Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Amit Ghate discusses the important issue of how the question of innocents in war pertains to self-defense.
[E]ven for the legitimately innocent such as children, hostages or POW's, as terrible as it is, one's self-defense cannot be tempered by considering the harm they may come to. The moral blame for their fate falls squarely on the aggressor who makes the war necessary, and indeed the potential consequences to such innocents is a fundamental reason why any citizen must take the responsibility of opposing and denouncing the evil elements within his society -- before they can rise to power and wreak their havoc. If citizens fail to do this, they can not blame their government's foreign victims for defending themselves with every possible means, including killing and even targeting civilians.You will note that underlying this argument is the premise that the sole purpose of a government is the protection of individual rights. This is a crucial point, for a man who has taken to calling himself an "imperfect servant" as he seeks the highest office in the land -- and who makes much of his military background -- has obviously forgotten or chosen to ignore it:
A prisoner of war in Vietnam at a time his own father commanded all U.S. forces in the Pacific, McCain said, "He prayed on his knees every night for my safe return. ... Yet, when duty required it, he gave the order for B-52s to bomb Hanoi, in close proximity to my prison."Let us set aside such questions as whether the war in Vietnam was a proper war of national self-defense, and let us assume that all options to save the POWs without sacrificing American self-defense had been exhausted.
Such painful decisions can and do present themselves to military leaders during times of war. In a war of self-defense, we need men like the elder McCain who are able to set aside all considerations other than national self-defense in order to make decisions like this.
Good will normally makes one reluctant to take issue with someone publicly offering respect to a parent or to a war hero. Unfortunately, the same motive invoked by John McCain, patriotism, demands that I do just that. I love America for the fact that it is the only nation on earth founded for the only proper purpose a government can have: the protection of the individual rights of her citizens.
The context in which John McCain raised his father's painful decision to bomb Hanoi indicates to me that he does not understand what it is about America that makes it great (and, for that matter, worth defending). As a result, I think that he will work to do it great harm if elected. Here is that context:
In remarks both personal and philosophical, McCain recalled ancestors buried at Arlington National Cemetery, and mused about "the honor we earn and the love we give when we work and sacrifice with others for a cause greater than our self-interest." [bold added]For John McCain, his use of the word "duty" is not just colloquial or sloppy. He is not merely referring to the oath his father took to defend America -- or even his mission to defend the lives and rights of individual Americans -- as "duty". He is speaking of anything but, as can only be meant by the words "sacrifice ... for a cause greater than our self-interest" -- and as the body of his political thought and his public record further indicate.
John McCain not only might, as commander-in-chief, be called upon to make the same type of decision his father once had to make, he seems eager to do so. And on top of that, he has just told us that he will use exactly the opposite criterion that he should as a basis for making such decisions!
The government, which John McCain wants to head, is the only social institution that can legally wield force. This force is that which we all have the right to use, as individuals, for self-defense, and which we have delegated to the government for that purpose and that purpose alone. Any other use of force by the government violates individual rights and as such represents a danger to individual rights.
As a rational adult, I do not want a "servant". And I need a servant able to wield government force like I need another hole in my head. The only thing I need from the government is the assurance that I will be left alone to lead my life as I best see fit. John McCain is practically screaming that he will violate his oath of office for some unspecified ideal greater than himself from the moment he takes it. I neither want a President distracted from his job by some pet cause nor some crusader empowered to force me to assist him in his mission. McCain wants to be both of these.
I disagree with his conception that sacrifice is a moral ideal and I don't want the "service" that someone like him wants to provide.