Saturday, April 02, 2005

The Willingness to Kill

In a remarkably offensive new column, Maggie Gallagher notes that most Americans think the Right's take on the Terri Schiavo case is either insane or misguided (she leaves out "cynical," for some reason). But no matter how widespread this attitude may be, it won't sway her from her bedrock principles; we must not, she says, mistake killing for compassion:

It's not dying, or even being killed, that scares me. It's the willingness to kill. Even more, it's the way we are transforming killing into an act of compassion, a new human right.

I know what human beings are capable of. And I don't mean just other human beings; I mean myself, too. What scares me most about Terri Schiavo is how easy it is to lose the horror at killing.
Gallagher's quite right to be frightened of her darker side. Back in 2004, she described the invasion of Iraq as a gamble, of all things:
Iraq is a big gamble. Americans are skeptical about our ability to create a stable democracy there. But we've already seen where doing nothing about aggression will lead us: to exploding skyscrapers.
It's really wonderful to contemplate the odd laws that hold sway in Gallagher's moral universe. Killing people in another country is simply a "gamble." And it goes without saying that we have a moral right not merely to gamble with the lives of Iraqis, but to lie about our reasons for doing so.

Though Gallagher fancies herself an ethicist, she admits that certain types of moral thought are completely beyond her ken:
What I do not get about the anti-war advocates is the moral fervor.
In Gallagher's world, moral fervor is reserved for condemnation of Saddam Hussein's atrocities; on the question of Iraqi civilian deaths, she's oddly silent. As far as I can tell, the only civilian death toll she references in any column - ever - is the very early figure of 1,000 people, and she's careful to put it in someone else's mouth. A cursory search of her archives reveals that she has nothing to say about the Lancet study - pro or con - and nothing to say about Abu Ghraib. She does not discuss the figures posted on Iraq Body Count, nor does she concern herself with the horrors of the multiple offensives in Fallujah. She does, however, fulminate against Saddam Hussein, using an apocryphal, unsourced estimate - to put it very politely - of his regime's body count:
I guess the 200,000 or so Iraqis that Saddam slaughters each year never appeared on al-Jazeera, so they do not count.
It's all very simple: If Saddam is bad, and we oppose him, we must be good. But back in 2000, in a column imaginatively titled The Banality of Evil, she cautioned against excusing one's own evil by fixating on someone else's:
Monsters, we call these people, and feel better about ourselves. Whatever we've done wrong, it hasn't been so wrong as all that.
Despite her proud moral absolutism, and her boilerplate denunciation of "postmodern" and "relativist" thought, Gallagher is an unapologetic relativist when it comes to America's role in the world. In February of 2004, she explained that it actually doesn't matter whether we're acting morally or not:
Bush is right to acknowledge that the American people are now questioning whether the war in Iraq was justified, but I don't think the key question for the public is whether it was morally justified. Our real question is: How was it in the interests of the American people?
She goes on to argue that it is in our interests, and that this trumps any question of moral justification:
The war that counts is the war on terror. It is a war the president is winning. The proof is not in David Kay's report. The proof is in the fact that, when I send my son back to college in Manhattan, I no longer worry about what might happen to him as he passes through Grand Central Terminal. The proof is in our lack of constant fear. Life has gone back to normal.
Or has it? In May of 2004, Gallagher paints a somewhat different picture of life in these United States:
Our current sense of relative safety is, in fact, an illusion, a precious, unexpected and ultimately fragile gift, for which many of us thank God, of course, but also President George W. Bush. Enjoy it while we can.
It's an interesting question for students of abnormal psychology whether Gallagher's obsessive harping on her own potential for evil is a form of involuntary confession, or merely the shameless pseudo-moral posturing for which sociopaths are famous. Either way, she's not at all well.


Anonymous said...


Good work in explicating Maggie for us. So, we must not mistake killing for compassion. In Iraq, we say we're spreading freedom, but thousands upon thousands of Iraqis are being killed, therefore, could we perhaps be doing exactly what she says we are not to do? Looking at Iraq as a "gamble", I have to ask if this "gamble" is a winner for either the Americam people or the Iraqi people?

To her, what counts is who is getting killed, and who is doing the killing. You see, Saddam was bad, and Americans are good, so if people get killed because of our actions, that's OK, because it's in the interests of the American people - or so she believes. Her son can go to college in Manhattan without her worrying.

God help us if she is what constitutes an ethicist today.

Thers said...

Feh. Ethical consistency is for the little people.

So, where is the war-apologist who is NOT a moral moron?