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View Full Version : Is killing a civilian really worse then killing a soldier?


Starwatcher162536
10-29-2010, 02:41 PM
I was ignored the first time so I'm re-posting* here since I would like an answer.


I could point out that there is a fundamental difference between deliberately killing as many civilians as possible and accidentally killing people in a war zone--particularly when one side deliberately hides among non-combatants to maximize those deaths--but what would be the point?

Note: I am interested in the general problem. Not the Al-Qaida special case.

Why is the killing of civilian non-combatants, in the case where said civilians are benefiting* from actions caused by that nation's military and espionage personnel and supporting* their nations war potential (Through taxes and other), such a moral travesty? What's the alternative for a force that is hopelessly outmatched, go for military targets and get blown up without accomplishing much? I dunno, just seems to me it's very easy to look down on all these "dishonorable" types of warfare when your the one with the biggest bombs. Just seems to me this should be more of a gray area and not a knee jerk "They're evvvviiillllllllll!!!!"

*I assume the radicals in the middle east believe this

*Not sure where Bloggingheads stands on repostings

operative
10-29-2010, 03:16 PM
There's a longstanding culture of honor among warring sides. You fight those who agree to fight you, specifically those who designate themselves as warriors. Thus the battle is determined by who can outwit and outmaneuver the opponent. Targeting civilians is justifiably seen as an act of cowardice because* they are not agreed upon participants, nor are they warriors by trade or mentality. It's like picking on the weak fat kid at school.

*There are complications when you deal with the concept of total war and the civilian war machine, as was illustrated by Japan during WW2.

VDH likely has some good stuff on this front.

Wonderment
10-29-2010, 04:54 PM
Why is the killing of civilian non-combatants, in the case where said civilians are benefiting* from actions caused by that nation's military and espionage personnel and supporting* their nations war potential (Through taxes and other), such a moral travesty?

I tend to agree that killing a soldier is not a lot worse than killing a civilian, but for different reasons than those you bring up.

It's true that nowadays with some combatants serving in volunteer armies, you can at least say that the soldiers voluntarily participated in the war, whereas civilians are bystanders who choose NOT to participate.

However, the line between "voluntary" and "involuntary" is blurry. For example, thousands of Americans joined the military in the years 2000-2003, but most of them did not want to get involved in a stupid, evil war against Iraq. Thus, they were only marginally volunteers in that action.

But more importantly, I think, is that the loved ones of the volunteers who survive wars are also innocent civilians. If your mother dies fighting in Iraq, you are a civilian casualty of the Iraq War, i.e., a war orphan.

So I would say that although civilian casualties in war are the most immoral aspect of war-waging and warmongering, military casualties are also deplorable, ultimately for similar reasons.

operative
10-29-2010, 05:08 PM
This is a side bar but why in the world is it evil to remove an evil dictator and his horrible sons? Are you aware of how terrible life was under Saddam in Iraq? That his one son was a serial rapist?

stephanie
10-29-2010, 05:22 PM
I tend to agree that killing a soldier is not a lot worse than killing a civilian, but for different reasons than those you bring up.

It's true that nowadays with some combatants serving in volunteer armies, you can at least say that the soldiers voluntarily participated in the war, whereas civilians are bystanders who choose NOT to participate.

However, the line between "voluntary" and "involuntary" is blurry. For example, thousands of Americans joined the military in the years 2000-2003, but most of them did not want to get involved in a stupid, evil war against Iraq. Thus, they were only marginally volunteers in that action.

But more importantly, I think, is that the loved ones of the volunteers who survive wars are also innocent civilians. If your mother dies fighting in Iraq, you are a civilian casualty of the Iraq War, i.e., a war orphan.

So I would say that although civilian casualties in war are the most immoral aspect of war-waging and warmongering, military casualties are also deplorable, ultimately for similar reasons.

From talking about this before, you know that you and I have somewhat different views on the overarching topic.

That said, I think you have the right approach to the question. The issue isn't why killing a civilian isn't okay -- killing is wrong -- but whether killing a soldier in war can in some circumstances be justified.

JonIrenicus
10-29-2010, 05:51 PM
From talking about this before, you know that you and I have somewhat different views on the overarching topic.

That said, I think you have the right approach to the question. The issue isn't why killing a civilian isn't okay -- killing is wrong -- but whether killing a soldier in war can in some circumstances be justified.


In my own view, it goes as follows.


Murder is wrong. Period.

Killing = bad/good/wrong/distasteful but necessary/distasteful and overboard

depending on the circumstance.

stephanie
10-29-2010, 06:37 PM
In my own view, it goes as follows.


Murder is wrong. Period.

Killing = bad/good/wrong/distasteful but necessary/distasteful and overboard

depending on the circumstance.

That's just another way of raising the same question.

Murder is wrong. Why? Or, in other words, what is "murder"? Murder is unjustified killing, and we can all agree that killing is wrong unless there's some acceptable justification.

So the question becomes: what, if any, killing is justified?

stephanie
10-29-2010, 06:46 PM
So the question becomes: what, if any, killing is justified?

The usual answer to this question, btw, is self-defense or defense of another against someone who is actively intending to kill them or cause them serious physical harm and has an actual likelihood of doing so when there is no alternative and less forceful way of restraining that person.

Many claim that this can give rise to a justification for war under something like the just war theory. If so, there's a limit on who can be killed, and it would be combatants -- I don't see how this justification can be stretched to cover the intentional killing of non-combatants.

The more difficult questions seem to me to be whether it's really a justification for war; if so, when; and what about resulting harm to non-combatants when you know it's certain to happen, even if unintended?

In any case, however justified we think it, any war is going to give rise to killings (I'm talking about by the side you think is justified) that aren't justified under the moral theory in use. That's certainly true for WW2.

kezboard
10-29-2010, 07:29 PM
This is a side bar but why in the world is it evil to remove an evil dictator and his horrible sons? Are you aware of how terrible life was under Saddam in Iraq? That his one son was a serial rapist?

I'm pretty sure everyone on these forums was alive in 2003 and remembers these arguments.

operative
10-29-2010, 07:36 PM
I'm pretty sure everyone on these forums was alive in 2003 and remembers these arguments.

Even if you disagree with the decision to go to war in Iraq, I think you can still differentiate this opposition to the decision from calling the war 'evil'. Stuffing people into giant paper shredders is evil. That's what we removed from power.

kezboard
10-29-2010, 07:50 PM
Stuffing people into giant paper shredders is evil. That's what we removed from power.

Therefore, the decision to go to war in Iraq was the opposite of evil, therefore it was good, regardless of what its results may be. I don't really know how to say this without really sounding like a dick, but isn't this the way human psychology works? We form our political opinions and then rationalize them. I wouldn't call the Iraq war evil, I'd call it a really bad idea. It's weak to rationalize away bad ideas by calling on foggy metaphysical concepts.

operative
10-29-2010, 08:00 PM
Therefore, the decision to go to war in Iraq was the opposite of evil, therefore it was good, regardless of what its results may be. I don't really know how to say this without really sounding like a dick, but isn't this the way human psychology works? We form our political opinions and then rationalize them. I wouldn't call the Iraq war evil, I'd call it a really bad idea. It's weak to rationalize away bad ideas by calling on foggy metaphysical concepts.

I can absolutely understand that some people think it was a very bad idea--that's fine. But while it's an essentially semantical case, I think that 'evil' carries a far greater, far more severe connotation. The Third Reich was evil. Pol Pot was evil. Etc.

There's disagreement about when to apply the term, but I really don't think the term is all that foggy in most people's minds--if you conducted a survey to find what people's thoughts are on the idea of evil, I'd bet that there would be much common ground.

Wonderment
10-29-2010, 09:06 PM
I can absolutely understand that some people think it was a very bad idea--that's fine. But while it's an essentially semantical case, I think that 'evil' carries a far greater, far more severe connotation.

I will retract "evil." Here's what I really think:

The perpetrators of the Iraq War pursued a flawed ideology that led them down the garden path to a lethal combination of paranoia, delusions of grandeur and self-righteousness.

They also were panicked by 9/11 and misdirected their fear and desire for revenge at Saddam H who came to personify the Evil Arab bogey man.

Add to that, a certain political disregard for the sanctity of human life (a willingness to slaughter civilians for the cause), a bi-partisan militaristic culture that celebrates brutality wrapped in the flag (shock and awe), a group of aging Vietnam-era "chicken hawks" still anxious to legitimize their warrior credentials, and you have the misguided adventure that was the Iraq War.

Starwatcher162536
10-30-2010, 12:12 PM
So weapon manufacturers and various other facilitators of war are off limits?

Starwatcher162536
10-30-2010, 12:15 PM
By your reasoning wouldn't battling someone with inferior arms & training also be cowardly?...what's VDH?

operative
10-30-2010, 12:27 PM
By your reasoning wouldn't battling someone with inferior arms & training also be cowardly?...what's VDH?

Not as long as they are declared combatants--there will always be asymmetries in war. It isn't a matter of strength of force so much as it is declared status and role.

VDH=Victor Davis Hanson (http://www.victorhanson.com/) Along with current political commentary, he is a brilliant military historian.

cragger
10-30-2010, 02:36 PM
The usual answer to this question, btw, is self-defense or defense of another against someone who is actively intending to kill them or cause them serious physical harm and has an actual likelihood of doing so when there is no alternative and less forceful way of restraining that person.

