Friday, July 28, 2006
Bystanders? Only In a Sense
They were innocent bystanders. Now, you just think about that term. Innocent. Bystanders. Because that's exactly what they were. We know they were bystanders, nobody's disputing that. So how can a bystander be guilty? No such thing. Have you ever heard of a guilty bystander? No, because you cannot be a bystander and be guilty. Bystanders are by definition, innocent. That is the nature of bystanding. But no, they want to change nature here. They want to create a whole new animal - the guilty bystander. Don't you let them do it. Only you can stop them.
- Jackie Chiles
The bystander, of course, has little to fear by way of public opinion. In fact, they have never had it so good. No one blames them for events that are unforeseen and beyond their ability to control. The bystander is incontrovertibly innocent.
Now these days, such blamelessness is a hot commodity, and the lack of available moral certainties has turned bystanding into a growth industry. The demand for innocence is so strong that it has evolved from something beyond one’s control to something that can be willed into existence. One need only withdraw from the events around them - call it the pursuit of active indifference - to qualify.
Some may object, thinking that only the Relativists are involved here. But the innocent civilian is a universal truth. Think for a moment of the civilians currently caught up in the Israeli attacks in Lebanon. All of us instinctively question the morality of any invasion that will involve collateral damage deaths. (At least, we do when it’s the Israelis who are attacking.) And we don’t just question, we seriously constrain our military options in large part because of this concern.
But for all of our questioning, the one thing we never do is question the legitimacy of the innocence of those civilians. (Interestingly, this is not true of our opposition.) I bring all of this up because I’m just not satisfied with the reaction to Tom Van Dyke’s wonderfully challenging post “The Moral Mathematics of Murder”. In the comments section, he throws out the following:
I'm peeking in the door that Ward Churchill opened, that in this day and age, the possibility exists that there are no civilians.
I suppose we could debate the infinite levels of complicity to be found among the populations of the Lebanese, Japanese, Germans, etc. But I can’t fight off the notion that any moral right to protection that might be claimed by these people is done so on the cheap. When the stakes are low, you are welcome to your indifference. If you’re Alec Baldwin, you’re not required to move to France just because the wrong guy wins the election.
But there are times when life forces you to make a call. While it may be unfair to equate the Lebanese civilians who have allowed themselves to become de facto human shields with Hizbollah operatives, it is not a stretch to say that they are aiding and abetting criminals. And it is here, in the knowledge of who and what one is allowing to happen on their turf, that the pretense of the innocence falls by the wayside.
So here’s the question again. If it is agreed that the removal of Hizbollah is good, on what grounds are the Lebanese civilians owed special protection vis a vis the Israeli military forces that will make this removal happen?