|« Outlook on life
When You Are - or Are not - a Secular HumanistAuthor of this text: Kaz Dziamka
his editorial „The Immorality of The War Against Iraq" (Free Inquiry, Spring 2003), Editor-in-Chief Paul Kurtz points out
that although Free Inquiry "does not
endorse political candidates nor political parties," it does take a position on „humanist ethical principles on grounds independent of religion."
As a result, says Kurtz, „we object to the impending war on Iraq on
moral grounds." From a humanist viewpoint, a pre-emptive war is immoral.
the hawks in the current administration — actually
the so-called chicken hawks like Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, in particular — developed
the doctrine of pre-emptive war, „wiser leaders," says columnist Robert
Reeves, had avoided the "Bush folly." Reeves quotes Secretary of State John
Quincy Adams as saying that America „goes not abroad in search of monsters to
destroy."Lincoln also was
against pre-emptive wars: "Allow the president to invade a neighboring nation
whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion .. and you allow him
to make war at pleasure." So was President Eisenhower: „A preventive war, to
my mind, is an impossibility… I wouldn't even listen to any one seriously
that [sic] came in and talked about such a thing."
were all men incomparably wiser than Bush (not that it is much of a compliment
to them), men from whom Bush could learn a lot — if
he were not „ignorant or dismissive of history." Or both.
But in pondering the issue of the morality of the U.S. pre-emptive war
against Iraq, humanists need not even study the history of American politics.
The principles of secular humanism are clearly spelled out in our
Manifestos and Statements of Principles. Here, for example, is the 13th
principle of the 2nd Humanist Manifesto of 1973:
community must renounce the resort to violence and force as a method of solving
international disputes. We believe
in the peaceful adjudication of differences by international courts and by the
development of the arts of negotiation and compromise. War is obsolete. So is
the use of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. It is a planetary
imperative to reduce the level of military expenditures and turn these savings
to peaceful and people-oriented uses.
of those humanists who have written to FI
in response to Kurtz's editorial may not be familiar with the 2nd
Manifesto — inexcusable
ignorance, if such should be the case — but
surely they must have read FI's
Statement of Principles currently published in each issue on the 2nd
page of the magazine. One of these
humanism as a realistic alternative to .. ideologies of violence...
question whether humanists should support a pre-emptive war on Iraq is then a rhetorical question. The answer is clearly „No!" You can be a humanist if
you reject war and violence, or you cannot be a humanist if you condone or
promote war and violence. It is a tautology: the statement is always true.
Kurtz's editorial is not even an argument. In the face of the horror of an
impending, unprovoked, unjustified war, Kurtz merely reaffirms what all bona
fide humanists should already know only too well.
Humanists, if they really have the courage to stand up for their
principles, must be unanimous in their unqualified rejection and revulsion of
pre-emptive war and all the violence and „collateral damage" it involves.
Defensive war, yes, limited by Geneva Conventions and other applicable
international laws. An intelligent covert international operation to capture
those responsible for the 9/11 carnage, yes. But pre-emptive war on the state of
Iraq — never!
disagree is to reject humanist principles; it is to undermine one of the
foundations of humanism: peace and pacifism, which make human well-being and
advancement possible.(To clarify: I use „pacifism" in the sense of „the belief that international disputes
can be settled by arbitration rather than war.")
consider some of the letters published in response to Kurtz's editorial.
Mark Vlosky (Colorado): „I
do .. take exception to the editors of FI using this publication as a forum to
hawk their political views. It gives the impression that in order to remain
card-carrying humanists we must despise the current administration."
Robert Gordon (New Mexico):
"It is fine for [Kurtz] to be against [the] war, but he needs to disabuse
himself of a broad and sweeping generalization that preemptive war is always and
in all circumstances inadmissable [sic] per se. Probably the greatest mistake
this country ever made was not to launch a preemptive strike against Hitler.
Peter Wall (California):
„Perhaps for the editors being a secular humanist means abhorring all military
action, but their apparent distaste for preemptive strikes sound more like
pacificism [sic] than secular humanism, and their remarks should have been
presented as such."
John Fishwick (Florida)
„suggests" that the „Affirmations of Humanism" be modified by requiring
that „force must be applied to stop" those who seek to destroy these
Ron Herman (New Mexico): „In
my view, the war against Saddam Hussein was fought for humanist principles and
last letter, quite an eye-opener, is evidence that Josef Goebbels was, of course,
right: If you repeat a lie often enough, people will eventually believe it.
