The Ethics of the "New War" in the Aftermath of 9/11

Oct 20, 2001

In the immediate wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center, residents of the New York City area -- including many Carnegie Council staff and members -- collectively experienced the kind of emotions that, prior to this, had been familiar mainly to individuals unfortunate enough to have been victims of violent crime:

Anger and outrage. How dare someone else write us into their script in the part of victim?

Disbelief. How could anyone hate us so much?

Humiliation. New York, with its changed skyline, thousands of victims, and large numbers of displaced people, could hardly deny that the criminals had won the first round.

Distrust. Since it seemed so amazing anyone could have done this, virtually everyone and everything became suspect.

Sense of betrayal. Ordinary American citizens were on the front lines of the attack. Our government and its intelligence operations had manifestly failed to protect us.

Fears for personal safety. We wanted to build a fortress around our airports, borders, bridges, and tunnels.

Desperation to find meaning nonetheless. Had we done something to promote this outrageous attack, or was it an act of unadulterated evil?

Confusion over what to do next. The natural instinct was to seek revenge, but would this be stooping to the level of our terrorist foe? Apart from ethical considerations, there were also practical ones: since no one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, it remains difficult to determine who, exactly, is our enemy, hence what measures we are justified in taking. Some have said that the September 11 attacks will serve as a "wake-up call" to Americans who would prefer to ignore the rest of the world. Yet we have woken up to the nightmare of ambiguous warfare (See transcript of Anthony Lake's January 2001 Council talk).

As we launch this roundtable debate on the ethics of the "new war," the American-led coalition against terrorism has begun bombing Taliban targets in Afghanistan. Americans overwhelmingly support President Bush's decision to take action against the government of the country harboring the suspected ringleader of the September 11 attacks, Osama bin Laden. But will this show of aggression achieve the desired aim, or will it merely provoke the terrorists to commit further acts of violence? How can we avoid the trap that so many countries of the world have fallen into as a result of attacks on their civilians -- namely, an endless cycle of victimhood and revenge? I look forward to hearing what our participants -- many of whom are experts on justice, reconciliation, and the difficulty of achieving both -- have to say.

--Mary-Lea Cox, Web editor

Christian Barry frames a set of ethical questions raised by the attacks that should help in evaluating the rights and wrongs of the U.S. response.
Tony Lang accepts the idea of the United States taking military action but thinks it should be coupled with diplomatic efforts to resurrect its image in the Middle East.
Bahman Baktiari supports a "measured and proportional" military response to the terrorists' acts but fears that the United States faces an unceasing battle against an elusive enemy.
Joel Rosenthal rejects unequivocally the idea that American policies in the Middle East are mitigating factors in crafting the U.S. response to the events of September 11. "Nothing justifies terrorism, period," he writes.
William DeMars, while recognizing that military force will be an essential component of the U.S. response to September 11, warns that this can easily backfire in ways that serve the terrorists' agenda.
George Lopez argues that destroying the leadership and infrastructure of an entire nation as punishment for a lack of cooperation in capturing terrorists would be inconsistent with international law.

In the immediate aftermath of the events of September 11, the focus of the press was, understandably, on questions about the scale of the atrocities, the identity of the perpetrators, and the means by which they had so effectively achieved their gruesome ends. Indeed, in the first few days after the attacks, even raising questions of any other kind seemed, especially to those of us living in New York, uninteresting or inappropriate. In the weeks since the attacks much of the coverage has continued to stress these "what, who, and how" questions rather single-mindedly, but, thankfully, there are also commentators who are responding to the tragic events more reflectively.

Initial responses to the events of September 11 began by expressing justified horror and compassion for the victims. But agreement in sharply denouncing the attacks has now given way to sharp disagreement both about why they occurred and what should be done in response.

Explanations have ranged from President Bush's claim that the attacks were caused by envy and generally illiberal attitudes, to Robert Fisk's repeated assertions in the Independent that the attack was caused by specific U.S. policies in the Middle East.

