Afghanistan and the West The Difficult Relationship between Democracy and War

Many Germans would like to see Chancellor Angela Merkel withdraw the country's troops from Afghanistan. But should she listen? There are many good reasons for the West to be involved in the war against the Taliban, but public opinion may not be listening.


The first democrats were warriors. In the fifth century BC, the citizens of Athens constantly had to defend their freedom, first against the Persians and later against the Spartans. They performed their military service either as hoplites -- citizen soldiers -- in phalanx formation or as rowers on trireme war ships. At the time, no one realized that war would prove to be a greater challenge for democracies than for other forms of government. The citizens of Athens and other city-states killed and died for their values. In his book "The Classical World," historian Robin Lane Fox writes that this was precisely the Greeks' advantage. They fought furiously so that they could remain free. The Persians, on the other hand, were ruled by a brutal king, which reduced their motivation.

Nowadays, democracy is the form of government that struggles the most with war. This is even true of the United States, where governments are often quick to deploy troops, whereas the public quickly becomes skeptical. This is not a flaw; war always involves the killing and mutilation of human beings and scruples are absolutely necessary. Of all democracies, it is perhaps Germany that struggles the most with war -- and that too is understandable. Germany started two world wars, the second of which was total war, an orgy of destruction and self-destruction. The phrase "No more wars," one of the guiding principles of modern-day Germany, is an obvious consequence of the country's history.

But this phrase has been overtaken by reality, now that Germany has been embroiled in a war for the last eight years. Hardly anyone noticed at first, but since the bad news from Afghanistan has begun piling up, the war has triggered a new debate. Two thirds of Germans want to see the German military, the Bundeswehr, pull out of Afghanistan.

But there are good arguments for the troops to stay. These arguments are the subject of this essay, as is the question of what it means for a democracy to wage a war, and why waging this war in particular can be the right thing for the German democracy. The arguments coincide with the chronology of a war. First, we discuss the act of and reasons for going to war, then the actual conduct of a war, which involves killing and dying and, third, the question of when one should end a war. Finally, we discuss who should decide when to begin and end a war, and what the basis for those decisions should be.

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MobiusPrime 07/08/2010
1. To Stay or not To Stay
Being of German ancestry, and proud of it, I try to appreciate the confusion facing the German People and their abhorrence of military actions. As a Proud Citizen of the United States I too am hesitant to condone military intervention in situations that on the surface appear to be contrary to the peace of the world. The participation of the German People (Military & Civilian) in the Afghan war on terror is necessary and Appreciated by all Anti Terrorist People of the Civilized Word. Civilized is the Key Word. Make no mistake, Their hatred is focused on the Christian Jewish Countries of the world. The Extremist of the Islamic People are sworn to destroy western cultures including Germany's Democracy, The Germany People , standing side by side with the NATO countries and the Unites States have to stay united. Unfortunately the Radicals have subverted the Islamic faith and are sworn to destroy You & Us. This war in Afghanistan is only the beginning of their cult to rule the world and wipe out Democratic Cultures. They will not succeed unless the individual countries are divide. Look at Britain, they have actually allowed Sharia Law courts to exist in their country. The UK is lost , Will Germany /France /Spain/US etc be next? Stay the course in Afghanistan, as abhorrent as it is, or Parrish.
verbatim128 07/09/2010
2. Why Democracy and War?
One would hope that some societal evolution has occurred since the 5th century BC and the Greek democracy, although I am not sure that our modern democracy is part of that evolution. But to assign "a relationship" between democracy and war, albeit calling that a difficult relationship, and justifying the war in Afghanistan by stretching a comparison with the Athenians having to defend against the Persian attacks, now that is a fallacy of argument. It appears to me that the essay is attempting to find reason in an outcome which has a) not been reasonably considered from the start and b) not been pursued in a reasonable manner. The author is also trying hard, though in a confused conciliatory fashion, to reconcile those terrible a) and b) shortcomings without addressing them, with the public opinion of Germans which he grudgingly admits is against continuing the war. Some sort of argument that the effort is not wasted, but worth it. For good measure and to justify calling this piece an essay, the author muddles the issue by introducing the philosophical relationship of this war and democracy, when in fact all that needs done is to ask: Was the war right? Every time an outcome begs the question as an afterthought, 'Was it worth it?', you can guess that something was dead wrong with the action. In fact the question ought to have been up front, "Is it right, will it be worth it?," and aimed before the action got underway, at it, as well as, the foreseeable outcome. But if we must ask after the fact-- always better late than never-- the question needs to be : "Was it right? Did it accomplish what was right?". That way chances are we learn something. If it wasn't right to begin with , never mind whether it was worth it, in some twisted fashion, like in a bargain we imagine we got. It still is not right.
kashiwa 07/12/2010
3. Make no mistake
Like many others I am very grateful to live in a country that has overcome nationalism and in which, in contrary to the United States, war is not a legitimate political tool. Most Germans have no illusions whatsoever about the essential nature of war. They share their insight with the countless pacifists around the world who took to the streets in 2003 and tragically could not prevent the violent death the war of the Western coalition brought upon more than one million Iraqis*. So is the terror of war. It is easy to understand that none of the two wars the West has waged against muslem countries in the last decade have likely undermined islamic extremism. The Taliban who have fiercly fought the 'International Security Assistance Force' for the last eight years are Afghans, who have not organized international Islamic terrorist attacks. From their point of view they fight the invader of their territories and his 'nation building' efforts strategically aimed at undermining Afghanistan's traditional social, political and economic structures and establishing a 'civilised' order. A state is democratic if it makes democratic politics - political decisions made have to be supported by the majority of the country's population. The war against Afghanistan has no majority in Germany and Germany's participation is therefor simply illegitimate. Unlike Islamist extremists who represent a fraction of the largely peaceful and welcoming Muslim populations around the world (why not go vist and talk to the people in Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and elsewhere?) such undemocratic, violent politics and their supporters pose a real threat to Western societies - and to everbody else. Nie wieder Krieg! War - never again! *
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