The Routinization of Humanitarian War

Mickey Kaus Columnist
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“Humanitarian imperialism.” I think that label will stick. And in a true empire–in this case, the empire of UN approved human rights enforcement–war never really ends. Always someone to protect somewhere. Imagine living in imperial Britain in the mid-19th century. There would almost always be a war or police action–actual shooting and killing–going on.** For a true empire to work– even, or perhaps especially, a humanitarian empire–war has to be routinized. You’ve got two wars going already? No need to change the president’s schedule to start a third. Tour Latin America. Talk about your NCAA brackets. Don’t give a big speech–I mean, you don’t call a press conference every time the police run a sobriety checkpoint do you? The relevant international governing bodies have already determined the appropriate application of force. And “all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace.” 

It helps achieve routinization if wars can be conducted by a distinct cast of professionals whom we hire to do the job, as opposed to ordinary citizens who are drafted. That way when soldiers start dying … well, that’s the business they have chosen, right? And they’re largely drawn from a distinct geographic region, the South. Mothers don’t have to worry that their sons will sent to fight against their will, as happened in Vietnam–and if they’re Northern mothers in well-off suburbs they may not even know anyone who has a family member at risk.

Oceania has recognized its duty to protect Eurasia. Carry on with your business.

I’m not sure whether humanitarian imperialism is a good or bad thing. The world might be a distinctly better place overall if the U.N. could overthrow every dictatorship the Security Council could muster a majority to overthrow. But the accompanying routinization of war is at least troubling, no? [via RCP]


** — There’s a scene in Mike Leigh’s movie about Gilbert and Sullivan, Topsy Turvy, in which some actors are having lunch in London in 1885. “Terrible about Khartoum,” one says to the other. And they go on eating. (Or that’s how I remember the scene.)