- - Wednesday, September 3, 2014


It has always been the moral case that when a civilized country determines that for the sake of self-protection and survival it must retaliate against aggression or embark on war, the primary goal of its military should be the destruction of that which targets and threatens the country, be it weapons or commandos. The foremost duty of that nation’s leader is to prioritize the lives and safety of those he has sent into combat.

This often forces an uncomfortable but necessary choice: minimizing the risk to one’s troops at the expense of the fighters and population of the enemy. This is not only a civic and military responsibility, but the moral one as well, for the first principle of morality is fulfilling a commitment to those for whom one has freely chosen to be responsible. A leader has a special obligation to the people who chose and trusted him, an obligation that must surpass his feelings for general mankind.

The same still holds true in today’s self-defense against Islamic terrorism, where terrorists purposely fight not in remote battlefields, but specifically in cities among civilian populations diabolically used as shields. In all circumstances, the war of self-defense and survival must be, in religious terminology, a just war.

The maxim of self-defense is not an abstract platitude, but a raw, real-life imperative. Self-defense means the right to kill a soldier or civilian coming at you before they kill you.

A self-defense that is conditioned on excessive caution not to harm those pursuing you is a rejection of the whole notion of self-defense. It is possible that the rules of engagement for Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan and for Israelis in Jenin and now Gaza — designed to spare harm to civilians — have led to greater death and injury among their warriors, resulting in a lapse in our obligation to those troops.

Once engaged in a just war, combat should fall within the parameters of moral combat. The primary moral combat standard is to not specifically target truly innocent civilians, to refrain from using civilians as shields, and to forswear torturing the enemy for the sake of cruel pleasure or revenge.

Guaranteeing that civilians not be killed in collateral damage has never been a requisite for moral combat. If such was the case regarding conventional warfare, then it is certainly so when confronted by Islamic terrorism that uses civilian human shields as a strategy to freeze its Western opponents. All agree that rape, looting and blood lust are anathema to moral standards, activities too often relished by jihadists. Proportionality in war is thoroughly doing that which needs to be done to permanently remove the source and scourge of aggression.

The recent revelation that 3,000 Americans were killed and countless wounded on Sept. 11, 2001, partly as a result of President Clinton’s reluctance to strike Osama bin Laden — owing to Mr. Clinton’s concern for some civilians purposely embedded near bin Laden — is testimony to the errancy of those who consider this an act of momentary morality.

The unwillingness of some Western leaders to tolerate collateral damage to enemy civilians forecloses our ability to crush the enemy’s capacity to further harm us and could ultimately cause, God forbid, the deaths of millions of innocents in America and the West. Diabolical jihadist entities and governments will never be stopped if we are unwilling to allow the effects of war to reach their civilian populations.

Any leader unwilling to choose the safety of citizens entrusted to his care over those from the attacking country should not be in a leadership position. He effectively has declared “the blood of the enemy as sweeter than the blood of his own people.” One truly wonders if President Obama would retaliate with enough convincing force against an Islamic regime that attacked America if the collateral damage would cause the deaths of tens of thousands among the enemy population.

When we in the West begin heaping on conditions resulting in a moral bar of combat so high we can’t adequately defend ourselves, we have turned morality upside down. When we lower the jihadist bar to nil while we raise our own to unheard-of requirements, it becomes a form of suicide.

For some, this continual raising of the morality bar fulfills a need to impress others and feel a personal level of exemplary status. However, it is not moral acuity; rather, it is moral vanity. Our young people sent to protect us should not become human sacrifices on the altar of this preposterous moral inversion.

Fighting and eradicating evil is as important in its moment of necessity as visiting the sick and the bereaved. It is an act of compassion on the part of those we have entrusted to defend us from the march of evil. Indeed, God expects us to fight evil and not be beguiled by its trickeries.

The culture of death is cynically exploiting the good will and morality of those invested in our Judeo-Christian culture of life. If we fail to defend ourselves now, the question that will be asked of this generation is not whether we cared about the enemy’s life, rather why didn’t we care enough about the lives of our own children and civilians? After all, saving those to whom you are personally responsible is the foundation of morality.

Aryeh Spero, a theologian, is author of “Push Back” (Evergreen Press, 2012) and is president of Caucus for America.

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