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Terrorism:  "Good" vs. "Evil"

Bennett, the author of the book, The Death of Outrage, explained the moral relativism: "Look, hypocrisy is better than no standards at all." [CNN, July 10, 2001]

A Time to 'Earn This', The Consortium, 8/9/01


Another response to Terrorism:  "Good" vs. "Evil":

From the LA Times, 10/1/01:

Faced With Evil on a Grand Scale, Nothing Is Relative


In the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, America will be changed politically, militarily, culturally, psychologically. It is too close to the events to understand their full impact. But one certain result is that these events have forced us to clarify and answer again universal questions that have been muddled over the past four decades.

Speaking about World War II, C.S. Lewis put it this way: "The war creates no absolutely new situation. It simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice."

For too long, we have ignored the hostility shown toward America and democratic principles by some Muslims who adhere to a militant and radical interpretation of the Koran. We have created a moral equivalence between Israel and the Palestinians who seek to eradicate Israel. We have ignored Islamic clarion calls for our destruction and the bombings of our embassies and the U.S. destroyer Cole. This situation has not changed, but now we realize what the situation is. This is a moment of moral clarity in the United States. For almost 40 years, we have been a nation that has questioned whether good and evil, right and wrong, true and false really exist. Some—particularly those in our institutions of higher learning and even some inside our own government—have wondered whether America is really better than its enemies around the world. After the events of Sept. 11, we should no longer be unsure of these things, even in the academy. We have seen the face and felt the hand of evil. Moral clarity should bring with it moral confidence and we must be reassured of some things.

Good and evil have never gone away; we merely had the luxury to question their existence. At the beginning of Allan Bloom's classic "The Closing of the American Mind," he says, "There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: Almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative." Can one culture, it was asked, really presume to say what should be the case in other cultures? Are there any cross-cultural values?

Yes. The use of commercial airplanes as missiles, guided into buildings where civilians work, is evil. The goal of the hijackers was the intentional destruction of innocent life so as to strike fear into the heart of America. And what they did was wrong. Not wrong given our point of view or because we were the victims or because of our Judeo-Christian tradition but simply wrong.

It has been said that these attacks were the inevitable reaction to modern-day American imperialism. They are retribution, it is claimed, for our support of Israel, our attacks on Saddam Hussein, cruise missiles launched at Afghanistan and Sudan.

This is nonsense. America's support for human rights and democracy is our noblest export to the world. And when we act in accord with those principles, time after time after time, we act well and honorably. We are not hated because we support Israel; we are hated because liberal democracy is incompatible with militant Islam. Despite what Hussein and Osama bin Laden and, shamefully, some American clerics have said, America was not punished because we are bad, but because we are good.

It is, therefore, past time for what novelist Tom Wolfe has called the "great relearning." We have engaged in a frivolous dalliance with dangerous theories—relativism, historicism, values clarification. Now, when faced with evil on such a grand scale, we should see these theories for what they are: empty. We must begin to have the courage of our convictions, to believe that some actions are good and some evil and to act on those beliefs to prevent evil.

And so we must respond to these attacks and prevent future attacks. We do this to protect our own citizens and our own way of life. We do this to protect the idea that good and evil exist and that man is capable of soaring to great heights and sinking to terrible lows. We do this, in the end, to prevent the world from becoming the prisoner of terrorists, their way of battle, their way of thinking, their way of life, their way of death.

The recognition that some things are right and some things are wrong has come at a terrible cost of thousands of lives lost. The only comparable tragedy in American history, I believe, was the Civil War. And so we must join in the hopes of our 16th president and pray "that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the Earth."

William J. Bennett is the co-director of the public policy organization Empower America and chairman of K12.com, an Internet-based elementary and secondary school.

Rob's reply
I wrote the following letter to the LA Times, 10/2/01:

Bill Bennett declares, without evidence or logic, that what the terrorists did was "simply wrong." He mentions why the terrorists might have hated us—our unilateral support for Israeli oppression, our mass murders in Iraq, etc.—but dismisses these motivations as "nonsense."

Whoa...great argument, Bill. I don't see how anyone can top it, but permit me to try.

Using your approach, I declare, without evidence or logic, that your column was simply wrong. It was "nonsense," to quote your conclusive argument.

That makes us even. Now what?

