The question “Should We Support Our Boys?” is asked not only by those American and British people who oppose the war against Iraq, but also by those Iraqis who oppose Saddam Hussain. Their “our boys”, of course, are not the American and British soldiers, but the Iraqis fighting the Americans under the leadership of Saddam Hussain. They ask: “Should we fight for Saddam Hussain, now that Iraq is invaded by the Americans?”
This is not the first time in history that this question is asked. When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, many of the ethnic groups saw them as “liberators” from the Russian rule. Even those ethnic Russians who were against Communism saw in the Germans an ally. But then many of those who hated the Stalin regime still rallied in support of the hated by them Stalin to fight the foreign invaders — the Germans.
So it is often a question of who is hated more the ruler or the foreign invaders.
But here we shall seek to answer this question in general, and then apply it to the specific context of Iraq, and thus illustrate the method of impartial judicial reasoning, as opposite to demagogy and wishful thinking used by politicians.
The first step in considering an issue is to objectivize it, that is to remove the “we”, and the “our” and the emotive “boys”, and to replace them with objective factual equivalents.
Thus, “Should we support our boys?”, as asked by the British and the Americans, becomes: “Should the citizens of a country waging an illegal war support their troops?”.
The question asked by the Iraqis is different, due to their different role in the war: “Should the citizens of a country, who oppose their government, abandon their opposition and rally behind their government, if their country is attacked by a foreign power?”.
Now the questions have become equally applicable to “us” and to “them”. And what is good or bad for us, is good or bad for them. This is what objectivity means.
The first question is applicable to any situation where a country is waging an aggressive war, as it was the case of Hitler's Germany, where a small group of Germans did oppose Hitler's war. The second is applicable to any country attacked by a foreign power, as, for example, Britain or Russia in the Second World War. In both the countries there were some sympathizers with Germany on ideological or ethnic grounds.
So, should the citizens of a country waging an illegal war support their troops?
A war without a valid reason is crime, and, in the course of it, crimes against person and property are committed by those who wage it. And anybody who supports an unjustified war takes part in that crime.
The difficulty that arises with such answer is that, while the rulers of the country waging such criminal war do so of their own choice and free will, and are obviously guilty of all the crimes committed in that war under their orders, the citizens of such country, and especially the soldiers, are often either compelled to take part in such war by threat of force (they could be imprisoned or executed if they refuse), or are misinformed by the criminal government and believe that they are fighting for a good cause. Thus, rather than being deliberate criminals (like the government), they are themselves victims of compulsion or deception.
Are they guilty of the crimes committed in the course of the war?
The defence in such cases usually is: “We were doing what we were told. We were just obeying orders from our superiors. We had no choice or control over our actions”.
The answer to this difficulty depends on the particular circumstances in each case. But, if one knows that the war is unjust and has any possibility to resist such war, one should use such possibility to resist that war.
Now, in Israel, a few hundred Israeli Jews are in jail for refusing to serve in the Israeli Army. They have preferred jail to military service, because they believe that the Israeli war against the Palestinians is wrong. Are they “traitors”? Or are they “heroes”?
So, what is the case in the present war against Iraq? Are the American and British soldiers, referred to in the media as “our boys”, criminals or heroes?
The answer to this question depends on whether this war is justified or not. If it is justified, they are doing their duty. If it is not, the war is a crime, and “our boys” are parties to that crime — “illegal combatants” in the true sense of these words.
The fact that they are “ours” does not justify their actions anymore than taking part in a bank robbery is justified on the grounds that the other robber was one's brother. Blood relationship or same nationality do not turn a crime into a valiant deed.
Is the American war against Iraq justified?
It is not a war of self‐defence, because Iraq did not have immediate intentions to attack either the US, or Britain.
The US administration and Tony Blair are posturing as architects of a new world order. But they lack honesty, objectivity and competence for such task. They are just political demagogues playing political games. Their moral authority and credibility are nil. And their posturing as liberators does not justify their war against Iraq.
Thus, the only defences for those who take part in this war are: (a) they are acting under duress (compulsion), or (b) they are being drawn into this war by deception.
