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Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

When is slaughter acceptable?

Asked by Hypocrisy_Central (21447 points ) August 30th, 2011

Viewing some news mini special of the events of 9/11 and who was really in charge out of G.W. or Chaney it was revealed that any jet that could not be contacted the military had permission to shoot it down. Almost, as if the passengers on those jets were already dead, making them dead quicker was OK. To me it was like saying the slaughter of those hundreds of people on any jet unable to make communication was acceptable.

That made me think of how people have viewed certain incidences like the V-tech shooting, Columbine, the San Ysidro McDonalds massacre, etc seem to have a palpable effect on people. They are horrified by the gratuitous loss of life. I think how come, because there was no presumed gain from it? Is it because they are fellow US citizens and thus seen more valuable? When Ruanda happened I knew people were shocked but many didn’t seem outraged, nor did they about the slaughter in Darfur. Not on a great scale anyhow. It seem like more people were concerned over Darfur than the fire and carpet bombing of Dresden and Tokyo where tens of thousands were slaughtered overnight, the majority of which were civilians asleep in their beds. Are people of the US more jaded to slaughter or spilling blood of the innocent if there is apparent gain behind it? I remember reading in Time that when they struck down Abu Musab al-Zarqawi they killed three women and a child with him that had nothing to do with the insurgency, they were just at the wrong place at the wrong time. No one seemed to bat an eyelash. It was as if it was acceptable in order that a-Zarqawi not escape. Yet when a single child dies and is presumed murdered like Caylee Anthony many get bent out of shape. Are people more jaded to slaughter when they believe the gains are worth it, is that it is the means to an end?

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11 Answers

tedd's avatar

I think in the case of Cheney and 9/11 it was more of an extreme scenario. I doubt that a plane that wasn’t near some kind of vital or vulnerable target would have been shot down, at least not right away. They would’ve found themselves with a fighter jet escort first, including hand signals. And even then, so long as they continued a flight path devoid of “targets” they probably wouldn’t have been shot down. If it was found that the plane had been taken over or something, then the second it got close to a legitimate target (like the trade towers or what have you) then as much as it would suck I would have no qualms with shooting it down. Give the innocent on the plane a chance and even help if possible to retake the plane, but if it comes down to it, their loss is a lot smaller than who knows how much loss if the plane reaches its target.

I think people are more “jaded” towards slaughter if the ends are justifiable. You used the example of Dresden in WW2. Dresden was a major manufacturing hub for the NAZI war machine, if it had been left untouched the NAZI’s may have held out longer, and thousands if not millions more lives could have been lost. Also it’s worth noting that the allies tried their best to avoid bombing civilian centers in the city, and focused on factories and the like (which was made admittedly more difficult by Germans seeking to hide the targets).

You could go even further and argue the justification of the nuclear bombs dropped on Japan. Hundreds of thousands of lives were drastically effected, if not ended all together, by those bombs. Many people ask if we were justified in dropping them, or even more specifically the second bomb (why didn’t one prove our point?). But the fact of the matter is without dropping those bombs Japan wasn’t going to surrender, and we would have had a prolonged war ending with a full scale invasion of Japan. Millions more lives would have been lost. It’s also worth pointing out that military commanders found Nagasaki and Hiroshima to be secondary and less attractive targets… their number 1 suggestion to then President Truman….. Tokyo.

No one likes to see the death of innocent people, especially via violent means. But its easier to turn a blind eye or forget about it if the reason for their death (be it purposefully or accidentally) was some greater good.

incendiary_dan's avatar

From Derrick Jensen’s Endgame:

“Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.”

Hibernate's avatar

Only one acceptable is those from games. Real life slaughter is awful.

thorninmud's avatar

There have been some interesting psychological studies done relative to this. The upshot is that the more remote the killer is from the killed, and the more abstract the victim is, the easier it becomes to do the killing.

One classic experiment asked a question similar to this: You see that a trolley is heading at full speed toward another trolley stalled on the track ahead. You’re standing by a switch that could divert the trolley onto a siding, thus avoiding the collision. But there is a worker on the siding who will certainly be killed if you divert it. What do you do? Most people say they would throw the switch.

