About the SA Blog Network



Critical views of science in the news
Cross-Check Home

We Need a New Just-War Theory, Which Aims to End War Forever

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Email   PrintPrint

My last post, “How Can We Condemn Boston Murders and Excuse U.S. Bombing of Civilians?”, has provoked lots of commentary, including a vigorous discussion on reddit. The larger question people are wrestling with is when, if ever, lethal force is justified. Here is my attempt at an answer, which I originally presented in The End of War and in a column last year:

History abounds in challenges to peace-lovers, which I call damned-if-you-do-or-don’t dilemmas. Should American colonialists have violently resisted British rule? Should Lincoln have waged war to preserve the Union and end slavery? Should the U.S. and other nations have intervened when Saddam Hussein seized Kuwait in 1990? When Serbians carried out ethnic cleansing against Muslims in Kosovo? When Hutus started slaughtering Tutsis in Rwanda? When China squashed Tibet’s attempts to gain independence? Let’s say that Nazi Germany had not invaded any other countries but had carried out its plan to exterminate all German Jews. Should other nations have attempted to stop the slaughter? When, if ever, is nonviolence less moral than violence?

These are the quandaries that just-war theory purports to answer. Just-war theory has a checkered history. One of its founders, the fourth century cleric Saint Augustine, was keen on holy wars waged by Christians against infidels. He argued that killing sinners and non-believers is righteous, because it stops them from sinning. This logic helped inspire the Crusades and European conquests in the Americas. Just-war theorists have also reasoned that war, because it is so awful, should be waged ruthlessly to end it as quickly as possible. This logic justified Sherman’s brutal devastation of the South during the Civil War; Churchill’s decision to bomb civilian populations in Germany; Truman’s choice to drop atomic bombs on Japan.

Virtually all modern warriors claim–and even believe–that their cause is just. Some wars, especially “humanitarian interventions” undertaken to help others, are clearly more just than others. But once wars begin, even warriors fighting for just causes often behave unjustly. The armed intervention of the U.S. and its NATO allies against Qaddafi two years ago demonstrates this truth. Bombs dropped by NATO planes killed not only Qaddafi’s troops but also civilians NATO was supposed to be protecting. The Libyan rebels, after gaining the upper hand in certain towns, reportedly killed civilians loyal toward Qaddafi, prompting reprisals from Qaddafi loyalists. This same terrible pattern has unfolded in Syria.

Quakers, Jains and other pacifists consider the concept of “just war” to be an oxymoron. Needless to say, I’m sympathetic toward this viewpoint. I believe that NATO’s intervention in Libya—like the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq—was a mistake. But I certainly relate to the Obama administration’s empathy for and desire to help helpless civilians being attacked by a cruel bully. Could I have stood by if I had the power to stop, or try to stop, Qaddafi? What about Syria’s Assad regime?

I believe people have the right to defend themselves against violent attacks. We also have the right, and sometimes the duty, to help others being threatened by bullies. But given war’s terrible unpredictability, and its tendency to exacerbate rather than solving problems, we should do all we can to solve damned-if-you-do-or-don’t dilemmas nonviolently—or, if that fails, with minimal force. I don’t have any special formula for determining exactly when and how to use force. I just have a few simple—simplistic, some might say—rules.

First, we should heed the Hippocratic command to do no harm. In other words, whatever we do, we shouldn’t make a bad situation worse, which is just what the U.S. and its allies did in Afghanistan, Iraq and, arguably, Libya. We should stop using mines, bombs and other weapons that kill indiscriminately. That includes the drones that the Obama administration has deployed to carry out assassinations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and probably elsewhere.

Minimizing casualties, even of combatants, should be the highest priority. The manner in which police employ force should be the model. In the U.S. and most other democratic countries, police are legally required to avoid hurting civilians and even criminals. If police know that a psychotic, armed killer is holding hostages in a building, they don’t immediately bomb the building or storm it with machine guns blazing. In fact, they try to capture rather than kill the killer so that he can be tried by the justice system, as occurred last week in the case of the suspected Boston bomber. Often, this means that police patiently try to talk the criminal into surrendering without hurting his hostages.

The approach I’m advocating resembles the “just policing” philosophy of the theologian Gerald Schlabach. He sees three key differences between police work and conventional warfare. I’ve already mentioned two: Police officers place the safety of civilians above all other goals, and they strive not to kill criminals but to bring them to justice. The third difference identified by Schlabach is rhetorical. Whereas wartime leaders often employ charged, emotional language to rally a nation against the enemy, competent police officials seek to tamp down rather than inflaming emotions.

These rules are restrictive enough, but I have one more that, if followed, may result in even fewer armed interventions: Whatever our response is to a damned-if-you-do-or-don’t dilemma, we should formulate it with the larger goal of abolishing war, and even the threat of war, once and for all. This means that, if we employ violence, we must do so in a way that does not legitimize violence as a solution to problems. This may seem to be a tricky, even impossible, proposition, but police pull it off when they’re doing their jobs well.

