On the Morality of: Torture

Thanks to revelations that the U.S. government has been using torture techniques such as waterboarding on people it suspects of being terrorists, this post is overdue. I find it unbelievable that, in the year 2008, it’s actually a point of contention whether torture should be legal or not.

Discussions of this issue in the media inevitably return to the “ticking-bomb” scenario – where torture is the only way to extract information from a captured terrorist in time to prevent a devastating attack. But consider what would actually have to happen for this to come up. We would need to capture a terrorist suspect after an attack is planned and set up, but before the damage actually occurs; we would need to have certain and specific knowledge that an attack was imminent, but not specific enough to have thwarted it already; we would have to have made some investigative breakthrough that would enable us to capture one of the planners, but this breakthrough would not give us any additional information that would enable us to foil the attack ourselves.

This long string of unlikely coincidences makes it improbable that this is a dilemma we’ll ever actually face. We’ve prevented several terrorist strikes before they occurred, and we’ve tracked down the perpetrators of others after the fact. But to capture a plotter in the narrow time window that would force a ticking-bomb scenario – this is the plot of a Hollywood action movie, not a realistic scenario. To my knowledge, no such case has ever happened, and I doubt that one ever will. But still, in this improbable hypothetical, what would be the moral course of action?

Clearly, to say that moral principles require us to abstain from torture no matter what is at stake would be an absurdity. If respect for human rights forces us to sacrifice the lives of thousands or millions of people, all for the sake of not harming a plotter of mass murder, then we cannot realistically be expected to respect human rights. In this case, it could very plausibly be argued that torture is necessary in the same sense that violence is widely agreed to be permissible, as a means of self-defense.

On the other hand, one need not be a liberal to recognize that granting the government the power to torture is the beginning of a perhaps fatally slippery slope. Given the terrifying power of torture to break people’s spirits and coerce them to agree to anything demanded of them, it is a far more dangerous power than a humane program of imprisonment and rehabilitation – and this applies with a vengeance if torture is used prior to conviction as a way to extract information from merely suspected criminals. It is not a stretch to say that a program of legally permitted torture could be deadly to a free democracy. By enshrining the idea that human beings can be brutalized for the sake of expediency, legalized torture has the potential to lead us down the path to tyranny and slavery more quickly than anything else could.

Between these two heavy counterweights, I believe there’s a workable compromise. To safeguard human rights and protect citizens from their government, torture should be illegal, with no exceptions. If the highly unlikely ticking-bomb scenario ever arises, I would expect the interrogators to do what was needful – and then, afterward, to turn themselves in to the court and submit their actions to the judgment of a competent tribunal. If what they did was truly necessary, that necessity could serve as a defense. If it was judged not necessary, then they should be punished for their actions. This position respects the rule of law and prevents the corrosive consequences of permitting torture in general, while still acknowledging that rare, desperate circumstances might require desperate measures. And it goes without saying that any confession obtained under torture should not be admissible in court under any circumstances.

Other posts in this series:

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Doug

    Warfare is not the realm of courts, only of beating the enemy, the ones who have identified themselves as wanting to kill you. Torture is trying to gain a tactical advantage. Some try to apply civilization to the most uncivil endeavors of man, not wise.

  • Alex Weaver

    You overlooked the most absurd element of the “ticking bomb” scenario – the assumption that torturing the suspect will produce reliable and useful information in time to thwart the attack. It may well be that all he has to do is tell you something plausible but false, avoid being trapped in a lie, then sit back and wait to hear the distant explosion while your investigators race off on a wild goose chase. And that’s even assuming that you really have the right guy.

  • http://mcv.planc.ee mcv

    I’m sorry but you both have missed the point on that one. The “ticking-bomb” scenario is a thought-experiment, it’s not meant to be realistic in the sense that it could actually happen. I don’t thnk that no one ever thinks that he or she will be in the situation where you have to decide wheather to push the fat man in front of the trolly or weaather to push the leaver (the trolly problem by Philipa Foot).

    It is meant to be a hypothetical situation in order to feel out our intuitions not to provide possible courses of action in the case of this situation actually becomes a reality.

    Keeping that in mind the very essential part of thought-experiments is that all the conditions would be set from the beginning and once they are set the person answering to the scenario could not change them. The ticking-bomb scenario is constructed in the way that you know for certain that he/she will give you accurate information, thus you should make your decisions based on that (you know for sure that the torture will not fail for example).

  • Alex Weaver

    I’ve never understood the appeal of thought experiments that have no relation to the real world. The demand that a moral system produce an unambiguous answer to every conceivable inconceivable scenario is as Not Even Wrong as demanding that physicists cough up the Ultimate Question and its answer right this minute.

  • Rob

    The author has made the astonishing claim that he is more afraid of himself and of his own society than he is of those who would kill him and our society. To make the assertion that torturing our enemies will lead us to “tyranny and slavery” is to admit just that. He seems to think that that we are in danger of becomming a society of tyrants and slaves and that protecting ourselves is not justified against that possibility.

    For myself, I think that Western society is too far ingrained with the principles of justice and democracy and that defending that is far more important. The kind of society those we torture wish to impose on us is tyrranical and slavish. Whatever we need to do to defend ourselves from such imposition we should do. The route to tyrrany and slavery is by not standing up to thuggery and not countering thuggery everywhere we come against it. Our opponents are fighting a war to the death. We have to do the same or we will lose. War is a dirty business and in winning a war all is fair. We should be getting tougher not inventing ethical debate about “fairness.”

  • prase

    Warfare is not the realm of courts, only of beating the enemy, the ones who have identified themselves as wanting to kill you. Torture is trying to gain a tactical advantage. Some try to apply civilization to the most uncivil endeavors of man, not wise.

    Warfare has been regulated by treaties and conventions for a long time, and I consider it not a complete chance that those powers disobeying the conventions and fighting with unlimited brutality had been rarely victorious.

    Anyway, the society is usually maintained on the same principles on which it has been founded. If you secure the victory in war using uncivilised methods, it may turn extremely difficult for you to defend civilised standards during peacetime. The distinction between peace and war is not so sharp as one may think, see the “war against terrorism”. We can have also “war against organised crime” or “war against vice in our society”…

  • Stephen

    In fact the “ticking-bomb” scenario has indeed occurred fairly recently, though in a simpler, non-terrorist, situation. That was the Gäfgen case in Germany, where a policeman threatened to torture a suspect in an attempt to save a kidnap victim’s life. The torture was not actually carried out, but the suspect did indeed reveal the victim’s whereabouts – however it turned out that he had already murdered the victim. The policeman received a suspended fine, which was of course a much lighter sentence than he would have received in less extreme circumstances, so the recommended approach in the final paragraph was pretty much followed.

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    I suspect that some would like to use the ‘ticking bomb’ scenario as a slippery slope — they’d like to say “Well, this isn’t a ticking bomb scenario precisely, but by torturing people we can get faster, better information that might save people’s lives. If torture is justifiable in the ticking bomb scenario, isn’t it also worthwhile here for similar reasons?”

    Needless to say, I oppose such reasoning vehemently. However, the only way I can make sense of some torture rhetoric is to assume that this is the implied argument. And from there, it goes into the disgustingly patriotic “Well, in this case we’re not saving lives right now, but the information we might get could help us win the war, which saves lives eventually, right? Besides, it isn’t really torture because there’s no mark on them afterwards.”

