Can we justify killing the children?

  1. A 12 year old girl asked, "How come grownups tell us kids to use words and not fight when they want to kill people they think are bad?"

    What do you think of the following article from the UK?

    Jonathan Glover
    Wednesday February 5, 2003
    The Guardian

    I have spent the past few years discussing medical ethics with students who are often doctors or nurses. Their work involves them in life-and-death decisions. Our discussions have reminded me of what many of us experience when we are close to someone in acute medical crisis. When a parent is dying slowly in distress or indignity, or when a baby is born with such severe disabilities that life may be a burden, the family and the medical team agonise over whether to continue life support. No one finds such a decision easy or reaches it lightly. What is at stake is too serious for anyone to rush the discussion.

    It is hard not to be struck by the contrast between these painful deliberations and the hasty way people think about a war in which thousands will be killed. The people killed in an attack on Iraq will not be so different from those in hospital whose lives we treat so seriously. Some will be old; many will be babies and children. To think of just one five-year-old Iraqi girl, who may die in this war, as we would think of that same girl in a medical crisis is to see the enormous burden of proof on those who would justify killing her. Decisions for war seem less agonising than the decision to let a girl in hospital die. But only because anonymity and distance numb the moral imagination.

    Questions about war are not so different from other life-and-death decisions. War kills many people, but each person has a life no more to be lightly destroyed than that of a child in hospital. This moral seriousness of killing is reflected in the ethics of war. If a war is to be justified, at least two conditions have to be met. The war has to prevent horrors worse than it will cause. And, as a means of prevention, it has to be the last resort. Killing people should not be considered until all alternative means have been tried - and have failed.

    Those supporting the proposed war on Iraq have claimed that it will avert the greater horror of terrorist use of biological or nuclear weapons. But this raises questions not properly answered. It is not yet clear whether Iraq even has these weapons, or whether their having them would be more of a threat than possession by other countries with equally horrible regimes, such as North Korea. No good evidence has been produced of any link to terrorist groups. Above all, there is no evidence of any serious exploration by the American or British governments of any means less terrible than war. Is it impossible to devise some combination of diplomacy and continuing inspection to deal with any possible threat? Is killing Iraqis really the only means left to us?

    The weak answers given to these questions by the two governments proposing war explain why they have persuaded so few people in the rest of Europe, or even in this country. It is heartening how few are persuaded by claims about intelligence too secret to reveal, or by the attempts to hurry us into war by leaders who say their patience is exhausted. We would never agree to removing the baby's life support on the basis of medical information too confidential for the doctor to tell us. Still less would we accept this because the doctor's patience has run out. It really does seem that this time many of us are thinking about war with something like the same seriousness.

    There is an extra dimension to the decision about this particular war. The choice made this time may be one of the most important decisions about war ever made. This is partly because of the great risks of even a "successful" war. The defeat even of Saddam Hussein's cruel dictatorship may contribute to long-term enmity and conflict between the west and the Islamic world. In what is widely thought in the Islamic world to be both an unjustified war and an attack on Islam, an American victory may be seen as an Islamic humiliation to be avenged. This war may do for our century what 1914 did for the 20th century. And there is an ominous sense of our leaders, as in 1914, being dwarfed by the scale of events and sleepwalking into decisions with implications far more serious than they understand.

    The other reason for the special seriousness of the decision about this war has to do with the dangerous post-September 11 world we live in. That day showed how much damage a low-tech terrorist attack can do to even the most heavily armed country. The US was like a bull, able to defeat any other bull it locked horns with, but suddenly unable to defend itself against a swarm of bees. All countries are vulnerable to such attacks. Combining this thought with the proliferation of biological weapons, and possibly of portable nuclear weapons, suggests a very frightening world.

    This dangerous world is often seen as part of the argument in support of the war. If we don't act now, won't the problem, as Tony Blair said, "come back to haunt future generations"? But further thought may raise doubts about whether the dangerous world of terrorism and proliferation really counts for the war rather than against it.

    The frightening world we live in is like the "state of nature" described by Thomas Hobbes. What made life in the state of nature "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short" was the strength of the reasons people had to fight each other. There was no ruler to keep the peace. So everyone knew the strong would attack the weak for their possessions. But the instability was worse than this. My fear of attack by you gives me a reason for a pre-emptive strike against you before you get strong enough to start. But my reason for a pre-emptive strike against you in turn gives you a reason for a pre-emptive strike against me. And so the spiral of fear and violence goes on. Hobbes thought the only solution was the creation of Leviathan, a ruler with absolute power. Such a ruler could impose a peace otherwise unobtainable. The dangers of tyranny and injustice are outweighed by the dangers of a world where no one has power to impose peace.