Of course, saying "the usual answer" is a way of finessing avoidance of the question, though you do go on to attempt to at least partially address it below. If you are giving your sense of the most commonly held view in our culture or legal system before going on to express your personal standpoint, I question your latter, "no alternative" qualification. With no statistical data whatsoever to back up any particular proportions, I'd say there are at least a significant number of people who feel that violent force including killing is justified even if alternatives exist, almost as though it was a case of "if they do x, I or we get to kill them."

My understanding is that the legal climate is moving that way in swaths of the US as well. That is, given some transgression, such as home entry or perhaps even tresspass, perceived threat to oneself or others or even to one's property, deadly force is automatically justified and there is no obligation to take an alternative action that may also protect oneself, etc. [I can think of at least a couple of states (and there may be more) where the law has been made explicitly so in recent years, and similarly cases in which use of deadly force was approved in circumstances far from the "no alternative" qualification.]

The significance of this seems related to what I sense is the point, if not quite explicitly stated, of your post - that justification for war and the attendant destruction and killing is an extension of views of the justification for force and killing on the individual level.


Many claim that this can give rise to a justification for war under something like the just war theory. If so, there's a limit on who can be killed, and it would be combatants -- I don't see how this justification can be stretched to cover the intentional killing of non-combatants.

The more difficult questions seem to me to be whether it's really a justification for war; if so, when; and what about resulting harm to non-combatants when you know it's certain to happen, even if unintended?

In any case, however justified we think it, any war is going to give rise to killings (I'm talking about by the side you think is justified) that aren't justified under the moral theory in use. That's certainly true for WW2.

This goes to at least one crux of the moral problem of war. The destruction and killing of non-combatants is inevitable. Given that it is a predictable, forseeable result of direct actions taken with this knowledge in hand, I reject the validity of the dismissal of these results and moral costs as "unintended".

Wonderment
10-30-2010, 03:39 PM
This goes to at least one crux of the moral problem of war. The destruction and killing of non-combatants is inevitable. Given that it is a predictable, forseeable result of direct actions taken with this knowledge in hand, I reject the validity of the dismissal of these results and moral costs as "unintended".

Good point. Modern armies (Israeli, NATO, US) like to spin this predictability to suggest there's a vast difference between acknowledging inevitable civilian death (and apologizing in advance and after) on the one hand and deliberately causing or being indifferent to it on the other. This can be further nuanced by throwing in the concept of "disproportionate" vs. "proportionate" force.

I agree that the rationalizations are self-serving and even self-aggrandizing or delusional (Israel often claims to have "the most moral" army in the world), but the other side of the coin is that increased space is being carved out to provide some ground rules (often violated) for protecting civilians. Thus, nuking a population center or firebombing cities as the Allies did in WWII is now widely condemned.

Hypocritical as the talk of "collateral damage" is, it's better than no talk at all.

bjkeefe
10-30-2010, 03:45 PM
This goes to at least one crux of the moral problem of war. The destruction and killing of non-combatants is inevitable. Given that it is a predictable, forseeable result of direct actions taken with this knowledge in hand, I reject the validity of the dismissal of these results and moral costs as "unintended".

Agreed. I said something similar in another thread, in conversation with operative:

Snerk aside, I'd also say, even though I'm sure you know it, but just because it can never be said too often, that we would do well to resist the temptation to congratulate ourselves for our superior morality when it comes to hurling explosives. For all that we, or for that matter the Israelis, seek to do targeted killings with precision munitions, we've killed a whole lot more civilians than terrorists ever have. Whether we "meant to" or not becomes laughable at some point -- to recall my earlier example, when a society has devolved in sensitivity to the point where people say things like "collateral damage" with a straight face, if not with a HOOAH! appended, we are tacitly condoning the killing of civilians, and crucially, in an ongoing manner.

stephanie
10-30-2010, 03:57 PM
Even if you disagree with the decision to go to war in Iraq, I think you can still differentiate this opposition to the decision from calling the war 'evil'. Stuffing people into giant paper shredders is evil. That's what we removed from power.

This strikes me as a problematic rhetorical game.

I wouldn't use the word "evil" for the war in Iraq. However, I don't see how it can be claimed to be justified (not under the normal moral rationale applied anyway), so it's unjustified, and it means that we are choosing to engage in unjustified killing. (Also, to do something stupid action from a pragmatic standpoint.) Unjustified killing is, again, wrong.

Now, a perfectly reasonable response to this line of argument would be to say that I'm wrong -- to argue it's not unjustified if we just consider some argument I'm not seeing, to argue that if we do it fits into a moral justification for war. I may not agree, but this is something reasonable to discuss which would at least be enlightening as to the differences between the ways in which we are considering the question.

What's not a reasonable response is to say, "oh, yeah? well someone else -- to whom we happened to be opposed, have been opposed in the past, or to whom we analogize our enemies -- has done something worse than what we are doing here." I don't see how that matters. I'm not defending anything Saddam or Pol Pot or Hitler did. But saying my actions aren't as bad as theirs is not an argument for anything. I'm concerned about the objective morality of my actions and, as a related matter, the actions of my country, not simply that I not be as bad as the worst people/national actors.

Thus, when the discussion over Iraq becomes about whether or not Saddam was worse than anything the US did, well, I think you are trying to avoid the real issue under discussion and, intentionally or not, trying to equate opposition to the war in Iraq with approval of Saddam, which obviously is not a good faith tactic.

Wonderment
10-30-2010, 04:19 PM
Thus, when the discussion over Iraq becomes about whether or not Saddam was worse than anything the US did, well, I think you are trying to avoid the real issue under discussion and, intentionally or not, trying to equate opposition to the war in Iraq with approval of Saddam, which obviously is not a good faith tactic.

The argument is also infantile: If we had a magic wand and and could obliterate the ogre who has the beautiful princess imprisoned in his castle, shouldn't we use our wand, especially considering that our hearts are pure and we are inspired by love. The ogre will be gone, no one will miss him, and the princess will be free to marry Prince Charming and live happily ever after. No one except the wicked ogre will be hurt and everyone else will thank us.

This was the "they-will-greet-us-with-flowers" argument that was a fallback for the WMD farce.

I would say your average 12-year-old could demolish this argument, especially if she had a Wikipedia article on the Middle East and US global intervention handy.

operative
10-30-2010, 04:20 PM
This strikes me as a problematic rhetorical game.

I wouldn't use the word "evil" for the war in Iraq. However, I don't see how it can be claimed to be justified (not under the normal moral rationale applied anyway), so it's unjustified, and it means that we are choosing to engage in unjustified killing. (Also, to do something stupid action from a pragmatic standpoint.) Unjustified killing is, again, wrong.

Now, a perfectly reasonable response to this line of argument would be to say that I'm wrong -- to argue it's not unjustified if we just consider some argument I'm not seeing, to argue that if we do it fits into a moral justification for war. I may not agree, but this is something reasonable to discuss which would at least be enlightening as to the differences between the ways in which we are considering the question.

What's not a reasonable response is to say, "oh, yeah? well someone else -- to whom we happened to be opposed, have been opposed in the past, or to whom we analogize our enemies -- has done something worse than what we are doing here." I don't see how that matters. I'm not defending anything Saddam or Pol Pot or Hitler did. But saying my actions aren't as bad as theirs is not an argument for anything. I'm concerned about the objective morality of my actions and, as a related matter, the actions of my country, not simply that I not be as bad as the worst people/national actors.

Thus, when the discussion over Iraq becomes about whether or not Saddam was worse than anything the US did, well, I think you are trying to avoid the real issue under discussion and, intentionally or not, trying to equate opposition to the war in Iraq with approval of Saddam, which obviously is not a good faith tactic.

It's not really just a matter of 'worse'--as if we have an imaginary 10 point scale and we place Pol Pot at 10 and us at 2. There's a fundamental difference in respect for human life. Pol Pot murdered a fourth of his country, and would've murdered the other three fourths had he been left in power. He was unimaginably awful, probably the very worst leader in human history. There's a very fundamental difference in how Pol Pot, Hitler, and Stalin viewed human life--they viewed murdering massive numbers of non-combatants as perfectly acceptable, and we don't.

That's what separates the truly horrendous leaders of human history from everyone else. There have been other leaders who had innocent people killed--Pinochet, Castro, etc. but Pol Pot, Stalin, Hitler etc. had entire developed industries in liquidating segments of the population. That's impossible to miss.

So we can absolutely look at our history and say "slavery was wrong, it was horrible." But the people who passed pro-slavery laws were not evil, because they were not actively engaging in plans to liquidate massive numbers of non-combatants.

I'm not trying to preclude discussion of the legitimacy or morality of the war in Iraq-I'd disagree with the notion that it was immoral, but again, I draw a stark semantic difference between saying something was "wrong" and saying that something is "evil." The word carries a far greater significance in our lexicon.

stephanie
10-30-2010, 04:26 PM
Of course, saying "the usual answer" is a way of finessing avoidance of the question

I wasn't attempted to answer the question in any kind of meaningful way there. My point -- pretty obviously, I'd say -- was to point out how what Jon was saying wasn't a way to avoid my original point that killing was wrong.

No one had raised questions yet as to when killing might be justified, and I said "the usual answer" because I wasn't really trying to set out my own views. (Although as mentioned in the nonviolence discussion elsewhere, my own views aren't terribly different.)

