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Of Civilization and Hypocrisy


Israel Bonan asks, "Can we honestly deplore terrorism, while we condone governments with weapons of mass destruction?"

The human ethical standard is, as it should be, a living standard. It is a 'work in progress' that helps each generation keep on top of its most pressing moral dilemmas. The cumulative effect of the individual entries in that standard, creates our current 'civilization' rule book Lest we think we are ahead of the curve as a civilized species, it was only fifty years ago that our collective civilization gave us a Holocaust, a World War and the start of a cold war.

We should only judge historical events in the context of the prevailing standards of their time. Because, what was O.K. in yesterday's rule book might not be O.K. in today's rule book, and what was borderline yesterday might be judged differently by today standards. One can only hope that civilization, because of the human choices made in each generation, is on a forward trend and not a backward one.

Does that mean that there are no values to anchor civilization and its own quest for forward improvement? Not at all, there are fixed standards such as, 'Thou shall not murder', while other may be transitory standards that get reviewed with every new generation to judge if they still apply and whether we scrap them altogether or improve upon them, such as 'can I still copy private material on the copy machine at work, without feeling guilty'.

Around a recent Thanksgiving dinner with friends and relatives, we discussed the outrage of 9/11. In the same setting we talked about Palestinian terrorism, that targets mainly civilians. Here I was, articulating my points, emotionally as usual, that going after civilians as the main objective of any attack, cannot be justified under any circumstances. It is, when the sole objective is to harm civilians, terrorism, and the only 'ism' of relevance in such cases is terrorism.

No sooner did I finish making that statement, about terrorism, when I flashed back to the events of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. ‘We’ dropped two bombs, and in the process incinerated half a million people, mostly civilians. Was that to be considered collateral damage? Did we accelerate the end of the war, and save lives in the process? Yes of course, at what expense? Was that a relevant question to ask then? Was it in their rule book? Is it a relevant question now?

To accept without question the existence, in our society, of such atomic bombs, is to accept that terrorism on a horrifying scale is a possible political solution. It is, after all, ‘state sponsored terrorism’ if I may be allowed to use the same logic as above. I cannot even fathom the concept of neutron bombs that kill “only people” and leave buildings intact. What a bright concept that must have been!

Is a first preemptive strike really different from a retaliatory nuclear strike? Is one option more palatable than the other? One reason to kill being, 'I annihilate before they annihilate me and mine', while the other, 'I annihilate for vengeance'. Mind you, the killing here is of ‘civilians en masse’. Can we explain who won, after the war is over, for history’s sake, that is?

Should we continue to arm the terrorists with the reasons to glorify their actions? It is after all a 'war' that they believe they are fighting! Or should we come to our senses and rewrite our ethical standard for this new moral dilemma, and adopt it wholeheartedly, and in the process blot out one of our civilization’s biggest hypocrisy? Are atomic bombs still relevant, in our day and age? I know now where I stand on this issue, and forty years hence it will still be my new 'Thou shall not murder' standard.

Israel Bonan

Israel Bonan is a native of Egypt, and currently lives in Massachusetts, where he is a software consultant.

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000201.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

by israel bonan @ 10:56 AM CST [Link]


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Replies: 1 Comment

I would like to point out that you are, probably quite innocently, perpetuating a myth about the use of nuclear weapons on the Japanese people. The rather flimsy justification for their use, that they served to accelerate the end of the war, is not actually true. Japan had been suing for peace since mid June 1945, but the USA demanded an unconditional surrender.

On July 13, 1945 the Japanese government offered a surrender, with the only conditions being the continuation of the emperor on his throne and the symbolic recognition this implied of the Japanese home islands as a political entity.

Two bombs and a lot of innocent deaths later, the USA accepted the Japanese surrender, accepting the conditions laid out on July 13th. Far from accelerating the end of the war, the US desire to demonstrate their new weapon to the world, postponed the end of it and cost even more lives.

Posted by SĂ©an Billings @ 03/01/2004 01:05 PM CST

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