The end-of-war rule demands that we consider not only the immediate consequences of our actions but also how they will be perceived by others. Will our actions be viewed as disproportionately violent? Will they provoke reprisals? Will our intervention, which we claim is purely altruistic, look to others like muscle-flexing? A demonstration of our nifty new stealth fighter or drone? A reminder to other nations around the world of our overwhelming military superiority? An attempt to seize oil reserves? Are our actions consistent with the principle that war is immoral and needs to be abolished? Or will they make it easier for other groups to justify their violence?

These questions are directed primarily at the U.S., which—let’s face it—is a major impediment to world peace. I love my country, but I am often embarrassed by the chasm between our lofty rhetoric and our actions. We denounce Al Qaeda, rightly, for the moral nihilism and illegitimacy that it demonstrates when it kills thousands of innocent American civilians. So how does the U.S. respond? By invading two countries and killing thousands of civilians who had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.

We claim to revere peace and human rights yet we embark on wars of choice, in which we treat alleged enemies and even innocent civilians cruelly. We pay lip service to the principles of national sovereignty and international law while secretly carrying out deadly drone and commando raids. We spend as much on arms and armies as all other nations combined, and we are by far the biggest arms dealers on the planet. We are guilty of shameful hypocrisy. If we practiced what we preached—if we showed through our actions that we recognize how wrong war is—we Americans could lead the entire world to an enduring peace.


John Horgan About the Author: Every week, hockey-playing science writer John Horgan takes a puckish, provocative look at breaking science. A teacher at Stevens Institute of Technology, Horgan is the author of four books, including The End of Science (Addison Wesley, 1996) and The End of War (McSweeney's, 2012). Follow on Twitter @Horganism.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Rights & Permissions

Comments 70 Comments

Add Comment
  1. 1. khill 12:11 pm 04/24/2013

    I think it is a nice idea, but ‘the minimal force necessary’ is basically an unknowlabe quantity.

    You can think of 2 x 1-D graphs, first we have the relationship between force and the probability of success, and then another with force and morality. We all accept (I think) that there’s a negative slope for the force-morality graph, but the maximization there is going to depend on how you compare success with morality. That’s the tough problem.

    Link to this
  2. 2. tuned 12:43 pm 04/24/2013

    It is beyond argument that the latest terrorist success in America came after withdrawals from the mideast as the point of engagement, no matter how you FEEL about it. The sociopathic radical mindsets no longer feel a need to travel there to fight against freedom and their “purple thumbs”.

    It is also clear that the new wave of liberal social media horrifically misidentified the Boston bomber suspect and got him murdered (latest Brown campus news of his body found floating). I fail to see any moral high road there either.

    Link to this
  3. 3. M Tucker 1:18 pm 04/24/2013

    John, you ask some very provocative questions and, I think, you have outlined some lofty notions. But I also think that as soon as you say, “I believe people have the right to defend themselves against violent attacks.” You imply that people have the right to violently resist. Should a people wait until attacked before they resist? How many innocent people will you allow to be killed before violent resistance is justified? How far should the resistance go? Should we kill the aggressor?

    Then with this “just policing” approach, this notion that “Police officers place the safety of civilians above all other goals…” is simply a philosophy that is not always what actually happens. What happened when LAPD was on the hunt for Christopher Dorner? How many innocent people were attacked? That notion of “public safety above all other goals” goes right out the window if another police officer is killed. The police act just like anyone else in a combat situation. Many will shoot first, get revenge, protect fellow officers, and then maybe protect the public. What is their defense? If we don’t get the real Droner he is free to endanger the public. Similar to the defense the military uses for “ruthlessly” prosecuting a war. I believe some historians have called this a “total war” philosophy.

    World peace is a wonderful idea. So far it is only an idea never realized. To actually achieve world peace you would need to abolish fear. Is that possible? You would need to end all fear of the “other.” You would need to end all prejudice, end bigotry, end hunger, end the desire for power over another, end corruption. As a people the US is not there yet. Europe is not their yet. The Middle East is not their yet. I doubt that you could truly find a single nation on Earth that has really achieved that yet.

    I too believe we need to talk about this world peace idea. It is one of our most difficult problems as a species. So, even though I don’t believe it is possible now I think we need to see how we can make it possible. Oh, and John, that “chasm between our lofty rhetoric and our actions” actually began on day one. It began when the Declaration of Independence was signed. “All men are created equal” except for our African slaves. Oh, and we do mean just white European men who own land, not women and not the average guy who is also fighting for independence. We have been working on getting our “lofty rhetoric” in line with our actions since we began this great experiment with democracy.

    Link to this
  4. 4. syzygyygyzys 2:21 pm 04/24/2013

    Now I begin to understand the Boston Marathon bombings post. The concept of just barely winning a war has very many obvious flaws. I’ll just mention a couple of them. First, trying to just barely win significantly raises the likelihood you will lose. Second, it seems likely to extent the time of conflict which raises the chance of even higher casualties. WW2 wasn’t a cake walk even after we broke the German and Japanese codes and tried to win with everything we had. Imagine the consequences of just barely trying to win?

    To others who may disagree with Mr. Horgan’s rules of war, I say argue with him respectfully. I believe he longs for a world where fewer people needlessly die. I hope we all want that. I for one hope he lives to see that dream a reality.