    In short, the ticking bomb scenario can be an attempt to gain, as a preliminary, the concession that there are ends which could justify the means of torture.

  • bestonnet

    If torture were actually a reliable way of obtaining information then there might be some justification for allowing it in narrow circumstances (though it would have to be watched very very closely).

    But the fact that torture is not at all reliable means that there is no point even bothering with it, torture is revenge, not intelligence gathering. Look how well (or not) it worked on Abdul Hakim Murad of the Bojinka plot.

  • http://collapsingwaves.wordpress.com Brad
  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I’d never heard of the Gäfgen case, but that’s very interesting indeed. It wasn’t truly a ticking-bomb case, since the kidnapped child was already dead, but of course there’s no way the police could have known that. It’s good to see that the police chief agreed to my reasoning, though I wonder if he would have carried out his threat if the kidnapper had forced his hand.

    Rob:

    The author has made the astonishing claim that he is more afraid of himself and of his own society than he is of those who would kill him and our society.

    Yes, that is exactly correct. This is not an unusual position – that’s exactly what America’s founders feared, which is why they built so many checks and balances into government to forestall any drift towards tyranny.

    I am not afraid of terrorists. Statistically speaking, the chance that any of them will ever do me any direct harm is minuscule, far less than the risk I face from more mundane dangers like car crashes or cancer. Terrorists rely on spreading irrational fear among a populace to achieve what they could not achieve through sheer military might, which is why they’re called “terrorists”. They cannot defeat us in open battle nor take over our country. The only way they win is if we fear them, which is why I do not.

    On the other hand, I do fear the government adopting absolutist, dictatorial powers in its claimed quest to defend us against terrorism, which is exactly what is happening. We already see George W. Bush claiming the power to spy without warrants, to imprison citizens indefinitely without charges or a trial, to ignore or violate any laws he deems necessary, and to torture people who he merely suspects of being terrorists. These claims are far more disturbing and frightening than anything a band of terrorists could possibly do, because the government actually does have the ability to carry these activities out on a broad scale. These things have the potential to destroy our democracy in a way that no terrorist ever could.

  • bestonnet

    Ebonmuse:

    These claims are far more disturbing and frightening than anything a band of terrorists could possibly do, because the government actually does have the ability to carry these activities out on a broad scale.

    The only things I could think of would be if terrorists got their hands on biological or nanotech weapons.

  • MisterDomino

    Ebonmuse already provided an adequate rebuttal, Rob, but I’ll throw in my $0.02 as well.

    For myself, I think that Western society is too far ingrained with the principles of justice and democracy and that defending that is far more important. The kind of society those we torture wish to impose on us is tyrranical and slavish.

    Jean-Jacques Rousseau once wrote, “We are obligated to respect the basic rights of others because it is upon these rights that are own are founded.” The principles of justice and democracy behoove us to practice what we preach, even amongst those who would wish us harm. I fail to see how debasing ourselves to the level of terrorists is an adequate way to ensure the survival of these values.

    We should be getting tougher not inventing ethical debate about “fairness.”

    We didn’t “invent” this debate. Cicero pondered the paradox of “just war” way back in the first century B.C., and we’re still asking the same questions.

  • Polly

    I find it unbelievable that, in the year 2008, it’s actually a point of contention whether torture should be legal or not.

    Oh, but we’re not debating “torture.” We’re debating “enhanced interrogation techniques.” TECHNIQUES! like “waterboarding” which many (I wonder who?) do not consider to be torture.

    It’s an absolutely moot point. The US has practiced and will continue to practice and TEACH torture techniques all over the world. If it’s made illegal on US soil… well, many of the US’s victims captured enemy combatants are transported to foreign shores anyway.

    If the situation is that dire, the torturer should be willing to face the legal repercussions of his actions in order to save lives, whatever they may be. So, making torture absolutely illegal shouldn’t deter anyone. Men die in the field for much smaller victories than that every day. In any case, his fate will be far less horrendous than what he’s metting out to his prisoner; a comparable slap on the wrist.

    The really interesting question is what if the would-be torture victim has relevant knowledge but is in every other way innocent? Say, for example his family is threatened by the terrorists and he refuses to give up the info for their sakes.

    Rob said:

    The kind of society those we torture wish to impose on us is tyrranical and slavish.

    I can’t believe how many US citizens are gullible enough to believe this crap. You think the WTC attack was an opening salvo in a war of CONQUEST of the USA by a band of renegade jihadis who aren’t even welcome in their own country?
    Get out of the Middle East (and South America and Africa) and see if anyone comes knocking on your door looking for a fight.

  • K.Greybe

    There is another practical issue that Torture raises which is the question of trust in the government.

    Very recently there was an attempted terror plot in the UK, I forget which as there have been a couple, where the attempt was foiled because the perpetrators own mother handed him in to the police. What are the odds she would have done that had she known his life was at risk? A blanket prohibition against torture provides precisely the kind of security family members would need in order to turn someone in. Without it, we might as well give up on the community’s support of security measures.

  • Alex Weaver

    For myself, I think that Western society is too far ingrained with the principles of justice and democracy and that defending that is far more important. The kind of society those we torture wish to impose on us is tyrranical and slavish. Whatever we need to do to defend ourselves from such imposition we should do. The route to tyrrany and slavery is by not standing up to thuggery and not countering thuggery everywhere we come against it. Our opponents are fighting a war to the death. We have to do the same or we will lose. War is a dirty business and in winning a war all is fair. We should be getting tougher not inventing ethical debate about “fairness.”

    This entire post is Not Even Wrong and it’s unfortunate that those in power and the media ever pay attention to these sorts of infantile revenge narratives.

  • Christopher

    I personally never had to use any method of torture, but I would use it if I believed that it would produce practical results in extreme situations – such as attsining information about smugglers that may be using my land as a waystation for contraband (yes, this acually happened on my land – and I burned the contraband as a warning to the smugglers to stay off my property) – but wouldn’t recommend excessive use of it: as continual torture will only motivate the individual undergoing it to say anything to stop the torture, thus yielding a counter-productive result.

  • paradoctor

    Since torture is useless for extracting information, since its real purpose is domination, then the stakes are irrelevant. The bomb could be a firecracker or a nuke; in either case the confession would be false, the information misleading, the torture mere sadism.

    Whatever atrocities that Jack Bauer commits during his desperate sleep-deprived folly, they will avail him for nought. No good will come of our anti-hero’s crimes; he will extract only agreement with his own dizzy guesses; the bomb will found, if at all, by others more ethical and competent than him.

  • nfpendleton

    The problem with brutal tactics like torture is that it’s a “behind closed doors” power taken by certain agencies and individuals without consent of the populace or even elected officials. It has been an accepted practice for most of human history–and for most of U.S. history, we’ve been content to turn away and let them do “what needed to be done.” Now here we are, with an administration that has no respect for our system, rule of law, or the basic checks and balances our republic is based on. Of course they’ll use it. And with impunity. And Congress can pass no law nor can the populace decry it long and loudly enough to make them stop if they don’t want to. The thought experiments and endless debates make us think we’re examining the issue and doing something about it–which is a diversion and a sham–while the machinery of this administration continues to send operatives into the field and render prisoners to nations that aren’t even having these discussions or allowed to contemplate things so novel as human rights.

