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May 11, 2009


Baron Korf

"We readily oppose your enemies whoever they are, but we cannot stain our hands with the blood of innocent people."

That's the money quote. In all of this moral debate, that seems to be the conundrum. The definitions of three words there: Oppose, Enemies, Innocent. From what I understand, one of the primary subjects of interrogation is the man who executed Daniel Pearl. Not exactly innocent. Obviously an enemy. But what is just opposition?

I'm far from a sophisticated person. I would love to simply worship God, raise a holy family, eat good food and drink good beer. I guess that's why I can't seem to come to a conclusion on this.

Where does the paternal duty of a country to its citizens intersect with the humanity of its enemies? I have yet to find a distinguishing answer.


Tim J.,

Let me get this right:

The lesson you want us to glean from this example where saintly Romans refused to massacre innocent people is to protect those terrorists who actually want to massacre innocent people?

Is that about right?

In other words, rather you lose the lives of your own dear children & wife then see a hair harmed on the head of the terrorists?

Is that it?

Tim J.

The saintly Roman soldiers didn't just refuse to massacre innocents, they chose to die themselves rather than sin.

Are we ready to do the same?

They not only would not harm the innocent, but refused even to act against the oath of loyalty they had taken to their emperor by taking up arms against him.

If torture is a sin (and I was always taught that it was, when the Nazis and the Viet Cong did it) then to refuse to torture is to say simply "death before sin" exactly as did these soldiers.

"In other words, rather you lose the lives of your own dear children & wife then see a hair harmed on the head of the terrorists?

Is that it?"

Than see a prisoner tortured, you mean? The answer is "yes", and I can only hope that I am given the grace to stand by the conviction of my conscience in that hour, and place my hope in Christ that I and my loved ones will be reunited at the Resurrection.

Or is that some kind of sucker's bet to modern Christians?

Baron Korf

Tim, you have done the same thing that I have seen over and over in the blogosphere: Condemn 'torture' with a broad brush and then offer little to no guidance on what torture especially when compared to legitimate interrogation.

"Death before Sin" yes, every Catholic should be behind that. But what falls under sin and what is legitimate self-defense?

Adam D

great post, Tim. St. Maurice's example is such an edifying one in these evil times.

Baron Korf, your question is a bad one. It's like hearing a teen ask how far they can go with their boyfriend or girlfriend before committing a sin against chastity. A nearly impossible one to give a precise answer on but anyhow it's just the wrong question.


Tim J.,

Sure, condemn each and every act under the species of an supposed euphemism "enhanced interrogation" as nothing more than actual torture.

Preach atop a mountain of piled innocent dead, which include in these even your own beloved; however, in such a time, are you so sure you would still remain as you are? So solid in your Faith?

Even a man so galantly strong in his Faith and talked ever so often even personally to God Himself; if such a man as this after having practically lost all he had & dear to him ultimately reached the boiling point of railing against even God Almighty Himself, whom he didst first so mightily love; how much more you, when you end up carrying the torn scattered pieces of what once comprised the bodily members of your own family, your beloved children & dearest wife?

Will you yet remain so magnificently faithful in your utter self-righteousness then, holding your head ever so high amongst the rest of us and our innocent dead?

Adam D

e. you're sounding a little creepy. Are you wishing evil on Tim to test his mettle? What gives? Anyhow Tim says, "I can only hope that I am given the grace to stand by the conviction of my conscience in that hour." This doesn't sound like "utter self-righteousness" just a striving for righteousness, as we should be all doing.


Adam D,

Of course not.

Only that we are seldom so faithful once that time of adversity arrives; that is, once we've actually endured the Trial of Job.

Heck, even St. Peter dared to say in front of Christ Himself that he would NEVER deny him -- ever.

Yet, when that time came, he was the first to shrink from his promise to be so faithful a Christian and even renounced his very belief in Christ.

However, this matter is an entirely different trial, which seems even more severe since it involves others too.

More preicsely, it involves the very lives of ones we dearly love.

To simply toss it aside as if it weren't a big deal, that if we were to actually witness their deaths at the hands of terrorists, in the bits and pieces we've recovered of them from the scattered remains of a terrorist attack (as in 9/11); this seems to challenge God to the point of testing us beyond our very mettle.

