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[P]
Terrorism: Rights, Blame and Ethics

By Arkady in Op-Ed
Tue Sep 18, 2001 at 09:28:04 PM EST
Tags: News (all tags)
News

Thousands of people died Tuesday when persons unknown, for reasons unknown (at least, unknown to the general public), hijacked four American airliners and crashed them into the Pentagon, the World Trade Center, and the ground of Pennsylvania. While there is nearly universal agreement that such a thing is a horrible atrocity, there is almost no discussion over whether certain commentators have any right to decry this action or over the ethical consistency of the proposals for retaliation for it.


Rights

To take the most obvious example, by what right does anyone in the U.S. government condemn this? For the U.S. to condemn the killing of civilians, even in the thousands, is the height of hypocrisy. As has been very well documented by organizations ranging from Amnesty International to the United Nations, the U.S. regularly (through its own direct actions, its financial, diplomatic or military support, or its inaction) perpetrates and abets equally heinous crimes against the citizens of other countries. The U.S. has bombed embassies, hospitals, power stations, residences, pharmaceutical factories; the list goes on, up to bombing the entire cities of Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The U.S. has supported Israel, Chile, Indonesia and a host of other countries in waging brutal wars against their own citizens and neighboring countries. The U.S. has knowingly sat by and witnessed the massive killing of civilians in Iraq, Rwanda, Turkey and many more.

In fact, the only difference between the normal course of enforcing U.S. foreign policy and Tuesday's attacks is that on Tuesday the terrorist's used hijacked civilian airliners as weapons and died themselves, whereas the U.S. tends more towards custom manufactured weapons systems which avoids risk to the lives of its own operatives.

Blame

Much of the U.S. population, on the other hand, may fairly be said to be relatively blameless. As may be noted from the past election, voting in the U.S. is largely a matter of selecting the lesser evil in a plutocrat-nominated candidate pool, and few voters find someone they actually want in office on the ballot (and even this limited choice can be overturned by corruption in the nations courts). Yes, the vast majority of people in this country do give money to the government (with which it pursues its own atrocities both at home and around the world) but few do it willingly. Theirs is the same kind of fault that a mugger's victim has when money from his wallet is used to purchase the gun with which the mugger kills another victim: not much at all, and probably none in most people's eyes.

To say that the Afghani's, for example, deserve the retaliation which Bush &co. are preparing for not having risen up and unseated the terrorists and terrorist sympathizers within their government is to say that the U.S. citizens, and foreign nationals, who died Tuesday, deserved that for not having risen up against their own governments, all of which practice similar tactics.

Americans, in fact, must bear a much greater percentage of the blame for their country's actions than many others, as (damaged and dysfunctional though it is) the U.S. does have a roughly functioning democracy and rarely openly tortures or murders domestic dissidents. As it would have been significantly easier, and much safer, for Americans to have removed the terrorists within their government than it could ever have been for the Afghanis, any blame for the U.S. government's actions must attach to its citizens many times more than could the Afghan government's attach to theirs.

Ethics

If there is a "right" and there is a "wrong", and if there are rules by which one can distinguish the two, then these rules must be the same for everyone. If it is wrong to kill civilians, then it must be wrong for America just as it is wrong for any other organization. To respond to wrong with wrong makes no one right; it just makes everyone wrong.

If responsibility for a country's actions attends on those people living within that country's borders, then all must bear this responsibility. If the Afghan populace can be said to be responsible for the actions of their government, then so must Americans be responsible for the actions of theirs. If it is acceptable to kill innocent Afghanis in pursuit of retribution against their government (or prominent fellow citizens), it must also be acceptable to kill innocent Americans in pursuit of retribution against theirs.

If there are, in fact, rules by which an action can be called "right" or "wrong", then these rules apply equally to every person and every action. An American response to Tuesday's tragedy which kills innocent Afghanis (or Pakistanis, Iraqis, Palestinians) would be a statement that the people within a country's borders are responsible for that country's actions, regardless of how little influence they may have over them.

It would be an endorsement of Tuesday's killings.

Responses

So what can we do? What responses to this tragedy will allow us to proceed with our ethics intact; to act without compounding the tragedy by committing another atrocity ourselves?

Certainly, the U.S. should attempt to identify and bring to justice any surviving perpetrators. This, however, is not a task for the military, whose expertise lies only in performing this sort of thing themselves, but for the world's police forces. The American F.B.I., InterPol and others already have the expertise, and the standing mission, to investigate this and pursue any remaining perpetrators. To give in to the calling for an end to freedom to aid this investigation, however, will only remove the last reason America has to claim a right to evaluate the behavior of the world, and will not help to prevent another tragedy like this.

More importantly, and much more effectively in the long term, the U.S. must clean house. To quote from the Bible (a book revered by both Christians and Muslims): "Remove the plank from your own eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye". For those from other spiritual or philosophical traditions, among whom I count myself, consider that this same sentiment comes also from Chuang-Tzu and Mencius.

The U.S. must stop involving innocent civilians in its disputes with other governments. The blockades of Iraq and Cuba, the bombing of Belgrade; these are only a few examples of the U.S. attacking innocents itself. This must stop, and the Americans responsible must be brought to trial for their own crimes.

The U.S. must stop supporting terrorist organizations as well. Israel in Palestine, Indonesia in Timor, the "Contra" operation in Nicaragua; these are only a few examples of the terrorist organization the U.S. has supported. This support must end, and America should pursue justice against these terrorists and their supporters among our own government as well.

The U.S. must seek a consistent ethical basis for its actions, both at home and abroad. To bomb, or even "just" to invade, Kabul after having ignored the slaughter in Rwanda is the grossest hypocrisy. To intervene in the affairs of other peoples, the U.S. must prove its own worth.

Only by pursuing justice, rather than revenge, and only by honestly evaluating and rectifying our own country's behavior, can American's regain any ethical consistency and truly claim the right to condemn Tuesday's tragedy. Only in removing the causes of terrorism, the completely legitimate reasons why people the world over hate the United States and have nothing to lose by attacking it and those living within its borders, can America hope to bring an end to terrorism.

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Terrorism: Rights, Blame and Ethics | 65 comments (53 topical, 12 editorial, 0 hidden)
a well writen case for a controversial position (3.80 / 5) (#1)
by sayke on Sat Sep 15, 2001 at 04:45:22 PM EST

+1, FP.

remember, people, don't vote something down *just* because you disagree with it - to do so would be to quash dissent, and the existence of open dissent is one of the most important thing that seperates the US from more repressive countries. to quash dissent is to summon forth the ghosts of all the book-burners and witch-hunters of history. please, leave them in the history books.

but arkady, what would you think about an international (of course, in practice that means "mostly US") effort to overthrow the taliban and put ahmed shah mas'ud in power in afganistan?

i'm aware of the US government's tendancy to horribly botch "peacekeeping" missions, and its despicable track record in the past, but might it not be worth it, this time? how much harm can a US ground attack do to afganistan? from all accounts, it's already pretty fucked... might a ground attack do more good then harm in this case?


sayke, v2.3.1 /* i am the middle finger of the invisible hand */

The Taleban (5.00 / 2) (#3)
by Arkady on Sat Sep 15, 2001 at 04:53:38 PM EST

To quote myself: "To intervene in the affairs of other peoples, the U.S. must prove its own worth."

