Morality and War
By Thomas M. Miovas, Jr.
I’ve come across an interesting moral dilemma presented by individualists who love Ayn Rand’s rational egoism and think that the individual ought to be free to pursue his life using reason and reality to benefit themselves ardently. The moral dilemma is usually put in the form of an application of individualism and self-defense. How can such an individualist be in favor of having a war, when the individual enemies cannot be sought out to be killed in the name of retaliatory justice, and one winds up having to kill a vast number of people on the other side not directly involved in killing members of an individualist and moral country? In other words, in their version of applying rational justice, it would be moral to kill enemy soldiers attacking a peaceful country in the name of self-defense – like shoot down their air force or their tanks or their armies – but leave the rest of their country alone, since the rest of their country is not attacking us. And this sounds quite reasonable on the face of it. If a murderer comes and kills your loved one; you don’t go kill their loved ones or their grocer or their teachers or their neighbors. No, you hunt him down and deliver justice, by either killing him or by throwing him in jail. And that is the way these anti-war individualists think about fighting a war. So, why not fight a war that way? Why not just live and let live for the rest of their country, and kill only their soldiers?
I think the issue here is one of context – the facts governing how one is to think about a particular moral issue. In the case of a lone gunman who kills your loved one, there is no implication that he is attacking a whole neighborhood, let alone a whole country; no, he kills that one person (or maybe several in the immediate vicinity) and doesn’t declare war on the neighborhood or the whole country. So, it is rational to treat that lone individual as a lone individual, and not take it further, unless it can be shown that he had accomplices helping him to carry out his evil act. For example, if a bank robber uses a car as a getaway, and killed the teller in the process of robbing the bank, not only is the robber guilty of murder, but the getaway driver is also held as an accomplice to murder – even if he didn’t go into the bank. In a similar manner, one could defend oneself against a cadre of bank robbers and their support system, say if a group of them got together to plan a heist and lived together and encouraged each other to go rob banks; teaching each other how to use a Tommy gun and how to avoid the police and how to control bank customers at the point of a gun, etc. In other words, everyone involved in the bank heist cadre would be guilty of being accomplices. Nonetheless, it is still only individuals attacking individuals, and has to be handled by the police rather than the armed forces.
In the case of a foreign armed forces attacking a peaceful nation, the implication is entirely different – instead of just attacking those particular people who they bomb, their intent is to destroy the entire peaceful country. Hitler sought to overthrow Poland, for example, and burst through their border to do so; killing many Polish people along the way. But his intent was to get all of Poland to surrender to Germany. He attacked a country, and not just a few individuals. In that sense, he was not like a gang leader who attacks a neighborhood, his plans were much more grandiose – he wanted all of Poland.
And so all of Poland – qua country – had the moral right to fight back in self-defense. And let’s say Poland did this, they fought back and destroyed that particular army. Would it be over? Would justice have been served? For the immediate moment, perhaps. But, Germany is still there, and Hitler still wants Poland, and so he puts together another army, and they attack Poland again. And let’s say this goes back and forth a few times. How long is Poland supposed to put up with these continuous attacks? The source is coming from Germany, who is out to destroy Poland, and their factory workers continue to make tanks and fighter planes and war ships and guns and ammunition, etc. There is a whole support system there. And there is encouragement from the German people to take over Poland. They cheer on their armed forces; they agree with Hitler that Poland ought to be taken over with force. So, who is Poland supposed to kill in their pursuit of self-defense? In a manner similar to the cadre of bank robbers, there are many accomplices involved. Is Poland supposed to go into Germany and arrest all the military factory workers, the munitions plant workers, the people cheering them on, or what? And how are they to do this anyhow? I think Germany would have something to say about that, and seek to prevent it. So, more Polish people get killed. And they weren’t doing anything except minding their own business and trying to institute justice.
So, when you come right down to it, such attacks on peaceful countries can only be repelled by all out war against the aggressor nation. And by implication of the people of that aggressor nation supporting their troops in various ways, as mentioned above, they are all a fair target. Justice will only be served in the Germany / Poland case if Germany is made to stand down their attacks on Poland. And the only way to do this is to take away the German people’s moral fortitude to attack Poland, to let them know in no uncertain terms, that what they are doing is morally wrong and that it will not be tolerated. And maybe it is unfortunate that many of them will have to be killed for them to realize they have done something wrong, but they supported Hitler’s reign, and they will have to pay a heavy price for it.
