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November 16, 2001 — 5 PM

Oceans Apart

Picked up a copy of The Atlantic yesterday and leafed through a couple excellent articles — neither of which are on their normally excellent web site (But I guess we have to pay for the goods sometimes. Or visit the neighbourhood Indigo and hang out in the magazine racks for awhile.). Worth reading anyhow: Christopher Hitchens sends another rebuke to those on the left who see only American conceit and ignorance in the ongoing mélée over there, who practice moral equivalance (the “But We’ve Been Wrecking The World So We Deserved It” argument) and who, as Hitchens put it, would call PETA if they found a snake in their baby’s crib.

I’ve been reading a lot of this lately, this paradigm shift of intellectual thought. Criticize American foreign policy and ignorance by all means, they say, but don’t have the gall to say that such sins somehow mean anyone deserved anything. Or that the American war is ‘terrorism’ in itself. Things have changed.

Well, things are certainly changing. Rapid-fire history is being created in Afghanistan right now, and while doubtless there is a lot more to this war than it is possible for us to know, I must admit that despite my anti-war sentiments, I am starting to feel that the outcome so far — the fall of the Taliban — is a good thing. And while I struggle with the morality of air strikes and special forces, I don’t know what else could have been done to achieve what has been achieved. After all, Afghanistan was already at war before the West brought in the cavalry. I know that bombs have killed civilians and Red Cross facilities, but I also can’t help but be moved by the stories of music being played for the first time on the streets of Kabul, of women tearing off their burqas, of men racing to the barber shop.

It’s easy to be cynical all the time, and I’m the first to be skeptical, but sometimes you have to stop and notice that some good can be achieved, even if you’re not sure you like how it was achieved.


Though I agree with these sentiments, I can’t help but feel a bit uncomfortable with how easy it is to justify the means of conflict based on their ends alone. Does newfound liberty and freedom in Kabul justify the foreign intervention and carpet-bombing in Afghanistan? It’s easy to say “Yes!” when we look at the alternative (Taliban), but isn’t this just a lucky break in this case? Is there a difference between American involvement in Vietnam and in Afghanistan other than a happy ending?

My bias as an Army officer might be reflected in the fact that I believe the means of conflict are often justified in themselves. They certainly aren’t always ideal means, but they are often the best means available for inducing the required change. By this attribute, I feel that the means of conflict are justified despite their ends (though one can only hope that the desired outcome is obtained).

Recently, I’ve noticed that much energy is spent arguing against the means employed in conflict - many alternative means are proposed (often involving the complete cessation of belligerency) and often these means are justified as being superior to existing ones. But too often the question of how to implement these alternative means is not addressed. Though perhaps there is a better alternative to carpet-bombing Afghanistan, how do we go about implementing this alternative given our present way of life, our current expectations and so on? What are the trade-offs? Can we indeed obtain similar results?

The means of conflict are justified in themselves until a better alternative - complete with a viable method of implementation - is proposed. If such a proposal is made and alternative means are used then, and only then, can the current means be considered to be unjustified. But in the meantime, we should be prepared to accept the current means of conflict as justified. As such, we should be careful not resign ourselves to retrospective tacit endorsement of means based only on their ends.

Chris | Nov. 19, 2001 — 4 PM

Previously: Bathtubs and Razors

Subsequently: Oceans Apart II

November 2001
the Archives