Monday, February 13, 2012

Evil in the crosshairs?

I recently read an excerpt from American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History by Chris Kyle which is available hereIt is definitely worth the read, but it raises a few issues I'd like to discuss today.

Chris Kyle is a Navy Seal credited with the most sniper kills in US military history. In the excerpt linked to above he recounts his first sniper kill in Iraq, a woman suicide bomber who was going to use a hand grenade to kill some Marines. He shoots her before she can hurt any of the Marines and has this to say about it:

It was my duty to shoot, and I don't regret it. The woman was already dead. I was just making sure she didn't take any Marines with her.
It was clear that not only did she want to kill them, but she didn't care about anybody else nearby who would have been blown up by the grenade or killed in the firefight. Children on the street, people in the houses, maybe her child...
She was too blinded by evil to consider them. She just wanted Americans dead, no matter what.
My shots saved several Americans, whose lives were clearly worth more than that woman's twisted soul. I can stand before God with a clear conscience about doing my job. But I truly, deeply hated the evil that woman possessed. I hate it to this day.
Savage, despicable evil. That's what we were fighting in Iraq. That's why a lot of people, myself included, called the enemy "savages." There really was no other way to describe what we encountered there.

Before I get into this I need to make something absolutely clear: Mr. Kyle did the right thing. He did his job and he did it well. I am in no way condemning him or any other serviceman or woman. I very much respect our military.

That does not mean that the people who command our military are always right. I'm not talking about military officers, I'm talking about the civilian government that directs them. One of the beautiful things about the United States is that our military is subordinate to a civilian government. Unfortunately that also means that our government often places our men and women in uniform in bad situations for reasons that have nothing to do with defense, like Iraq.

One is hard pressed to make a case for invading Iraq on defensive grounds. They had no weapons of mass destruction (or system to deliver them for that matter), no air force that could reach us. No navy that could reach us. The invasion of Iraq was entirely pre-emptive and cannot be justified as self-defense. As such it is entirely reasonable that some people whom lived in Iraq at the time of the "liberation" would see it as a invasion of their country. Sure Saddam was a bad guy, but some people did genuinely like him and it should be no surprise that they would take up arms in defense of their country.

So is Mr. Kyle really justified in calling this woman evil? I will say no. There are any number of reasons for her to want to kill US Marines. Perhaps her husband was killed in the fighting and she wanted revenge. Perhaps she was loyal to Saddam and saw no better way to contribute to the defense of her country. If those were the case she should be motivated by grief or love, but not evil.

People don't do evil things because they are pure evil. They typically do something evil in order to acquire or achieve something good. A man will cheat (evil) to win (good). Evil itself is nothing more than a perversion of Good and cannot exist apart from it.

I also object to his statement that the Marine's souls were worth more than that woman's. We can never allow ourselves to believe that people we don't like are worth less than those we do. That fundamental flaw can lead to such evils as genocide and religious persecution. Its that type of thinking that led to the Rape of Nanking and the Holocaust. The Japanese thought they were superior to the Chinese. The Germans thought they were superior to the Jews. Mr. Kyle thinks those Marines are superior to that woman.

Again, I'm not condemning him. He did the right thing by taking that shot, it is war and she was a combatant. However, his moral judgement of her soul is entirely inadequate. She was a human being just like you and I. She had a father and a mother, a child and probably a husband at some point. She was motivated by fear, anger, love just like the rest of us. What exactly propelled her to pick up a grenade and take a few Marines with her we'll never know. We do know that she was human, and we must not forget that.

This is one of the great evils of war. It dehumanizes people on both sides. Mr. Kyle calls the enemy "savages", and they probably called him an infidel. Neither side is willing to see the humanity of the other, and so neither side can be reconciled. This is one reason why war should be entered into only as a last resort, something our government would do well to remember before placing brave young men and women like Mr. Kyle into these situations.

My point in all this is threefold: First, one man's insurgent is another man's freedom fighter. No one acts out of purely evil intentions, that is the stuff of children's cartoons. People desire good, but they often attempt to use evil to get it.

Second, one is hard pressed to show that the United States has the moral high ground in its current wars. All of them are unconstitutional, having never been declared by Congress. None of them can be justified as defensive. Given those conditions one cannot assert that our enemies are evil, they often just want us out of their countries.