  • http://collapsingwaves.wordpress.com Brad

    On a related note, Christopher Hitchens voluntarily got waterboarded, and wrote about it.

  • http://www.BlueNine.info Blue Nine

    On August 26, 2008, 4:42 am, Rob said:

    We should be getting tougher not inventing ethical debate about “fairness.”

    No, we should be getting smarter. A lot of the techniques at Gitmo were taken from SERE schools, which themselves were taken from China in the 1950s. During the Korean War, US military personnel were subject to these “techniques” and made false confessions in propaganda films. The US military started teaching these techniques to personnel who had a high probability of being captured so they would not make false confessions.

    Now, is using techniques designed to elicit false confessions a smart way to get information? And if these are so effective, then why did it take FIVE YEARS for the USA to charge Khalid Sheikh Mohammed? That guy should have been easy to charge. Out of the 775 detainees who have been brought to Gitmo, 420 have been released without charge. That is 54.19354838709677419% for you stats freaks.

    Maybe the information gathered at Gitmo has stopped some major attacks, but so far the government has not stated such. It is easy to make a statement and then say you cannot/will not support it. The government has been dong everything they can to stack the deck in their favor, yet they do not have a lot to show for it.

    Even if you do not accept the moral arguments against torture, there are still a lot of pragmatic arguments against it.

    As far as saying that Muslim extremists want to destroy the West, I think that is false. They want the West to stop supporting repressive regimes. Look at Bin Laden’s video released in early 2004. He said, “If we hate freedom, then we would also attack Sweden.” He points out that Al Queda spent $500,000 on 9/11, while the USA has spent billions on terrorism since then. He said that they do not have to win militarily to defeat the USA. They can just drain us economically. So far that seems to be working.

    I know conservatives love to hate “multiculturalism”, but maybe this is the time to start reading and learning about other cultures. The Muslim extremists know more about us than we know about them. You can go on about how “They want to destroy our way of life” and ask “Why do they hate us?” I think those statements are meaningless unless you can say who “they” are.

    We got rid of Saddam, and now Iran is stronger. We ignored Afghanistan, and now the Taliban is making a comeback. Getting tough is not the answer.

  • Matt

    I’m somewhat surprised that no one has mentioned the argument in favor of torture presented by Sam Harris. Specifically, I’ve yet to see a good rebuttal to his assertion that collateral damage (usually deemed unavoidable in modern warfare) is ethically much worse than torture. As he put it, “there seems no question that accidentally torturing an innocent man is better than accidentally blowing him and his children to bits.” In another article, he also deals with fears of a slippery slope by pointing out that the practice of capital punishment hasn’t led to the uncontrolled killing of prisoners. For his full arguments, see here and here.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Blue Nine makes a superb point. One of the most appalling things about America’s use of torture is that many of the techniques we employ were originally pioneered by our enemies, some of the worst despotic regimes on the planet.

    For instance, torture techniques such as sleep deprivation, stress positions, freezing baths, and others were first used by the Nazis (who called them Verschärfte Vernehmung, German for “enhanced interrogation”). They were chosen specifically for their power to break the will of prisoners without leaving obvious physical damage. Blue Nine also points out that other techniques we’ve used, such as waterboarding, were reverse-engineered from SERE – the Army program which taught our soldiers to resist these methods, under the assumption that they would be used by our enemies to elicit false confessions. I have little doubt that the Bush administration’s use of these torture techniques will be the blackest mark on the history of an administration that’s not short on competition for the title.

    I do want to quibble with one point:

    As far as saying that Muslim extremists want to destroy the West, I think that is false. They want the West to stop supporting repressive regimes.

    I think this is true, but only partly. Obviously, al-Qaeda is not seeking freedom and liberty for Muslims worldwide. Their goal, unrealistic though it may be, is to create a renewed caliphate, an Islamic superstate governed by their interpretation of shariah law. They’re not angry at us for supporting theocracy per se, but only because we support theocracies that are not their theocracies. Like the Puritans who first settled America, they want to get out from under the heel of an oppressive regime, but only so that they can set up their own oppressive regime with themselves in charge.

  • Alex Weaver

    They’re not angry at us for supporting theocracy per se, but only because we support theocracies that are not their theocracies.

    Not to mention bloodthirsty secular dictators.

  • Louis Doench

    I think we’re all missing a salient point about “torture” and torturers in general. Torture has for most of our history been a practice of punishment, not interrogation. The fascist regimes in Central America didn’t torture union organizers and churchmen because they wanted information from them. They tortured them so that it would be obvious to others that they could be tortured as well. Torture was and still is primarily a method of social control, not an interrogation technique. I think this is obvious in situations like Abu Graib, and considering the astoundingly poor record of extracting information from people at Gitmo we should probably consider such motives for why we’ve been torturing people there.

    Which is why torture fails any basic test of morality, because in practice it is a form of malicious coercion, not a way of gaining information.

    I’m not a student or professor or nuthin, just a dude at a computer, but this is stuff Noam Chomsky has been talking about since the ’70s, shouldn’t be news to anyone.

  • prase

    As he put it, “there seems no question that accidentally torturing an innocent man is better than accidentally blowing him and his children to bits.” In another article, he also deals with fears of a slippery slope by pointing out that the practice of capital punishment hasn’t led to the uncontrolled killing of prisoners.

    The capital punishment has many controlling mechanisms reducing its abuse. Defenders of torture, on the other hand, in their arguments usually present scenarios where the lack of time is crucial, and thus the decision must be fast and thus uncontrollable.

    People have had good reasons to abolish using torture as an interrogation technique back in the 18th century. Then, the use of torture was bound by strict rules (not always obeyed, of course), and usually recidivists knew better than innocent people how to withstand the procedures to reach the best possible outcome. As a result, the use of torture decreased the reliability of investigation.

    So, if torture shall work, it has to be used almost without regulation, which leads to slippery slope much more easily than the death punishment. If the torture is regulated, it is also quite ineffective.

    Not to mention that the fact that torturing is less bad than killing is not an argument for torture, but rather against killing.

  • Samuel Skinner

    The rebuttal to Harris’s argument is simple- collateral damage is not intended, while torture is. His argument is equivalent to saying that hundreds die on the table each year- what would be wrong if we killed some people for their organs?

    As for torture isn’t worse than death… the number of people who have killed themselves rather than face the rack or any other implement makes it crystal clear that is false. There are many things that people consider worse than death- after all, soldiers obviously consider failing their buddies worse than death.

    Terror tactics are never acceptable and are always ethically repugnant by their very nature.

    As for Islam and its threat… well, it is Ebon’s blog so I won’t grand stand. I will say that we are against people who hate us… but they are few. The vast majority of Muslims may sympathize or being opposed, but they won’t do anything. The only threat from Islam is terrorism and internal violence- fears of a new caliph are misplaced. The last one fell apart because it got to big and no one could get along. There is no reason to believe in a sudden new unity.

  • Matt

    Not to mention that the fact that torturing is less bad than killing is not an argument for torture, but rather against killing.

    Well unless you’re a pacifist, collateral damage must be considered a necessary evil, because it’s impossible to wage a modern war without it. So the comparison is still an argument for torture, because if we’re willing to accept collateral damage, then we should also be willing to accept the ethically-better practice of torture.

