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1) Eliot A. Cohen, “The Words About Ukraine That Americans Need to Hear; Wars are won by deeds—but also by persuasive moral arguments,” The Atlantic, October 22, 2022 (6:00 a.m. ET);
Eliot A. Cohen puts his finger on a critical requirement for victory in a civilizational conflict such as the struggle with Nazi Germany in World War II, or the current struggle with Putin’s Russia over the future of the United Nations Charter and international law, and indeed over the future of our civilization.
That requirement is that we find and speak eloquent words to express our values and what is at stake in the war in Ukraine, in the current struggle between civilization and barbarism.
It may be that the root cause of the American failure in Afghanistan was that we never found the words to express what was ultimately at stake in that country, once our war aims morphed into building a democracy. Or if we found them, we didn’t really believe them when we spoke them.
We mouthed the words, and urged the Afghans to believe in them, but with withdrawal of our troops as the competing goal and the CIA running the show, we never really believed the words we spoke.
In the end, we simply abandoned the Afghans who believed in our words and in democracy and human rights, including the rights of women.
The eloquent words we need to find must also inspire our soldiers and our people.
Cohen is absolutely right when says that “a rules-based international order” is language which does not inspire. In fact the term is from an Australian political scientist and was first used by an international leader in 2008.
The real term is “international law”, a term which has been understood clearly for over 400 years, since the writings of Hugo Grotius, the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), and the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. It is high time to return to its use.
The term “law” has a clear meaning which is widely understood, and which is infused with moral values, as we quickly grasp when we speak of “the rule of law”.
International law is not just a term but a living and vibrant institution, a set of precisely defined norms which is studied by students, diplomats, and scholars, and used daily by diplomats and other officials in every country in the world. They study and use “international law”, not “a rules-based international order”.
“International law” is also a term which is infused with morality, and the values of reason and consensus upon which it like all law is based.
So let us simply speak of international law and forget the clumsy term invented by political scientists of a “rules-based international order”.,
The term does not lend itself to translation. In German, for example, it is often translated as “eine Regel-basierte international Ordnung”, which has no well-defined meaning either in history or the present. The correct term is Völkerrecht, which is universally understood as public international law
What could “a rule-based international order” possibly mean other than an international order based on law, on international law, or in other words an international legal order?
That is precisely what we have now with the U.N. Charter and international law, which all civilized countries are now called upon to defend against the barbarism of Vladimir Putin and his depraved Russian army of war criminals.
Albert Camus, a famous French writer and philosopher and leader in the French Resistance during World War II, once wrote that values are created not from philosophical deductions, but rather from the experience of their violation.
For example, the value of the sanctity of the human body, of the human person, is revealed by its violation through rape or torture.
The values of our civilization, our thousands-year old civilization, are now defined once again by their brutal violation by Russian barbarians.
Rapes, torture, and summary executions shock our conscience and the conscience of humanity. Bombing civilian targets like schools, nursery schools, playgrounds, and hospitals shocks our conscience and violates our sense of humanity. Bombing residential areas where there are no military targets shocks our conscience, and makes us feel revulsion. These actions are already war crimes.
Destroying electrical infrastructure so that millions of civilians will freeze, or bombing water production and heating facilities so that millions will freeze from a lack of heating, or will be forced to flee in order to survive, as in Mariupol, are actions which defy all law, and indeed are war crimes.
They show us the face of the barbarian, the hun, whose depraved nihilism is the antithesis of law and civilization.
Let us find, or rediscover, the eloquent words that express these values and the horrors of their violation.
As Cohen urges, let us embrace the values we hold and stand fast in defending them, with words that inspire, with the weapons the Ukrainians need, and even–potentially, should it become necessary–with our own military forces.
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