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February 16, 2007

Altruistic war criticized in talk

If there is one factor that can be blamed for U.S. military inefficiency and wartime casualties, it would be too much American altruism, said Yaron Brooks of the Ayn Rand Institute in a talk hosted by the U of C’s Objectivist Club. Brooks, an advocate of Randian Objectivism and a regular guest on CNBC, spoke on “The Morality of War” to an audience of about 20 students and faculty members this past Monday.

“What complicates this war is altruism,” Brooks said about the Bush Administration’s war on terror. “Nothing else.”

Brooks argued that in recent decades, America’s approach to warfare has replaced its traditional commitment to self-defense with new emphases on humanitarianism and peacekeeping.

“Over the last 50, 60 years since World War II we’ve seen a commitment to a morality of altruism—self-denial, self-sacrifice, doing what’s good for the enemy,” he said. “What we have today is a theory of war that is totally altruistic. It’s called the ‘Just War Theory,’ and in my view it is a completely self-destructive theory of war.”

Unfortunately, Brooks said, altruism is not conducive to winning wars. “If you’re serious about defending America, you take the enemy and destroy them,” he said.

Brooks cited historical examples of effective U.S. military tactics implemented both in the American Civil War and in World War II, and said that those wars were won because the U.S. unabashedly pursued its own interests. He credited their speedy termination to General William Sherman’s “willingness to burn to the ground” the social and economic foundations of Georgia and American eagerness to use nuclear technology against Japan, respectively.

“Within four and a half years, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan were in ruins. Here we’re fighting people in caves and five, six years later, we’ve made no progress,” Brooks said of the war on terror. “The way we’re fighting this war is completely different from the way we historically fought wars. Now, note, we would never have won World War II if [altruism] was the [guiding] attitude. We would still be fighting Japan and Germany till this day.”

Brooks also claimed that the multilateral and humanitarian trends of U.S. foreign policy were harming American interests. He argued that the need for United Nations approval of American war policies “cripples us, it makes it impossible to win wars, in fact, it makes it impossible to get involved in the right kind of wars.”

He also argued that war is never justified for humanitarian reasons. “The only just cause of war is self-defense. We should not have a single soldier in Kosovo, in Bosnia. The only reason to send a soldier into battle is to protect his own interests as an American. The only purpose [of war] is victory, the restoration of normal life to America,” he said.

Brooks predicted no end to the war on terror as long as the administration continues to act with benevolence, and suggested that an objectivist “commitment to self-defense” would provide a speedy end to the complications of terrorism.

“We’re never going to win this war as long as the dominant theory is altruism,” he said. “It’s going to drag on. We’re going to lose troops. It’s a depressing thought.