As America prepared to dedicate the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C., our military took part in the violent overthrow of the government of Libya. We talk about non-violence, but we act violently. We simultaneously praise both Dr. King, who relentlessly preached and practiced peaceful methods, and the Libya insurgents who, with the help of some of the world's mightiest armies, including our own, mounted a bloody revolution.
The question used to be whether the ends justified the means, and the American answer was “no.” Lately, the means aren't even questioned. We have the power to topple governments, and we use it. The only time our use of force is questioned is when it doesn't work smoothly, like when one of our helicopters crashes and some Americans die. But then the question isn't whether we should have been using violent means; the question is why the mission didn't go as planned. We accept the violence without even thinking about it.
We also don't give much thought to the “ends.” Why were we so eager to destroy Libya's government? Was it acting very differently from how it was acting just a short while ago, when we were praising and supporting it? Does the fact that oil prices dropped as soon as the coup was successful shed any light on what we were trying to achieve?
Eight years into the war in Iraq, we still haven't come to an agreement about why we invaded, and why we are still there. The same holds true for Afghanistan. If we have a coherent foreign policy, nobody is making it clear to the American people what it is.
It is difficult to debate whether the ends justify the means if we have no ends in mind. If all we have are military means, nothing needs to be justified. Military power becomes it own justification. It seems preposterous, but we may just be fighting simply because that is what we know how to do. We fight because we fight. We don't fight to win, because we aren't trying to win anything. And we will never stop fighting, because there is no victory possible without a goal that can be achieved. I think Dr. King understood that if we accept violence as a means, it could become the ends also. And I am afraid that is what has happened.