  • bestonnet

    MisterDomino:

    I fail to see how debasing ourselves to the level of terrorists is an adequate way to ensure the survival of these values.

    If it were such that the only way to survive were to debase ourselves in that manner then it may be necessary to do so although the ability to pull back at the end is going to be needed. Thus why if we ever were to use such practices we’d need to keep a very close watch on what is going on.

    Polly:

    Oh, but we’re not debating “torture.” We’re debating “enhanced interrogation techniques.” TECHNIQUES! like “waterboarding” which many (I wonder who?) do not consider to be torture.

    We are debating torture, waterboarding is torture, those who disagree need to be waterboarded.

    I suppose what the US did in Vietnam wasn’t a war but a police action, Christianity isn’t a religion but a relationship. We can play with definitions all we want but ultimately it doesn’t change the fact that the Vietnam war was a war, that Christianity is a religion and that waterboarding is torture.

    Polly:

    It’s an absolutely moot point. The US has practiced and will continue to practice and TEACH torture techniques all over the world. If it’s made illegal on US soil… well, many of the US’s victims captured enemy combatants are transported to foreign shores anyway.

    It’s not just that it’s not illegal enough but that it is official policy of the Shrub administration.

    Matt:

    In another article, he also deals with fears of a slippery slope by pointing out that the practice of capital punishment hasn’t led to the uncontrolled killing of prisoners.

    It also hasn’t reduced murder rates so is therefore unnecessary (and with the fact that innocent people get convicted from time to time also immoral if it doesn’t work better than life without parole).

    Same argument applies to torture, if it doesn’t work then there can be no justification for doing it.

  • konrad_arflane

    Well unless you’re a pacifist, collateral damage must be considered a necessary evil, because it’s impossible to wage a modern war without it. So the comparison is still an argument for torture, because if we’re willing to accept collateral damage, then we should also be willing to accept the ethically-better practice of torture.

    Only if “waging a modern war is impossible without” torture. The necessity of one unethical act does not excuse the practice of another unethical act that is unnecessary, even if it is less unethical. And of course, as has been previously pointed out, torture is not only unnecessary, but useless for its most frequently stated (and only militarily applicable) purpose – information gathering.

  • Valhar2000

    Matt wrote:

    [...]ethically-better practice of torture.

    How is torturing people ethically better than collateral damage? It is by no means clear-cut.

  • Polly

    The rebuttal to Harris’s argument is simple- collateral damage is not intended,

    I don’t know too many product liability defense teams that rely on that logic.

    And what does “intended” mean anyway? Isn’t there a bare minimum level of caution that it’s incumbant on us to take?

    Every other day I hear news of dozens of Afghani civilians getting blown to bits by American bombs. Do you think it makes a difference to them that someone decided that their lives were “worth the risk”? Maybe we should try to avoid war altogether. Was that ever even considered?
    We’ve more than avenged the deaths at the WTC and mostly on people who had nothing to do with 9/11. Was that worth it? How many Iraqi and Afghani lives = 1 American life? I’ve lost count.

    What is with all the war apologetics? Is the institution of war so valuable that we can’t concede it?
    The sooner we acknowledge that war itself represents a breakdown in morality, the sooner we can work on eliminating the “need” for it. Fuck war. It’s wrong just like torture is wrong. But, Americans are still buying into this “just war” nonsense.

  • Christopher

    Polly,

    “What is with all the war apologetics? Is the institution of war so valuable that we can’t concede it?”

    So long as there’s a scaricty of resources there will be people (and other life forms too) fighting over them – hence there shall be war in some form or another as long as there’s something alive to wage it.

    Also Polly,

    “The sooner we acknowledge that war itself represents a breakdown in morality, the sooner we can work on eliminating the “need” for it.”

    “Morality” has nothing to with warfare – only defeating your opponent and either taking his resources from him or keeping your resources from being taken by him.

    Also Polly,

    “Fuck war. It’s wrong just like torture is wrong. But, Americans are still buying into this “just war” nonsense.”

    You seem to hate the idea of war, but tell me: have you ever experienced it? Do you know what it’s like to defend yourself from an invading force on a regular basis? Or make incursions into your opponet’s territory?

    I’m not part of any formal military force (I do affiliate with various militia groups though…), but I fight my own war to defend my property from thieves and vandals (mostly border-jumpers looking for a fast buck to jump-start a new live in our nation) regularly! And I can tell you this: it’s a very necissary action to protect my livelyhood.

    Most people in Western society have grown so accustomed to peace that they forget the necessity of taking up arms to protect what’s theirs – you’d change your thinking in a heartbeat if you were the one in the thick of the fighting, protecting what’s yours.

  • http://thegreenbelt.blogspot.com The Ridger

    Whenever I hear the president mention, oh, every 12 minutes, that his greatest responsibility is “to protect the American people,” the insufferable civics robot inside my head mutters: “Actually, sir, your oath, the one with the Bible and the chief justice and the Jumbotron, is to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. For the American people are not mere flesh whose greatest hope is to keep our personal greasy molecules intact; we, sir, are a body politic — with ideals.

    Sarah Vowell said it; I provided the italics

  • bestonnet

    Complete pacifism is pretty much just asking to be conquered.

    Whilst the democratic peace theorem does appear to be correct, not all countries are democracies and those that aren’t still represent a threat to democracy and will do so until they become democracies (true democracies, not psuedo-democracies) and until that happens the democracies are going to have to have military forces (including nuclear weapons) around to ensure that should the non-democracies get out of line they can be dealt with.

    Now it doesn’t seem that democracies are any good at conquest and that the attempt to force democracy upon a country doesn’t really work all that well so there are good arguments for not doing any pre-emptive wars like the mess in Iraq but that doesn’t mean we should disarm (disarmament is an ideal we should strive for but which we should realise we’re probably never going to actually be able to do). And yes, war is wrong, but it can be a lot less wrong than the alternative. In real life you often don’t have a right decision but multiple wrong ones and you have to pick the least wrong decision.

  • Polly

    The reason I called the “just war” concept nonsense, is not because I don’t believe we have the right to defend ourselves but because it is, and is always, being used to justify wars of aggression and preemption. No one needs convincing when the enemy is at your doorstep.
    If we define our interests to be “wherever the oil” is, then we’ve abandoned any coherent ideas about self-defense and moved into imperialism.

    @bestonnet (8:23pm):

    Hitler won an election in a democratic nation. Yet he attacked other democracies.

    The USA is considered a democracy and has attacked numerous countries without provocation. Also, the first and only use of atomic weapons on civilians was by a democracy, again the USA.

    I believe the USA was a democracy when we expanded westward, kiling natives and conquering Mexico.

    I think it was also the USA that occupied Haiti and attacked Cuba and Guatemala, and Panama, and El Salvador and the Phillipines.

    Iran, which is not much of a democracy has not attacked another nation for nearly a century of independent existence. Neither has Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, most African nations, and on and on…

    Iraq attacked Kuwait, an emirate, and Iran a parliamentary theocracy but no democracies.

