Friday, February 1, 2008

The Ethics, Morality, & Logic of “Safety”

Here’s a question for you: If someone from an affluent neighborhood across town began dumping their household garbage on your front lawn simply & solely because they did not want that garbage in their own front yard, would you be “okay” with that?

I can understand why the “affluent neighbor” might see nothing wrong with it, but I think it would be a rare person indeed who would be receptive to being on the receiving end of that idea.

So it’s interesting to listen to people come up with justification for continuing our US military presence in Iraq. One reoccurring theme that I’ve heard over and over is that if we weren’t fighting the “war on terror” over there, we’d have to be fighting it over here. And nobody wants that, because we’ve spent a lot on our landscaping and we like to be able to admire it without any of those annoying dead bodies laying around.

I guess that’s a privilege we’ve earned. We are Americans after all. We live in a nice neighborhood, and it’s not our problem that Iraq happens to be on the wrong side of town; I mean, the trash has to go somewhere, right? Better in their front yard than ours, that’s for sure. Out of sight, out of mind.

It’s certainly convenient. But is it moral or ethical? Do we even care?

Recently, I was having a conversation with someone who subscribed to the argument of “better over there than over here” and I asked them a question: If China was suffering terrorist attacks against their country by a fringe group of disgruntled Americans, would you be “okay” with a large Chinese military force patrolling the streets of the United States as they fought their “war on terror”?

Rather than answering the question, the answer they gave me was, “that could never happen”.

“But supposing that it did,” I asked.

“The question isn’t relevant,” they said, “Nobody could ever do that to the United States; we’re too powerful”.

Avoiding any debate on that particular point, I pressed further with the original one. “So what you’re saying is that because we are too powerful for other countries to do with as they please, that gives us the right to do as we please with them? In other words, you’re saying it’s okay to be a bully, as long as we are the bully.”

“You don’t understand,” they said.

Maybe I don’t. In my defense, however, I have to say that they didn’t do much to enlighten me.

During my research for this post, I came across a thought provoking article entitled "The Price of Loss", written by Lily Hamourtziadou. Here is an excerpt that seemed to echo my own thoughts better than I could state myself:

"It is the ‘price to pay’, the ‘sacrifice’ that has to be made as we fight terrorism, the ‘cost’ of this war against evil forces. That is what we say to justify these killings. But those of us who speak of this price to be paid, this sacrifice to be made, do not pay this price, do not make this sacrifice. Our own country is not being destroyed, attacked, occupied. Our own children are not being blown up, our civilians are not becoming homeless by the millions. Those who speak of the necessity of this sacrifice, would they be prepared to pay such a price? In their own country? With the blood of their own families?

How much easier it is to sacrifice others, to let others pay with their lives. The value of those lives is hardly high enough to trouble us."

Tough argument to beat. But I'll be honest with you, even if someone could win that debate and convince me that the “war on terror” currently being fought in Iraq is both morally and ethically just, it would be difficult for them to convince me that it was either successful or necessary.

Consider the following statistical information as of 31 Jan 08:

September 11, 2001
US deaths: 2,974
Financial Cost: 191 Billion (note1)

Iraq War:
US deaths: 3,942
Financial Cost: >600 Billion (Note 2)

To put those numbers into one perspective, since September 11th, we could have suffered another terrorist attack on an even larger scale than 9/11 and actually have fared better (in both human and financial respects) than we did by pro-actively taking the fight "to them".

In a perverse irony, have we not in effect actually perpetrated an act of terrorism against ourselves even more horrific than 9/11 was? And although we rarely think about it, it's not just the bodies of Americans that are piling up.

I have to ask: Is it worth it? Is it worth anything at all? And too, have we gotten that "Safety" that we wanted so badly?

There are so many questions. Are the lives of US soldiers less valuable than US citizens? Would the more than 80,000 Iraqi civilians who have died in the violence that has occurred during the US occupation been better off if we had simply left Iraq - Saddam Hussein and all - alone? Are we still the “good guys” that we have always seen ourselves as, or have we instead become the global bully? And if so, are we prepared to deal with the consequences that every bully eventually must face?

I don’t know.

I’m sure that Bill O’Reilly would undoubtedly call me an “America Hater” just for questioning the actions of the United States, but that’s patently untrue. I don’t hate America at all; in fact, just the opposite. But patriotism does not mean blind allegiance, and just because I love my country doesn’t mean that I always love her behavior.

Perhaps we, as Americans, might all be a little wiser if we spent more time looking at our country as if we weren’t Americans. I wonder if we would be surprised at what we saw if we actually had the courage to take a long, honest, objective look into that mirror.

Note 1: total financial impact to United States. Includes 83 billion (direct & indirect) as a result of attacks on WTC; also includes all estimated business & tourism losses nationwide

Note 2: through end of 2008; includes Afghanistan also


Mrs. Blaine Staat said...

Awesome and thought provoking article! I love that about you!

I am passing along to you an award! An Excellence Blog Award...

...and it is not that I am partial one way or the other! ;O) But I am very proud of you sweetheart! I love that you have found your passion for writing and that you are doing it!

xoxoxoxo Cat

Blaine Staat said...

How about that? An award from my wife. I'm honored sweetie, but I'm not really sure what that means. That's kind of like my mother telling me I'm handsome. Not that I don't trust my mom, but . . .

Mrs. Blaine Staat said...

Trust me are handsome! ~winking~

xoxo Cat

Rose said...

As an Australian, I found your post to be somewhat surprising as we don't hear these type of views from the States although they are expressed here.

The long Australian-American alliance is very valuable to us but...

The position of single superpower that the US now holds brings with it enormous responsibility. Sadly, that responsibility is not evident very often.

As a citizen of a small country I can say that the bully-boy tactics are there and they are scary. Like kids in the playground I think many countries stand in groups whispering behind hands, afraid to rouse the wrath of the bully.

Blaine Staat said...

Thank you for your comments Rose. I think we would all do better - as countries and as individuals - to spend more time looking at ourselves as if we weren't ourselves, because that is how everyone else see us.

Anonymous said...

The Chinese Army is welcome to come to the US and wage war against unseemy groups that exist here on our soil. American ghetto gangs, for example, should the Chinese decide to combat them here. That's the kind of "trash dumping" on our front lawn," as you analogize it, that I would like to see. The Jihadidts are being exterminated , on "their" homeland, not ours. We didn't cause the Jihad, the Islamics did. Therefore we are entirely justified in waging our battles, there where that low element was given birth. Similarly, should the American ghetto gangs get too far out of hand, then I would usher the Chinese Army with a red carpet. They'd surely feel welcome with that color selection, don't you think? And I'd welcome the riddance of the blight of the thousands upon thousands of villains that have eroded our culture along with their blossoming. If the Chinese anti-ghetto-gang initiative were effective (and no doubt it would), we in the US would enjoy perks such as uncrowded prisons and graffiti-free urban landscapes. So, bring on the Chinese Army. Let them come here to US soil, if the aim on their part would be to clean up our own riff-raff problem.