But let's deal with Willie's wee brain on his own simpleminded level. His argument is that killing 3,000 innocent civilians is "evil." Okay. Let's look at some other instances of civilian deaths:

  • Americans killed maybe 200,000 innocent civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That's 67 times as evil.
  • Americans have killed maybe 500,000 innocent civilians (and counting) in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. That's 167 times as evil.
  • Americans killed maybe 2.3 million innocent civilians in Germany during WW II. That's 767 times as evil.
  • Euro-Americans killed maybe 10 million innocent Native American civilians through disease, starvation, warfare, and assassination. That's 3,333 times as evil. (If you want to argue that letting people die of disease isn't immoral, don't bother. I've already addressed the point at Genocide by Any Other Name....)
  • If you're opening your mouth to say war justified all these civilian deaths—tut, tut. Shut your mouth again. We're using Bennett's so-called logic and he forbid moral relativism as a valid argument. Saying war turns immoral actions into moral ones is a prime example of moral relativism. It's admitting that a supreme authority doesn't set moral standards...that mere mortals interpret moral standards according to circumstances.

    Since we've dismissed the argument that murdering innocent people is "relatively" justified in wartime, what's left? Nada. America is several hundred or thousand times as evil as the terrorists according to Bennett's absolutist "logic."

    Any questions?

    Others agree
    Since my rebuttal is logically unassailable, it's not surprising that others agreed with my conclusions. From the LA Times, 10/3/01:

    Bennett's Argument on Moral Relativism

    Wonderful. So, we now know that William J. Bennett and Osama bin Laden agree on one point: Evil and good are unquestionable absolutes ("Faced With Evil on a Grand Scale, Nothing Is Relative," Commentary, Oct. 1).

    I don't think Bennett really fears that anyone thinks that the Sept. 11 attack was arguably good. What he fears is anyone suggesting that what the U.S. has done in the past is arguably evil. In other words, his argument is an appeal to the now thoroughly discredited notion of "my country right or wrong."

    Once morality is accepted as absolute, all dissent becomes illegitimate. And that is precisely what conservatives, whether Islamic or Christian, always want us to accept. That Bennett uses the country's moral outrage over the recent attack as a flimsy excuse to push his political agenda is, frankly, sickening.


    I was a B-17 navigator in World War II with 33 bombing missions over Europe.

    We can all agree with Bennett that "the use of commercial airplanes as missiles, guided into buildings where civilians work, is evil." Do we all agree that dropping atom bombs on cities and carpet-bombing cities are also evil?


    Correspondent tries to defend Bennett
    >> Saying what the mass murderers did was "simply wrong" is like saying the sun is hot. It is what it is. <<

    The sun is hot and terrorists kill for a reason. Physical scientists study the former and political scientists study the latter. Doofuses like Bennett do neither but rather state in flowery language what a 2-year-old could state: Sun hot. Ice cream good. Terrorists bad. That may be reassuring to other 2-year-olds, but as a professional column in a major newspaper, it's a joke.

    >> Bennett was merely stating the obvious. <<

    Right. Not only that, he was demonstrating the obvious: that he's a simpleminded fool and hypocrite.

    As you often do, you managed to duck the key point—which was Bennett's dismissing talk of the terrorists' motivations as nonsense. To use your analogy, that would be like some "pagan" Easterner saying, "The sun is hot. Who cares why? Studying it is nonsense."

    So I agree with your implied point: that Bennett is as stupid and illogical as the "pagans" you cite so often. His position, which is anti-intellectualism disguised as pro-morality, is that neither science nor political science matter compared to God's word. In short, he's a fanatic who's learned to hide his intolerance in kindergarten rhetoric.

    Another f---ing fundamentalist fanatic
    A few more notes....

    Bennett says we've created a moral equivalence between Israelis and Palestinians. I should think Bennett would be happy we've raised Israel to an equivalent position. After all, Israel is in the morally inferior position. It's the only party flauting international law and UN resolutions by conquering a foreign territory and its people.

    Bennett says that when we act in accord with our principles, "we act well and honorably." Problem is, we often don't act in accord with our principles. Bennett's statement is the epitome of the straw-man argument. It's like saying "when we don't prop up oppressive dictatorships, we fully support democracy."

    Bennett believes only the Civil War compares to the 9/11 attacks. So 10 million Native deaths—or "just" 1 million, if you exclude the deaths from disease—don't count? What a sad testament to Bennett's moral blindness. White-skinned Americans killing each other is a tragedy. Americans killing brown-skinned Native Americans is irrelevant.

    Bennett himself proves his entire position is an intellectual, philosophical, and moral fraud—the conservative Christian equivalent of a sack of excrement. As noted at the beginning of this message, he admits his views are hypocritical. 'Nuff said.

    Related links
    Inside the terrorists' minds
    F---ing fundamentalist fanatics
    Kill those towelheads!

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