War on Iraq pt. 2
Allow me to entertain a seemingly similar, yet notably different, anti-war strategy. Rather than questioning our justification, let’s question something that I feel is more important, namely, our obligation. First off, note the trivial truth that justification does not imply obligation. I might be justified in being angry with Fred for kicking my shins, but clearly I am not obligated to be. I will grant something like Vallicella’s argument (clearly a cumulative-case argument is the way to go), thereby admitting that we are justified in going to war, but argue that our obligations (if any) were elsewhere. Nonetheless, I will also grant that we did have an obligation to go to war with Iraq, but I will argue that it was outweighed by a competing obligation that we ignored. An example of competing obligations: I am obligated to get to class on time, but I have a (stronger) competing obligation to not drive recklessly and run over fellow students in order to do so.
(An interesting question I will leave untouched is where our obligations now lie, given all that has already occurred. Here’s an article on that particular subject.)
So, presuming that our actions were justified and obligated, why should we think that our greater obligations were elsewhere? I will use the Golden Rule, which is common to most respectable ethical systems, as my primary justification. I was, as all of you probably were, born into a life of privilege. By privilege I don’t mean exceeding wealth, but simply safety and comfort—never having to worry too much about starving to death, contracting fatal illnesses from the little food or water consumed, dying a violent death as an innocent, etc. Nonetheless I can counterfactually imagine that, if I had been born into a life of poverty, I would want the privileged people to aid me.
The U.S. and ‘western’ European nations consist of about 900 million people. According to this site, there are about 842 million hungry people in the world. This is almost as much as there are in all western nations combined! This means that, given that you are alive now, there is about as much chance that you’re in one of the privileged western nations as there is that you’re hungry. Also, it should be noted that about twenty-four thousand of the hungry die every day, three out of four of which are children under five. (For those of you who are pro-lifers--whom I am not unsympathetic with--compare this to the estimated 3600 abortions occurring daily in the U.S. in 2002.)
According to this site, with the money that the U.S. (not including our allies) has spent on the war on Iraq thus far, we could have fully funded global anti-hunger efforts for 6 years. Imagine how many years that will be when our work in the Middle East is finally complete. If we could fully fund those efforts for about 13-15 years, then by the estimates of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization we could cut the number of hungry people in half. If you follow the above link to the article on the FAO website, you will see that halving hunger would also have immense benefits for both the national and world economy.
I believe that we should have helped these hungry people instead of engaging in the war on Iraq. I believe we are aiding fewer people by our efforts overseas than we would be aiding through the reduction of hunger. I also believe that reducing world hunger would have resulted in fewer American deaths than our efforts overseas have. Related to the last comment, I believe that this war will cause more violent deaths in general than aiding hunger. And finally, I believe that fewer unnatural deaths simpliciter would have occurred if we had chosen differently. Being someone who is both (a) glad that they are not hungry and (b) glad they have not died an unnatural death, I use the Golden Rule to believe we were obligated to reduce those two things.
If governments and nations have any moral obligations at all, then surely the U.S. had many sets of competing ones. We were obligated to help those being slighted by Saddam’s hand, and we were also obligated to help the hungry. Because our aiding the hungry would have enhanced more lives and harmed fewer, I argue that this was a stronger obligation.
So, even while admitting that the war was justified, and that we had an obligation to help those in Iraq, I claim that we had a competing obligation that was stronger and, therefore, we acted incorrectly.
Four concessions (with competing considerations):
(1) I’m not sure if the figures reporting the cost of war include how much money we make from the taxing of corporations who sell our nation weapons. That is, perhaps our government wouldn’t have been able to afford spending as much money on allaying world hunger as we have on the war, because the war immediately produces government income. Keep in mind, however, that aiding world hunger would also create some extra government income from the people who produce the food.
(2) Of course I can’t be sure that fewer people would have died violent deaths had the war not occurred, but we know that the number of violent deaths in Iraq has increased since our invasion, and certainly more American soldiers have died in the last year and half than the years prior.
(3) I'm sure some of you out there are thinking that we had to go to war because we gave Saddam an ultimatum to which he did not acquiesce. Perhaps not following through on our word would make us look like pansies in the eyes of the world. I ask you: Does it really seem like we have gained respect in the world's eyes through our actions? Did our similar actions in Vietnam gain us respect? Do you think we appear credible, or stubborn?
(4) Spending money on the war is contrary to spending money on hunger, but not contradictory to it. We could be doing both if we had taken even more money away from other government projects. Granting this, you can take my argument as saying that the hungry should have taken a higher priority than the war.