Monday, April 9, 2007

Should I Die for My Country?

This is a timely question, given the recent conduct of the kidnapped British sailors who immediately cooperated with, and allowed themselves to be humiliated by, their Iranian captors.

Anyway, most people would probably be ashamed to say anything other than "yes" to this question -- or at least they would say that they would die for their country under the right conditions.

But consider this question: How many people would unhesitatingly drown themselves so that some strangers can stay alive in the proverbial lifeboat? What's the difference between the two situations?

Maybe the lifeboat question should have several similar versions:

Version 1: Would you drown yourself to save six strangers on a boat that sprung a leak?

Version 2: Would you drown yourself to save six countrymen on a boat that was being attacked by a foreign country?

Version 3: Would you drown yourself to save six countrymen from the foreign ship if you could also kill the attackers on that ship?

The likelihood of a "yes" answer (and a "yes" action) would no doubt increase from Version 1 to Version 3.

So: What are the differences between the three versions? There are two:

1. The number of lives saved increases from six to an ambiguous future number if the enemy is attacked.

2. A collective is being saved.

Of the above two differences, the second is probably more influential. One way of seeing that is to pretend that you are sitting in front of three buttons, each of which will instantly kill you if pressed.

Button #1 says: "Push me to save six people, somewhere in the world, from being killed today."

Button #2 says: "Push me to save six of your people who are about to be killed by your group's enemies."

Button #3 says: "The future of your people is at stake. Push me to save six of them AND to kill those who are about to kill them."

In the emotionless confines of a room with buttons, and with the anonymity of the decision, it seems unlikely that any button would be pressed. But Button #1 would probably receive the fewest presses.

So, here are the conclusions:

A) Your group's "life" can be more important that your own life; it's the threatened group that matters, not the threatened individuals.

B) The actual number of people you save is probably not important. (Replace the six people with six hundred people, and see if it makes any difference.)

C) People who value their own lives more than anything else ought to be grateful that there are others who are willing to sacrifice.

D) People who are willing to sacrifice for their group ought to be grateful that there are others who place their own lives first. (Would you want to see cancer researchers enlist for front-line duty?)

E) If you voluntarily took an oath to defend your country, and you cooperate with the enemy and not even apologize for it afterwards, then you probably have very little group allegiance -- but more importantly, you are also a disgraceful fraud.

3 comments:

JohnM said...

Anyway, most people would probably be ashamed to say anything other than "yes" to this question -- or at least they would say that they would die for their country under the right conditions.

An interesting supposition in itself.

I would predict that a clear majority in England would not say that now or else would present so many caveats that the statement would be worthless. I presume that in the US you have a different experience.

Political correctness is now so embedded in our culture that during the recent football World Cup, there was debate amongst the "thinking classes" about whether showing the England flag was offensive. Several universities in fact banned it on those grounds. There is a virtual complete absence of support for the military within the middle classes. As an example of how far gone we are, consider the fact that the BBC cancelled a TV play based upon the true story of a black soldier who won the Victoria Cross (highest UK honour) in Iraq because it feared it would alienate members of the audience opposed to the war in Iraq

faQster said...

So what happened to the millions who supported Thatcher? It wasn't that long ago; i.e., they couldn't have all died. Did they change their minds about whether the UK needs any sort of defense?

That said, there is a large American demographic (young, affluent, masochistic, ignorant of history, and patronizing towards the "other") who could easily move back and forth between the enlightened quarters of New York, San Fransisco, Boston, etc., and their equivalents in London. To them, the only threat to the world is President Bush -- which is similar to the British who feel that Israel is a bigger threat than Iran.

If Chicago (or Birmingham) is ever replaced with a crater of smoldering ashes, it would not surprise me if Bush and Israel were held accountable by these people.

JohnM said...

So what happened to the millions who supported Thatcher? It wasn't that long ago; i.e., they couldn't have all died.

Well, as I alluded: whilst the educated middle classes shudder at the thought of admitting patriotism, (or admiring Margaret Thatcher), that still leaves a large chunk of people that would still wave the flag at football matches without embarassment.

If Chicago (or Birmingham) is ever replaced with a crater of smoldering ashes, it would not surprise me if Bush and Israel were held accountable by these people.

It depends upon the size of the crater.

Indulging in cultural nihilism, whether home grown or external seems harmless to youths brought up in an era of peace and security. We live in an age of ersatz rebellion where criticism of one's own culture is regarded as a sign of being cultured, but the credibility of such relativism is connected to the absence of threats to existence. Given a suitably large threat, most of these people will return to reality.