Prior to the modern age, when war was engaged in, combatants, for the most part, acted by a code of conduct which attempted to minimize civilian deaths and the destruction of non-participants’ property. With the onset of the democratic age and the idea of “total war” such modes of conduct have tragically fallen by the wayside, the consequence of which has made warfare far more bloody and destructive.
The ultimate violation of “just warfare” has been the possession and use of nuclear weapons which by their very nature cannot be reconciled with any notion of a civilized society. Of all the hysteria over “terrorism,” nuclear weapons are rarely discussed anymore, but are the ultimate form of terror.
Despite the obvious fact that nuclear weapons cannot be reconciled with any moral code of warfare, Western nation-states continue to possess them and the US has actually used them in the final stages of WWII as it mercilessly bombed the Japanese civilian centers of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
While most modern scholarship has abandoned the older idea of moral conduct in warfare, the great libertarian theorist, Murray Rothbard, continued the venerable tradition in his thought and applied it not only to nuclear weapons, but bombing as well:
Not only should there be joint disarmament
of nuclear weapons, but also of all weapons
capable of being fired massively across national
borders; in particular bombers. It is precisely
such weapons of mass destruction as the missile
and the bomber which can never be pinpoint-
targeted to avoid their use against innocent
. . . since modern air and missile weapons
cannot be pinpoint-targeted to avoid harming
civilians, their very existence must be condemned.
It is beyond hypocritical, therefore, that the US has repeatedly accused Iran of seeking to build nuclear weapons despite the fact that the nation’s leadership has consistently declared that it will not do so because of its religious beliefs. In June, President Trump called off retaliatory raids on Iranian targets after it downed a US drone (which had flown into Iranian airspace), citing that it would cost the lives of some 150 people. In response, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif exposed the hypocrisy of the US’s position on nuclear weapons:
You were really worried about 150 people?
How many people have you killed with a
nuclear weapon? How many generations have
you wiped out with these weapons?**
It is us who, because of our religious views,
will never pursue a nuclear weapon.
Not only has Iran’s leadership consistently declared that it would not use or build nuclear weapons, but it has stood by its words. During the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), Iraq (with US knowledge) repeatedly used chemical weapons. Despite Iran’s protests to the U.N., it refused to take action – mainly because the US through its position on the Security Council tabled any attempt to curtail Iraq’s nefarious actions.***
Despite the flagrant violation of international law, Iran refused to retaliate, although it had the capacity and certain justification in doing so. The Ayatollah, in a religious ruling – fatwa – at the time of the war, asserted that such an act (the use of chemical/nuclear weapons) was “forbidden by god.”
This has been the position of the Ayatollahs since the formation of the Islamic Republic. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated that “from an ideological and fighi [Islamic jurisprudence] perspective, we consider developing nuclear weapons as unlawful. We consider using such weapons as a big sin.” A top-ranking cleric, Grand Ayatollah Yusef Saanei, confirmed that this is part of Islamic doctrine:
There is complete consensus on this issue. It is
self-evident in Islam that it is prohibited to have
nuclear bombs. It is eternal law, because the
basic function of these weapons is to kill innocent
people. This cannot be reversed.
Despite Iranian claims to the contrary, the US and the controlled press continue to mischaracterize Iran’s position on nuclear weapons. Not only has it lied, but it continues to enact crippling sanctions on the beleaguered nation causing untold suffering which itself is an act of war.
The fact that Iran follows a moral principle which was once part of Western thought shows how far the Western world, especially the US, has declined in civility. A return to a saner, more just position on nuclear weapons will only take place when there is a change in ideology. Under current intellectual conditions, such a change appears unlikely. A rethinking will only take place of necessity when America has exhausted itself through debt and money printing and can no longer sustain its Empire and nuclear capabilities.
*See, Murray N. Rothbard, For A New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto, 293.
**Reuters, “Iran Will Never Pursue a Nuclear Weapon, Says Foreign Minister.” 24 April 2019.
***Ted Snider, “Iran, Islam, and Banning the Bomb.” Antiwar.com 30 September 2019.