Liberation Theory
Precedent for a New Millennium of Bloodshed

by Gerard Donnelly Smith

June 9, 2003

In retrospect, the American Civil War was just a war of liberation, rather than an economic power struggle between two capitalistic systems in competition. The tens-of-thousands of men who died and who were maimed did so not at the profit of the industrialist, military machine of the North, but for the liberation of the enslaved Africans in the South. So we are told. The victory, we are assured, was won because of the justice of the cause, that being the only criteria to justify the killing of one's own people, or the overthrow of one legitimate government by another. The victory was won by the ability to out finance the opposition, and to out-manufacture him in terms of munitions and the cannon fodder necessary to deliver the ammunition to its desired target. Such lessons in military history are replete.

During the 16th and 17th c. small states such as Denmark and England could compete with more largely populated states because each controlled critical resources, and established a well-organized military-industrial state. During this time the "supreme authority" had to achieve two things before taking the field in battle: 1) justify its cause according to the tenants of Augustine and Aquinas, and 2) raise an army capable of sustained, bloody hand-to-hand combat.

Aquinas wrote, "Those who wage war justly aim at peace, and so they are not opposed to peace, except to the evil peace" (The Summa Theologica Part II, Question 40). Who defines evil and the perpetrators of that evil, then also reasonably connects them with Satan or the devil, provides the raison d'être for a war of liberation. The papal propensity to crusade for religious as well as economic means depended on an altruistic defining of war as freeing the poor from the pagan blasphemer, the heretic reformer, or the orthodox usurper. Feudal lords and the Roman Catholic church sponsored the False Dimitris who inspired the peasants to free other peasants being oppressed by an "evil regime": all for the feudal states' future workforce, supposedly liberated first by this sect of Christianity, then an opposing sect, yet always bound to the earth as animals to a yoke. So goes the quid pro quo of liberation theory as rationale for military conquest, mostly fought to gain access to ports and resources.

Declaring nations as part of an "axis of evil" or calling nations and heads of state "the Great Satan" has become so common that one wonders why the trope is still effective. Still these terms work because of their religious overtones:
Since September 11, Bush has barely gone a day without using the word "evil" or "evildoers." His "axis of evil" speech may have so threatened North Korea that it decided to accelerate its nuclear plans. The phrase "axis of evil" did not happen accidentally, either, nor was it the original speechwriter's exact term. Frum came up with the term "axis of hatred" in the draft he sent on to chief speechwriter Michael Gerson. Says Frum: "Gerson wanted to use the theological language that Bush had made his own since September 11 -- so 'axis of hatred' became 'axis of evil.'" ("Bush's Messiah Complex," The Progressive, Feb. 2003)
Bush seems to know his audience, or perhaps really believes he is god's divinely appointed crusader. Specifically aimed at his Christian audience, Bush's word choice averted attention away from the true mission: stable access to critical resources in the Middle East.

However, despite his other faults and past actions Saddam Hussein was not immediately threatening the peace, indeed a peace (albeit an uneasy one) had been achieved through deterrence and containment -- a very successful cold war strategy. Yet containment and deterrence would not achieve the ultimate goal: free flow of oil corporations who suited the interests of Bush et al. St. Augustine planned for this dilemma, and made allowance for the "pre-emptive" strike.

St. Augustine wrote "For even they who intentionally interrupt the peace in which they are living have no hatred of peace, but only wish it changed into a peace that suits them better" (City of God, BOOK XI). Those deemed responsible enough to "interrupt the peace" were the heads of state, at Augustine's time divinely anointed by God's religious emissary during coronation. Because George W. Bush has declared that God chose him to lead the United States during this time of crisis, he legitimized himself as the "supreme authority." In the terms of Augustine and Aquinas, he considers himself the "supreme authority" who alone may legitimately wage war. Ergo, Bush might well thank St. Aquinas for providing the "logic" of his unilateral campaign:
For it is not the business of a private individual to declare war, because he can seek for redress of his rights from the tribunal of his superior. Moreover it is not the business of a private individual to summon together the people, which has to be done in wartime. And as the care of the common weal is committed to those who are in authority, it is their business to watch over the common weal of the city, kingdom or province subject to them. (The Summa Theologica Part II, Question 40)
The business of seeking redress, summoning an army to seek redress, and "the care of the common weal" [welfare, health, life], then rests with any head of state. So long as said head of state defines his purpose as just in the eyes of his own people: damn the United Nations or the World Court.

