I wish to let it be known that, in this current conflict, if one had to make a choice between Israel and its enemies, a person of good moral conscience would have to side with Israel. Those who would daily fire rockets at civilians are not civilized. I do not address a letter to them because I think that their religion and their culture has carried them beyond reason and no letter could do any good. Nor do I think that any appeal to reason would be effective against the supporters of Hamas and Hezbollah, because “supporters of Hamas and Hezbollah” and “appeal to reason” are such mutually exclusive concepts.
However, it is my hope that those who may support Israel have not abandoned all reason, and a letter such as this may have some affect on them.
Because even if the choice can be easily made between Israel on one side and Hamas and Hezbollah on the other, would it not be nice to be able to side with good over evil, than to side with the lesser of two evils?
So far, I am hearing that there have been over 100 people killed in Lebanon The death total is only a small fraction of the total harm. We must count the wounded and the orphaned, those who have lost their livelihood, the disruption to education, damage to an infrastructure that must be replaced by money raised in an economy that has been blown to bits along with the bridges and airports, and the psychological harms done.
Some analysts say that the motivation behind Israel’s attacks is to put pressure on the government of Lebanon to take action against Hezbollah. If this is accurate, then there is a problem here. “We are going to hold the well-being of your people hostage until the government of Lebanon gives in to our demands.” This appears to be the moral message that Israel is giving to the world, that this type of stand is somehow morally legitimate. Yet, if it is morally legitimate, then on what basis to they criticize an enemy who captures two Israeli soldiers hostage and says to the Israeli government, “We will hold the well-being of these people hostage until the government of Israel gives in to our demands.”
It does appear at times that the whole of the Middle East subscribes to the same moral code – a code that is the foundation for the death, mutilation, destruction, and suffering that dominates the region. These evils will continue until the people of the region prescribe a new moral code. I would suggest one that begins with the principle, “Punish the guilty; leave the innocent alone.” Or, in other words, “Protect the innocent from those who would do them harm.”
On this standard, the deaths, injuries, and economic and psychological harm inflicted on many of the people in Lebanon are moral failures. Many of those being made to suffer are innocent. Under the principle, “Protect the innocent from those who would do them harm,” every bit of harm suffered by the innocent is a moral failing. It can never be defended as truly good. It can only be defended as a lesser evil.
In supporting Israel, would it not be better to be able to defend a force of good, rather than a lesser evil?
“Israel has the right to defend itself.”
This is true.
However, the moral principle of self-defense is not to be taken so narrowly. My right to defend myself from those who will do me harm extends to my right to defend my wife and my children as well. If I should see some thug assailing a complete stranger, the “right to self-defense” applies to defending that neighbor from that thug. It is not actually a right to self defense – this is simply a slogan. It is a right (and perhaps a duty) specifically to defend the innocent from those who do harm to the innocent. Doing harm to the innocent is not an exercise of this “right to self-defense”, it is a violation of this right.
If we agree that many innocent people in Lebanon are suffering harm – and only a fool who falls victim to the most tortured logic and overgeneralization could doubt this. If we assert that there is a moral right to self-defense. Then we must assert that the innocent in Lebanon also have the right to self-defense. They may not have the power. However, unless we embrace the proposition “might makes right” the lack of power to defend oneself does not imply the lack of a right to do so. If they have a right to defend themselves, then who, may I ask, do they have the moral permission to exercise that right against?
These are the tortured and twisted conclusions when we define the “right to self-defense” as Israel is seeking to define it. We have a state of perpetual war with competing sides both claiming the the right to kill the other in the name of defending their own.
We get something entirely different if we define the right of self-defense as “the right to protect the innocent from those who would do them harm.”
Not, “the innocent Israelis from those who would do them harm.” Not, “the innocent Americans from those who would do them harm.” But, “The innocent.” Period. Full stop. From those who would do them harm.
Those who would protect the innocent from those who would do them harm – they are the good guys. Those who harm the innocent – they are the bad guys.
