Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Another, Much Bigger Ethical Conundrum

... I'm thinking about those drones operating along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, lobbing missiles into Pakistani villages that kill scores of people. We claim that the dead are Taliban or Al Qaeda leaders, but who could contest that there are innocent civilians amongst them.

... I'm thinking of the lead story in today's New York Times: "Pakistan Makes a Taliban Truce, Creating a Haven: Imposing Islamic Law." I'm thinking about barbers beheaded for shaving beards, about women stoned to death for adultery, about the ban on music, movies, dance, the dynamiting of schools whose offense is to offer an education for girls...

... I'm thinking about the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas...

... I'm thinking of what we know about how the Taliban use their havens, as they used their haven in Afghanistan to host the people who brought about the destruction of the Wold Trade Center towers and killed nearly three thousand people; who have wreaked similar wanton destruction of human life elsewhere in the world on, now, numerous occasions; and who want nothing better than to pursue these tactics until the world itself is ruled by Islamic law...

... I'm thinking about the right to use violence in self-defense--a right that even the Buddhist teachings acknowledge--and the limits of that right; I'm thinking abut the "Bush Doctrine," abhorrent when it was used to justify the invasion of Iraq. Do we now approve the implementation of such a doctrine, when Pakistan creates a haven for those we know are plotting to do us dreadful harm?

Can such people be "killed with kindness"?

... I'm thinking about Barack Obama's response to a question at an informal press conference aboard Air Force One, reported by Bob Herbert of the New York Times, and elsewhere: "I'm an eternal optimist," Obama said. "That doesn't mean I'm a sap."

I don't pretend to know the answer to any of the questions. I only know that they trouble me deeply, and that I fear for a future when the world is threatened by the kind of deadly intransigence manifested by the Taliban and their terrorist associates. My every instinct agrees that violence can only beget more violence. But then...?


Anonymous said...

A worn, torn adage..."Think Globally, Act Locally"...maybe the beginning of an answer lies in the idea put into action; the experience of a daily determination to act with kindness toward another...spending less time focused on the darker side; which sadly, is with us too...?

Cardozo said...

I tend to agree with John, above. There are no good solutions nor answers. Such problems "trickle up" from interpersonal conflict that we are a long way off from solving, as a species.

Let's elect the best leaders we can and trust them to do the best THEY can with impossible situations. And work our hardest to "trickle up" something better.

Anonymous said...

I looked into Buddhism and self defence as part of my own practise of martial arts. My understanding is that, while violence in self defence is allowed, killing in self defence is to be avoided if we can.

I do feel sorry for Barack Obama, he's had this sorry mess dropped in his lap, now he has to deal with it as best he can.

In the long term we can't fully solve this problem with violence, in my opinion, the true solution must be political and cultural.

ErnestO said...

The unmanned drone, you really don’t get the technology you deserve. Is using them really helping us to win the hearts and minds of the Pakistan and Afghanistan people?
I know – the answer is always found within the question.

Each drone projectile is full of seeds of hate; to be sure there will be growth in the spring.

I agree with you Richard "In the long term we can't fully solve this problem with violence, in my opinion, the true solution must be political and cultural."

Anonymous said...

"I do feel sorry for Barack Obama, he's had this sorry mess dropped in his lap, now he has to deal with it as best he can." The fact is that Obama is essentially a war hawk and early in his candidacy made it quite clear that withdrawal from Iraq was a military strategy, not a non engagement policy. His advisers were already planning an escalation of footprint in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is most likely Obama will bring us closer to WWIII. Obama is an articulate genius, but not a man of peace. You are still right though:the true solution must be political and cultural.

Peter Clothier said...

John, I agree that the only answer we ourselves can provide is within our own hearts, and we need to be alert to the darkness there...

Cardozo, yes, we need those trusted leaders--but they are few and far between in today's world.

Richard, I tend to agree with you rather than MandT, below, about Obama. He has inherited a dreadful mess: I do not think he would have led us so rashly into Iraq. Indeed, he was one of the few to vote against the invasion.

Ernesto, "seeds of hate," yes, unquestionably. And they will sprout, as you suggest. We win no hearts and minds this way. I'm troubled by the ethical question about how far we can and should allow ourselves to go in self-defense.

MandT, we disagree about Obama on this point. I don't see him as a "war hawk"--though I acknowledge he was forthright throughout his campaign in declaring that military action is needed in Afghanistan. I question that position: it defies centuries of bitter experience. On the other hand, as my entry pointed out, it's hard to know where action is required in the interest of self-defense. No question, surely, but that the area is a haven for those who plot violent actions against the innocent. My European genes kick in, reminding me that the pacifism my heart would readily embrace is not always the most peaceful way. In defense of the big O, whom you call a "war hawk," did he not oppose, from the start, and before most others, the invasion of Iraq? I'm sure that I hate war and violence as much as you do. On this we have no disagreement. Blessings...

Anonymous said...

I think the concerns you feel are ones that all humanists deal with eventually. But I also think that having these concerns is like a labor pain - hard, and difficult, but with the possibility of creating something new or better than there was before.

We, as human beings, have the ability to create within ourselves a detailed and frequently accurate image of the future. While other organisms have been able to do this on a smaller scale, our level of ability at this is unprecedented in the natural world. We have started mapping out our own futures decades in advance...And there is no precedent for how to act responsibly with this knowledge.
Consider the old Hitler question: "If you could kill Adolph Hitler as an infant, would it be just?"

What the ethics theorist party-joke shows us is that there can be a great disparity between what seems right to the immediate, physical self, and what seems right to that new part of the mind that creates our image of the future. Preventing the murder of millions of people is clearly a rational goal, but the murder of an infant is abhorrent to any thinking person. Our desire to seek the betterment of our fellow man is put into conflict with itself.
Do the dangers of non-intervention necessitate the violence of military action? As always, this is a subjective value. When one simple action will render a certain and significant effect, it would seem to be justified. When a long, difficult, or unpleasant series of actions is uncertain to produce an intended effect, the case must be weighed more precisely. But, in my mind, choosing inaction that allows a greater evil to occur than the smaller one which would have prevented it is a form of selfishness - the choice to preserve my personal honor and sense of moral value over the well-being of others.

Whether that means the Middle-East-U.S. war is right, is something people should consider and determine for themselves. I, personally, disagree with the U.S. actions there. I disagree not because I am afraid to take those actions in noble cause, but because I believe in this case they will not achieve a result which is worthy of the sacrifice, or even the result sought by the U.S. government.