telos of government and thus constitutes an improper seizure of the assets of the citizenry; thus all charity should be private.  On his view governmental charity is an oxymoron.  But with respect to foreign policy actions that threaten the lives of citizens, Schwartz, Hamilton and I agree (though for somewhat different reasons).

[24] James Madison, First Inaugural Address, (1809).

[25] John Quincy Adam’s Warning against the “Search for Monsters to Destroy,” (1821); taken from

[26] It is intriguing to compare the desire and capacity of post-war Germany and Japan with the attitudes and conduct of some in post-war Iraq, for while Germany and Japan were overflowing with weapons and guerilla capability, terrorist insurgencies did not begin.  Unlike Iraq in which Tiqrit stands unmolested, the peoples of Germany and Japan had suffered crushing defeats.

[27] George Washington, Farewell Address, (1796).

[28] Hitler’s quest to annihilate specific people groups is also an unfortunately common horror of world history.

[29] It is not ‘idleness’ but proper moral activity to avoid involving one’s citizens in the endless murderous ideological assaults by tyrants on their own people.

[30] It is intriguing that in Plato’s Apology, Socrates tells the story of being ordered to carry out an unjust execution of one Leon of Salamis.  Instead of carrying out the order, he went home.  What is important for our discussion is that he apparently felt no moral compulsion to warn Leon of impending danger or to defend Leon against the tyrants who ordered his death.  Thus, the duties of justice require that one commit no injustice, not that one prevent all injustices.

[31] There is nothing implausible about the creation of a set of voluntary ‘knights of justice’ to carry out benevolent warfighting in the cause of foreign people’s liberty, but these knights cannot be US soldiers, as the role of the soldier differs completely from the mythical ideals of the knight (real knights were just soldiers, of course).

[32] In WWII the Flying Tigers constitute such an example, while in WWI American pilots formed the Lafayette Escadrille.  During the Revolutionary War both the Frenchman Lafayette and the Prussian Baron von Steuben heroically offered themselves to support our cause—it should be noted that financial considerations motivated the Baron too.

[33] It would be interesting to see a study done on the relationship between the rise of superheroes in the imaginations of young men and the penchant to think of national responsibility in superhero terms.

[34] Patrick Buchanan, A Republic, Not an Empire, (Washington: Regnery, 1999), 11.

[35] Buchanan, 249-298.

[36] I have in mind examples such as the Jugurthan War which initially involved the Romans’ taking sides in a foreign ascension dispute between two brothers, one of whom appealed for help to the Roman Senate on the grounds of universal justice, et al.

[37] Buchanan, 281.

[38] The Athenian democracy turned from the leadership of the Athenian League (a anti-Persian, defensive network of independent city-states) to its dominator, showing how the relationship between democracy and tyranny are quite as close as Plato warned in Books VIII-IX of his Republic.