It is difficult to imagine a more important ethics issue than whether or not our Country goes to war. Combine that issue with government corruption by campaign money and we have an enormous ethical dilemma.
The dilemma is not new. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had been one of the best generals in American history. In his 1961 farewell address he described a moneyed “military industrial complex” that could push the United States toward war if the political establishment allowed it. Through much of his Presidency he was hounded by hawks in Congress and outside lobbying groups who called anyone who even suggested pursuing peace with the U.S.S.R. a “communist” or a “Red sympathizer.”
It was in this political environment that President Eisenhower ended the Korean War and successfully defused a military confrontation over the Suez Canal, but he also introduced American forces into Vietnam. That conflict was escalated quickly by his successors Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Weapons manufacturers made money, foreign policy “experts” urged more defense spending and more troops, and people who disagreed were shouted down. Some soldiers came back from Vietnam unharmed, others like Senators Chuck Hagel and John McCain were badly wounded, and tens of thousands never came home. Politicians, including at least two Presidents, lied about our military success, putting the United States on a path toward political corruption culminating, but not ending, with Watergate.
The war lobby is larger today than in Eisenhower’s day if measured by the amount of money spent by special interests having intense interest in whether the United States goes to war.
Weapons manufacturers spent about $25 million in the last election cycle:
Weapons manufacturers make money in peacetime by helping keep us safe, but they make a lot more money if we go to war.
Then there are special interest groups that specialize in particular areas of the world, ranging from Taiwan to the Middle East. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), for example, is a hawkish group that does about as good a job representing the interests of Israel as the National Rifle Association does representing gun owners. AIPAC does not directly contribute to candidates but spends millions of dollars lobbying. Other groups falling under the general heading “pro-Israel”, however, spent about $12 million in the last election cycle:
A growing number of pro-Israel groups such as J Street support peaceful resolutions of conflict:
Still, political expenditures in this category are still weighted very heavily toward the most hawkish positions on the Middle East.
Then there are the dozen or so Washington think tanks and other organizations run by armchair generals who theorize about spreading democracy around the world through military force, even if that approach may exacerbate the “Islamist threat” often used to justify military intervention (fear of militant Islam has replaced fear of communism as the ideological engine driving today’s war lobby).
Although these groups spend more money on our political system than in Eisenhower’s day, some of their tactics are similar. People who pursue the possibility of peace are no longer called “communists” or “Red sympathizers,” but they are called “soft on terrorism” or “pro-Muslim” (the latter term is used by people who combine the war lobby with religious bigotry). People are called “anti-Semitic” if they speak out against lobbying groups pressuring the United States to support all of Israel’s foreign policy positions, even under the most right wing leaders who for over twenty years have frustrated American Presidents of both political parties.
Whether and when there is such a thing as a “just war” is a complex issue, although all but the most committed pacifists acknowledge that going to war is sometimes the right thing to do. My grandfather organized a nationwide war lobby in 1940 to urge President Roosevelt to side with Britain against Germany in WW II (the group was called “United Leagues for a Declared War” and ran large ads in the New York Times). Other wars since then have not been so clear in their moral rightness, and Americans have differed sharply over whether they were justified.
What we should be able to agree upon is that decisions about war and peace – and about ways to prevent war such as negotiated solutions in the Middle East -- should be made by political leaders who are responsive to the moral compass and practical concerns of the Country as a whole. Our political leaders should not just respond to special interests that pour millions of dollars into political campaigns while urging larger military budgets, inflexibility in peace negotiations, unilateral military strikes and other steps toward war.
The way in which we address the ethical issue of war and peace is closely linked to the way we choose our leaders and the role of money in the process. President Eisenhower understood that problem, but he did not solve it. His successors allowed it to get worse. And it won’t be solved until Americans decide that they have had enough. See http://represent.us/