    I suspect those who can’t or won’t defend themselves successfully will be and have been selected against.

    Link to this
  5. 5. BookSpine 3:51 pm 04/24/2013


    I noticed that you deleted the most recent post by Bremsstrahlung. It was just in front of my post, currently #71 in your previous column. Why did you do that?

    Link to this
  6. 6. Bremsstrahlung 4:04 pm 04/24/2013

    @5. BookSpine

    I made the mistake of evaluating the likely results of following the author’s claim.

    Link to this
  7. 7. Bremsstrahlung 4:25 pm 04/24/2013

    @5. BookSpine

    You Rock, dude! Someone was embarrassed enough to reset the Display flag on my post to ‘Yes’! Many thanks!

    Link to this
  8. 8. MarkWilliams 4:46 pm 04/24/2013

    Thanks John,
    It’s about time that we start to talk about our country’s militarist streak.

    Link to this
  9. 9. SilverTusk 5:14 pm 04/24/2013

    @8. MarkWilliams

    “It’s about time that we start to talk about our country’s militarist streak.”

    “start to talk?” “START TO TALK?” Am I the only sorta Liberal left who is familiar with Modern History? The most recent debate began 52 years ago, on Jan.17,1961 with President Eisenhower’s exit speech.
    Here is the relevant excerpt:

    “A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.

    Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.
    Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

    This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

    In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

    We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

    “start to talk?” The debate has been going on all your life.

    Link to this
  10. 10. NewGatsby 6:21 pm 04/24/2013

    “We denounce Al Qaeda, rightly, for the moral nihilism and illegitimacy that it demonstrates when it kills thousands of innocent American civilians. So how does the U.S. respond? By invading two countries and killing thousands of civilians who had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.”

    You’re wrong. The invasion of Iraq was to get the non-existent weapons of mass destruction (WMD), or don’t you remember that?

    Link to this
  11. 11. Paradigm Theorem 1:36 am 04/25/2013

    You Americans could lead the world into an enduring peace, if you would have the balls to overthrow the biggest terrorist organization in the world… your own government.

    Link to this
  12. 12. Moosehead 3:40 am 04/25/2013

    Today is ANZAC Day here in Australia. A day commemorating the ANZACS who died at Gallipoli. Since young childhood, it rubbed me the wrong way. What about the sixty thousand Turks killed there? Why don’t they get a day Down Under to commemorate them? Are those deaths less important than “ours”? Apparently. Nationalism is not a good thing. Nothing divisive as nationalism ever is.

    How is it that the highly educated, intelligent people commenting here in support of war, fetching at the most flimsy of straws to justify it, cannot think laterally enough to see that for all their education and brains, they have been implicitly brainwashed. Brainwashed into believing in the detrimental mentality of “us and them”, the mentality that in huge part serves to spark wars. Buying into a way of thinking that a bunch of sedentary old white men spoon feed you.

    Link to this
  13. 13. Moosehead 3:48 am 04/25/2013

    Oh. I was referring to the vitriolic comment thread in the Boston Murders post, incidentally. Bravo to Mr. Horgan on two great articles.

    Link to this
  14. 14. BookSpine 5:38 am 04/25/2013


    Are you referring to the thread where John Horgan deleted the posts that showed him to be wrong, davidkie posted “its a book, not a TV show, so maybe thats a bit much for you….”, and “Are you even an adult?” in support of Mr. Horgan?

    That column?

    Link to this
  15. 15. abolitionist 5:50 am 04/25/2013

    @11. Moosehead

    “Buying into a way of thinking that a bunch of sedentary old white men spoon feed you.”

    I was unaware that Genghis Khan, Sun Tzu, or Saladin were “sedentary old white men” until you posted your amusing claim. When did that happen?

    Why do you think it is appropriate to bring race into Mr Horgn’s debate on ethics? Do you believe the race of people is relevant in this context? If you do, would you please explain why?

    Link to this
  16. 16. SoftLanding 6:17 am 04/25/2013

    @11. Moosehead – “sedentary old white men”

    Racism? Why? Do you think racially biased opinions are ethical? In the US in the 21st century? For shame!

    Link to this
  17. 17. abolitionist 7:01 am 04/25/2013

    @13. BookSpine

    “the thread where John Horgan deleted the posts that showed him to be wrong”

    A small qualification, if I may; John deleted only some of the posts that showed him to be wrong. Granted, he shouldn’t have deleted any of the posts that showed him to be wrong. I wish I knew what was so wicked about Bremstrahlung’s post that John broke his rule about not deleting posts.

    Link to this
  18. 18. John Horgan in reply to John Horgan 2:54 pm 04/25/2013

    I haven’t deleted any posts, actually, but I probably should. Some of you boneheads really test my commitment to free speech.

    Link to this
  19. 19. M Tucker 4:09 pm 04/25/2013

    John, It would be fun if you could try to push the discussion in a particular direction. Your post is very provocative to say the lest and I would like you to attempt to supply some answers to a couple of questions that you asked.

