“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial
appearance of being right,” wrote Thomas Paine two centuries ago.
Fortunately, for a good portion of our history, America in its conduct
with foreign nations, though not without sin, provided relatively few
moments of a conscience seared. Yes, in so many ways, the United States,
did things right, and she did so without the madness of tradition or
self justification, but as a reflection of faith in settled moral
American rightness in its attitude toward war sprung from her insular
posture. A posture which insured that war sallied forth not as offensive
assaults upon the weak, nor as Holy Crusades upon the less enlightened,
but only, as necessary, in self defense. It had to be so, because the
cloak of national solidarity shielded not Presidents, Congresses and
Armies from the charge of murder, when they inflicted death upon the
blameless. “Thou shalt not shed innocent blood” most all believed, was
the charge of the Almighty both to the individual and the state.
Of course, individuals, and states, could kill, without sin.. “Thou
shalt not kill,” was fittingly joined with “he that killeth any man,
shall surely be put to death,” and “every man’s brother shall preserve
the life of man.” Hence, mankind was forbidden to murder, obliged to
take the life of the guilty, and charged to protect the life of the
Furthermore, the protection of life was not considered the only just
use of force. Under natural law, the definition of life was strongly
attached to liberty and property. As Bastiat reasoned: “For what are our
faculties but the extension of our individuality? And what is property
but an extension of our faculties?” Consequently, both the individual
and the state as his agent, could protect life, liberty, and property,
even unto death, if necessary. To do so, would not be an act of murder,
but an appeal to justice and order — to neglect this high duty, an
endorsement of injustice and anarchy.
Extending the principle to war — “Just War,” then, could be none
than a collective and commissioned act of self defense, resisting
attacks made on the life, liberty, and property of the citizens of a
given nation, or, as an after-the-fact, administration of justice.
This moral reasoning, was the foundation stone of the American
policy of yesteryear — attack those only who attack you. To which, was
added, be strong enough to discourage attack. A commitment to this
philosophy kept America nearly free of foreign war for 130 years, and
free, also, of the moral and political degeneracy which accompany
But the sound reasoning and the relative peace of 18th and 19th
America was usurped by the arrival of a new political philosophy, based
on the meddling morality of socialism. It was no longer good enough,
they supposed, to be free and independent; we must, rather, insure that
the world is free and independent. And if it is not, then we must make
it so, by cannon and ball.
It took a while, but the American psyche has now ascribed reverential
status to the belief, that in a world drawn closer together by
technology, it is just to kill before being killed, to prosecute intent
prior to criminal action, to protect America’s vague “vital interests”
rather than her private property, and to impose “democracy” on the
unenlightened, without invitation.
Our actions in Iraq and Bosnia, bellow the evidence. Desert Storm, we
were told defended “America’s vital interests;” Desert Fox prosecuted
criminal intent (they built weapons of mass destruction) prior to
criminal action, the Bosnian Invasion, imposed “peace,” “democracy,” and
“stability, ” without invitation. None of these U.S. military assaults
came in response to actual attacks upon the life, liberty, and property
of the citizens of the United States; nor did the citizens of Iraq,
Kuwait, or Bosnia, delegate to our government, the right to control
their government. All three of these examples, by definition,
constitute acts of offensive war.
This chilling conclusion, is further aggravated by the timing of each
invasion. Desert Storm, was gleefully categorized by President Bush as
our “best chance … to reinvigorate the [then unpopular] United
Desert Fox, was in the eyes of most any conscious person, a delay tactic
and an argument against Impeachment; and the Invasion of Bosnia, halted
a brave rally by Muslim forces against their Communist masters. These
wars have cost blood, human blood. In Iraq alone, the death toll is in
the hundreds of thousands. And our troops, donning UN blue, are now on
the prowl, not in Iraq and Bosnia only, but as unsolicited standing
armies, throughout the world.
So what can we conclude about the new morality of internationalism?
“a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, given it the superficial
appearance of being right? Is it good and wise to impose, at the point
of a sword, our morality, our way of life on the world? Thomas Paine,
had an answer for that one too. He proclaimed: “Our Independence with
God’s blessing we will maintain against all the world; but as we wish to
avoid evil ourselves, we [must not] inflict it on others.” For,
“offensive war” is “murder.” Could he be right?
Steve Farrell is a free-lance writer, a Ph.D. candidate in
Constitutional Law, and a former Air Force Communications Security
manager. Please email your comments to Mr. Farrell at