18 July 2004 - Sunday

Fear and loathing

Some months ago I entered a conversation in an online forum frequented mainly by young evangelical Christians. The discussion concerned the morality of war. I was surprised by the course that this conversation took.

Sometime early on, I advanced what I thought would provide common ground. "War is evil," I said. Unfortunately, this proved not to provide common ground at all. It was immediately contested.

I argued that at least one side of every war must be in the wrong and must therefore be guilty of committing great evil. If every war necessitates great evil, it seems reasonable to consider war itself evil. My interlocutor pointed out that a belligerent may nevertheless be in the right during war. If it is possible for someone to be in the right when making war, then war must not be inherently evil.

My opponent was correct in a sense, of course. My original statement, "war is evil," was broad and ambiguous. This was rhetorically convenient but not doctrinally watertight. Since both he and I believe that warfare may be justified at times, the statement does not provide much practical guidance.

Or does it?

Viewed as an action that any sort of party may commit for any sort of reason, war may not be evil. However, viewed as an event involving reciprocal carnage, it is difficult to call war good or neutral. In this sense, war is an evil even if entering a war may not be.

I recall that my opponent granted the clarification, but he still refused to agree with the statement. Perhaps he felt that it would prejudice our discussion. We had set out to debate the recent invasion of Iraq, after all, and he supported the war. My expression of distaste for war in general (hardly an original idea) might be poor grounds for deciding policy.

I was not bothered much by the dispute over semantics. I had let myself in for it by choosing such language. What bothered me was the suspicion that many people, whether or not it was true of this man, do not hate war.

Whether or not "war is evil" is a true statement, should we not be able to agree that "it is morally proper to hate war"? Again, the precise meaning of this statement could be debated. But at some point, we must face the fact of what war is. We must agree that war cannot be loved in godliness.

Now note the following statement: "you should kill as many people as necessary if their deaths will accomplish [insert the goals of your society here]." What is your reaction?

I hope it is one of revulsion. Can we start there as a society? Can we find it in our hearts to loathe every war everywhere, no matter what the political circumstances? I do not mean intellectual assent to the fact that war is horrible. I mean real personal conviction, not watered down with any political nonsense. Can we reach a point at which each of us, no matter what our political persuasion, will say, "I hate war," and refuse to qualify the statement?

| Posted by Wilson at 20:20 Central | TrackBack
| Report submitted to the Power Desk

Ah, one of the age-old moral dilemmas.

My opinion (still in development):

War sucks. War is evil. War is as close as we can get to solid proof of the depravity of human nature.
And yet, in order to prevent something even worse (death and/or slavery of millions, for example), waging war is sometimes an ugly necessity. But that doesn't make it right.

The following quote (I don't remember where I found it) seems appropriate:
"Whether or not good ends can justify evil means, they do not make those means any less evil."

The thoughts of Martinez on 18 July 2004 - 22:28 Central
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