Pavlos (pavlos) wrote,

An ordinary day

So, today, like last week and many other days in the past few years, scores of innocent people were killed in order to influence the outcome of a fight over the world's resources.

The people who died, presumably, had little direct responsibility over the affairs that ultimately caused their deaths. Or maybe they did. Maybe a few of them happened to be officials or large stakeholders on one side or the other. Or maybe they had diffuse responsibility. They co-operated with a corrupt regime, and lived in lands enriched by usury as if it were normal. Maybe they had played their tiny part in wrong and suffered a disproportionate slice of revenge.

You know, all of this is immaterial. A moral argument over the victims is pointless in the face of events, and presumptuous. It's fairly clear that the victims of war, whether killed deliberately to create political pressure or accidentally in the course of achieving material targets, are not killed for anything resembling moral reasons. They are killed for practical reasons, to achieve certain goals.

Even more so, a moral argument about the attackers is totally out of place. Our great leaders have already started denouncing those who kill innocents by surprise in order to cause political pressure - terrorists in other words. I would like to ask why. What's uniquely wrong with that technique? Is killing innocents in an upstanding and direct way good? Or does killing them in order to secure strategic objectives make it OK? Isn't political change a strategic objective? Or how about taking care not to kill more innocent people than necessary to meet your goals, does that make everything better?

The ethics of war are relatively straightforward. Some people want something that others control and decide it's OK to cause death and suffering to get it. Another group decide it's OK to kill to defend it. Whatever moral argument one could made should be limited to those groups. Everyone else, including the armies on both sides, is innocent - or perhaps diffusely responsible if they have any choice in how much they co-operate or profit from the situation. An argument about rules of engagement is relatively academic.

What is important is not to win some kind of moral argument about who is a more honourable aggressor or a more worthy victim, but to decide whether we find this amount of death and suffering an acceptable price for whatever we're trying to achieve. If we do, we can't complain about who or why is killed. If we don't, it has to stop, and that's a political choice based on compassion, not the outcome of a moral contest.

Making our leaders responsible for war is a matter of policy and effectiveness, not moral right. It's like business: If you're the boss and profits plummet, you're out. It should be the same with death: If you're in power and you can't prevent mounting carnage, you should hand over to someone who can do it better, hopefully with a different policy. If you argue that you were somehow in the right despite what happened, no-one should care.
Tags: bombs, g8, london, politics

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