    “Could I have stood by if I had the power to stop, or try to stop, Qaddafi? What about Syria’s Assad regime?”

    In the previous paragraph you said that the NATO intervention in Libya went from “just” to “unjust” because of collateral deaths from NATO bombing. So, my question to you is, would you have called for intervention in Libya? How would you have conducted the intervention to keep it “just?” If the Qaddafi forces attacked rebels with tanks how would you have responded? If Qaddafi forces attacked the rebel perimeter with overwhelming force what weapons would be used to defend the rebels? If Qaddafi forces refused to leave a position or town should the rebels simply wait for them to leave? What if the rebels are being assaulted by artillery? How long should the rebels wait? How many casualties should the rebels take? This was a very different engagement from any police operation I have ever witnessed in the US.

    Link to this
  20. 20. Bremsstrahlung 6:29 pm 04/25/2013

    @17. John Horgan

    “I haven’t deleted any posts, actually, but I probably should. “

    Then, as you acknowledge you can, and apparently plan to delete posts, would you please explain why my post displayed, vanished, displayed again following BookSpine’s inquiry @5, and then vanished again?

    Link to this
  21. 21. SoftLanding 6:35 pm 04/25/2013

    @17. John Horgan – “I haven’t deleted any posts, actually, but I probably should. “

    You should start with Moosehead’s racist post @11!

    Link to this
  22. 22. gesimsek 6:44 pm 04/25/2013

    Countries are ruled by naked kings, who believe their naked power and not ashamed of, but we cannot tell them who they really are out of fear and we prefer to act like they are dressed because we are ashamed.

    Link to this
  23. 23. syzygyygyzys 6:52 pm 04/25/2013


    Please run the auto-translation program again. No idea what you said?


    What? You don’t believe in Immaculate Deletion?

    Link to this
  24. 24. Bremsstrahlung 7:22 pm 04/25/2013

    @22. syzygyygyzys,

    Well, about the only scenario I can think of that does not involve someone setting the Display flag of my post to ‘N’ is that the data was lost when the blog site went off-line for a while later yesterday evening. Even that is a stretch, as the underlying data base will do a commit following each transaction, so when the TI folk did a restore (assuming one was needed) the post would have been recovered.

    Link to this
  25. 25. syzygyygyzys 8:19 pm 04/25/2013

    That makes sense. A batch of 66 comments vanished from another blog today. If Mr. Horgan says he didn’t delete, I believe him.

    Link to this
  26. 26. Bremsstrahlung 8:50 pm 04/25/2013

    @24. syzygyygyzys,

    66 comments vanished from another blog? Wowzers! SciAm’s TI staff certainly has an opportunity to do even better than they already are, eh? OK, in that case, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt – even if he does advocate some decidedly Utopian notions like “A civilized nation doesn’t [kill civilians]. Or shouldn’t. Ever.”

    Link to this
  27. 27. SugarTax 10:29 pm 04/25/2013

    @John Horgan

    “When, if ever, is nonviolence less moral than violence?”

    When you could have saved another, but willfully did not.

    Link to this
  28. 28. Moosehead 1:11 pm 04/26/2013

    syzygyygyzys, gemisek is presumably referring to the fable, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

    My comment wasn’t intended to be racist. I can’t help but notice, though, that a LOT of people have been sent to their deaths, or murdered (however ostensibly indirectly), by a bunch of powerful white men, far, far away from battlefields and safe from harm’s way, ensconced in comfortable boardrooms a lot of the time, I’d wager. Of course less sedentary men from other parts of the world ignite war and violence as well, but I was just thinking out loud with regards to what I perceived as some *actual* and strong racist undertones in many of the comments from Mr. Horgan’s previous article.

    Link to this
  29. 29. SoftLanding 6:35 pm 04/26/2013

    @27. Moosehead – “My comment wasn’t intended to be racist.”

    But it was. Shame on you!

    Link to this
  30. 30. abolitionist 8:46 pm 04/26/2013

    @27. Moosehead

    “I was just thinking out loud with regards to what I perceived as some *actual* and strong racist undertones in many of the comments from Mr. Horgan’s previous article.”

    As of 20:35 ET, there were 97 posts left on the previous column. With your accusation in mind, I read them all. In contrast to your post #11 in this thread, none of them were racist. But perhaps you perceived something I did not.

    Put your money where your mouth is. Identify those “racist” posts. Were they the ones that “disappeared”?

    I bet you’ll fail.

    Link to this
  31. 31. TemporaryExpedient 9:43 pm 04/26/2013


    “We denounce Al Qaeda, rightly, for the moral nihilism and illegitimacy that it demonstrates when it kills thousands of innocent American civilians. So how does the U.S. respond? By invading two countries and killing thousands of civilians who had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.”

    You’ve made another mistake. The invasion of Iraq was to secure Saddam Hussein’s WMDs, not in response to 9/11.

    Your conclusion is based on a false premise

    Link to this
  32. 32. SugarTax 6:12 am 04/27/2013

    @John Horgan

    There are credible reports the Syrian army is using sarin poison gas to kill its rebellious citizens.
    Do you feel morally justified to advise others to do nothing while Syrian army uses sarin poison gas to kill its rebellious citizens?