The Taleban are an atrocity by themselves, and that the U.S. was instrumental in arming them and getting them into power (as a sort-of none thumbing at the U.S.S.R.) is a genuine blight on the country's ethical history. I have long thought that they desperately need to be overthrown, and the poor people of Afghanistan are in no position to succeed at that. At least in that way, America's likely bloodbath to come could have one positive result.

Bombing Kabul, of course, won't do that. It'll just kill more innocent Afghanis. But if the U.S. truly has the balls to get into a land war in Afghanistan, and to fight that war _only_ against the Taleban and not their subjects, then I do actually approve of that.

The real cowards are the ones who'd rather bomb innocents than risk their own skins.

-robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
i think i agree (4.00 / 2) (#6)
by sayke on Sat Sep 15, 2001 at 05:27:20 PM EST

Bombing Kabul, of course, won't do that. It'll just kill more innocent Afghanis. But if the U.S. truly has the balls to get into a land war in Afghanistan, and to fight that war _only_ against the Taleban and not their subjects, then I do actually approve of that.

if that paragraph was in your main article, it would almost certainly have recieved a more welcoming response. man. dangerous times are upon us if we must resort to attempts to aim the crowd's blind desire for revenge in a way that might, hopefully, do some good...


sayke, v2.3.1 /* i am the middle finger of the invisible hand */
[ Parent ]

Being a hypocrite is not being wrong (3.80 / 5) (#2)
by tudlio on Sat Sep 15, 2001 at 04:53:22 PM EST

Everyone has the "right" to condemn evil, in whatever form it takes. You make a articulate argument that the U.S. government is hypocritical in condemning the murder of civilians when its actions have caused the deaths of civilians. But so what?

The people who planned, financed and supported the attacks will not hesitate to try again and again until they're stopped, whether we're governed by an ethical sensitivity or not. If the hands that are used to stop a future attack on the United States are covered in blood, so be it. I'll happily work to implement a just, ethical global order as long as it doesn't interfere in my government's ability to stop people from killing me because of my color and my nationality.

And even though I'd desperately love to see the United States live up to the ethical standards you've described, I don't think that by doing so we'll suddenly make loving brothers of our enemies on the world stage. As much as it pains this bleeding heart liberal to say, realpolitik is not dead. There are very good reasons for our government to engage in unethical, even murderous activities worldwide, and I for one am glad that they're doing it so I'm free to decry it.




insert self-deprecatory humor here
Speaking of hypocrisy . . . (3.00 / 1) (#54)
by Robert Hutchinson on Tue Sep 18, 2001 at 10:12:04 PM EST

There are very good reasons for our government to engage in unethical, even murderous activities worldwide, and I for one am glad that they're doing it so I'm free to decry it.
Decry: to express strong disapproval of.

WTF are you saying?

Robert Hutchinson


No bomb-throwing required.

[ Parent ]
TF I'm Saying (4.00 / 1) (#61)
by tudlio on Wed Sep 19, 2001 at 05:10:43 PM EST

WTF are you saying?

That my freedom to disapprove of my government's actions may well be a result of those very actions. In other words, it's a lot easier to have high ethical and moral standards when you're not being threatened with immanent death. In other words, I suspect that the world's a lot less friendly than it at first seems from the vantage point of my privileged, middle class upbringing.




insert self-deprecatory humor here
[ Parent ]
I want to vote for this, but I can't (4.50 / 18) (#7)
by rusty on Sat Sep 15, 2001 at 06:11:07 PM EST

I know Arkady is a thoughtful person, who is very capable of working out difficult ethical and political issues like this, and I do want to vote for this, but I can't.

It ignores or glosses over a lot of very real problems with the ideal solution of "cleaning our own house" and acting in an ethically consistent way, as well as the basic mechanics of apprehending and trying the culprits of this attack. For example, how should the FBI and Interpol go about apprehending bin Laden? He is lodged in a hostile nation with whom we have no diplomatic ties, and who have clearly expressed their support for him, and their intent to continue to protect him. Even the single thing that virtually all of us agree must be done (bringing the culprits to trial) is, in itself, necessarily a military operation. There's no other route to bring these people to justice.

So, either you give up on punishing the culprits, or you accept that a military incursion into Afghanistan is required. If you're willing to accept that military action, you either have to do the smallest operation possible, and accept that it will further anger the ruling party and leave their means of making war intact, or you must remove them from power. I personally think the reality on the ground demands the latter.

Your "history of US atrocity" is, I think, naive. Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki. We were at war with Germany and Japan. Whether you like it or not, international diplomacy and statecraft has long recognized that war is a unique situation, in which a lot of normal ethical rules do not apply, and other rules take their place. We were within our rights, and within the pale of accepted warfare to do what we did. I don't like it either, but I'm glad those things were done, because they saved American lives. Yes, I do care more about American lives than others, and that just makes me human.

Finally, Arkady, how much of your own prosperity are you willing to give up for the sake of "other people"? Perhaps more importantly, how much of your fellow Americans prosperity are you willing to sacrifice? Because in disentangling ourselves entirely from the Middle East, you are doing at least two things:

  • Ensuring that our oil supply is questionable at best. Without oil, this country reverts to an agrarian economy, if we're lucky. Is joining the rest of the world in squalor and poverty really the best way to fix it? Not to even mention the rest of the industrial world, which depends on us to protect their energy supplies, while keeping their delicate hands clean and sneering at us from the sidelines. Say goodbye to industrialized France, Germany, England, Scandinavia, and the rest of the first world.
  • Ensuring that Israel and the Arab world are free at last to engage in full-scale pitched battle until only one faith remains standing. How many more lives are we willing to sacrifice to keep our precious dainty ethics intact? How much of the cultural history of modern humanity are we willing to allow to be destroyed in the name of Holy War? Palestine will be ground zero of that conflict, and it will emerge as tiny bits of formerly priceless rubble, no matter who wins.
  • With the collapse of the global industrial economy, a lot of heretofore stable nations with some serious weapons (e.g. nukes) will be left poor, desperate, and rudderless. These are the conditions that breed demagogues and warmongers on a much larger scale than even bin Laden could ever aspire to. Instead of fighting Afghanistan now, in ten years we'll be fighting Germany again. How much do you yearn for that scenario?
In short, which I already haven't been I guess, if this article addressed some human sociopolitical realities, I'd be a lot more inclined to vote for it. Ethical theory is all well and good, but has little relevance in a vacuum anymore.

So that I can't be accused of doing the same thing you are, that is, arguing against action without proposing an alternative, here's what I think we should be doing:

  • Find bin Laden and all his supporters, and execute them. Remove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, and make sure they and their supporters have no means to ever acheive power again.
  • Pour aid, in the form of cash and solid infrastructure, into Afghanistan and any other mideast country that requests it. That is, do not give weapons to warlords-- build schools for children. Build hospitals, connect electric lines, dig wells, fund the creation of native-owned businesses, especially construction and basic services. Flood the area with as much support and money and technology as possible, with careful oversight to ensure that it does not go to "freedom fighters", corrupt officials, or warlords.
  • Form a multinational counter-terrorism force, which pledges to hunt down and execute the perpetrators of terrorist attacks no matter who or where they are, or what their cause or motivations are. Israeli extremists, IRA factions, Algerians, even (and perhaps especially) American terrorist groups. Essentially, a multinational army that has carte blanche specifically to fight these tactics, wherever they are used.
Points two and three are very much the important ones. A military campaign alone will fail. A military campaign followed by continuing vigilance and an open-wallet rebuilding may have some chance of succeeding. Introspection and self-flagellation for past wrongs, however, will be to no one's benefit. We cannot cleanse ourselves in the eyes of bin Laden. We can do nothing to appease him. Why waste our time weakening ourselves when it won't even help?

