Insouciance or Respect for Human Life?

What is the level of respect for the sanctity of human life?

A respect for the sanctity of all human life has seemingly not evolved among European and European-diasporic states. Consider the answer to the question: “How many September 11ths has the United States caused in other nations since WWII?” The answer proffered was “possibly 10,000” 9-11s. This is approximately 30,000,000 people.1 Over 10 years have passed since that question was addressed, and the killings have not abated. The warring in Afghanistan continues, where in April the US military dropped the GBU-43/B, known as the mother-of-all-bombs, in the province of Nangarhar with catastrophic consequences. Thousands were sacrificed to orchestrate “regime change” in Libya. Hundreds-of-thousands have met an untimely fate in the war against Syria. Recently, more than 40,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the US alliance’s retaking of Mosul from ISIS. Meanwhile Yemen is under a US-backed siege and Yemenese children are dropping dead of cholera.

When will the killing cease? Currently the US is engaged in saber rattling with North Korea.

I was born in a nation-state named Canada which was carved out from the genocide wreaked in the western hemisphere.2 Historian David Stannard estimated that post-Columbus, 95 percent of the Indigenous people were wiped out; maybe 100 million.3 The insouciance of colonialists to the humanity and rights of the Original Peoples could be justified by Catholic doctrine and by demeaning them as “savages.”4

What spurs me to write on this topic?

A man I had known all my life recently died. He had lived a full life, married, and raised a family, supported by a modest wage. His passing left those who knew him saddened.

Many of us in our lifetime will experience the sorrow that accompanies the passing away of someone close to us. The feeling is most unpleasant.

Given that most of us experience sorrow to the death of someone near and dear to us, and given that we realize that we are not unique in our sorrow, doesn’t basic morality demand that we not impose any unpleasantness, pain, suffering, or death on others that we wish to avoid ourselves?

If we are caring and conscientious people, then how can we be so passive to our nation’s involvement in using violence against others? Are we so easily duped to believing that noble motivations underlie “regime change” or that a 9-11 justifies wreaking manifold 9-11s in retribution? Must killing beget killing? Is toppling a detested foreign government worth the spilling of human blood?

It apparently does not matter that those who are killed are civilians, women, or children.

In 1996, Leslie Stahl, a CBS newsmagazine journalist, asked Madeleine Albright, the US Ambassador to the United Nations: “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, and you know, is the price worth it?”

Albright’s reply is imbued with the quintessence of insouciance: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think is worth it.”

Restated, the death of half-a-million children is an acceptable cost in pursuit of US foreign policy objectives. Such comments and convictions would seem sufficient to reserve one a special place in the netherworld.

Nonetheless, it did not harm Albright’s immediate political career as, in 1997, she was appointed the US secretary-of-state.

Many others, however, consider her a war criminal and anathema.

Hillary Clinton, who was supported by Albright during her presidential campaign, had her own moment of televised ignominy where she gleefully celebrated the brutal killing of the Libyan brotherly leader Muammar Gaddafi: “We came, we saw, he died.” Gadaffi had a wife, sons, and daughters. Clinton’s joyful response to the death of another human, be that person an enemy or not, demonstrated an utter lack of sympathy and empathy. Nonetheless, she would wind up the Democratic Party’s chosen candidate for a run at the presidency. She even won the popular vote but not the electoral college.

These leading figures within the American establishment reveal self-centered sentiments and a disdain for the life of the Other.

Consider also the arch-US ally, Israel, and its decades-long occupation of Palestine along with the siege of Gaza — staunchly backed by the US and supported by most western governments. The siege, now in its tenth year, blocks air, sea, and land access to Gaza rendering the entire population prisoners in — what is effectively — the world’s largest concentration camp. The Gazan economy is on the brink of collapse and its people malnourished. The Israeli side’s insouciance was captured by an Israeli government adviser, Dov Weissglass, as widely quoted: “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.”

This is collective punishment, a war crime according to the Geneva Conventions.

Apathy to the plight of Palestinians is widespread in Israel. In 2014, Israelis would gather on a hillside, sit in lawn chairs, eat snacks, drink, and cheer raucaously as bombs rained down on Gaza.

And when the WTC buildings were collapsing into their fooprint, it was dancing Israelis jubilating to the spectacle of America’s 9-11 tragedy.

The Golden Rule

The history of warring, the insouciant exhortations of political figures, and the public cheerleading of wreaking violence on the Other speaks woefully to a moral conscience.

Around the world various perturbations of the Golden Rule have been formulated. The basis of the Golden Rule is one of reciprocity, that good-will will be reciprocated with good-will. It is moral and logical; most people prefer having good relations. The building of such good relations demands mutual respect and caring.

Human beings are a mixed bag, though. Some people are driven by greed and self-interest. When this greed and self-interest harms the rights of others, then some form of reparation is demanded. First, the harmed party must achieve justice. Second, it is intended that legal prohibitions against criminal behavior will serve as a deterrent to humans motivated by selfish, sordid ambitions. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that international law be upheld and violators be prosecuted.

Above all, it is a moral imperative that we evolve beyond just caring for those close to us to caring for our brothers and sisters wherever they may be on the planet. We are all humans; we all have dreams of a good life, a peaceful life where our basic needs are met.

Waging violence and waging war is an assault on the ethical values of a moral world.

The war that must be won is the war against warring.

  1. It is not an exhaustive list of nations since, for example, the US involvement in the fatalities of Chinese is not considered. For Chinese killed, see William Blum, Killing Hope: US Military & CIA Interventions since World War II (London: Zed Books, 2004): 19-26. []
  2. David E. Stannard, American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World (London: Oxford University Press, 1992). “The destruction of the Indians of the Americas was, far and away, the most massive act of genocide in the history of the world.” (p. x). []
  3. Stannard, p. 151. []
  4. See Daniel N. Paul, We Were Not the Savages: A Mi’kmaq Perspective on the Collision between European and Native American Civilizations (Black Point, Nova Scotia: Fernwood Press, 2000). []

Kim Petersen is a former co-editor of the Dissident Voice newsletter. He can be reached at: kimohp@gmail.com. Twitter: @kimpetersen. Read other articles by Kim.