Jefferson on War

Discussion in 'The Powder Keg' started by NRAJOE, Oct 15, 2002.


    NRAJOE YOU TALKIN' TO ME!? Forum Contributor

    The Congress of the United States has now given President George W. Bush the authority to enter into pre-emptive war against Saddam Hussein, which Mr. Bush says is justified. Others have argued strenuously that pre-emptive war is unjustified and even un-American. It might surprise some that justification for pre-emptive war is found in the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration, got his ideas on pre-emptive war from John Locke's "Second Treatise on Government" and used them in the Declaration to justify the American Revolution.
    In his work, Locke argued against despotic power or "Absolute, Arbitrary Power" because being absolute and arbitrary it can be used to "take away" the lives of those subject to it. This makes despotic power opposed to self-preservation or "the preservation of Mankind," which Locke maintained was "the fundamental Law of Nature." Because this Law was the "will of God," Locke argued that each human being was duty "bound to preserve himself, and not to quit his Station willfully." In other words, humans cannot abandon their duty of self-preservation, because this would virtually amount to suicide. Therefore everyone has the obligation to avoid subjecting themselves to despotic or "Absolute, Arbitrary Power" since it renders their own limited individual power to preserve themselves ineffective. Locke applied these ideas to any absolute sovereign when he said: "It being out of a man's power so to submit himself to another, as to give him a liberty to destroy him; God and Nature never allowed a Man so to abandon himself, as to neglect his own Preservation: And since a man cannot take away his own Life, neither can he give another power to take it." Therefore, argued Locke, people should watch their government carefully and if it demonstrated by "a long train of Actings" or "Pretences of one Kind and Actions of another" that it was headed toward despotic power, the people had a duty to get rid of it — by force if necessary — and replace it with one containing safeguards against despotism.
    Jefferson put these ideas to work in the Declaration of Independence when he wrote: "But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them [the people] under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security." By using "Design" — a favorite word of Locke — to describe the despotic intentions of the British government, Jefferson acknowledged that Americans were not yet suffering from "absolute Despotism." However, they were still duty-bound to "throw" the British government "off" because of the numerous actions leading to despotism committed by king and Parliament listed in the Declaration.
    As is seen in Locke's arguments on the "State of War," the logic of these self-preservation ideas applies to governments other than one's own. It certainly applies to Saddam Hussein's. He has demonstrated by "a long train of abuses" that if he had the atomic bomb he would not hesitate to use it. It is well-known that he used chemical and biological weapons and few are naive enough to believe he is not working on atomic weapons. In addition, he already has missiles capable of delivering atomic bombs and is working to improve them. Considering these facts in the light of the ideas of Locke, Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence, not to intervene militarily in Iraq would be suicidal, especially since Saddam has ignored the United Nations' repeated demands that he honor his obligation to allow unlimited weapon inspections after expelling inspection teams four years ago.
    Some argue that even if there is a pre-emptive war against Saddam, it should not be used to install an American-type democracy. Locke and Jefferson would have disagreed, because American democracy does not allow despotic power or the "Absolute, Arbitrary Power" that Saddam enjoys which makes him a threat to world security. He can do anything he wants. Not so with George W. Bush. His executive power is severely limited by the Constitution, under which power is shared with the two other co-equal branches of Government — Congress and the Supreme Court. Moreover, Mr. Bush has to answer to public opinion, which makes him politically weak compared to Saddam despite America's vaunted military might. Therefore, it is time to place Saddam, or his successor, under the same political power limitations in Iraq as Mr. Bush is under in the United States. This will provide greater security for mankind in this era of weapons of mass destruction — provided it happens before Saddam gets the bomb.