Similarly for our current War on Terror. Americans, by and large, have been minding their own business around the world, and being attacked time and time again by Muslim Fundamentalists. The height of these attack were the mass terror attacks of September 11, 2001; where over 3,000 Americans were killed for doing nothing but taking care of business in a peaceful manner. And like the Poland example, it was an attack on America qua country, rather than qua individuals, and there is a whole support system there to train the enemy and to encourage them to make such attacks. In fact, one could almost make a case that the entire Middle East stood behind the attacks, with the exception of Israel, as they cheered in their streets as those towers fell. How long was America to put up with it? And since these particular Islamicist soldiers died in the attacks, is justice served by the fact that the terrorists are dead? In a way, like the Poland example, perhaps. But there will be more of them, and there already have been many of them, and there is a whole ideology behind them, and entire countries are giving them moral and material support. Are these people innocent bystanders? I think not. Not by a long shot. And they need to be taught that we will not put up with these continuous attacks against Americans; and they will have to be taught by force, along with whoever are their accomplices.
One final note about the truly innocent who had absolutely nothing to do with the whole mess, such as the children and the babies. If the terrorists and their accomplices grouped together, leaving the children out of it, then we could kill them and only them. But that is not the way war operates. Like I’ve said, in a sense, their whole country attacked us or encouraged others to do so and idolized their suicide bombers and their following of Islam and the killing of the infidel. We don’t have a method of aiming only at the bad guys and their accomplices – we have to bomb buildings and villages and cities to get them to stand down. And it is not our fault that they carry their women and children with them. It is the terrorists who put such people in harm’s way, not us. Now are we to stand down until no one can possibly get hurt except for the terrorists and their immediate accomplices? How many Americas are supposed to die before that type of event will happen? Realistically, it can’t be done. When it is kill or be killed – for an entire nation, one way or the other -- it’s all of them as targets or all of us as targets. And personally, I don’t like being a target just because I live in a semi-free country that the enemy literally hates with religious passion. They can lay down their arms – and the truly innocent can encourage the terrorists to lay down their arms – or they are dead. It’s as simple as that. It’s either the USA survives as a nation, or some hell-hole in the Middle East survives as a nation. And I know what side I’m on. So, I fully support our troops in their efforts to defend America by fighting abroad. If you want to save the babies over there, then be against the terrorists, not the American Soldier who is killing the terrorists and their support system. Besides, I really think such baby defenders ought to be more concerned with American babies than Islamicist babies.
I think primarily due to the way the current war against Islamic Terrorists is being fought in a non-idealistic manner on our side, there seems to be confusion among some Objectivists being against Dr. Peikoff's stance in "End States Who Sponsor Terrorism" due to the fact that he wants the whole enemy nation eradicated and not just to go after the Islamic Terrorists. But it must be understood that, by accepting the most virulent form of undiluted Islam, those people in those countries *do* morally support the efforts of the radical Muslims to kill the infidel and to establish a world wide Caliphate forcing Sharia Law onto everyone. It's a moral ideal to them, and so the terrorists can set up shop without much interference (see Pakistan, for example). So, no, we don't want to go around killing everyone who is a Muslim, but insofar as Islam is formed politically into a Theocracy (or close to it), they are our enemy and need to be destroyed.
Also, see Leonard Peikoff's book, "The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America" for a detailed analysis of how Germany became ripe for dictatorship by accepting some key ideas; and think it through for a basis of how Islam does the same thing in the Middle East, making their Islamic Theocracies possible.
Added 07/04/2012, Independence Day:
I don't mean to give the impression that we ought to wantonly kill everyone in a foreign country who has attacked us. The purpose of having an all out war against such nations who seek to overthrow our liberties is to overthrow or to eradicate those systems who support our enemies. This means to eradicate their government and their culture of hatred against freedom loving people, such as the United States. While it is true that in some theocracies (Iran) there are many students seeking to overthrow their government to form a more freedom based government, these supporters of freedom would have two options in an all-out war against the United States (done properly): (1) help us to overthrow the Theocracy or (2) get out of the way while we do what we must to overthrow the Theocracy (or risk getting killed in the process of self-defense on the part of America).
On this note, I should also say that I do not think the "War against Terrorism" is going well for us. There has been a complete disregard for causality on our side by not recognizing the fact that it is the Islamic Theocracies and the cult of Islamicism that is generating the terrorists and that the only way to defeat them permanently would be to overthrow the Theocracies and to kill those wishing to institute Islamic Jihad against us culturally. The USA has failed miserably in this regard and is even encouraging new Islamic Theocracies in the Middle East (Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan). If during WWII, the Allies had fought for ten years and yet not only Germany became Nazi but several other countries, then I don't think they would have said they were winning the war.