Sunday, 22 June 2008

Dying for your country?

“The modern nation-state, in whatever guise, is a dangerous and unmanageable institution, presenting itself on the one hand as a bureaucratic supplier of goods and services, which is always about to, but never actually does, give its clients value for money, and on the other as a repository of sacred values, which from time to time invites one to lay down one’s life on its behalf. As I have remarked elsewhere, it is like being asked to die for the telephone company.”

—Alasdair MacIntyre, “A Partial Response to My Critics,” in After MacIntyre (University of Notre Dame Press, 1994), p. 303.

22 Comments:

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

For Christians, "dying for one's country" is, indeed, problematic--though my reasons for saying so are far more anabaptist than MacIntyre's. However, FAR more problematic is the ideology of being willing to KILL for one's country.

People who die for their country in nonviolent revolution or nonviolent defense against invasion or nonviolent defense of a nation-state's stated values (e.g., democracy, human rights, the rule of law, etc.) against erosions and usurpations of the same are all morally admirable. Depending on the context, there may even be good, gospel-based, reasons for Christians to be willing to die in these kind of contexts--in some senses to die for their country.

However, there is zero justification for Christians to be willing to kill other human beings (persons made in God's image; persons for whom Christ died) "in defense of their country" or anything else. To kill is to betray the gospel.

kim fabricius said...

Quaint old weapon, Ben. Now a cell phone would constitute a WMD.

Anonymous said...

isn't it a mistake to equate nation-state with country?

Shane said...

"However, there is zero justification for Christians to be willing to kill other human beings (persons made in God's image; persons for whom Christ died) "in defense of their country" or anything else. To kill is to betray the gospel."

It seems to me there are two possible interpretations for your view:

Nobody anywhere could ever conceivably have any good reason to kill anybody.

OR

Some person somewhere might conceivably have a good reason to kill somebody, but, being a Christian he must not do so?

The first view is simply ridiculous. I can think of tons of good reasons to kill somebody. Violent rapist kidnaps a child and is fleeing, the policeman can't catch him and knows that if he escapes with the child, they'll be fishing the poor girl's body out of a lake in six months. In fact, with not much work, I think we could alter this case so that killing the perpetrator was not just permissable, but more or less obligatory.

But the second view is just as wrong as the first, but the problem is more subtle. Because if there are conceivably good reasons that might give somebody an obligation to kill somebody else, why should the first man's being a Christian stop him from doing his duty?

Imagine the policeman thinking to himself--"I guess I could shoot the kidnapper, but if I do, I might kill him, and my religion forbids killing, so alas! I guess I'll just have to let him get away and hope there's a nice non-violent way to catch him next time."

That would be a ludicrous state of affairs--if it is good for the policeman to use violence in a certain instance, then why wouldn't it be good for a policeman who also happened to be a Christian to do the same violence in the same scenario? By throwing the word "Christian" in the original quote, you make it sound like you're setting up this contrast. It's good to have the police there to do some state-sanctioned violence when it needs done, but you wouldn't ever want to get your own hands dirty, because you're a Christian. That way of thinking founders on moral inconsistency.

So there's your options: either you're advocating this inconsistent dichotomy that violence can be good for heathens, but is bad for Christians or you are making the ludicrously strong claim that no violence ever anywhere can be good.

steve martin said...

Thanks be to God that millions of Christians disagreed with the ludicrous statement of Michael Westmoreland-White during the war against fascism in the 1940s.

If even a nominal percentage of Christians would have followed that un-biblical nonsense during WWII we would all be in labor camps or would have been exterminated by now.

Thou shalt not kill means thou shalt not MURDER.

Alex said...

MWWs point doesn't seem entirely outlandish, as Shane & Steve are proposing it to be. I think it's perfectly reasonable to leave the decision about when to end a human life in the hands of God, and not of man, elect though they may be. Whether rapist or Hitler, God controlls the ends, and expects us to be peacemakers with the means.

Alex said...

