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The Demise of Conscience, Part 3


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Americans who have supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq, including U.S. soldiers who have killed people in Iraq, might say, “Look, I thought there were going to be WMDs, just like the president did. We all just made an honest mistake.”

There are major problems, however, with that position, at least from the standpoint of conscience. For one, there has been no attempt on the part of many Americans, especially through their elected representatives in Congress, to investigate whether the president and his associates knowingly and intentionally lied about the real reasons for invading Iraq. Instead, it is obvious that people just don’t want to know whether their federal officials lied or not. Wouldn’t a person struck by a crisis of conscience want to know the truth in order to deal with what he has wrought?

Recall what happened on that fateful day when it was confirmed that there were no WMDs. One option would have been for the president to announce, “My fellow Americans. I have made a grave and grievous error. I secured your support for the invasion of Iraq on the basis of my claim that Saddam was threatening our nation with WMDs. It turns out that Saddam was telling the truth — that he really had destroyed his WMDs. I hereby apologize to you and the Iraqi people who have already lost loved ones in this invasion. I am hereby ordering the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq. I am very sorry for my mistake.”

But that’s not what the president did. Instead, he shifted to what had been a secondary, alternative rationale for invading Iraq — to bring democracy to the Iraqi people. He continued the invasion, which everyone knew would entail the killing and maiming of countless more Iraqis in the process.

Now, think about that for a moment. On the one hand, the president has the American people view Iraq as an enemy nation — one that is threatening the very survival of America — one that we must defend against. On the other hand, the president is telling the American people that another reason he’s invading Iraq is to help out the Iraqi people by giving them a democratic system.

That’s a strange confluence of two completely different lines of thinking. Imagine, for example, that after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt had said to the American people, “We are fighting for our national survival against a brutal foe that is trying to conquer us and, alternatively, we are fighting to help our foe achieve democracy.”
Killing for welfare

In the days prior to the confirmation that Iraq had no WMDs, Americans could tell themselves that the killing of Iraqis was necessary to defend America from a WMD attack. On the day after that confirmation, that rationalization no longer held water. On that fateful day — the day it was confirmed that Saddam Hussein had in fact “disarmed” — the U.S. government chose to continue killing Iraqis, only under a completely different justification — helping the Iraqi people achieve democracy.

Even though this alternative justification was more in the nature of a welfare function and as far away from a self-defense function as a justification could be, many Americans didn’t skip a beat. They quickly shifted rationales in order to match their mind-sets to that of the president. The fact that they were supporting the killing of people for the sake of a welfare function (i.e., bringing democracy to the Iraqi people) didn’t bother them one iota.

In fact, the entire “We’re from the U.S. government and we’re here to help you” secondary rationale for invading and occupying Iraq is laughable because the actions of the U.S. government were clearly inconsistent with that notion. For one thing, there was absolutely no remorse or regret for having killed countless people under a mistaken WMD rationale. For another, the manner in which Iraqi people were tortured, sexually abused, and murdered at Abu Ghraib prison is inconsistent with the idea that U.S. officials were in Iraq out of love for Iraqis. So was the fact that U.S. officials nonchalantly permitted Iraqi museums containing priceless antiquities to be ransacked, an action that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld described as an “untidy” aspect of “freedom.”
Other rationales for invading

Ultimately, the rationale for invading and occupying Iraq — and killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis in the process — has morphed from one of protecting America from a WMD attack, to spreading democracy, to fighting the terrorists there so that we don’t have to fight them here in the United States. Some extreme right-wing pro-war supporters have even suggested that the invasion was necessary to oppose the threat that Muslims have posed to Christians for the past several centuries.

The third rationale is the so-called magnet rationale, which entailed using U.S. troops in Iraq to serve as a “magnet” for terrorists who otherwise would come to the United State and commit terrorist acts. The idea is that it’s okay to kill Iraqis because they’re living in the country that is serving as a magnet, which, in turn, helps to keep America safe from “the terrorists.”

Notice the moral bankruptcy in that reasoning, however. Where is the moral justification for using Iraq or any other country as such a “magnet”? What responsibility did the Iraqi people have for President Bush’s “war on terrorism”? What did they do to deserve the deadly consequences of serving as a “magnet”?

Moreover, who cares that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died? Isn’t that what war is all about, even though neither the Iraqi people nor their government wanted war with the United States? And why should conscience play any role in the killing of Iraqis, given that U.S. officials have designated their country to be a “magnet” war zone?

Finally, we cannot ignore the fact that the invasion of Iraq, just like the sanctions and other U.S. interventions, produced the very terrorist threat that the U.S. government then uses to justify its continued killing of Iraqis. Let’s not forget, however, that under both legal and moral principles, the people of an invaded country, regardless of what label you put on them, have the right to use deadly force in self-defense against an aggressor power.

