Let’s be clear. I have no answers here. I have questions and beliefs, and that is all. I’m not suggesting what we should do, other than have this conversation, no matter how unpleasant and uncomfortable it makes us.
Anyone who suggests there are easy answers, or who whats to “leave it to the experts” and sweep it under the rug of “not my pay grade” be damned. You can’t avoid your complicity by refusing to be a part of the issue.
The discussion of war/pacifism, torture, rules of war, and so on, have confronted the human mind since the beginning of human interactions. While a certain defense of one’s personal integrity seems genetically normal, beyond that, we argue through the ages about how much is too much, when, and how?
As I said, there are no easy answers. It is for instance easy for me to come down on the side of pacifism, since it is my natural proclivity to choose life over harm to every and all creatures. Yet as a carnivores, I am immediately confronted with my hypocrisy, though I can respond quickly with “well exactly what do you propose to do with pigs and cattle, turn them out to fend for themselves as easy prey for predator animals?” Not your problem?
The world consists of very few individuals who will willingly stand still in the face of a direct lethal attack, and say, “do what you must, I will not lift a hand to defend myself.” And by doing so, do you contribute to the violence of another?
Both these are acts of violence whether you accept them or not. A strict pacifist can neither consume meat nor defend themselves against attack.
Trying to cut them out of the mix, and then say, well all else, I come down on the side of no violence is just as fraught with exceptions. One can, and I do, argue that I will not kill 2 to save 10, but figure that fate must be allowed to play out as it will. But turn that figure into killing 10 to save 10 million, and you see the dilemma. Now it looks quite a bit different. Surely Hiroshima and Nagasaki were justified on such grounds.
The Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive strike proved a disaster and surely violates in principle and act, the idea of “just war” theory. The Bush Doctrine might prove workable in the hands of a bright, moral being, but proved horrific in the hands of a stupid man egged on by arguably evil men at his side.
Just war “sounds” right, and surely has the imprimatur of the Catholic Church, but is it really just? How about all that talk of “rules of war”? Does not tidying up the killing to MOSTLY the perpetrators just prolong what would otherwise be so horrendous as to cause cessation? Do we appease the warmongers by pursuing military targets and not civilian? Was not some of the reasoning behind the US entry into WWII the magnitude of the killing? Was it not motivated in part by the inhumanity of the German war machine with its blitzkriegs, and the indiscriminate unfairness of the Japanese “surprise?” Would it all have been better if they had followed the “rules?”
It is not as ugly to push buttons from Colorado to kill convoys in Yemen, where yes, we allow for “collateral” damage? Would it not be better to force humans to face up to the bodies they produce? Was not part of the argument about pilots the nicety of not having to see the mangled flesh they produced by their bombs?
Torture has been in the human playbook for as long at least as recorded history. We burned and drew, quartered, and stocked, long before waterboarding came along. Technology brought us advances which brought electrodes, cattle prods, chain saws, drills, and a host of other household items to the torture table. We justify all this of course by the need for intelligence.
We do the unthinkable because it is necessary to protect the greater good, so we tell ourselves. Our television screens are full nowadays of “heroes” who regularly break, stab, beat, human bodies in the quest for the information necessary to “save lives” and protect our way of life.
What way of life are we protecting in the end? The life that condones and is willing to survive as a result of such human acts?
Where is the line? And who calls it? Is Jack Bauer the one you want to decide? Or a feckless Congress who measures everything by political leverage and opportunism, all too often limited to their own personal professional lives? Do you want to throw the dice on an individual you vote for when the entire game is now rigged by the rich and powerful whose interests are almost never going to be yours and who live by the credo, that the birds do not consider the interests of the ants they eat?
Are we any better than they when we do what they do in the name of stopping them? Do we want to be better than they? Do we care beyond our own hides in the end? If not, then we need to stop flooding the world with our proclamations that we are moral and they are not. We need to stop accusing them of violations when we are committing them at an even faster pace.
There is a reason we armed the Taliban against the Russians and then proclaimed them our enemy after 9-11. There is a similar reason interred the Japanese during WWII. We arm the bad guys all over South America because they agree to our long-term goals, while their peoples writhe in agony from the tortures they employ. We enlist countries with “softer” rules to be our locations where we can avoid our rules of law, and mistreat humans in the name of saving democracy.
I say all this and then I sit with my head in my hands because I don’t know where to come down on the oft used scenario: you have in custody the man who knows where the hydrogen bomb has been planted in NYC. You have six hours to find it. If it goes off, millions will die, and the country may well fall. Well? torture him or not?
Perhaps the scenario is unfair, perhaps using the worst-case scenario is unnecessary and unfair. But once you allow for it, then how about Springfield? Or Kalamazoo? How small does the scale have to get before we say, too far?
Does justice demand something else? Does it demand an all or nothing? Or does it ask us to submit to a conclusion unpalatable but possibly real? As long as humans care about living, we have to admit we are natural killing machines, and do it as efficiently as possible with as little collateral damage (innocent death) as possible?
Is there a philosophy that can cut through all this and make it a simple argument that cannot be denied?
I surely wish for one, but so far, I have not found it.
I remain sickened. I know what I would stop, but I can’t give you a logical play it out to the end answer that works for all things in all times.
If you can, please tell me.
But damn don’t avoid the issue, for we all are complicit whether you like it or not.
Adam Pack said:
The thing is, though, the ‘man knows where the hydrogen bomb’ scenario never happens. The people who were tortured were, in many cases, not involved with what was happening, and didn’t provide any reliable information because people under torture say what the torturer wants to hear, not what’s true.
So the question is ‘should a person be tortured to achieve nothing’, and I’m going to go with ‘no’.
Adam, I tend to agree. I think the ultimate “problem” is too tenuous to consider as a reason to torture. I agree that torture leads to false information and for that reason alone is worthless, regardless of the moral implications which I feel are substantial and prohibitive in and of themselves. However the worst case scenario if it should happen would change many a mind I suspect, including my own perhaps..
Adam Pack said:
Absolutely. If I were in the hydrogen bomb situation, I probably wouldn’t even think about whether it was ethical, I’d just get out the waterboard. But that situation never happens. It’s worth noting as well that the man ‘knows’. In the hypothetical, there’s no doubt about it. Again, never happens. What if you end up torturing some random guy who just looks a bit like a terrorist?
The parallels with the death penalty are too obvious to detail.
I think we agree. 🙂 !END