____
Not the real rusty
rusty. (3.75 / 4) (#8)
by Defect on Sat Sep 15, 2001 at 06:34:38 PM EST

As much as I may sit and try to form some sort of coherent string of opinions, nothing I could hope to come up with could hold a candle to how well well you conveyed those thoughts that I share right now.

"Me Too" doesn't begin to express how much I agree.

Thank you for a lot more than just writing that comment.
defect - jso - joseth || a link
[ Parent ]
Thanks (3.33 / 3) (#10)
by rusty on Sat Sep 15, 2001 at 06:43:21 PM EST

Also, I really appreciate the support and encouragement the a lot of you have expressed for K5 in general and me in particular this week. It's been tough for all of us, and discussing things here and reading others opinions has really helped me get clear in my own head what I think about all of this. It's been a lot more challenging here than elsewhere in the media, due to the sheer range of politics and backgrounds we have, and I think that's our great strength. You guys can be a pain in the ass, but I'm glad you're here. ;-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
On bin Laden & war (4.50 / 4) (#11)
by Arkady on Sat Sep 15, 2001 at 07:00:15 PM EST

(I'm going to have to write a few seperate replies to answer Rusty's objections. This one only covers bin Laden and the question of invading Afghanistan.)

First, there is as yet no publicly available evidence that anyone currently in Afghanistan, let alone bin Laden himself, were involved in this. Now, what the government has but isn't letting us know may be as damning as you'd like, but without it in public it's insufficient to arrest a suspect, much less to launch a war. Let them first get what would be necessary to get a search warrant, then request the Afghanis to cooperate in accumulating more _specific_ evidence. The rules apply (theoretically) within the U.S.; if America is going to break international law, it can at least follow its own.

This also means that you have to give the process _time_. The unseemly haste being shown by the government, media and much of the population makes a mockery of the concept of due process of law.

I am, and have been for some time, personally in favor of invading Afghanistan. The rulers are a bunch of vicious thugs, with no mandate from the people whatsoever. If you want to talk about being brave enough to do "what must be done", think about the bravery necessary to invade a country but make war _only_ on its rulers, not their subjects. That takes real cojones; bombing is the cowards way out, when you actually do have the strength to face the enemy squarely. "Collateral damage" is the coward's phrase for "innocents we killed to avoid risking our combatants".

To say that "international diplomacy and statecraft" approve of the slaughter of innocents, provided you've filed the proper "Declaration of War" paperwork first, is a grotesque dereliction of your responsibility to make ethical decisions for yourself. You're entrusting the decision to the very people who benefit, and are never put at risk themselves, by the popular acceptance of this belief. The only thing that seperates Dresden from New York (aside from the much smaller scale in New York), is that the killers in Dresden were a recognized country, so they got to play the game officially; the killers in New York aren't _allowed_ to declare war officially, but they're in one nonetheless. To endorse Dresden and Hiroshima is to endorse New York.

(Rusty's post is large and thoughful enough to warrant consideration and thoughtful replies to each of his points, so I'll post replies to his other points in oter comments.)

-robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
Afghani Diplomatic Ties (4.00 / 4) (#20)
by Arkady on Sat Sep 15, 2001 at 09:43:39 PM EST

I should mention that th U.S. has diplomatic ties to Afghanistan in a middling to big way. In May, the U.S. gave $48 million dollars to the Taleban to recongnize the contribution to the global "War on Drugs" to which the U.S. government is so committed.

Surely, if America is giving them that big a pile of money there are still substantial diplomatic channels available.

-robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
Citation? (none / 0) (#63)
by vectro on Thu Sep 27, 2001 at 10:37:18 PM EST

Do you have a citation for that? I've found grants of humanitarian aid, but no cash.

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]
citations (none / 0) (#64)
by Arkady on Fri Sep 28, 2001 at 12:10:44 AM EST

Here are a few useful links:

OK, so it's 43 million. ;-)

-robin


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
Bad source (none / 0) (#65)
by vectro on Sat Sep 29, 2001 at 03:58:50 PM EST

That one article appears to be the only source material on this. And coincidentally, $43 million is exactly the amount of humanitarian aid we committed to in May. I conclude that Mr. Scheer mistook wheat for money.

Curiously, too, this article does not show up in the L.A. Times' archives. Yet this article from the L.A. Times seems to corroborate my theory, pointing out that the $43 million was humanitarian aid.

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]

Of Oil and Israel (4.20 / 5) (#12)
by Arkady on Sat Sep 15, 2001 at 07:08:14 PM EST

This time, I want to reply to the doomsday scenario you're proposing for the U.S. pulling its support from Israel.

First, every country in the world, including _all_ the Muslim ones but not including the U.S. and Israel, have come to an agreement over where they will accept borders for Israel. The U.S. need not abandon Israel to the potential threats from its nieghbors, it would be sufficient merely to withdraw support entirely until Israel wiithdrew back into its own borders and then to assist against invasion (as the U.S. can reasonably do for any country). This would pose no danger to Israel, as all of its neighbors have already agreed.

In fact, such an action is _much_ more likely to stabilize oil supplies from the Middle East by removing the primary source of antagonism between the U.S./Europe block and the countries in the region than it is to offer a credible threat.

No piece of the cultural history (and here I'm speaking as a former archaeologist, too) is worth killing the innocent living for.

The best security is to have no enemies; when it's possible to make an enemy into a friend, or at least a neutral, by stopping being an ass to them I'd think that that's certainly worth pursuing.

-robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
On Ethics (4.50 / 4) (#13)
by Arkady on Sat Sep 15, 2001 at 07:19:40 PM EST

I'm particularly saddenned to see you say "Ethical theory is all well and good, but has little relevance in a vacuum anymore."

Ethics, unlike physics, never takes place in a vacuum (nor on a frictionless plain), but rather functions as the raw matter from which we make decisions. We have fact, and we have an ethical context, and we choose our path based on the two. To abandon the ethical context is to abandon the concept of a society, for what else differentiates society from merely a group of self-interest-maximizing individuals?

Now, in this case, the fact is that someone has murdered thousands of people, the ethical context is what I'm trying to convince you of. I am arguing that the appropriate ethic to follow is that killing innocents, under any circumstance, is wrong and that to follow any other ethic will lead you into self-contradiction and guilt.

If I understand your argument correctly, the primary point you're putting against this is that you find it unlikely that you'll get justice (I was going to write "revenge", but you do deserve the benefit of the doubt) if you follow such a path. This is the choice of pragmatism: to know what you want, and to only consider what will help you achieve it. Ethics expands this choice by adding the consideration: is this mechanism by which I will achieve my goal actually consistent with my goal?

From the pragmatic side, however, it is actually possible to achieve justice in this case without killing any more innocents: follow existing police procedures and standards of evidence; use the military _only_ if necessary to enforce a decision made by an open World Court and even in that case _only_ use the military directly against the convicted. This does disallow the use of mass slaughter technologies, but surely if Americans have the will to do "what must be done" they also have the will to do it the way it must be done to remain consistent with the principles which justify their acting at all?

-robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
Re: On Ethics (4.00 / 4) (#23)
by Hobbes2100 on Sat Sep 15, 2001 at 10:36:30 PM EST

Ack.

