Tuesday, November 16, 2004

A parable of the Iraqi war

The shooting of an unarmed prisoner by a US soldier is a microcosm of the war in Iraq as we are fighting it. In the broadest sense, that wounded prisoner lying unarmed on the floor, prostrate before the Marine, is Iraq. That Marine, no doubt angry at the sight of wounded and murdered comrades, disoriented by the strange culture in which he fights daily to stay alive, and armed to the teeth, is America.

Iraq was prostrate, lacking significant aggressive military ability, just like the prisoner. The prisoner was not in control of his body, as Iraq was not even in control of it's own territory or skies. Iraq was hammered down by years of brutal sanctions, as this prisoner was likely exhausted by trying to stay alive in Fallujah over weeks of daily aerial bombarment. Iraq's defenses largely consisted of bluff and the rumour of WMD which did not exist yet which prompted a deathblow from America, just as the threat implied by whatever motion or sound that this fallen prisoner may have made triggered the killing blow from the Marine was spurious.

The irony, if something this tragic can properly be said to contain irony, is that this Marine will likely stand accused before the world and be judged for any crime he may have committed. Those responsible for the greater crime of delivering a coup de grace to Iraq and all of it's people will likely never face any sort of reckoning, if the recent election is any indication of the moral state of the American people. Apparenltly, we can summon the moral courage to condemn gay marriage, but not a criminal war and brutal occupation that has claimed the lives of 100K of our fellow human beings, and the lives and health of thousands of our children, spouses, and siblings.

Have we come to a point where we are unable to concieve of and punish crimes larger than the actions of just one person? Have was lost the ability to assign blame to individuals for their parts in the actions of a collective evil? Did we ever have such an ability? Do we even have a moral vocabulary which describes the roles and assigns the blame for actions that may have been taken in good faith, but which result in monstrous evil? Is it all just a terrible unintended consequence with no one to blame, nothing to punish? These aren't rhetorical questions. I honestly don't know.


At 5:57 PM, Blogger Tiny Montgomery said...

You make very powerful and tragically beautiful comments about our involvement in Iraq.

Of course, we are not "unable to concieve of and punish crimes larger than the actions of just one person". Collective evil is painfully perceptible and should be punished. It's called the rule of law and it has been enforced on occasion in our history, generally by the "victorious" party, but enforced nonetheless.

Immoral actions taken by foot soldiers in good faith, pursuant to legitimate order and in the heat of battle are the understandable and forgiveable consequences of warfare. Further up the chain of command, in the comfortable and secure environment of the White House and Pentagon, these actions are known as "war crimes", clearly recognizable and punishable as such.

May the war crimes stop and may justice prevail!

At 4:14 PM, Blogger Jack Benway said...

The passive morality you advocate is that of a dog, whipped by its master, that still happily returns to wag its tail and beg for food. The problem with your morality is this: we are human beings, not dogs.

At 5:30 PM, Blogger Tiny Montgomery said...

It is active, human and moral to recognize and punish acts of behavior that violate international law. No need to bring canines into this discussion.

At 1:22 AM, Blogger Michael said...

I sure would like to know what the fuck Benway is on about. Passive morality? The only reference I can find to such an idea is the mindless following of a leader who purports to be morally good. This aligns closely to the concept of the banality of evil in which responsibility for monstrous crimes is compartmentalized so that no one needs to assume responsibility. It seems to me that the Bush Administration's policies effect on the American people is a good model of such passive evil.

Evil doesn't come from choosing to condemn and to act against what is morally repugnant, rather, it comes from selfishness, short-sightedness, arrogance and other mental deficits where the individual ignores morality to pursue goals thought to be higher or superior to conventional morality. The war on terror is the means by which the Iraq conflict is lifted beyond the reach of conventional moral obligations. The assault on Fallujah and the attendant suffering of the civilian population fits squarely into the matrix of moral passivity leading to banal evil. If anyone is demonstrating the 'passive morality' of an animal, it is those who support this war no matter how monstrous the means by which is fought become.

At 3:13 PM, Blogger Jack Benway said...

The morality of which I wrote is the one where it's somehow evil and wrong for a person to kill someone who is trying to kill him, or associated with a group who is trying to kill him.

The Marine who shot the Iraqi terrorist had a member of his unit killed by a boobie trapped body the day before the incident. His decision to shoot the terrorist was rational and moral, regardless of how you choose to interpret international law. But what you advocate is that he, like the dog in my example, ignore his rationality and prior experience and sacrifice his own life. Dogs apparently don't know better, but people do, but you would have him go against rationality and human nature, all in the name of international law.

I think you're letting your hatred for Bush poison your rational faculties.


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