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:

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