It's moderately annoying for you to criticize someone for not answering a question that hadn't yet been raised and which she did not claim to have answered. A less annoying or aggressive way of approaching the question might have been to ask me if I'm claiming that the "usual way" is right and, if so, on what basis.

If you are giving your sense of the most commonly held view in our culture or legal system before going on to express your personal standpoint, I question your latter, "no alternative" qualification.

I'm giving my understanding of the self-defense rationale and related just war rationale (or at least the form of the just war rationale I find most correct). I'll modify "no alternative" to "no similarly effective or reasonably possible alternative," and I'm willing to try and outline what that means in my understanding more if you like. It was pretty obviously a tossed off reference to something (the just war rationale) that I suspect everyone in this conversation is familiar with.

With regard to the what is acceptable as self defense, I think that you (and to some extent some legal arguments/changes) have mixed up what was more distinct in the common law -- the difference between justification and excuse. As far as what I understand the self-defense justification argument (and that one I think I would whole-heartedly accept, although I'm not sure I would agree that it entirely gives rise to my agreement with just war theory), the way I said it is basically what I'd accept.

The significance of this seems related to what I sense is the point, if not quite explicitly stated, of your post - that justification for war and the attendant destruction and killing is an extension of views of the justification for force and killing on the individual level.

Yes, it seems obvious to me that that is the typical argument given. If we want to enter into an argument about the morality of just war theory, that's the link we are probably going to be talking about.

My "the usual basis" comments were phrased that way in part to allow the discussion to develop. As the comments at the point I jumped in hadn't yet acknowledged the relevance of just war theory, so getting into my own complicated views or some justification of it seemed premature.

I realize that the desire to argue with a point not yet made might be so overwhelming that it's necessary to take me to task for not yet making the arguments that you want to argue with, but that's -- again -- slightly annoying and an inauspicious beginning to a discussion.

Okay, touchiness over, and I am happy to answer about my personal views (which are somewhat undecided and so something I'm interested in thinking over) if you are interested in that.

stephanie
10-30-2010, 04:35 PM
There's a fundamental difference in respect for human life.

You are missing my point. Again, as an American, I'm concerned with the morality of what my country does. That others do worse (however fundamentally) is irrelevant to that question.

Being better than Pol Pot seems a stupid thing to congratulate yourself for.

I don't use the word "evil" because it's charged and distracts from a reasonable exchange of ideas (or at least I don't use it when I'm interested in such an exchange -- I'll use it for ideas that I don't think are worthy of discussion). However, your personal definition of it is not the only way it's used -- it is sometimes used simply to mean "objectively wrong" or "so wrong as to be beyond the need for discussion or any reasonable debate."

operative
10-30-2010, 04:56 PM
You are missing my point. Again, as an American, I'm concerned with the morality of what my country does. That others do worse (however fundamentally) is irrelevant to that question.

Being better than Pol Pot seems a stupid thing to congratulate yourself for.

But I don't think anyone is doing that--I think that overall, understanding that there is no such thing as a perfect nation, we have much to be proud of in our nation's history. I don't think acknowledging our faults precludes us from celebrating our successes. I find our history to be far better cause for celebration than France's.


I don't use the word "evil" because it's charged and distracts from a reasonable exchange of ideas (or at least I don't use it when I'm interested in such an exchange -- I'll use it for ideas that I don't think are worthy of discussion). However, your personal definition of it is not the only way it's used -- it is sometimes used simply to mean "objectively wrong" or "so wrong as to be beyond the need for discussion or any reasonable debate."

Yeah, and I'm hesitant to use it in that context. I've seen that type of thing done by people on both sides, though a bit more on the left--"well that idea is just so wrong I don't even have to think about it or debate it." Some people do it with gay marriage--"Well the other side is just evil bigotry and I don't even have to listen to what they have to say." I find that to be very non-productive.

That doesn't mean that there aren't some views that I simply won't engage with--if someone comes on here spouting Holocaust denial, or claiming that Barack Hussein Obama is a secret Muslim terrorist lover who was born in Kenya, I'm not going to engage them--though I'd say the former veers toward the evil and the latter simply toward the stupid.

stephanie
10-30-2010, 05:13 PM
But I don't think anyone is doing that

I think your original comments were somewhat, as I pointed out.

I agree that there's no such thing as a perfect nation, but again I don't see how that's relevant to the topic under discussion. It sounds diversionary and, possibly, an effort to suggest that anyone who calls US actions into question is being unpatriotic.

The question is whether a particular action is justified.

Yeah, and I'm hesitant to use it in that context.

Fair enough. As I mentioned, so am I. However, it's pretty obviously a way that it gets used and it's inaccurate and rather pointless (although a good way to change the subject) to get all fussed about the language being used.

And I run into the "objectively wrong" usage mainly from conservative moralists (it's a common way to distinguish between an action which is wrong in itself -- evil -- from the moral culpability of the person doing the action, which may be limited, depending on understanding and intent and so on). But this is a huge disgression.

As far as the "outside the realm of reasonable discussion" usage, I see no problem with saying that certain things are outside the realm of reasonable discussion in your opinion. I typically will be clear about what the view is and drop it. I don't particularly think that there's a liberal/conservative slant to what these things are -- generally I think these are beliefs that are outside what our culture generally considers acceptable (for example, slavery is wrong, killing someone simply due to their nationality or because they have insulted you is wrong, I could go on and on). What's non-productive is to claim that any argument is equally worth having merely because someone on the internet claims to have such a view.

bjkeefe
10-30-2010, 05:25 PM
I find our history to be far better cause for celebration than France's.

Shameless Florian bait!

operative
10-30-2010, 05:31 PM
Shameless Florian bait!

Yes :D

operative
10-30-2010, 05:34 PM
It sounds diversionary and, possibly, an effort to suggest that anyone who calls US actions into question is being unpatriotic.

Oh, that's definitely not the intent, though I would say that there are some--the Howard Zinn crowd--who seek to focus essentially exclusively on (real and imagined) misdeeds of American government and society. I'm not sure if I would use the term unpatriotic (because I'm sure Zinn would have answered with an affirmative and a condemnation of the notion of patriotism), but I would say wrongheaded. By all means let's not ignore our faults but let's also not ignore our virtues. The Zinn crowd is just as bad as those who seek to whitewash American history.


As far as the "outside the realm of reasonable discussion" usage, I see no problem with saying that certain things are outside the realm of reasonable discussion in your opinion. I typically will be clear about what the view is and drop it. I don't particularly think that there's a liberal/conservative slant to what these things are -- generally I think these are beliefs that are outside what our culture generally considers acceptable (for example, slavery is wrong, killing someone simply due to their nationality or because they have insulted you is wrong, I could go on and on). What's non-productive is to claim that any argument is equally worth having merely because someone on the internet claims to have such a view.

Yeah, I don't disagree.

JonIrenicus
10-30-2010, 10:27 PM
That's just another way of raising the same question.

Murder is wrong. Why? Or, in other words, what is "murder"? Murder is unjustified killing, and we can all agree that killing is wrong unless there's some acceptable justification.

So the question becomes: what, if any, killing is justified?

Saying murder is wrong puts the person saying it ahead of the game because right at the start they acknowledge that there is a sub class of "killing" that can be defined as wrong, always wrong, separate and apart from other killing.


The statement "killing is wrong" is empty and meaningless because we all know there are conditions in which killing can be justified, right, or both. The only people on this earth who could ever come close to uttering the meaningless blanket statement "killing is wrong" are ultra radical pacifists.

So let the statement "killing is wrong" forever be stricken from the minds of rational human beings.

There are several classes of killing that are not murder that are perfectly fine and justifiable, many involving self defense. A more controversial case is the case of intervention. Not self defense, per se, but the defense of others, often less capable of defending themselves.

Part of the wrongness of different classes of killing seems to stem from the ethical models people believe in. If the "greater good" style utilitarianism is the model, one might be far more tolerant of using force, coercion, and even killing to achieve some better end. Was force the best action to take to end slavery? The reign of Hitlers Germany? Apartheid?

In all but the latter case, yes. While "killing" to end apartheid would not be wrong in the same way murder is always wrong, there were more peaceful and productive and humane ways to achieve a better end.

That is the argument I'd give to Palestinian killings of Israelis. They are not dealing with a system of slavery, or Hitler clones in Israelis. Violence is not the best tact there. Killing is both counterproductive and harmful. I am not sure I could make such a docile case for the truly evil madmen of the world, or for every system. Some systems and men and people are so far gone, the best course of action is destruction, not reformation. My world view allows for both possibilities though. If ones world view refuses to acknowledge the possibility of ever having killing and violence be a better vehicle for a better end state, then one would be a true dove. But understand, that view of the world is derelict in its duties as far as working for the greater good. Because such a blanket rejection of the less pristine and pure methods (killing/war) of achieving a better end state HAS to say that it is wrong to fight a war to end slavery as opposed to letting it persist for decades longer.


I understand the charge that the neocons were too overzealous about their willingness to use force, and their belief that it would lead to a better end state. I never have and never will understand this notion that a dove is inherently more noble and moral because of their refusal to suffer the possibility that a better outcome is possible by violent actions.


Of course, the weasels retort might be that they think violent actions will not lead to a better outcome.

