Monday, June 12, 2006

War etiquette

One thing in war that I've always found to be hypocritical and even sometimes amusing is when an army bombs a target with the intent of eliminating (assassinating) that target and then attempting to save that person's life after the raid.

Such was the case in the Abu Musab al-Zarqawi hit last week in a raid in Iraq. He was responsible for many bombing attacks with high civilian casualties and he was also responsible for beheadings that took place in Iraq over the last few years on US civilians. The US Army wanted this man dead. They were hoping to get him sooner, but he pulled off some spectacular disappearing acts and manage to evade the US Army for a very long time.

According to reports, after the bombing, US medics treated al-Zarqawi but he died 28 minutes later from massive internal injuries.

I think it is funny how there's this war "etiquette" where you try to save somebody's life after deliberately attempting to murder the person. In less civilized warfare, this would not have been the etiquette. If a high profile target survived a bomb raid and was in the hands of Joseph Stalin or Adolf Hitler, he surely would have been executed or tortured.

It's interesting how war can still have its own level of morals and decency, even though the very nature of war is usually so morally unjustified. I guess in order to feel like you have morals in war you need to convince yourself that what you're doing is in the long run going to do some sort of good for mankind. Some wars are easier than others to convince yourself of this. Most soldiers in Iraq only need to remember 9/11 to justify their actions. This was ingrained in their minds right from day 1, and no matter how much evidence there is to prove the lies, people will still associate Iraq with 9/11, and this will always be used in their own minds to morally justify their actions.



7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Funny and intriguing.
What moral standard do you use to suggest that war is morally wrong?
It's all relative if there are no absolutes in life. In relative morality, one man's right is another man's wrong. So who is setting the standard you live by?

Jim said...

I guess I have my own moral standards that I've defined some wars as wrong. I don't think all wars are wrong. I think some wars were necessary to stop evil acts against humanity and violations of basic human rights.

I agree morality is relative and everyone has their own standards. I think I set my standards by the impact on other humans in everything I do. I guess the golden rule sometimes comes in handy when determining morality.

Anonymous said...

Okay then Jim, based on your yardstick - setting your own moral standard - then the individual responsible for waging the war is free to do the same. It's one opinion against another opinion of what is right and wrong. Opinion's are free but they don't shed light on what is actually right or what is actually wrong. So based on this relative standard, the U.S. war in Iraq may not be morally wrong (according to someone else's standard).

You have a point about the golden rule but by adding the word "sometimes" in there, we are again back to relativism. If the golden rule is an absolute or universal rule to live by, then a discussion of whether the U.S. war in Iraq is actually right or actually wrong would be justified. Without absolutes, it's impossible to determine whether your opinion is more valid than the opposite opinon. Your own standard has relegated the issue to just an opinion and all opinions are relative.

Good points though.

Jim said...

That makes sense. If I'm setting my own moral standards, then everyone else is free to do the same and it only becomes an opinion as to whether someone is right or wrong.

Maybe that's why it's so difficult to stop people from doing something that you feel is wrong and they feel is right, because everyone has their own point of view, and the only thing that can legally prevent someone from doing something is the law, and there are always loopholes and grey areas in the law, especially when it comes to international war.

Can I ask who sets the standard of morals that you live by?

Anonymous said...

Jesus Christ has set the highest standard - even inventing what we in Western society call "the golden rule". We cannot use the term and divorce it from it's origin. This measuring line is consistent so I can evaluate all my thoughts, motives, and actions on this. If I do the right thing then I will know based on that universal principle. If I have fallen short of it, I will know just the same; I don't change the bar because I'm not comfortable with how missing the mark makes me feel. This is what moral relativism does; it allows us to use different standards on how we judge others, depending on what the activity is, and allows us to also gloss over the areas within ourselves that we are afraid to deal with. It's time for us to have the courage to be consistent - use a standard that is applied equally to all.

Jim said...

So alas you have uncovered what you were alluding to this whole time. That absolutism is the only way to set a standard of morals that everyone can agree on, and relative standard setting results in only opinions of an individual.

But now I’d like to go back to my original article. How can Jesus Christ's standard of morals be used to judge whether the war in Iraq is morally acceptable? Can you use such an absolute guideline in such a questionable war? I think that even using a moral standard such as the bible to judge the war in Iraq will still result in individual opinions. A lot of people who disagree on the war have set their standards using the same guidelines, but they still have their own opinions.

Anonymous said...

Okay - you're asking the right questions so let's get to them. We have already established that a society as a whole cannot determine right from wrong except by a standard that is equally applied to all - just as we cannot know for a fact whether one object is further away from a starting point than another object unless we compare the two distances using a standard unit of measurement (i.e. meters, feet, yards, etc).