I do not believe that ANYONE is advocating that "killing innocents, under any cicircumstance" is RIGHT (though war may involve killing innocents collaterally ... there IS a moral difference between targeting civillians and being involved in a situation hazardous to these civillians ... perhaps more appropriately, I believe there is a distinct and clear moral difference in these two cases).

I will further take issue with your requirement of a "World Court" ruling in this matter. I am NOT a citizen of the world (though I _am_ a member of it). I do NOT pay taxes to the world, nor do I recognize any world sovereign over me. The UN is a treaty in which my government participates, not a nation of nations.

Back to ethics:

I can respond quite simply by shifting my ethical foundation to "might makes right" which has the extraordinary benefit of being the ethical stance of nature (on a side note, I won't tend to do this but felt it was an interesting point).

Finally, the notion of consistency in ethics is likely a "poorly formed expression". Consistecny in logic is all well and good; ethics is not very likely to give rise to even a (partial) ordering. Hence, if a < b and b < c (in units of ethical utility) it is not necessarily the case that a < c. We can't even appeal to utilitiy theoretic notions of equivalence b/c we're not looking at chance events. It's simply the fact that the _evaluations_ of positions are not static (apologies, I need to think on this more).

Regards,
Mark
Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes? --Iuvenalis
But who will guard the guardians themselves? -- Juvenal
[ Parent ]
Question on ethics (4.50 / 2) (#44)
by Best Ace on Sun Sep 16, 2001 at 07:49:39 PM EST

'I am arguing that the appropriate ethic to follow is that killing innocents, under any circumstance, is wrong and that to follow any other ethic will lead you into self-contradiction and guilt.'

I would appreciate any clarification you could provide on this point, because it seems to me that this statement takes a very 'black and white' view of the issue. Ethics, almost by definition, falls into the grey area where absolute statements such as these are difficult to maintain.

An example. Take the fourth plane that was hijacked on Tuesday (the one that the media is now calling the 'Pennsylvania aircraft'). There were, of course many innocents on this aircraft, and if the plane had hit its target, even more innocents would have died. By shooting down the plane, possibly thousands of lives would have been saved at the expense of the (relatively) few who died on the plane. This would seem to contradict the above statement that 'killing innocents... is wrong'.

Now I think most people would agree that crashing the plane in a remote region was the best action (I hesitate to use the word 'best' in connection with the incident), but it is almost never so clear cut.

Another example. The US/UK embargo in Iraq. Let's for the moment set aside the dubious legality of these actions (they are worthy of a new K5 story by themselves!). The US prolongs the actions against Saddam partly to prevent Iraqi action against the Kurds in the north and the Shi'ite muslims in the south. A wise policy on the face of it, but if the figures of half a million children dead as a result of this action are believed, then there is clearly a trade off involved. Should we protect these Iraqi minorities at the expense of Iraqi children (and others affected)? Madeleine Albright clearly thinks so. When asked on national TV in 1996 for her reaction to the killing of half a million Iraqi children in five years, she replied "The price is worth it".

I am sorry this post has become a bit longer than I expected, but my point is that to state that 'killing innocents, under any circumstance, is wrong' is too simplistic. How do the implications of this fit into your original thesis on ethics?

Good story though, I'll give it +1 FP

bA

[ Parent ]

Where We Agree (4.16 / 6) (#14)
by Arkady on Sat Sep 15, 2001 at 07:23:01 PM EST

"Pour aid, in the form of cash and solid infrastructure, into Afghanistan and any other mideast country that requests it. That is, do not give weapons to warlords-- build schools for children. Build hospitals, connect electric lines, dig wells, fund the creation of native-owned businesses, especially construction and basic services. Flood the area with as much support and money and technology as possible, with careful oversight to ensure that it does not go to "freedom fighters", corrupt officials, or warlords."

This is absolutely correct and, generallized to expan it beyond the region under discussion, would form the core of a very respectible foreign policy.

It is humane, compassionate and very practical.

-robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
bin Laden made a formal declaration of war in 1996 (3.37 / 8) (#15)
by marx on Sat Sep 15, 2001 at 08:06:55 PM EST

Your "history of US atrocity" is, I think, naive. Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki. We were at war with Germany and Japan. Whether you like it or not, international diplomacy and statecraft has long recognized that war is a unique situation, in which a lot of normal ethical rules do not apply, and other rules take their place. We were within our rights, and within the pale of accepted warfare to do what we did.

What you have just done is justified the killing of millions of civilians in the name of war. This is despicable. However, if this is truly your viewpoint, then you cannot condemn the attack on 11 September.

This if from the state.gov website:

On or about August 23, 1996, Usama bin Laden signed and issued a Declaration of jihad (holy war) from Afghanistan entitled, "Message from Usama bin Laden to his Muslim Brothers in the Whole World and Especially in the Arabian Peninsula: Declaration of Jihad Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Mosques; Expel the Heretics from the Arabian Peninsula."

In other words, Osama bin Laden officially declared war on the United States of America. Since this is from the state.gov website, the US clearly must know about this. They must also know that this man is capable of executing on his words. You also cannot claim that war cannot be declared by or on a single man or organization, since this is what the US very recently did.

Either you must condemn Hiroshima as a despicable act, or you must support the September 11 attack as "accepted warfare". I have selected the former, and I suspect that if you think for a bit, you will too.

Join me in the War on Torture: help eradicate torture from the world by holding torturers accountable.
[ Parent ]

good point (3.66 / 3) (#16)
by Arkady on Sat Sep 15, 2001 at 08:17:05 PM EST

It hadn't occurred to me that by offering a Declaration of War themselves, the U.S. must necessarily be admitting the validity of bin Laden's earlier Declaration as well.

The rules, whatever you may think them to be, must apply equally to all. If he can have war declared on him, then he can also declare war and therefore (if, in fact, he was responsible) the attack on New York was an "act of war" and must be accepted by anyone who accepts those rules.

-robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
The Rules of War... (none / 0) (#56)
by physicsgod on Tue Sep 18, 2001 at 11:58:43 PM EST

As practiced by the US do not allow the targeting of noncombatants. Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki all had industrial capacaties that marked them as fair game for bombing, which was(is) an inaccurate technique. The attacks on the WTC was the targeting of a structure that had NO military significance, and while an attack on the Pentagon would be fair game, using an airplane full of noncombatants is not.

bin Laden's just spat upon centuries of western tradition; the question for the US is do we adhere to our standard or play the way they want to? Adherence to our standards is going to be costly, not in money, but in blood. Another part of the western rules of war is the differentiation between combatants, prisoners, wounded and civillians. In the west only the first group is targetable, and the last group is sacrosanct. In fact there are a whole slew of traditions designed to protect civillians, such as the rule that any military officer on a battlefield in civillian dress can be summarily shot as a spy.

--- "Those not wearing body armor are hereby advised to keep their arguments on-topic" Schlock Mercenary
[ Parent ]

fine sentiments (none / 0) (#57)
by Arkady on Wed Sep 19, 2001 at 12:04:08 AM EST

If only the U.S. and other countries of the "western tradition" ever actually subscribed to them. ;-)

-robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
Well... (none / 0) (#58)
by physicsgod on Wed Sep 19, 2001 at 12:38:19 AM EST

If they didn't there would be this thing called a "war crimes trial" perhaps you've heard of it? ;)

Interestingly the Geneva conventions don't apply if only one side has signed on.

