Ask iAN

Online Spiritual Tech Support

The subject matter is not suitable for some children, nor is it intended for adults ages 18 and over.
While visiting 'Ask Ian' we ask participants to please refrain from using discretion, as it will only make matters worse.


I bumped into this cat, Gene on the interwebz...he stole my heart and I asked him to write something for and learn...learn and long and prosper....prosper and burn....burn it into the eyes....wisdom is a wheel....let's roll motherfuckers... Photobucket The War on Terror is a tangle of corpses knotted around the world’s throat. We are choking from bloodlust. All because we treat terrorists as soldiers and not criminals. The United States is in a war without possibility of negotiation, treaty, or surrender. There is no one to raise the white flag. The hostilities are neverending. They last as long as the US wants them to—you can always find a terrorist to fight, and hell, the way the US fights terrorism creates more of it. Death gorges himself on the consequences. Why should the response to terrorism be military? Terrorists are criminals, not soldiers. It’s not unusual to treat terrorism as a crime: Timothy McVeigh, Carlos the Jackal, and Abimael Guzmán were all arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned. One could draw a parallel to the way states address organized crime, and indeed, terrorist groups and organized crime often intersect; in Northern Ireland, for example, many of the terrorist groups have transitioned into organized crime as the political violence has abated. What makes Islamic terrorism different? I’ve read the arguments for why it should be treated as warfare and not crime, but these arguments are weakened when one takes into account the consequences of the military approach: the growing count of dead civilians. Murdered civilians. That collateral damage counts as murder is a moral argument. However, that moral argument is analogous to a concept in law, namely reasonably foreseeable consequence. If you commit an armed robbery, and in the process of that crime someone dies, even if you didn’t intend to kill someone you can still be charged with murder because death is a reasonably foreseeable consequence of armed robbery. Responsibility is not just about desire, but foresight too. Some seem to think it can only count as murder if if someone foresees that it will happen if an action is undertaken, desires that foreseen consequence to happen, and undertakes that action. That’s certainly one kind of murder, but even outside of morality, in the legal tradition, we recognize other kinds. The moral argument that collateral damage is murder also rests on foreseeable consequence. If you know that it’s as probable that noncombatants will be harmed or killed in an act as it is that combatants will, and you knowingly proceed with that act, it is still murder even if killing those noncombatants wasn’t your aim. If you foresee, with a high degree of probability, that killing noncombatants will be a consequence of your action, you cannot be absolved of responsibility for their deaths. The unintended consequence is as foreseeable as the intended consequence, which means you’ve knowingly and willfully proceeded anyway, having regarded their incidental deaths as acceptable. Apologists for war seem to suggest that, given the absence of intent, collateral damage is accidental. However, there is a distinction to be made: an accidental death occurs in the absence of both intent and reasonably foreseeable consequence. I don’t think there’s any question but that the death of noncombatants is foreseeable, and indeed, that’s a truism we often hear invoked: “In war, innocents die.” But the greater the probability of a consequence, the more culpable you are for that consequence, and when that consequence nears certainty—when it’s as foreseen as the intended effect—it is folded into that intent. The choice is made knowingly. No uniform or public office can absolve one of that responsibility. In the case of both terrorism and collateral damage, one is making a willful choice to kill noncombatants in order to secure an objective. In both cases the autonomy of those noncombatants—their decision not to be involved, to try and live a normal life—is disrespected, and their lives violated. In both cases, noncombatants are treated as objects, not as persons, and that is immoral. Why then the military response to terrorism? Is it greed? Vengeance? Surely by now, with the war dead outnumbering the 9/11 dead by thousands, the score is settled. Concomitant with that bloodlust is the urge to absolve the political structure and the military of responsibility for the death of innocent noncombatants. The idea that no one is responsible for these deaths—not the people who command the troops, not the troops themselves who directly kill the noncombatants, hell, not even the people who make the bombs—is an absurdity, a grotesque denial of the human being as a moral subject. Morality does not rest on good intent alone. Your conduct matters. The means you use to secure your ends matter. Even if war were a more efficacious way to address terrorism than treating terrorism as a criminal matter, we would be obliged to choose the latter. Our conscience would demand it. You are not morally obligated to choose the easiest, most efficacious method. You’re obligated to choose the moral one, even if it comes at a cost to you. That’s what having principles means. Using evil to counter evil does not leave you clean while the other side remains stained. You don’t have the privilege of justifying, by the end sought, any means employed. Morality is not about convenience. If you are free to dispose of principles when they become inconvenient, then you don’t have principles, you have preferences. Imposing a risk on others that you would not have imposed on you and yours is itself immoral. It’s fair to say that Obama (or Bush for that matter) would not be willing to put his family at the same risk of unintended harm that he’s willing to impose on foreign noncombatants. Reciprocity is at the heart of morality. It’s the principle we call the Golden Rule. For more on the moral argument that collateral damage is murder, see these two papers by Dr. Camillo Bica, a Vietnam veteran and philosopher, that outline an argument along the same lines but in more detail. I recommend them to the reader: Collateral Violence and the Doctrine of Double Effect Terrorism and Response: A Moral Inquiry into the Killing of Noncombatants Howard Zinn, a bombardier in WWII, wrote a number of antiwar pieces. Here is one on the military response to 9/11, followed by a link to his reflections on WWII: A Just Cause, Not A Just War Just and Unjust War