What if war was illegal? Imagine a world in which aggression itself became immoral. Would you support that? Would such a move make the world a safer place? And could it perhaps even force a condition of world peace?
You probably didn’t know it, but we actually live in such a world. War has been illegal since 1928 and the signing of The Kellogg-Briand Pact. At least that is the contention and subject of The Internationalists: How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World, by Oona A. Hathaway and Scott J. Shapiro.
In short, World War I was unprecedentedly destructive. American President Woodrow Wilson felt extremely guilty about American involvement in it. An academic and intellectual, Wilson especially anguished at the thought of American casualties. After the war, Wilson and like-minded academics and politicians tried to assuage their guilt. To prevent such a thing from ever happening again, they decided to create a new moral framework for humanity. Their goal was nothing less than reforming human nature to abhor and avoid war at all costs.
It should be noted that the Progressive authors of The Internationalists refer glowingly to this post-WWI moral framework as “The New World Order.”
Students of history know The Kellogg-Briand Pact did not actually end war. Though President Wilson referred optimistically to World War I as “the war to end all wars,” World War II – a conflict five times deadlier – in 1939 proved such optimism naïve.
Yet The Kellogg-Briand Pact was not fruitless, nor was it without consequence.
The World and Wars, Then and Now
Prior to World War I, as far back in history as you read, war was an incontrovertible part of life. Rather than being treated as a breakdown in diplomacy, war and the ability to make it were diplomacy.
Heads of state had armies at their disposal for a reason. With those armies they could right wrongs against their nations and peoples. Offending nations were invaded and fought until they straightened up and flew right.
Before The Kellogg-Briand Pact, the world was full of what we now think of as romantic and antiquated notions of honor. Strangest to us, it didn’t matter which country initiated hostilities if a just cause for war existed – including, but not limited to, another nation’s honor being impugned.
Right was often seen as being proven if not determined by might. The victor was presumably on the side of truth and justice. That’s why God allowed them to win.
Yet after World War I and II, academics and politicians wanted to upend this tradition. Rather than monarchs and armies resolving disputes through war, a global governing body would be instituted. This body would consist of representatives of all nations. Initially The League of Nations, later The United Nations – this body would hear grievances and resolve disputes without resorting to costly and destructive war.
Two things were necessary for this plan to work. First, the global governing body needed to possess a kind of supreme and universally recognized moral authority. Second, war needed to be stripped of its moral legitimacy and honor.
The Problem Of Moral Authority
There’s an obvious problem with giving supreme moral authority to representatives of all the nations of the world. The world’s nations do not agree on morality. Ostensibly Christian Europe and America, the Islamic Middle East and North Africa, Buddhist and Confucian Asia – whose morality wins?
One might assume the answer to that question lies in which countries pushed for the creation of The United Nations, most notably The United States of America – the international body’s host. Wasn’t the morality of Western civilization meant to supersede all others?
Well, maybe. Perhaps that was an initial expectation and goal, and perhaps not.
We know influential figures like President Wilson argued for the creation of ‘The New World Order’ on the grounds of a Christian imperative. Just as surely, these figures borrowed the language of Christianity to make their arguments. Yet this proves nothing.
Indeed, domestically in the U.S., the philosophical heirs of Wilson’s Progressive ideals still employ Christianized language when arguing for everything from secular public education to abortion to the normalization of homosexuality and transgenderism. Yet it is clear in all these things and others that a close examination of Christian theology, or of what The Bible asserts, is contrary to the humanistic and morally relative aims of Progressives.
Just so on the world stage, morality has been made relative enough to become palatable to all nations. For the sake of fellowship and unity with nations who worship other gods and subscribe to wildly different traditions, America has placed its Christian faith on enough of a back-burner to keep it from leading to conflict.
How else was Libya appointed head of the UN Human Rights Commission in 2003? How else was Israel singled out by the UN in 2015 for violating women’s rights?
Making Aggression Itself Evil
Meanwhile, there is still conflict in the world. Nations and peoples not only disagree, they still occasionally resort to war to resolve their disputes.
Yet where the world’s nations might have previously supported the conqueror whose victory had proven the justice of their cause, a pole shift in our collective moral framework occurred. Now the victor is condemned for effective use of military power.
America’s War on Terror proves this.
The morality of the Islamic world vehemently disagrees with the West – especially America. Osama bin Laden and the like declared fatwas. Iran chants “Death to America.” Hundreds and thousands of civilians have been murdered in full view of the public. Consequently, the very real threat of chemical or nuclear weapons being used by al-Qaeda and other groups to murder millions more did, in fact, justify and demand a strong military response.
Invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 by a U.S.-led coalition of nations were prompted by the 9/11 attacks and threats of similar attacks and worse. Yet aggressive war is now illegal according to international law, so Progressives were more incensed by President Bush than by the Islamic jihadists he launched the War On Terror to stop.
Did you know also that the Holocaust was only an accessory among charges brought against the Nazis during the Nuremburg trials? The main charge was actually waging aggressive war in violation of the Kellogg-Briand Pact. Just so, the barbaric cruelty of al-Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, and ISIS is muted in Progressive assessments of American military action against them. The chief concern is that America is mighty and used its might to great effect in foreign lands.
In The New World Order, might makes wrong.