Category Archives: War and the Military

Unethical Quote of the Week: Dick Cheney

Hello, I'll be your torturer today. Now, if you are innocent, please understand, on balance this works.

Hello, my name is Skug, and I’ll be your torturer today. Now, if you are innocent, please understand, on balance this works.

“I’m more concerned with bad guys who got out and released than I am with a few that, in fact, were innocent.”

—Former V.P. Dick Cheney, giving his reactions on “Meet the Press” regarding the Senate’s critique of the Bush Administration and the CIA’s interrogation methods.

I try to be fair to Dick Cheney, whose character has been distorted beyond all recognition by his partisan foes. Sunday, however, he was apparently attempting to validate all the most terrible things anyone has said about him, as well as providing future students of ethics real life examples of ethical fallacies.

The one quoted above is the pip: so much for the jurisprudential principle that It is better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer.”   Chuck Todd reminded Cheney that 25% of those detained were apparently innocent. The Cheney variation: “It is OK if some innocent persons are unjustly punished as long as the bad guys get what they deserve.”

It is hard to pick the most unethical assertion, however; there are so many horrible statements to choose from. Such as: Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Quotes, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Literature, U.S. Society, War and the Military

On Its 100th Anniversary: Remembering The Great War’s Christmas Truce Of 1914

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On December 7, 1914, as the horrible, pointless, world-disrupting “War to End All Wars”  was only five months old, Pope Benedict XV suggested a truce for the celebration of Christmas. The governments of the battling nations rejected the idea, but in the days leading up to  Christmas and after, many of  the soldiers in the trenches of this ugly conflict took the Pope’s advice.

On December 20, Germans soldiers in some areas took in British wounded from the no man’s land between the warring armies. A German soldier reported on December 22 that both sides had been heard singing Christmas Carols in the trenches. German troops arriving into the lines had begun bringing Christmas trees, and some men placed them on the parapets of the fire trenches. Then, on Christmas Eve, many German and British troops serenaded each other across the lines. Allied soldiers reported that sometimes their singing was accompanied by German brass bands. Then, Christmas Day, 1914, some of the German soldiers left their trenches and  carefully approached Allied lines, shouting“Merry Christmas” in French and English. Allied soldiers climbed out of their trenches, and shook hands with the men who had only recently been trying to kill them. Some even exchanged exchanged gifts of cigarettes and and food. There were even instances where soldiers from opposing sides played soccer: in England, one organization is holding a match next week against a German team to commemorate such contests. Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, History, War and the Military

Ethics Quote Of The Month: Aaron Sorkin

“You want the truth? Well, you can’t have the truth because I’ve decided that it isn’t newsworthy!”

“I understand that news outlets routinely use stolen information. That’s how we got the Pentagon Papers, to use an oft-used argument. But there is nothing in these documents remotely rising to the level of public interest of the information found in the Pentagon Papers. Do the emails contain any information about Sony breaking the law? No. Misleading the public? No. Acting in direct harm to customers, the way the tobacco companies or Enron did? No. Is there even one sentence in one private email that was stolen that even hints at wrongdoing of any kind? Anything that can help, inform or protect anyone? The co-editor in chief of Variety tells us he decided that the leaks were — to use his word — “newsworthy.” I’m dying to ask him what part of the studio’s post-production notes on Cameron Crowe’s new project is newsworthy. So newsworthy that it’s worth carrying out the wishes of people who’ve said they’re going to murder families and who have so far done everything they’ve threatened to do. Newsworthy. As the character Inigo Montoya said in “The Princess Bride,” I do not think it means what you think it means.”

—-Acclaimed screenwriter, playwright and Hollywood liberal Aaron Sorkin, reprimanding the news media  for publishing material from the Sony computer hacks in an Op-Ed in the New York Times.

There are many other titles for this post I considered, like “Jaw-dropping Hypocrisy of the Month,” “Self-serving Delusion of the Month,” and “This Is The Tragedy of Partisan Delusion: Won’t You Give Generously To Help Aaron”?