    Our present international world seems alarmingly like the Hobbesian state of nature. Nations (and perhaps at least as frighteningly, small groups such as al-Qaida) have many motives for attack and our protection is flimsy. The pure Hobbesian solution to this would be a social contract between all such states and groups, giving all power to one to act as absolute ruler. This is unlikely to happen. But there is a naturally evolving equivalent. Sometimes one dominant power emerges, and imposes Pax Romana or Pax Britannicus or, in our time, Pax Americana. The Hobbesian suggestion is that, as the way out of the law of the jungle, we should welcome the emergence of a superpower that dominates the world.

    In his book, Perpetual Peace, Immanuel Kant saw that the Hobbesian solution was not the best possible. The Hobbesian ruler has no moral authority. His only claim to impose peace is his strength. Conflict is not eliminated, but suppressed by sheer strength. If the ruler grows weak, the conflict will surface again.

    This applies to the international world. A superpower with an empire may suppress conflict. But, as Pax Romana and Pax Britannicus remind us, empires fall as well as rise. Such a peace is unlikely to last for ever. And empires act at least partly out of self-interest, so the imposed arrangements may not be just. Palestinians, for instance, may be unhappy to entrust their future to Pax Americana. But absolutely central is the lack of moral authority of anything imposed by force. To put it crudely, no one appointed the US, or the US and Britain, or Nato, to be world policeman.

    Kant's solution was a world federation of nation-states. They would agree to give the federation a monopoly of the use of force. This use of force would have a moral authority derived from its impartiality and from its being set up by agreement. In the present world, the Kantian solution might be a proper UN police force, with adequate access to funds and to force of overwhelming strength. There would have to be agreed criteria for its intervention, together with a court to interpret those criteria and to authorise intervention. There are many problems with this solution. But something like it is the only way of policing the global village with impartiality and authority. It is the only hope of permanently bringing to an end the cycle of violence.

    A central decision of our time is between these two ways of trying to keep the peace in the global village. In a Hobbesian village, violence is quelled by a posse rounded up from the strongest villagers. It is a Texas cowboy village, or Sicilian village with mafia gangs. In a Kantian village, there is a strong police force, backed up by the authority of law and the courts. The Kantian village may seem utopian. But there are reasons for thinking it is not impossible. In the first half of the 20th century, Europe gave the world colonialism, genocide and two world wars. Then it would have seemed utopian to think of the present European Union. Through pressure of experiencing the alternative, a federation did come about. With luck, Kant's proposal may come about because we see the importance of not experiencing what is likely to be a really terrible alternative.

    For all its inadequacies, the UN is the embryonic form of the rule of law in the world. This is another reason why the proposed war could be so disastrous. Every time Bush or Blair say they will not be bound by a security council veto, without knowing it they are Hobbesians. Never mind moral authority: we, the powerful, will decide what happens. If we want to make a pre-emptive strike, we will do so. And we will listen to the UN provided it says what we tell it to say.

    Some of us fear the instability of a world of unauthorised pre-emptive strikes. We hope our precarious situation may nudge world leaders further towards the rule of law, towards giving more authority and power to the UN. The alternative is terrifying. This gives an extra dimension of menace to the attitude of the American and British governments to this crisis. The erosion of the world's attempt at international authority is something to add to the cruelty and killing of this lawless war we are being asked to support.

    * Jonathan Glover is director of the Centre of Medical Law and Ethics at King's College, London, and author of Humanity: A Moral History of the 20th Century.

    Guardian Unlimited Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003
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  2. 130 Comments

  3. by   fergus51
    A good post about the antiwar feelings many of us have. I get sick of the idea that anyone against war is just a crazed America hater.
  4. by   fab4fan
    I really hate the expression, "collateral damage." It's just an attempt to sanitize the terrible consequence of war; the death/maiming of innocent people who have the misfortune of living in "enemy" territory.
  5. by   Q.
    Yes, the killing of inncent civilians is inevitable in war, especially when you have a man such as OBL encouraging people to draw us into the towns and cities. But more to the point, those of you concerned about sparing the lives of the women and children - how can you also in good conscious let this continue?
  6. by   Mimi Wheeze
    AMEN, sister Susy!