    Please be specific. I’d like to know what reasoning you use to justify inaction while war crimes re being committed.

    Link to this
  33. 33. centromere 7:58 am 04/27/2013

    @30 SugarTax,

    I hope you are patient, as I expect that it will take the peacenik/pacifist people a good long while to respond to your inquiry.

    Link to this
  34. 34. PunPui 8:08 am 04/27/2013

    @30. centromere

    I see that Horgan has been deleting posts that show him to be wrong again. :(

    Link to this
  35. 35. centromere 8:15 am 04/27/2013

    @31. PunPui

    Yeah, it’s a bit of a shame, really. How can an honest, adult debate on the merits of a claim occur when the arguments of one POV – but not the other – are deleted?

    Link to this
  36. 36. PunPui 9:01 am 04/27/2013

    Do you remember what SugarTax posted?

    Link to this
  37. 37. centromere 9:21 am 04/27/2013

    @33. PunPui

    Yes I do. SugarTax asked John to explain how his pacifism fit in with the reported use of the Syrian army using nerve gas to kill its opponents. I suppose that he was unwilling to accept that challenge. I can understand that the question put him in a decidedly awkward position.

    Link to this
  38. 38. NewGatsby 9:58 am 04/27/2013

    @32. centromere

    Why did you expect an honest, adult debate? John is selling his political POV. He’d be nuts to permit people to show that he’s wrong.

    Anyway, why are you assuming John deleted the post?

    Link to this
  39. 39. Moosehead 10:08 am 04/27/2013

    @ abolitionist:


    No one was overtly racist. But you sincerely don’t identify an “us versus them” mentality, underpinning a whole lot of comments?

    This was the first thing I just saw as I brought up the previous article’s comment thread, by Nagnostic: “Third, the US is a sovereign nation of citizens, no matter how open to all comers you want it to be, you still have to be a citizen to vote and collect SS… well, maybe… at any rate, if we’re able to treat child-killers within our borders better than children in Timbuktu, so what of it? What is your point? Isn’t that a good thing?”

    The next thing I saw, straight away, was this: “Given what has happened in Boston in the name of their religion which intentionally targeted innocents, I find it surprising you see collateral casualties from our attempts at self-preservation as equivalent.

    Mr. Horgan, we are not the savages.”

    Nice, syzygyygyzys. Nice.

    Link to this
  40. 40. centromere 10:12 am 04/27/2013

    @36. NewGatsby

    While your point is well made, John is presenting his claims as ethically positive. Deleting other peoples posts, while at the same time claiming to respect free speech is more than a little contradictory. Further, he feels comfortable criticizing others for what he regards s their hypocrisy. A bit of the pot calling the kettle black in my opinion.

    While we’ll never know who deleted the post, John has responsibility for this blog, so if he didn’t delete the post, then someone else, operating under his authority deleted the post. The buck stops with him. Also, Scientific American renounces responsibility for the blog, “The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.”

    Link to this
  41. 41. NewGatsby 10:36 am 04/27/2013

    @37. centromere

    So what if Scientific American renounces responsibility for the blog? That’s just a legal formality to protect the organization from being sued.

    Link to this
  42. 42. syzygyygyzys 11:14 am 04/27/2013

    This is getting interesting again. It seems that Mr. Moosehead thinks it is racist to repeat exactly what the captured terrorist says, namely that they killed and maimed in the name of their religion. AND, they were proud of it and on their way to do it again. Mine was an unequivocally true statement.

    Just a few questions for Mr. Moosehead.

    Do we have to say, “Uh… I don’t mean all followers of Islam.” every time we say anything negative about Islamic jihadists? Really?

    Do you not believe child killers are savages?

    What exactly about my post do you consider racist?

    What do you think of the way Islamists treat women and gays? Treating them like property and killing them seems savage to me. Do you have a milder term you propose?

    I’m not going to trot out my equal rights resume in my defense. Mr. Moosehead (I assume male gender) is welcome to his opinion. But allow me to say this:

    Any educated person knows that human beings are the most genetically uniform animal population on the planet. It seems we all originated from the same location (probably east or southern Africa). Knowing that makes it fairly difficult to be racist.

    If Mr. Moosehead isn’t willing to address the above specifically, I suggest that he/she not be taken seriously. But perhaps I’m just engaging in another racist rant?

    Link to this
  43. 43. centromere 11:41 am 04/27/2013

    @39. NewGatsby

    When Scientific American renounces responsibility for the blog, if it does protect the organization from being sued, then it need not invest any effort to police the content. This increases the likelihood that the deleter was John and not one of the Scientific American web support staff, because he has a vested interest in voiding being shown wring, while Scientific American doesn’t.

    Link to this
  44. 44. abolitionist 11:45 am 04/27/2013

    @36 Moosehead,

    Your post #27 (at the moment): “some *actual* and strong racist undertones in many of the comments from Mr. Horgan’s previous article.”

    Your post #36 (currently): “No one was overtly racist.”

    Nicely self-contradictory there.