Also, anonymous, I think that's a very, very important distinction. There were some great posts at I think either Will Wilkinson's or Daniel Larison's blog on this a while back.

steve martin said...

Alex,

So if a killer entered your home and was gouing to do you and your family in, you'd say 'well...it's all in the hands of God?'

Right. Give me a break.

If you saw someone shooting and killing school children while they played on a school yard and you couls stop him by killing him...you would not?
That doesn't sound like the Christian thing to do to me...to let children die.

This brand of pietism is very dangerous. It is how evil florishes.

kim fabricius said...

Hi Steve,

I thought that Christians believe that there are worse things than death, even the death of children. And why single out children? Is there some sort of sliding scale, perhaps one child to two women and two women to four men, and the older the more dispensable? How about another sliding scale: if you can kill one person to save others, is it okay to torture a person to save others too? Can torture ever be a Christian thing to do? Personally, I am open to the use of force to protect others when there is no intention to kill (there is a quaint olde country called Britain where few police carry, and almost no civilians own, guns), but could we get back to Ben's post, which is about peace and war, not domestic violence?

Shane thinks that pacifism is, finally, "ludicrous", which my OED defines as "so foolish or unreasonable as to be amusing". That seems about right; indeed, it's a pretty good description of the gospel itself. But to suggest, as you do, that pacifism is "very dangerous", that "It is how evil florishes", well, such rhetoric is positively Orwellian.

No doubt you will tell me to "get real". But for me, it is the crucified and risen Lord who defines what is "real". And to do ethics with Jesus, as Chris Huebner puts it, "is to have our 'oughts' rethought."

By the way, pace your example of the Second World War, I am not unsympathetic to just war criteria. Indeed, given that the way of pacifism is taken by so few, I am keen to have them strictly observed, rather than, as is inevitably the case, more honoured in the breach than the observance (jus in bello, even in the WW II). And for those whose participation in putative just wars is conscientious, I have respect, not contempt. I pray that you may be able to pay that same respect to conscientious objectors.

Ken said...

However, FAR more problematic is the ideology of being willing to KILL for one's country.

Easy to say when it's an abstraction. Is it FAR more problematic to be willing to KILL for one's neighbour's life or freedom? How about one's own family? How about any human life that is threatened?

I pray that you may be able to pay that same respect to conscientious objectors.

Why? You haven't sacrificed anything like the other. What makes the conscientious objector deserving of the same respect given to those who willingly defend me all the while meeting head on the moral ambiguity of having to kill someone to do it? Sorry. Not going to happen.

kim fabricius said...

PETER: Eh ... Jesus ...

JESUS: Yes, Peter ...?

PETER: He's amazing, isn't he?

JESUS: Who's amazing, Peter?

PETER: Simon.

JESUS: Self-praise, is it, Peter?

PETER: No, not me, Jesus! The other Simon, the Zealot.

JESUS: What's so amazing about him, Peter?

PETER: He's a patriot. He's willing to defend his country despite all the moral ambiguity of having to kill someone to do it.

JESUS: Yeah, that is pretty amazing.

PETER: And some say James and John are Zealots too.

JESUS: Yeah - the "sons of thunder".

PETER: Judas too. He may be a skinflint, but he carries a dagger. I reckon he'd die to protect you.

JESUS: Good old Judas.

PETER: So we're in safe hands.

JESUS: It looks like we are.

PETER: And if push comes to shove, you too will make the ultimate sacrifice.

JESUS: You could say that.

PETER: I can just see you leading the charge. The bloody Romans won't know what hit them!

JESUS: Eh ... Peter ...

PETER: Yes, Jesus ...?

JESUS: Sorry. Not going to happen.

Shane said...

"Christians believe that there are worse things than death, even the death of children. "

Yeah, here's an example of something worse than death--kidnapping, torturing, raping, then murdering a hitchhiker. In fact, it's so much worse than death that I would recommend under certain circumstances that officers of the law use deadly force to prevent these actions from occurring.

