Apparently the new “ethics refresher course” at the White House is going to focus on reminding White House staff that classified information is not supposed to be told to reporters.
Ethics Part 2, to be taught in the Spring, will delve into the appropriateness of endangering the life of a woman and her colleagues because you’re pissed off at her husband.
Those who opt for Graduate Level ethics refreshment will study the question of whether anger is justifiable if the object of that anger is guilty only of exposing you as a fraud and a liar.
And PhD candidates will be required to address the eternal enigma involved in the question: Is it morally good to aggressively attack another nation if you tell a bunch of lies about it first?
Students will be required to pay all library fines and parking tickets and hand in completed applications for presidential pardons prior to graduation. There will be an extra charge to have Ashcroft pour vegetable oil on you.
Seriously, who in the hell are they kidding? Themselves?
This is not ethics. Of course, neither would in-depth regurgitation of Aristotle or Kant or Bentham or Moses for that matter do these people any good. If anything did them any good in the way of ethics, they’d resign and no longer work for the Bush White House. Bush would have refreshered himself right out of a staff.
But the fact is that ethical education is not refreshment. It does not return you to a comfortable state of familiar platitudes. Useful ethical education makes the student ill at ease with previously accepted situations.
If I were designing an ethics course for White House staff, I would begin with a viewing of and discussion of some of these images of the victims of the war on Iraq:
Then I would play aloud this audio recording of Beatrice Salvador telling the story of her nephew, who was killed in the war as a U.S. soldier.
I would continue in this vein until the stories of the collateral damage and the supported troops became real. I would ask the students to research, to meet with families, and to write up at least two new stories of victims of the war, at least one of them Iraqi. I would be looking for an understanding of suffering.
Then I would ask them to study any of the infinite pieces of rhetoric, new and old, from rulers sending soldiers to war. You know the stuff: sacrifice, last resort, war for peace, agonizing decision, no choice, humility. I would especially focus on humility. I would ask the students to give examples of what humility sounds like, and of what arrogance sounds like.
Then we would listen to this audio compilation of Bush and Company lying about the need for war.
Eventually we would discuss the merits of the decision to go to war and the decision to lie about the justification for it.
Upon completion of the course, students would either resign or agree to display the 10 Commandments on the door to their office. I would bring a supply of framed prints of the 10 Commandments, the King George Version:
1. Don’t listen to nobody else when Karl ain’t around.
2. Don’t get too attached to stuff, cause you can always buy another one.
3. Don’t talk back to Karl.
4. Never work on a Sunday. This rule is not to be construed as in any way stipulating a requirement to work on any particular day or days that is not or are not Sundays.
5. Honor thy father and thy mother besides they don’t NEED Social Security.
6. Thou shalt not kill but it’s OK to force poor people to kill and be killed if it helps the corporations and if you don’t let anyone see the bodies.
7. Thou shalt not dirty the White House like Clinton!
8. Thou shalt not steal unless you let the European corporations have a little too.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness unless it helps you start a war.
10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s oil or public resources unless your neighbor is a Muslim or your campaign funding is on the line.
DAVID SWANSON can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org