    So, in light of the above could you please provide some examples to back up your claim about democracies and the dangers they face from non-democracies?
    I’m really curious because in recent years, the most dangerous nation on Earth, in terms of wanton destruction of life and property, is a democracy, the USA. Even Russia hasn’t inflicted as much damage outside its borders and it’s a pseudo-democracy.
    So, who is threatening whom?

    Also, China, Russia, North Korea and Pakistan have nuclear weapons. So, what happens if THEY get “out of line” and who gets to decide when it’s time for a nuclear exchange? And why are other nations considerd dangerous when the US has used the threat of nuclear war against non-nuclear countries? Isn’t that state terorrism?

  • bestonnet

    Why not read this?

    Polly:

    Hitler won an election in a democratic nation. Yet he attacked other democracies.

    Germany wasn’t a democracy when it began taking over other countries.

    Besides, Hitler lost an election to Hindenburg and needed a coalition of other parties and massive voter intimidation to get power. It might be an argument against proportional representation but not against democracy or the democratic peace theorem.

    Polly:

    The USA is considered a democracy and has attacked numerous countries without provocation. Also, the first and only use of atomic weapons on civilians was by a democracy, again the USA.

    Name one case in which the US attacked a democracy.

    There was the Spanish-American war which at the time whilst officially democratic actually had rigged elections (which meant that in practice it wasn’t democratic).

    The UK (along with most of the rest of the Empire) was at war with Finland (only democracy among the Axis powers) during World War II but even then the only attack made on Finland by the UK was or German interests in Finland, the deceleration of war with Finland was only to appease the Soviets and didn’t actually result in any fighting between the two countries.

    Other than that along with these democracies manage to solve their disputes peacefully (Iceland managed to win all of the Cod Wars with no deaths on either side and it is not because they were able to defeat the Royal Navy).

    As for the US being the only country to use nuclear weapons, that probably had more to do with the US being the only country to have ever had a monopoly on nuclear weapons (which meant that they didn’t have to worry about someone nuking them back, MAD is scary but it did provide a relative peace between the US and Soviet Union) than anything else (the US didn’t turn them on the Soviets even though they have a few years of monopoly, had the Soviets been first they probably would have used them more extensively (or at the very least a lot more of Europe would have become Soviet puppet states)).

    When it comes to how many countries should have nuclear weapons there are only two options that have a chance at preventing them from being used, zero or many (i.e. more than one) with one almost a guarantee that they’ll be used, and if there are no countries with nuclear weapons then that gives a massive advantage to whoever first develops them (we did get lucky in that the US built the first bomb, I could think of far worse countries to have been first) and should we disarm it will give whoever reintroduces nuclear weapons the advantages that come from nuclear weaponry (such as becoming essentially uninvadable) without the threat of other nukes to scare them into not using them.

    Polly:

    Iran, which is not much of a democracy has not attacked another nation for nearly a century of independent existence. Neither has Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, most African nations, and on and on…

    The point is not that all non-democracies fight nor is it that democracies never fight, merely that democracies don’t fight each other, so far no one has provided a really convincing example of a democracy (in full control of its military) attacking another democracy and studies of disputes less than war do show that when both parties are democracies there tend to be less deaths, less property damage as well as no correlation between power and who ‘won’ the dispute.

    Polly:

    Also, China, Russia, North Korea and Pakistan have nuclear weapons. So, what happens if THEY get “out of line” and who gets to decide when it’s time for a nuclear exchange?

    We just have to rely on their leaders wanting to live.

    If the non-democracies don’t cause major problems for the democracies then we can of course leave them be (and democracy seems to be best spread gradually as a diffusion process, not imposed by force). Directly attacking a democracy or provably providing significant support for a terrorist organisation that does such a thing (as in the case of Taliban Afghanistan but not Saddam’s Iraq) would be justification for counter-attack.

  • Polly

    Name one case in which the US attacked a democracy.

    Arbenz of Guatemala was freely elected but overthrown by the CIA.
    Mossadegh and operation Ajax – US and Britain.

    These were not only attacks on democracies, but on democracy itself. The effects were felt for decades afterwards and even until today.

  • bestonnet

    Those were covert operations carried out without the knowledge or approval of the US public.

    Where has the US publicly attacked a democracy?

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Is Lebanon considered a democracy? If it is, then Israel attacked it just recently.

    Also, we put the Shah in power in Iran, which led to all kinds of trouble down the road. I don’t think you can wave these actions away by simply saying they were covert operations, because the democratic country did carry out the actions.

  • prase

    And don’t forget the instalment of Pinochet in Chile with clear US support.

    As for open attacks, the attack against Yugoslavia in 1999 was an attack against democracy. At least if Saakashvili’s Georgia or Mossadegh’s Iran or Tuđman’s Croatia or Thaçi’s Kosovo are/were democracies, Milošević’s Yugoslavia also was.

    To classify contries as democracies and non-democracies is a tricky thing. There are many different aspects of politics in the country, as freedom of press, universal voting rights, freedom to be elected, actual government’s policy towards the opposition, corruption rate etc., and to have a one-dimensional scale measuring democracy is an oversimplification, and a two-value classification of (democracy/tyranny) even more.

    It’s highly probable that people who classify countries on the democracy scale actually believe the democratic peace theorem, and this belief influences the classification in a form of confirmation bias. Also, there is a great deal of confusion between the terms “democratic” and “friendly towards the West”, which are in reality of course not synonyms.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Arguably, the recent conflict between Russia and Georgia is an example of two democracies going to war.

    Although the democratic peace theorem isn’t an absolute rule, I think it does mostly hold true. I’m inclined to suspect that the correlation isn’t about democracy per se, but more because democracies tend to be industrialized and prosperous, and prosperous countries have less incentive to go to war. Whether democracy causes prosperity, or whether the two just happen to be correlated, is another question.

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    Whether democracy causes prosperity, or whether the two just happen to be correlated . . .

    I’d have thought it more likely that prosperity (and the accompanying stability) tends to be a prerequisite for democracy. When times are unstable, people are more likely to seize power by force.

  • bestonnet

    OMGF:

    Is Lebanon considered a democracy? If it is, then Israel attacked it just recently.

    They weren’t even in control of their own territory.

    OMGF:

    I don’t think you can wave these actions away by simply saying they were covert operations, because the democratic country did carry out the actions.

    Those actions were not debated in a democratic forum (and the fact they were carried out covertly does show that the people who did them didn’t expect to be able to get away with openly attacking a democracy).

    It’s also been suggested that it may actually be perceptions of democracy that really matters.

    prase:

    As for open attacks, the attack against Yugoslavia in 1999 was an attack against democracy.

    There was massive electoral fraud in Serbia along with frequent changes in electoral law (even after the fact), that was a democracy that turned totalitarian.

    Ebonmuse:

    Arguably, the recent conflict between Russia and Georgia is an example of two democracies going to war.

    Russia is far too close to being a one-party state to deserve the label of liberal democracy.

    Ebonmuse:

    I’m inclined to suspect that the correlation isn’t about democracy per se, but more because democracies tend to be industrialized and prosperous, and prosperous countries have less incentive to go to war. Whether democracy causes prosperity, or whether the two just happen to be correlated, is another question.

    There’s probably an effect from both democracy and trade although both world wars were fought with powers that were highly industrialised so that doesn’t seem to be enough to cause peace, it probably isn’t even a major factor (at least outside a democracy).

    Democracy and prosperity probably do go together though and reinforce each other.

