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Opinion

No just aggression

TOWARDS JUSTICE - Emmeline Aglipay-Villar - The Philippine Star

One would think, one would hope, that after the COVID-19 pandemic brought about so much death and suffering – over 6 million recorded deaths worldwide as of this month – that the powers that be would have had their fill of death. That the leaders of the world would use their resources to rebuild, to restore, to work with each other in the face of the truly existential dangers faced by all humanity, such as pandemics and climate change.

And yet even during the height of the pandemic, wars did not stop. And now, in Ukraine, the fires of war burn once again.

Why?

Some may find this question naïve. They will point to the principles of realpolitik, the posturing and maneuvering of global powers, the greed and violence we see all throughout human history. As long as there have been nations, there has been war, and so war will forever remain part of life on this planet.

It is exactly that sort of cynicism that begets wars. When we take for granted that wars are an inherent part of our world, we take our first step in accepting the unacceptable.

We are not born tolerant of war. Whatever some philosophers may say about the base nature of humanity, I cannot believe that our natural reaction to the horrors of war – if it were to be inflicted on us or those we care about – would be anything but repugnance and rejection. Yes, humans can be selfish, and as children we must learn to control these urges and learn to live in harmony with others. But while a child can hit another out of frustration, or may hoard their treats out of appetite, no child can see what war truly is and rejoice.

We are not born tolerant of war. That tolerance for it – at worst, the glorification of it – must be taught to us. Ever since the birth of warfare, humans have tried to justify the wholesale killing engaged in by nation against nation, clan against clan. This is hardly surprising given how integral the centralization and use of force is to States and their leaders. The survival of States has often hinged on their ability to monopolize and deploy force, so of course they do everything they can to make war seem acceptable, even desirable. One needs only look at the predominance of epics and cultural tales that valorize battle, or the folk and national heroes who made their name through martial feats and over the corpses of their enemies. Nearly all major religions make reference to war and justify it in the service of their faith.

Entire doctrines were developed, in philosophy and in international law, to create the concept of the just war. Traditionally these were split into two categories: jus ad bellum (when it is just to start war) and jus in bello (how it is just to fight war, after it has begun). These doctrines have evolved over the centuries, from the ancient times when the acquisition of slaves was seen as “just cause” to the current codifications seen in documents such as the Geneva Conventions and the Charter of the United Nations. But what is consistent is that while there have been many justifications put forward for war in general, the most fundamental of these is as a defense against aggression, aggression being an armed attack against another country. But for aggression itself, there is no such justification… for while there may be a “just war,” there is no such thing as a just aggression.

There have been those that have reacted to the Russian invasion of Ukraine by holding forth about the ways by which Russia was “provoked” by other nations, whether this be by Ukraine itself, or the United States, or by the NATO alliance. It would be naïve indeed to see the ongoing conflict as one between unvarnished good and irredeemable evil – individuals may certainly be innocent, but States rarely so. The way the defenders and refugees (at least, those of European descent) of Ukraine have been portrayed and treated can and should be seen within the context of other wars, and other refugees.

But none of this changes the fact that none of the provocations claimed to date justify aggression, justify the mobilization of armed force into a foreign land. The Foreign Minister of Russia has been said to claim (in a message from the Russian embassy in the UK) that the goal of the “military operation” is to “stop any war that could take place on Ukrainian territory or that could start from there.”

How does this justify an invasion? And what else other than “invasion” can it be called when soldiers and tanks push into the territory of another sovereign State, a member of the United Nations?

How does this justify keeping one’s citizens – the source of the legitimacy and powers of every State – in the dark, refusing to admit that you are waging a war, even going so far as to reportedly detain children who protest the horror of war?

What authority can a State have to remove the military capabilities of another State, when the aggressor is itself claiming the right to force as inherent to its self-defense?

That these questions cannot be satisfactorily answered means that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine deserves condemnation, and I am gratified that the Philippines was one of the signatories of the UN Resolution condemning the invasion. But even as the nations of the world do what they can to assist Ukraine and put pressure on Russia to withdraw its forces, it is of the utmost importance that we do not lose ourselves in the “big picture” concerns, in geopolitical relations.

War is between nations, but it is the people that bleed, that suffer, that die.

Even in the midst of the modern fog of war, the misinformation on social media, there are still ways to find the truth. The horrors of a war are too plentiful to be completely concealed. And as far away as the battlefield is, it is our duty as humans to find the truth, to bear witness, to care.

There is no just aggression.

There is no justice in bombed cities.

There is no justification for murdered children.

War cannot be tolerated.

COVID-19

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