Human Life is More Precious Than Rocks

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Last month, as the world began the remembrance of the twentieth anniversary Rwandan genocide, in which 800,000 people were hacked to death over a 100 day period, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon plead with the international community to send more peacekeepers to another African nation on the brink of genocide: the Central African Republic. Speaking recently in that country, where some 640,000 people have fled their homes for fear of being slaughtered, the Secretary General said, “The international community failed the people of Rwanda 20 years ago…And we are at risk of not doing enough for the people of the C.A.R. today.”
Subsequently, the U.N. Security Council authorized more U.N. peacekeepers to the C.A.R., who are due to arrive by September. None of those peacekeepers are slated to be Americans.
The absence of any Americans on the U.N. peacekeeping force for the C.A.R. might be a good “gut check” moment for the nation, especially when weighed against the militaristic message that President Obama is sending to another part of the world: the Asia Pacific.
For example, on his recent visit to Japan the President said of the China-Japan territorial dispute over uninhabited rocky islands in the East China Sea – a dispute which may result in a China-Japan military confrontation – “What is a consistent part of the alliance (U.S. – Japan alliance) is that the treaty covers all territories administered by Japan.” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who expressed relief that America will militarily defend those rocky islands, said of Obama’s military reassurance, “On this point, I fully trust President Obama.” Needless to say, not expressing relief over Obama’s promise to take America to war over those uninhabited, rocky islands was the Chinese government. Indeed, as mentioned today in a New York Times editorial, this week’s water cannon spat between the Chinese and Vietnamese navies over the deployment of a Chinese oil rig in the South China Sea may be a direct geopolitical consequence of President Obama’s assertive – and official – military posture of collective defense, his own editorializing about America’s war-weariness notwithstanding. According to the New York Times editorial board:

Some experts say the Chinese deployed the rig because oil and gas reserves were recently found nearby. But the move could also be pushback against President Obama and his increased focus on Asia. On a recent trip to Asia, Mr. Obama said America would defend disputed islands in the East China Sea under its security treaty with Japan and reinforced a treaty commitment to the Philippines.

So here we have the President of the United States – again, publicly telegraphing to the American people that he “feels their pain” about stupid wars – simultaneously telling China and Japan, explicitly, that he is prepared to take the United States of America to war over those uninhabited, rocky islands that are disputed by China and Japan, and those two respective nations responding accordingly: Prime Minister Abe of Japan with relief, and the Chinese military with an upping of their ante in other disputed waters of the region.
Let’s bear in mind that unlike the pre-genocidal Central African Republic, with its four and a half million people, the Senkaku islands, or Diaoyu islands as China calls them, are a grouping of uninhabited rocky islands in the middle of the sea.
What can be said of a nation that believes uninhabited rocks in the middle of the ocean are of more imminent moral concern – and thus military commitment – than millions of innocent men, women and children threatened with being hacked to death with machetes, as they are in the Central African Republic?
Or is that what we, the American people, really believe? Do we really believe that a petty territorial dispute over uninhabited rocks on the other side of the world is worth taking this nation to war, while the potential genocide of millions of men, women and children in another part of the word is just “none of our damn business?”
That’s doubtful.
Rather, the problem is that U.S. Constitution, built for a 1787 global reality, effectively separates our fundamental right as citizens to develop a moral conscience in real time – like the kind of conscience that can actually prioritize human beings over rocks – from the right to bear the fruit of that moral development in our nation’s posture toward the wider world.
To make amends, we ought to link the lines of our nation’s modern moral conscience development to our foreign portfolio, rather than maintaining the fiction that the constitutional mechanisms created for that purpose in 1787 are sufficient.
Specifically, the U.S. Constitution should be amended to subject all provisions of treaties to which the U.S. is a signatory, and which mandate the collective defense of foreign nations, like the 1960 U.S. – Japan security treaty, to constant democratic review: namely by requiring such treaty provisions be ratified every three months by the Congress. That way, the American people could continuously weigh in with their elected representatives in Congress about whether they are prepared to shed blood for a bunch of uninhabited rocks in the middle of the sea.
Simultaneously, and to further establish that link between the nation’s modern moral conscience and our wider foreign portfolio, the U.S. Constitution should also be amended to prohibit our government from raising soldieries based upon pecuniary incentives. Paying young Americans to make war not only devours the U.S. treasury, it skews our nation’s moral compass: it sends a clear message that engaging in live wars is an acceptable way to make a living and provide for a family, rather than sending the message that wars should always be of last resort, and never, ever a pathway for a family’s financial sustenance.
In addition to a constitutional prohibition on financial enlistment incentives, all enlisted soldiers should have a constitutional right to partake in foreign deployments of their choosing, which are not acts of war declared by Congress. What would that mean in practical terms? It would mean that for foreign military deployments like Iraq and Afghanistan, which were never actual wars declared by Congress, that no enlisted soldier would be required to deploy if they were not satisfied with the case made by Bush-Cheney-Rice-Rumsfeld, et. al. Similarly, it would mean that if President Obama, Secretary Kerry, U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power et al. made a case that the U.N. peacekeeping effort in the Central African Republic is moral and necessary – which I have no doubt Samantha Power believes it is – that enlisted soldiers who feel called to help other international peacekeepers to help stave off genocide would have the chance to do so.
Some would argue that both of the aforementioned constitutional reforms – subjecting our collective defense treaties to continuous democratic review and ensuring the establishment of a morally-driven soldiery – injects way too much democratic volatility into the system of governance. Too much “unpredictability,” some may argue. And yet, it’s the job of elected representatives to discern the will of their constituents – it’s a huge, complicated task, and that’s why we pay members of Congress a full-time salary, and don’t treat their jobs like a moonlighting gig. How tragically ironic and telling, then, that the modern domestic and international reality we are facing could not be more starkly undemocratic, and frankly, immoral: The mere prospect of taking this nation of over 300 million people to war over petty maritime disputes on the other side of the world – a naked insult to any self-respecting citizen – while taking a collective pass on participating in an international peacekeeping effort to stave off genocide.
It’s as if all the major lessons of the twentieth century – the dangers of unexamined, democratically-unaccountable military alliances and the horrors of genocide – have all been flushed away.
Our fellow human beings in danger of being slaughtered, like those in C.A.R., need men and women to come to their aid; men and women of all nationalities, including Americans, who believe in the universal sanctity and equality of all human life, who and have thoroughly examined their own conscience, and concluded that they are called to help because they are helpers, not because they relish the chance to carry a gun and get paid for it.
Simultaneously, all Americans, whether they are internally called to be peacekeepers or not, not only have a right, but a responsibility, not to lie to our foreign allies: If you are not willing to shed American blood, your own and others, over uninhabited rocky islands in the middle of the ocean, you have a civic responsibility not to lie to Japanese Prime Minister Abe, for example, that you are. So long as any one of us accepts our government making claims on our behalf that we are willing to shed blood for those islands, we are lying through our teeth. And that’s not helping Japan resolve its issues with China, over the long haul, by any stretch of the imagination.
Perhaps when this country adopts the constitutional reforms necessary to link our people’s higher moral consciousness with our wider foreign portfolio – and proactively encourages other nations to do the same – we can finally say that we genuinely understand that human life is infinitely more precious than rocks.
To read the proposed omnibus amendment containing these two reforms, please visit