Thus, Bush's invasion of Afghanistan was meant to cleanse the world of terror, to bring those responsible for killing American civilians to justice. As the "supreme authority," all actions during the war become his sole responsibility. Aquinas defines righteous bloodshed as follows:
"To take the sword is to arm oneself in order to take the life of anyone, without the command or permission of superior or lawful authority" [Augustine (Contra Faust. xxii, 70)]. On the other hand, to have recourse to the sword (as a private person) by the authority of the sovereign or judge, or (as a public person) through zeal for justice, and by the authority, so to speak, of God, is not to "take the sword," but to use it as commissioned by another, wherefore it does not deserve punishment. (The Summa Theologica Part II, Question 40)
However, if in justifying that campaign "the supreme authority" sought vengeance, then the saintly apologist for war provide this condemnation: "And yet even those who make sinful use of the sword are not always slain with the sword, yet they always perish with their own sword, because, unless they repent, they are punished eternally for their sinful use of the sword." Defined as sinful are the following: "The passion for inflicting harm, the cruel thirst for vengeance, an unpacific and relentless spirit, the fever of revolt, the lust of power, and such like things, all these are rightly condemned in war"(Aquinas, The Summa Theologica Part II, Question 40). Might one add "National Security" or protecting economic resources to that list of such like things? Indeed, any war crimes committed by US troops, according to international law, and according to this above saintly definition, are George W. Bush's responsibility.

When does defending or enhancing national security cross the line and become a lust for power? Consider the opening paragraph of the National Security Strategy:
The United States possesses unprecedented -- and unequaled -- strength and influence in the world. Sustained by faith in the principles of liberty, and the value of a free society, this position comes with unparalleled responsibilities, obligations, and opportunity. The great strength of this nation must be used to promote a balance of power that favors freedom. (http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss.html)
When one reads the entire National Security Strategy, one comes to understand the "peace that suits them" and the "balance of power that favors freedom" means a global market economy with the United States at the top of the food chain.

If one reads deeply in history, one discovers that wars are fought for economic gain: access to resources, access to ports, access to labor. In other words, access to means achieve and maintain both political, military and economic power. Yet, the public must be moved to righteous indignation, must be moved by patriotism, and at times by revenge in order to sacrifice themselves or their children in the National Security Crusade. Prior to the Thirty Years War, rivaled only in bloodshed and misery by the wars orchestrated by Bismarck and Hitler, the European public was moved to vengeance and revolt in the name of religious freedom. William and Ariel Durant write:
A war of words and ink prepared for the war of guns and blood, and mutual vituperation mounted almost to a homicidal ecstasy. Words like dung, offal, ass, swine, whore, murderer entered the terminology of theology. The Catholic writer Johann Nass in 1565 accused the Lutherans of practicing "murder, robbery, lying, deceit, gluttony, drunkenness, incest, and villainy without fear, for faith alone, they say, justifies everything." [...] The Popes said a sermon (1589), had always been, and still were, without a single exception, sodomites, necromancers, and magicians; many of them had been able to spit hellfire from their mouths. (The Age of Reason Begins 554)
Thus using the heavily charged language of religious prejudice, the opponents define each other as an evil to be exterminated. Creating such an atmosphere of righteous retribution after 9/11/01 was an easy task.

In his speech before the United Nations on November 11, 2001, Bush's speech writers used the following time-tested tropes:
That evil has returned, and that cause is renewed.
They dare to ask God's blessing as they set out to kill innocent men, women and children. But the God of Isaac and Ishmael would never answer such a prayer. And a murderer is not a martyr; he is just a murderer.
They kill because they aspire to dominate. They seek to overthrow governments and destabilize entire regions.
This threat cannot be ignored. This threat cannot be appeased. Civilization, itself, the civilization we share, is threatened. History will record our response, and judge or justify every nation in this hall.
The Taliban's days of harboring terrorists and dealing in heroin and brutalizing women are drawing to a close. And when that regime is gone, the people of Afghanistan will say with the rest of the world: good riddance.
The only alternative to victory is a nightmare world where every city is a potential killing field.
Using these ploys, Bush orchestrated a coalition to remove the Taliban from power, because they were harboring the terrorists responsible for killing 3000 people. Similar to the religious writers of the 16th century, Bush evoked images of brutality and oppression by the Taliban, and called on God to sanction his own "supreme authority."

