The Moral Barbarism of Blair and Bush

Between about 40,000 and 100,000 civilian deaths have resulted so far from our war in Iraq and its inevitable aftermath. Blair and Bush justify these deaths. They do so partly by the line of thinking that these deaths were not intended by them or our men. They did not intend to kill innocent people. They would have chosen to avoid it if this had been possible consistently with their goal.

This claim of rightness is moral nonsense. It is worse than that. It is moral viciousness.

What makes something right or wrong is what it can reasonably be expected to do. What makes it right or wrong is not what the person would do instead if he had more choice. It does not matter what he says to himself or others is his goal — or what he puts out of his mind. The prate of politicians about freedom does not often justify frying people.

Do you need what is as good as a proof of this, out of your own judgement?

Consider an ordinary murderer. His wife left him and he won’t take it. He glues the locks of the house she is in and sets fire to it, knowing that an entirely unconnected person went in there and is probably still there. No judge will agree that he is responsible for only one death. No relative of the unconnected person will feel or think that about him.

As the casualty figures for innocents killed on account of American and British soldiers mount, it is impossible to make a relevant difference between the action of the leaders of the soldiers and a young Palestinian woman who carries a bomb onto a bus in Israel to kill innocents and herself.

Do you say that in some other sense the Palestinian woman intended exactly what she did and the soldiers don’t? Maybe that she actually saw her victims, saw them living and breathing, and went ahead anyway, and this was not true of the soldiers. But does that fact about the personal experience of two killers make a difference of right and wrong?

It could not possibly do so, for so many reasons. Killing more innocents horrifically but out of sight could by this supposition be less wrong than killing fewer innocents in sight. Anybody with a long-range rifle or capable of planting a roadside bomb could make his killing less wrong.

Is there hope for you in the simple idea that it was certain that the Palestinian woman would kill innocents but only probable that an American would kill some? That in this sense the American did not intend the deaths? Well, as a war goes on, and the numbers of dead innocents mounts, maybe day by day, this recourse becomes impossible.

Americans may be known to be killing many more innocents than the Palestinian women, whatever probability attaches to any particular attack. A president or prime minister who orders a high probability of many thousands of innocent deaths is patently more culpable than anyone who with certainty produces a few.

No decent morality, no morality worth disputing with, could conclude that the reasons assembled for the Iraq war, that mess, plus this stuff about unintentional killing of innocents, could justify it. The morality of humanity condemns it. No decent morality, no morality above contempt, could justify our leaders and political parties.

Our leaders have been deficient in moral intelligence. The morality of humanity condemns them absolutely. It places them on a level with bin Laden. It brings them together with Sharon. It joins them to Saddam Hussein. Bush and Blair are greater contributors than they to the Iraq killings.

And the question of right and wrong now, of what to do now? It is not hard. It follows from what you have heard. Also from the photographs of naked men on leashes in the American prison in Baghdad, and the film of the savage beatings of young captives by British soliders.

This is moral barbarism, moral barbarism that trickles down from the leaders of two democracies. A rich and decent people can have a barbarian government. This is far larger than the fact that our illegal war has course been exactly a terrorist war — it has had all the features of terrorism itself except for being larger-scale. It has been killing and maiming, for a political and social end, illegal, and prima facie wrong.

We in Britain should not be quiet about our leader who by his clanking repartee has joined us into the killing of the 20,000 or the 90,000 people. We should not go back to political business as usual. Nor should you in America.

TED HONDERICH is Grote Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at University College London and Visiting Professor at the University of Bath. He is the author of: After the Terror (Edinburgh University Press, Columbia University Press) and Terrorism for Humanity: Inquiries in Political Philosophy (Pluto Press). His latest book Humanity, Terrorism, Terrorist War: Palestine, 9/11, Iraq, 7/7… is published in Britain this week by Continuum and will be published soon in America by Seven Stories Press as Right and Wrong, and Palestine, 9/11, Iraq, 7/7…. He is also known for his theory of Consciousness as Existence. It will be discussed by 10 leading philosophers in an issue this summer of The Journal of Consciousness Studies.