Third, shame on the government for misusing our military in such a manner. They are the real fault here. Mr. Kyle's attitude is wrong, but he can hardly be blamed for feeling that way. He pulled the trigger on his rifle, but the government gave him the rifle and training and then sent him over seas to kill an enemy with no clear justification.

I leave you a video that I think will help to drive the point home:

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Law

Ok, so my experiment with updating every weekday is at an end. While I could probably stick to such a schedule if there was nothing else I wanted to do with me life, well, turns out I have other things to do than just blog. It was, however, a worthy experiment as it taught me I have no excuse not to update every Monday.

Originally I wanted to discuss the recent HHS mandate that would force religious employers to cover birth control, something which is a clear trampling of first amendment rights. However, there is little I can add to the conversation that hasn't been said by my friends here and here. I highly encourage you to read both accounts of the controversy.

In this post I'd rather discuss a much broader question that is at the root of the current controversy: what is the law? What is its purpose? Its domain? What is the proper role of law in a society? This is such a basic issue yet we hardly ever discuss it. I distinctly remember high school government classes that never once touched on what law is. Only how it is made and enforced.

Frédéric Bastiat, in his essay "The Law", argues that law is nothing more than the collective organization to the individual right to self defense. This makes sense doesn't it? What is man if not personality, faculties and property? What is faculties if not an extension of personality? What is property if not an extension of one's faculties? It is not because laws exist that we have personality, faculties and property. It is because these things pre-exist that we make laws to protect them. For if one man has the right to defend them, by force if necessary, than a group of men have the right to combine together to provide for the constant defense of their persons, faculties and property.

Law then has its basis in self defense, and as a consequence its domain is that of self defense. That is, its domain is violence. Violence is the only tool the law has to effect its ends. In so far as law is used only for defense this use of force is entirely just. It is when the law is perverted and used to harm that this use of force becomes an injustice.

Don't believe that violence is the only tool available to the law? Consider this example: A massive tax on sugar is passed, so massive that it doubles the price of sugar. Now the sugar manufacturers have to charge the tax. If they do not they will be fined. If they refuse to pay the fine police men will come to their homes and arrest them. If they refuse arrest then violence will take place. The law has no other means of forcing compliance.

So then, if law has its root, its principle, in self defense, we can clearly see its scope. Just as I cannot lawfully take from you, neither can the law itself be used to destroy the person, liberty or property of individuals or of classes. This perversion would be in contradiction to the purpose of law, which we've already concluded is the defense of persons, liberty and property.

How then does this perversion occur? Through two equal if somewhat opposite causes: greed and misconceived philanthropy. Greed is easy to understand, if one class has the ability to make laws it can use that power to make laws the redistribute wealth from the other classes to the ruling class. This was the case throughout most of human history. Today, in the United States, power is distributed such that many classes can steal from many other classes. We see this all the time. From welfare to pork barrel legislation.

The other cause, misconceived philanthropy is a blog post in and of itself and so I will not go into it here. Suffice to say that human history is ripe with examples, the French Revolution of 1789 is a great example of how men perverted the law in order to attempt to create an utopia.

And so we come to the end of my argument. If there is only one thing you take away from it let it be this: that the law is nothing more than the collective use of violence. This ties back into the beginning of this discussion and the HHS mandate. Would you hold a gun to my head and force me to buy you or someone you know birth control? That is exactly what HHS has done.

For a more in depth look at the law from someone much smarter than I, I highly recommend "The Law" by Frédéric Bastiat. It is only 55 pages long and can be had for less than seven dollars on Amazon.

If you still don't agree with me, that the law is the collective use of violence, then I want to know why! Read Bastiat, he makes a much more thorough argument than I do here, but let us also discuss this in the comments. This is a conversation that needs to be happening if we are going to preserve this republic we live in!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Wonderful Wednesday: Water Rescue

There is still good in the world and despite the mainstream media's quest to eradicate all good stories (fear sells!) good deeds still occasionally make the news. Today's story can be found here:

Its nice to know that there are still people who will risk their own lives to help others. Contrast this with the captain of the ill-fated Costa Concordia. While he had a responsibly to help his passengers and crew he abandoned ship to save himself. These people had no such official responsibility and yet they came to the help of those people stuck in an upside down airplane underwater.

In the midst of the current political season and all the awfulness it brings, I was glad to read this story.

So I'll close by citing those wise sages of old, Bill and Ted: "Be excellent to each other!"