In his Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People at 9:00 p.m. on September 20, 2001, George W. Bush' speech writers helped him declare:
Tonight we are a country awakened to danger and called to defend freedom. Our grief has turned to anger, and anger to resolution. Whether we bring our enemies to justice, or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done...
Afghanistan's people have been brutalized -- many are starving and many have fled. Women are not allowed to attend school. You can be jailed for owning a television. Religion can be practiced only as their leaders dictate. A man can be jailed in Afghanistan if his beard is not long enough....
The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them.
Fellow citizens, we'll meet violence with patient justice -- assured of the rightness of our cause, and confident of the victories to come. In all that lies before us, may God grant us wisdom, and may He watch over the United States of America.
Yet, the Taliban offered to try Bin Laden themselves according to Islamic law. Under Islamic Law, Bin Laden would have, if convicted, faced a death penalty. Such a compromise would have left the Taliban in power and kept a central geographic region under Islamic fundamentalist control, thus limiting the flow of oil. The Taliban's peace did not suit America's peace; even though the heroin trade was made illegal under the Taliban, Bush still accused them of trafficking. Even though the opposition's cultural or religious practice, or anti-globalization "backwardness" is antithetical to ones own culture or religion, one is not justified in denying all diplomatic avenues to redress harm. Still, liberating the people of Afghanistan from an oppressive regime became the Battle Cry of the Republic once again.

Bush decided to liberate the Afghanistan people, because their Islamic peace did not "suit" the hegemony envisioned by the leader of global trade and global democratization. Augustine foresaw this necessity in his Just War theory also: "We do not seek peace in order to be at war, but we go to war that we may have peace. Be peaceful, therefore, in warring, so that you may vanquish those whom you war against, and bring them to the prosperity of peace" (Ep. ad Bonif. clxxxix). That prosperity is the "capitalist" prosperity, and requires the liberation of the oppressed masses, so that they may return to cultivation of their crops, even opium crops banned by the religious leaders who were removed from power. What peace now in Afghanistan?

What peace now in Iraq? Liberating a people from oppression was used to justify the recent invasion of Iraq, after the initial reasoning had dissipated like oil smoke in the wind. Protecting the world from weapons of mass destruction had been claimed as the legitimate reason for a "pre-emptive" strike, perhaps on the thinnest evidence. The same language or religious prejudice used to legitimize the war in Iraq is now being aimed at Iran. The uneasy peace that had settle in the Middle East was interrupted because Saddam threatened the national security of America, and now Iran is being targeted with the exact same thin evidence. The Bush administration must make a peace that "suits them."

With well-worn tropes, Bush convinced enough Americans that Saddam Hussein was a Hitler who threatened their life, liberty and pursuit of happiness with weapons of mass destruction. On September 12th, before the United Nations Bush declared "Had Saddam Hussein been appeased instead of stopped, he would have endangered the peace and stability of the world," subtly connected Hitler to Hussein. Will Iran's leaders also be connected to Hitler? At the NATO summit in Prague he emphasized this comparison. In his declaration of war against Iraq, delivered 17 March 2003 from the Cross Hall at the White House, Bush justified his actions using the tried and true rhetoric of just war theory:
The cause of peace requires all free nations to recognize new and undeniable realities. In the 20th century, some chose to appease murderous dictators, whose threats were allowed to grow into genocide and global war. In this century, when evil men plot chemical, biological and nuclear terror, a policy of appeasement could bring destruction of a kind never before seen on this earth.
Apparently the Bush administration purposefully used a "straw man" fallacy to avoid using crimes against humanity as the just reason for a just war. Instead of stating that Saddam Hussein had already committed genocide, Bush avoided that stronger argument, choosing instead to focus on weapons of mass destruction.

Certainly his administration knew that no weapons of mass destruction existed. Scott Ritter's evidence had been presented to the Bush team. No weapons of mass destruction were likely to be found, since the UN inspection teams declared 90% had been destroyed. Instead, unspecified documents were mentioned, photographs were produced and communiqués allegedly intercepted that proved Iraq had and planned to use chemical and biological weapons. Despite all this, the evidence that legitimized the invasion and the "liberation" of the Iraqi people has not been found.

Now the uneasy peace follows. An uneasy peace in which the civilian authority, American businessman L. Paul Bremer III, prepares to try former Iraqi civilians, administrators and military personnel for war crimes. All the while Bush ignores the allegations of war crimes committed by US personnel and the US administration, charges that have yet to be brought forth by even Belgium.

Now crimes against humanity are being uncovered, and are being reported. Bodies of evidence gathered after the first Gulf War pointed directly to the bodies as evidence being exhumed around Baghdad. In 1998, Haithem Al-Hassani of The Canadian-Iraqi Coordination Committee (CICC) called for "an International Tribunal that would try Saddam and his inner circle for their Crimes against Humanity, Genocide, Crimes against peace and War Crimes." For two decades, top Iraqi officials have committed massive crimes and atrocities -- genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. This list includes far more than the common refrain that Hussein and his associates gassed their own people, particularly at Halabja in 1988.

