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The Killing Business

by Barnabas
July 10, 2002

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The Killing Business_Barnabas- “U.S. drafting 3-front attack against Iraq,” declares a New York Times article by Eric Schmitt on July 6. It goes on to affirm the wisdom of an unnamed military analyst, "The Iraqis aren't just going to sit on their butts while we put in 250,000 people.” There is much more substance to the article, of course, but I’m always amused by the thunderingly obvious statements that editors think are worth quoting, even in a story as unfunny as this one.

It is unfunny because the planners and analysts are putting violent death on the agenda of the nation and the world. They are scheduling death for a huge number of persons on all sides of a conflict. They are in the killing business, and just doing their job.

Recently, where we live on the edge of a wild wood, a snake invaded our garage. It was probably harmless, but it turned hostile when we tried to shoo it out. Since I don’t care to be bitten by any snake -- and in fact its markings were too ambiguous to be sure that it was harmless — I maneuvered it into a position where I was sure I could kill it without it attacking me, and did it. It was the first time in forty-five years that I intentionally killed anything larger than a mouse in a trap.

Had I been in the killing business, I would not have thought about it twice. But I am in the thinking business, so I think about it a lot.

Violent death, even that of a snake, is an intensely personal event — if not for the victim, then certainly for the human killer and anyone who observed the act. Besides the attending emotion, there is always an ethical component. In this case, if it were not venomous the snake should not have died to suit my convenience. On the other hand, the poisonous snake my victim most resembles belongs to a species on the endangered list in the state where I live.

Especially when we kill our own species, as in war, one of those two situations apply: we kill to suit our convenience, or we kill an endangered species. We need to keep clear which we are doing. We cannot justify the first; but the second, even when justifiable, is pure tragedy.

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