If there are things worse than death, then why ought we only use this to justify allowing children to be murdered and not use it to justify the use of deadly force.

Do you seriously take the fact that your position is ludicrous as evidence that it is correct?

As they say in the Big Apple, "Get the fuck outta here."

kim fabricius said...

As a New Yorker, I'm delighted you're learning the lingo, Shane. So you now undoubtedly know that no one can say, "What an asshole!" quite like a New Yorker. Not that I would ever say it to a good e-friend like you. And, as a pacifist, even were I to moon you, I would turn the other cheek.

dpotter said...

If only the problem were as black-and-white as killing, but I think Jesus talked a bit about the hatred in one's heart and mean-spirited name-calling (Raca!) as if they were murder as well. Of course, by examining the loving posts here, no one would be guilty. :-) Now to add to the discussion: isn't protecting the afflicted part of loving one's neighbor? On the other hand, all that stuff in Isaiah could have been wrong though...

steve martin said...

Kim,

I've been putting in ridiculous hours at work, so forgive my tardy reply. I wish my boss were a pacifist...he's trying to kill me!

I'll leave it at this:
The more successful you are with promoting pacifism, the greater the chance that there will not be anyone to protect you from the evil ones that will never adopt a peacful way of life.

Jesus gave his life in a battle against evil and I think we ought take up our crosses and follow Him.

No greater love is there than one who will give up his life for a another.

Thanks Kim!

kim fabricius said...

Hey, Steve, maybe your boss is a pacifist. Nobody wants to kill another person more than a pacifist.

Cheers, mate!

steve martin said...

Kim,

He might be. I've noticed many of his good intentions gone awry.

Back at ya , mate!

S. Coulter said...

my two cents:

#1.

> It seems to me there are two possible interpretations for your view:
> Nobody anywhere could ever conceivably have any good reason to kill anybody.
> OR
> Some person somewhere might conceivably have a good reason to kill somebody, but, being a Christian he must not do so?


Shane: I am uncomfortable with "two-realms" systems of ethics which call Christians (or, say, ordained vocational priests, monks, or nuns) to a different standard of behavior than other people. But I would revise your first option here to say:

No human being in this world (at least since c. 30 C.E.) has an overriding moral responsibility to kill another human being.

I can countenance having a "good reason" to kill someone, and this reason for action might even constitute a prima facie duty. But I think other considerations would produce reasons for action that would ultimately override the reason to kill the person. So the overriding moral responsibility would always be to find another option than killing. (Just War Theory too, note, requires violence be used as a means of last resort).

I replaced the "Nobody anywhere could ever conceivably" part because I don't want to rule out the conceptually possible worlds in which things might be otherwise, morally. And for now I'll leave open the question whether or not things were otherwise morally in this world prior to the Incarnation.

Anyway, I think this version is more plausible and defensible than either stance you present.

#2.

> I can think of tons of good reasons to kill somebody. Violent rapist kidnaps a child and is fleeing, the policeman can't catch him and > knows that if he escapes with the child, they'll be fishing the poor girl's body out of a lake in six months. In fact, with not much work, > I think we could alter this case so that killing the perpetrator was not just permissable, but more or less obligatory.

I am learning to be suspicious of these sorts of imagined scenarios as counterexamples to a nonviolent ethic. They tend to be rigged so that any imagined nonviolent response to the scenario is actually not an option, or else so that the (again, imaginatively stipulated) consequences of taking that nonviolent response are thoroughly abhorrent.

I am personally uncomfortable with having policemen who carry guns. But if this were a real world scenario and he was carrying a gun, why should he have to kill the person in order to stop him from carrying off the girl? Shoot for the leg and then call an ambulance for him after you rescue the girl. An absolute pacifist might not be comfortable with this solution either, but it's certain less violent than shooting the guy in the back of the head.


