War and Consequentialism

As the presidential race heats up, the rhetoric also heats up.  And the language being used on the issue of war and national defense is becoming very warm indeed.

And very, very morally troubling.

Just yesterday, a scientist who is allegedly working on the Iranian nuclear program was killed when his got into his car and was blown up by an explosive that was attached to it by unknown parties.  It was the latest incident in an ongoing covert war being conducted against the Iranian regime and their suspected effort to develop nuclear weapons.

In response, one of the candidates for the Presidency of the United States said this:

any nuclear scientist, particularly any foreign nuclear scientist, who’s cooperating with the Iranians in developing a nuclear weapon program would be considered an enemy combatant…  this is the most serious threat to the security and stability of the world that we have today, and we should be using all types of methodologies to stop that, including taking out people

Now, I’m certainly no pacifist.  I strongly support the ability of a national government to defend itself and its citizens against unjust aggression.  And I have no doubt that the current regime in Iran is oppressive to its own people and dangerous to its neighbors, particularly Israel.

But there is no way that one can justify the rhetoric I just quoted.  Leave aside for a moment the question of legality under American and international law — which would involve answering the question, “when did we declare war on Iran?”

Killing this scientist was utterly inconsistent with the principles of the divine and natural law. It is clearly not morally permissible to kill another human being because one believes that he may be working on a scientific program that may, at some point, pose a threat to our nation.

Pope John Paul, in his great encyclical, the Gospel of Life, said this very plainly:

“The deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life is always morally evil and can never be licit either as an end in itself or as a means to a good end. It is in fact a grave act of disobedience to the moral law, and indeed to God himself, the author and guarantor of that law; it contradicts the fundamental virtues of justice and charity” (57)

Assuming we can trust in the accuracy of our intelligence community (a dubious proposition, in any event) and consider this scientist not to be “innocent”, a preemptive use of deadly force is still unjustified.  As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, in the context of the death penalty:

“If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.” (CCC 2267)

Killing a man because his work may prove a threat to the United States at some undefined point in the future is consequentialism at its most blatant — doing evil so that good may come of it.

Christians must be better than that.

Tags: ,

2 Responses to “War and Consequentialism”

  1. Jann Armantrout says:

    Ed,

    And further, this is the same line of reasoning used to justify the deaths of the occupants of the World Trade Centers -foot soldiers in global capitalism.

  2. Ed Mechmann says:

    Once we accept the idea that civilian non-combatants are legitimate targets of deadly violence to serve political purposes, I can’t see any way to differentiate morally between the U.S. drone attack and the terrorist car bomb.