One of the things that are difficult for some people to understand is that there are still Americans who believe that the end does not justify the means. Put more colloquially for a nation mesmerized by success: success does not insure ethical good or right. The success of Michael Moore, Madonna and Rush Limbaugh proves little except that people are willing to listen to them and in some way pay for it. If Adolf Hitler had been successful in conquering the world, that still would not have made it a morally good thing, although most conquered peoples, press and politicians would still be singing his praises. (No, this is not moral equivalence. We are not the Third Reich, and there is no Hitler aroundjust his methods of self-justification.)
We citizens of a country that can spend years ruminating over one killing supposedly perpetrated by a retired pro football star might be expected to be moved by the plight of even one Iraqi child dismembered or dissolved by a bomb meant for someone else. But this is not the case. We are into success.
Success, however, even for utilitarian ethics, is a sometime thing. One of the problems that haunt the whole theory is how to calibrate the success. The war is successful this week. Will it be so next week if 200 members of the American military die? Will it be a success if next month we are fighting Iraqis throughout their country? Will it be a success if next year Disneyland is bombed? These questions are not predictions. They are indicators of the danger inherent in relying on success. Even on the utilitarian grounds of successful outcome, then, the case for war is still arguable.
But many of ussome influenced by Kant, some by Aquinas, some by natural law or even the urgings of Pope John Paul II, are not utilitarians. We believe there are some actions that no matter how desirable the outcome, ought not be donelike abortion, mercy-killing or the bombing of Dresden and Nagasaki. Good outcomes, maybe. But blood is yet on our hands, and there are stains on our national conscience.
People who disagree with such a position must realize that desirable outcomes are welcome on any humane account, no matter what the ethical principles from which one is working. Not only that. It is possible to admire and emulate the virtues of men and women who find themselves in the midst of war.
And this is why I am thinking these days of men and women I know who are part of our forces in Iraq. I believe they are in an immoral matrix, wherein the commanders and fighters are striving for moral integrity despite the compromised moral arena. This is the area of jus in bello, justice within war. So these warriors try not to kill civilians; they try to defend the defenseless and one another; they want only to help the Iraqi people.
It is foolish to think that all who go to war are heroes. Many are forced; some are cowardly; a few are cruel. But there are noble warriors as well. The words the lieutenant colonel of a Royal Irish regiment addressed to his brigade about to enter Iraq indicate that he is such a man.
We are entering Iraq to free a people, and the only flag that will be flown in that ancient land is their own. Show respect for them.... It is a big step to take another human life. It is not to be done lightly. I know of men who have taken life needlessly in other conflicts. They live with the mark of Cain upon them.... Iraq is steeped in history. It is the site of the Garden of Eden, of the Great Flood and of the birthplace of Abraham. Tread lightly there. You will see things that no man could pay to see, and you will have to go a long way to find a more decent, generous and upright people than the Iraqis. Don’t treat them as refugees, for they are in their own country.
There is a reach for nobility in even this fragment of a speech to 800 soldiers. It calls for a vigilance and magnanimity that one hopes is bestowed upon the people we each might know in the land of the patriarchs. I have my own: a new Catholic for whom we all prayed as she was baptized, who was soon to be separated from her young child and sent to war; a nurse plying his profession, now not at home, but for Iraqi wounded, soiled and broken; the brother of a former student, now a physician, who was sent to practice medicine in the Middle East.
Who would not respect the courage and generosity of such people? Obviously one can be for them and against the war in the first place. If you count yourself as one of these, do not be intimidated by the jingo rhetoric blowing in our times.