American criminal law takes a nuanced view of murder, creating several punishable degrees of it. First degree murder is generally defined as premeditated. The murderer has a plan to kill and takes sufficient time to map out his crime. Second degree murder involves the killer who hasn’t necessarily taken the time to plan out his crime, but nonetheless has an “evil mind” and intends to kill. Another variety of second degree murder involves the killer who engages in conduct so depraved that the law says he should have known that his behavior would likely result in death. Then there’s manslaughter, sometimes referred to as “negligent homicide,” wherein the killer behaved negligently and someone died as a result. These are age-old American legal traditions.
Somehow, American war culture manages to turn a blind eye to these longstanding, basic legal principles when it comes to its government’s wars. Americans brook no nuance when it comes to war. A war with massive civilian casualties is the same as a war with no civilian casualties, as long it meets some vague government objective. For anyone who doubts this lack of distinction, simply look at the body of historical work surrounding “The Good War” — World War II.
War is hell, they say. War is a dirty business. You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet. The countless despicable metaphors used to describe war are intended to distract people from what war really is: Non-punishable mass murder.
Unfortunately, no matter how reckless, depraved, ill-informed or misconceived American war-making becomess, the war-makers are never held to the same standards as run-of-the-mill murderers. Neither George W. Bush nor any other American president, were he tried in a criminal court of law (loud laughter), would escape conviction for first degree murder.
But in war, all the war-making murderer needs is a place where he or she claims bad people exist. To hell with other details or circumstances. The rest of the war-making murderer’s conduct gets blanket immunity so long as that low threshold requirement is met. Most of the time even that part can later be found false or mistaken. The actual execution of war never matters. Its implementation always ends up being reckless, depraved, and of such a nature that even a toddler would recognize it as guaranteed to lead to the murder of innocents. Yet presidents and congressman always get away with behavior that would land any ordinary person behind bars, probably on death row.
Many critics of the American War Machine give their opponents the benefit of doubt by acknowledging supposedly good intentions. This is a grave mistake. It becomes a mantra that gets tossed out prior to challenging any war: “I know you mean well, but …” It’s time to drop that preface. Just as criminal law cuts the negligent killer no break, so too should serious war critics drop the forgiving aspect of their engagement with government killers.
Remember this when Barack Obama or any future president speaks to you in an effort to outline his or her war strategy. It doesn’t matter whether he or his clan of humanitarian killers are able to come up with some cockamamie excuse for dropping bombs. Their behavior is going to end innocent lives, pure and simple.