An ethics conflict occurs when two unquestionable ethical values demand opposite results in the same situation.
An impossible ethics conflict is when the typical priorities of duty require the worst outcome.
This is an impossible ethics conflict.
Interviews and court records reveal that the American military command has ordered American soldiers and Marines not to intervene in Afghanistan when they observe Afghan military commanders and soldiers raping boys, even when the abuse occurs on military bases. The local practice is called bacha bazi, (“boy play”). The policy aims at avoiding conflict and maintaining good relations with the Afghan police and militia units that the United States has trained to fight the Taliban. It also embodies the theory that the U.S. should not impose its cultural values on other nations. Pederasty is widely accepted in Afghanistan, and being surrounded by young teenagers, a.k.a. male rape victims, is mark of social status for powerful men.
Imagine how bad the Taliban must be if these are “the good guys.”
Asked via e-mail about this American military policy by the New York Times, the American command spokesman in Afghanistan, Col. Brian Tribus, replied, “Generally, allegations of child sexual abuse by Afghan military or police personnel would be a matter of domestic Afghan criminal law…there would be no express requirement that U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan report it,” with the exception of when rape is being used as a weapon of war.
Well, we certainly can’t have that. The response ducks the ethical issues entirely.
The Times report discloses that the late Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley Jr. told his father that at night, while in his bunk in southern Afghanistan, he was kept awake by the screaming of young boys being raped by Afghan police officers who had brought themto the base. The Marine’s father, Gregory Buckley Sr., Told the Times that he urged his son to tell his superiors, but his son “said that his officers told him to look the other way because it’s their culture.”
Some Marines couldn’t stand it, and defied the orders. Dan Quinn, a former Special Forces captain, beat up an American-backed militia commander for keeping a boy chained to his bed as a sex slave. He was punished, relived of his command and sent home. Quinn has left the military. He told the Times,“The reason we were here is because we heard the terrible things the Taliban were doing to people, how they were taking away human rights. But we were putting people into power who would do things that were worse than the Taliban did — that was something village elders voiced to me.”
The Army is seeking to kick Sgt. First Class Charles Martland out of the service. He is a Special Forces member who helped Quinn beat up the commander. Representative Duncan Hunter (R-Cal) is trying to save Martland’s a career.“The Army contends that Martland and others should have looked the other way (a contention that I believe is nonsense),” he wrote to the Pentagon’s inspector general.
Is it nonsense? I would have, before he died in 2009, asked my ex-military father about this kind of issue. I suspect that he would have echoed his biggest criticism against “Saving Private Ryan”: the mission comes first. You don’t diverge from the larger mission to take on lesser assignments, no matter how virtuous. You aren’t there to be a superhero, but to get a specific job done. Any action, even one that seems morally and ethically imperative in a vacuum, that slows, interferes with or distracts from the primary mission endangers it.
This would mean that my father, whom I saw witnessed young children and who, as a civilian, would have shown no mercy to a pederast, would agree with the current policy as the worst kind of necessary utilitarianism, the kind of trade-off that make what the military does incomprehensible to many citizens. Well, we have to accept the deaths of innocents in the course or warfare, so accepting their sexual abuse isn’t inconsistent, just horrifying.
Some final, random thoughts on an issue that I can still not quite come to terms with:
- Quinn and Martlin give us examples of how men can be heroes and bad soldiers simultaneously.
- All of the Presidential candidates should be asked about this.
- This story reinforces for me the folly of seeking ethical ways to wage war. Gen. Sherman may have been right: ultimately it is more humane and ethical to fight total war and end combat as soon as possible. If Sherman is right, and war and ethics are incompatible, I have to reconsider my position on such issues as assassination and torture. But later, when my stomach settles.
- The next person who tells me that all cultures are equally valid had better duck.
Facts: New York Times