I watched part of the Republican debate last night (Dec. 15). I chose to listen with a more generous spirit than I have to date.
Each candidate genuinely believes that he/she is uniquely suited to be President of the US, an extraordinarily difficult job where every single action and word will be critiqued, examined, and probably slammed by those who dislike whoever the winner ends up to be. That takes guts. Or an extreme lack of caring what others think.
Nonetheless I had to stop watching when I heard declared that it would be a useful strategy against the growing menace of ISIS to arrange to torture and kill the families of ISIS members.
In other words, it is OK for us to do evil because the ends, i.e., the defeat of ISIS (which will never happen–another group will just rise to take its place) would be an unmitigated good.
So, is it OK? Unquestionably, when we fight wars, we inflict enormous damage on the lives of our enemies.
Doing Evil so Good May Come
The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki come to mind. Immediately, an approximately 129,000 people were killed. The long-term damage of early deaths from cancers and other illnesses from the radiation still unrolls. There is probably no way to accurately count them. Effectively, the Allies killed/maimed the relatives of those who instigated and directed the Japanese aggression against the US. We did much evil so that good, i.e., the end of the war in the Pacific theater, might come.
Hitler, in his quest to eliminate any in his world that he felt were less that Aryan, sought to cleanse the homeland and any places the Reich conquered. The approximately six million Jews, Gypsies, mentally ill, etc., who were eliminated was a necessary evil for him to reach his goals.
White supremacists, absolutely sure that God has appointed the “white” to rule the world, have committed countless atrocities against the darker innocents in their surety that this is what God wants.
The Church, sure that only those who could hold to “true” doctrine, during the time of the Spanish Inquisition routinely tortured and killed many, including the families of those who were the main targets, in order to keep a pure church: immediate evil for the sake of a long-term good.
So take the illustration of surgery to eliminate a cancer: medical professionals do cut, burn and administer poison as necessary to restore a cancer-free body. However, I am not aware of where they administer these treatments to loved one and relatives of the patient, although I could be mistaken about such procedures.
The Complexities Before Us
Yes, as a nation, we have now and always have had complex decisions before us. We do face an enemy that will indeed freely torture, rape and/or eliminate the innocent in order to reach their goals of world domination under their religious rubric.
Our question becomes: how much of our national soul must we compromise in the process?
How many non-combatants will we have to see as legitimate targets in our quest for safety?
How many innocents will we turn away, rape, torture, scar, burn, bomb and leave their bodies to rot?
These are legitimate questions we need to address as we engage in a war on terrorists. We as people of faith believe we should operate by an ethic that respects the image of God stamped upon the souls of all. How do we do this and still maintain national integrity?
The religious vote will be a big one in the coming elections. It is foolish for the church to say it can ignore politics in the name of “the separation of church and state.” We don’t get to impose our religious stances upon others or require that anyone else practice our religion. But we do need to discern and state clearly and boldly how to operate when we are a nation at war.
Safety AND Freedom at Stake
Yes, our safety is at stake, although frankly, most of us are far more likely to die violently in a car wreck in the next year than by being hurt by terrorists.
Our freedom is also at stake. Every time we give into more fear, the more freedoms we lose. We can’t remove access to the World Wide Web for a few without taking it from everyone. We can’t decide that one religious group can’t be trusted or embraced without distrusting, labeling and expelling many other religious groups whose fringe elements are also proponents of societal violence.
I’ve written elsewhere about the way living in fear drains us of the energy for more important things. When we descend into evil, even as we say it will bring good, such a descent will ultimately infect us all as we become a fear-based nation.
We need to be careful about the choice of those who are ultimately going to need to discern where this nation goes. They must have the maturity to see the complexity of the situation and to find paths that ultimately mean we can still be proud to be citizens of the US. This won’t be easy.