That is, we shouldn't be so quick to think so highly of ourselves and preach with such self-righteousness concerning "enhance interrogation measures" less those who once preached so highly concerning the protection of these same terrorists become the very ones who would sooner put them to death in the end!

William Luse

Good post, Tim. Even if you don't hold up in the time of crisis, you're right and e's wrong.

Adam D

e. you don't seem to have a consistent message here. You bring in St. Peter and the fact that he promised not to sin, but nonetheless sinned when the s**t hit the fan. And you compare this with the current situation of how to conduct military interrogations.

The fact that you are drawing this kind of comparison seems in a way only supportive of Tim's own position. St, Peter was not wrong to desire to be steadfast in following Christ (he was just wrong that he'd succeed at the next trial). This is in fact a great comparison. I take it, from Tim's "I can only hope that I am given the grace to stand by the conviction ..." caveat that he imagines he, like St. Peter, is quite capable of failing his own convictions in difficult circumstances, like those our military interrogators are put in. This doesn't make it wrong to have moral convictions.

And yet, the conclusion you seem to draw is the opposite. Somehow, you seem to be drawing out the conclusion that one shouldn't have righteous goals in modern military intelligence gathering.

Tim is simply trying to discern how to be holy. Perhaps, like St. Peter, he would fail if facing real adversity. This doesn't make his confession of faith wrong any more than Peter's was. It is good and commendable to have moral standards even if they're hard and difficult ones.

The whole tenor of your last couple posts, e., is of one who wants to create a stumbling block for his brother. You want Tim to condone actions he sees as intrinsically sinful. Maybe he's capable of committing such sins (he indicates such possibility with his own "I can only hope that I am given the grace to stand by the conviction" caveat) but it's entirely wrong for you to be asking him to lower his standards of pursuing righteousness. What the heck is wrong with trying to be good and holy and righteous?!

Baron Korf

No Adam, it is not the same. This is asking for the Rules of Engagement. Soldiers are always given clear distinction between what is acceptable and what is not. That is how war is fought, especially one that is waged in the bounds of Just War theory.

A girl doesn't have to go anywhere with her boyfriend. In war you will have prisoners, unless you have a policy of "take no prisoners". So either we kill them all on the battlefield or set up rules for how we deal with the prisoners, including the ones we intend to question.

Adam D

I understand you, Baron Korf, but there have existed very good, precise rules for a long time now, too. Codified in, I believe, the Army Field Manual. It lays out very specific techniques (and effective ones!) for getting information from prisoners. The field manual has served us well for a long time and has been part of the moral backbone of our country's proud history that has had nothing to do with skirting close to torture.

It was the specific intent of "enhanced interrogation" techniques to ask, "how far can we go without breaking the law?" (they weren't, I doubt, asking the question "how far can we go before committing a sin") Nonetheless, it is because we have abandoned our moral, effective Army Field Manual protocols in favor of this "how far can we go" mentality that I think the comparison to unchastity is perfectly apt. Just as the boy or girl doesn't have to "go anywhere" with their date, neither does our military need to stray from the very moral, very effective protocols it has long upheld.

I suppose I assumed a little too much of how you phrased yourself above (in your challenge to Tim) re-reading it just now. You didn't actually spell out the question, "how far can we go" but it's easy for me to have read your statement like that, in light of the fact that that is precisely the outlook of so many engaged in this debate. You asked a little more broadly "But what falls under sin and what is legitimate self-defense?" I will still contend that this is the wrong question to ask, though it's not as bad as "how far can we go." I think the better question is "how can we treat our prisoners humanely while seeking the intelligence we need" and I think the Army Field Manual answered it a long time ago. As far as even a purely pragmatic question, I don't buy that the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques are more effective, and I definitely don't buy that they're moral (though I do actually buy the argument that they're legal).

Baron Korf

Referring to Army Field Manual is like defaulting to 'stare decisis'. This too was once the prudential judgment of men. I'm searching for the actual guiding principles behind their treatment.

"Where does the paternal duty of a country to its citizens intersect with the humanity of its enemies? " to restate my first question.

Adam D

Maybe you understand more than I do. What's faulty in the Army Field Manual?

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