The notion adopted by extreme right-wing neocons that it was necessary to invade Iraq to oppose some centuries-old plan by Muslims to conquer the Christian world is perhaps the most ludicrous justification of all for killing Iraqis. After all, isn’t it odd that we never heard about this “threat” during the entire Cold War, when communism, not Islam, was the big bugaboo?

In fact, not even the U.S. government buys this rationale. U.S. officials have never had any reservations about entering into partnerships with Muslims and Muslim regimes. For example, consider the U.S. partnerships with Osama bin Laden (to end the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan), Saddam Hussein (when the United States was furnishing WMDs to Saddam to kill Iranians), and the shah of Iran, not to mention the untold amounts of U.S. military aid furnished to Islamic regimes all over the Middle East. Let’s not forget that, thanks to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, that country itself now has a radical Islamic regime, one that has even aligned itself with the radical Islamic regime in Iran.

Notice that not one of the people who justify the killing of Iraqis on the basis of the so-called Islamic threat against the West is calling for bombing the Islamic regimes in Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or Kuwait.
No remorse for the Iraqi dead

On top of all these shifting and morphing rationales for killing Iraqis was the official policy of the Pentagon, announced early on, that U.S. forces would not keep count of the Iraqi dead. Isn’t that a rather unusual policy for a government that is supposedly doing all this for the benefit of the Iraqi people?

Through it all, most Americans have had absolutely no remorse for the Iraqi dead and maimed. Having stultified consciences, those Americans just don’t care that Iraqis have been killed. In fact, the only reason that many Americans are having second thoughts about Iraq is that American soldiers are being killed there, not because people’s consciences are bothering them because of all the Iraqi people killed. They simply take the attitude that since it’s war, people are going to die, or they compare it to other wars and blithely conclude, “Oh well, at least the number of people killed isn’t as high as it has been in other wars.”
Conscience and Iraqi deaths

In fact, some Americans have reduced the Iraq War to a mathematical equation, one which holds that any number of Iraqi deaths is worth it if it helps to achieve “democracy.” Conscience has disappeared in that equation.

All too many Americans have convinced themselves that any war in which the U.S. government is involved, including a war of aggression against a country that never attacked the United States, is automatically a just war. Such a conclusion, they feel, relieves them of any exercise of conscience with respect to the consequences of such a war.

But only defensive wars are morally justifiable and consistent with God’s commandment against killing. Does God permit killing people under a fake and false WMD rationale? Does God permit killing a person for the sake of democracy-spreading? Does God permit killing people as part of a “magnet” defense? Does God permit killing people as part of some conjured-up Islamic plan to conquer the Christian West?

Many Americans, including some priests and ministers, don’t dare to ask those questions because to do so might require the exercise of conscience, which is not an easy process to undergo.

The demise of conscience has produced a society of people who go to church on Sunday, where they regularly pray for the troops in Iraq, without permitting their consciences to consider the fact that the U.S. government has no right to be in Iraq and that the troops have no right to be killing Iraqi people.

How many Iraqis have been killed in the invasion and occupation of Iraq? We don’t know the exact number because, again, the Pentagon has steadfastly said that it has absolutely no intention of keeping track of how many Iraqis it kills. But the best estimates indicate that approximately a million Iraqis have been killed as a consequence of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Now, reflect on that for a few minutes. One million people, dead. Not a thousand. Not a hundred thousand. Not half a million. One million dead people. That is not a small number of dead people.

Now, add that million to the estimated hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people who died as a result of the brutal sanctions against Iraq during the 1990s.

The standard attitude among all too many Americans is that it’s all been “worth it” because Saddam Hussein was a “bad man” who needed to be replaced by a U.S. stooge. It was the same attitude of UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright, who told Sixty Minutes that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children from the sanctions had been “worth it” — i.e., worth the attempt to oust Saddam from power and replace him with a ruler acceptable to U.S. officials.

But no American, including U.S. soldiers, had the moral right to kill even one Iraqi, much less a million, simply because Saddam Hussein was a “bad man” whom U.S. officials were trying to oust from power. God does not permit the killing of any person for the sake of democracy-spreading, making them “magnets,” or imaginary threats. The commandment is clear: Thou shalt not kill.

Meanwhile, Americans blithely go about their business at home, indifferent to or even enthusiastic about the number of Iraqi people killed at the hands of the U.S. war machine in a war of aggression against people who never attacked the United States and who did not want war with the United States.

Conscience — the ferreting out of right and wrong and the pursuing of right — has been subordinated to the almighty judgments and decisions of the federal government. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever.”

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

This article originally appeared in Freedom Daily.

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    Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.