Here's a third cent re: Steve Martin:
#3.
Nonviolent efforts were another option against various evils whose perpetration are typically used to justify fighting WWII. And I'm not talking about fruitless attempts to pacify Hitler by the "appeasment" strategy of pacific Western European powers. I think Gandhi suggested more realistic options. Some nonviolent resistence was attempted, and was successful against the Nazis, for example when the King of Denmark and other Gentile citizens following his example wore the Star of David. The Nazis ended up leaving the Danes at that point. They had better success in Poland, where they didn't meet with such efforts.

Shane said...

"[Hypothetical scenarios of the sort I offered] tend to be rigged so that any imagined nonviolent response to the scenario is actually not an option, or else so that the (again, imaginatively stipulated) consequences of taking that nonviolent response are thoroughly abhorrent."

Well, that is sort of the point of giving an example. My point is that we can imagine a situation in which use of lethal force is the only way to prevent some very abhorrent consequence. I'm all for violence as a last resort and for lethal force to be the very last possible thing to resort to. But it doesn't really take much imagination to think of a situation in which deadly force really is the last resort and really is necessary.

"But I think other considerations would produce reasons for action that would ultimately override the reason to kill the person."

I can't imagine what those other considerations would be. Take the case I proffered above and make explicit the stipulation that unless deadly force is used at a certain critical moment, the kidnapper will get away. What other considerations will bear on the situation such that the policeman will ultimately have an overriding reason not to kill the kidnapper?

Certainly we can imagine that in some cases there might be overriding reasons not to kill. Suppose we could kill a terrorist, but know that if we do so he'll become a martyr and spawn more terrorists. Something like that might be a "consideration". But clearly those aren't going to be very odd kinds of cases.

So, in short, I don't think I've given you an unfairly stacked deck with my example: I think any putative moral theory ought to be able to deal with these kinds of cases.

Now regarding your pacifist fairytales about WWII:

Germany invaded Denmark in 1940, after already having taken Poland and the Sudentenland. Denmark and Norway were officially neutral and the Nazis invaded to prevent the allies from capturing the German iron supplies. The Danes were defeated within hours.

Germany occupied Denmark for the remainder of the war. The idea that a couple of danes put on stars of david and scared the nazis away off to attack other violent countries (like Poland?!) is ludicrous as history.

The Germans were relatively nice to the Danes because there wasn't anything in Denmark that the Germans really wanted, not because the Danes were such effective pacifists. Nonviolent resistance only works when your oppressor has a conscience. The British had one, and Gandhi knew how to appeal to it. If Gandhi had been Czech, the gestapo would have just shot him, his family and anybody who knew him. It's kind of a different equation and would have had different results.

S. Coulter said...

Re: Shane -
Thanks for responding.

I'm not a historian. I admit that I don't know a lot about the episode in Denmark that I cited; coming from me it's hearsay a couple of times removed. I need to do further work to educate myself in this area.
In the meantime, I'll refer you and anyone else who is interested here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonviolent_resistance#In_Denmark_during_World_War_II


But I think I can do better in responding re: your hypothetical scenario.

My point is that I think your example is somewhat artifical and unrealistic, at least to the extent that it is designed to leave only a violent and lethal course of action open to the protagonist. Under exactly what sort of circumstances, I wonder, would the police officer be in a position to kill the escaping suspect but not have the option to attempt non-lethal action? I may just be displaying my lack of police experience and my ignorance with regard to weapons-handling. But if I'm the person you're trying to convince that such a situation is easily conceived then I'm sorry but you haven't succeeded in convincing me.

My contention is that one ought to exercise one's imagination in the midst of such scenarios to find non-lethal options, and that it is difficult to say with confidence when not in a real situation that no non-lethal options are available.

