The execution of Osama Bin Laden a week ago caused me to reflect again on the death penalty thoughts I posted just prior to that.
At its most simple, the assassination mission was simply a death penalty carried out. As I said before, I happen to support the death penalty in theory – when it’s used by society to terminate a force that is a significant threat to society.
This was exactly that – Bin laden was the self-professed mastermind of attacks on this country that killed thousands. He had confessed, was delighted with his actions, and was hiding from us to avoid execution. He didn’t seem to believe in “due process” himself, based on the delight he seemed to take in killing innocent people.
There are calls from some that his assassination was wrong, in that it failed to live up to the ideals and beliefs of this society. In denying him “due process”, our actions were wrong. The Executive Director of Human Rights Watch made these comments a week ag0.
He’s right of course. A strong moral argument can be made that killing anyone is wrong, and I’d agree with his comments that execution without due process is morally wrong.
This is where we all need to find our level of comfort with the moral dissonance created when we support an action that is immoral. For the good of society in general, I absolutely support the execution of this man who had caused many deaths and who would like to cause many more. There was no doubt of his guilt – he had proudly proclaimed his guilt over past actions and his intent for future action.
At the extremes, there are two reactions a person might have:
- A person can take the approach that the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch did, and simply stick by the moral argument, with no consideration of anything else.
- A person can justify the actions as “moral” in their mind – check out any of the right-wing blogs for examples of this perspective.
Both of these actions are the result of a low tolerance for moral dissonance. People who fall into these extremes want to see the world as very black and white, with no space for gray. They want to believe they have the complete and accurate set of universal moral rules programmed into their moral compass, and their way is the one and only way to see the world. If they support an action, it MUST be moral, and if it’s not, they’ll find a way to make it sound moral in their mind. Or they refuse to support it, no matter how “right” the decision is.
Our assassination of Bin Laden simply isn’t moral. Justify all you want. We invaded a sovereign country with our weapons and assassinated him and the people around him, and that’s simply not “moral”.
But in my mind, it’s OK. I have no problem with it. It was the right thing to do, as it removed an extremely harmful element of threat from our society – one that would surely cause grief and destruction in the future.
Moral dissonance might not actually be a phrase that’s commonly used – I just made it up because it seems to fit this dilemma. Look inside yourself, and ask yourself how much tolerance you have for moral dissonance. Your reaction to this assassination might be a good clue for you…