In 1946, the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg stated the following, in language that was introduced by Judge Robert Jackson, the lead American prosecutor of Axis war criminals:
To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.
This means that those who launch a war of aggression are responsible for far more than just the initial death and destruction caused by the war. They should be held responsible for all of the “accumulated evil” that follows and that would not have otherwise occurred. This is a very succinct and intuitive ethical precept that is virtually impossible to argue against. But while this injunction can’t seriously be disputed, it can be ignored, and, in fact, often is by powerful states. Unfortunately, Jackson’s own government has never taken his words seriously, and this has never been more evident than in the case of Iraq.
The United States launched a preventive – not preemptive, contrary to what we often read – war against Iraq in March of 2003. This is now considered old news. Most people are aware that the attack resulted in death and misery on a massive scale – millions of refugees, well over 100,000 dead civilians, an exponential increase in terrorism, and so on. Nevertheless, talk about Iraq has all but disappeared in the mainstream, following the U.S.’s much-ballyhooed “withdrawal” from the country in 2011. The general feeling seems to be that Iraq was a tragic episode, one of the worst “blunders” in the annals of American foreign policy, but is now thankfully behind us. No American service member has been killed in Iraq since November of 2011.
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