A chief aim of the Witness Iraq lawsuits against six members of the Bush Administration — Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rice, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz — is helping to end the banality of militarism.
In 1963, Hannah Arendt, observing the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem, concluded that the Holocaust was not really the work of sociopaths.
Rather, it was the work of normal people who simply accepted the ideology of the Nazi regime and thought that what was happening was normal.
She called this the “banality of evil” – reflecting the fact that evil had become commonplace and trite.
In the United States, there is a similar banality of militarism.
The idea of invading countries, bombing cities around the world, and using military force to respond to complex international problems is simply taken for granted.
It has become commonplace and trite.
But it is neither commonplace nor trite for the victims of militarism – both the innocents who die abroad, and for the members of the United States armed forces who take orders from civilian leaders and then suffer the physical and mental consequences of executing such orders.
More than sixty years ago, the United States declared that militarism was wrong, and it created an international legal regime designed to govern the affairs of nations and prevent aggression.
Part of that regime required international approval of military actions so countries could not engage in military actions at will.
If Americans wish to take their system of justice seriously, then leaders must remain accountable under law for engaging in conduct that is illegal or criminal under international law.
By holding leaders accountable, it is possible to highlight this pernicious banality of militarism that currently exists in the United States.
Military action must be the very last option for any country committed to living in a global society consisting of other sovereign nations.
The Witness Iraq lawsuits seek to apply international law in such a way that the banality of militarism can be confronted in a court of law.
It is high time to end the banality of militarism and to recognize that military action, even in the best of circumstances, is a malevolent and heinous event.