(On Violence wil be off for the holidays until Monday. Happy Thanksgiving!
To read the entire "War is War” series, please click here.)
As I continue down the path debunking anti-ROE critics and what I like to call "war-is-war"-iors, I need to make four points very clear:
1. Americans, and the West, must fight wars according to our moral, ethical and legal principles.
2. Terrorists--be they Christian, Muslim or other--twist ethics to justify their immoral behavior.
3. As a result, Americans and the West tend to fight wars more ethically, morally and justly than non-state groups acting out of zealotry.
4. And most importantly, this isn’t a bad thing.
It seems like most people agree with my first two points, and then grudgingly accept point number three (though I have heard anti-war activists argue against this, they are wrong). The issue is with point number four. The main complaint being that our morals put us at a tactical disadvantage in messy, unconventional wars (what I call political wars), like the two counter-insurgencies America waged in the last decade.
When your enemy hides without wearing a uniform, threatens the population with violence, and launches attacks against weak civilian targets, it can seem very hard to fight them ethically, whether it is asymmetrically against trans-national terrorists or irregularly against insurgents.
Who wants us to fight immorally? Well, our old punching bags Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson. They wrote in Lone Survivor, “There is no other way to beat a terrorist. You must fight like him.” Eric C wrote an entire guest post about this role reversal on Permissible Arms. Others just bemoan that our values could cost American lives. Politicians after 9/11 repeated this idea saying that the Constitution is not a “suicide pact”, meaning if it comes down to survival or the Constitution, goodbye Constitution. (This is a quote behaving badly, and the second edition is coming soon.) Like this, Dick Cheney advocated for the US Intelligence Community to work on the “sort of on the dark side” to defeat terrorism, the “dark side” clearly meaning illegal and unethical side.
Today’s post is a short one because the point is simple: in war, we should never sacrifice our morals; our morality is everything. That is why the Christian tradition and the American tradition are histories of martyrs, people dying for their causes, faith and freedom respectively. We should embrace the fact that America—on the whole—fights morally just wars in a morally sound way.
And largely, the US has conducted itself in a moral, ethical manner. If we had never conducted “enhanced interrogation” in Abu Ghraib, if we had never abducted people in the rendition program, and if we had actually tried the people held in Guantanamo, critics of the US would have almost nothing to complain about. Yes, civilian casualties are too high in Iraq and Afghanistan, and yes, the Iraq war was a tremendous mistake on a number of levels, including morally. But the point remains: America is a moral nation based on strong principles.
We should strive to keep it that way.