Wars are always presented as endeavors to help people, but there is no such thing as a humanitarian war

humanitarian war

Part VI of Julian Drury’s American Empire Series

We’re on the road to war again. Some people believe in this idea of a Humanitarian War, the war to save lies. I’m not too surprised by the recent news in Washington that Syria is creeping closer to a reality. What also doesn’t surprise me is that the majority of the American populace is against said intervention in Syria. Sadly, the government of the United States seems to pay no interest in public opinion when it comes to waging war. It appears that war is inevitable in Syria, and the question is not if, but when.

“War is the Health of the State” writer Randolph Bourne said in 1914, as the nations of Europe geared up for World War I. Though this phrase was written almost 100 years ago it resonates not just with our generation today but generations before 1914. As a historical trend, war is used (unjustly in my opinion) as a marker for a society’s strength and power in the world. War is more than just a demonstration of how healthy a state is, but also the power that this health can generate.

Every major empire or world power has used war as both a symbol of its strength, but also as a crutch to divert away from issues at home. Going all the way back to the days of Rome, we see that the more powerful a state is, the more war and military intervention it tends to wage. There are of course exceptions to every rule, but generally the more powerful you are as a state the more likely you are to use that power in militarily.

The United States, by all accounts, is the empire on the block now. Sure challenges and rivals are emerging, but in the current state of affairs no other military organization on earth can match the capacity and capability of the US. It’s reach extends everywhere, great or small. America has a footprint on every continent, and there is no intention of reversing that anytime soon.

What is happening now in Syria is merely a demonstration of this historic trait among states that wield the power America does. Many people in Washington and in the Media keep referring to Syria as a “humanitarian intervention.” The reason we have to intervene in Syria is because of the use of chemical weapons on civilians, and it is “our duty” to save lives and stop the aggression of Assad.

Granted, Assad is a bad guy and in no way would anyone like to see him hold onto power. I wouldn’t be surprised if Assad did indeed use chemical weapons on rebels and civilians. My major critique however, is if the US is going to intervene for humanitarian reasons in Syria, then why are chemical weapons the red line that needed to be crossed? Tens of thousands of people have already been massacred in Syria before chemicals even got involved.

If it was death-toll and humanitarian concerns we had, than why is it Syria that we’re more concerned with? If thehumanitarian war United States does intervene in countries for purely humanitarian reasons, such as Kosovo or Libya and now potentially Syria, then where is our military now when it comes to the Congo? Millions have died in a hellish and savage civil war which has been raging since 1995, gruesome rape and murder stories well documented and told. I guess we plan on intervening tomorrow right? Wrong.

Where were we in Rwanda, where were we in Darfur, where were we in Sri Lanka, what about East Timor? How about El Salvador and Guatemala (two massacres that we funded and supported). The fact is if the United States does truly care about intervening for humanitarian reasons, its funny that we only seem to intervene in regions of the world we have a vested interest in.

What do we stand to gain in Sri Lanka? Nothing. Syria, we get another allied client state in our broader plan for dominion over the Middle East (a very important region to have influence over) as well as encroachment on Iran. Syria is a powerful Iranian (as well as Russian) ally in the region. The point here, is even though Syria is not our ideal place to intervene we stand more to gain from intervening there than we do in countries like Sri Lanka or Rwanda.

Getting back to my earlier remarks about war, I believe that an underlying reason we will intervene in Syria is because for America, war does embody the health (perceived) of our state. Americans though, are resoundingly against intervention in Syria, but are still wrapped in a very militaristic cultural flag.

As Americans praise themselves as the bearers of democracy and freedom, we place so much emphasis on our military for those purposes. War is endemic to humans, but the more powerful your nation is, the more likely and frequently you will use the military to expand and hold your power. Red Lines and “humanitarian assistance” are just formalities.

Let us also remember that American society has also structured itself where there is always an incentive to go to war. Who knows how long it’s been since America did not militarily intervene somewhere in the world in a particular decade.

Our military-industrial complex (as most are) is structured to thrive on war. War is a profit motive for our defense companies, as it has been since at least the end of World War II and probably before that. The more war, the more money. It sounds cynical and simplistic, but sometimes the greatest issues have the simplest explanations.

War in Syria has nothing to do with Uncle Sam’s deep concern with the people of Syria. It has everything to do with America not passing up an opportunity. The opportunity is that which every empire and world power has sought to take advantage of in history. War is not just the Health of the State, but in some cases becomes the nature of the state itself.

“Wars are always presented as endeavors to help people. Make no mistake, there is no such thing as a humanitarian war.” – Howard Zinn


  1. Totally agree! Good on you! I was just making these comparisons today with a friend of mine. You can add the Sudan to your list of human carnage that the U.S. has done nothing about! The answer my friend, is no money and no oil!

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