President Bush has asked Israel to try to minimize civilian casualties.
This is not the type of thing to be asked. This is the type of thing to be demanded. However, the Bush Administration has bought into the same twisted and tortured version of the “right to self-defense” that is perpetuating the violence and conflict in and around Israel. Only, Bush is using it to perpetuate the violence and conflict in and around Iraq.
We must remember that Bush himself has adopted this twisted version of the “right to self defense” that sees nothing wrong with blowing up a house where families are gathered for a holiday dinner if there is evidence that a suspected terrorist might, perhaps, be on the guest list.
In Iraq, we are the ones showing such disregard for innocent life that we perform actions that – if they were done to Americans by others – would generate such hostility and anger that the perpetrators would know no security. Yet, the Bush Administration continues to wonder why the Iraqis respond to our actions in ways that make it so difficult for his administration to establish any type of security.
Morality dictates universal principles. If we act on principles that cannot be made universal, then the actions we perform are evil and we should be ashamed. On this ground, Israel should be as willing to bomb Beruit on the same principles it would use to bomb Tel Aviv. And America should use the same principles to decide the merits of putting a bomb on a building in Baghdad as it would use to put a bomb on a building in Boston.
Or they should be ashamed.
“But, Alonzo, you idiot! We are in a state of war! Only a moron would advocate such niceties in a state of war!”
Perhaps we should not be in a state of war. Perhaps being in a state of war is doing us more harm than good.
Yes, it is true that the use of civil courts and civil procedures to find and punish the guilty give the guilty certain advantages. There can be no doubt that the Bill of Rights in America has sometimes been used to the advantage of those who had no good intentions. And there are some who say that we need to do away with these civil liberties – that they are nothing but curtains behind which evil people may hide.
However, it has another effect. It gives the innocent a clear indication of where their interests lie.
Assume that you are an innocent person, and you wish to remain an innocent person, and you wish to entice your neighbors to be innocent persons – innocent in the sense that they, like you, follow the principle of “defend the innocent from those who would do them harm.”
In this country, we live in peace. We live in peace because we have civil liberties. The guilty can certainly hide behind these civil liberties. However, the innocent know on which side their bread is buttered. The innocent are wise enough that in this conflict we have a choice between siding those who do harm to the innocent, and those who respect the principle, “defend the innocent from those who would do them harm.”
These “civil liberties” that some treat with such contempt are a set of rules that say, “make sure that the people you harm are guilty, and that you do not end up doing harm to the innocent.” In such a system – in a system that respects “civil liberties” – such a huge portion of the population see the wisdom in being innocent that the nation can be at peace.
A society that does not care for civil liberties says, “We do not care whether you are guilty or innocent. We will make no effort to sort one from the other. We will not seek warrants based on probable cause. We will not hold trials. We will simply take who we please and do with them as we please and hope that some of them are actually guilty.”
Where there are no civil liberties, people have no particularly compelling reason to be innocent. In a region where the innocent are blown up along side the guilty, rounded up with the guilty, imprisoned with the guilty, and tortured with the guilty (only more so, because the innocent have nothing to bargain with), why not be guilty?
“But, Alonzo, there is still a clear moral difference between us and them. They target the innocent for death. We only target the guilty.”
A sniper takes a position on the roof of an apartment building. He takes deliberate aim at an innocent person and shoots. That is evil. In retaliation, “we”, who call ourselves the good guys, drop a bomb on the building, “targeting the sniper”, but killing 100 people living in the building and wounding another 200.
Could somebody please explain to me, in this case, the great moral merit to be found in “targeting the innocent” and “targeting the guilty, but harming the innocent to such great affect?”
Do you want peace? Try this. Adopt the principle that one is to protect the innocent – all innocent – from those who will do them harm. Adopt a system of civil liberties (warrants and trials) that say that you will take pains to separate the innocent from the guilty. Give the innocent people of the world a reason to take sides. There will still be criminals. Those criminals will sometimes do harm. However, innocent people will, for once, be given a clear choice.