Guy walks into a bar...
Okay, let's put the Iraq war in perspective - not as some distant policy or ideology, but as something real. Something that you need to stack up against your ethical values.
You're sitting at a bar, drinking a beer with friends, when this
Guy walks into the bar...
He says "hi", pulls up a chair, looks you straight in the eye and says, "I just killed some tens of thousands of innocent people. I'm not even sure of how many. I just know it was lots and lots."
You tell him to stop pulling your leg, and he says, "no, really. I did it."
Your most trusted friend says, in a low voice, "He's telling the truth. He killed all those people." A breaking news story on TV tells of a mass murder.
You ask if it was an accident. He says, "no". He made a willful decision, and the deaths were the direct and predictable consequences.
The ethical question is, "what would justify such an act?"
You ask him, "why?" Consider some of his possible replies:
a) "I hated them."
b) "They deserved it."
c) "They simply didn't matter."
d) "I was afraid that they might kill me."
e) "I was certain that they would kill me."
f) "They disobeyed me, so I had to act."
g) "It was good for the economy."
h) "It was a strategic, political move."
i) "My friends told me to do it."
I think we all agree that none of the above answers would justify such an action by the guy at the bar.
No, there is only one reply that *might* justify such an action:
"Had I not killed them, it was certain that far more people would have died."
Even then, there's no consensus that "playing god" like that is ethical.
Consider this classic ethical dilemma:
Four people are in an accident in a remote area. One needs a heart transplant to survive. Another needs a liver. The third needs lungs. The fourth is unconscious, but relatively uninjured, and sure to survive. You have the skills and equipment to save the three, but only if you act immediately. Do you kill the fourth accident victim to save the other three? Do you play god?
Some say "yes" to this question, others "no". At any medical facility in the western world, the answer is, "no".
But back to the guy in the bar. His only defense is to claim that he is certain that he saved more lives than were lost. Every other argument is clearly unethical.
Personally, I'd ask my friends to hold him while I call the cops. However you slice it, the man who walked into the bar is a mass murderer. His only hope at trial is to prove that it is beyond a shadow of a doubt that he saved more people than he killed - and - that there were no other options avilable to save those people. That he put off the decision to kill until the very last moment of hope.
Ethics in a bar aren't all that complicated. Why is it that as soon as politics are involved, the ethical compass goes haywire?