To that potential response I ask, do they think violence cannot lead to a better outcome because it is violent? Or is it because of some exhaustive analysis of different approaches to solving problems?

If it is the former, that is a feeling, a preference of action.

cragger
10-30-2010, 11:28 PM
It's moderately annoying for you to criticize someone for not answering a question ...

If you consider the annoying text again:

Of course, saying "the usual answer" is a way of finessing avoidance of the question, though you do go on to attempt to at least partially address it below. If you are giving your sense of the most commonly held view in our culture or legal system before going on to express ... (italics added)

what I wrote is intended as a fairly non-judgmental comment on the structure of your post, not a criticism of what you said or didn't say. Perhaps had I phrased it "sometimes", or "often, saying the usual answer ... " this would have been more clear. Whether more or less annoying .....

I'm giving my understanding of the self-defense rationale and related just war rationale (or at least the form of the just war rationale I find most correct). I'll modify "no alternative" to "no similarly effective or reasonably possible alternative," and I'm willing to try and outline what that means in my understanding more if you like. It was pretty obviously a tossed off reference to something (the just war rationale) that I suspect everyone in this conversation is familiar with.

With regard to the what is acceptable as self defense, I think that you (and to some extent some legal arguments/changes) have mixed up what was more distinct in the common law -- the difference between justification and excuse. As far as what I understand the self-defense justification argument (and that one I think I would whole-heartedly accept, although I'm not sure I would agree that it entirely gives rise to my agreement with just war theory), the way I said it is basically what I'd accept.

I wasn't trying to nit-pick on the word "no" in the phrase "no alternative". What I was saying is that my far from comprehensive understanding of the US legal climate is that it often holds that one has no obligation to take an alternative course of action in many cases rather than using deadly force, even if other reasonable actions are available. One example of this you may be familiar with are I think called "stand your ground" laws. I don't believe this is universal legally, but it has appeared to be a growing trend and seems relevant in the light of the moral feelings it reflects and the thrust of your post regarding the relationship between our treatment of individual and collective use of deadly violence. Which general idea I agreed with. As with your conclusions, as you progressed from your statement of "the usual answer" to an explication of how you viewed the issue and the problems you see with too blanket a justification of the various effects of warfare.

I realize that the desire to argue with a point not yet made might be so overwhelming that it's necessary to take me to task for not yet making the arguments that you want to argue with, but that's -- again -- slightly annoying and an inauspicious beginning to a discussion.


Not everyone who responds to a post is trying to take the author to task, or to pick a fight, though I'm both open to the argument that I'm unclear and/or annoying enough to confuse that point, and aware that there is an internet forum tradition involved as well.

stephanie
10-31-2010, 04:27 PM
If you consider the annoying text again:

(italics added)

what I wrote is intended as a fairly non-judgmental comment on the structure of your post, not a criticism of what you said or didn't say. Perhaps had I phrased it "sometimes", or "often, saying the usual answer ... " this would have been more clear. Whether more or less annoying .....

Looking at it again, what was "annoying" was that you accused me of trying to finesse not answering a question that -- in fact -- was not asked. So I don't think the suggestion that I was avoiding a question was remotely fair. I was trying to frame the discussion before engaging in it, so that we (meaning Jon and me, but also whoever else wanted to join in), could try to avoid talking past each other.

What I was saying is that my far from comprehensive understanding of the US legal climate is that it often holds that one has no obligation to take an alternative course of action in many cases rather than using deadly force, even if other reasonable actions are available.

I wouldn't consider that "justified" in a general sense. Whether it might be in a specific one or whether I take issue with a particular statute we can discuss if it seems relevant to the topic. Right now I'm not seeing why it would be. But I'm willing to admit to more disagreement about what's justified in a personal self-defense sense than I acknowledged and move to a more personal response so we don't get into a debate about common law or the variation in state statutes or the like.

Not everyone who responds to a post is trying to take the author to task, or to pick a fight, though I'm both open to the argument that I'm unclear and/or annoying enough to confuse that point, and aware that there is an internet forum tradition involved as well.

Okay. I think it was your wording I responded to rather than merely you responding to me, but I'm happy to accept that wasn't the intent and possibly move on to where we really are debating. Sorry if I'm being over- sensitive (I admit that's perfectly likely), I'll try to stop.

stephanie
10-31-2010, 04:50 PM
Saying murder is wrong puts the person saying it ahead of the game because right at the start they acknowledge that there is a sub class of "killing" that can be defined as wrong, always wrong, separate and apart from other killing.

"Murder" as you used it means "unjustified killing," nothing more. You are asserting that killing generally is wrong but there is some sub-set which can be justified. If, instead, you are trying to change the terms of the argument to put the burden of proof on those who assert that a particular kind of killing is wrong, I think you are going against the usual moral starting point, which is that killing is generally wrong, and we need not explain why that is. That certain killing is, nonetheless justified is a point for which the burden of proof is on the person asserting that's so. (And I say that despite being willing to accept that certain killings are justified.)

Beyond this, I think it's a rather pointless semantic argument and we probably agree on the real issues here -- that killing is usually and as a default position wrong, that some killings may be justified -- and can move on to talk about the alleged justification. I gave what I think is the usual framework for the justification, so if you disagree with those or think I left out some important or relevant ones, I think that might be where to go next.

So let the statement "killing is wrong" forever be stricken from the minds of rational human beings.

I don't agree here, but for the reasons set forth above I don't think this is an important thing to argue for the purposes of this discussion. Do you?

There are several classes of killing that are not murder that are perfectly fine and justifiable, many involving self defense.

I think it would be helpful to outline what we think these are.

A more controversial case is the case of intervention. Not self defense, per se, but the defense of others, often less capable of defending themselves.

I have no problem, personally, with justifying force, even deadly force, if necessary, for the defense of others. However, again, before we can claim that this allows for war killing and then discuss the problem of non-combatants (the ostensible subject at hand), I think it would be useful to identify what this justification is. Would you like to? (If I did it would be pretty similar to the "usual justification" I gave before, although I'm willing to be more specific and set out why I think it's justified if there's any disagreement on the point.)

Part of the wrongness of different classes of killing seems to stem from the ethical models people believe in. If the "greater good" style utilitarianism is the model, one might be far more tolerant of using force, coercion, and even killing to achieve some better end.

This, to me, points to one of the problems with utilitarianism as a basis for morality, as we can both use it to argue to different conclusions. (That doesn't make it different than other moral theories, really, just means that you can't really say the utiliatarian answer is X. In any case, I'm not a utilitarian, but I don't think that's really going to be the difference here, since I can get to the same conclusions with such an approach.)

But anyway, we should probably actually see how far apart the various participants in this discussion are. The just war theory is, generally, how force is discussed, even if I think what the US actually does typically departs from it more than the supporters of the action admit. I am taking from your comments that you wish to reject that theory and base the justification for killing in war on some other basis -- am I wrong?

Of course, the weasels retort might be that they think violent actions will not lead to a better outcome.

What good does it do to refuse to accept that someone who disagrees with you is speaking in good faith (is, instead, "a weasel")? It makes discussion impossible, in basically the same way that someone saying "all justification of any killing or even the consideration of it is evil." (I don't think anyone here is saying the latter.) Is it not possible to take, as a starting position, that we are going at this in good faith and see where and why people differ? Even if we don't come closer together there might be more understanding.

JonIrenicus
10-31-2010, 06:35 PM
What good does it do to refuse to accept that someone who disagrees with you is speaking in good faith (is, instead, "a weasel")? It makes discussion impossible, in basically the same way that someone saying "all justification of any killing or even the consideration of it is evil." (I don't think anyone here is saying the latter.) Is it not possible to take, as a starting position, that we are going at this in good faith and see where and why people differ? Even if we don't come closer together there might be more understanding.

I called that a weasels tactic (declaring one is against a course of action merely because they think it will not work) because it often obfuscates other rationales for being against a course of action.

Not everyone who makes that argument is a weasel (in fact it might be that most people who make it are not), but weasels often make that argument.


The degree to which this holds true, and in what numbers varies based on the argument.

Take gays in the military. One argument often made by those opposed to allowing gays to serve openly is that they think doing so will harm unit cohesion and degrade the effectiveness of the armed services. And when these people are shown data from other armed services like the UK and the Israeli Defense Force that harmful effects from allowing this were minimal to nonexistent, does that shut down the opposition? If no, then the argument given against was a weasels argument, it WAS made in bad faith. Because virtually none of their core support or opposition to the policy was contained in the arguments given.



If someone says they think something can't work, they could be stating a core rationale for being against something, or, they could just be throwing out a supposition everyone would accept if they believed it to be true because it passes the smell test of a legitimate rationale.


The argument of "gay people are icky and I don't want to be forced to be in their presence" does not pass the smell test, but do any of you have any doubts that that is a major unspoken hangup for many people opposed to gays serving openly? Whatever other kosher arguments they make in public?



What you ask of me is to gift people with the benefit of the doubt when they make arguments, against all observations I have seen in my life where I know people make bad faith arguments, particularly around topics like war and the use of force, subjects so loaded with personal baggage you'd need the jaws of life to cut through the subconscious mess of people.


I do give the benefit of the doubt to people, but I do not use an egalitarian metric to dole it out. Some people and arguments receive less of it. Why else be so obsessed with where people are coming from?