Responses have run the gamut from the tough talk of Eliot Cohen of The New Republic and Thomas Friedman of the New York Times -- who have called on us, respectively, to "make war, not justice," and to "fight the terrorists as if there were no rules" -- to Richard Falk's advocacy of pursuing justice for the victims of the attack within the framework of moral and legal restraints offered by the criminal justice system (see his article in The Nation, "Defining a Just War").

I remain confused about how to interpret the events of September 11. I recognize that there is significant and justified anger towards the United States in the Middle East (as elsewhere), but I do not feel sufficiently well informed to assert why these particular attacks took place -- let alone the role played by specific U.S. policies in provoking them. I am even less sure about how explanations of the September 11 attacks should be deemed relevant to the justification of America's potential responses.

But confusion, however frustrating, does not warrant a refusal to address the questions surrounding the terrorist attacks and the U.S. response. As I see it, the events of September 11 have raised four major ethical questions:

1) What rules apply?

In domestic contexts, even the most heinous crimes do not legitimate suspension of the rule of law. Killers and rapists are offered the same legal protections as petty criminals, and strict rules apply to their apprehension and trial. More specifically, we should ask:

What international rules, if any, apply in the current context and what person or body has authority over their interpretation and application?

Does characterizing these acts of terrorism as, alternatively, "crimes", "acts of war", or even "genocide" change the laws and moral norms that apply to it, and what practical difference does this make?

Moreover, do the terrorist attacks suggest that established international norms are inadequate and should be changed, or should they reinvigorate our sense of their importance? Does, for instance, the current crisis have any relevance to various proposals for new social arrangements such as an international criminal court, the granting of universal jurisdiction to national courts, and a reformed UN Security Council?

2) How is the past relevant both to explaining the recent events and to justifying different policy responses?

In the wake of the attacks, many critics have claimed that the United States and its allies have often adopted morally problematic policies in the Middle East and that this allegedly troubled past is relevant both for explaining why the attacks occurred and for determining a morally justifiable policy response. Whether these accounts of the West's involvement in the Middle East are correct, they raise important questions about the relevance of the past in determining future policy action. Most agree that understanding the past (both in fact and in the popular imagination) is strategically important in order to avoid a self-defeating response to the attacks. But some assert -- or at least imply -- that while the attacks themselves must be viewed as an atrocity that cannot in any way be justified, historical injustices perpetrated by the United States may have some relevance for explaining recent events and for supporting particular policy responses.

3) Whom do the attackers represent?

Sometimes the Bush administration seems to be focusing on one particular Islamic fundamentalist group, other times on a "swamp" of terrorist groups. Other opinions expressed in the media seem to suggest that the terrorists represent all the oppressed peoples of the Middle East or even the global South -- granting these terrorists a voice for a much larger group of the downtrodden. We thus need to ask:

To what extent do we take this attack as representing something larger?

Whom do the terrorists "speak" for, if anyone?

Do our answers to these questions affect what we may justifiably do in response?

4) What impact will the "new war" have on global justice priorities?

There is little doubt that the recent attacks will be invoked in support of all sorts of competing political agendas. But this raises a number of critical issues:

How, if at all, should the attacks of September 11 reorient the priorities of activists and policymakers concerned with promoting global justice?

How should addressing terrorism and other security threats be balanced with goals such as the eradication of severe poverty and other humanitarian initiatives such as conflict prevention and protection of human rights?

Will the war on terrorism become the singular focus of U.S. foreign policy and if so, what will be the ramifications?

To act responsibly, we must engage with each of these questions, even when doing so raises issues that are sensitive to some, or draw attention to facts that are uncomfortable for others. We must, moreover, focus our attention and energies on the range of problems for which we are most able to influence outcomes, and be courageous in our decisions about the crimes that we spend our best efforts in addressing.

Christian Barry is the commissioning editor of the Carnegie Council's Ethics & International Affairs journal. He is preparing a special section for the Spring 2002 issue on the aftermath of September 11, asking what rules apply in the changed international arena.

