Strategic Murder

From Japan to Pakistan to New York, saying “they started it” has been used to justify the murder of whoever can be labeled as “them.” Tyrants gain power by casting the same net over vastly different individuals, conflating their aggressive interests with the interests of people who would rather live in peace.

In his Japan Times editorial “War Epics on Screen Skip Mass Slaughter of Civilians,” Charles Burress examines how World War II is presented in American entertainment. He finds the treatment of history lacking when it comes to addressing the bombing of civilians by the United States military.

Burress notes that the widely reported premier of the new WWII miniseries The Pacific “came but four days after the little noticed anniversary of one of the darkest events in American war history — the March 10, 1945, firebombing of Tokyo…The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey said at the time that ‘probably more persons lost their lives by fire in Tokyo in a six-hour period than at any time in the history of man.’ The inferno was so intense that fleeing victims burst spontaneously into flame and were boiled alive in canals into which they had plunged to escape.”

I’d like to examine how people have attempted to morally justify such an attack. A frequently-heard argument usually takes some form of the following: Japanese actions justified the American bombing of civilians. Proponents might cite Japanese atrocities in China or barbaric treatment of prisoners.

This argument only works if you look at a group of vastly different people with different interests and responsibilities as if they acted as one collective. How else can you justify setting a five-year-old on fire? What did that specific individual have to do with the Rape of Nanking?

Either you’re irresponsible enough to just let the higher-ups decide who you’re going to kill, or you believe that the unique, irreplaceable individuals you kill are the enemy or belong to the enemy. If that five year old is just enemy war material, why not set her on fire?

This reveals the perverse premise of government warfare – that individuals are not ends in themselves, but are resources to be used by power-seekers to secure their rule. The mythology of “the national interest” plays a part in justifying this idea. In reality a nation is made of numerous individuals, and those in charge get to define what is in the nation’s interest – which usually involves minimizing threats to the power structure. If everyone is included in the national agenda of rulers, then everyone is part of the war machine, and everyone has the same interest in perpetuating it.

But when we realize that war is the primary government program that rulers use to expand their power, we see whose interests are served by war. Politicians primarily want to exert influence on the world, which they accomplish by using force. The businesses who profit from this “projection of power” lobby hard to keep their profits coming.

Wannabe-rulers and petty authoritarians who attack civilians to further their political goals are exhibiting the same behavior, operating from the same premises. Modern terrorism is just small-scale statecraft. Osama Bin Laden is just Hillary Clinton with a different set of resources to work with.

The United States military participates in the “us versus them” narrative that militant fundamentalists promote. Drone strikes in Pakistan killed around 700 civilians in 2009, according to an report by Jason Ditz (

The Peninsula, a news source cited by Ditz states that “For each Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorist killed by the American drones, 140 civilian Pakistanis also had to die. Over 90 percent of those killed in the deadly missile strikes were innocent civilians.” So the most personal exposure to Western Civilization that Pakistanis often get is the indiscriminate killing that it brings from the sky. To a nationalist-minded killer, it’s totally worth it.

Those who indiscriminately bomb and dismember are enemies of all people who wish to live as free individuals. They use their flags and their pronouncements as nets to trap us into categories that serve their interests. We will tear open the nets, and we will topple those who stomp on us.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory