Boston Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Taken Alive: A Moral Victory

Good job to the Boston Police Department!

Taking Dzhokhar Tsarnaev alive is a very good thing. I don’t know if he was wearing a suicide bomb, but given his and his brother’s blatant disregard for human life (and reports that his brother was wearing one) I wouldn’t be surprised. And in that case the BPD did a huge job – they not only saved the lives of any other innocent victims Tsarnaev might have killed, they saved his life too.

The best possible outcome is still, then, possible – Tsarnaev might say he is sorry. It might not happen, but if it does we should rejoice because that would deflate the terrorist cause; he would be acknowledging that he and his cause were wrong. And that is a powerful witness to keep others away from it. And it would help restore Tsarnaev’s own humanity – he needs to have his sense of right and wrong corrected. It will also show that moral behavior on our part pays off.

When Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan it was only a half-victory for the USA, as I noted at the time. We not only acted outside the law, but we denied him the ability to apologize. That would have been the ultimate victory – the apology of our foremost enemy – and we lost it by killing him. We denied ourselves the opportunity for a moral victory. And as we continue our “War on Terror” we continue to deny ourselves the opportunity for this highest victory.

No matter how unlikely the apology is, we still need to give our enemy that chance. It is not only better for them, it is better for us. Even though distorted towards vice, they are human too. Because in a deep way treating one’s enemy as a human denies the dichotomy of “us” and “them.” It makes us all “us.”

If we deny the humanity of our enemy, we reinforce their denial of ours.  The only way to end this war is by mutual respect or total annihilation, and as I said before, we aren’t going to choose the second path. So we better get started on the path to the first.

In this act of good law enforcement, the BPD respected the humanity of someone who attacked us as an enemy. We need more of this behavior towards those who call themselves our enemies. So once again, good job Boston PD. When BPD officers (and I hesitate to bring it up, but it is the truth and we should never shy away from it) brutalized the peaceful Occupy Boston protesters that was a low-point, but today you have show us the better way.

Let this be a formative moment for our nation, to direct us to defend justice with compassion and respect even for those who deny it to us. We need the moral high ground, not only for the sake of our enemies, not only for the sake of those watching, but for our sake, for us, to keep us human.

And on that note I will end with a link to a story from World War Two. It is a must-read, about a German pilot sparing an American B-17, but I’ll just excerpt one quote.

“People think of the rules of war primarily as a way to protect innocent civilians from being victims of atrocities,” she says. “In a much more profound sense, the rules are there to protect the people doing the actual fighting.”

The code is designed to prevent soldiers from becoming monsters.”

Today we did not become monsters. That might sound like a hollow hurrah, but it is not just a negative, it is much more than that.

Instead we became humans.

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