The Heart of War

Did we go to war to kill little girls?

You might be surprised at the right answer.

I was listening to a podcast recently where Jeffrey Prather tells the story of one of his buddies in Afghanistan, a special ops squad leader, who was dropped behind enemy lines with his men for some sort of deadly mission. They found themselves in a drainage ditch beside a road in the middle of a field where a shepherd and his daughter were bringing their goats back from a day of grazing. As the herd of goats came down the hill they realized the little girl was going to see them, and then tell her father, who would sound the alarm. The squad would then almost surely be surrounded, captured, and tortured to death.

As she got closer and closer to discovering them in that culvert, the Captain had to make a decision–to sacrifice the child and save his men, or risk having all of them, including himself, suffer a grisly end.

What do you think he did? What would you have done? Before you read any further, take the time to make up your mind–you've got five seconds until you're spotted..

Since the consequences of the choices we make in life, mostly spontaneously and subconsciously, or at least casually and in good faith are harmless for the most part, or cannot immediately, or ever, by us anyway, be seen or felt, we can easily disregard them, abdicate any sense of responsibility for them since, how could we otherwise keep track of the immense, inter-connected mesh of desires and pain in the world around us?

But we also have to be intellectually honest about words, definitions, morality and circumstance. Intent and culture, personal responsibility and blanket condemnation or praise must all be seriously considered too–forthrightly discussed, judiciously forgiven/condemned. How can we know?

In answer to the question above–a lot of you will probably say that you would kill her to save your men and complete the mission. The ends justify the means, essentially, and ethics in war is relative. I’m convinced the only right answer has to be an absolute no–we didn’t go to Afghanistan to kill little girls. Think about it.

How can we ever know our effect on the world? We can only guess, and with sincere difficulty and doubt. What about the utilitarian principle of “the greatest good for the greatest number?” It’s dangerously subjective hogwash, in my experience, to be avoided at all costs–invalidated immediately and finally by the simple question: who decides?

I’ll bet sadists will have a different answer than masochists, and I’m not even being facetious. I think what’s most important is attention, the greatest compliment you can pay. To stay conscious and alive, aware, every day, to live in the present with virtue, valor, and vision, resolutely, since we can’t know our ultimate outcomes or predict much into a future which we certainly can’t control, is the right and only goal.

January 12, 2024 — Johnny Mustard