FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Good Killing and Bad Killing

by DIANE CHRISTIAN

“I strongly condemn the killings and I urge and call upon all of the free world, nations which love peace, to not only condemn the killings, but to use every ounce of their power to prevent them from happening in the future.”

President Bush, denouncing a suicide bomber attack in Jerusalem

President Bush criticized Israel on June 10 2003 for attempting to assassinate a militant Palestinian Hamas leader, Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi. The next day Bush criticized the answering Palestinian suicide bombing attack on a bus in Jerusalem. He urged “free nations which love peace to not only condemn the killings but to use every ounce of their power to prevent them from happening in the future”.

What kind of power stops the killings?

There is killing power of course-the idea that good killing can eliminate bad killing.

The President himself subscribes to this and he personally ordered the assassination killing solution for Saddam Hussein and his regime. Bush sent stunning military force against Iraq because he felt war was the good killing necessary to deal with “evil”. Bad killing in his logic justifies good killing. Bush’s administration presently defends the US preemptive attack on Iraq on the grounds of Saddam Hussein’s brutality. Even if he didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, the reasoning now goes, he killed and tortured viciously and therefore required killing. The agent’s intention governs the morality in this reasoning. The “free nations which love peace” kill righteously. The enslavers who love war kill wickedly. It’s good guys and bad guys rather than actions that determine morality. This subverts classical ethics which say primary morality derives from the act itself, not from the intention or situation.

When Bush rebuked Israel for its attempted Hamas assassination, Israel claimed its own self-defense right to fight terrorist organizations and pointed out that the US had just taken this posture and action. The Palestinians argue the same claim-they say that Israeli occupation and military oppression are terrorism and that they too are only defending themselves and resisting evil. Good killing and bad killing become issues of point of view. Each position moralizes its hurt, revenge and righteousness.

The young Palestinian suicide bomber on the Jerusalem bus dressed as an Orthodox Jewish student. He disguised himself as one dedicated to the enemy religion. He is named a terrorist by those he fought against and a martyr by those he fought for.

WARRIORS AND MARTYRS

Was the suicide bomber a warrior or a martyr, or both, or neither? By conventional codes he’s a guerilla warrior-disguising himself, sneaking in, sabotaging, not distinguishing the civilian and the military. That distinction between killable and non-killable is usually argued as an important element of proper warfare. Don’t kill women and children and aged innocents, just combatants, soldiers garbed and properly identified as fighters. But these distinctions often dissolve even for us, the US, as the fire bombings of Dresden, the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Vietnam and Iraqi wars demonstrate. War itself is clearly terrorism against civilian population as well as against combat against deputed fighters.

The US press, like the Pentagon, tries very hard in covering the Iraq war and occupation to emphasize the boundary between civilian and combatant-repeating the political refrain that we’re only after Saddam and the hardliners, not against the Iraqi people. June 14th’s New York Times’ front page features a soldier comforting another crying soldier who is upset after seeing Iraqi children wounded when playing with ammunition. The sense is that soldiers are not cruel killing machines, rather that they care about Iraqi children. In fact they burned and maimed and orphaned and killed many Iraqi children. They just didn’t mean to.

The suicide bomber meant to kill Israeli innocents. His terror is more malicious and unsentimental in intent. But the killing actions and the innocent dead don’t differ. Does morality depend on the intention of the warriors?

When people vilified the 9/11 terrorists many said they were cowardly, by which they meant to strip them of warrior status. Just as we demonized the kamikaze pilots in World War II, we sought to deny the terrorists any sacrificial warrior role. The Al Qaeda discipline and courage and dedication were ignoble to us because destruction of us was their cause. We felt ourselves innocent, not the Great Satan of anti-Islamic oppression. So we resisted the idea not only that the terrorists were martyrs, but even that they were warriors.

We thought of our dead as martyrs because they got killed. One warrior/martyr distinction is about agency-active and passive. Warriors kill and martyrs get killed. Warriors seek the death of the enemy; martyrs suffer their own death as the enemy. Martyrs do not kill others. Those who choose martyrdom allow themselves to die for the sake of ideals and witness. The Palestinian bomber immolates himself like the Buddhist monks set on fire during the Vietnam War, personally for a cause, but his action is to kill others. The bomber is a warrior not a martyr. He kills. It’s a useful distinction.