    Lynet:

    I’d have thought it more likely that prosperity (and the accompanying stability) tends to be a prerequisite for democracy. When times are unstable, people are more likely to seize power by force.

    There are also more opportunities for those offering to fix the economy, put breed on people’s table, etc to take power and then turn into a dictator. Then there is the fact that for people to even care about such things as freedom or civil rights or holding leaders accountable they have to have their basic survival needs met first (and if their needs aren’t being met they’ll follow someone who offers to meet them).

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    bestonnet,

    They weren’t even in control of their own territory.

    That’s somewhat valid, even if a little simplistic. The group “in control” of the territory had representation in the democratically elected government.

    Those actions were not debated in a democratic forum (and the fact they were carried out covertly does show that the people who did them didn’t expect to be able to get away with openly attacking a democracy).

    Um, they did get away with it though.

    Being a democracy does not guarantee that the voting citizens or the ruling parties will not go to war against another nation for whatever reason.

    Ebonmuse:

    I’m inclined to suspect that the correlation isn’t about democracy per se, but more because democracies tend to be industrialized and prosperous, and prosperous countries have less incentive to go to war.

    Could one also argue that (in the case of the US at least) the prosperity of a nation is what allows it to go to war in some cases? If we didn’t spend umpteen gazillion dollars on defense, would we be able to go into Iraq?

  • bestonnet

    OMGF:

    That’s somewhat valid, even if a little simplistic. The group “in control” of the territory had representation in the democratically elected government.

    Not much representation.

    OMGF:

    Um, they did get away with it though.

    Aside from a bit of blowback.

    OMGF:

    Being a democracy does not guarantee that the voting citizens or the ruling parties will not go to war against another nation for whatever reason.

    Well the statistics do seem to indicate that pairs of democracies are less likely to fight each other so it does seem that voting citizens won’t go to war with a democracy.

    OMGF:

    Could one also argue that (in the case of the US at least) the prosperity of a nation is what allows it to go to war in some cases? If we didn’t spend umpteen gazillion dollars on defense, would we be able to go into Iraq?

    Democracies do tend to be good at waging war (and are more likely to win their wars than autocracies) and the general high level of prosperity is probably one of the reasons for it.

  • Joffan

    It seems that the democratic peace hypothesis (definitely not a theorem; not even a theory in my book) is extremely prone to the “No true scotsman” effect; so that when (say) Nazi Germany takes over part of Czechoslovakia, it can’t be a true democracy because it’s gone to war. What prase calls “confirmation bias”; that the hypothesis itself is used as an additional filter on democratic status.

    It may be that it should be stated in the form of a tendency, rather than an absolute. I believe that much of the effect comes from stable relations with nearby countries, which is less possible when the governing process is not transparent. Or there may be other blocks to full cooperation. In the Israel-Lebanon case, there are very few points of diplomatic contact between the nations, which has created a stronger possibility for war.

    The considerations are perhaps different for the US, with the “nearby” constraint removed, except as additional expenditure.

  • Polly

    Those were covert operations carried out without the knowledge or approval of the US public.

    Where has the US publicly attacked a democracy?

    I don’t accept your re-characterization of your original argument. You said democracies don’t atack other democracies. If you want to reclassify the USA as non-democratic, then acknowledge it. I’d support that. :)

    Anyway, I don’t even care about this.

    My question was summarized in bold:

    So, in light of the above could you please provide some examples to back up your claim about democracies and the dangers they face from non-democracies?

    Let me clear that up. What makes you think democracies and the US specifically are in danger from non-democracies?
    Because, it seems that non-democracies (and actually I’d say developing nations) are in greater danger of getting attacked by the US for little or no reason other than it’s in our interest.

    Also, if

    democracy seems to be best spread gradually as a diffusion process, not imposed by force

    with which I agree, then what do you think we are going to accomplish in Afghanistan? The civilian body count has been mounting, thus fueling the fire we’re trying to put out. Ten years from now, some stupid magazine is going to ask the question all over again, “Why do they hate us”
    My answer: Because we keep killing innocent people with kilo-ton munitions!

    Even our former buddy, Osama Bin Laden, attacked the US in retaliation for US presence in Saudi Arabia among other grievances. Much of the anger against the US in the ME is because we arm Israel to the teeth so they can continue thwarting any negotiated settlement with the people of Palestine. Another is that we uphold dictatorships. Maybe there’d be more democracies if the US didn’t support authoritarians.
    What makes you think stomping all over the world (some more)is going to alleviate the threat of terrorism? It seems like acting like world-cop got us our first major terrorist strike…by a non-US citizen, anyway.

    The US has intervened in many would-be democracies where leaders came to power by popular support even if not technically democratic.

    What gives the US moral authority to act unilaterally? Is it your contention that democarcies have a natural right to attack non-democracies? To me, it seems like US policy is “might makes right.” We don’t attack Russia or China because they’re big enough to defend themselves. But we put missile silos all over Western Europe. How many Russian silos are in the western hemisphere?

    Directly attacking a democracy or provably providing significant support for a terrorist organisation that does such a thing (as in the case of Taliban Afghanistan but not Saddam’s Iraq) would be justification for counter-attack.

    And what about the terrorism the US supports? Should Cuba attack the USA because of Orlando Bosch?? And, he’s only a well-known name. The US has supported terrorism throughout South America and in parts of Europe. The only reason US administrations of the past and present don’t end up like the Taliban is because we’re powerful enough to get away with it.

    What about when we blew up Iran’s Flight 655. If you think it was a “mistake” (I’m laughing while typing that), look at the repercussions.

    Your view on International relations seems to be very one-sided. Do you really believe we’re the good guys spreading democracy and freedom throughout the world? Because those who have to live under our puppets would argue that they invariably end up far more oppressive than any government that might(or actually did)arise by purely domestic activity whether technically democracies or not.

    (And now I’ve spent way too much time on this thread. I’ll read whatever your response is, but I’m done.)

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Bestonnet,

    Not much representation.

    I’m not sure that matters. At the local level, Hamas is well represented – in the area in question at least. Israel certainly didn’t seem to care, however. They did not attack the area that was under Hamas control (not exclusively at least). They went after the country itself, attacking the infrastructure of people that had nothing to do with what happened, like when they took out the power grid of Beirut. This was an act of war from one democracy on another.

    If an electorate or the leadership of that electorate decides to attack another country, I don’t think they are going to worry too much what the other country’s government structure is. True (and I’ve overlooked this until now) it does take away one of the US’s favorite rationales for invading somewhere – that we are bringing democracy to them – if they are already democratic, but it’s not a guarantee that we won’t attack someone who stands in our way, being the imperialist nation that we seem to be more and more lately.

    Aside from a bit of blowback.

    The blowback that results from these actions is the unintended future consequences for the country as a whole. The perpetrators have seen no sanctions for their actions, and most people in the country are probably ignorant of the difficulties we are now facing for many of these actions.

    Well the statistics do seem to indicate that pairs of democracies are less likely to fight each other so it does seem that voting citizens won’t go to war with a democracy.

    I feel like there’s a correlation != causation feel to this somehow.

  • Christopher

    Look fellas, people attack other people – the fact they have similar/different styles of government is irrelevent: if one nation perceives enough potential gains for an attack that nation will mount it – be it open war, covert assassinations, funding a good-old-fashioned popular uprising or any other means that the nation in question believes will accomplish its intended goals.

