Thursday, August 03, 2006

From: Ron Walker <>
Date: Tuesday, August 01, 2006 7:49 PM
To: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel <>
Re: [Conflict] Email from the Dead/Missing Canadian UN Observer

I believe an important point in regard to your email is this: what do you do when guerrillas hide among the population, fire guns and rockets from among their human shields, and you have no way of separating them from their shields while they continue to fire at and kill you or your citizens? The right says fire at them though you will kill civilians. The left -- and I gather you too whatever side of the spectrum you are on -- says never fire at them though they will continue to kill you and your citizens. The middle has not come up with any bright lines or maybe any line, and certainly not one that is practical in the heat of combat where your own people may die.

A fair point, although I'd disagree with your (central) suggestion that the division is between "left" and "right" (maybe that's where the fault lines are in the USA, but the USA isn't the world). It's essentially an ethical/cultural question, not a political one. And like most ethical/cultural questions, there's no "correct answer" - just answers that feel right. That's a moral-relativist's answer... the USA (and the Islamic terrorists) tend towards a moral absolutism: a belief that God supports your cause, and thus almost anything done in its cause can be forgiven. I pick the expression "ethical/cultural question" because -in my view anyway - culture and ethics are usually inextricably entwined. And that's kind of worrying, in that moral absolutism is growingly the domain of ONLY the USA and of its Islamic enemies. Attemting to present the conflict as a war between "good" and "evil" is probably doomed to failure - and towards increasing isolation of the USA by a world much of which finds moral absolutism morally repugnant. I'm interested that the USA curently finds itself in a situation not very dissimilar to that of the Victorian UK - "the world's only superpower" - and faced with the same temptations. What's particularly interesting is that Victorian England spawned a debate between champions of the two main ways of proceeding: Gladstone and Disraeli; the former propounded the idea that ethical conduct is ALWAYS in a nation's best long-term interests, whereas rthe latter espoused a more "carpe diem; we may not have the abiliity to abuse our poition of power tomorrow!" viewpoint. the USA seems to have spawned a Disraeli... but no Gladstone.