Comment, Comics and the Contrary.
Iraq is better than it was under Saddam, so the actions taken by the US and UK governments were good, right? Well, no. Accepting, for the purposes of debate, the first part of that argument, the second only necessarily follows if we adopt a crude utilitarianism as our moral guide.
The following thought experiment might offend. It is designed to ask us to consider the ‘good’ involved in actions so immoral that they whip many reasonable people into apoplectic ‘hanging’s too good for ‘em’ mentalities.
A baby has been abandoned in the forest. It is wintertime, the snow is heavy on the ground and the family does not have enough to eat and cannot support the new arrival. Infanticide by exposure. This is not the moral dilemma of this thought experiment. I will not be asking; what would you do, but rather, how do you understand and judge the events that follow.
Now, living in the forest is a paedophile. In keeping with the Hansel and Gretel scenario, and the hysteria and witch-hunts that define popular discussion of these modern day bogeymen, this paedophile may well live in a gingerbread house deep in the forest. He finds the baby, rescuing it from the snowdrift in which it lies. He feeds, clothes and shelters the baby.
Now, I need not illustrate my point to vividly, and I am sorry that I have asked your imagination to fill in the gaps in my experiment. But the baby is alive. It is fed. It is warm and sheltered. In this thought experiment it will grow into an adult. The baby is in a better position than it would be had it died.
But the actions of the paedophile are not good. They are, as best can be put, wicked. The motivations of actors are important in judging their actions and the resulting consequences. And the defence of only carrying out a lesser crime is not sustainable in situations, as in this one, where the lesser crime was not a necessary condition of preventing the greater crime.
Okay. Some will complain that this is not an accurate depiction of the psychology of child abusers or their victims. Fine, but that is not the point. You could also imagine a vigilante who mugs the people he saves, only he allows them to keep their credit cards whereas the original muggers would have taken the lot. Or a lifeboatman who saves only the women, leaving the men to drown despite having spare capacity in his rescue boat. All these people produce a better result than had they not been in existence. But their actions are still immoral, even wicked.
If Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Blair want to argue that they are good because the consequence of their actions are better than what had gone before, they need to argue that they acted in the interests of human rights, democracy and freedom. These, if they come, are collateral benefits of the War in Iraq, a smokescreen of a defence for men who acted in bad faith, for wicked reasons.