TONY LANG: When I first heard about the September 11 attacks, I remembered a cartoon in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram showing an Uncle Sam about to checkmate the world -- but with a hand labelled "terrorism" pulling him back. I took this to mean that the Arab world sees U.S. unconditional support of Israel, its bombing and sanctioning of Iraq, its bombing of Sudan and Afghanistan, and even its discourse about "clashing civilizations" as all part of the same package -- a dominant world power with no one to check it. Though I do not think that this attitude justifies the events of September 11, I do believe that these events need to be placed in the wider context of the abuse of power and mistaken policies of the United States in the region. There is nothing inherent in Islam that is warlike, hostile, or anti-progressive.

One could expand the above point to argue that the Bush administration has crystalized a tendency of the United States since 1989 to act unilaterally -- by pulling out of treaties, backing the creation of a missile defense just for the United States, and failing to understand the concerns of other nations. All of this reveals an imperialist mindset. The United States stands for the right ideals (democracy, freedom, equality), but its power has warped those ideals to the point of compromising their true meaning.

The Lutheran pastor and theologian Rienhold Niebuhr, commenting on the hubris of American imperialism in his 1952 work The Irony of American History, warned that in the Bible, the "builders of the Tower of Babel are scattered by a confusion of tongues because they sought to build a tower which would reach into the heavens." In light of recent events, Niebuhr's next words seem chillingly prescient: "The possible destruction of a technical civilization, of which the 'skyscraper' is a neat symbol, may become a modern analogue to the Tower of Babel."

Thus while there is a strong moral justification for taking military action in response to the September 11 attacks, the United States must avoid behaving imperialistically. We should take extra care to ensure that our actions conform to a set of moral criteria. In my view, just war theory provides such a criteria, including avoiding harm to civilians and acting proportionally. Just war theory also assumes that the result of such military action will be a restoration of a just system: in other words, there must be a "just peace" afterwards; and military planners need to understand the long-term effects of their actions of taking out terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and elsewhere. For example, our continual bombing of Iraq for the past ten years, while perhaps morally justified -- forcing Iraq to conform to a policy of disarmament -- demonstrates absolutely no understanding of long-term consequences, hence is immoral in my opinion.

I feel comfortable with the Bush administration's approach so far -- its suggestion that this will be a long-term operation and its weighing of possible options before taking action. I am also impressed that they have explicitly noted that Iraq is not behind this, and that we have not used this as an opportunity to overthrow Saddam Hussein. This in and of itself demonstrates a prudent approach.

To ensure that justice is ultimately achieved, our military response must be accompanied by a political and diplomatic campaign. We need to work with the Palestinians and pull back from our unconditional embrace of Israel. We need to help create an international system in which international law is respected. We must tame our hubris and recognize that we are one nation among many, not the "indispensable nation."

Tony Lang runs the Carnegie Council's Education department. He is a former instructor at the American University in Cairo.

BAHMAN BAKTIARI: Tony Lang makes an excellent point about the irony of American history. The American people fervently believe in democracy and liberty as the hallmarks of their governmental system. However, the conception of America as the leading democracy does not include its behavior when it comes to dealing with Muslim countries. Many ordinary Arabs, it might be added, would rather like some of that democracy and freedom that Mr. Bush has been telling them about. Instead they have seen over the past decades how many democratic movements in their societies were crushed by despots supported by the West and using Western weapons. The memories linger.

The United States has failed utterly to communicate its democratic values to the dispossessed of the Muslim world. For too long, the poor and uneducated of the Gaza Strip, Cairo, and Yemen have been more or less invisible to the West, except as the incomprehensible stage army of a Middle East drama without any narrative on television news. These people have become fertile soil for the extremist ideology of demagogues. Having come to believe that the United States is an anti-Muslim empire, bent on killing Muslim children and financing Israel's theft of their holy land, they interpreted the appalling tragedy of September 11 as a kind of vicarious justice.