    “But you sincerely don’t identify an “us versus them” mentality, underpinning a whole lot of comments?”

    Republicans have an “us versus them” mentality, and so do Democrats, and so do the Tories, and so do members of the UK Labor party. Are all “us versus them” mentalities equivalent? No, of course they’re not. Your argument is empty: an “us versus them” mentality =/= racist mentality; you’ve admitted “No one was overtly racist.” You’ll need to be more creative than that if you want anyone to believe there were racist posts in the previous column.

    You’ll also want to keep in mind that religion =/= race. I await your next effort.

    Link to this
  45. 45. syzygyygyzys 12:24 pm 04/27/2013

    Regarding the alleged deletions, Hillary would ask, “What does it matter who did it??” If one adopts the malicious intent/paranoid theory, one might speculate that deletions of substantive content were made while comments about the deletions were left standing. To the rest of us, this would leave commenters discussing the deletions looking delusional and/or paranoid. If that was the evil intent, it is sorta working.

    Here’s a thought about the missing missives. Post them somewhere else and post a link to them here.

    Folks, I think some of us are way overestimating the importance of this comment area. The bloggers can operate their blogs however they want. You can participate in the comments or not. If you don’t feel fairly treated, choose not.

    Link to this
  46. 46. Moosehead 12:33 pm 04/27/2013

    Dunno why you assume “Mr.” Moosehead…

    Of course I abhor the way any homophobe or sexist treats women or gays. Perhaps especially AS a woman, much of Islamic tenet rubs me the wrong way. Islamic nations aren’t the only nations treating gays and women appallingly, though. Look no further than many first world countries. Granted, it’s often more subtle, but here in Australia, a grand total of NO states allow gay marriage. And over there in the US, HOW many female presidents have you had again? It’s an extremely patriarchal system. I’m not denying that many Islamic women are considerably more oppressed than their western counterparts, and I personally strongly oppose a lot of Islamic principles, (hell, I strongly oppose organized religion), but still…my point is “we” treat people terribly ourselves, don’t overlook that. Because, causing, then dismissing, thousands of civilian deaths (not to mention lives ruined irreparably forever, families torn asunder, maimed children, displaced elderly) as “collateral damage” is pretty damn terrible. No matter what.

    It really isn’t rocket science. Violence is horrific no matter the guise, and by no means a solution to anything. I’m clearly a pacifist. But a pacifistic world it’s decidedly not, and we have gotten ourselves into a state of affairs where complete disarmament is not an option, thanks to the rapacious and violent nature intrinsic in man. But much of our species also has innate humanity, and that’s the point I’ve been (incoherently in the sleepy wee hours Down Under) endeavouring to arrive at. Which is why I believe it’s unacceptable to sit back and allow violence to occur, no matter the justification; it’d be different if we, as a species, were *completely*, *abjectly* devoid of compassion, had no basic empathy. But we are not, and as such, how can we ever justify killing and violence, especially where the truly innocent are concerned, as a “solution” to anything? The only honest answer is, we can’t!

    The only path to peace IS peace itself.

    America and cronies need to better understand that (including Australia). And while we’re at it, maybe also the meaning of the term “terrorism” (n.The use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims) and better strive to make sure that by the war on terror, they’re not perpetuating more terror, ad infinitum, or…being the terrorists themselves.

    I love the American people; for godsakes, they’re people. Where are the borders from space? Sheesh. Since young childhood, that has been my innate way of thinking, and if the men who run the world cwould cease for a moment, in their pursuit of POWER, and tap into whatever droplets of humanity they may have left, then war COULD be averted. Why not play CHESS, for crapsake. Isn’t that why the game was invented? If I could be so circumspect and in touch with my humanity at five years old, then damned if I know why grown men cannot. I love my fellow humans as a whole, but the world’s governments leave a lot to be desired. I’m not a crackpot, nor a conspiracy theorist per se, and it’s my opinion 9/11 was likely an inside job…and if it was, then the blood the U.S. has on its hands in Afghanistan, Iraq, etc, is even more diabolical than the innocent blood on the hands of governments that DON’T start unutterably unjust wars (and of course “unjust war” is a complete tautology, but whatever).

    Anyways. To my mind, what is needed in the current age is a conscious effort to stop willfully detaching from the consequences of our action. Take off our willful fetters. If people would even stop disconnecting from what they EAT, the world would be less violent. (But that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms, I’m sure most will think). After all, Auschwitz happens every time someone looks at a slaughterhouse and says “They’re just animals.” The psychology of genocide and holocausts is not as complex as you might think. I often feel terribly and veritably awake in a world that is sleeping. People are just so deluded, and it’s all by choice.

    It actually takes being a real man to have the balls to take a stand against violence, to question everything the sheeple allow themselves to be spoonfed as gospel, by a pathetic media doing the dirty work of unfeeling government, and a dumbed down society.

    Link to this
  47. 47. TemporaryExpedient 12:37 pm 04/27/2013

    @31. PunPui

    Someone deleted my post too.

    I pointed out that Mr. Horgan was wrong when he said “We denounce Al Qaeda, rightly, for the moral nihilism and illegitimacy that it demonstrates when it kills thousands of innocent American civilians. So how does the U.S. respond? By invading two countries and killing thousands of civilians who had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.”

