22 July 2005

If not now, when?

Jim Putnam and I are developing here the beginnings of a «blog conversation» form, which I am enjoying.

His “parallels” post (‘To support’ is not ‘to approve’) of yesterday's date prompted two reactions from me. The first is a short(ish) one, so I'll deal with it here; the longer I have given its own post.

The shorter one, then.

I always feel torn by this business of supporting “our boys” – that is, “our” troops, when they are in action. Several questions arise. What makes them “ours” – or, more precisely, what makes them “mine”? Why should we (or I) support them, if they ar doing something which I (and perhaps, in some cases, they) regard as unconscionable? How does supporting troops who are doing something I believe they should not be doing differ from that old cry, supposedly long discredited by more enlightened times, of “my country right or wrong”?

I know, only too well, the survival driven need to do what has to be done regardless or conscience or moral cost. Guilty as charged. But that doesn't mean that the conscience or moral cost disappears – only that it is deferred until a quieter and more reflective time when they must be acknowledged and their terrible debts paid. I know, too, that life is not so simple that it can be divided into "survival" and "peace". A soldier with no immediate survival question to deal with may nevertheless know that her/his actions (or inaction while reflecting on conscience and moral responsibility) might preserve or cost the life of a comrade elsewhere. And a civilian who wants others to enlist and fight on her/his behalf must know the same. But, where does it stop?

Whatever the difficulties, conscience and moral responsibility have to be found some space somewhere. At some point, support of troops (whoever's they may be) involved in unsupportable work has to reach a limit. If not with the civilian at home in a liberal democracy, then where? And (to borrow an old line from the partizanka in another past war) “if not now, when?”

No comments: