The Fallacy of “Cycles of Violence”


From Best of the Web Today comes this post, with which I agree:Â Â

Horrific news out of Iraq, where two U.S. soldiers, Pfc. Kristian Menchaca and Thomas Tucker, were either killed or captured and later killed in an enemy attack Friday. Their bodies were found Monday, CNN reports, “mutilated and booby-trapped”:

The bodies also had been desecrated and a visual identification was impossible–part of the reason DNA testing was being conducted to verify their identities, the sources said. . . . Not only were the bodies booby-trapped, but homemade bombs also lined the road leading to the victims, an apparent effort to complicate recovery efforts and target recovery teams, the sources said.

To most of us, this is a reminder of the depravity of our enemies. But blogress Jeralyn Merritt sees it as a reminder of America‘s sins:Â

Violence begets violence. Inhumanity and cruelty bring more of the same. The whole world is watching and we don’t have the right to claim the moral high ground so long as those responsible for the abuses at Guantanamo and detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan go unpunished, the policies stand uncorrected and the Pentagon continues to prevent the media from learning the facts first-hand.

The always excitable Andrew Sullivan similarly laments “the cycle of depravity and defeat.” This rhetoric about “cycles” appears to reflect a theory of moral equivalence, but in fact it is something else. After all, if the two sides were morally equivalent, one could apply this reasoning in reverse–excusing, for example, the alleged massacre at Haditha on the ground that it was “provoked” by a bombing that killed a U.S. serviceman–and hey, violence begets violence. Â

But America’s critics never make this argument, and its defenders seldom do. That is because it is understood that America knows better. If it is true that U.S. Marines murdered civilians in cold blood at Haditha, the other side’s brutality does not excuse it. Only the enemy’s evil acts are thought to be explained away by ours.   Â

Implicit in the “cycle” theory, then, is the premise that the enemy is innocent–not in the sense of having done nothing wrong, but in the sense of not knowing any better. The enemy lacks the knowledge of good and evil–or, to put it in theological terms, he is free of original sin. Â

America ought to hold itself to a high moral standard, of course, but blaming the other side’s depraved acts on our own (real and imagined) moral imperfections is a dangerous form of vanity.

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