No Moral Equivallence

The horrible events in Boston bring out the worst in some people.

I really do not understand those who believe that there is no difference between the actions of terrorists and the actions of the U.S. military. And I say this not just because my father spent 28 years in the Air Force and served in Viet-Nam twice.

On Facebook, someone recently posted a photograph of a row of dead babies supposedly killed by an American drone in Afghanistan and suggested that America is no different than those we call terrorists:

Matthew Keys, the social media editor at Reuters, posted audio of a reporter asking White House Press Secretary Jay Carney if U.S. bombings that kill innocent civilians in Afghanistan constitute an “act of terror” given the labeling of the Boston Marathon bombing as “terrorism”. She specifically refers to a U.S. airstrike earlier this month that killed 11 children, just the latest in a seemingly endless line of Afghan civilian deaths at the hands of the U.S. government.

Some people argue that we’re hypocrites for reacting with outrage over the events in Boston given that what we’re doing (through our military) every day in Afghanistan is just as bad, if not worse.

This all too common attitude is both incredibly offensive and flat out insane.

It is indeed awful when innocent civilians are injured or killed as a result of U.S. military activity (though not all reports of such things are true or accurate, but that’s another issue altogether). Such deaths are what are known as “tragedies.” Such deaths are not murder. They are not terrorism.

There is a significant difference both morally and legally between murder and manslaughter. This is recognized rather early in the Bible, for instance:

When the LORD your God has destroyed the nations whose land he is giving you, and when you have driven them out and settled in their towns and houses, then set aside for yourselves three cities in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess. Determine the distances involved and divide into three parts the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, so that a person who kills someone may flee for refuge to one of these cities.

This is the rule concerning anyone who kills a person and flees there for safety—anyone who kills a neighbor unintentionally, without malice aforethought. For instance, a man may go into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood, and as he swings his ax to fell a tree, the head may fly off and hit his neighbor and kill him. That man may flee to one of these cities and save his life. Otherwise, the avenger of blood might pursue him in a rage, overtake him if the distance is too great, and kill him even though he is not deserving of death, since he did it to his neighbor without malice aforethought. This is why I command you to set aside for yourselves three cities.

If the LORD your God enlarges your territory, as he promised on oath to your ancestors, and gives you the whole land he promised them, because you carefully follow all these laws I command you today—to love the LORD your God and to walk always in obedience to him—then you are to set aside three more cities. Do this so that innocent blood will not be shed in your land, which the LORD your God is giving you as your inheritance, and so that you will not be guilty of bloodshed.

But if out of hate someone lies in wait, assaults and kills a neighbor, and then flees to one of these cities, the killer shall be sent for by the town elders, be brought back from the city, and be handed over to the avenger of blood to die. Show no pity. You must purge from Israel the guilt of shedding innocent blood, so that it may go well with you. (Deuteronomy 19:1-13)

The U.S. Government does not try to kill children. Children are not targets of our soldiers. If children die or suffer injury as a result of U.S. actions in Afghanistan or elsewhere it is a tragic accident.

Terrorists, on the other hand—for instance Timothy McVeigh, Hezbollah, Hamas, Al Qaeda and the like—do purposely target children. They delight in killing innocent people. Killing innocent people is their goal when they place bombs in office buildings, at the Boston Marathon, or fly aircraft into sky scrapers.

Beyond that, the terrorists of the world regularly and purposely place women and children around their installations, using the innocents as human shields in the hope that we won’t risk attacking them, but knowing that if we do, then their deaths can be used to demonstrate just how evil America is.

It strikes me as odd when I see the photos of people killed in drone attacks. Who would carefully line up dead children and then snap gruesome pictures of them? How do we even know that an American weapon was responsible for their deaths? And why are so many in the U.S. and around the world willing to take the word of people who gleefully kill civilians, take hostages and cut off their heads, stone women for the crime of being raped, hang homosexuals, and kill Christians and Jews simply because they are Christians and Jews? Are the Timothy McVeighs of the world really trustworthy sources of information?

Look, this is not hard. If a police officer accidently kills someone in his or her attempt to catch a criminal—as for instance in a hostage situation—that is tragic. But the police officer is not the moral equivalent of a criminal who takes a hostage and cuts off his head.

Why do some people find it so hard to tell the difference between Al-Qaeda and the United States?

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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