In "Try Him for His Crimes," David Scheffer wrote:
The criminal record includes other serious war crimes during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s; the genocidal Anfal campaign against Iraqi Kurds in 1987 and 1988; the invasion and occupation of Kuwait in 1990; the violent suppression of the 1991 uprising that led to 30,000 or more mostly civilian deaths; the draining of the southern marshes during the 1990s, which ethnically cleansed Hussein's southern flank of thousands of Iraqi Shiites; more ethnic cleansing of the non-Arab population of Kirkuk and other northern Iraqi areas; and the summary executions of thousands of political opponents. (The Washington Post, September 12, 2002; Page A23)
Human Rights Watch has chronicled the crimes against humanity in Iraq, and report that
Despite Iraq's record of arbitrary detention, murder and torture, the Reagan administration did not press for action against Iraq at the l988 session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission. Even more surprising, at the Commission's l989 session the Bush administration stood back and let others take the initiative in trying to call Iraq to account for its use of chemical weapons against its Kurdish population and for its other serious abuses. The U.S. did not join in sponsoring the strongly worded resolution put forward by twelve other Western states, which called for the appointment of a special rapporteur to "make a thorough study of the human rights situation in Iraq."
Since the first Gulf War, documents detailing mass murder and genocide have been available to the current Bush administration. In 1998, the US Senate called for the UN to indict Hussein as a war criminal. "If he is indicted, if he is tried, even in absentia, there would be a very firm brand on Saddam Hussein as a war criminal. If he is branded as a war criminal it gives us the high moral ground to take action against Saddam Hussein," said Specter, a Republican from Pennsylvania ("U.S. Senate Calls for War Crimes Trial for Saddam Hussein" March 13, 1998. CNN). Such a strategy might have created a unilateral coalition similar to the Balkans War. Indeed, mass graves literally ring Baghdad.

"A just cause is required, namely that those who are attacked, should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault" declared Aquinas (The Summa Theologica Part II, Question 40). Certainly having massacred his own people equals "an account of some fault." Certainly the mass murder of the Kurds equals "an account of some fault." Yet genocide or crimes against humanity were secondary reasons for the invasion. However, using the "genocide" card as the just reason for the invasion/liberation of Iraq would have created a precedent, a precedent that Russia, China, and other members of the UN might not have sanctioned.

So does just war change its character in the 21st century, becoming a democratizing liberation of a people oppressed by a brutal dictator? Does just war become a liberation of people from an "alleged" threat of mass destruction? Do we now face, not a millennium of reason, tolerance and diversity, but one in which hegemonic democratization and a global market economy become the just cause of Liberation Theory? Will this be a millennium in which the leader of a secular unity of states can call upon his God who has divinely elected him as the leader of his Republic, founded under one god, to help his army of liberation free all oppressed people who will not be allowed to call upon their god to help them choose their own government? In writing this sentence, one feels oppressed and subordinate.

· · · · · ·

Iraq on Swans


Gerard Donnelly Smith, a poet and musician, teaches creative writing, literature and composition at Clark College in Vancouver WA. CERRO de la ESTRELLA (Logan Elm Press, 1992) was chosen for The Governor's Award for the Arts in Ohio, 1992. Excerpts from THE AMERICAN CORPSE (10 poems) were published in Apex of the M in 1995. He is the current director of the Columbia Writers Series, an Honorary Board Member of The Mountain Writers Series, and co-advisor of the Native American Student Council at Clark College. He has also organized readings for Poets Against the War.

Do you wish to share your opinion? We invite your comments. E-mail the Editor. Please include your full name, address and phone number. If we publish your opinion we will only include your name, city, state, and country.

Please, feel free to insert a link to this article on your Web site or to disseminate its URL on your favorite lists, quoting the first paragraph or providing a summary. However, please DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work on the Web without the expressed written authorization of Swans. This material is copyrighted, © Gerard Donnelly Smith 2003. All rights reserved.
· · · · · ·

This Week's Internal Links

Bouquet Of Corn Dogs - Prose Poem by Phil Rockstroh

Quantum Jump - Poem by Scott Orlovsky

Seasons Of Life And Oil - by Alma A. Hromic

John Sanford's The People From Heaven - Book Review by Louis Proyect

Reviewing, Refocusing And Recapitulating - by Milo Clark

The Time's Plague - by Richard Macintosh

They Still Aren't Listening - by Deck Deckert

T-Minus None - by Eli Beckerman

Vexing Electoral Realities (10/21/02) - by Gilles d'Aymery

Can't See The World For The Trees - by Richard Hine


Published June 9, 2003
[Copyright]-[Archives]-[Resources]-[Main Page]