Wonderment
10-31-2010, 07:41 PM
I have no problem, personally, with justifying force, even deadly force, if necessary, for the defense of others. However, again, before we can claim that this allows for war killing and then discuss the problem of non-combatants (the ostensible subject at hand), I think it would be useful to identify what this justification is.


Let's try comparing international law to regular criminal law.

Laws against murder evolved, in part, because the state put a stop to revenge killings, territorial killings, honor killings, vigilante punishment, etc.

The modern state would both prevent violence and prosecute perpetrators. In the past, if someone killed your cousin or stole your potato crop, it was ok to hunt him down and kill him for the offense. Now, such killings were no longer justifiable and would be considered murder. National law would trump local regulations, judges and customs.

The UN, or international law, attempts to do the same thing (along with the more recent ICC). The UN has ratified legal property lines (borders) and has virtually outlawed war, except for emergency self-defense (not preventative). Gun control laws (nonproliferation of WMD) help ensure that no offender can destroy the system. Community policing (domestic security) prevents neighborhood anarchy. Inter-agency cooperation allows communities to extradite violators across borders.

War should, with this system in place, be illegal and non-existent. With a robust system based on current philosophy and institutions, wagers of war would be criminals, except -- as in the case of criminal law for homicide -- in the event of real self-defense (no choice but to employ lethal force to stop an imminent threat).

So where are we with this system? We have several problems: non-state actors who organize violence everywhere and nowhere, failed states who can't or won't patrol their own neighborhood against nationalist rebel groups and potential genocides, pre-UN institutions and practices in place that won't budge (US military bases everywhere and several states with nukes who won't disarm) and incorrigible flaunters of international law (Bush in Iraq, US right-wing extremists who want to abolish the UN, Israeli Settlements, etc.).

I would argue that the way out of all these dilemmas is more globalization and more international law with teeth. We need to build a culture of respect for international law just as we have --- by and large -- built a culture of respect for the right to vote. Part of this is holding war criminals accountable. The ICC is making a good start, but its mission has to include holding "democratic" leaders like Bush as accountable as Serbians or Somalians.

The system itself is on the road toward the abolition of war. Given enough time, all conflict can be resolved through diplomacy, police work and criminal trials.

kezboard
10-31-2010, 08:38 PM
This whole congratulating yourself for your ability to justify actions whose results most lesser mortals would deplore but which ultimately serve the greater good as defined in some cosmic algebra equation is kind of a theme in your posts. It's useful to have that ability when you're solving hypothetical philosophical problems like the one (http://www.philosophyexperiments.com/fatman/Default.aspx) about pushing a fat man over a bridge in order to save five people from being hit by an oncoming train. It would be pretty irrational and, I think, wrongheaded to say that in that situation you can't kill the fat man, and it seems to me you're making the deduction that because it isn't wrong to kill the fat man in this hypothetical situation, you can't say that killing is wrong, and anyone who does is being irrational. But I think both you and your hypothetical emotional can't-kill-the-fat-man interlocutors are being too simple. Just because it wouldn't be wrong in this situation to kill the fat man doesn't mean that killing isn't wrong. Both shoving the fat man off the bridge to stop the train and letting the train kill five people could be wrong.

Also, the fact is that absolutely nobody would ever shove a fat man off a bridge to stop an oncoming train, and anyone who actually did would be rightly condemned (regardless of whether the fat man stopped the train or not) because there's a reasonable possibility that the fat man wouldn't stop the train or that the whole thing would go awry in some other way, and because a person who does that sort of thing is crazy. I mean, you would not want to be friends with that guy. This is kind of the way I think of the Iraq invasion -- even if it really does all work out for the best, it was a reckless idea in the first place. I'm not really a utilitarian.

stephanie
11-01-2010, 03:24 PM
I called that a weasels tactic (declaring one is against a course of action merely because they think it will not work) because it often obfuscates other rationales for being against a course of action.

The problem is that you've identified arguments that almost anyone involved in these kinds of discussions will accept as relevant and prima facie defined the making of them as something only a "weasel" would do.

To expand on this point, the usual model even people who support the use of force in some cases applies is the just war theory. That includes consideration of whether the force proposed has a serious likelihood of success and whether it's likely to cause greater harms. By calling arguments on those points "weasel" ones, which by definition can't be made in good faith or in good faith be relevant, then what you are really doing is disagreeing about the relevant factors. If so, I think it's better to be more upfront about that and discuss whether or not the factors should be considered relevant. Not simply assert that anyone who purports to care about them must be lying.

As far as the claim that the factors aren't important, I strongly disagree.

Not everyone who makes that argument is a weasel (in fact it might be that most people who make it are not), but weasels often make that argument.

Okay, but then it's odd that you would nonetheless call arguments on one side of the argument "weasel arguments" and not on the other side. Why not wait until an argument is made and then say the facts don't support the argument (if you think that's in fact true).

Take gays in the military.

Yes, people make bad faith arguments about any number of issues, I'm sure. This is hardly a basis for defining one side of an entirely different argument "weasels."

But, as I mentioned before, I think this is mostly stemming from the fact that you want to apply some basis for force other than the just war theory, which means that your argument isn't simply with pacifists, but with the usual framing of the argument in the US even among those who support using force.

stephanie
11-01-2010, 03:41 PM
Let's try comparing international law to regular criminal law.

That's interesting. So are you saying that the morality of war (or whether the use of force can be ethical) depends on the existence of international entities -- and I'd add, which function in some meaningful way?

I don't think we have anything that I'd be comfortable analogizing to the role of the police/courts here, in part because one of the reasons for saying that violent self-help is never acceptable, even when you think the law is unjust, is that there are reasonable bases to protest and work to change unjust laws. There's a level of accountability. I don't think we have that with the UN (and this would be more so with countries and people's who don't have a vote -- or a veto -- on the Security Council, of course).

Wonderment
11-01-2010, 03:58 PM
That's interesting. So are you saying that the morality of war (or whether the use of force can be ethical) depends on the existence of international entities -- and I'd add, which function in some meaningful way?

I'm definitely saying peace depends on robust international organizations and law. As for the morality, I'm more saying that if the international institutions are strengthened and reformed, the question will be moot. Outbreaks of war will be like polio -- addressed immediately, almost always eradicated and generally under control.


I don't think we have anything that I'd be comfortable analogizing to the role of the police/courts here, in part because one of the reasons for saying that violent self-help is never acceptable, even when you think the law is unjust, is that there are reasonable bases to protest and work to change unjust laws. There's a level of accountability. I don't think we have that with the UN (and this would be more so with countries and people's who don't have a vote -- or a veto -- on the Security Council, of course).

We don't have it YET. The UN is a big advance, however. It's true that security is the key. Just as the citizen must feel he can count on the police for safety against criminals, the nation must believe it can count on the UN and ICC for safety against political violence.

Another flaw, of course, is that some of the regimes whose security the UN (and the USA) now ensures are despicable (i.e., Saudi Arabia) and forbid democratic dissent. All the more reason to pressure them for democratic reforms.

stephanie
11-01-2010, 04:20 PM
I'm definitely saying peace depends on robust international organizations and law.

Okay, I can agree with that.

popcorn_karate
11-02-2010, 12:36 PM
I can absolutely understand that some people think it was a very bad idea--that's fine. But while it's an essentially semantical case, I think that 'evil' carries a far greater, far more severe connotation. The Third Reich was evil. Pol Pot was evil. Etc.


was 9/11 evil?

if your answer is "yes", then why is killing 10 to 100 times more innocent people in Iraq not evil?

popcorn_karate
11-02-2010, 12:48 PM
Also, the fact is that absolutely nobody would ever shove a fat man off a bridge to stop an oncoming train, and anyone who actually did would be rightly condemned (regardless of whether the fat man stopped the train or not) because there's a reasonable possibility that the fat man wouldn't stop the train or that the whole thing would go awry in some other way, and because a person who does that sort of thing is crazy.

i think that is the key to understanding the supposed moral dilemma posed by these hypothetical scenarios - people can't internalize the "ground rules" of the scenario because to do so would require that you be batshit crazy (i.e. believe that you really are omniscient and act accordingly)

operative
11-02-2010, 02:28 PM
was 9/11 evil?

if your answer is "yes", then why is killing 10 to 100 times more innocent people in Iraq not evil?

Intent.

Don Zeko
11-02-2010, 02:34 PM
Intent.

I wish discussions of the morality of foreign policy would pay more attention to actions and their consequences and less attention to the supposed good intentions of policymakers. Kaiser Wilhelm didn't intend to start a war that killed millions of people for no purpose, but he did, those people are dead, and it was largely his fault. Similarly, the tens of thousands (and I'm using conservative estimates here) of people that died as a result of George Bush's decision to invade Iraq are just as dead as the 3000 that died on 9/11, and I'm quite sure that their friends and family won't feel any better if you insist that Bush only wanted to help the Iraqis, and besides, Saddam and Osama Bin-Laden are much, much nastier people than he ever was.

operative
11-02-2010, 03:57 PM
I wish discussions of the morality of foreign policy would pay more attention to actions and their consequences and less attention to the supposed good intentions of policymakers. Kaiser Wilhelm didn't intend to start a war that killed millions of people for no purpose, but he did, those people are dead, and it was largely his fault. Similarly, the tens of thousands (and I'm using conservative estimates here) of people that died as a result of George Bush's decision to invade Iraq are just as dead as the 3000 that died on 9/11, and I'm quite sure that their friends and family won't feel any better if you insist that Bush only wanted to help the Iraqis, and besides, Saddam and Osama Bin-Laden are much, much nastier people than he ever was.

