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July 6, 2003 Mail

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I do send out some odd email, and receive equally odd email in return.  Here I will print some of it, with, now and then, my responses.   Before I post anyone's writing, I will ask your permission to post your comments and whether I should use your name or not, or use an alias you wish to use.
Received recently -- Life and Death and other light topics...

Diane Christian teaches at SUNY Buffalo - that's the State University of New York, and Buffalo is one of the very best in the system.  In the July 2nd edition of Counterpunch she published an essay titled "A Bad Peace is Better Than a Good War"  Good Killing and Bad Killing. 
I found it confusing so I sent it off to my on-line discussion group where two of the guys have degrees in philosophy.  As I said about the Ten Commandments this week in these pages (June 29, 2003 Opinion), yeah, it is wrong to kill another, unless it's a state-approved execution, or during a war where one is told who it is okay to kill, or it is self-defense and you're trying to stay alive yourself, or one is killing a fetus in the first three months of pregnancy but not in the last six, with certain exceptions for medical conditions and the health of the mother, or when pulling the plug on someone who has been declared "brain dead" by the hospital Brain Death Committee (there are such things). 
People kill others all the time, claiming the right to do so.  Here this woman claims classical ethics says, "primary morality derives from the act itself, not from the intention or situation."  Where's the fun in that?

Key items from the Diane Christian essay -
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.
I was confused.

One of my friends responded with this:
Death is certain, cause of death is not.   Do we take a "cull the herd" attitude towards any human, no matter how heinous, and treat them like animals (please, no "what else are we plants or minerals" argument here) or is it the sanctity of life issue to all things who think and feel.
When I worked on a cattle farm as a teenager I saw that cattle truly feel, have emotions, feel rejected, mourn their dead.  All the same emotions of really stupid humans are truly there, if you can read another's emotion at all.  I was asked to do the tough stuff, but I wouldn't do the wet work - castration with a knife, stapler and spray adhesive - nor would I kill an animal.  Not me - that would have to be some one else's job.  That I would load them on a truck to the stockyard, knowing they would be killed was some how different.
But enough of the human and cattle comparisons.  It is really a one choice one moment event that is entertained with ethics - hypocrisy,  judgment and opportunity.  Could I as an officer send group of soldiers knowing that some will surely be killed if it was my rotten job.  Probably.  I put my dog to sleep when I was a teenager even though he loved me and trusted me until the vet put the needle in his leg.  Didn't cry about it, was just a lousy job that I had to do because no one else in my family would.  He was pretty blind, fairly deaf and had bad arthritis.  In one perspective it was murder, another duty.
And another:
I, too, am confused by this right now.  Either she's scrambled her argument so hard that there's nothing left but bubbles and fluff, or my blood sugar count is so far off this morning that I just can't make sense of the point she's trying to make.
I do think she's a bit confused about the meaning of "martyrdom."
First of all, we of the secular West don't have "martyrs", the other guys do; we only have "heros" and "innocent victims." 
Second of all, Islam doesn't claim, as she does, that martyrs don't kill; in fact, Islamic martyrs are those who die fighting in defense of or the furtherance of Islam. There is, according to Bernard Lewis, some debate within the Islamic world whether Mohammed would think "suicide bombers" deserve "martyrdom," since the death of a "true" martyr theoretically happens only incidental to the struggle, while "suicide bombers" know they are to die in their act and are therefore just committing suicide with a bomb, an act that Mohammed is said to have said would earn the bomber an eternity in hell reliving being blown up with a bomb, over and over again.
I do agree with her about our habit of labeling those who commit acts like those of 9/11 as "cowards," and it had never occurred to me that we do this to rob them of their "warrior" status, but she's probably right about this. 
In fact, the what-I-think-is-inaccurate "cowardly" label only seems to detract from the negative labels these guys actually deserve, labels that include, for example, "stupid."  This is not to say they weren't "clever" enough to figure out that you could fly a hijacked plane into the WTC, just that they were "stupid" to think this was a good and desirable thing to do, and especially that doing this would somehow please God.
Other than that, I agree with the previous analysis, that as a fact of nature, we kill when we have to, but it's best to try to avoid that situation. 
In fact, the difference between when one person thinks "we have to" and another person thinks "we have to" (I'm thinking wars, abortion, armed defense of private property, and capital punishment here) is the stuff without which politics might not exist.
And they say American men can only discuss sports and cars.