I’ve got to give the man credit: it takes world class gall for to write something like this self-serving for international consumption. Self-righteous, Freedom of the Press-promoting (Sorkin is the creator and writer of “The Newsroom” series on cable) Hollywood liberals applauded and screamed for blood when a near-senile billionaire’s private comments made in his own bedroom were surreptitiously recorded by his paid female mistress and plastered all over the media, because the private, private, private words suggested that he held racist attitudes, and no matter what he actually did (which was sufficient to be named an NAACP “man of the Year,” a distinction Aaron Sorkin has never earned),  that meant that he had to be publicly humiliated, fined millions and stripped of his business. We didn’t hear Sorkin protesting that this wasn’t newsworthy. Nor did the Sorkins of an earlier generation protest when the very same newspaper carrying his essay published criminally stolen Defense Department documents that, whatever was contained in them, were part of a sincere effort to win a war. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Ethics Quotes, Ethics Train Wrecks, Journalism & Media, Popular Culture, War and the Military

Vice President Biden May Be A Boob, A Hypocrite And An Ethics Dunce, But He Understands The American Culture Better Than Most Of His Party

I’m late to the blog today, because I spent it giving a special program for the Smithsonian Associates called  “From Stagecoach to Django Unchained: The Hollywood Western and Its Influence on American Values, Aspirations and Culture.” It consisted of me talking, a terrific Powerpoint presentation by the gifted Grace Marshall, and almost three hours of clips from classic Westerns—the whole session was five hours. My primary message is that anyone who is not literate  regarding the Hollywood Western really doesn’t understand the myths and archetypes that powerfully influence U.S. culture to this day. Within that “anyone” are the majority of pundits and journalists, a large percentage of citizens under 50, and the vast majority of women and minorities. This is a problem.

For example, no one can consider the vast influence of the Western genre on American culture and be the least bit surprised that gun control has an uphill battle with the American public. No other culture has as its primary source of heroes, legends and lore figures and events so dependent on firearms as a means to right wrongs, protect the innocent, and punish evil. Frankly, if a pundit doesn’t understand why John Wayne (who died in 1979) just set a Harris poll record by being included in its annual list of top ten most popular movie actors for twenty consecutive years, from 1994 to 2014, I don’t think they can comprehend the nation sufficiently to opine on it.

Joe Biden, however, understands. I have been critical of Joe, as he is frequently an embarrassment, and there was a lot wrong with his comments today as he was honored with the “Voice of Solidarity” award by Vital Voices, a women’s rights charity, at their event celebrating “men who combat violence against women.” Still, Biden proved that whether he knows it or not, he is more atuned to U.S. culture than most of his colleagues. He deserves credit for that, if nothing else.

You see, Biden told a fascinating personal anecdote from his childhood. He related:

“I remember coming back from Mass on Sunday Always the big treat was, we’d stop at the donut shop…We’d get donuts, and my dad would wait in the car. As I was coming out, my sister tugged on me and said, ‘That’s the boy who kicked me off my bicycle.’ So I went home—we only lived about a quarter mile away—and I got on my bicycle and rode back, and he was in the donut shop.”

Biden said the the boy was in a physically vulnerable position,“leaning down on one of those slanted counters,” so he took immediate advantage:

“I walked up behind him and smashed his head next to the counter.His father grabbed me, and I looked at his son and said, ‘If you ever touch my sister again, I’ll come back here again and I’ll kill your son.’ Now, that was a euphemism. I thought I was really, really in trouble… My father never once raised his hand to any one of his children—never once—and I thought I was in trouble. He pulled me aside and said, ‘Joey, you shouldn’t do that, but I’m proud of you, son.’”

