Are Rules for War “Politically Correct?”

The term “jumping the shark” has been vastly overused. But it is ideal for this development (per TPM’s Daniel Strauss):

Conservative darling Ben Carson argued Monday that the military shouldn’t have to worry about being prosecuted over what’s politically correct in fighting against the Islamic State.

Carson made the comments on Monday in an interview with Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom” host Bill Hemmer. Carson suggested there shouldn’t be any rules in fighting ISIL.

“Our military needs to know that they’re not going be prosecuted when they come back, because somebody has said, ‘You did something that was politically incorrect,'” Carson said on Fox News. “There is no such thing as a politically correct war. We need to grow up, we need to mature. If you’re gonna have rules for war, you should just have a rule that says no war. Other than that, we have to win.”

If you are new to Carson’s act, you may not realize his whole shtick is a crusade against “political correctness,” a term he uses constantly and eccentrically to turn, well, basically, any disagreement with his faith in various right-wing conspiracy theories into instruments of totalitarian repression. Do you mock the Benghazi! or IRS “scandals?” Then by definition you are using “political correctness” to curb the free-speech rights of the real Americans who know threats to their freedom when they see them, without all that fancy-dan Ivy League stuff about evidence.

No, it doesn’t make much sense, but it seems to work well with Carson’s core audience. His inflated idea of “PC” takes the raw Palinesque hostility to “elite” attitudes and raises it to the level of a hermeneutical principle. And so I guess it’s not surprising that he’d regard the idea of “rules for war” as another pointy-heady imposition on the healthy kill-em-all-and-let-God-sort-em-out instincts of the citizenry.

Trouble is, of course, that “rules for war” did not emerge from some graduate department of sociology the year before last. They are rooted in every religious tradition–most definitely in the Bible–and have been explicitly accepted by the United States and other civilized nations in a long series of treaties, most notably the Geneva Conventions on treatment of combatants, prisoners and the sick and injured adopted and subsequently updated beginning in 1864, and the Hague Conventions on limitations of lawful military acts adopted and subsequently updated beginning in 1899. “Rules for war” were also advanced in the United Nations Charter, and if Carson and company don’t care much for that, there were the Nuremberg Principles promulgated at the end of the post-World-War-II trial of Nazi war criminals. And if any international limits on military behavior are an unacceptable breach of U.S. sovereignty, there are domestic laws and traditions, most notably the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the U.S. Code of Military Conduct, which presumably Carson would repeal.

Putting all that precedent aside, it’s illustrative of Carson’s fixation with his “PC” theory that he’s willing to publicly argue there should be no limits on the behavior of U.S. military oersonnel in wartime (keeping in mind that the “war” he is talking about has never been actually declared). Shooting noncombatants? Torture? Desecration of religious monuments? All okay, it seems. How about beheading hostages and posting videos on social media?

I’m really beginning to think that embracing everything Ben Carson considers “politically correct” is a pretty good basic guide to ethical living.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.