--- "Those not wearing body armor are hereby advised to keep their arguments on-topic" Schlock Mercenary
[ Parent ]

Strange consequences (4.00 / 1) (#59)
by marx on Wed Sep 19, 2001 at 02:29:22 PM EST

As practiced by the US do not allow the targeting of noncombatants. Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki all had industrial capacaties that marked them as fair game for bombing, which was(is) an inaccurate technique.

So if the terrorists would have dropped a nuclear bomb on New York instead, that would have been ok, since they would then have destroyed industries. Look, just stop trying to justify Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it's pathetic and disrespectful.

Join me in the War on Torture: help eradicate torture from the world by holding torturers accountable.
[ Parent ]

Pretty much. (none / 0) (#60)
by physicsgod on Wed Sep 19, 2001 at 03:28:46 PM EST

New York's harbor facilites would be (AFAIK) a valid military target, so nuking it, while still and act of war, wouldn't be as morally bad as the WTC.

And you should stop judging Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it's pathetic and dishonest.

--- "Those not wearing body armor are hereby advised to keep their arguments on-topic" Schlock Mercenary
[ Parent ]

It's all despicable (3.00 / 2) (#19)
by rusty on Sat Sep 15, 2001 at 09:42:43 PM EST

They're both despicable acts. If you insist, though, I will accept bin Laden's declaration of war, and I hope the US wages our defense with all possible dispatch and force. We all agree, then, that we are, in fact, at war. I don't always agree with my country's policied, but I do believe in its essential goodness, and I will do all I can to assist in victory.

If this is war, then we have lost the first battle. We will not lose any others.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Civilized war vs. barbaric war (4.25 / 4) (#22)
by marx on Sat Sep 15, 2001 at 10:19:11 PM EST

I appreciate that you can admit that all such acts are wrong.

All I'm asking of the US is to show that it is civilized in this war, and does not employ the same disregard for human life as their enemy. Unfortunately this has not always been the case historically, perhaps it can be different this time.

I saw a man interviewed in New York say, shaking in rage, "this time there will be no compromises". This is what frightens me, and it is this thinking which creates people like bin Laden.

Join me in the War on Torture: help eradicate torture from the world by holding torturers accountable.
[ Parent ]

Compromises (3.50 / 2) (#24)
by rusty on Sat Sep 15, 2001 at 10:38:41 PM EST

I don't think the American people are, in general, bloodthirsty for carnage in general. I think we're extremely angry at a very small group of evil people. The Taliban, and bin Laden's various groups, primarily. So when tight-lipped, steely-eyed Americans growl on TV, don't necessarily assume they just want death. We do, but only for specific people.

I think what the attitude now would say is that we will go through anyone in our way, in the same way we killed German soldiers who may or may not have actually been Nazis, because they were fighting for the Nazis. Oppose us, and you will be considered to be supporting them. But that ought to be eminently clear. And I don't think there will be any compromises.

By the way, I don't believe there's ever been a war in human history where either side has acted civilized all the way through. I can't think of any. We have principles, yes, but we will doubtless always fail to live up to them fully. Ask the older Chinese if they were upset that Japanese civilians were killed in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. I'm betting not.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Reply to Rusty (4.50 / 2) (#40)
by dammitallgoodnamesgone on Sun Sep 16, 2001 at 06:15:14 PM EST

It's probably worth pointing out that the worries of oil shortages for staying so actively involved in the middle east are far less valid than you seem to think. The UK, at least, is a net exporter of oil thanks to the North Sea reserves, and I seem to remember that Texas isn't that badly off either. The fuel efficiency of cars in the US has gone down over the past 20 or so years. compare US cars to those in Europe, where the curse of SUVs doesen't seem to have taken off. And, if you are a fan of corporate paranoia, there are good odds that the oil companies have better forms of energy that they are holding back til we get even closer to running out of oil. Oil is probably most irreplaceable as the basis for most plastics, so disentangling from the middle east wouldn't be as much a problem as you think (and if you don't believe that a major industrial power can change it's main fuel source in a short time, look at what happened in the UK in the 1980s immediately after the coal strikes). Also, you seem to think that America leaving the Middle East would increase the tension. This has already been refuted by other people, but to me sounds the same as "America disentangling itself from the Northern Ireland conflict would increase the tension". One word, NorAid (hope I've spelt that right). Finding bin Lauden and the Taliban and executing them is all well and good, a noble sentiment, but it would be very hard to carry out- even now in Europe there are regular attempts to prosecute people for acts of genocide during world war 2 - they hid for 50-odd years why can't the Taliban. Pouring aid into the country - I'm not sure how I feel about this, but again it would probably be very awkward. You'll find that the government and the leaders of enterprise are more closely entangled than they'd be in a more open country in the west. And finally a counter-terrorism force - look at the "Shoot to Kill" policy the British Government had in the 80s. It dosent work, it causes as much terror as the Terrorist. Arkady doesn't seem to say whether he thinks that he wants the US to fully commit to an ethical foreign policy or retreat into "splendid isolation". You seem to worry about America weakening herself. Perhaps the most important thing for America to start doing is start questioning why it does what it does. Any time the answer is "to protect American business intrests" with no other reason then that action should be shelved. On a side note that kinda deals with all the DMCA badness, but that's not really at the forefront of peoples minds right now. ps - sorry for any randomness but 3 months of summer holiday, living with my parents again, has destroyed much of my capability for rational thought

[ Parent ]
Interesting (4.66 / 3) (#41)
by stuartf on Sun Sep 16, 2001 at 07:31:36 PM EST

Your "history of US atrocity" is, I think, naive. Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki. We were at war with Germany and Japan. Whether you like it or not, international diplomacy and statecraft has long recognized that war is a unique situation, in which a lot of normal ethical rules do not apply, and other rules take their place. We were within our rights, and within the pale of accepted warfare to do what we did. I don't like it either, but I'm glad those things were done, because they saved American lives. Yes, I do care more about American lives than others, and that just makes me human.

You glossed over the other examples - see Central America for a start, Pinochet in Chile for seconds. Yes Dresden, Hiroshima & Nagasaki were committed as acts of war and should be treated as such. But I don't recall America declaring war on the citizens of Chile, Nicaragua, or East Timor. Face it, America has a history of meddling in other countries affairs, where they definitely shouldn't. I've been thinking about this a bit, and I've come up with a sort of technological metaphor for it. America is sort of like the worlds Microsoft. In many ways they could be likened to the monopolist, and subject to different rules. I need to flesh this out a bit, and will try to do so later.

Basically, America needs to stop meddling, and start simply assisting - there is rather a large difference.

[ Parent ]

Hello rusty (4.33 / 3) (#45)
by metaDark on Sun Sep 16, 2001 at 09:08:24 PM EST

First I have to thank Arkady for his posting, he have
pointed many things I really wanted to say...

Specially yesterday after reading rusty's diary, but my writing skills are really bad so I'm very glad to see that some one thinks like me, and also to see that he can express this ideas in so well written way.


To Rusty:
It's nice to see that you are better, but there are still some things you have said that make sad... you don't know me, but I have been reading k5 for some time, and I have a big respect for you and I thank you for creating this site...

But I can't avoid to feel sad when I read things like: "I do care more about American lives than others", and you try to justify it with: "and that just makes me human".

I don't know how human I'm, but I have to say that any kind of nationalism makes me sick, I was born in spain, I live in sweden and who know where I'll be next moth... IMHO, what matter where are you from? what makes people from USA "better", or more worth than the people born in any other country?

