Is the United States Destined to Endless Wars and a High Rate of Violence

I. How Does War on al-Qaeda End?

The Justice Department White Paper says a lethal strike against an American citizen can only be made to protect against “an imminent threat of violent attack.” However, imminence “does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on US persons or interests will take place in the significant future.” The White Paper further claims that the US can carry out operations “with the consent of the host nation’s government,” and then declares that such operations would still be lawful “after a determination that the host  nation is unwilling or unable to suppress the threat posed by the individual targeted.” In essence, sovereignty conditions don’t really matter.

“Can any of us imagine a time when we are not firing weapons into foreign countries; when we are not sending agents into mosques to foment plots; when we are not spying on Muslim students?” [1] What if al-Qaeda is no more? “Surely there will be (and are) other protean fighters who claim no country and who will swear themselves to our destruction. Why should we not wage war against them?” [2]

II. Is Nonviolence Possible?

Todd May, professor of the Humanities at Clemson University, has written a very provocative piece on whether nonviolence is possible in the United States. Professor May says first and foremost: “We are steeped in violence. For example, our murder rate is 3 to 5 times that of most other industrialized nations. We can’t get rid of the death penalty, which causes disbelief in non-death penalty countries. When faced with gun violence, many prescribe more guns as the solution.” [3]

May identifies one reason for our high rate of violence as “competitive individualism:” We are wary of others and reject the social solidarity characteristic of Denmark, Sweden and New Zealand. We view our fellows as our competitors. Our ability to control events in the world has declined, possibly starting with Vietnam. Our desire to control reinforces violence.

Another reason for our violence is economic. We no longer count on government and often view it as an enemy. We no longer feel obligations to others who share the planet. We seek the best economic returns for ourselves. Many believe in U.S. exceptionalism.

Professor May proposes a nonviolence which is not passive, but is “creative activity.” We must recognize others as our fellow human beings, even when they are on “the other side of the barricades.” Also, we must recognize that we are all fragile human beings.

May says the civil rights movement is the most shining example of nonviolence and points out that we have pulled together after other tragedies. He quotes Immanuel Kant as saying the core of morality is treating others not simply as means but also ends in themselves. 


[1] Tanehi Coates, “How Does the War Against al-Qaeda End?” The Populist, April 1, 2013.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Todd May, “Is American Nonviolence Possible?” The New York Times, April 21. 2013.


President Obama’s Unconstitutional “Kill List”

A recently unearthed 16-page Justice Department memo describes the procedure by which President Obama has assumed the literal power of life and death over fellow U.S. citizens. An “informed, high-level official of the U.S. government” must decide that the target is a “senior operational leader” of al-Qaeda or “associated forces,” who poses an “imminent threat of violent atttack against the United States,” and that an attempt to capture that individual is “unfeasible.” The memo goes on to say that targeting “a member of a enemy force who poses an imminent threat of violent attack to the United States is not unlawful. It is a lawful act of self-defense.”

The imminent threat is rendered questionable because the informed, high-level official can determine that the potential target was “recently involved in activities posing a threat that hasn’t changed.” In other words, someone who may have been involved in al-Qaeda or associated forces activities in the past but may have severed any connection, could be targeted, because he/she can’t prove his/her change of mind.

The memo is devoid of definitions: not defined are al-Qaeda, “associated forces,” “informed, high-level official,” and “imminent threat.” There is also no requirement in the memo that the U.S. needs to have clear evidence of the threat posed.

The Justice Department memo has stunned the media and high political figures; however, this kind of myopia is itself stunning, because some time ago, Attorney General Eric Holder gave a speech in which he outlined how the president’s “kill list” was developed. Moreover, letters were reportedly sent to lawmakers this past summer, setting forth the president’s killing authority.

The focus is now on revealing all documents supporting the president’s authority to order the deaths of U.S. citizens; however, the response should be outrage at President Obama’s violation of basic legal rights provided by the Constitution.

Ambiguous language in the National Defense Authorization Act has been interpretated as giving the president the power to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens; the Military Commissions Act of 2006 authorizes the president to permit the CIA to torture on claimed national security grounds; and a broad interpretation of the authorization to use force resolution adopted before George W. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq, have all upped the ante to the ordered killing of U.S. citizens.

The most fearsome legacy of Barack Obama might be the awesome power he has embedded in the nation’s chief executive.

ADDENDUM: The drone has become the principal instrument of death in the undeclared war the U.S. is waging in several countries of the world, yet the only country in which the drone has become popular is the self-identified Christian nation of the United States. A June 2012 Pew Research poll showed that 62 percent of Americans approved of the drone wars, versus 44 percent approval in closely allied Great Britain. Only 9 percent approved in less closely allied Turkey and 6 percent in Egypt.