In war, one argument used by the government is that the other people aren’t “civilized,” implying they are not to be afforded the same courtesies normally expected.
Trying to get a uniform definition of what constitutes being “civilized” is a bit tricky, even though I have expressed my own thoughts on civilization, because people love to use words inappropriately or twist their meaning.
As a verb, it means to “bring (a place or people) to a stage of social, cultural, and moral development considered to be more advanced.” The adjective used to describe people means “polite and well-mannered.”
As there is nothing civilized about kidnapping people and forcing them to kill others, carpet bombing other countries into the Stone Age and torturing people to gain information, what are they referring to? What makes one country’s people civilized and other nation’s people brutes?
If you listen and pay close attention to the examples people give, it boils down to how these people treat each other. In other words, how does ______ treat their own people? How do they treat their mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, grandparents, and so forth? Are they civilized with one another?
It’s an unspoken rule. It is acceptable to act like barbarians against foreign or unfamiliar groups, or simply a group you want to kill. Sherman’s March to the Sea was no different than the starvation of the Plain Indians by killing off their buffalo; yet, to many Americans, this behavior was justified because they weren’t “like us.” The starvation of half a million Iraqi children was “worth it” because they weren’t half a million American children.
The restriction is that this can only be done to people outside the group. In this way, it is very much a herd mentality, the attitude of ancient tribes. You treat those within your tribe well out of self-preservation. The rules of moral conduct when interacting with them did not apply to people outside the group.
In short, being civilized means possessing tribal loyalty.
This Reddit post contains 200 anecdotes and stories of veterans’ experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq. A common theme is their observations, followed by disgust, of how the native people treat their own.
Here is one example:
In Afghanistan its not uncommon for the father of a screaming baby to dip the baby into boiling water to “stop them from crying”. saw the same thing during my time there. Father claimed he spilled but it was clear she was dipped.
In this area, war mongers actually have something legitimate to grasp onto, albeit it is all a matter of perspective.
Notice war-time propaganda always has claims about what the enemy does to its own people. Or, when pro-military people or soldiers attempt to differentiate between themselves and their enemies, they will often point out how horrible the enemy is to their daughters and sons, how they have no qualms killing them often over pitiful issues. The disgust is at a lack of tribal loyalty.
One Army private told me at the beginning of the Afghanistan Conflict how he gave a kid a dollar bill, only to see the boy get attacked by full grown men who stole it from him. The scene enraged him, as it’s something you probably wouldn’t see happen in America.
This explains much of the reason why people instinctively empathize and side with “civilized” soldiers, even when they fight in unjust wars. Their culture is own which holds them to certain standards. While there are soldiers who bring the violence back to their front door, it’s not acceptable. That is the key point. The culture doesn’t accept it, at least openly. Thousands of miles away, such violence is the norm.
It’s why it’s easy for people watching Zulu to side with the British instead of the Zulus coming to kill them, even though in real life the British had invaded Zululand. Back home and among themselves, the Brits were expected to behave like gentlemen. It’s why the Belgians were able to carry out brutal measures against the Africans in the Congo without too much opposition, but when the Germans invaded their country during World War I it was vehemently protested as a war crime. Belgians adhered to tribal loyalty and thus were considered civilized.
In one of his many columns on veterans and war, retired Marine Fred Reed noted the unspoken rule of “civilized” people.
The explanation of course lies in the soldier’s moral compartmentation. Within his own tribe or pack, these usually being denominated “countries,” he is the soul of moral propriety—doesn’t knock over convenience stores, kick his dog, or beat his children; speaks courteously, observes personal hygiene, and works tirelessly for the public good in the event of natural disasters. A steely gaze with little behind it and a firm handshake amplify the appearance of probity.
In conflict with foreigners, he will burn, bomb, rape and torture indiscriminately. His is the behavior of feral dogs, which humans closely resemble.
One can’t help but suspect this is why American Sniper is proving so popular. People look at Chris Kyle and see an ordinary American guy adhering to this tribal loyalty, because he’s a part of their tribe, so to speak. He wasn’t violent at home, at least not in ways considered verboten by society. He had a family and children and adhered to a different set of rules when he wasn’t on the battlefield.
Had he also killed as many Americans in the same fashion as he did in Iraq, however, he would have been looked at differently.
One must concede that pro-war people often make a legitimate point. Many of the people whom American troops fought in Iraq and Afghanistan were savages and murderous brutes fighting for anything but freedom; it is also completely irrelevant to the main question, which is whether the American troops should be there at all. This is a common mistake libertarians make when debating the morality of war; that the U.S. government commits evil and is aggressive overseas doesn’t make the victims necessarily saints. To argue this is to get sidetracked.
Demeanor is a funny thing. In films you frequently see the archetypal sociopath who wears a veneer of refined sophistication, a “gentleman” who fusses over social etiquette and fashion while he revels in murder and torture. The dichotomy is fascinating and disturbing, but also deceptive. Behind his facade, he is a savage who does not conform to tribal loyalty.
From a psychological point of view, perceiving others based on this concept of tribal loyalty makes sense, even though it is not justifiable. The consequences are obvious. The rules should apply the same to all, which is why in libertarianism the NAP is universal. It is applicable to anyone who wishes to practice it and anyone has the right to use it to defend their rights.