James C Moore: When morality vanishes from the battlefield, the war is lost

Share
Related Topics

In Italy, there is a bust of Julius Caesar in Torlonia Museum that scholars have insisted depicts the great conqueror as a Christ-like icon. The resolute warrior's face has been more compassionately composed and the oak wreath of the soter, or saviour, slips low across his brow, hardly distinguishable from a thorny crown. As grand a general as Caesar was, though, he fought with no more moral purpose than to expand the glory of the empire. His deification was about art; not history. Caesar's and, ultimately, even Rome's undoing was that their armies drew blood without a righteous cause. A soldier must fight for something more eternal than the emperor's reputation.

In Italy, there is a bust of Julius Caesar in Torlonia Museum that scholars have insisted depicts the great conqueror as a Christ-like icon. The resolute warrior's face has been more compassionately composed and the oak wreath of the soter, or saviour, slips low across his brow, hardly distinguishable from a thorny crown. As grand a general as Caesar was, though, he fought with no more moral purpose than to expand the glory of the empire. His deification was about art; not history. Caesar's and, ultimately, even Rome's undoing was that their armies drew blood without a righteous cause. A soldier must fight for something more eternal than the emperor's reputation.

The notion of empire is still as misguided today as it was when the legions of Rome were marching the earth. America and Great Britain, however, have always been able to rationalise their presence in foreign lands with intellectual constructs. We may have been extracting natural resources and other treasure to sustain our own homelands, but we were educating and civilising the natives whose countries we were occupying. We gave them our governmental institutions and our religion and were convinced that we had improved the backward colonies.

We were wrong, of course, and the deadly lesson, whether it was learned by Her Majesty's armies in Africa or American troops in Vietnam, is that the occupied never want to be occupied. They will out-fight us, out-die us, and outlast us because our boots are on their ground. Through loss, Caesar slowly came to understand that the further his armies were from Rome the more difficult it was for them to retain power. Geography may be less of a challenge to the modern military, but the battle still offers the same teachings. And no matter how loudly President George W Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair argue to the contrary, the US and the UK are presently engaged in repeating history's most egregious mistakes with their exploits in Iraq.

Both Bush and Blair have tried to convince the world that Iraq had to be invaded as the first front in the war on terrorism. Stopping al- Qa'ida and ridding Iraq of Saddam and his torture chambers provided the moral justification for rolling our armies across those ancient plains. If the dead are given the truth at the time of redemption, though, our fallen soldiers now know they lost their lives for considerably different reasons than those provided by their leaders. The war in Iraq began with a lie and it has spiralled into an even greater immorality, which is where all lies eventually lead. Our bombs and bullets cannot tell the difference between the innocent and the enemy and in our effort to learn the distinctions we have resorted to immoral tactics.

More than prisoners died at Abu Ghraib prison. America and the UK lost their moral purchase; we killed the story that we were liberators guided by our god to bring freedom to the oppressed. Bush, meeting Palestinian leaders last year, explained to them: "God told me to invade Iraq." The Muslim world must be wondering if the god of Bush and Blair also told them to torture and kill at Abu Ghraib. If not, how did that happen? Undoubtedly, Muslims are as unfamiliar with that Christian god as they are the Allah whose name is invoked by al-Qa'ida during decapitations. The denouement of this plot is the moment when the camera reveals the liberators have the same tendencies as the oppressor they have just deposed. Nothing has changed for the Iraqis except for the fact that the prisons are now open under new management.

More than even oil or terrorism, though, it was faith that sent Americans and the British to Iraq. Of course, it is also religious conviction that is prompting Jihadists from every Muslim nation on the planet to make their way to Iraq. Each al-Qa'ida fighter or Iraqi insurgent who dies is convinced god is on his side; just as Bush and Blair are confident their troops are doing the Lord's work. It is unsettling, as an outsider, to hear descriptions of the British Prime Minister as having a stillness, a kind of peace and confidence about him while Iraq disintegrates into near anarchy. The American President, meanwhile, admits to rarely being awake past ten o'clock each evening and has said, repeatedly, "I sleep well at night." These two men of faith have clearly trusted too much; either in their god or their commanders.

From the time of Caesar to the invasion of Iraq, the command has reflected the commander. The Anglo-American breakdown of morality in the treatment of Iraqi prisoners was caused by the conflict between the warrior's objectives and religious tenets. Bush and Blair can be as filled with the spirit of their god as is a Muslim mullah with his; but if their armies do not have strict orders to choose right over wrong, the faith of the President and Prime Minister becomes nothing more than a personal attribute. When Jesus said he didn't like killing, he never added a qualifying clause that it was okay as long as it was for appropriate political goals.

Immorality is the gangrene of the war in Iraq and manifests itself in wild political assertions; not just torture. As marines and Iraqis were dying in Fallujah, President Bush was telling his constituents: "Most of Fallujah has returned to normal." Our failed morality at Abu Ghraib cannot prevent Donald Rumsfeld from being described as a "superb" secretary of defence or inhibit Blair from his unwavering commitment to stand "shoulder to shoulder" with Bush. A beheading is repositioned as an independent act of evil rather than retribution for our own moral collapse. Everything is opinion; nothing is fact. This is the most insidious form of immorality.

Caesar's legend, eventually, was turned into a religious parable representing the betrayal of Christ. Brutus, as Judas, turned his back on the dictator-general, claiming to have "loved Rome longer and better". Bush is no Caesar. However, Blair cannot avoid what his rigorous intellect must be telling him about Iraq; only his faith is betraying him. Ultimately, that too, will falter and the Prime Minister will have to choose his country over his confederacy with the US President. Blair's career will become a minor consideration. Finally, his faith will not be enough.

Truth dies swiftly and easily in every war. But a battle can still be won if morality is the last casualty. There is always hope that what is good and right will prevail. In Iraq, however, it is no longer easy to know whose cause is more just and there is little reason to think our two nation coalition will succeed. When morality vanishes from the battlefield, a war is lost.

James C Moore is the author of the just-released 'Bush's War for Reelection: Iraq, the White House, and the People' and is the co-author of The 'New York Times' bestseller 'Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W Bush Presidential'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
George Osborne appearing on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, 5 July 2015  

George Osborne says benefits should be capped at £20,000 to meet average earnings – but working families take home £31,500

Ellie Mae O'Hagan
The BBC has agreed to fund the £650m annual cost of providing free television licences for the over-75s  

Osborne’s assault on the BBC is doing Murdoch’s dirty work

James Cusick James Cusick
Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high