Douglas Wilson’s Letter From America

Santorum, Just War, and False Equivalence

Culture and Politics – Politics
Written by Douglas Wilson
Saturday, 18 February 2012

One of the things that needs to be removed from the discussion of Ron Paul’s views of foreign policy is a false equivalence that has become something of a meme in these discussions. It is a false equivalence, not because there could never be an equivalence, but rather because it is being assumed to be an automatic equivalence.

Equivalent what? I am speaking of the civilian casualties of war, what is sometimes infelicitously called “collateral damage,” and the fatalities that result from abortion-on-demand. When these two are placed on the same moral plane in the heat of debate, it is an understandable mistake. Just as there is a fog of war, so also there is a fog of debate. But a studied, steadfast refusal to distinguish them is in reality a moral failing and we really need to be done with it.

Let me set this alongside a comparable moral failing — the refusal to acknowledge a distinction between a deliberate targeting of civilians (as when Hamas blows up a pizza joint full of teenagers) and when one of our units targets combatants who place themselves in close proximity to civilians, so that the civilians might get caught in the crossfire. If the rules of engagement instruct our troops to do whatever is possible to protect the lives of such civilians, then this is completely different from the first scenario. These are two military actions which result in the deaths of civilians, but they nevertheless occupy two different moral universes.

Bring it back to the abortion debate. It is simply confused to say that, “well, Santorum opposes killing children in the womb, but he is okay with blowing children up in Afghanistan.” That is just outrageous, and way too facile.

Now it is possible for those two actions of “child-killing” to be morally equivalent. When children are deliberately murdered in the womb, and when children are deliberately targeted in a war zone, then that really is morally equivalent. But when someone defends a particular action, in line with just war theory (jus ad bellum), and defends our conduct and rules of engagement (jus in bello), it is not possible to engage them in a debate simply by asserting that children are dying in both instances. Yes, they are, but what is the intent, and on what scale? What are the actual facts on the ground?

When it is claimed that U.S. actions directly caused hundreds of thousands of innocents to die in Iraq, this is a claim of fact. It could be true, and it might not be true at all. It must be investigated as a fact to be determined, and not simply taken on as an a priori assumption. Abortion is not in this category at all; the whole point of abortion is to remove an inconvenient human life, innocent by definition.

And when you undertake to investigate the claim of fact, you have to remember that atrocity stories are one of the fundamental weapons of war. The first casualty in war is the truth, and when dramatic and striking claims are made (in any direction, by anybody), the thinking Christian will need more than the fact that he read it on the Internet on a partisan site. But if the atrocity stories turn out to be true, and some of our troops are found to have been genuinely guilty of murdering children for grins, does anybody seriously think that Santorum would be opposed to trying and punishing the perpetrators? If he said something like, “Yeah, they’re guilty, but let them go anyway,” then at that point it would be legitimate to bring up the issue of equivalence. To do so prior to such a point is at best confusion and at worst disingenuous.

When it is claimed that Roe v. Wade has resulted in the deaths of more than 40 million Americans, the facts of the case are not contested. Taking those lives is the whole point. We must not allow that evil to be blurred with an argument about foreign engagements where the facts are reasonably disputed by reasonable Christian men. If we let these two disparate things get all tangled up, and if we persist in doing so, then all we are demonstrating is that we are too morally muddled to contribute much to our public discourse.

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