Furthermore, I concur with Tony Lang that Western policy towards Iraq has been designed without any consideration of how that policy can be distorted and presented to impoverished, desperate, and alienated people throughout the Arab world. It should be obvious to any dispassionate observer that the sufferings of the Iraqi people are entirely the responsibility of Saddam Hussein and his regime. Yet the United States has received the blame for the thousands of Iraqi civilians who have died as a result of the Gulf War and subsequent sanctions policy.

The people who organized and executed the outrages of September 11 were utterly indifferent to the sanctity of human life. For that reason, I am supportive of a military response that is measured and proportional. However, I fear that the cumulative anger in American society may push Washington into a war that leads to a cycle of never-ending confrontation with an elusive enemy. As we have seen so many times in the past, and as we witness today in the Middle East, the terrorists can only truly be said to have won if civilized nations abandon civilized values and themselves use indiscriminate violence against the innocent. Lashing out indiscriminately against any state, group, or individual the United States sees as an enemy (as advocated with chilling carelessness by some columnists) will make terrorist outrages more likely. It would only help to recruit a new generation of martyrs prepared to die in a holy war.

It is instructive in this connection to keep in mind the Israeli-Palestinian example. An Israeli soldier shoots a Palestinian stone-thrower. The Palestinians retaliate by killing a settler. The Israelis then retaliate by sending a murder squad to kill a Palestinian gunman. The Palestinians retaliate by sending a suicide bomber into a pizzeria. The Israelis then retaliate by sending F-16s to bomb a Palestinian police station. Retaliation leads to retaliation and more retaliation. War without end.

The only way for American military planners to avoid a war without end is to elaborate the moral criteria for our actions. I, too, favor the just war approach because it provides the context to act in a proportional manner. It also calls for the restoration of a just system, meaning one that addresses the grievances of people according to a universal standard. So when it comes to the Middle East, the United States does not look the other way when Israel uses its F-16s to bomb Palestinian police stations, or when Palestinians use suicide bombers to kill Israeli teenagers in a pizzeria.

The Bush administration's apparent disengagement from the peace process, coupled with Israel's use of sophisticated American weaponry to attack Palestinians, has instilled a sense that America is no longer just Israel's distant benefactor but an accomplice in Israeli crimes. The American government needs to reverse the perception of its Middle East policies by adopting a more even-handed approach.

Bahman Baktiari directs the International Affairs Program at the University of Maine, where he is also an associate professor of political science. Originally from Iran, he has written a major book and several articles on revolutionary Iran.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: As the U.S.-led coalition gathers its forces for the new war, history itself has been put on trial. To explain how we arrived at this point, grievances of the sort raised by Tony Lang and Bahman Baktiari will be aired over American policies in the Middle East -- ranging from the U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia to the U.S. role in the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.

But while this line of discussion is often illuminating, it should not lead to the fallacy of moral equivalence. Nothing justifies terrorism, period. To suggest that anti-American terrorism is merely the world pushing back at American hegemony is to suggest that terrorism has a legitimate place in the 21st century.

For me, the more interesting ethical question is what kind of war this is going to be. In the initial stages of the Bush administration's response, both options were kept open: war was declared and the enemy was defined as a criminal network that must be brought to justice. The great effort expended in building a diverse international coalition suggested that the criminal justice response was a viable strategic choice. The terrorists would be hunted down and punished. Yet the Bush administration's decision to extend responsibility beyond the terrorists and their informal networks to the states that harbor them suggests a potential widening of the conflict. How wide should the circle of responsibility be drawn?

President Bush says that this new war is brought to the United States against its will, and that "it will end in a manner and at an hour of our choosing." In getting to this final hour, let us judge the choices that are made according to the values that represent the best in human civilization, not the worst. Evil cannot be eradicated once and for all; it is intrinsic to human nature and the human condition. But evil acts must be checked, punished, and deterred. Can this be done in a manner that serves justice and security concerns while avoiding excessive moral rhetoric and the dangers of a crusade? These are the questions that define the new war and provide the criteria to judge those who will fight it.

