Ethics In Wartime

 Posted by on 29 September 2009 at 4:00 am  Ethics, Military
Sep 292009

I don’t necessarily endorse this review of two particular philosophy books, but I did find this particular passage interesting:

…Take the old classroom chestnut about the runaway trolley: should you allow it to kill five workers on the track, or divert it onto another track where it would kill only one person? There is something comfortably abstract about this problem — it invites leisurely debate, since we know that it couldn’t actually happen to us.

But then Sandel turns to a real incident that took place in 2005. A Navy SEAL operating behind enemy lines in Afghanistan came across some unarmed goatherds: should he kill them, though they hadn’t done anything hostile, or let them go, and take the risk that they would warn the Taliban?

In a Hollywood movie, we know what the hero would do: he would be merciful and let the men live. And in fact, Sandel shows, Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell did let the goatherds go; then they alerted the Taliban, his unit was ambushed, and 19 American soldiers were killed.

It makes a pretty convincing case for killing innocent civilians, and Luttrell himself now regrets his impulse to do what seemed like justice: “It was the stupidest, most southern-fried, lamebrained decision I ever made in my life.”

If a war is morally justified, then the resulting deaths of any civilians of the opposing country are the moral responsibility of that country’s government.

For more on this topic, see:

Q & A with Ayn Rand on the Death of Innocents in War
and “Innocents In War?

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