-

I venture to suggest some possible overriding reasons or motivations not to kill someone:
- love for them and a desire for their good (e.g., their salvation/liberation/reconciliation to God)
- a desire not to corrupt one's moral character by committing an act of lethal violence
- obedience to a divine command categorically prohibiting acts of lethal violence against other human beings

You will probably suggest that, even granting one of these as a legitimate reason not to kill, there is at least one real scenario in which a reason to kill overrides any reasons not to kill. But I would ask, by what means and on what grounds do you judge the one set of reasons to override the other? I don't want to give way to moral scepticism here, but given a concrete situation we'd have to have a serious morally engaged discussion in order for each of us to explicate how he discerns the relative weight of the various practical and moral reasons here.

I liked Kim's earlier question about torture; it shows (I think) that there is conceptual room for types of behavior that simply cannot be justified, morally, regardless of the possible consequences.

JWT properly understood would condemn torture, or the H-Bomb, even if it might bring a swifter end to the war with fewer casualties. Some actions are recognized as simply unjust in war: like threatening to murder a few townfuls of noncombatants if the enemy doesn't stop doing whatever evil thing he's doing that justifies going to war against him. (This is also why JWT rules out the MAD policy).

My ethic of nonviolence as I understand it simply makes the requirements for just behavior in a war context more strict. I can't start killing the enemy just because he's otherwise going to go on killing my neighbors, anymore than I can start killing the enemy's civilian neighbors in order to get him to stop killing mine.

Shane said...

"one ought to exercise one's imagination in the midst of such scenarios to find non-lethal options, and that it is difficult to say with confidence when not in a real situation that no non-lethal options are available."

With the first part of this I'm in no disagreement, of course.

With the second part, however, I do diasgree. I think it is harder, not easier, to find non-lethal alternatives in the actual case. When you're actually there, chasing a suspect or something, I suppose it would be much more difficult to brainstorm than when you are sitting at the computer desk imagining the scenario in your mind. This is why we train military and police--presumably part of that training is learning how to use appropriate levels of force and to train them not to overreact. (Although obviously and regrettably those overreactions do occur.)

I don't know if I know enough about the actual practice of law enforcement to fill out the details of the scenario in such a way to adequately persuade you. Here's an attempt. Our kidnapper is running towards his getaway car with child slung over his shoulder. If he reaches the car, he'll get away and probably not be caught immediately. The officer pursuing him is a hundred yards away, and separated by a chain-link fence, and so won't be able to grab the suspect physically. But, he can squeeze off a shot or two at the kidnapper as he flees. Now, he could try for a kneecap shot, but that's really risky--legs are thin, the perp is kind of far away, and he needs to stop the guy, not just slow him down. The higher-percentage shot is to shoot for the torso, but that shot is potentially lethal, even at a distance. Either way it's risky. And, there's the child too, if the cop misses, he could hit her.

So what's he going to do? Well, probably it'll depend how confident he is that he can make the shot, and how likely it is he thinks the guy will get caught later, but before the child dies. But it is easy to imagine the situation being such that the right thing for him to decide is to take the high-percentage potentially lethal shot.

Now, here's a further point. I think the pacifist needs to say that there are always in fact non-violent (or weaker, non-lethal) options in every scenario. And I think that's a remarkably strong and hence implausible claim.

By way of contrast, my claim ("there might be some situation in which lethal force is necessary") is much, much weaker and therefore is the more prima facie plausible one. So I think the burden of proof rests on the pacifist, not on me.

Regarding your suggestions of overriding concerns:
1. Love does not preclude justice. God loves everyone, but evidentally sends some people to hell. Therefore, loving a criminal does not absolutely override the demands of justice.
2. I don't think you should allow other people to suffer to avoid a few sleepless nights. In fact, there are moral consequences either way. Imagine you are the cop who let the robber get away out of a desire not to soil yourself with another person's blood. Then the child turns up dead. Guess what, you're going to feel like that's her blood on your hands, whether you pulled the trigger or not.

3. I don't think there is any such divine command, although I admit that if there were it would constitute and overriding reason of the sort required.

S. Coulter said...

Thanks again for your response, Shane.

I'm going to let you have the last word for this discussion. (But wanted to let you know I'd read it.)

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