The lesson, Biden said, was that one should to “speak up and speak out” to correct wrongdoings. Like much of what come out of Biden’s mouth, this was nonsense in the context of his own story, and was not what the lesson was at all. The lesson was that force, punishment, violence and intimidation is sometimes necessary to stop bullying, discourage misconduct, protect the innocent and vulnerable,  set standards, and give more than lip service to core values. Little Joey Biden didn’t “speak up”: he bashed a bully’s head and threatened to kill him. Apparently it worked, too. America, Americans, the culture and our history—as well as the Duke–have long believed that sometimes violence is necessary to stop violence, and send important messages, and can therefore be virtuous and ethical.  Biden understood that when he was ten, and somewhere deep in that mess of mush he calls a mind, he understands that now. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Childhood and children, Family, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Popular Culture, U.S. Society, War and the Military

Ethics Hero: Sen. John McCain

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While other Republicans are attacking the Senate report on torture as a political hit piece by Democrats—which, in part, it is, but that doesn’t diminish its significance—the one Senator who has experienced torture is supporting the report’s conclusions and criticism, saying…

I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good. Most of all, I know the use of torture compromises that which most distinguished us from our enemies.”

Exactly.

My position on this topic is unchanged from what I wrote in 2006, which you can read here.

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Comment of the Day on “Comment of the Day on ‘The Perils Of Over-Regulating The Police: A Case Study'”

Robocop

Stephen Mark Pilling contributes the second consecutive Comment of the Day providing perspective on the issue of police militarization, in response to the first. Here is his Comment of the Day to the post (by dragin_dragon, which you should read first if you haven’t yet), Comment of the Day on “The Perils Of Over-Regulating The Police: A Case Study”

When critics speak of the “militarization” of the police, not all are looking at it from the same viewpoint. Some are, of course, sociopathic or are conspiracy theorists. Some have swallowed the loudly flaunted concept that policemen are evil racists, corrupt ward healers in uniform or just about anything heinous, as they represent law as an absolute, not a relative.

There is a rational based distrust, however. Many of us grew up in a time where the police still walked a beat or patrolled his neighborhood in a squad car, armed with nothing more than a revolver. We’re also the product of an old tradition of law enforcement that stems from the British mold. Unlike the continental European system of paramilitary gendarmes, we adapted a system of localized lawmen, run by an elected county sheriff. The metropolitan police department is still a relatively new phenomenon, started in late 19th Century London.

To many citizens, police who are unaccountable to a directly elected chief and who sport automatic weapons strike a sour note. But recently, people have been seeing them acquiring armored vehicles, military assault training and a tendency to wearing black uniforms. They’ve also noted an increased likelihood of these tactics and weapons being utilized and the increased incidence of “no knock entries”. Likewise, citizens have been imaging police making arrogant idiots out of themselves and caused other cops to become ever more touchy about cell phones, whether they’re right or wrong.

These and other factors have been serving to create a gap between the citizens and the police. That’s never a good thing, of course, because that trust is vital in a free society. Citizen distrust only deepens when they perceive policemen in whom this sense of civil mastery is full blown. As a former military cop, as a private citizen and as a friend or relative of a lot of civilian cops, I’ve seen all this from different angles. I’ve also seen the divide deepen in recent days.

One small note. The funding of police units on all levels directly from federal sources coincides with the worry by many that state and local police units may be more or less within the pocket of federal departments. The actual militarization of once innocuous federal police units and the memory of Obama’s projected National Civilian Defense Force has resulted in fear that this is an intentional part of a program to create an instrument of oppression. For myself, I highly doubt that any street cops would lend themselves to some “martial law” based takeover of the homeland of America. What I’m not sure of, though, is how many in higher authority have not conceived of the notion and would execute it if they could.

Again; it’s vital that the bonds of trust be strengthened between the police departments and those law abiding citizens whom they “serve and protect”. They must never- ever- be heard to make disparaging remarks about “civilians”, as that only deepens the gulf. In the Army Military Police Corps, the official motto is “Of the troops and for the troops”. It’s a good motto. It should also carry over to every local police or sheriff’s department in America. “Of the citizens and for the citizens”. Policemen who embrace that attitude will seldom go wrong. Both they and the communities they serve will benefit.

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Comment of the Day on “The Perils Of Over-Regulating The Police: A Case Study”

militarization

ABC News Political Analyst and former Bush advisor Matthew Dowd said on ABC’s This Week  that the recent cases of police violence involving unarmed African Americans were as much due to the militarization of police forces as race.

