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Reply #53: No that's not quite my position [View All]

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davekriss Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed May-24-06 10:05 PM
Response to Reply #46
53. No that's not quite my position
There's a gradient of culpability here. Maybe my position would be clearer if I use the word "evil" instead of "crime" (but can we ever commit an evil act that is not a crime?).

First, understand that I think every act of war is an evil act. Every soldier who kills another human being is committing an evil act, there is no escape (IMO) from this fact.

I define "evil" as willful oppositional defiance to our values, an active attempt to thwart Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. Murder is "evil" because it openly defies Life; imprisonment of political opposition is evil because it not only defies the right to physical liberty, but also the right to think freely; torture is evil because it defies any possibility of Happiness. A soldier who maims and kills is committing an evil act, albeit for some end defined as "good".

But ends never simply justify the means -- i.e., allow us to forgive the means. An evil act is always unequivocally evil. Once committed, it cannot be taken back. The reason, I think, we can tolerate some evil acts is because the responsibility for them do not always fall completely or at all on the immediate perpetrator of the act. A whole lot of intermediating circumstances have to be evaluated before one can say, finally, x is to blame. WWII comes to mind.

There's a chilling scene in Hollywood's Saving Private Ryan where an older German soldier, straddled over a younger American, slowly plunges a long knife into the young man's chest while the young man pleads sadly for his life. An unequivocally evil act, there is no escaping that. But whose evil? The German soldier? Or the men of Hitler's regime who created the situation where it became necessary for the German to kill that poor kid?

Argh! Hollywood! Reverse the nationalities of the two actors. Pretend the American was straddling the German and slowly plunging a knife into him. Hardly any of us would blame the kid for the evil act. After all, we were fighting the murderous fascism of the Third Reich. However, the ends, defeating fascism, do not make the means described so vividly in SPR any less evil; but they do perhaps color more negatively those that planned and created the war in the first place.

Is this just a fancy way of saying, "the ends justify the means", the Allied Victory and defeat of fascism justify the many daily evil acts of war? Absolutely not. By insisting that the "many daily evil acts" be accounted for, on some moral ledger, and not simply forgiven and swept away because we all agree the outcome is a net positive, the probability of misuse of these principles falls.

Second, I adhere to the Buddhist principle, "Cease to do evil; try to do good". If more of us adhered to the first imperative there'd be far less need for the second. In no case, in my ethics, is it permissible to commit an evil as a means to go from a neutral state to a greater good. It's not even permissible to me to commit an evil act that moves from an evil state to a greater good when the "evil means" exceeds the "evil state" that pre-existed my act (or would come to exist if I didn't act). To me, it is vitally important that my evil act defeat an evil greater than my act if my act is to be judged "moral".

So tell me, what greater evil are our soldiers overcoming through their daily commission of the acts of war? If there is no greater evil, then their acts are only forgivable to the extent that they are uninformed or mislead. I do not believe every soldier is uninformed and mislead; some choose to do evil without moral excuse.

Third, while I affix the majority of blame for the evils of the Iraq War on the Bush Regime that lied us into the war, that does not mean the awareness and actions of the individual soldier are not also open to scrutiny. It's not just those committing obvious war crimes (e.g., Abu Ghraib) -- even the dutiful soldier respectful of Geneva protocols, if he is aware that he is participating in an aggressive, "pre-emptive" war, this soldier shares a measure of culpability with every shot he squeezes off from his gun.

My problem is with the easy habituation toward doing evil in the name of good. We need to be really really certain -- let me emphasize, extremely really certain -- that the "good" we seek to achieve outweighs the horrible evils we agree to perpetrate before we pick up a gun. After the example of WWII, moral certainty (in my strongly held opinion) seems to dissolve into "moral" excuses used to cover actions that have less altruistic objectives.

Only the soldier of conscience is a hero in this war. Duty, or obedience to orders, is no excuse (the US insisted so at Nuremburg). If I was on the ground in Iraq, I'd have to pick up a gun just to survive (I'm no hero), and in a fire-fight I'd do what I had to do to survive, but opportunities to resist will appear, and I'd exploit those opportunities even at risk of personal penalty. And, whoa to the Bush Regime if I made it home (Cindy Sheehan, move over!!!).

I apologize to those with family or friends in Iraq. If they are aware or just suspect the lies, the vacuity of the mission, then even those who come home physically whole can be torn apart emotionally. We need to treat them with acceptance, patience, understanding, and love (even a dissident like me); and the Bush Regime needs to pay for their transition and care (I say by adding a Republican-only poll tax!!).

OK, jump all over me, crew, but this is how I see it. :)

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