Joel H. Rosenthal has been president of the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs since 1995. The above was excerpted from the Council's newsletter.

Terrorism by its nature is designed to divide the target group against itself, spawn panic, and provoke a misguided military response. We in American society are the targets of these actions. We can most effectively resist manipulation by basing our response on facts and principles informed by emotion, not on emotion alone.

I agree with the other commentators that military force will be an essential component of an integrated policy that also employs law enforcement and diplomacy. But force can backfire in several ways to serve the terrorist's political goals. We can under-react, as we did three years ago in the cruise missile strikes on Sudan and Afghanistan in response to bombings of two American embassies. Our strikes projected weakness. They inflamed Arab and Muslim publics worldwide who saw themselves as potential future targets, and failed completely to damage the capacity of Osama bin Laden or other terrorists to strike again. That is a losing combination for a war against terrorism.

In the current climate, the U.S. government is unlikely to make that kind of mistake again. But we can also over-react militarily, inflicting massive destruction on civilians and generating profound resentments that will feed the recruitment of our opponents. In this kind of war, the principles of discrimination and proportionality are also sound guides to effectiveness. We must learn this early, because a general war against terrorism is a matter of years and decades, not weeks and months. Our message to President Bush should not be, "Strike hard and fast because I am angry and need emotional closure." Instead we should tell him, "Do whatever is necessary, and take the time to get it right." Not only our fears -- but also our anger -- can readily play into the terrorists' hands.

William E. DeMars is visiting assistant professor at the Department of Government and International Studies, University of Notre Dame.

In a September 13 New York Times op-ed entitled "World War III," Tom Friedman may have presaged the coming standard: "We have to fight the terrorists as if there were no rules, and preserve our open society as if there were no terrorists." Leaving aside for the moment whether the second part of Friedman's assertion can be accomplished if we follow strictly the first, do we want to engage in new foreign policy action and the use of military force "as if there were no rules"?

I agree with Tony Lang that the "just war" tradition should be cited as the appropriate criteria for guiding an ethical analysis of the use of military force. But at a time when neither the lexicon of war nor that of terrorism seems to reflect accurately the current state of affairs, even the vibrancy of the "just war" tradition falls far short of our needs. The moral compass to guide our best scrutiny of options may come in three simple categories for governing the use of force in world affairs:

  • that it adhere fully to the rule of law;

  • that there be a logical relationship between means and ends; and

that concerns with protecting civilians and limiting collateral damage be paramount.

Is September 11 an act of war, thus governed by the laws and rules of war, or is it a terrorist attack, a crime against humanity, undertaken by transnational mass-murderers and criminals? This distinction, and the dialogue regarding it, are critically important for setting the proper ethical parameters of U.S. action.

We are now engaged in fact-gathering. In the event that the facts reveal a network of terrorist perpetrators active within the boundaries of a number of states that vary in their degree of toleration of such actors, then the United States must present a series of demands for extradition and other forms of cooperation to nations that harbor, train, aid, or abet in any form those responsible for this massacre. If such demands are rejected, all force used to apprehend these suspects and culprits will need to be proportionate to the objective. Thus, destroying the leadership and infrastructure of an entire nation -- thereby rendering it a chaotic, failed state -- as a punishment for lack of cooperation in capturing terrorists would not be consistent with international law. Nor would massive destruction of that nation's economic or social infrastructure while in the process of destroying the headquarters and training camps of 100 terrorists.

However inconvenient, these strictures are real and they are serious. This is where popular opinion and advantageous military or political outcomes on the one side collide head-on with ethics and the rule of law on the other. How -- or whether -- the realities of international law shape appropriate foreign policy behavior has never been a pleasant debate within the United States. But before, not after, American responsive actions is when this debate must occur. We cannot have the world agree with us that September 11 was an unconscionable attack on the rule of law -- and then fail to uphold every aspect of that same law in our response to the attack.