“We basically dress up officers as if they’re machines,” Dowd said. “And then we expect them to act like human beings. So what happens is, they confuse power with force. Most of the officers in this country do a great job. But when we militarize our police force and dress them up like machines, they act like machines.”

Technically, he was right: there is no evidence that those tragedies were caused by race or militarization. He had exactly no evidence or documentation that the “militarization of police” caused these deaths, or that alleged militarization has caused any deaths. This appears to be emerging conventional wisdom, just one of those things someone says and everyone nods in agreement with no real thought. Why is the so-called “militarization” of police forces such a threat or cause to distrust police? If police are not trustworthy, that’s a reason not to give them fire-power, but having more fire-power doesn’t make them less trustworthy. It simply makes it more important than ever that police be well trained and responsible.

I was preparing a post about this emerging theme as an example of bias, in this case, pre-existing anti-police bias, being translated into false and discourse-warping assumptions by activists and the police when stalwart commenter dragin_dragon delivered this, the Comment of the Day, on the post The Perils of Over-Regulating the Police: A Case Study:

Police departments have been quasi-military for many years, and it has not seemed to hurt their ability to enforce the law. As early as 1974, Austin, Texas P.D. referred to it’s officers on patrol as “the troops”. S.W.A.T. units have traditionally used what they thought of as “Military” weapons, tactics and mode of dress; never mind that a properly trained infantry squad could and would wipe them out in minutes. Note, also, that most states and/or cities ban the mounting of weapons on the surplus (obsolete) armored and tracked vehicles or helicopters. They do NOT ban a man carrying a weapon being mounted on those vehicles. I also point out that many police officers are ex-military so are bringing to the job an environment with which they are already familiar. Rank structures are similar, and the police in the United States, at least, carry weapons, perhaps as a holdover from the Old West, perhaps not.

Given the rise in crime rates (see Chicago, Detroit), many of these escalations of Police equipment and training are needed. This became evident a number of years ago when a Los Angeles bank robbery went south and the robbers began shooting at the converging police with automatic (not the semi-automatic versions described as automatic, but rock-and-roll full automatic) assault weapons. The out-gunned police (9 MM pistols and shotguns) did the best they could and, like Israel, vowed “Never again”. Strangely enough, many in the National Media agreed, at the time. So, what we are referring to as the “Militarization” of the Police is being undertaken for 2 reasons: 1) to provide a higher likelihood that the officers will get to, at the end of the day, go home to family, and 2) so that the public, which they are sworn to protect and defend, will also, at the end of the day, get to go home and family.

Does this increase the likelihood that a perpetrator may not make it to trial? Quite likely. Do I care? Not so much. As I am sure will be pointed out repeatedly, death tends to be relatively final, with no appeal. And, after all, the most dangerous criminal has the right to due process. Unfortunately, crime, violent crime, is not something one does accidentally. It requires a conscious decision, often along with a misplaced almost arrogant sense of invincibility. Getting shot, and probably killed is the most natural consequence in the world of that attitude. Ask Michael Brown. Like it or not he jeopardized the well-being of an armed police officer, apparently arrogantly disregarding the consequences of his behavior and, quite probably putting the officer’s life at risk. I am assuming that Wilson, like many police officers these days, was wearing a very militaristic bullet-proof vest under his shirt, but, since Ferguson is a fairly poor community (and rapidly becoming poorer) possibly not, so he might have been better off if Brown had shot him, first. At least he would still have a job.

All this is by way of saying that militarization of departments is not necessarily a bad thing. The use to which the training and equipment is put may be a bad thing, but I have not seen, in any report, any attempt to oppress or exert Nazi-like control over the citizenry. So, am I in favor of the “Militarization”? You bet. I am in favor of anything that makes it more likely that they will be able to survive the work day. And make no mistake, that is always a question for a police officer, just like it is for the combat soldier. Am I also in favor of more and better training? Also, you bet. Need I repeat? And the management, or “command” element of the police need to be taught How and When to use the equipment and training.

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