Behind John Rawls’ veil of ignorance, an American ethics professor would imagine himself or herself choosing a society of wonderful economic and social justice, unheard of equality and liberty, and the “right” to “defend” itself through the counterproductive and self-destructive instrument of military empire and war. Peace isn’t permitted even in utopia, in U.S. academe. Why? Because John Rawls murdered Japanese people “in defense” and occupied their nation as philanthropy.
And why do others support other wars? Principally because of where they happen to have been born and what flavor of fairy tales they have been told as children. Which ancient religious claptrap were you fed? Where were you born? Which political party do you identify with? Answer those questions and nine-and-a-half times out of ten we’ll know which wars you support. We’ll be wrong mostly in the cases of people who have rejected the acceptability of war.
What if, in the moral “original position,” you chose to be born into a society that didn’t accept murder, including government sanctioned mass murder? To reject the killing of non-human animals you’d just have to include them in the list of possible beings you might be born as. You wouldn’t choose a carnivorous society if you might be the carne. You wouldn’t choose an environmentally destructive society if you might be born as someone who cared about their offspring. And you wouldn’t choose a warmaking society any more than you would choose an extreme plutocracy, because your chances of being a war profiteer experiencing short-term and superficial benefits would be miniscule compared to your chances of killing or dying or being injured or being traumatized or losing a loved one or being hated when traveling or paying an economic price or losing your civil liberties or experiencing vicious blowback or bitter shame.
You also wouldn’t choose a warmaking society because you would have no war propaganda behind your veil of ignorance. Despite being defined as an impossibly isolated individual, you would have no reason to choose massive suffering even if the odds were against your being one of the victims.
And, of course, if you imagined yourself ignorant of whether you were an American or an Iranian, it might jolt you into some reluctance to support dropping bombs on Iran.
Extremists who reject all racism do not exist, because such a position is not deemed extreme at all. The same applies to extreme opponents of rape, child abuse, or polygamy, of cannibalism, human sacrifice, or slavery, of the torture of kittens, or of criticism of John McCain. Opposing these things does not involve extremists, only good liberal participants. But oppose all war and you are simply going too far.
But if you are going to support some wars, how do you pick which wars not to support?
Let’s take the proposed U.S. war on Iran. Let’s suppose you don’t oppose it simply because you obey President Obama or because you were not raised a particular sort of Jewish or Christian. Let’s suppose you came to your opposition to a U.S. attack on Iran against all demographic odds and after considerable thought. What thought was that?
I really want to know this. Because a good majority in the United States opposes attacking Iran for the moment. Is this just because Iran elected a new president and the new guy hasn’t yet been properly demonized? Or is it just because there have been no reports on videos of Iranian beheadings? Isn’t it more likely because no emergency outcry has been raised to defend innocent civilians from imminent slaughter by Iranians, requiring that Americans bomb them first? Isn’t it even more likely because the FBI is posing as ISIS members, not Iranians, when it entraps troubled and challenged people in charges of terrorist violence? Or — dare we hope? — is it because, after so many years of holding off a war on Iran, the idea that there’s something urgent about starting one now just doesn’t pass the smell test?
If you could choose what sort of economic and political structure to be born into, wouldn’t you choose one that learned from trial and error, and from trial and success? Wouldn’t you place yourself in a society that couldn’t avoid war through basic diplomacy in one instance and not notice that the same basic tactic could be applied in many other instances? And if you chose a society that rewarded success in the pursuit of the social good, you would be choosing a society that viewed war as on a par with cannibalism. Tragically, if you published such a claim in academia, it would not make you feel any better about your colleagues when they roasted and devoured you.