    The U.S. didn’t respond to 9/11 by invading 2 countries. The U.S. lead invasion of Iraq was to capture Saddam Hussein’s supposed Weapons of Mass Destruction (a chemical weapon, like the sarin nerve gas reportedly used by Syria against its citizens is an example).

    Link to this
  48. 48. abolitionist 12:48 pm 04/27/2013

    @44. Moosehead

    Was that a 728 (+/-) word admission that there were no racist comments in the previous column?

    If so, you could have tightened it up a bit by just posting “Sorry.”

    Link to this
  49. 49. Moosehead 1:01 pm 04/27/2013

    No, I definitely don’t think I was imagining racism underlying many of the comments in the previous column. I never said it was in your face kind of racism. I said strong, but that doesn’t mean the same as overt. You articulate people are good at the art of subtlety. Maybe some of the posts were deleted? I don’t know, but even in the remaining posts, I very much detect a “we” as the righteous and “them” as the infidels kinda vibe underlying the grasping-at-straws justifications for “collateral casualties.”

    Link to this
  50. 50. SteppingStone 1:04 pm 04/27/2013

    @ 44. Moosehead – “I’m not a crackpot, nor a conspiracy theorist per se, and it’s my opinion 9/11 was likely an inside job”

    If you believe 9/11 was “an inside job”, then yes, you are a conspiracy theorist.

    Now, as to you being a crackpot, we’ll need to get more data, although your unjustified “racist” accusation does make it seem more likely than not.

    Link to this
  51. 51. abolitionist 1:09 pm 04/27/2013

    @46. Moosehead – “No, I definitely don’t think I was imagining racism”

    OK. Then point out which one(s). You’ve made the accusations, now explain yourself. You’ve not had success so far.

    Link to this
  52. 52. Moosehead 1:21 pm 04/27/2013

    The link is not working for me, but I’ll definitely re-read the comments when it does. From memory — and like I said — nothing overt, but, rather, the general gist very much arising from the pro-collateral casualties comments. Does racist gist not count as racism?

    Link to this
  53. 53. Moosehead 1:22 pm 04/27/2013

    Does a US superiority/bully complex and exemption from having to do the right thing not count as a form of racism?

    Link to this
  54. 54. centromere 1:27 pm 04/27/2013

    @46. Moosehead

    “Anyways. To my mind, what is needed in the current age is a conscious effort to stop willfully detaching from the consequences of our action.”

    Have you ever thought of advancing your ideals to Taliban operatives? You know, the ones that shoot girls in the head to teach a “lesson” to anyone who has the courage to stand up for education, freedom and self-determination, particularly for girls and women? I think her name is Malala. Perhaps you’ve heard of her.

    Have you reviewed your ideals with them? No? Thought not.

    Link to this
  55. 55. abolitionist 1:34 pm 04/27/2013

    @49. Moosehead

    “The link is not working for me”

    That’s odd. I just now tried it. It worked. And back to this column again. Whatever. I’m patient. You check into that column when the link begins to work for you and get back with your research, will you?

    I’ll be here waiting.

    Link to this
  56. 56. syzygyygyzys 1:40 pm 04/27/2013

    Ms. Moosehead,

    I meant no disrespect. It was a successful attempt to draw out more information about you so better to understand your perspective (I’m a bit sneaky that way). I very much appreciated your last post in that regard. Most of the world shares, as I do, your hope that no more people die in war.

    Unfortunately, there really are groups out to get us, and you. Unless we are willing to identify these groups, such as Islamic jihadists, it’s much more difficult to defend ourselves, and you. My father joined with your country’s men and women in WW2 to defend aggression by the Japanese. We would do it again and ask nothing in return. In my view, we are trying to do that now. I’m being completely serious; in the example of WW2, what would you have had us do?

    You have obviously thought about this for a long time. And I genuinely ask this without a trace of sarcasm. How would you have us defend against those who want to establish a worldwide caliphate? Some of the groups say quite explicitly that is their aim. Some level of “them vs. us” would seem to be required for survival.

    Everyone here I know has a very positive view of the land down under and its people. Please continue to post. I’m interested in your thoughts.

    Link to this
  57. 57. syzygyygyzys 1:49 pm 04/27/2013

    Everyone has a right to their own views. But to the extent we accomplish anything here, I believe respect and civility help advance the discussion. Sometimes I don’t follow that advice myself, but it’s still good advice.

    Link to this
  58. 58. Bremsstrahlung 1:51 pm 04/27/2013

    @43. Moosehead

    “The only path to peace IS peace itself.”

    What you and other authors have failed to understand (yet) is that if peace is a goal or an end, it is therefore a terminus towards which we travel. Peace is therefore neither a process nor a path. Working upon the presumption that the goal is to transition from our current state to that end point, the path to peace passes through less and less conflict.

    While your one-liner is good for a sound bite or rallying cry, it is self-contradictory and good for little else.