Now we can proceed to the second issue: “Should the citizens of a country, who oppose their government, abandon their opposition and rally behind their government, if their country is attacked by a foreign power?”.
The answer to this depends on their reasons for the opposition, and the reasons for the war in which their country is involved.
If the war against their country is justified and their reasons for opposition to their government are justified then they are justified in opposing their government. If only one of the conditions is satisfied, and the other is not, then they need to weigh which choice would be more just. If neither is justified then they should defend their country under its leader.
As we showed above, the American war against Iraq is not justified. So the only issue to be considered is: “Should they fail to rally around their leader in defence of their country against an unjustified aggression, if they oppose their leader?”
The answer to this question is obvious: “The opposition to their leader must have a very strong justification to justify their failure to defend their country against a foreign aggressor”. And this is why many Iraqis who oppose Saddam Hussain oppose the American war against Iraq even stronger. This is why many Iraqis will fight against the American and British forces, rather than turning against their own government.
On the other hand there are Iraqis whose opposition to Saddam Hussain is stronger than their opposition to foreign invasion. And some of them even see this foreign invasion as an opportunity to overthrow the government of Saddam Hussain and to establish a government of their own choice. Many of such Iraqis are in exile and hope to be able to return to Iraq, once the government of Saddam Hussain is overthrown by the Americans.
The Americans might eventually set up some Iraqi civilian administration, and may be even some of the exile group leaders will be part of that government. And maybe they will be better than Saddam Hussain. This is what some people see as a justification of the war against Iraq.
But the twentieth century saw many cases when various liberation movements overthrew governments which were seen as tyrannical and corrupt, but once in power the liberators proved to be even more oppressive and corrupt than those they replaced.
After all, most of the governments which the Americans plan to replace as part of their War on Terror have come to power by replacing some corrupt tyrants, who were often installed or supported by the same foreign powers — America or Britain.
And then, of course, there are Iraqis in Iraq who do not support any government, but just want to live their lives. They will welcome whatever government will come to rule their area not because they support it, but because they hope to get better treatment from those in power, if they show them their support. These are the true “civilians”, whose only role in the war is to save their own lives.
At the start of the 20th century in some parts of Europe some towns and villages found themselves in the middle of a continuous multilateral military conflict. The control of these villages was changing hands between various occupying forces. So the people of these villages used to keep a set of flags of each of the warring nations, and whenever they heard that an army is about to enter the village, they would take out the flag of that army and come out to welcome them, to the delight of the occupation forces.
Having failed to justify the war against Iraq before the world community, the Americans and Tony Blair decided to attack Iraq, hoping that once the war begins, the opposition to the war will subside and the victory will be as quick as it was in Afghanistan, because the Iraqi people will turn against their leader. These hopes have been only partially fulfilled. The “our‐boys” factor did result in some increase in support for the war in America and Britain, but the flower‐welcome from the Iraqis has failed to materialize. The politicians believed their own propaganda and again have deceived themselves.
One should notice, however, the change of style in the Iraq war as compared with the war against Afghanistan. No massive cluster‐bombings of cities. It is as if the rabid wolf who ravaged Afghanistan has calmed down and entered Iraq in a sheep's skin of a ‘humanitarian liberator’. Is this change of style due to a sudden transformation of Bush and Blair? Of course not, they are still the same vain, power‐hungry political demagogues. The change of style is due to the massive world‐wide opposition of the people to the war. Were it not for this opposition to the war, the Iraqi cities would have been raised to the ground to achieve a quick victory.
Tony Blair had an especially rough ride with his attempts to justify the war. It is his fear of popular revolt against the war, that made him persuade the Americans to dress up their rampaging wolf into a sheep's skin. They have also learnt that once cities are raised to the ground, they need to be rebuilt, and this takes time and money, for which they had failed to budget when they devastated Afghanistan. They devastated Afghanistan to catch Osama bin Laden and then justified this devastation by a girl's‐school‐in‐Kabul.
And the moral of it all is that politics is evil. It leads to people being governed by incompetent and dishonest demagogues and tyrants, and the only alternative to politics is government by truth, honesty and justice. And the spectacle of the politicals fighting between themselves might even convince the people that politics is not working. And this is the silver lining to the dark clouds of this war.