If we allow cruelty, can we be allowed _________________ (you fill in the blank)?
Did you think I was going to say "into heaven?" That's the way moral questions tend to be posed in America, a country of God-believers concerned about individual eternal salvation. I've thought about the question. Can we be allowed into heaven if we've been complicit in allowing cruelty here on earth? Imagine, for a moment, a real Judgment Day when it would be decided who would be allowed into heaven. Imagine people being declared guilty for allowing cruelty to take place around them during their lifetimes. Imagine the accused defending themselves, saying how often they had prayed "forgive us our trespasses." Imagine the Judge responding that such serious charges cannot be dismissed without evidence of more specific and sincere contrition. Imagine the trapdoor suddenly opening and "hey, but I was expecting to spend eternity in heaven. . . ."
But is heaven really what is at stake? What about earth? Would it actually be OK for people to routinely allow cruelty to take place on earth (even if, let's say, they could convince the Final Judge to forgive everything in the end)? Once someone is known to "be OK with" cruelty, can they be trusted?
Let's ask our mothers and grandmothers how they would feel about allowing people who condone cruelty to be . . .
Around the sick or injured
Alone with the helpless, be they disabled, unconscious, or incarcerated
Entrusted with a family pet or any other tame animal
Allowing cruelty has become mundane, expected, and the world is the worse for it. When we see photos of crying women whose families have become "collateral damage" in one of America's wars, many of us have learned to turn not the other cheek but the other way. Our highest officials debate whether waterboarding is "really" torture. Our elected representa tives, with our permission, agree to build new nuclear weapons, just in case. Just in case what? In case we decide to burn hundreds of thousands of human beings to death somewhere some day?
I'll ask the question again. If someone condones cruelty, should they be allowed . . .
To practice a healthcare profession?
To wear a uniform of any kind?
It's considered poor taste among Americans to discuss the horrible cruelty of fire-bombing Dresden or nuking Hiroshima. Nor do we spend much time feeling sorry for the people our war machine napalmed in Vietnam. We're officially (sort of) sorry about the My Lai massacre, but maybe mostly because it was embarrassing and some of our boys had to be punished. We aren't acting very sorry about Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo, either. Making up for what was done to detainees who were "at the mercy" of their captors could get expensive if lawyers ever got hold of some of these cases.
Speaking of lawsuits, don't hold your breath waiting for an American president to apologize for Washington having supported dictators like Ferdinand Marcos and Anastasio Somosa and Saddam Hussein and Augusto Pinochet and Suharto and Rafael Trujillo and Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. While Filipinos/ Nicaraguans/ Iraqis/ Chileans/ Indonesians/ Dominicans/ Iranians were screaming about the cruelty, the official position was that Washington did not know about, or certainly saw no evidence that our "allies" were responsible for, the torture and murders and disappearances. Average Americans didn't know the missing people's names anyway and chose not to look at the photos.
As for cruel injuries to civilians caused by weapons that the U.S. has supplied or allowed our "allies" to acquire-cluster bombs, chemical warfare agents, giant house-destroying armed bulldozers, jet fighter-bombers-how these weapons are used is apparently not our responsibility.
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