Many, many people died as a result of the US decision to pursue a land war in Europe in WW2. So are you going to equate the US with Nazi Germany?

The intent of the invasion of Iraq was to liberate a country from a brutal dictator and his psychotic sons. All wars involve an acceptance that there will be innocent people who will perish. Saddam would have killed many more.

If you jaywalk and are struck by an old person driving a car, you may die. If you are stabbed to death by a hoodlum, you will die. The hoodlum and the old person are not equatable.

bjkeefe
11-02-2010, 04:34 PM
If you are stabbed to death ..., you will die.

Hard to argue with that.

operative
11-02-2010, 04:35 PM
Hard to argue with that.

I almost said "you may die" but then I caught myself. Couldn't keep the exact parallelism but meh :p

popcorn_karate
11-02-2010, 07:27 PM
Intent.

you read minds the way you want, i'll read them the way i want.

Actions and consequences are where we can see the world in a similar way. Bush was responsible for 10-100 times more innocent deaths than the perpetrators of 9/11. unless you want to argue that he is literally retarded and so not accountable for his actions, it pretty easy to see him as the epitome of banal evil.

operative
11-02-2010, 07:30 PM
you read minds the way you want, i'll read them the way i want.

It hardly takes a mind reader to know that there is a difference in intent between George Bush and Saddam Hussein. Anyone who says different is an idiot, plain and simple.

Don Zeko
11-02-2010, 07:39 PM
Many, many people died as a result of the US decision to pursue a land war in Europe in WW2. So are you going to equate the US with Nazi Germany?

No, of course not. Don't be dense. Unlike Nazi Germany, the United States didn't start a war that killed 60 million people, nor did we run death camps in which we gassed and incinerated millions of innocent people, nor were we responsible for that much of the land fighting in Europe. This has nothing to do with my point. Also, would it kill you to consider historical examples of non-World War II conflicts, like the one that I mentioned in my post, for example? I do think, however, that one might make a pretty strong case that it was wrong for the Soviet Union to keep going after it reclaimed its pre-war borders.

The intent of the invasion of Iraq was to liberate a country from a brutal dictator and his psychotic sons.

Who cares? The relevant question is what the effects of the war were, and how they compare to other possible courses of action. People that delude themselves into thinking that their decisions won't have bad effects aren't any less culpable for the bad effects of their decisions.

All wars involve an acceptance that there will be innocent people who will perish.

Yes, that's why one should be extremely skeptical of wars sold on humanitarian grounds.

Saddam would have killed many more.

Prove it. Estimates vary wildly, but even the most conservative put the Iraq war's death toll at around 100,000 civilians. Care to provide any evidence that Saddam's regime would have killed more?

operative
11-02-2010, 08:06 PM
No, of course not. Don't be dense. Unlike Nazi Germany, the United States didn't start a war that killed 60 million people, nor did we run death camps in which we gassed and incinerated millions of innocent people, nor were we responsible for that much of the land fighting in Europe.

Ah, so intent matters.


This has nothing to do with my point. Also, would it kill you to consider historical examples of non-World War II conflicts, like the one that I mentioned in my post, for example? I do think, however, that one might make a pretty strong case that it was wrong for the Soviet Union to keep going after it reclaimed its pre-war borders.

The WW1 comparison is problematic because there was absolutely no moral highground. There was, conversely, the moral highground in a democratic country removing a brutal dictator and giving the citizens an opportunity to have a peaceful, stable country.



Who cares? The relevant question is what the effects of the war were, and how they compare to other possible courses of action. People that delude themselves into thinking that their decisions won't have bad effects aren't any less culpable for the bad effects of their decisions.

If a doctor attempts to diagnose someone and gets the diagnosis wrong, and the result kills the patient, is the doctor on the same level as a torture killer?



Yes, that's why one should be extremely skeptical of wars sold on humanitarian grounds.

I actually think those are the most defensible wars. If we had initiated a military engagement at the start of the Rwandan Genocide, it would have been purely for humanitarian reasons and it would've saved probably 600,000 people. Same goes for Cambodia. Those are far less sticky than, say, the strategic engagement in Vietnam or even in Korea (though I doubt anyone would argue that things would be better if Kim Jong Il ruled the entire Korean peninsula).



Prove it. Estimates vary wildly, but even the most conservative put the Iraq war's death toll at around 100,000 civilians. Care to provide any evidence that Saddam's regime would have killed more?

Well this has the details of his past crimes:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights_in_Saddam_Hussein's_Iraq

Saddam likely killed around 800,000. If we average that out over the course of his tenure, it is 32,000 people per year. Is that a great measure? No, but if you have a better one, feel free to offer it. That means 3 years and the death toll would be higher. Maybe you want to say 5 years. Ok, 5. God knows how many people Uday (sic) Hussein would've killed over the long run, the man was an utter psychopath.

stephanie
11-03-2010, 01:00 PM
The intent of the invasion of Iraq was to liberate a country from a brutal dictator and his psychotic sons.

Based on what? We were told the intent (and the rationale, the justification) for the war was to address the threat that Saddam had and would use weapons of mass destruction.

If we are to consider intent in evaluating actions (and I think we should, but also that it's not the be-all, end-all), how do we determine what the intent is? (I'd say we should go with the reasons actually given by those who declare war, but you seem to be going with something else.)

Also, under a just war rationale (or even the Bush Doctrine), Saddam is a bad leader who kills people is not considered a valid justification for invading a country. Are you arguing for a new grounds for war (the Operative Doctrine) in which it is?

All wars involve an acceptance that there will be innocent people who will perish.

Yes, that's one reason why war can't be justified merely based on "we mean well and figure it's worth trying."

And off the subject, but "hoodlum"? People really use that word?

bjkeefe
11-03-2010, 01:03 PM
The intent of the invasion of Iraq was to liberate a country from a brutal dictator and his psychotic sons.

What's that I smell?
I smell history being rewritten.
It's only the river. It's only the river.

popcorn_karate
11-03-2010, 01:05 PM
It hardly takes a mind reader to know that there is a difference in intent between George Bush and Saddam Hussein. Anyone who says different is an idiot, plain and simple.

i don't know either of their intents, only their actions and the consequences.

bjkeefe
11-03-2010, 01:06 PM
And off the subject, but "hoodlum"? People really use that word?

I think it came back in when the RWNM also resurrected "thugs."

TwinSwords
11-03-2010, 01:44 PM
What's that I smell?
I smell history being rewritten.
It's only the river. It's only the river.

I had no idea you were a Talking Heads fan. :-)

bjkeefe
11-03-2010, 02:31 PM
I had no idea you were a Talking Heads fan. :-)

Same as it ever was!

popcorn_karate
11-03-2010, 05:40 PM
I had no idea you were a Talking Heads fan. :-)

the line running through my head today:

"I'm an ordinary guy burning down the house..."

operative
11-03-2010, 07:51 PM
Based on what? We were told the intent (and the rationale, the justification) for the war was to address the threat that Saddam had and would use weapons of mass destruction.

That's true, the belief that Saddam was actively pursuing WMDs was central to the decision to invade. But I don't think we should neglect the humanitarian angle.


If we are to consider intent in evaluating actions (and I think we should, but also that it's not the be-all, end-all), how do we determine what the intent is? (I'd say we should go with the reasons actually given by those who declare war, but you seem to be going with something else.)

Well I'd say look at all of the actions of the person, as well as their stated philosophies. For instance, Saddam's actions, in total, were awful--it wasn't just the gassing of the Kurds, as awful as that was. There were quotidian human rights abuses. That showed that he had absolutely no good intent. Then you could look at the stated views of leaders like Teodoro Obiang (whose shining moment was going on the state television and declaring that he was in personal contact with the Almighty and that he could kill anyone he wants). I think that in the vast majority of cases we can arrive at the intent of the person by just investigating the totality of their existence.


Also, under a just war rationale (or even the Bush Doctrine), Saddam is a bad leader who kills people is not considered a valid justification for invading a country. Are you arguing for a new grounds for war (the Operative Doctrine) in which it is?

I am absolutely a proponent of the Operative Doctrine :p

I would say that wherever there is a humanitarian crisis, there is justification for military invasion. So, that included Darfur, and probably will include Sudan again when Southern Sudan votes for independence. It included Congo during the devastating civil wars.

This doesn't mean that one is required to invade when there is any humanitarian crisis, let alone that it is wise to invade during any humanitarian crisis (I don't think anyone has yet figured out how to fix the Congo). But I think there is justification there.

Moreover, I think there's justification to invade when there is a leader who is committing gross human rights violations. Teodoro Obiang in Equitorial Guinea would be a great example of this. Mugabe was a prime example.

Don Zeko
11-04-2010, 02:15 AM
I am absolutely a proponent of the Operative Doctrine :p

I would say that wherever there is a humanitarian crisis, there is justification for military invasion. So, that included Darfur, and probably will include Sudan again when Southern Sudan votes for independence. It included Congo during the devastating civil wars.

This doesn't mean that one is required to invade when there is any humanitarian crisis, let alone that it is wise to invade during any humanitarian crisis (I don't think anyone has yet figured out how to fix the Congo). But I think there is justification there.