A U.S. policy response that has strong multilateral support clearly strengthens its ethical legitimacy. Secretary of State Powell's early overtures for all states to join in law-abiding action to locate and extradite terrorists was a solid approach. The prompt and unprecedented policy decision by NATO to invoke Article V provides another important foundation stone for a strong moral policy steeped in the coordinated action of like-minded states. Might not further steps include a serious engagement by the United States with states from the Islamic world and the Middle East -- most likely in the form of direct, quiet diplomacy -- with an international conference not out of the question? The point would be to invite the national leadership of certain states to design and then adhere to a new international regime for controlling terrorism. In a short time, the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism should assess compliance and, in the case of a U.S. response to September 11, assess how far this has moved us toward our desired policy goals.

Finally, there is the rule of law as represented in the United Nations Security Council. Certainly Council authorization for U.S. economic or military actions will be discussed at some point within Washington inner circles. But its primacy will comprise the sticking point. Some will dismiss the need for UN backing as superfluous, probably citing U.S. action in Kosovo, where the UN eventually "caught up" with a sound U.S. policy action. Others may resist the need for UN support on technical grounds -- sustained UN debate compromises the advantage that accrues to economic or military surprise. Few, unfortunately, will debate UN action as powerful ethical or legal support for U.S. action.

Amidst the sea-changes brought about by September 11, long-tested ethical concerns can be welcome anchors to our best national principles. But we must have the courage and vision to inject such ethical inquiry into the policy debate about response options. It will not occur automatically. We must choose this decisional strategy because it is what people who believe in democracy, decency, and the rule of law must do. Our memorial to the victims of the attacks ought to be that the policies we will soon undertake in response to their senseless slaughter be ones that are morally defensible and have passed the toughest ethical scrutiny.

George A. Lopez is the director of policy studies and senior fellow at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame. His research concerns humanitarianism, violence and the use of force, economic sanctions, and human rights issues. Currently, he is a senior research associate at the Carnegie Council. The above was excerpted from a longer piece Lopez wrote for America Magazine (10/8/01): "After September 11: How Ethics Can Help."

Related Links"A Hole in the World"
Jonathan Schell's editorial for The Nation addresses the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, asking how the perpetrators can be brought to justice, and what the United States should do to safeguard itself and its people against such attacks in future.

"Round up the usual suspects"

This Salon article by Damien Cave asks "How far should ethnic profiling go in the quest to nab the World Trade Center terrorists?" Noting that, so far, the Arab-American community has been fairly patient with law enforcement efforts that have included singling out Arab-looking passengers on commercial flights, Cave wonders how long the imminent threat represented by the hijacking attacks will outweigh the threat to personal and civil liberties, beginning with this new wave of racial profiling.

"The bloody Jordan River now flows through America"
Also in Salon, Gary Kimiya points to America's continuing inability to wrangle with the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a major sticking point in Muslim perceptions of the United States. "For far too long, the United States has pretended to stand on the sidelines of a conflict in which we are not neutral, passively endorsing a situation in which bottled-up Palestinian rage has grown and grown until it has exploded in a terrible paroxysm of violence, bringing horror to Israelis and Palestinians alike." Kimiya believes that, in the wake of 9/11, it is crucial for America to reevaluate its stance in this conflict: "This is not appeasement, nor a surrender to our enemies. Moving toward a just resolution of the Middle East crisis . . . is simply the right thing to do."

"We Should Show Our Human Face to the Nations of the World"
Elena Murphy argues on that a violent response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks will be "another blow to the human principles of value of the human life, it will be a blow to the progress of humanity towards these common ideals, and it will be a blow to the United States as a country that stands for these ideals." Instead, she calls on Americans and their government to demonstrate a belief in the sanctity of human life, the best antidote to acts committed by those for whom life has no such value.