Others were asked essentially the same question in a different form: As before, a trolley is on a collision course with the stalled trolley. You are witnessing this from an overpass above the track. Beside you, also leaning over the rail to watch, is a very obese man. You realize that you could certainly stop the trolley by shoving the man onto the track in front of the trolley, saving many lives. What do you do? Most people choose not to push.

The calculus in the two scenarios is the same. But pushing a man to his certain death is a far more intimate act than is pulling a switch. Remoteness makes the killing easier.

Abstraction makes it easier, too. That’s why we seem less affected by the deaths of nameless hundreds, than by the death of a single toddler who’s name and picture we see in the news.

Brain scans have been done on people evaluating these various scenarios, and they reveal that they engage different parts of the brain. Remoteness and abstraction cause the rational, calculating left hemisphere to take control. It will make a cost-benefit analysis and coolly choose the action that will save the most lives. Intimacy and familiarity cause the more emotional right hemisphere to take charge, and from its point of view, there are things you just don’t do regardless of the calculation.

That is the scary thing about modern warfare: our moral faculties evolved in intimacy. For countless millennia, they regulated our behaviors toward people right there in front of us. Now, though, moral decisions involving devastating loss of life are made from across oceans, and the casualties are just faceless, nameless numbers. We can easily come up with rationales for killing that satisfy our left hemispheres in these situations. But killing mustn’t ever become easy . Our right hemispheres are assigned the task of making killing hard. But we’ve taken them out of the equation more and more.

flutherother's avatar

I can’t agree that ends justify mass slaughter. Have we not seen enough slaughter in recent times to realise the inhumanity of such thinking? This is the reasoning of Hitler, Stalin and Mao. Mass slaughter cannot be justified. We went from shock and horror at the bombing of Guernica in 1937 in which 200 people were killed to an acceptance a mere 8 years later of the firebombing of major cities which killed thousands of times that number. This is not progress it is stepping backwards to barbarism.

ddude1116's avatar

When God’s on your side.

majorrich's avatar

It would be a very painful decision for anyone to make, but I believe if a population had a disease that was incurable and needed to be destroyed for the sake of mankind, I would make the decision to destroy that population. For example, if an aircraft was infected with smallpox, I would destroy the aircraft to prevent the spread of the disease. If I was on that plane, I would hope someone would make the same decision.

bkcunningham's avatar

@thorninmud, very good answer. Very interesting.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

In most of the responses it appears that the ends is what determines if slaughter is sanctioned or justified. If there is a jet that possibly will strike a building, you down it. The end result is no building is struck, but the means to do it is to slaughter everyone on the jet. If there is an epidemic of a incurable but highly communicable disease among an isolated population you wipe them out less they infect a continent or the world. Not so good for those who are killed, but great for everyone else.

As for WWII “Bomber Harris” was not concerned with just getting the manufacturing plants, we wanted to kill the people, to break their will, devastate them and leave them shell shocked. The same strategy the US use on mainland Japan, they knew most of the homes were wood and rice paper and would go up like kindling if fire bombed. Nagasaki and Hiroshima were left untouched because there had to be a model city to access the destructive power of Uncle Sam’s new toy, strange, the US was the only nation to actually use WMD on another human yet try to police everyone else in who can have it or not.

Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and the likes I am sure found reason to slaughter tens of thousands to millions of their own county men, if for nothing else than to keep the type of order they wanted.

Pele's avatar

Never

Mariah's avatar

I don’t think the lack of outrage means that people believe those forms of slaughter are acceptable. I think the lack of outrage indicates that people have gone numb to the news as a defense mechanism – how does anyone fathom such a tragedy? They can’t, so the emotion doesn’t show.

I know that’s what happens to me. When a friend loses a family member, I can imagine how that feels, I can cry and understand. When thousands of people die overnight, I just can’t even begin to process how terrible that is; I go numb.

My point being, I don’t think anyone finds any slaughter acceptable, as you might interpret their reaction – or lack thereof – to indicate. I interpret the last of reaction differently.

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