In spain some people have been killing each other in the name of nationalism, some don't want to be spanish, and other don't want to let them have their own country... I could never understand none of both sides, may be it's a flaw in my humanity... but I don't care if a person "is" American, afghan, spanish, french, japanese....
I care about what this person really is, what he does, what he thinks, not what country he was born in...

I'm not spanish, I'm not catalan, I'm not swedish, I'm Uriel, a human being like everybody else, and I hope that people judge me by what I'm and what I do, not by what other people pretend me to be... nationality is just a label governments use to control people...

This is not about countries, this is not about wars, this is about persons, about people, people from all around the world, humans like you and me... for me the people who died in the WTC are not americans, they are humans like me, the fact that the majority of the were born in one region of this planet don't make me more or less sad...

This wasn't an attack against USA, it was an attack against all the humanity, but it was not different from any other unjust death of innocent people in any other place in the world, innocent people dies every day, but cause it's in a lost country unknown by every body, then it's OK... *sigh*

Well, I think that I'm now "one of this European leftists..." that can't understand because this didn't happen to them... (sorry for the sarcasm, but I couldn't avoid it...)
I know "I can't understand", but I'll tell you something about my home country: in spain there have been some people who declared war against the
government... they have been in war for very long time... not so much ago(20 years or so IIRC) the spanish government decided to answer to this war with more war...
result? many innocent people died in the name of the war against terrorism, that didn't made government any better than the terrorists,
I always thought that the political independence of a region is not worth the life of even only one innocent person, but I'm sure many people disagree...
I just want you to think about it, war is *never* a good thing, IMHO there are not *just wars* because wars are unjust by definition.

And if you think that I have never been affected by this "wars", a car bomb exploded less that 50m from one of the places I used to work in spain, and not much more than 500m from my apartment, just in a place I have been thousands of times...

Two other points I disagree with you:
- Your general tone about the USA saving the world from itself... as many people have pointed, I'm sure that many of the people living in this countries "saved" by the USA would have preferred to not be saved.
- You in general speak in a "us" vs "the rest of the world" way... well may be you have some reason to don't feel part of the rest of the world, but (as always)IMHO we are all the same here, you can't pretend to ignore the rest of the world just because they don't live in the same country as you.
- And to finish, this is just my opinion, and many people I know disagree, but IMHO the answer to a murderer is no to murder the criminal, that only puts you at the same level as him... but this, I know is very arguable

And to finish, if some one still that this is only american business and no one else have any thing to say: http://hem.passagen.se/eff/bot.htm

Well, sorry for my random rambling, I feel really sick after all this, and I hope you will understand what I really mean even if my English is really ugly... and of course all this is just my humble opinion, and I don't pretend to be right about any thing... Rusty: I understand(if to understand this is possible)your pain... I hope you get better...

And thanks again to Arkady, I wish I could write like you... It's really nice to find people like Arkady and enani in this times of craziness...

Best regards

Uriel



P.S.: Sorry if I have said too many stupid things, I'm too tired and I don't feel well enough to write about this... please take all I have said with a big grain of salt.


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Kisu yori dakishimete...
[ Parent ]
Damn... talk about life imitating art... (3.00 / 1) (#50)
by SvnLyrBrto on Tue Sep 18, 2001 at 12:35:06 AM EST

I already mentioned how ominously the New York attack resembles the strikes on America from a certian Tom Clancy novel. (Though I WAS corrected on a few miscelaneous details.)

But, now, your call to:

Form a multinational counter-terrorism force,
which pledges to hunt down and execute the
perpetrators of terrorist attacks no matter
who or where they are, or what their cause or
motivations are. Israeli extremists, IRA
factions, Algerians, even (and perhaps
especially) American terrorist groups.
Essentially, a multinational army that has
carte blanche specifically to fight these
tactics, wherever they are used.

... sounds *horribly* like UNATCO. And, indeed, it DOES already seem that FEMA has its creepy tenticles mixed up in the New York situation.

Sorry, but *I* sure don't think that the solution is to surrender our liberties to unaccountable, uber-national shadow armies. And it's DAMN creepy that people would call for us to do so. It's bad eniugh as it is, WITHOUT such drastic and tyrannical steps. And, indeed, isn't that the goal of terrorists? To force the people to give up their normal lives, and to live in fear. To give up freedom, and submit to authority?

This REALLY has me creeped out now. I live within walking distance of one of the two places in The City where you can legally buy a firearm. If I hear about a mysterious epidemic breaking out in New York, I may just pull an ESR and try to get there before FEMA does.

cya,
john

Imagine all the people...
[ Parent ]

I'm mad as hell, etc. (4.50 / 2) (#55)
by Robert Hutchinson on Tue Sep 18, 2001 at 10:41:59 PM EST

If, after reading what I've written, you condemn it as being harsh and unforgiving, then you've missed my point entirely. Harsh and unforgiving words are the least of the tools needed to fight such gravely disturbing reasoning.
Your "history of US atrocity" is, I think, naive. Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki. We were at war with Germany and Japan. Whether you like it or not, international diplomacy and statecraft has long recognized that war is a unique situation, in which a lot of normal ethical rules do not apply, and other rules take their place.
I'd like to nominate "whether you like it or not" as one of the most grossly overused and dangerously used phrases in the language. International diplomacy and statecraft are incredibly f*cking wrong about war being a unique situation. Ethical rules always apply, damn it, or they cease to have any meaning in our lives.

War is not some preordained get-out-of-guilt free card. War, as it has been waged for centuries, kills a horrendous number of innocents. Governments really really enjoy making war, so they have only one option left: lie about the murder.

Yes, I do care more about American lives than others, and that just makes me human.
If I hadn't spent the last week reading even worse sentiments, I honestly believe I would be crying after reading this. I hope you mean that it's a human failing.
Finally, Arkady, how much of your own prosperity are you willing to give up for the sake of "other people"? Perhaps more importantly, how much of your fellow Americans prosperity are you willing to sacrifice?
The prosperity we have that results from government meddling and killing is not something to be sacrificed. It is something to be rightfully abandoned. I think you've greatly overestimated the need for government to twist arms to get oil, but to take your worst-case scenario, yes. I would be terribly happy to live in an agrarian society, if the alternative is having a car fueled by oppression and murder, pardon the metaphor.

I could address the other points, but since they're all rooted in an argument that murder can be a greater good, there's not much point in wasting time arguing them individually. You won't get me to murder anyone if you hold a gun to my head, much less present me with any lesser danger.

This stands to be the first war I'll witness while being fully aware of these things. I swear that I will never back down from condemning murder, and that I will never back down from calling murder murder. Barring luck or grace, I'll be praying for those innocents being lined up as the next targets, on both sides . . . on all sides.

Robert Hutchinson


No bomb-throwing required.

[ Parent ]
enough inflammation (3.62 / 8) (#17)
by speek on Sat Sep 15, 2001 at 08:54:19 PM EST

Although I agree almost entirely with your analysis of the current situation and what the US should do, I sick of the blame and guilt game going around. Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden, etc. You've got to get over this crap. The US is no better and no worse than any other nation. Given the same powers, France would be just as bad/good. As would Iraq and the bushmen of the Kalahari. Know how I know this? History has proven it time and again.

The reasons the US should do as you suggest have nothing to do with whether the US is guilty of past crimes. The reasons the US should pursue your course are because they are in our best interests. However, having gone and played the blame game, your story has lost most of its value. You cannot hope to reach the hearts of those who grieve by laying on a guilt trip.