Did Journalism Measure Up? Evaluations from Poynter Ethics Fellows (Part I) and (Part II)
"Reporting on the terrorism and national tragedy takes journalists into the proverbial ethical mine field," note half-a-dozen journalists who are currently fellows at the Poynter Institute. Their group leader has written an article reporting the findings of their evaluation of the extensive media coverage given to the attacks. Has the coverage been fair, balanced, and well-sourced? To what extent will prejudice against Muslims influence reportage on the need to protect their civil rights?

"Terrorism: Rights, Blame and Ethics"
The writer of an op-ed for notes that "Only by pursuing justice, rather than revenge, and only by honestly evaluating and rectifying our own country's behavior, can Americans regain any ethical consistency and truly claim the right to condemn Tuesday's tragedy."

"Q&A: Terrorism's ethical components"
Read this interview by the with Rushworth M. Kidder, founder of the Institute for Global Ethics. Kidder stresses taking the long view in any response to terrorism, arguing that reforms in American foreign policy, its educational system, and its national identity will be, in the long run, both more ethical and more effective. "[T]he largest moral hazard of all," he says, "would be to go on as we are, educating the next generation of Americans with as much limited global understanding as we're currently educating them."

"Rational Fanatics"
In an article originally published in the September-October 2000 issue of Foreign Policy, Ehud Sprinzak argues against the "simplistic" belief that suicide bombers and fanatics "are ready to do anything and lose everything." Instead, he insists, suicide bombers are "cold, rational killers who employ violence to achieve specific political objectives." He goes on to dissect the political, religious, and -- most importantly -- psychological elements that go into the making of terrorists of the kind who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks.

"Justice is a Dish Best Served Cold"
Writing in The Moscow Times, Nicholas Berry says that, despite the rhetoric, the "War on Terrorism" cannot be a true war. "War," he writes, "is the use of armed force to break an enemy's will to resist [in which the] enemy's economy, population and political authority are the focus of combat and psychological operations." Bin Laden's al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations have no economy, no population besides their members, and no political authority. Furthermore, when the so-called war has ended and when the terms of peace are agreed on, the United States will not have anything to offer. (Note: Login required; fee may also be required.)

"Thinkers Face the Limits of a Just War"
Celestine Bohlen, writing in the New York Times, reviews the work of ethicists in evaluating the moral consequences of war. "As Americans reel from the enormity of the attacks," she writes, "a moral equation hovers: what would be the appropriate, effective and just response by the most powerful nation on earth?" In grappling with this question, Bohlen calls on the work of St. Augustine, military historian Sir Michael Howard, philosopher Michael Walzer, and Christian theologist Stanley Hauerwas. The discussion highlights the fine moral distinctions necessary in acting effectively without joining the evil forces you were originally fighting against. (Note: Login required; fee may also be required.)

"Attacks on U.S. Challenge Postmodern True Believers"
In this article for the New York Times, Edward Rothstein pits postmodern and postcolonial theory of the past several decades against the enormous evil of the World Trade Center attacks and finds the theory wanting. "This destruction seems to cry out for a transcendant ethical perspective," he writes, noting that "pomo" and "poco" theory presents both sides of a conflict as morally symmetric, providing no final criteria against which to judge a particular act -- in this case, the murder of thousands of civilians -- as either right or wrong, just or criminal. Surely we need some absolute criteria for facing crises of this nature? Rothstein poses a provocative question.

"In Response to Terror"
This article by James Turner Johnson, first published two years ago in First Things, a journal of religion and public life, reminds us of the efforts made in the wake of the Beirut marine barracks bombing to bridge the gap between ethicists and philosophers on the one hand, and military officers and policymakers on the other, urging us to renew these efforts. Like many of our roundtable commentators above, Johnson turns to the just war tradition, dating back to Thomas Aquinas, as a guide to dealing with the moral consequences of terrorism and the government's response. "In just war terms, there is just cause when force is used to defend against attack, to retake something wrongly taken, or to punish evil," he writes, noting that such force may be justified not only in response to terrorist attacks, but also in an effort to prevent them.

The opinions expressed in this roundtable do not necessarily reflect those of the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs. In addition, we are not responsible for the content of external Internet sites.

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