This week is National Newspaper Week. The public depends on newspapers and other media to keep informed of events and assess their consequences. This not only requires an accurate record of events but also the background surrounding the events and a moral and ethical framework through which the events are viewed.
In recent year the national framework of conventional wisdom, assumptions and taboos has deviated considerably from the framework used by the rest of the world. I ask the press to take the opportunity of National Newspaper Week to examine why this has occurred, and open a discussion of why our world view is diverging from the rest of the world, whether we are on the right track or the wrong one, and how the differing views can be reconciled. To illustrate how things are changing I offer a couple examples.
Religious influence on government
USA Today reports that the Congress, at President Bush’s urging, has just passed legislation that would bar detainees from challenging their detention in courts, a change that goes against a couple hundred years of American history. This has been discussed in the press from most angles, legal, ethical and moral. The one angle not discussed has been religious influence on such decisions. Why the change now? Is it related to the ethnic and religious background of the detainees? Have we divided the world into people that are evil and those that are good? If so, is this because of our religious beliefs? This is not a subject that should be taboo and above discussion if it is changing long standing principles that have served us well.
The morality of warfare
There was a time when emperors and kings lead their troops into battle. There was a time when stealth and surprise attacks were dishonorable. Obviously we’ve come a long way from those times. But even recent world wars were fought with a near parity of forces, comparably equipped, at least at the start. There was some honor in such wars, even though circumstances deteriorated and masses of civilians became targets, ostensibly to avoid even larger casualties, or justified on the basis of the support of the general population for the acts of the military.
This is not the situation we face today. We have countries equipped with sophisticated weapons of massive destructive power and extreme accuracy battling resistance movements not tied to any government and without any modern weapons other than rifles and grenade launchers. This is the epitome of asymmetric warfare. When an aggrieved group of people finds they have no means to challenge their occupation or displacement by an enemy with a modern army and the support of superpowers what are they to do but surrender or use unconventional methods like terror to achieve what they view as justice? In our frame of reference, we have defined such terror as despicable and the worst form of brutality, even though those engaging in it may consider it so important that they are willing to give up their life in the cause, and even though respected countries have used it to win independence.
On the other hand, we sanction the use of smart bombs of deadly accuracy and devastating explosive power operated from safe quarters miles away to attack domestic facilities that may contain many civilians, to assassinate a single cruel dictator with which we have a conflict. This is the way we went after Saddam at the start of the
The weakening of rules against torture is another way we have voluntary relinquished the high ground in our claim to be honorable and humane people. Why are we doing this? There may be unique circumstances that occur once or twice in a lifetime that require breaking the rules to prevent massive loss of innocent life. But, why is this something that we want to write into law? Is this rational? Or are we driven by emotions or religious zeal to repeat the brutalities of the past that we have tried for centuries to rise above?
Please, members of the press, help us open this discussion
The examples I have given here a just a couple ways we seem to have been regressing as a society into the brutal ways of the past. The rest of the civilized world is not with us on this. They have a different frame of reference. Are we to follow the ways of those we consider evil, or are we to lead by maintaining our honor and humanity. The press can help us here by breaking old taboos against the discussion of religion and in challenging a frame of reference which is no longer in concert with world opinion. We should have learned by now that the enemy that currently threatens us is operating out of deep religious conviction and zeal, and as a result is behaving irrationally. Do we want to join them in their irrational ways or do we want to examine our own premises and challenge our changing worldview of what is honorable and moral?