Moreover, I think there's justification to invade when there is a leader who is committing gross human rights violations. Teodoro Obiang in Equitorial Guinea would be a great example of this. Mugabe was a prime example.

Well what if the intervention goes awry and exacerbates the problem? If this happens, are the leaders that decided to intervene culpable for the additional deaths/suffering, or are they morally insulated by their good intentions?

operative
11-04-2010, 11:06 AM
Well what if the intervention goes awry and exacerbates the problem? If this happens, are the leaders that decided to intervene culpable for the additional deaths/suffering, or are they morally insulated by their good intentions?

They're not culpable in the way that, say, Omar al-Bashir is culpable for his crimes.

Again, a medical metaphor:
If a criminal stabs someone, that criminal will get sentenced to jailtime. Now, if the stabee ends up in the hospital, and the doctor tries to treat him but the treatment doesn't work as it's supposed to, and the person dies, the doctor is not charged with murder, or anything else. The criminal, however, will probably be charged with murder.

And why is that? The person died under the watch of the doctor. But it was not the doctor's intent. It was the intent of the criminal to severely wound the person, though.

stephanie
11-04-2010, 03:50 PM
...I don't think we should neglect the humanitarian angle.

Which is what? On what basis do you say we have a justification to invade another country? What limits exist -- why should we invade one country led by an authoritarian who violates human rights and not another? Why do we have the right to make that decision? Do other countries similarly have that right? What happens if countries disagree as to the morality of invading? What if the majority of the citizens of the country in question would rather we not invade? And how do you reliably learn the answer to the latter question?

Also, with the standard we actually claim to use (just war theory), the objectives of the war aren't the only question, but also the costs of success (and likelihood) and of course that includes serious concern (in theory) about the population of the country you are planning to invade.

In order to put forth a serious basis for war on the "Saddam was a bad person" grounds, I think you have to at least try and address the same kinds of question, to put forth a real justification for action akin to the just war theory. So go for it. (I see you started to below, but just saying "any humanitarian violations are sufficient reason, but we can choose not to." Also, why is it moral? You are killing people, what's the basis for doing so? Just war, even though I understand the objections people like Wonderment have to it, at least tries to answer these questions and gives a more rigorous grounding for discussion.)

I think that in the vast majority of cases we can arrive at the intent of the person by just investigating the totality of their existence.

Well, I'm unclear on why you focus on Saddam's intent here, when my question was about our intent -- specifically why you wanted to claim as our intent a consideration which we didn't claim justified war. I think we don't have to look at the totality of Bush's existence here, I'm willing to accept his stated reasons for the war and say (1) they were inadequate on their face, and (2) they turned out to be wrong, which is why we are now posing some other claimed rationale.

In addition, of course, you can't claim a war waged by a democratic republic is moral based on some secret intent not made the basis for the war when presented to the electorate. To do that is to admit that the electorate wouldn't find the rationale sufficient and thus that it is likely to stop supporting the war when it turns out to be different than it was sold as.

I would say that wherever there is a humanitarian crisis, there is justification for military invasion.

There was no particular crisis in Iraq when we invaded. In fact, we didn't invade when there was -- when the genocide against the Kurds was happening. You can't rely on some after the fact basis for a much later invasion that is really prompted by other events. Among other things, it doesn't give people any reason to believe you, always a concern when you invade other countries.

stephanie
11-04-2010, 04:00 PM
They're not culpable in the way that, say, Omar al-Bashir is culpable for his crimes.

This constant "not as bad as" defense just doesn't work. Either you are culpable or not. It's not a serious argument to try and evade the question by citing people who you think we aren't like. That's just a version of argument by Hitler.

If a criminal stabs someone, that criminal will get sentenced to jailtime. Now, if the stabee ends up in the hospital, and the doctor tries to treat him but the treatment doesn't work as it's supposed to, and the person dies, the doctor is not charged with murder, or anything else. The criminal, however, will probably be charged with murder.

Not really a good analogy, but easy to respond to anyway. If someone who doesn't know what he is doing decides that he's the best one to help and makes things worse and the patient dies, that person may be liable. If I think I'm a good surgeon even though I haven't attended med school or think someone has consented to surgery when they haven't (if my belief is unreasonable), I'm liable. If I'm a doctor and act recklessly and the patient dies, I am liable. Depending on the facts, these all could give rise to criminal liability too.

But in any case, the problem still is with the comparisons. That someone else may have acted worse does not mean anything you do is justified or morally right.

And why is that? The person died under the watch of the doctor. But it was not the doctor's intent. It was the intent of the criminal to severely wound the person, though.

In the war situation, you take actions which you know will kill people. That you wish no one had to die, that you'd magically make the actions kill no one is irrelevant to legal intent. Legal intent isn't "do I want someone to die." It's basically I take this action with the reasonable expectation that someone would die or be seriously injured or be in serious risk of it." If I shoot a gun while robbing a store with the intent just to scare the owner and not pointing it at anyone but accidently hit someone else I didn't see, that's murder.

Note: I'm not defining killing in war as murder. I'm pointing out why your "I meant well" argument is absolutely insufficient as an answer to the questions we are posing.

operative
11-04-2010, 04:30 PM
There was no particular crisis in Iraq when we invaded. In fact, we didn't invade when there was -- when the genocide against the Kurds was happening. You can't rely on some after the fact basis for a much later invasion that is really prompted by other events. Among other things, it doesn't give people any reason to believe you, always a concern when you invade other countries.

That's why I expanded it to include dictators who are committing ongoing human rights violations. Saddam wasn't actively genocidal, but he and his sons were committing essentially daily human rights violations. That's why I brought up Equatorial Guinea, where there is no current crisis, but where there is a brutal, corrupt tyrant who is guilty of ongoing human rights violations.


Well, I'm unclear on why you focus on Saddam's intent here, when my question was about our intent -- specifically why you wanted to claim as our intent a consideration which we didn't claim justified war. I think we don't have to look at the totality of Bush's existence here, I'm willing to accept his stated reasons for the war and say (1) they were inadequate on their face, and (2) they turned out to be wrong, which is why we are now posing some other claimed rationale.

In addition, of course, you can't claim a war waged by a democratic republic is moral based on some secret intent not made the basis for the war when presented to the electorate. To do that is to admit that the electorate wouldn't find the rationale sufficient and thus that it is likely to stop supporting the war when it turns out to be different than it was sold as.

I think that the Bush administration genuinely believed that Saddam was continuing to pursue WMD, and that that belief justified going to war. We ended up being incorrect in so much as Saddam was probably not actively pursuing WMDs, but if we held off on doing things because we might be wrong, we'd do extraordinarily little.

There's little doubt that the humanitarian angle was emphasized more after WMDs were probably not being pursued, but I don't object to that.

Think of it this way:
Say there is a bully who is known to beat up smaller children. You're in his class and one day you hear that he punched your best friend in the face. Several people confirm this and there's plenty of reason to believe it. So you go up to the bully and sock him in the face. Well it turns out the bully hadn't punched your best friend, but he'd punched a few other people that day and his behavior was consistently awful. But by standing up to him and putting him in his place, you've assured that he won't pick on anyone anymore.

I'd say that was a justified action. Even though the original premise guiding the action turned out to be errant, there was plenty of other justifiable reasons on which you could reasonably fall back.



Which is what? On what basis do you say we have a justification to invade another country? What limits exist -- why should we invade one country led by an authoritarian who violates human rights and not another? Why do we have the right to make that decision? Do other countries similarly have that right? What happens if countries disagree as to the morality of invading? What if the majority of the citizens of the country in question would rather we not invade? And how do you reliably learn the answer to the latter question?

Well we know that we have finite resources and, unfortunately, can't overthrow every rotten tyrant in the world. So, we weigh several things--perceived difficulty of overthrow, perceived difficulty of rebuilding, geopolitical importance, depth of violations, etc.

As for why we have the right to make the decision, we're the largest and most powerful free society in the world. We're the country that can do that--the Czech Republic can't. And we have a far better humanitarian record over the past twenty years than, say, France, who actively assisted and then sheltered radical Hutus responsible for the Rwanda Genocide.

So as to whether other countries have the right, I think so. In fact, sometimes even a non-free country has the right. For instance, Vietnam was responsible for Pol Pot's overthrow. We sat on our hands. The Vietnamese regime is not a good one, but they are far, far better than Pol Pot, and their action saved the lives of pretty much everyone Pol Pot hadn't yet killed.

Similarly, I think Rwanda was justified in invading Congo and overthrowing Mobutu. Rwanda hasn't been truly free in the post-genocide era, but Kagame has always been far, far better than Mobutu.

Final two questions:
If the people disagree, they can vote out those who made the decision--no different than any other decision, really. We learn the popular will through elections.

And as to if countries agree, it depends on what the countries are. For instance, France might have objected to US intervention in Rwanda. But France was objectively awful in that regard--the Prime Minister's son was likely involved in illegal weapons sales to the Hutu regime and other awful ones. So in the end I don't mind saying that the US, as the largest free country and one with a better record than pretty much every other country that matters, should have the say.



