Desert Storm and the Same Old World Order by William Gay

Gay, William, “Editorial: Desert Storm and the Same Old World Order,” Newsletter of the Concerned Philosophers for Peace, Vol. 11, No. 1 (Spring 1991).

Under the cover of darkness and only hours after the expiration of the United Nation’s deadline for Iraq to end its occupation of Kuwait, Operation Desert Storm was initiated with the first of many thousands of air strikes against Iraqi military targets. Once again, as is characteristic with the onslaught of war, neither side blinked. The final costs of this war–human, environmental, economic, political, and, yes, even moral–cannot now be known. However, already it seems that any attempts at a consequentialist justification of the such enormous destruction will be challenged by many humanists, environmentalists, and ethicists. Tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers were killed–perhaps close to 100,000. Even apart from the civilian casualties that resulted from what is euphemistically termed “collateral damage,” the bombardment was not strictly counterforce. Large segments of the Iraqi domestic infrastructure were targeted. The major urban areas were soon out of power and water, and the harsh and unsanitary conditions could end in tragic epidemics that kill even more thousands. Regardless, it is disingenuous, if not outright deceptive to deny that the U.S. and its allies also engaged in a systematic countervalue attack.

One point should be clear. Whatever our final assessment of Operation Desert Storm, we must not let governmental and military officials beguile the public with their antiseptic and sophistical uses of language. The criterion of proportionality demands that we keep a close eye on the many types and levels of destruction and that we be explicit about the fact that these numbers are about people–many of them non-combatants–and the eco-system upon which we all depend for our survival. This operation was not the initiation of a New World Order, and it is an abuse of language to designate it as such. Operation Desert Storm was a very disturbing instance of the Same Old World Order in which nations rather hastily and savagely resort to war as their means of conflict resolution.

Katie Sherrod, columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, wrote:

Our historical remoteness from the wreckage of war makes it seem the easiest answer. Our insulation from the havoc we wreak feeds our belief that military power is the way to solve the world’s problems. It encourages us to believe we’re right because we’re strongest, and blinds us to the legitimacy of other viewpoints.

Lars-Erik Nelson, syndicated columnist and Washington bureau chief of the New York Daily News, wrote:

Will we be viewed as the liberators of an enslaved Iraqi people, or are we the high-tech killers of a confused and disorganized army that only wanted to surrender?

Because of the war euphoria that has swept the nation (supposedly ending the self-deterrence of the Vietnam Syndrome), because of the frustration that many of us feel over the dismissal of the peace movement , and because of our responsibilities as philosophers to assess critically actions and justifications in the public sphere (especially as these relate to the large-scale violence, of war), I decided to devote this issue of the Newsletter to philosophical assessments of various aspects of the war against Iraq. This issue begins with war commentaries provided by the Presidents of CPP.

Next, three essays by other professional philosophers continue the critical assessment. Finally, the reflections by two philosophy majors are included. These various contributions contain both some overlap and some divergence. However, it is my hope that each of us can find a sense of support from seeing in one place several assessments of the war by philosophers and that we can find in them relevant and useful sources for our own teaching and research in this field.

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