That’s as stark as a title gets.
A few days ago, I wrote on a thread about liberalism and security that Devadas Krishnadas started on his page. He asked provocatively “Where have all the liberals gone?”. A few liberals, including the Singapore Democratic Party-linked ` journalist’ Kirsten Han went to his page and started talking about amongst other things, the death penalty.
I waded in and said, “The terrorists are not common criminals, it's not about crime punishment and deterrence. They are a mortal enemy intent on killing and destroying. So you kill them before they kill you. And their children too in case they grow up to take revenge. It's as simple as that. Please don't complicate matters.”
People familiar with the discussions I start on Facebook, especially when I see a more intellectual demographic (which Devadas’s readers are), would know that often I would lead with a seemingly provocative and outrageous statement, that on cooler analysis, actually represents a deeper argument that is founded on logic, if sometimes uncomfortable logic.
This is one time.
I went on to explain what I meant, but not before Kirsten Han reacted by screenshotting my comment and pasted it on her facebook.
This has I am told, led to outrage in some quarters – funnily enough, although it has been shared, it did not appear on my newsfeed and a grand total of 3 of my personal friends, out of the thousands I have on my personal account, asked me what it was about.
Shows how social media functions in echo chambers.
However, for those interested, here is a re-hash and an elaboration of the things I then PROCEEDED to say after Kirsten Han screenshot the comment.
Firstly, on the issue of killing children per se, one may react to it with revulsion but it is a complex moral question. A moral absolutist may say one may not kill children ever, just as moral absolutists believe that even the State should not take lives through capital punishment since killing is wrong, but this is not a moral stance that would hold water with everyone.
Take self-defense. If a child is holding a rifle and is about to shoot at you, do you have the right to kill him?
A more morally complex issue is enemies using children as shields – this is a real issue faced by the Israelis in their conflict with the Palestinians, and an issue now with ISIS.
And this brings us to the current problem of ISIS grooming their children (as well as the children living in their ‘state’), as combatants.
CNN has covered this extensively.
See this article especially, which calls them ‘cubs of the Caliphate’ -
From the standpoint of self-defense, I think few would argue that one does nothing when confronted with children (and women) trained and intent to kill.
This already moves the majority away from the morally absolute belief that one should never kill children.
However, the problem is even more complex than that, and asks even more uncomfortable moral questions.
An analyst in the article above notes “The war won't end as quickly if ISIS can readily replace its fallen soldiers with brainwashed children “. "It will be a matter of generations," he said of how using child soldiers will affect the Middle East. "It will take maybe 20 years, 30 years. It's a long, long process and it's very dangerous."
This is important. An entire generation of children under ISIS including their own, have been ‘brainwashed’ to see anyone not subscribing to their ideology as enemies, and should be killed. They fight like adults and replace the adults when they are KIA. This leads to a 20 to 30 year problem, especially since “It takes a significant amount of time and money to rehabilitate child soldiers, experts say”.
Moral absolutism and rights are not the only moral paradigms available to us.
Moral absolutism, as I have argued, is untenable for most people, who would claim a moral right of self -defense when faced with an armed child intent on killing.
There is however another familiar moral theory many of our laws are based on: Utilitarianism. It says that the morally right outcome is the one that maximizes the welfare of everyone.
A thought experiment that students of philosophy are often asked to think about is this: imagine you are stuck in a cave with 50 other people. The only entrance is blocked because a fat man who tried to climb out is stuck in it. You are quickly running out of air. The only way to escape is to blow up the fat man to clear the entrance. Kill one person to save 50 including yourself. Would you do it?
Many of modern society’s laws are already utilitarian. This is no surprise as it is one of the oldest moral creeds.
Therefore, given a problem of a whole generation of children that are already trained to kill, and given that rehabilitation is difficult, and given that this will lead to 20 to 30 years more of strife and suffering for many, many more human beings, what is the utilitarian thing to do?
Kill some to save many?
Would you do it?
That’s my point.
So rather than accusing me of all sorts of wicked and evil things, perhaps it is better for us all to think properly about this complex and real issue.
Your conclusion may well be uncomfortable even to you.