A recent essay by Ralph Peters’ in the The Journal of International Security Affairs argues in favor of attacking journalists within combat zones. In my previous post, I took a critical look at his view. I now turn to assessing the moral principle he uses to justify his view.
Peters claims “The point of all this is simple: Win. In warfare, nothing else matters. If you cannot win clean, win dirty. But win. Our victories are ultimately in humanity’s interests, while our failures nourish monsters.” Let us break this down.
His first point is that only winning matters and “nothing else matters.” While he might be engaged in hyperbole for dramatic purposes, I’ll take his words at face value. So, his principle is that it is acceptable to do anything that contributes to winning.
This principle would, of course, seem to apply to the enemy as well. So, if blowing up school children, crashing planes into buildings or detonating a dirty bomb in New York city would help Al Qaedi win, then they should do it.
Peters does not, of course, want to accept that view. After all, he thinks that the terrorists are evil and that we are good. But, if we to do anything at all to win, without limits, then how do we differ from terrorists?
His second point is his justification. His view is that when we win, this furthers the interest of humanity. In contrast, when we lose, this will help feed the monsters.
But, one might say, isn’t a monster someone who accepts no moral limits on his actions? As such, would not following Peters’ principle lead to the creation of monsters? Suppose that we accepted this principle and acted accordingly. This would involve getting rid of all moral and legal restrictions within war. We would, of course, have to change how we train our soldiers-they would need to be trained to recognize no limits of any kind, should the situation so warrant. Soldiers with consciences would, of course, be a military liability-they would be unable to do whatever it took to win. To act on Peters principle, we would need a military devoid of such people-or at least we would need enough people without moral qualms or limits to do what he thinks must be done. In short, we would need monsters for our wars. It is not clear how accepting and acting on a principle that there are no moral limits to our actions would lead to a better world.
It might be countered that in most wars we would not need to go to the monster stage in order to win. We can win within the limits of the (presumably false and mistaken) limits set by law and morality. As such, we will not have to worry about nourishing our own monsters.
In reply, if we accept the principle that there are no limits and all that matters is winning, then this will increase the chances that we will resort to evil methods even when they are not necessary. To use an analogy, imagine a game with one set of rules that limits the players. Then imagine that the players are told that these rules are not really rules-players can do whatever to win and it is just fine. Sure, it would be nice if they stuck to the rules, but winning is what counts. I suspect that players would be rather quick to abandon the rules.
Another concern is this: folks who believe that they can do whatever they must because their cause is righteous have generally caused far more harm than good. A person might begin with a righteous cause. But, by accepting that they can do anything for their cause leads them away from morality. It would be odd indeed if they could remain righteous in their cause while being wicked in their deeds.
As such, if we wish to be righteous and achieve good ends, then we cannot accept that we can act without limits. That is the thinking of a monster.