What was the biggest story of 2003? The US Government’s decision to go to war with Iraq, that’s what. Why? Because, all in all, despite the desirable result of bringing down a vicious dictatorship, it was an unjustified military action taken by our government.

What justifies going to war? When a country is attacked; or when another country with which a sound, just treaty has been established is attacked; or when it is imminent, as demonstrated by solid intelligence information, that a country or an ally will be attacked. Then it is justified to initiate military action against a country waging the attack or about to wage one. That is what the military of a just system of government is for, to defend the country, not to wage war against countries with governments that may very well deserve to be brought down.

There are quite a few rogue countries across the globe, always have been and probably will continue to be, given the propensity of governments to be despotic, tyrannical, and oppressive. Until very recently there have not been governments with much merit anywhere in human history because they have not done what justifies their establishment, namely, protect the basic human rights of its citizens. In fact, probably all countries before the birth of the United States of America have been illegitimate, strictly speaking. Instead of recognizing their inhabitants as citizens, they treated them as subjects. Subjects are people subjugated by rulers, more or less cruel and vicious, but in all case ruling wrongfully, ultimately illegitimately in terms of just law, which is supposed to arise from the full consent of those who are being governed.

Accordingly, hardly any wars have been justly waged by any of its participants, although some were less guilty of injustice than others. But if one takes the idea of individual human rights seriously, if, indeed, such rights exist—as the U.S. Declaration of Independence affirms and the US Constitution attempts to render into law—then it cannot be reasonably doubted that nearly all wars in human history have essentially amounted to acts of mutual aggression. They were like bullies trying to rule the territory, with none of them having any justification for their violent conduct. No doubt, some bullies are less awful than others, but in human history wars have occurred mainly between bullies of more or less gravity.

Since, however, only when a country’s citizens are attacked—or are demonstrably about to be attacked—is it justified to go to war, it is clear that what President George W. Bush decided to do was wrong. Moreover, he and his staff clearly realized this ,since they so eagerly advanced plausible enough reasons for their actions, reasons that had only one major flaw—they were mistaken or cooked up. If Iraq had had WMDs, or was on the verge of producing them, it would indeed have been justified to attack it. That is like one’s pulling a gun against and shooting a person who is known to be about to shoot one. But no matter how vicious a regime may be, if this viciousness isn’t violently aimed at a country’s citizens, that country’s military isn’t justified to attack the regime.

There is an effective alternative, of course, but sadly it is out of fashion and, indeed, largely illegal, although laws banning it are themselves unjust. That is for the citizens of other countries, along with the subjects of the rogue nation, to stand up for the tyrannized citizens as volunteers (who aren’t duty bound as are all soldiers to defend the rights of their country’s citizens). Look at it this way, roughly: My body guard is duty bound to defend me but not to go around and defend others, even if those others are being attacked or oppressed. However, if I want to volunteer to help these others, that could be fully justified. Something along these lines characterized the Spanish civil war in the early part of the 20th century. That is why thousands of civilians from around the globe went there to fight for the relatively liberal government. This, however, didn’t happen in Iraq. Instead what did happened in 2003 is that the U.S. military left its proper post to wage a war there was no justification to wage. No amount to double talk can make this right, even if some clear-cut good consequences came of it all. Some very bad ones did as well.