November 3, 2003
Everyone lies. Well maybe not everyone. Mother Teresa probably never
lied. Perhaps that's one qualification of sainthood: to have never lied.
However, one must not condemn lying outright. We might argue, as did
Episcopalian priest Joseph Fletcher, that certain situations require the
bending of our ethical rules. Father Fletcher defined situation ethics
as "'situational' or 'contextual' or 'relative' in the sense that actual
circumstances rather than generalized norms 'form conscience' and
determine what actions ought to be taken." According to Dr. James H.
Toner, Department of Leadership and Ethics at the Air War College,
"Lying is wrong. But would you lie to a Nazi if you owned a house in
Warsaw in 1939 and he knocked on your door, asking if you had seen two
fugitive Jews (whom you were hiding in your basement)? Of course you
would, for you recognize the importance of the situation, circumstances,
Indeed, a good Christian who sympathizes with the Jews would lie to the Nazi. However, would a good Christian, or any decent human being of any faith, tell a series of lies to justify a deadly course of action?
Theology professor Edward Lutzer summarizes situation ethics as follows:
The first premise of situationism is that love is the sole arbiter of morality in any situation. This means that under certain conditions doing the loving thing may require us to break the rules or commandments of morality because they are only contingent, whereas love is the unchanging absolute.Under these premises, one can imagine any action being justified through that art of lies. However, we wish to examine a lie purposefully told in order to sanction an eternal war on terrorism, whose end requires deadly force, whose end requires killing the innocent, whose end requires the end of civil liberties as we know them.
In order to justify the invasion of Iraq, which has been defined as "the front line of the war on terrorism," George W. Bush claimed that 1) Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, 2) Iraq threatened the security of the United States, and 3) Iraq was behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Following are just a few of the "facts" that Mr. Bush presented to justify his "ends."
Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons. (September 12, 2002)Most recently, George W. Bush made this outlandish claims: "You remember when [Secretary of State] Colin Powell stood up in front of the world, and he said Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons....They're illegal. They're against the United Nations resolutions, and we've so far discovered two. And we'll find more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong. We found them." (May 31, 2003) Besides the outright lie that American forces had found evidence, the mobile labs Mr. Bush identified were used to inflate artillery spotting balloons.
If we ask which ethical rules apply to George W. Bush's lies, then one must conclude he uses situational ethics. Certainly he doesn't follow legal ethics. A preemptive war is clearly illegal in international law, unless the state is under direct threat of annihilation. Clearly Iraq did not possess nuclear weapons, nor did Iraq possess ballistic missiles capable of delivering those weapons. One might argue that Iraq could fire chemical and biological weapons at Israel, thus our preemptive war was meant to protect that state. Yet no fact "on the ground" has been found to verify or even imply that this was possible.
If we apply situational ethics to George W.'s invasion and continuing occupation of Iraq, then we must conclude that his love of humanity must equal the number of his lies. If "love is the sole arbiter of morality in any situation," then to lie in order to save lives is justified, even if other lives will be lost. George W. does not love the Iraqi civilians any less than Americans, but for American lives to be protected, George truly, if we take him at his word, believes Iraqi citizens must die. Indeed, we can ignore the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" because "love" is absolute, and in order to protect the American lives he "loves," George W. must sacrifice Iraqi lives, and the lives of American soldiers. Next, the greatest good must come to the greatest number of people because of our action. If one argues that the entire world will benefit from killing few alleged terrorists, then "Thou shalt not kill" and "love thy enemy as thyself" are moot. God's law then has no meaning against this "greater good."
So what greater good was achieved by these lies? If Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, then what greater good was served by the lie? No one was under an immediate threat from any of the "most lethal weapons ever devised." What good "end" was justified by the deadly "means" used? Was this good end the liberation of Iraq from a brutal dictator, a dictator who for most of his reign was an American ally? Current facts on the ground clearly indicate that a substantial number of Iraqis consider Americans to be an occupying force. So what "good" has come of this invasion? Yes, a brutal dictator has been removed. But did Bush and his cabinet need to lie to the American people in order to accomplish this goal, this end? Only if one believes that Americans don't have love for other citizens of the world, only if one believes that Americans are solely motivated by self-interest, and self-preservation, only if one believes that "one people under God" can be easily convinced to ignore the basic commandments of their own morality.
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Iraq on Swans
Gerard Donnelly Smith, a poet and musician, teaches creative writing, literature and composition at Clark College in Vancouver WA. CERRO de la ESTRELLA (Logan Elm Press, 1992) was chosen for The Governor's Award for the Arts in Ohio, 1992. Excerpts from THE AMERICAN CORPSE (10 poems) were published in Apex of the M in 1995. He is the current director of the Columbia Writers Series, an Honorary Board Member of The Mountain Writers Series, and co-advisor of the Native American Student Council at Clark College. He has also organized readings for Poets Against the War.
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