The White House and the U.S. media have told us very often that the U.S.
war on Iraq is fought for "humanitarian reasons," and now — indeed — most
of the public, including some secular humanists, actually believe the claim.
it is baffling to compare the military might of Nazi Germany, a first-rate
killing machine and strong economy, to the pathetic remnants of Saddam
Hussein's army, after it was pounded by the U.S. military in 1991 and the
country sickened and dying after the murderous UN- and US-mandated economic
sanctions. Anyhow, Mr. Gordon would like to eat his cake and have it. He would
like to have ordered a pre-emptive strike against Hitler (never mind the
consequences of such folly for the U.S. in 1939), and he would like to have the benefit of knowing what happened when
no such attack occurred. Well,
dream on, Mr. Gordon! And when you do travel back in time, let us know.
one should still somehow humanely deal with the others quoted above.
secular humanism means to these guys what they say it does, then secular
humanism is meaningless; it is another lost cause. It is ultimately the same
kind of philosophical and moral cop-out as any Machiavellianism, including
Soviet Communism or Nazism or Fascism; that is, it is another subhuman or
antihuman philosophy which rationalizes any means to accomplish whatever
political goals. It is yet another
vindication of 1984, which has now
to Vlosky et al., to remove from power and kill one man, Saddam Hussein, it is morally acceptable to a humanist to
do the following:
to rip off both arms of an
Iraqi boy, to burn him severely, to kill all of his immediate family, and to
leave only a distant aunt crying over the little mutilated body in a picture so
heart-breaking it defies all description (Time
magazine, April 14, 2003)
to kill at least 10,000
civilians, including other babies and children, and to continue to kill them
to bomb military and civilian targets, including hospitals, water treatment
facilities, bridges, factories, and schools
to impose economic sanctions
and to ignore the starvation and slow death of over half a million Iraqi
to invade a sovereign, foreign
country that has posed no military threat to the U.S. and has no proven
connection to the 9/11 terrorists
to brutalize daily Iraq's
civilian population in search of "the terrorists," which now includes
anybody who opposes the U.S. occupation of Iraq
to allow hundreds (eventually
perhaps thousands) of its own troops to be killed in military action and
to waste maybe 200 billion
dollars or possibly much more on a war that can not ever be won unless through a permanent and ruthless occupation
not to capture or kill that
one man, after all, even after six months of warfare, and not to find any
weapons of mass destruction, the claimed presence of which was the main, stated
reason for the war.
that is humanism and if „humanists" is what these men want to call
themselves, then I am not a humanist,
and I don't want to be associated with such „humanists" as Vlosky, Gordon,
or Wall. I find war in general and pre-emptive war in particular such horror
that I will never kowtow to crypto-militarists or „humanist" hawks, let
alone to avowed militarists of any sort or nationality.
Wall's interpretation of secular humanism must have reached a new level of
absurdity if he is offended by „pacificism" in humanism. Has Mr. Wall ever
read the Humanist Manifestos? Didn't we, humanists, used to value peace until
Mr. Wall told us that we shouldn't? What is this guy talking about?
What is wrong with „peace" and „pacifism"? What's next? That
"militarism," not "pacifism," should be the basis of secular humanism
and that you could support Rush Limbaugh and vote for Bush and
still call yourself a secular humanist?
is more than pacifism, but without being grounded in pacifism, humanism is not
worth a single editorial in Free Inquiry
or elsewhere. It is not part of my moral calculations to agree to kill even one
child, much less thousands, so that I can be more „secure" in the future.
It is not my humanist „arithmetic." Of course, we can agree to
disagree on matters of politics, but never on matters of humanist principles,
regardless of whether they involve politics or not. How can you negotiate a Rogerian compromise between death and life? How can you live well, knowing that
half a million children have died so that you can live in comfort and security?
is it that secular humanists have recently done to compare with what, for
instance, the peace activists from the Plowshare Movement have done?
These Christian activists put their careers and lives on the line,
confronting eyeball-to-eyeball the American Military Monster, which has gotten
completely out of control. These courageous women and men are the true humanists,
although not secular, of course. And what have we, secular humanists,
accomplished?We have become
squabbling verbalists who cannot even agree whether to wage pre-emptive war is
moral or not. Who are our Berrigan brothers, our Plowshare nuns?
cannot allow the Vloskys, the Gordons, or the Walls to misrepresent and distort
humanist principles. We must be
very careful about the public's perception of humanist philosophy, and we must
make sure that the public knows that we consider them the lunatic fringe of the
humanist movement, whose opinions do not represent the core values of the
Council for Secular Humanism or the American Humanist Association. They are
welcome, of course, to subscribe to Free
Inquiry, The Humanist, The American Rationalist, or any other humanist
periodical, but their crypto-militarist and pseudo-humanist views, if published
at all, should always be accompanied by an editorial disclaimer.
they may hijack secular humanism and turn it into yet another useless ism in the
history of intellectual rubbish.
Published in the November/December 2003 issue of the American
« Outlook on life (Published: 25-11-2003 )
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