Lofty moralists blind to stark truth
March 27 2003
The philosophy of moral relativism, or situational ethics, which has infected the universities, media and institutions of the so-called intellectual classes, is now in danger of crippling the ability of Australians to make the choice between right and wrong in the most important conflict most of us have faced. Nowhere this week has this choice been more starkly highlighted than in the story of the US soldiers killed and taken prisoner by Iraqis near the southern city of Nasiriyah.
Courtesy of Al-Jazeera television, we have seen the bodies of up to eight of the soldiers. Even more gut-wrenching was the footage of five soldiers still alive, young, scared but admirably contained, being questioned in a cruel parody of TV news reporting.
There was the injured Army truck driver Edgar Hernandez, 21, trying to answer questions lying down, until he was "helped" to sit up. There was 23-year-old Private Patrick Miller, the father of a four-year-old boy and a seven-month-old girl, stuttering and blinking behind his glasses: "I come to fix broke stuff." There was an Army Specialist, Joseph Hudson, 23, the father of a five-year-old girl, who looked defiantly into the camera, and gave his name and number, 585650287.
We know, just as they know, that they face a terrible time; former POWs from the first Gulf War have reported torture, beatings, broken legs and dislocated shoulders, burning cigarettes pressed into open wounds, and worse.
By contrast, you have the photograph which appeared on the front pages of this newspaper on Saturday: of two US soldiers, one cradling the head of an exhausted Iraqi soldier and pouring water into his mouth, while the other soldier prudently holds a rifle to the Iraqi's head. I know which side I'd prefer to be taken prisoner by.
Yet lawyers and commentators have been trying to draw a parallel between the treatment of the US soldiers by Iraqis and the treatment of surrendering Iraqis by coalition troops. In both cases, the Geneva Convention has been broken, goes the thinking, because POWs should be protected "against insults and public curiosity".
The former Human Rights commissioner Chris Sidoti even urged Australian troops not to hand over any POWs to the US because, as he told ABC radio on Tuesday, the US and Iraq have been mistreating prisoners by parading them before the media.
On this page yesterday, Donald Rothwell, Sydney University associate professor of law, wrote: "Whether POWs are being subjected to questioning about why they have entered Iraq or are seen accepting refreshments from their captors, the story can be easily manipulated for propaganda value on either side." How very even-handed.
It is the same even-handedness that leads to the reporting on ABC radio yesterday of a popular uprising in Basra as unable to be confirmed, with a British officer paraphrased saying it was in its "infancy". But in the same report, Iraq's "information" minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf is given a full soundbite to "flatly deny" any such uprising, news of which was "lies and falsehoods being spread by the British administration".
This is the same even-handedness that has anti-war protesters claiming the "cowboy in the White House" is just as dangerous as Saddam Hussein. It is moral relativism dressed up as even-handedness.
But how can there be any moral equivalence between two regimes - ours and Iraq's? One doesn't care about the welfare of its people, amasses billions while they starve, kills them, and welcomes their deaths in Basra and Baghdad so it can pose as the victim in the court of world opinion. In Basra, agents of the regime are using their people as human shields, forcing them at gunpoint to stay in the city.
How do you compare such a regime with ours, in which our soldiers are sacrificed in order to avoid Iraqi deaths, in which every Iraqi civilian casualty is regretted and weighs heavily against the governments of the coalition? We belong to a side which has lawyers instructing recruits in the Australian Army about when it is OK to use force on the battlefield. We belong to a side that has as its military commanders men like British Lieutenant-Colonel Tim Collings, who told his troops last week: "If you harm the regiment or its history by over-enthusiasm in killing or in cowardice, know it is your family who will suffer. You will be shunned unless your conduct is of the highest, for your deeds will follow you down through history. We will bring shame on neither our uniform or our nation."
Only those afflicted by the disease of moral relativism, which blinds them to right and wrong, cannot see which regime is worth fighting for.
Not all anti-war protesters are moral relativists, but the belief system underpins the movement, as a lawyer and former US Marine, Adam Mersereau, wrote in an article for National Review Online last week. "Many people who are anti-war are anti-war not merely because war is violent and inhumane, but because war is the ultimate statement of moral certainty - it is the ultimate in 'judgmentalness'. For the enlightened person, war is never the answer because he can never identify with certainty an evil that must be confronted, or a cause that is unquestionably just."
Australians who are against Gulf War II deserve respect. But anti-war protesters who took to the streets yesterday should acknowledge they don't represent the majority, that most Australians were never against this war per se, but pragmatically opposed war without UN sanction. The protesters should also consider the fact that anti-war sentiment in the West strengthened the spoiling tactics in the UN of France and Russia, whose motives may have been anything but noble, and thus made war inevitable. This in turn has given succour to Saddam's regime, which is at least as sophisticated and cunning about modern media manipulation as any US general standing on a Hollywood-designed set.
If they really want to help the people of Iraq, protesters should keep their powder dry until after the war is won, and then make sure the coalition of the willing spends the time and money to rebuild Iraq for the benefit of Iraqis. That would indeed be the triumph of good over evil.
This story was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/...653747359.html