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Four ways in which political leaders can violate human values in the cause of war

War, Herbicides and Moral Disengagement  By Robert C. Koehler,  Common Wonders, 11 Aug 21

And the least secret agent of all . . . Agent Orange!

On August 10, 1961, the United States, several years before it actually sent troops, started poisoning the forests and crops of Vietnam with herbicides. The purpose: to deprive our declared enemy, the commies of Ho Chi Minh, of food and ground cover that allowed them to trek from North to South. It was called, innocuously, Operation Ranch Hand.

”’…………….war is insane — and growing ever more so. The military establishment isn’t just brutal and cruel. It is so advanced in the technology of lethality that its capable of destroying the world. Hasn’t the time come to defund war — completely! — and rethink how we deal with conflict?

…….. Here’s a starting place, thanks to psychologist Albert Bandura, as quoted by Russell P. Johnson in an essay published by the University of Chicago Divinity School. In essence, Bandura has sought an answer to the Question. What gives political leaders the wherewithal to violate basic human values — established moral standards — and perpetrate the inhumanity of war?

He calls the phenomenon of doing so “moral disengagement” and posits four forms that this behavior takes:


1. Euphemistic labeling: We may drop bombs and kill dozens or hundreds or thousands of civilians, including children, but the action is described by the lapdog media as, simply, an “airstrike.” We may torture Iraqi detainees but it’s not such a big deal when we call it “enhanced interrogation.” We may poison the jungles of Southeast Asia, but what the heck, there’s Jed Clampett leading the way in “Operation Ranch Hand.” The list of military euphemisms goes on and on and on.

2. Advantageous comparison. If the enemy you’re fighting is evil — and he always is — the actions you take to defeat him, whatever they are, are ipso facto justified. The alternative is doing nothing, a la Neville Chamberlain, appeasing Hitler. Violent response to evil — carpet-bombing Hamburg or Tokyo, nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki — is not simply justifiable but the essence of morally necessity.

3. Displaced responsibility. I was just following orders, cries the Buchenwald guard. I did what I was told. As Johnson writes: “Decisions are made and justified without anyone ever having the sense of a moral threshold being crossed.” Indeed, “an entire society can rely on displacement of responsibility to shield themselves from moral scrutiny.” A pernicious side effect of this is known as “moral injury.” Once a soldier is out of the military, the justification for killing someone may completely vanish; the result is a high suicide rate among vets.

4. Attribution of blame. They made us do it! “One’s actions are treated as mere reactions, caused not by one’s own decisions but by the actions of the enemy,” Johnson writes. “. . . If our actions are excessive or barbaric, it is the other side’s fault for driving us to such extremes.” When both sides in the conflict resort to this, which is almost always the case, Bandura calls the result “reciprocal escalation.” The war gets increasingly bloody.

Agent Orange Awareness Day, as I noted, was Aug. 10. I think we should spend the rest of the year honoring War and Dehumanization Awareness Day.   http://commonwonders.com/war-herbicides-and-moral-disengagement/

August 12, 2021 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, Religion and ethics

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