    People go to war because they are motivated by the potential means for furthering their interests – end of story…

  • prase

    OMGF,

    At the local level, Hamas is well represented – in the area in question at least.

    I’m sure you wanted to say Hezbollah, not Hamas.

    True it does take away one of the US’s favorite rationales for invading somewhere – that we are bringing democracy to them – if they are already democratic…

    Your government can surely find experts supporting the idea that they are not truly democratic. The more different or hostile they are, the more likely will the public believe that.

    You need not be a dictator for anybody else to call you that. You needn’t be a democrat to use democracy as a rationale for anything. The communist governments spoke about democracy all the time…

  • prase

    Christopher, on the other hand, the system of government is not totally irrelevant. It’s a lot easier to convince the public to support an attack against an evil, heathen tyrant, than if the intended victim is a country similar to yours. And if you happen to be a tyrant yourself then all you must persuade is reduced to your general staff.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    prase,
    Hezbollah, Hamas: to-may-to, to-mah-to….thanks for the correction, I tend to get them mixed up.

  • Christopher

    Parse,

    “Christopher, on the other hand, the system of government is not totally irrelevant. It’s a lot easier to convince the public to support an attack against an evil, heathen tyrant, than if the intended victim is a country similar to yours. And if you happen to be a tyrant yourself then all you must persuade is reduced to your general staff.”

    Just give the “Democratic” (that’s a laugh – Democracies never last longer than a few years, just turn into Oligarchies) governmnet in question enough incentive to subvert another “Democratic” governmnet and it will do so – with or without consulting the general population. The only real difference between them ant the autocrat is that they’ll just have their staff look for loopholes in their constitutions to take advantage of as they do it…

  • bestonnet

    Joffan:

    It seems that the democratic peace hypothesis (definitely not a theorem; not even a theory in my book) is extremely prone to the “No true scotsman” effect; so that when (say) Nazi Germany takes over part of Czechoslovakia, it can’t be a true democracy because it’s gone to war. What prase calls “confirmation bias”; that the hypothesis itself is used as an additional filter on democratic status.

    To believe that Nazi Germany was classified as a non-democracy because it went to war is extremely silly.

    The reason it was classified as a non-democracy is because it was not democratic when it went to war and hadn’t been for some time (there was a ban on political parties other than the Nazis along with harassment of opposition). Not to mention the enabling act that basically allowed Hitler to do whatever he wanted.

    If you’re trying to find what causes countries not to go to war with each then you need to look at the cases where democracies appear to go to war (although the Nazi German invasions pre-WWII don’t even come close to counting, if you want to claim a no true Scotsman fallacy you could do a lot better than brining them up) and then see if there were any features in those democracies that made them not liberal democracies.

    In all cases where there was open conflict between ‘democracies’ at least one of the ‘democracies’ turned out to either not be truly democratic (e.g. suppressed the opposition, rigged elections, etc), not actually in control of the military forces that fought on their side of the conflict (Lebanon and possibly Pakistan) or there just wasn’t any real fighting.

    You’ve bought up an obvious example of a non-democracy attacking a democracy as somehow refuting the idea that democracies don’t attack each other openly, I could think of much less obviously wrong examples.

    Joffan:

    It may be that it should be stated in the form of a tendency, rather than an absolute.

    There is strong support for it being a tendency and the exceptions do have enough non-democratic features to argue that they weren’t two democracies fighting.

    Joffan:

    I believe that much of the effect comes from stable relations with nearby countries, which is less possible when the governing process is not transparent.

    That probably is a part of it (the causes are probably many things), although a transparent government pretty much requires democracy.

    Polly:

    I don’t accept your re-characterization of your original argument. You said democracies don’t atack other democracies.

    Well no one has come up with a case in which it happened openly.

    Polly:

    If you want to reclassify the USA as non-democratic, then acknowledge it. I’d support that. :)

    I don’t think the Shrub has quite gotten to the point at which I could justify that (although if the Republicans win the presidency and a majority in the house and senate in November I’ll change my mind on that matter (since pretty much the only way they could would be massive electoral fraud)).

    Polly:

    Let me clear that up. What makes you think democracies and the US specifically are in danger from non-democracies?
    Because, it seems that non-democracies (and actually I’d say developing nations) are in greater danger of getting attacked by the US for little or no reason other than it’s in our interest.

    The US isn’t the only democracy and any democracy that borders a non-democracy does have to worry about that non-democracy.

    Polly:

    My answer: Because we keep killing innocent people with kilo-ton munitions!

    Do you have any proof that the US is using nuclear weapons in combat? I doubt they have any aircraft that can drop a thousand tonnes of chemical explosive.

    Polly:

    But we put missile silos all over Western Europe. How many Russian silos are in the western hemisphere?

    Russia might have some ballistic missile submarines in the western hemisphere.

    Polly:

    What gives the US moral authority to act unilaterally? Is it your contention that democarcies have a natural right to attack non-democracies?

    Non-democracies are not legitimate governments.

    If it weren’t for the fact that democracies just aren’t any good at conquest and the high failure rate of attempts to make democracy in invaded countries then forced democratisation would be quite acceptable as better than the alternative of allowing oppressive regimes to continue to exist.

    Polly:

    Your view on International relations seems to be very one-sided. Do you really believe we’re the good guys spreading democracy and freedom throughout the world?

    The US has its problems but things could be a lot worse.

    OMGF:

    I feel like there’s a correlation != causation feel to this somehow.

    There does seem to be something to explain and there are possible explanations for why democracies won’t attack other democracies (some of which would even be absent in the case of a democracy performing covert action on another democracy).

    prase:

    You need not be a dictator for anybody else to call you that. You needn’t be a democrat to use democracy as a rationale for anything. The communist governments spoke about democracy all the time…

    Yes, there are a lot of countries that claim to be democratic that really aren’t (and there have been many more throughout history) which is why the determination has to be made based on how the country was actually governed in practise.

  • prase

    If you’re trying to find what causes countries not to go to war with each then you need to look at the cases where democracies appear to go to war … and then see if there were any features in those democracies that made them not liberal democracies.

    This is exactly how you shouldn’t do that. I mean, first look where countries that appear democratic wage war, and then look for how to rationalise they are not real (=liberal?) democracies. This is how the “no true Scotsman fallacy” or “confirmation bias” works. If you want to test the hypothesis objectively, you should first classify countries according to their politics, ideally without knowledge of whether they went to war or not, and after that look at the actual war/peace record. The order really matters. And to define what is war (to distinguish from “covert operations”, “police actions” etc.) is also important, and keep in mind that the definition has to conform the common use of the word, since redefining language is, at least from my POV, one of the worst sins in any debate.

    Russia might have some ballistic missile submarines in the western hemisphere.

    Not the same as a fixed base. Anyway, the USA also have missile-equipped submarines.

    Non-democracies are not legitimate governments.

    Reminds me that in the end of 18th century, the French republic was viewed as a highly illegitimate form of government by the European monarchies. This is quite dangerous viewpoint. If you don’t consider their form of government legitimate, they will probably look the same way at yours. I am not sure what exactly the illegitimacy means in your usage of the word, but if it is intended to be understood (as you suggested in the following sentence) as “the democracies should conquer all non-democracies and convert them into democracy if it were feasible”, I dare strongly disagree. This is a Crusader’s and Jihadi’s logic – conquer all what is different.

