Monday, February 11, 2013

It simply doesn't follow

There seems to be a style of argument current among avowed liberals who nonetheless want to defend drone strikes no matter how many innocents—perhaps redefined as combatants by fiat—are killed or how effective drones might be in stirring up hatred and, thus, more terrorism. The structure of the argument is something like this: It is better to kill some people, including innocents, in a drone strike than it would be to invade a country and kill many thousands. In other words, better drone strikes than another Iraq or Afghanistan. And, better not just because it means fewer American lives lost—though I suspect this is the real issue—but because it means fewer Pakistani or Yemeni or Afghani lives lost as well. 

It does seem that such an argument has the point of being right about it being less bad to kill a few hundred in drone strikes than several thousand in an invasion. So, at least in this sense, the argument is correct that this is better.

There is a lot more that could be said about this kind of argument. But let me say just this: It is surely less bad—and therefore better—to cut off someone's hand than it is to murder him. It is surely better to kill five than it is to kill seven. In terms of overall murders we might have to count Hitler as less bad—better?—than Stalin or Mao. But, it simply does not follow that because x is less bad or better than y that it is good. To be better than something horrid does not make something good. I'd rather have stage two cancer than stage three, but neither one is good.

And, to make this kind of argument doesn't make a person subtle or a deeper thinker. It just makes one the sort of practitioner of Realpolitik exemplified by Kissinger, that is, the sort of person who can justify the murder of many innocents because, ultimately, some good will be achieved or might be. What are a few thousand Latin Americans or Cambodians or Vietnamese if Communism is defeated? What are a few thousand Muslims if the American homeland is safer—is it?

So, if this kind of argument appeals to you, feel free to think that I am not a realist, but I think I'd rather not be.

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