Coded gray. Very gray.

Sunday 7 October 2001

Screenshot, sort of

Pic of the day: This "nuke the coastal town" picture was made with SimCity 2000, a 17 inch monitor and electronic flash. But this isn't August 1945, and thank the Light for that. Things are more clear cut now ... aren't they?

The ethics of war

As I read up on today's attacks in Afghanistan, there was an article in a Norwegian newspaper about a meeting between a Norwegian leading politician and a group of young social democrats. One 18 year old said that if as much as one innocent Afghan life was lost, there was no difference between the US government and the Taliban.

Now, apart from the lack of brain development, what might have moved a human to such a conclusion? Let us briefly investigate this matter.


For the purpose of this discussion, I will presume that each of us dies only once. (Some religions will dispute this: For instance, Hinduism teaches that we change bodies like clothes, and that the self can not kill or be killed. Therefore, says the Bhagavadgita, a warrior should do his duty without undue worry. As long as he is driven by duty, not hate, no karma will attach to him because of it.) The fact remains that for most of us, death is a pretty much definitive event and can not be undone by human means or compensated in any way to the deceased.

Now if a person dies before the natural timespan of the body, it does not matter much if we are killed by a terrorist attack, a UN sanctioned bombing, or a late night street robber. Once we are dead, we are just as dead one way or the other.

From this perspective, the young socialist was actually right: For the one who dies, the terror is just as terrifying regardless of the geopolitical reasons. The pain, the fear, the worry about those left behind ... there is no difference.


For those who live, however, there is a certain difference. Most notably, one of these actions has as purpose to limit further killings in the future. The other had, as far as we know, no point at all except to kill as many civilians as possible.

It is entirely possible that this may yet go horribly wrong. That the USA will be locked in a centuries long struggle where various groups of terrorists use any means possible, including weapons of mass destructions, to decimate the American population. However, the sad fact is that this was already the case before the attacks on Afghanistan. A group that is willing to kill thousands of civilians out of the blue - literally, in this case - would most certainly use nuclear weapons, poison gas or deadly bacteria if they could in any way get their hands on them. As far as we know - admittedly not much - it looks like there is much to win and little to lose.

Is it ever right to let one person die to save several others? I think those who are selected to die may dispute this. Those who stand to survive, however, will probably be a lot more accepting.


In the past, wars have largely been fought over pieces of land and, ultimately, the personal ambition of various kings and emperors. At times there have been wars of ideology, such as the war against nazism. A war which, incidentally, the USA only entered openly after they were attacked.

Measured by the yardstick of history, few warriors have ever worn a whiter hat than the American-led coalition against Osama bin Laden and his allies. Even now, it seems that maximal care is taken to hit military goals and minimize the loss of civilian lives. It is certainly a contrast to the orgy in mindless killing of women and children which is the hallmark of terrorists. Particularly Muslim terrorists, belonging to a religion in which the sanctity of women and children is of utmost importance. May Allah's revenge find them before they get to do more grisly deeds.

In the end, that is what this is all about. Not to avenge the past, but to safeguard the future. As long as we keep that in mind, there is still hope.

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