Wednesday, October 21, 2015

When is Killing Moral?

"Anybody up for a little after dinner morally justified killing ?"

I think that this writer's views on Just War theory are deeply mistaken, especially as applied to PTSD treatment. It sounds like he would tell veterans, "Don't worry about killing those people, it was done in the service of justice." OMG, what a reaction that would get in a PTSD group. And, "Because the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were only last resorts and conducted only in the interest of bringing about a just peace, your killings are morally good." That's another one sure to provoke bitter laughter. And, "It's not like you killed any non-combatants, right? Because that doesn't happen much during modern warfare, right?" Now the guy would probably be in physical danger. And, "It's not like the guy you killed was a fellow human being, with a family who loved him, and friends who counted on him, with his own hopes and dreams and struggles and flaws, just like you. No, it's not like that at all. He was an enemy combatant and you were morally justified in killing him. And morally justified killing is A-Okeleedokelee OK."

"It was him or me. When I first got back I was glad it was him. But now...I wish it had been me. He was just a kid. Like me."

-- WWII combat veteran, on his killing of an "enemy combatant" sixty years earlier

Real Clear Defense
"There is another approach to Just War theory that avoids the “necessary evil” problem, and still articulates moral limits to killing. In opposition to the “presumption against killing” model, James Turner Johnson advocates a “presumption for justice.”
Johnson argues that rather than starting from a presumed duty not to kill and then looking for ways to override that duty, the classic Just War tradition (Augustine, Aquinas, Vitoria, etc.) begins from considerations of justice and what it requires in a particular situation. Justice, not a duty against killing, is the ever present demand and determines the morality of killing. In Johnson’s model, just killing is not a necessary evil, but a morally good act in service of justice.
One must be careful not to confuse “morally good” with “desirable.” In Johnson’s model, war is still a last resort, but not because there is a standing duty not to kill. It is a last resort because the goal of war is peace, and if a just peace can be achieved without violence, it ought to be. If war must be fought, however, it can be fought without committing intrinsically evil acts.
The difference between the two models becomes clearer with a side-by-side comparison. In both models, a soldier who kills an unarmed civilian is committing a morally evil act. However, a soldier who kills an armed, fighting enemy in combat looks very different in each model. In Childress’ model, he is still committing a morally evil act, but it is one that he is permitted to engage in because his duty not to kill has been overridden.  He is allowed to use the evil means of killing to pursue a moral good. For Johnson, the soldier who kills an enemy combatant is committing a morally good act in service of justice.
The idea of killing as a moral good is an important one because it can help soldiers and military leaders understand their own moral actions in war. Killing always leaves psychological scars. For the soldier, the misguided view of just killing as a moral evil that one is allowed to “get away with” adds to that psychological distress. He sees himself as a murderer who deserves punishment, and when doesn’t receive that punishment, he tends to punish himself. That self-punishment is one cause of the high rates of depression, substance abuse, and suicide among veterans.
Johnson’s view of killing in service to justice, rather than in conflict with justice, will help soldiers understand that they are not doing anything morally wrong when they justly kill in combat. Nothing can erase the horrible experiences of war, but by understanding his actions morally, the soldier can find respect for himself."

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