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War and Morality

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So, the biggest story in the news is STILL is the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by the US military. Apparently we’re been torturing and humiliating prisoners over there, and the media and the public seem to be shocked and horrified by it.

You know what else is shocking and horrifying? I’ve heard that the military is also shooting Iraqis dead and dropping bombs on them and stuff. Can you believe that??

Look, I don’t want to make light of what were clearly stupid and despicable acts, but when you really stop and think about it… really… how is making a naked Iraqi stand on a box any more “immoral” than shooting them and bombing them and killing them? How are we “surprised” by this? Because the very ACT of war necessitates dehumanization. Killing another human would be immoral! Everybody knows that. You can’t shoot a person with whom you have empathy… someone you recognize as another Thinking and Feeling Being. So you dehumanize them and think of them only as The Enemy. But then somehow if you capture one on them, all of a sudden you’re supposed to invite them in for tea and biscuits? It doesn’t work that way.

The problem as I see it is this – We in the “civilized” world… the media and the population at large… we have as individual moral beings simply outgrown the idea of war. We recognize that Vietnamese and Russians and Iraqis and Palestinians are human beings and that it is wrong to kill or torture other human beings. But our social and political mechanisms have NOT outgrown the NEED for war as a TOOL. This poses a dilemma. Because at the same time, our modern media does not allow us the DISCONNECT that is required to conduct a satisfactory war. We’re not supposed to see people being blown to bits, or dead children in the streets, or Americans being dragged naked and burned through the streets, or our own soldiers humiliating enemy prisoners. Because when we see these things, we simply can’t maintain the “Spirit of Dehumanization” that war requires from the comfort of our living rooms.

So we wind up with a massive nationwide cognitive dissonance. Everybody supports the IDEA of the war… until somebody gets killed or captured or tortured or raped or… whatever. What the fuck do we do? I don’t know.

And here is another thing. Is it shocking when American soldiers torture prisoners of war? Of course. But it is no more shocking than when our police officers beat suspects with sticks, or shoot unarmed black men 40-odd times, or sodomize them with broom handles. These are our OWN citizens in our OWN prisons. And everybody knows it goes on. (Don’t you?)

“Civilization” is the thinnest of veneers. Humans are animals. And not just the ones inside the cages… all of us. We can pretend otherwise, and we may have come a long way in our intellectual standards of morality, but it only takes the tiniest shove to turn any one of us back a million years. That’s not to say we shouldn’t resist. We should. But we should cut out the indignation and try to solve the real problems.

Dr. Dave (doctorsilence.blogspot.com)

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About Dr. Dave

  • Good post. I agree with some of the points you made about basic human behavior.

    We ARE animals. Sometimes we are put in situations where we fall back upon our “reptillian” brain. War is one such situation.

  • Sandra Smallson

    I’ll try to summarise, understand and perhaps ask a question. You clearly do not agree with the War. You see no difference in the killing of the people during the war and the torturing of the prisoners. This you say, is because war dehumanises people. In a nutshell, War is not a tool and once used as such, all sorts of atrocities must be expected as part and parcel of the deal?!

    What do you then suggest we do with people like Sadaam who perform thousands of dehumanising acts? What should we have done with Hitler? What should we have done with Milosevic? We can go back through history and list all sorts of names..what HUMAN way do you suggest would have resolved the matters of yestr yr or the matters of today. There isn’t any point saying the war isn’t doing anything but killing. We have taken the war path, it’s doing good and bad, we will follow it through. Please, help me to understand..What, pray tell is the “civilised” way you suggest would have been more human in sorting out this palava?

  • Eric Olsen

    Excellent post bringing up very troubling issues – I think you are exactly right about hte cognitive dissonance between our view of ourselves as moral actors and the brutality of war. I don’t know the answer either.

    Thanks and welcome!

  • Look, I don’t want to make light of what were clearly stupid and despicable acts, but when you really stop and think about it… really… how is making a naked Iraqi stand on a box any more “immoral” than shooting them and bombing them and killing them? How are we “surprised” by this?

    You make a good case against the invasion of Iraq by America.

    Initially the invasion was supposed to be to stop a threat, but since there was no threat, history was rewritten so the invasion now was for humanitarian reasons.

    Most of the world and much of America sees that for what it is.

    The “cognitive dissonance” occurs only on the hard right, because not “Everybody supports the IDEA of the war,” and hasn’t from the beginning.

  • Eric Olsen

    The cognitive dissonance refers to war in general – this is a statement about the difference between how we in the “civilized” world view war and the fact that it is still necessary, completely apart from whether or not this particular war.

  • No, Eric, he said: “Everybody supports the IDEA of the war” not “a war” in general.

    My “cognitive dissonance” is with using all this blather as an excuse for the first sentence of the post. All the smarm in the world isn’t going to make it acceptable.

  • sandra smallson

    David, I got your emails. I fully respect your opinion and understand what you are saying in general. I guess I just have a different take on the whole thing. Thanks for taking the time to explain what you meant/mean:)

    I keep forgetting that our email details are displayed..lol.

  • Eric Olsen

    Rather than debate the meaning as if the writer has no say – what did you mean by this Dr. Dave? Thanks.

  • Shark

    Just wanna throw in my support for animals — and to clear up the analogy.

    Animals, on the ‘moral’ plane, are MUCH more humane than humans.

    Please: in the future, do not to give our morally advanced friends outside our species a bad name.

    Carry on~

  • In theory, besides the opposable thumb, I thought the ability to tell right from wrong is what distinguishes humans and thus the human world from the animal world.

    From the research of Jane Goodall, we know that chimpanzees also wage war. But the chimpanzees are not capable of destroying their habitat beyond repair. That is what humans can do.

    Perhaps we humans spend too much time glorifying war and studying war and not enough time studying peace.

  • boomcrashbaby

    Purple Tigress, it sounds to me like the chimpanzees are able to tell right from wrong. I can’t think of any animal, bird, insect, etc. that makes conditions for itself worse. Perhaps the only difference is the opposable thumb, or if it’s the ability to tell right from wrong, then humans are on the other side of the equation.

  • As long as we are not insulting animals that can’t type or otherwise speak up for themselves. LOL.

    Maybe one of my dogs will become a blogdog and give us his point of view.