Being willing to die for your cause is necessary to martyrdom, but it’s different from being willing to kill for your cause which is warrior posture. Warriors are theoretically willing to die for their cause, but they try not to die. Martyrs endure others’ violence and thereby reveal it and refuse it. They make peace by absorbing the violence and not returning it. Christ was not a warrior.
US WARRIORS & MARTYRS

One reason the US won world sympathy for the 9/11 attack was because those killed were seen as martyrs; they were killed for being in American buildings, sacrificed to an idea of war. President Bush’s response to 9/11 was to turn the savage brutality into full warrior response: kill the enemy. The bombing attack on Afganistan was reprisal for terrorism, though the leader, Osama bin Laden, like Saddam Hussein, was not eliminated. Bin Laden had often assumed the martyr mode as justification for his war. He declared himself a slave of Allah and said he acted in reprisal for the evil done God’s people and shrines. Saddam Hussein didn’t strike a religious posture. He admired strongman Stalin and sought to be feared. Bush was betwixt and between: pious and martyred in justification, “smoking ’em out of their holes” strongman in execution. All three are warriors in action-sending others to their deaths to execute their cause.

JEWISH WARRIORS & MARTYRS

Jews, until the founding of modern Israel, haven’t been thought of primarily as warriors. To most Americans they have suffering biblical stereotypes, like their enslavement in Egypt in Exodus or the suffering servant of Yahweh and exile in Isaiah. The prophetic suffering servant figure is one who is innocent, who has done no violence nor had deceit on his tongue, and yet he is killed by those who vilify him, projecting their own violence and feeling righteous as they eliminate him as evil. The Christ story is modeled on this Isaiah figure. Modern Israel was achieved partly by guerilla warfare but also politically by Jewish martyr history. Most people take the cry “never again” to mean “this time we fight, no more Jewish holocausts”. The great warriors like Joshua and David in Jewish tradition, are not the inspiration, the suffering victim history is. The legitimizing of Israeli violence similarly rests not on warrior history (we are great fighters) but on victim history (we are great victims). Israeli violence is cast by the Israeli government as only self-defense, exactly as US violence was rationalized by Bush-he said we needed to protect ourselves against another 9/11 massacre.

This is a clear pattern in legitimizing violence. We were injured, we will defend ourselves, preemptively or vengefully. Even legally we tend to excuse killing if we can persuade a jury that the killer thought he was acting in self-defense. Self-defense is much more primal and easier to understand than complicated history, land claims and numbers of killed.

Islam, which means the peace of surrender to God, is in popular American understanding a war religion-sanctifying holy war or jihad. President Bush thinks of the US and Israel as democratic “peace-loving” nations and the Islamic terrorist menace looks like bad guys to him. Bush seems incapable of understanding US or Israeli violence except from the good guy point of view that legitimizes it.

Good killing doesn’t eliminate bad killing. It echoes and promotes it. The power to stop killing is not adjectival and moralizing. As the old Hebrew adage goes “A bad peace is better than a good war.”

Good killing and bad killing are enemy brothers, old stories like Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac. You can tell who they are, not by their fathers who are the same, but by what they do. The murderer is the one who kills.

DIANE CHRISTIAN is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at University at Buffalo. She can be reached at: engdc@acsu.buffalo.edu

DIANE CHRISTIAN is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at University at Buffalo and author of the new book Blood Sacrifice. She can be reached at: engdc@acsu.buffalo.edu

More articles by:
June 29, 2016
Diana Johnstone
European Unification Divides Europeans: How Forcing People Together Tears Them Apart
Andrew Smolski
To My Less-Evilism Haters: A Rejoinder to Halle and Chomsky
Jeffrey St. Clair
Noam Chomsky, John Halle and a Confederacy of Lampreys: a Note on Lesser Evil Voting
David Rosen
Birth-Control Wars: Two Centuries of Struggle
Sheldon Richman
Brexit: What Kind of Dependence Now?
Yves Engler
“Canadian” Corporate Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
Return to the Gilded Age: Paul Ryan’s Deregulated Dystopia
Priti Gulati Cox
All That Glitters is Feardom: Whatever Happens, Don’t Blame Jill Stein
Franklin Lamb
About the Accusation that Syrian and Russian Troops are Looting Palmyra
Binoy Kampmark
Texas, Abortion and the US Supreme Court
Anhvinh Doanvo
Justice Thomas’s Abortion Dissent Tolerates Discrimination
Victor Grossman
Brexit Pro and Con: the View From Germany
Manuel E. Yepe
Brazil: the Southern Giant Will Have to Fight
Rivera Sun
The Nonviolent History of American Independence
Adjoa Agyeiwaa
Is Western Aid Destroying Nigeria’s Future?
Jesse Jackson
What Clinton Should Learn From Brexit
Mel Gurtov
Is Brexit the End of the World?
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail