“We often hear them say, with false resignation in their voices, that ‘war is hell,’ but it isn’t. Hell is an abstraction; war is tourniquets, amputations, paraplegics, orphans, widows, torture, rape and a grief that never sleeps,” Antiwar.com editor Matt Barganier said.
It is, without question, the single most evil invention in the history of mankind. To commit crimes against peace is one of the worst actions a human being can commit. Initiating massive, violent conflict entails injuries, fatalities and emotional distress beyond a level which anyone who has not witnessed — myself included — can possibly fathom (and of which even its victims will never see the full extent). Starting an aggressive war is a heinous action of the highest order — worse than murder, rape and sometimes worse than genocide.
Yet, in early March 2011, Libya was not at peace. Gaddafi’s government, in an attempt to maintain power in the surging upheaval of the Arab Spring, responded to peaceful protests with extreme violence. Snipers, artillery and helicopter gunships were dispatched to quell demonstrations. This was a massacre, the very definition of crimes against humanity. This time, however, dissidents fought back. Within weeks, rebel forces controlled large areas of territory. The country fell into civil war, albeit a largely lopsided one, given the Libyan military’s immense resources.
Seeing a humanitarian crisis and a violent conflict with a clear aggressor, the UN Security Council passed a resolution authorizing “all means necessary” to protect civilian lives. NATO first acted by establishing a no-fly zone, then by launching an air campaign at Gaddafi’s forces. Save for some intelligence officers acting as forward observers for airstrikes, there were no boots on the ground. The coalition used force where it was needed, when it was needed — no more, no less. And with the fall of Tripoli in August and the death of Gaddafi last week, this use of force was proven effective.
Legitimate participation in warfare — often called “just war” — is contingent on several factors: just cause, comparative justice, legitimate authority, redress of wrongs, reasonable chance of success, goal of re-establishing peace, proportional use of force and discrimination between combatants and non-combatants. It had a just cause: stemming mass murder and violent oppression. It was comparatively just, Gaddafi’s sufferings were far less than those of his people. A legitimate, truly multilateral coalition waged the war. The wrongs of recent massacres were being redressed. A civil war was already underway, making success likely with NATO support. The goal was to re-establish peace, not occupy or conquer. Force used was proportional to the injuries suffered by the Libyan people. No pro-Gaddafi non-combatants were targeted.
We did not initiate this conflict, we entered it when we saw an unlikely, but powerful and justified, group of rebel forces dangerously outnumbered. Our efforts were what is known to international relations scholars as a humanitarian intervention. The lack of such an intervention would not have resulted in a quick, peaceful end to hostilities. It would have led to protruded, brutal bloodshed that could have lasted years — a civil war which would have, in all likelihood, ended with mass executions of suspected sympathizers and massacres of entire rebel townships.
War is ugly. War is evil. But one cannot simply will a war to end.
Daily Nexus liberal columnist Geoffrey Bell wishes everyone would just relax with the whole war thing, dammit.