In order to put forth a serious basis for war on the "Saddam was a bad person" grounds, I think you have to at least try and address the same kinds of question, to put forth a real justification for action akin to the just war theory. So go for it. (I see you started to below, but just saying "any humanitarian violations are sufficient reason, but we can choose not to." Also, why is it moral? You are killing people, what's the basis for doing so? Just war, even though I understand the objections people like Wonderment have to it, at least tries to answer these questions and gives a more rigorous grounding for discussion.

I think I somewhat hit on these areas above but to apply some of what I said, there's no doubt that Saddam was committing ongoing human rights violations. There's no doubt that he had not foresworn genocide as a potential tool, and would be very willing to committ mass atrocities again. There was also ample evidence that Islamic terrorist groups were using part of the country, with or without Saddam's approval, for training grounds, and that Iraq as an area is of tremendous geopolitical importance.

In another post, I averaged out the estimated casualties of Saddam's regime over the course of his tenure. They came out to around 31,000 per year. Even if we lower that figure, down to 20,000, the fact is that after a few years, the total casualty count with Saddam in power would have exceeded the most reasonable estimate of casualties that occured after the US invasion. And it is very reasonable to believe that his psychotic sons would've continued, and possibly even amplified, the human rights violations when they gained power.

It's like investing in a college education. Over the short run, you will spend a lot of money while making very little. After graduating, you will have some debt. But in the long run you will, on average, earn substantially more money. It's long-term thinking.

And the long term reduction in casualties, along with the fact that you're giving people the opportunity to be free, makes it moral.

handle
11-04-2010, 04:39 PM
i don't know either of their intents, only their actions and the consequences.

I do believe the Bush "torture memo" made the argument that interrogation techniques used by the administration, were not torture, because they "lacked the requisite intent".

Tell that to a guy with alligator clip leads on his balls.

operative
11-04-2010, 04:40 PM
Not really a good analogy, but easy to respond to anyway. If someone who doesn't know what he is doing decides that he's the best one to help and makes things worse and the patient dies, that person may be liable. If I think I'm a good surgeon even though I haven't attended med school or think someone has consented to surgery when they haven't (if my belief is unreasonable), I'm liable. If I'm a doctor and act recklessly and the patient dies, I am liable. Depending on the facts, these all could give rise to criminal liability too.

As the leader of the free world, with a cabinet of experts in their fields, I think it's reasonable to compare the president with the trained surgeon and not the person who has watched a few episodes of ER.

(gratuitous Firefly reference on the subject of people without medical knowledge pretending they have it:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6QphkfD5zDg)

If we're not willing to give the president the level of expertise, then we basically have no level of expertise for any country--it's basically anarchy on that front. So here is the appropriate analogy:

If you are at some place and some people have had a reaction to a food that will kill a few of them and do lasting damage to others, and there is absolutely no one around who can possibly treat them with the appropriate level of knowledge, but you have a good bit of knowledge on the subject and a crew of people around you who can help, so since no one else is doing so, you volunteer to help. It turns out that your solution results in some short term difficulty, including a few deaths, but in the long run works reasonably well and reduces the symptoms.

In that situation I'd consider you to have been brave and justified.


In the war situation, you take actions which you know will kill people. That you wish no one had to die, that you'd magically make the actions kill no one is irrelevant to legal intent. Legal intent isn't "do I want someone to die." It's basically I take this action with the reasonable expectation that someone would die or be seriously injured or be in serious risk of it." If I shoot a gun while robbing a store with the intent just to scare the owner and not pointing it at anyone but accidently hit someone else I didn't see, that's murder.

Point taken, but I think that my second analogy is better.

stephanie
11-05-2010, 01:14 PM
That's why I expanded it to include dictators who are committing ongoing human rights violations.

There's basically no serious claim that I've ever heard that war is justified against any leader who commits ongoing human rights violations. That seems to give countries far too much unlimited authority to declare war, especially since you admit it's going to be arbitrary -- we are okay to go to war in such situations if we want to.

That's why I'm pushing you. I think some of the arguments for various wars twist the just war rationale such that concerns like those expressed by Wonderment are valid. Yet, at least the just war theory is a serious effort to grapple with the fact that war itself means killing and causes great misery, and thus must meet high standards before it can be declared just in a moral context in which we generally believe that killing is wrong, national boundaries mean something, that we need to not cause problems worse than those we intend to solve, and that stability is a concern and unintended consequences always going to happen (the last two points that should appeal to a conservative).

Saying that the leader is bad (which is essentially what your argument amounts to) does nothing to seriously address the point.

You seem to be approaching this war question as if the fact that war involves killing is irrelevant. As if even though (I assume you would agree) killing is wrong, once you call it war there's no need to avoid it in the absence of serious justification. I simply don't understand that -- is it that it seems to theoretical for you or what? That's not the normal moral way of approaching the question, even among people who accept the need for war in some cases, in my experience. (I'm basing this in part just on my own understanding of philosophical and political and religious discussions of the question, but also on my understanding of what's taught in the military academies.)

Rather than avoiding that question, I think war needs to be justified with relation to how we normally think of killing and when we would consider it justified (or in some cases excused). Going on about what leaders you don't like or think did bad enough things ignores these questions. Also, in making the intent of the country or leader all that matters you avoid all concerns about the methodology used -- again, something that normally is a concern even for people who accept that war can be justified and that it will often lead to the use of tactics that we find morally objectionable (for example, which have a direct effect on civilians).

I think that the Bush administration genuinely believed that Saddam was continuing to pursue WMD, and that that belief justified going to war.

Not under the just war theory it doesn't. Not even on the grounds which the Bush administration actually used to justify the war, which was about threat.

Moreover, Bush's sincerity or genuine belief isn't enough -- you are being far too quick to rationalize anything leaders do that you believe are well-meant. There are objective efforts that should be met to look seriously at the questions involved, and the pointless rush to war prevented that with Iraq, even if you discount all of the evidence regarding the selective use of intelligence and so on.

if we held off on doing things because we might be wrong, we'd do extraordinarily little.

I can't see how this could possible appear to you to be a good argument or morally serious one for justifying war.

I note you try to justify changing the rationale for the war. I don't think "Saddam was a bad person" is a valid argument for war anyway, but you are ignoring the essence of my point which is that in a democratic republic you shouldn't go to war without the support of the people and you need to thus be open about the reasons for the war or else you are going to lose support once the truth is known. Do you think "Saddam is a bad person and we should thus nation build in Iraq" would have been a winning argument for war? I don't.

This is especially true because the result of a war losing support certain is likely to be the invading country withdrawing before the task is done, which could leave the country in worse shape. "You break it you buy it" seems to have worked as an argument here (basically people were forced by the administration's bad acts to support continued action due to the threat of worse consequences). But there's no guarantee that those kinds of arguments willl work, they are immoral on the part of the people who used a false justification,* and it's a danger that stems from the overall lack of justification for the war. *I don't necessarily think Bush used a false, as opposed to an irresponsible and incorrect, justification for the war. I do think there was no justification for the timing. My issue here is with those who dismiss the failure of the rationale with the "oh, well, Saddam was bad, so it was a good thing to do even if we didn't do enough to check on the actual rationale used. That seems to me to be a completely indefensible and immoral position. If that was the rationale, it needed to be argued to the American people as such at the time.

If the people disagree, they can vote out those who made the decision--no different than any other decision, really. We learn the popular will through elections.

First, not if the rationale given is not the real one. Second, once we are in a war, we can't just leave under the same circumstances that we could have avoided going in. Plus, we lose the opportunity to try other things that could have achieved the same goals or some version of them without all the terrible consequences.

stephanie
11-05-2010, 01:32 PM
If we're not willing to give the president the level of expertise, then we basically have no level of expertise for any country--it's basically anarchy on that front.

You are missing the point entirely. The argument was not to compare the president with the surgeon, but to point out that your suggestion that only the stabber could be morally responsible was wrong. What others did can aggravate the problem in a legally unacceptable way.

The analogizing of the US with the surgeon makes no sense in a more general matter for reasons that seem obvious.

However, as for the claim that the president has expertise by virtue of being the president, that's simply not the case. The president can base a decision on a good and careful consideration of the need for action or not -- that's part of the criticism of Iraq and plenty of other military actions, and the notion that the president did it so it must have been worth doing is mind-boggling.

For example, to go back to just war theory, the need for the action, the effects with and without it, and the chances of a good result and of bad consequences are all part of the moral analysis. They are not off the table because the president is defined as someone who would act carefully.

If you are at some place and some people have had a reaction to a food that will kill a few of them and do lasting damage to others, and there is absolutely no one around who can possibly treat them with the appropriate level of knowledge, but you have a good bit of knowledge on the subject and a crew of people around you who can help, so since no one else is doing so, you volunteer to help. It turns out that your solution results in some short term difficulty, including a few deaths, but in the long run works reasonably well and reduces the symptoms.

The (obvious) problem with this analogy is that it bears no resemblance to the circumstances in which the US (or other countries) use force, and the US is not in the position of the bystander in question (at least in any example pointed to). It thus cannot justify military action generally or in any but extremely rare circumstances.

And, again, you are ignoring the fact that war involves the direct killing of human beings. Some because the military strategy intends their death, some because the military strategy can't exclude their death, but in both cases we are not taking merely death by accident or by us being unable to save someone who has been wounded. Again, I'm not claiming that there are no legitimate arguments that such killing can be justified under some circumstances (I am happy to talk about that issue should we ever get there), but you seem unwilling to take this or the moral problems it poses seriously.