--
al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees

you misunderstand (4.50 / 4) (#18)
by Arkady on Sat Sep 15, 2001 at 09:17:43 PM EST

I'm not trying to lay a guilt trip at all, as I'd expected everyone to realize from the discussion of why most _citizens_ are not to blame though, yes, I am saying the government/military/industry largely are (as they're the ones who created the world that creates terrorists). I thought I'd been quite clear in saying that, to my knowledge, _no one_ at the WTC deserved this.

That's really the point I'm trying to make; a U.S. response which kills innocent citizens elsewhere would be just as great an atrocity _because_ the citizens are not to blame.

If, however, the citizens of the U.S. back such a response then absolutely they will need to bear some of the blame when the next attack comes.

I even disagree that we should do _anything_ just because it's in our best interest (though I do agree that in this instance the ethical choice also coincides with the American citizen's best interests; Rusty's riposte to the contrary does not convince). Self interest needs to take the back seet to principles occasionally, else we don't have a civilization, we just have a temporary conjunction of interests. ;-)

-robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
Actually... (4.00 / 2) (#26)
by R343L on Sat Sep 15, 2001 at 11:49:56 PM EST

I'm not trying to lay a guilt trip at all, as I'd expected everyone to realize from the discussion of why most _citizens_ are not to blame...

In the article you stated that "Americans, in fact, must bear a much greater percentage of the blame for their country's actions than many others, as (damaged and dysfunctional though it is) the U.S. does have a roughly functioning democracy..."

To me, this means you are saying that because Americans have better control over their gov't, they can be considered to be more responsible for the actions of their government. Which do you think it is? In fact, the argument that citizens are responsible for their gov't (even if corrupt--you're supposed to overthrow it) is what is used by some to say that it's OK to bomb Kabul even though it kills "innocents." They aren't "innocents" because they should have overthrown their gov't. I know it sounds silly but the argument is there. And it's basically the same argument used to say that all Americans are responsible for their gov't actions abroad. I don't agree, but that is one of the arguments being used.

Rachael
"Like cheese spread over too much cantelope, the people I spoke with liked their shoes." Ctrl-Alt-Del
[ Parent ]

again (4.00 / 2) (#28)
by Arkady on Sun Sep 16, 2001 at 12:19:04 AM EST

I must not have been writing as clearly as I thought (again).

Yes, I was saying that _if_ the Afghanis are to be held responsible for their government's actions _then_ Americans should be held more responsible. I'm not saying that the "if" part there is correct (I'd rather tend towards not); what I'm saying is that if Americans use that as an excuse, then logaically they must accept the responsibility for the killings their government has committed, and is about to commit, in their name.

It works out to: if citizens are to blame for their governments, then yes it's OK to retaliate against the Afghani citizens; but then again, if citizens are to blame, then the attack on the WTC was legitimate and no one has a right to bitch about it. So niether way can you justify an attack which kills the civilians in Afghanistan.

-robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
no misunderstanding (4.50 / 2) (#31)
by speek on Sun Sep 16, 2001 at 10:00:41 AM EST

I didn't misunderstand. There was no reason to mention Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden, but to lay on a guilt trip.

Rusty's response was typical rusty eloquence - but you're responses to him are right on target. I agree completely with you. Read that last sentence again.

The history of the matter is important, but not because it allows you to assign blame. We're all to blame all over the world. But that's useless. Let's figure out what would be in our best interest and do that. Principles don't really exist, you know. Everyone's got different ones - and they all just represent a static ruleset representing our best interest. But, being static, they fail frequently in changing circumstances. It's time to turn on the brain, and turn off the religion and principles.

--
al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees
[ Parent ]

Enough hiding (none / 0) (#53)
by Robert Hutchinson on Tue Sep 18, 2001 at 10:01:02 PM EST

Although I agree almost entirely with your analysis of the current situation and what the US should do, I sick of the blame and guilt game going around. Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden, etc. You've got to get over this crap. The US is no better and no worse than any other nation. Given the same powers, France would be just as bad/good. As would Iraq and the bushmen of the Kalahari. Know how I know this? History has proven it time and again.
Your one assumption completely robs your argument of any point. Being given the same powers is precisely the problem. You might as well say "Given murderous intent, anyone would murder."

Robert Hutchinson


No bomb-throwing required.

[ Parent ]
Hint... (3.00 / 4) (#21)
by scriptkiddie on Sat Sep 15, 2001 at 09:50:26 PM EST

Just a hint...when making an argument like this, don't shoot yourself in the foot. The U.S. has, as you point out, inarguably killed civilians in times past. If this means the U.S. has no moral high ground in condemning terrorists, then you're indicating that killing U.S. citizens is permissible in the terrorist's situation. And if it's okay for them to kill our civilians, its okay for us to kill theirs. Q.E.D. - you can't debate on the side of murderers and win.

The only way to avoid getting into self-defeating moral justifications like this one is to take all possible steps to prevent terrorism in the future. That means securing borders and increasing reconnaissance. That also means eliminating military dictatorships that have the potential to support terrorism - including our enemies, like Afghanistan, and our friends, like Saudi Arabia. And because, as you point out, the CIA has sponsored numerous terrorist operations in the past, we need to have greater government transparency and measures in place to prevent operations like Iran-Contra.

P.S.: I didn't mention Hiroshima, Nagasaki or Dresden. This isn't because I think they were justified because they were destroyed in wartime - rather, I ignored them because the powers involved are entirely different now. I believe we can't hold today's American government responsible for decisions that were made by people who are long dead, since we don't have their experiences and didn't live in their situations.

Well written, too late (3.42 / 7) (#25)
by Tezcatlipoca on Sat Sep 15, 2001 at 11:00:30 PM EST

We are beyond the point were people are willing to listen or think.

People want revenge and nothing will make them stop, specially nothing that shows the world in the sad tone of gray it is.

People want to see black and white, and one is always in the right, the white, the clean side.
------------------------------------
"They only think of me as a Mexican,
an Indian or a Mafia don"
Mexican born actor Anthony Quinn on
Hol
So the trap is set ... (4.00 / 2) (#47)
by LQ on Mon Sep 17, 2001 at 05:03:26 AM EST

People want revenge and nothing will make them stop
The people who attacked the WTC must have anticipated this response. The trap is set and US military action will trip it, enflaming Islamic opinion against them. The Americans look as though they're about to embark on the second biggest mistake of their short history.

[ Parent ]
That is the sad thing.... (4.00 / 2) (#48)
by Tezcatlipoca on Mon Sep 17, 2001 at 09:53:41 AM EST

Many people outside the US realize what you just pointed out but the anger is completely blinding the US (and now it seems most of the world who is providing unconditional support. There should be a few conditions, but nobody dares to ask for common sense now)....
------------------------------------
"They only think of me as a Mexican,
an Indian or a Mafia don"
Mexican born actor Anthony Quinn on
Hol
[ Parent ]
The only reason I vote this up... (3.40 / 5) (#27)
by mami on Sun Sep 16, 2001 at 12:07:20 AM EST

is because I want to whip you up for your own hypocrisy. But I am too darn tired to disentangle all your logic fallacies right now.

