Those Kindly Commandos

Solomon's Judgment, seeking the moral good
through wise understanding of human nature. 
Solomon couldn't get elected to dog catcher
in the USA.
When I got up this morning, I came upon an op-ed by Maureen Dowd, at the Times. I usually do not read Maureen's stuff any longer, as I think the wars have ground down her wit, and it seems the years have made her less inclined to even do her own work. I do not know if she was a victim of somebody else's arguments in this latest piece, but whoever was doing the thinking, it was misguided, or just plain dumb on some points.

Dowd's main argument was that Americans should not concern themselves over the morality of last Sunday's commando raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. She wrapped it up in her succinct title: "Killing Evil Doesn't Make Us Evil".

Dowd concludes about the Osama assassination

"Morally and operationally, this was counterterrorism at its finest."

However, in spite of arguing, and not convincingly (but that in a second), that no evil was done in the raid, Dowd never argues the opposite side of her title: that killing evil makes us good. In fact, the word "good" does not appear in her piece at all. What she does say is that the killing must not be evil, nor the celebrations of it thought barbaric, because the target of the US mission was himself—EVIL. And not just mundane evil, but Dowd says "one of the most certifiably evil figures of our time". 

Well, certainly most people would have difficulty seeing why we should be worrying about the killing of "one of the most certifiably evil figures of our time".

As Dowd points out, the "finest" operation went out of its way to do no deserving harm:

"Unlike Osama, the Navy Seals took great care not to harm civilians—they shot Bin Laden’s youngest wife in the leg and carried two young girls out of harm’s way before killing Osama."

Well, that was nice of them, huh? It was at this point in Dowd's apology, or really assault on the advisability of thinking much, that I realized Maureen was writing this on moral cruise-control, or if not then her brain seemed to have lost any capacity whatsoever for moral reflection, which may actually have been the point of her article—that we should all hope for such an incapacity.

What do I mean? 

Well, please, I know it's Sunday, and you have probably all had your fill of thinking about the Osama assassination, but let's go back in time a week OK. Now consider this. The mission as it was designed was obviously a "hit", not a capture. Obama had clearly decided to personalize the vengeance. THAT is why, along with hoping to get a certain ID of Osama's corpse, Obama decided to not to just blow Osama's Abbottabad neighborhood to kingdom come with 2000-lb bombs.

Dowd argues President Obama took the riskier course of a commando raid because this allowed him to spare "nearly all the women and children at the compound, and anyone in the vicinity."

From this she says the doing of any harm to "civilians" was just not part of the plan. And that, she concludes, is what makes the US commando raid different from the kinds of killing that Osama bin Laden did.

While it is true the US commandos did not, so far we know, shoot any of the children in the compound (they did shoot two of the women, killing one), it is, as I have written today on, obscenely obtuse to suggest, as Dowd does, that no harm was done to these children. They were forced to endure 38 minutes of the worst terror imaginable, with a score or more of the most ruthless killers on the face of the planet invading their home to kill their parents. 

When I posted this observation on Daily Kos, I was told, among other criticisms, that I should not care about the suffering of these mere collaterals, and instead I should think back to the lost children of 9/11.

I pointed out that this view is precisely what I am talking about—the liberation by Osama bin Laden of the most repellent aspect of the American personality—obscene obtuseness. The notion that if "they" have killed 100 of our children, we should be able to kill 100 of theirs and not suffer the indignity of being thought to be as evil as they, would only be mundanely obtuse, if it were not children we were discussing, and worse—thousands upon thousands of them killed, maimed, and made orphans by the bullets and bombs of the USA in the Terror Wars.

Of course that houseful of kids last Sunday night seemed a trifling thing to everyone, especially at first, because the USA is now in the well-practiced habit of terrorizing children—and adults too. It is one of the accurate insights of Osama bin Laden that the US natural aggression would be brought to the fore, and would wipe out all its pretensions of civilized behavior, in its lust for vengeance against his actions on 9/11.

I am raising a question here about the ease with which people overlook what seems to be a moral equivalency in the manner of seeking to do "good" through the use of terroristic violence. As I wrote on, the hatred now flowing freely all over the world on all sides, is backed by a shared vision that is "a simplistic, morally vapid, justification to get "them", the bad guys, no matter who gets hurt in the process."

I should be clear on this point, that I think choosing NOT to kill Osama bin Laden, especially given the choice (and he was unarmed), would have certainly been the civilized thing to do. Also, the US military no doubt has plenty of tools to non-violently subdue rather than kill targets. It is amazing to me, that if fighting the "War on Terror" was the primary point, so to speak, of Operation Neptune Spear, that nobody thought, or Obama didn't think, having the chief of al-Qaeda alive and available for interrogation, even secretly for a bit, would be the wise move. 

But wisdom was not the point of the operation. 

Satisfying a deep and long-held American lust for a particular man's blood was the point of the operation.