    I am getting so tired of hearing people say that if we go to war, innocent women and children will be killed.

    HELLO! Yes, some civilians will be killed in war. It's inevitable. But what about what is happening to the innocent women and children right now and in the past? THEIR own leader (S.H.) uses entire villiages full of his own citizens to test chemicals. He sprays them on the villiage and checks to see how long it takes them to die. It is torturous, sadistic, and evil. Does that make you feel better than "collateral damage"?
  7. by   teeituptom
    Howdy ya'll
    from deep in the heart of Texas


    Got to admit my antiwar sentiments are stirred up considerably also. I worry immensley about the number of Americans who may be killed over there in the name of keeping citizens stirred up over terrorism.
    And if it wasnt for george bush sr when he was with the CIA and state department, Saddam would never have gotten into power. But Saddam was for exporting oil and they used him to line the pockets of petro companies. And Now we are to pay for it.
    And little george w is promoting all this to combat his decreasing popularity in the polls. He certainly has lost this Texans vote. Not that he ever had it to begin with.


    doo wah ditty
  8. by   Dplear
    Ok people ***** all the time that we put him in power and it's our fault.....well let us take him out of power. thats what we want to do.
  9. by   sjoe
    "The people killed in an attack on Iraq will not be so different from those in hospital whose lives we treat so seriously. Some will be old; many will be babies and children."

    As were the people at the World Trade Center, and the past and future victims of people like SH and OBL. So what else is new?

    Vague philisophical generalities and wishful thinking are no substitute for effective action, when needed. Glover does NOT successfully argue his point, IMHO.
    Last edit by sjoe on Feb 14, '03
  10. by   fergus51
    Originally posted by Susy K
    Yes, the killing of inncent civilians is inevitable in war, especially when you have a man such as OBL encouraging people to draw us into the towns and cities. But more to the point, those of you concerned about sparing the lives of the women and children - how can you also in good conscious let this continue?
    Susy, I am with you, it's horrific. But...what exactly are we doing to stop it? My guess is nothing.

    Even if you believe we should invade right now, can you not at least understand this pov?
    "The choice made this time may be one of the most important decisions about war ever made. This is partly because of the great risks of even a "successful" war. The defeat even of Saddam Hussein's cruel dictatorship may contribute to long-term enmity and conflict between the west and the Islamic world. In what is widely thought in the Islamic world to be both an unjustified war and an attack on Islam, an American victory may be seen as an Islamic humiliation to be avenged. This war may do for our century what 1914 did for the 20th century"
  11. by   l.rae
    the real question is....can we stand by and NOT protect our own children...............LR
  12. by   fergus51
    http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/ar...TICLE_ID=28049

    Damn Susy, now I am really wondering why we aren't amassing troops there? Solid ties proven to Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, still not helping with the war on terrorism and commiting genocide on the Christian South... But they are blocking a bill that would stop our companies from doing business there... I really do not understand foreign policy
  13. by   pickledpepperRN
    Originally posted by Susy K
    Yes, the killing of inncent civilians is inevitable in war, especially when you have a man such as OBL encouraging people to draw us into the towns and cities. But more to the point, those of you concerned about sparing the lives of the women and children - how can you also in good conscious let this continue?
    This is horrible!

    What should we do?
    Can we go into the Sudan?
    All the other countries?
    I read every link and am very sad!
    Is collateral damage OK?
    I wish I, a nurse, knew the answer.
  14. by   Tilleycs
    "I get sick of the idea that anyone against war is just a crazed America hater."

    I understand where you're coming from - there's a BIG difference between disagreeing but still being pro-America and being completely anti-America. Too many people want to label and not listen. I can relate to your statement, but from the other end - I get sick of the idea that anyone who realizes that war may be necessary in this situation is just a bloodthirsty warhawk.

    I don't think anyone wants war and the horrible aftermath and consequences, but I do think that some people realize that it is necessary sometimes. You can't negotiate or reason with someone who ignores negotiations and had no sense or reason or morality.

    I don't want children to die because of military agression by the U.S, but I also don't want any MORE men, women, and children to die at the hands of this madman. How does HE justify killing the children?

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