Do you really think the only way to bring about the peace
is to sacrifice your children and kill all your enemies?
(Larry Norman, “The Great American Novel“, 1972)
In “American-based terrorism, or, Why I think I’d like to be a Quaker” I pointed out one terrorist that the United States had harbored for years. So it seems a bit hypocritical that there is this deep moral outrage at Pakistan for allegedly harboring Osama Bin Laden. And I asked whether Americans would appreciate Cuban commandos entering Miami in the same way American navy seals entered Pakistan, i.e. covertly with the intent of carrying out an assassination.
Steve Douglas’ response interested and deeply saddened me. He wrote about how he struggled with including the post in his blog and facebook but then opted against it because “I will never be able to retain any of that influence if they write me off. Many of these friends, as either military personnel or loved ones of military personnel, have staked their entire lives around the rightness of U.S. military action.”
I sympathize with Steve. But I must say I think he made an indefensible decision. If the condition for hanging out with racists is that you not talk about racism, then maybe you can’t hang out with the racists. If the condition of befriending the uber-rich is that you never talk about the dangers of materialism then maybe you can’t hang out with the uber-rich. The fact is that Jesus didn’t worry about alienating people when he called them white-washed tombs. He didn’t worry about being successful. He worried about being faithful.
Really what is at stake here is a principle which was the foundation of Jesus’ moral teaching: Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you. As Noam Chomsky has observed: “Among the most elementary of moral truisms is the principle of universality: we must apply to ourselves the same standards we do to others, if not more stringent ones. It is a remarkable comment on Western intellectual culture that this principle is so often ignored and, if occasionally mentioned, condemned as outrageous.” (Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy, 3.) Chomsky’s right: this is deeply offensive to people. But does that mean we drop it from our lexicon? Does the golden rule get blotted out of our moral discourse (at least at the geopolitical level) for fear of offending somebody?
Last time I mentioned “Big Tony” who scares everybody because of the size of the stick he wields. Are you being a true friend to Tony if you silently say nothing when he bullies others? Pardon my French but that’s complete crap (or le crape). The friend of Tony is the one who challenges him: “Big Tony, wake up! Everybody’s scared of you. That’s why they let you get away with things they could never do.” That’s the difference between a blind nationalist and a true patriot. A nationalist is like the syncophant who follows Tony around like a love stick puppy and obligingly holds his derby hat when Tony pounds somebody. (Those of you who remember the old “Spike and Chester” Looney Tunes can think here of Chester bouncing around the bulldog Spike.) A true patriot challenges Tony even if it means a confrontation.
Another response came from Danny who asked me whether I was accepting the following premise:
(1) Killing/Capturing a terrorist without notifying the intelligence agency or government of the country he is residing in is morally wrong, even if such notification is likely to tip-off said terrorist, such that he will be likely to escape.
I replied that I didn’t assume any such premise in the argument. Then I asked Danny directly: “How about you? Would you accept that premise or would you be okay with Cuban secret service having gone into Miami on a covert mission to assassinate Bosch?”
Danny attempted a response to this direct question that would have made many politicians blush. Indeed, the only way to improve it would be by prefacing it with the phrase “Let me be very clear” (a sure sign that whatever comes after is attempting to be anything but very clear). This is what he said:
“Suppose a terrorist is hiding in the US, and this terrorist is only concerned with taking out ABC, and has no concern whatsoever with the US or our allies. Suppose that ABC finds out his whereabouts, and takes him out in a manner similar to how the US acted (i.e. in a humane way–no civilian casualties, etc.). I don’t think the US would necessarily care about this; I certainly don’t think Christians would be “up in arms” about it. If anything, everyone would be happy that a terrorist was prevented from killing more people without any civilian casualties.”
Six minutes after Danny wrote this I replied:
“I didn’t mention anything about “a terrorist” and “ABC”. I mentioned Bosch, a terrorist living in Miami with the support of the United States. Nor did I ask whether the “U.S.” would object. I asked whether you would.”
And then I repeated the question: would Danny agree with the targeted assassination of Bosch? I haven’t yet heard a reply.
Walter did offer a reply for which I’m thankful (even as it makes my blood run cold). He wrote:
“I would not be surprised to find that foreign operatives have eliminated their enemies on U.S. soil. As long as civilians do not become collateral damage in these operations, I’m not sure that I would care one way or another.”
In one, limited sense, this is admirable. Walter’s direct response is consistent. But this is not the usual response. The usual response, as I pointed out in my last post, is dependent on a doctrine of American exceptionalism, i.e. that America is special and is to be exempted from certain standards applied to all other nations. American exceptionalism is merely a fancy way of saying “the golden rule doesn’t apply to my nation”. And it is merely yet another instance of a long history of the most powerful nations in a given period exempting themselves from the standards they impose on others. So I’m thankful that Walter is repudiating this indefensible, deeply un-Christian doctrine at the level of geopolitics.
But that doesn’t mean his response is wholly satisfactory. Far from it. This was my response to him:
Do you have any idea how many “terrorists” (as defined by foreign governments) you would define as “freedom fighters”? And you just told those governments, “Fine, have at it, as long as I don’t get sprayed with any blood.” Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses … and then I’ll look the other way as you blow their brains out. Really?
Does Walter really want to say “If the foreign government of Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Israel, Niger, Russia, China, Cuba or any other nation on the planet decides they want to assassinate a person living on American soil they have my okay.” Really??
Finally, I asked Walter this:
“But let’s set aside such cases for the moment and switch from agents to heads of state. Say that the United States had solid intelligence that a foreign government is about to attack the US on spurious grounds in an attack that will leave thousands dead. Is it permissible for the US to send in operatives to assassinate the foreign head of state? (I’m guessing you’ll say yes.)”
Here’s the problem. If it is permissible for the US to do this then it would have been permissible for Iraq special forces to enter the United States in February 2003 to assassinate George W. Bush.
He who lives by the sword dies by the sword.