The Corner

We’re The Good Guys

From a reader:

Hey Jonah,

Sorry, I’m yet another lefty (one of a crowd, I’m quite sure) writing to say that I think you’re missing the point in the argument about the Geneva Conventions, and more broadly about the entire war. I’ve always believed that the one of the most important assets we have as a society is that we can believe that we’re the “good guys.” I don’t think that acting as if that is true is something that you do in order to convince the other guy that you might have some moral authority. You do it because you believe that it’s the right thing to do. The moral authority exists whether or not the other guy believes. It’s what we believe about ourselves that matters. Following the precepts embodied by the Conventions, even when they’re not specifically mandated, even when there might be some strategic disadvantage to abiding by them (and I think that that’s an arguable point,) these are the things that provide us with the moral authority that I think we ought to be able to claim. Security at the cost of our collective soul is, I think, a pretty bad trade.

Just to be sure, I’m not arguing pacifism (or, at this point, even withdrawal – we broke it, etc…) I was fully behind the invasion of Afghanistan; although, I tend to think that Iraq has been a pointless debacle. What I am arguing is that there’s a fine line which we don’t seem to acknowledge, currently.

Me: First, a lot of lefty readers complain that I only put up the freak show email. I don’t think that’s actually true and I think this is a good example of a perfectly calm and decent lefty offering a good faith objection.

Second, I think he’s right about the importance of being the good guys for all sorts of reasons, in part because being good is its own reward but also because we need to set an example.

But, third, I think he’s making a common mistake. Lots of well-intentioned readers use the Geneva Convention as a stand-in for “good” or “decent” or “honorable” as if adhering to the GC is the benchmark for rightness and if you don’t follow it — and only it — you’re on the side of torture and cruelty. And this is just wrong. As Rich noted in that column I linked to below, the Geneva Convention requires that we give detainees razors and forbids keeping them in cells. Surely reasonable people can hold the position that applying these provisions to Jihadi fanatics is unwise (does nobody remember Louis Pepe?). In other words, simply saying we’re violating the Geneva Convention doesn’t automatically translate into “we’re not behaving like the good guys.”

I really don’t have any problem with the basic objection that we must have rules for dealing with these detainees. But we do have rules. Hundreds of detainees have been released. One can say they haven’t been released quickly enough, but there are some honorable reasons for that (we don’t want to send them back to countries where they’ll be tortured, for example). And as I’ve already written, I think it’s probably a good thing for Congress to step up to the plate. But I think it’s folly for the Supreme Court to assert that non-signatories to the Geneva Convention, never mind outright terrorists, must be treated according to its guidelines and I think it’s a form of ill-conceived moral bullying to insist that anyone who disagrees is willfully turning his back on decency.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

The Coming Shellacking

Two years ago Donald Trump hijacked the Republican party. Now it’s time to think about what steps might have to be taken to regain control of it. The tocsin of doom that sounded this week in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District could hardly have been more clear in its meaning: This November the GOP ... Read More
National Security & Defense

Leave McMaster Be

About every two months, there are rumors that Gen. H. R. McMaster might be let go as Trump’s national-security adviser (along with many other stellar appointees). The world, however, is a much more logical and predictable place than it was 14 months ago. We’ve restored ties to the Gulf monarchies; Israel ... Read More
Economy & Business

What Kudlow Got Right in 2007

Lawrence Kudlow’s appointment to be director of the National Economic Council has brought out the critics, who have combed through his copious writings to find every wrong call he has made over the decades. One passage that has come in for some ridicule, though, doesn’t deserve it. Here’s Kudlow, writing ... Read More
Film & TV

Love, Simon Outs Hollywood’s Youth Exploitation

Simon (Nick Robinson), the 17-year-old white gay high-school student in Love, Simon, appears to be a comic version of the protagonist in Moonlight. Rather than blatantly copy that Oscar-winning black-gay-victim film, Love, Simon remakes the pathetic Moonlight in the more marketable guise of a sitcom about a ... Read More