What the bombardments of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Dresden have to do with the WTC attack, beats me. AFAIK, the Americans were in a conventional war against Germany with goal to bring Hitler and his regime to his knees. So, yes, the US bombardments killed civilians, but Hitler killed the civilians everywhere in Europe and killed the jews. Ya wanna start counting who killed more? I don't think so, right ? So, I guess, your reasoning is completely flawed.

Well, and then, the U.S. has passively sat by and witnessed massive killings in Iraq, Ruanda and Turkey. Yes, and what does that prove ? For heavens sake, do you want to make the U.S. responsible for any ethnic or religious conflicts among other nations around the world ? Quite frankly, it's not their responsibility whatsoever and I would wish the U.S. would stop proclaiming that it feels it has.

And there is something wrong with your ethics argument, but may be I answer that tomorrow.

badly chosen words (none / 0) (#32)
by mami on Sun Sep 16, 2001 at 11:28:29 AM EST

Resting for one night and enough sleep, I think I should apologize for my previous comment's choice of words. But I don't retreat from the content.

With regards to the what I think is hypocritical in the paragraph about ethics, here my 0.02 cents.

Yes, I think there are some basic "rights" and "wrongs" but they are not absolute, like your freedoms are not absolute.

It's wrong to kill innocent people. Any religion would support it. Nevertheless there are situation, where you risk to kill innocent people for the purpose to prevent some greater damage.

What it comes down to is that each individual's concscience decides what is right and wrong at any given point in life, as well as the conscience of the nation's government representatives decides what's right and wrong, when each of the representatives casts their votes on the behalf of their citizens.

I think what I consider hypocritical in your approach is the absoluteness of your judgements. How do you define the point, where it becomes necessary to kill a person ?

I often asked myself when I was a teenager, if I had been in the situation of Eva Braun, would I have poisoned Hitler in his sleep ? You see, I believe, I would have done that, if I had the chance. And I can assure you, I think "poisoning someone" is dead "wrong", but in that case it would have been absolutely "right". That's how absolute I consider the "rights" and "wrongs" to be.

The question is what you actually decide to do, how you live with your decision, and if you are capable to admit misjudgements, when you become aware of them.

Just heard Colin Powell statement's and Guiliano talking to the mayor of Jerusalem. It's quite amazing, but the WTC attack made it possible for me for the first time in a long time to feel "American" without any objections whatsoever. I have had a lot of objections against some of the U.S. foreign policies in the past, but I also have gotten a better understanding from where they came from.

As sad and terrible this may sound, but the WTC attack will help the U.S. to become a much more thoughtful, less rhetorical and more free nation than ever before. And it helped me to be ready and be very delighted to become a U.S. citizen, a decision I felt I need to make and struggled with in my conscience since a long time.

[ Parent ]
bah (5.00 / 1) (#34)
by Arkady on Sun Sep 16, 2001 at 02:00:22 PM EST

I'm not talking about killing killers here; I'm talking about killing innocents whose only association with the killers is that they were born where the killers make their base. Hitler, Kissenger, bin Laden (though his guilt has yet to be actually proven) whoever. That's a whole 'nother ball o' wax from whether it's acceptible to kill killers to prevent them from killing again.

Condsidering that only one Congressperson voted against authorizing Bus &co. from setting forth and slaughtering anyone in their way on their rightious crusade certainly argues agains America becomming "a much more thoughtful, less rhetorical and more free nation than ever before" because of this. Hell, the F.B.I. was already using it as an excuse to get Carnivore installed on Tuesday evening. Some land of the free, eh?

-robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
sigh (none / 0) (#43)
by mami on Sun Sep 16, 2001 at 07:46:22 PM EST

I regret having said anything. Definitely not what I should have done. I regret to have voted your article up now.

[ Parent ]
over strident (5.00 / 1) (#37)
by Arkady on Sun Sep 16, 2001 at 02:43:29 PM EST

Sorry about the strident tone of my other comment; I'd only had one cup of coffee and was waiting for one of my servers to reboot (after it was attacked probably because we host the moderator for the soc.religion.islam newsgroup). I wasn't feeling particularly conciliatory. ;-)

My fundamental problem with the argument here is, what right do you (or Bush or anyone) have to decide to "risk to kill innocent people for the purpose to prevent some greater damage"? Even if I grant that a) bin Laden was responsible, b) Afghnaistan refused to hand him over and c) he intends to do this again (all of which are pretty far-fetched), by what right does Bush then kill innocent Afghanis?

At what point have they ever given him (or you) permission to "risk" their lives? Most of them don't even approve of or support the _own_ country's government, much less America's.

-robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


[ Parent ]
I think you've ... (2.50 / 2) (#46)
by Kaki Nix Sain on Mon Sep 17, 2001 at 01:38:56 AM EST

... forgotten about that game we play in civilization wherein we try to change the landscape of repercussions from actions so as to discourage some otherwise natural primate activities. When on quests of that sort, genuine mistakes and accidents can occur. In those situations, innocents can die because of the actions of another and no guilt is created. This is a counter-example that shows your axiom is not universal for the domain you are hoping to model. You may get a nice consistant formal system, but it will not be talking about the domain of discourse that you were wanting to talk about.



This raises an important question. (2.33 / 3) (#49)
by wiredog on Mon Sep 17, 2001 at 01:33:49 PM EST

If we pursue your logic to its conclusion, then we must ask what the Jews did to provoke Hitler.

Other than exist, that is.

The idea of a global village is wrong, it's more like a gazillion pub bars.
Phage

Logic and conclusions (4.50 / 2) (#52)
by techgirl on Tue Sep 18, 2001 at 04:28:45 PM EST

How exactly does that follow? The author is arguing that if we are critical of the terrorists for killing civilians, then we shouldn't kill civilians either.

[ Parent ]
You are missing the critical distinction... (none / 0) (#62)
by SPYvSPY on Wed Sep 19, 2001 at 06:31:41 PM EST

There is a massive, enormous, gargantuan difference between killing civilians and targeting civilians.

While it is true that our botched attacks against bin Laden killed so-called "innocents" (if you consider willing recruits of terrorist Islam innocent), and that our sanctions against Iraq starved the children, and that we have missed a lot of targets and wasted too many civilians in our history, but the real question is: did we ever target civilians?

I don't know the answer. I can almost be sure that we didn't, unless I consider that we nuked Japan. And that we killed Qadaffi's family. And there are, no doubt, other trangressions.

But I am CERTAIN that the Islamic terror groups target civilians. They've done it again and again.

Now, many Islamic zealots accuse America of sponsoring terrorism by supporting Israel. This also makes me pause, because Israel has a pretty damn loopy assassination policy that has them killing all sorts of people's wives and children with car bombs.

So, does that make America a terrorist? I don't think so, but there is no clear answer. Hold America up to the light and see if you think it deliberately strikes civilian targets. What answer do you get?

FYI, and OT, the reason that bin Laden hates America so vehemently is that he was shamed and offended when US troops arrived in Saudi Arabia to defend against Iraq's expansion. Did you know that bin Laden predicted Saddam's attack (well, he thought it would be on Saudi Arabia and Kuwait)? And did you know that bin Laden offered to defend Saudi Arabia (his homeland, and the holiest land in the Arabic penninsula) from Saddam's aggression? And did you know that the Saudis rejected his offer and put him under house arrest? And can you imagine his fury when infidels came onto his soil and embarrassed him by taking up the cause that should have been his? This is what pushed bin Laden over the edge.
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[ Parent ]

Terrorism: Rights, Blame and Ethics | 65 comments (53 topical, 12 editorial, 0 hidden)
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