    Link to this
  59. 59. Moosehead 2:03 pm 04/27/2013

    I’m not here to propose tactical solutions to prevent a worldwide caliphate so much as stand on my soapbox and vent about a very sad world. And state that the US really does need to work on its bully tactics. And that I do believe a less violent world is possible and in our own hands. John’s last paragraph doesn’t smack of truth?

    Of course I’m aware of the evils of the Taliban. Sharia Law nauseates me. But was ousting the Taliban America’s sole agenda? Do you guys really think the US acts ethically much of the time? Not being sarcastic either, just curious to know how you feel deep down, if you can separate how you really feel deep down from any defense mechanisms set in place by nationalism, by fear, and etc.

    Link to this
  60. 60. BookSpine 2:07 pm 04/27/2013

    @50. Moosehead – “Does a US superiority/bully complex and exemption from having to do the right thing not count as a form of racism?”

    It does not.

    Ignoring your prejudicial terminology for the moment, unwarrantedly or exaggeratedly putting one’s country first or favoring one’s country is referred to as chauvinism, not racism.

    Link to this
  61. 61. Moosehead 2:08 pm 04/27/2013


    I strongly disagree. Very strongly. Peace, like the concept of perfection, is maybe not a terminus at all, not something to ever be truly arrived at, but only something to strive towards achieving, creating a more peaceful world *along the way* thusly. To me, that is far more realistic than expecting non-violence will ever be achieved using violence.

    Link to this
  62. 62. Moosehead 2:11 pm 04/27/2013

    Thanks, BookSpine. Okay, it’s chauvinism, not racism per se, in that respect…cheers. But is that a lot better? Hmm

    Link to this
  63. 63. Chryses 2:22 pm 04/27/2013

    Moosehead (56),

    “Of course I’m aware of the evils of the Taliban. Sharia Law nauseates me.”

    Then stop complaining when someone (else) does something about it.

    “But was ousting the Taliban America’s sole agenda?”

    You remain confused. Ousting the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan was the second item on America’s agenda. The primary objective of the invasion of Afghanistan was to dismantle the Al Qaeda organization and end its use of Afghanistan as a base.

    “Do you guys really think the US acts ethically much of the time?”

    Yes, I do. The invasion of Afghanistan, whereby two lethal organizations, Al Qaeda and the Taliban, were removed from power is an example of ethical use of military power.

    Link to this
  64. 64. BookSpine 2:29 pm 04/27/2013

    @59. Moosehead

    “Thanks, BookSpine. Okay, it’s chauvinism, not racism”

    You’re welcome. It is a common enough mistake. Many people use “racism” or “racist” these days to denote an activity or individual they dislike. That should be avoided, as it dilutes the very negative impact of REAL racism.

    Link to this
  65. 65. Bremsstrahlung 2:43 pm 04/27/2013

    @59. Moosehead

    “Peace, like the concept of perfection, is maybe not a terminus at all, not something to ever be truly arrived at, but only something to strive towards”

    Then I think you have parted ways with the author of the piece above, as I think he truely desires Peace, not “something warm and soft and fuzzy in a happy place where everyone smiles”.

    I think the author proposes an end to war: Peace.

    I also think that by redefining the notion of peace as unattainable, you remove it from the domain of the possible, and in so doing increase the probability that it will be forever beyond our reach.

    It does, however, give you and those like you an eternal platform for criticizing anyone whose behavior you dislike.

    Link to this
  66. 66. MovingViolation 2:56 pm 04/27/2013

    @56. Moosehead

    “I’m not here to propose tactical solutions to prevent a worldwide caliphate so much as stand on my soapbox and vent about a very sad world. And state that the US really does need to work on its bully tactics”

    Which, it seems to me, translates into just another long complaint about the US and the other liberal democracies of the West.

    Get in line.

    Link to this
  67. 67. syzygyygyzys 3:37 pm 04/27/2013


    Your comments have served a good purpose here. Unfortunately for your position, the comments have not, in my opinion, buttressed your view. On the contrary, I hope you now see at least some of the problems with pacifism (self-defense for example) since you have chosen not to respond to any of my questions other than to say you don’t know about tactics.

    All I would ask is that you reconsider your positions that we are bloodthirsty monsters. Get some rest and think about it.

    Oh, and don’t take the negative replies too personally. These comment sections are not for the faint of heart (and no I’m not implying you are faint of heart.) We wish you well.

    Link to this
  68. 68. FrenchToaster 12:05 pm 04/28/2013

    That’s surprising! I’d have thought the goal would have been to reduce the death count to zero, not the conflict count.

    Still, unto each his or her own!

    Link to this
  69. 69. stan e m 12:01 pm 05/21/2013

    I agree that the military should be banned since they are useless parasites.Birth control and junk food is a better method of population control.

    Link to this
  70. 70. slimm 1:30 pm 08/27/2013

    >which is just what the U.S. and its allies did in Afghanistan, Iraq and, arguably, Libya.

    Polls from these countries have found that most iraqis do consider things to be worse now.

    But polls from the other two nations show the opposite, the majority of citizens believe that the intervention in their countries was just.

    Link to this

Add a Comment
You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

More from Scientific American

Email this Article