Two precursor questions need to be answered first: What is war? War comes from a term that originally means to mix things up, to confuse. Being at war then, is about being engaged in some kind of conflict. It has come to be defined in several ways: an active struggle against competing entities; to engage in armed conflict against an enemy; a concerted effort to end something considered harmful/injurious, among others things. Based on this, we know that not all wars are wrong; not all wars are right; not all wars are "all" wrong; and not all wars are "all" right.
What is morality? Or what does it mean to be morally acceptable? Morality is to behave with good or right conduct. Something is morally acceptable if the behaviour is done with good intent or the act is something good to do. If we can agree on these two things then we can answer your questions.

Your Question: "How can Jesus Christ's standard of morals be used to judge whether the war in Iraq is morally acceptable?"

The war you are referring to is an armed/weaponised struggle against an enemy. Because the "golden rule" standard evaluates thoughts, motives, and actions right down to the individual level, the real question is: "How can Jesus Christ's standard of morals be used to judge whether the US Administration's motive(s) for going to war in Iraq are morally acceptable?"

The only overt clues we have as to the reasons are either: pre-emptive strike (i.e. get them before they get us), acquisition of resources (i.e. get their oil), depose the Iraqi head of state (oust him because he is no longer useful to them), protect the American way of life (i.e. maintain the American lifestyle by war-economy), promote democracy (i.e. setup a pro-American leadership in Iraq). The "golden rule" does not support any of these motives to justify starting an armed/weaponised struggle for the following reason: the circumstances under which the "golden rule" standard was produced. Jesus grew up in a hostile environment, similar to what we now have in present-day Israel or Iraq: The country was ruled by corrupt officials; the country was under occupation and oppressed by the most powerful nation at that time (Rome); there were insurgents and insurrections left and right, and innocent civilians were constantly caught in the thick of it. Jesus could have existed today in any of these two places and the results would be the same. Anyone who practices this knows that the golden rule:
- does not support the use of weaponised offensive or "pre-emptive" strikes but says instead "love your enemy", meaning live a life of non-retaliation
- does not support armed struggle for the sake of acquiring other peoples' resources but says "watch out! be on your guard against all kinds of greed", meaning don't desire what belongs to someone else
- does not support armed struggle to overthrow leaders because we don't like them anymore or don't agree with their political model but says "Put your sword away. He who lives by the sword will die by the sword", meaning live a non-violent life
- does not support the use of weapons against others in order to maintain/protect a certain lifestyle but says "do not store up treasures on earth where moths and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal" and "be content with what you have"
- does not support weaponized struggle to promote an ideology but says "let your light shine in front of everyone that they can see your good works"

Jesus did not engage in or advocate any of these practices, although others around him did, yet the circumstances around him were egregious enough. Instead he advocated waging what he considered the right war: the war for the minds and hearts of human beings to see the solution to their destructive ways (both self-destruction and the destruction of others around them). His war or struggle was for love and justice - walking in the light versus living in darkness. His verdict against us says this: "Light has come into the world but men loved the darkness rather than the light...everyone who does what is wrong does not come to the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed."

Your Question: "Can you use such an absolute guideline in such a questionable war?"

Of course you can. Again, the guideline is used to evaluate motives and actions and whether or not the one with the motive or action has followed the "golden rule" in whatever it is they did or intended to do. The problem with the US-led invasion of Iraq is the duplicity of it. By their actions, they pendulum-swing their motives for being there depending on how things unfold. If the roles were reversed, I would regard it as suspect if the US Administration would consider it acceptable if another country came and treated them in this way: invade American soil, dismantle the government in Washington, destroy vital US infrastructure, and bid for (non-indigenous) reconstruction contracts without the consent of American citizens. Based on the above, the motives for invading Iraq fall short of the golden rule.


Your Statements: "I think that even using a moral standard such as the bible to judge the war in Iraq will still result in individual opinions. A lot of people who disagree on the war have set their standards using the same guidelines, but they still have their own opinions"

You are correct that people will still have their opinions so let's differentiate between agreeing with going to war based on a "guideline" and agreeing with going to war in "the name of" someone or something. Saying that someone initiated an armed struggle/war to "protect their nation, religion, or lifestyle" is different from saying someone initiated an armed struggle/war based on the "golden rule". The second position doesn't make any sense because this guideline: "treat others as you would want them to treat you" cannot possibly be used to attack another person who did you no harm with weapons. The former position is usually based on other reasons, protectionism, expansionism, or exclusivism of some sort. As I mentioned before, people have a right to their opinions - we are human and have to make judgment calls all the time. However, when you put people together in a room, or in a community, a city, a country, or this world - a standard measurement is required to govern all of the 6+ billion opinions that can possibly exist.

So my question to you is:
I have not found any standard that is more fair than "treat others as you would want them to treat you" or alternatively "love your neighbour as yourself", have you?

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