  • bestonnet

    prase:

    This is exactly how you shouldn’t do that. I mean, first look where countries that appear democratic wage war, and then look for how to rationalise they are not real (=liberal?) democracies.

    In the cases in which fighting actually did happen between what appeared to be democracies it wasn’t rationalisation but correction (of erroneously attributing democracy to non-democratic countries).

    Besides, when trying to find out what causes pairs of country not to go to war with each other you need to actually look at what types of countries do go to war and what type don’t before you can come up with your criteria as to what leads to peace.

    prase:

    Not the same as a fixed base. Anyway, the USA also have missile-equipped submarines.

    Yes, but the US doesn’t have keep any nuclear missiles at fixed bases outside the US (they stopped that a while ago) so the only US nuclear missiles outside the US are on submarines.

    As for legitimacy, it at the very least requires the people to accept that government and to have control of it.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    So, what types of countries go to war? We’ve seen totalitarian countries go to war with other totalitarian countries. We’ve seen totalitarian countries go to war with democracies. We’ve seen democracies go to war with other democracies (I don’t accept your hand-waving dismissal of every democracy that is at war with another democracy as somehow not a true Scotsman).

  • Christopher

    Bestonnet,

    “Non-democracies are not legitimate governments.”

    Says who? Thoughout most of human history, they where the ONLY governments!

    OMFG,

    “So, what types of countries go to war? We’ve seen totalitarian countries go to war with other totalitarian countries. We’ve seen totalitarian countries go to war with democracies. We’ve seen democracies go to war with other democracies (I don’t accept your hand-waving dismissal of every democracy that is at war with another democracy as somehow not a true Scotsman).”

    Exactly what I’ve been saying – nations go to war, period! Why does no one else get this?

  • Joffan

    Thanks, prase. Great link on confirmation bias.

  • bestonnet

    For a country to be truly democratic (as opposed to democratic in ritual only) the people must have a real choice as to who to vote for (which means that any country which uses intimidation of the opposition is automatically not a democracy) and the votes must be accurately counted (meaning that a country with massive electoral fraud also isn’t democratic as the people committing the fraud are the ones that decide who gets into power, not the citizens of the country).

    A hand waving dismissal of the non-democratic nature of the apparent exceptions to the democratic peace theorem ultimately doesn’t make any sense at all. The reasons for the dismissal of democracy in all such exceptions are quite strong unless you think a one party state with massive electoral fraud is a democracy.

    Do any of you really think that a one party state with rigged elections should be called a democracy? Because that’s what it would take for the objections of correcting the dataset to be valid.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Lebanon is not a one party state with massive voter fraud. Hell, under your definition though I could argue that the US is not a democracy.

  • bestonnet

    But Lebanon didn’t actually fight Israel (and was not in control of its territory, if they were the reason that caused the Israelis’ to bomb the place wouldn’t have existed).

    At the moment electoral fraud in the US is small enough that the opposition were still able to take most of congress in the last elections (and I don’t think the democrats were involved in more than the republicans) and the republicans aren’t doing any systematic oppression of the democrats.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    So it’s not an act of war because they didn’t fight back?

    It doesn’t matter how it happened, a democratic Israel attacked (an act of war) a democratic Lebanon. They why’s and wherefore’s don’t matter in this instance. Whether they feel or you feel (I certainly don’t feel) they had a good reason or whether there was a group acting outside of the law is inconsequential to your hypothesis that democracies don’t attack other democracies. It happened, period, end of story. It’s not the only example as others have shown.

    Now, maybe this is the exception to the rule, but that doesn’t seem like your argument.

  • bestonnet

    The only other example of something like that hasn’t been bought up by anyone yet (though I tangentially mentioned it).

    Also it does seem to take about 3 years for democratic norms to truly become established and for other countries to recognise a country as democratic and treat it like a democracy. Aside from young democracies, non-democracies and democracies that didn’t actually have a monopoly on the use of force (either because they didn’t have control of their military (which then went off and started a war without government approval) or because they couldn’t deal with a terrorist organisation (that began firing rockets at a neighbouring country)).

  • Christopher

    bestonnet,

    “For a country to be truly democratic (as opposed to democratic in ritual only) the people must have a real choice as to who to vote for (which means that any country which uses intimidation of the opposition is automatically not a democracy) and the votes must be accurately counted (meaning that a country with massive electoral fraud also isn’t democratic as the people committing the fraud are the ones that decide who gets into power, not the citizens of the country).”

    And this just proves a point I made earlier – there are no long-lasting democracies: either the voter is robbed of any real choice through party systems or else some one rigs the system to best suit his own purposes (through means such as intimidation or fake ballots)!

  • Alex Weaver

    Says who? Thoughout most of human history, they where the ONLY governments!

    For most of human history, ink on paper or similar methods were the ONLY means of transmitting information. I assume you’ll ditch your computer now?

  • Christopher

    Alex Weaver,

    “For most of human history, ink on paper or similar methods were the ONLY means of transmitting information. I assume you’ll ditch your computer now?”

    No – I won’t ditch my computer, but are computer-generated documents now the only legitimate ones?

    Besides, if the statement I responded to earlier was indeed correct it would be moot – as there are no democracies, just oligarchies with irrelevent elections who’s only purpose is to make the common people feel like their still in control.

  • bestonnet

    Christopher:

    Besides, if the statement I responded to earlier was indeed correct it would be moot – as there are no democracies, just oligarchies with irrelevent elections who’s only purpose is to make the common people feel like their still in control.

    The common people are in control in a democracy (at the very least they decide which oligarchy runs the place and so if an oligarchy wants to be in power they have to get the support of the common people).

    Not to mention that it is possible for common people to become politicians (even if they have to learn to behave worse than a child).

  • Christopher

    bestonnet,

    “The common people are in control in a democracy (at the very least they decide which oligarchy runs the place and so if an oligarchy wants to be in power they have to get the support of the common people).”

    Well, I guess the U.S. and Western European nations are out of the running – special interest groups do that job while the common voter just provides an aura of legitimacy for them to hide behind…

    Also bestonnet,

    “Not to mention that it is possible for common people to become politicians (even if they have to learn to behave worse than a child).”

    Common people seldom go anywhere near the high eschelons of the political class (they typically just stop around local schoolboard rep.) – all the congressmen, major beaurocratic heads, cabinet members and other high-level authorities come from the existing social elite or else have many friends within the existing elite: regardless of who actually holds office, the political class is tight-knit enough the elites are always in charge of the system at the end of the day.

    No matter who gets elected, the status quo remains constant – revolution from the top-down is impossible under this system…

  • http://www.ciphergoth.org/ Paul Crowley

    No-one seems to have commented on your original proposal as such. I agree entirely. It’s not that there are no circumstances imaginable under which torture would be justified, but that the consequences of making torture legal are very damaging to democracy.

    I had thought I was the only person in the world who took this perverse-seeming position!

  • bestonnet

    Of course if Torture doesn’t work there’s no need to even bother discussing what the consequences would be since the consequences of using something that doesn’t work can not possibly be positive.