The Justification for Genocide, Terrorism, and Other Evil Actions
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right? Of course! Otherwise, everyone’s “#mcm” on Instagram would be Mark Wahlberg. But so is not the case. It would be detrimental to our species population growth if everyone were physically attracted to the exact same person, because unfortunately not everyone looks like Mark Wahlberg. Morality, unlike beauty, is seen as a uniform internal compass with only one north and one south. Actions are believed to be either moral or immoral, with no gray area in between. Why, then, does not everyone have the same view on the 9/11 terrorist attacks? Certainly Al-Qaeda saw they were right to attack the large, greedy, oppressive America, and any true-blooded American saw it as an unwarranted and absolutely evil attack on their security. Shouldn’t our internal moral compasses resolve this difference? How can people deem the same action both moral and immoral if we have inherent standards? Morality, contrary to popular belief, is dependant on the situation and who is present (the beholders). The existence of an inherent right and wrong is a thin argument, and is one that is completely shattered when reading various historical accounts of the same incident. Given our natural morals, history should be uniform and factual, right? Wrong. Humans are programmed winners; we are driven to conquer and rule whatever and whoever we can. History records the wins and losses for future generations to study. Today’s morality is no more than a reflection of history; right are the winners, and wrong are the losers.
Looking back to the beginning of man, we see assertions of dominance among all cultures. Humans are at the top of the food chain; humans are the most intelligent species on planet Earth, and until aliens discover us, humans are the kings of the universe. Plato, in his “Speech of Aristophanes,” records an account where humans “made an attempt on the gods… They tried to make an ascent to heaven so as to attack the gods” (Plato 90). Although today this is not considered a true historical account, this mythological tale proves that even in 385 BCE, humans exhibited ambitious behavior. In “Man’s Nature Is Evil,” Hsun Tzu notes a “fondness for profit” in human nature (Tzu 100). Written in 300 BCE, Tzu’s analysis contends that “it is man’s emotional nature to love profit and desire gain” (Tzu 103). Our natural state, is in fact, selfish. Woven into our genes is ambition and superiority; it is something we are unable to fight. Right and wrong, then, cannot possibly be inherent, due to our undeniable desire to conquer. Humanitarianism can be noted as an instance where this theory seems to not apply. People selflessly give aid to Africa, Nepal, and Haiti, with no visual reward. But in reality, “every man who desires to do good does so precisely because his nature is evil” (Tzu 103). Not all rewards are visual, nor are they consciously chased after. Whether people realize it or not, they gain a good reputation and a sense of glory when “selflessly” contributing to humanity. Humanitarianism is not guided by an inherent goodness; instead, “conventional morality cannot apply…for it is they who create the new modes and themes of morality in each eage” (Wouk 712). If there is anything inherent in human nature, it is self preservation. Those who rule do not lead with the idea of betterment; missionaries do not consciously travel to third-world countries out of the goodness in their hearts. Whether it is consciously or subconsciously, humans are led by self preservation, and simply use morality to justify their actions.
In school, children are required to study math in an effort to teach them financial basics that are essential to adult life. English, similarly, is studied to help students learn correct grammar and proper English that will help them in the professional workplace. But the study of history serves no similar purpose to math and English. We do not need to know about the War of 1812 in order to do taxes, and we certainly don’t need information on the Cuban missile crisis to be able to read. The sole purpose of history, apparent in most school curriculum, is to study wins and losses. This information is used then to determine the moral standards of the current culture. Specifically, wars determine international conduct. Kenzaburo Oe, in “The Unsurrendered People,” recounts the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as an “absolute evil [that] intruded into the lives and consciousness of the A-bomb victims” (Oe 289). Popular history admits the total destruction left behind, but defends America’s actions by pointing out that it prevented further loss of life. Nagasaki and Hiroshima revealed to the world how easily it could end, and many maintain that it has prevented World War III. Japan certainly does not see it as such. They see America’s historically just act as inhumane and a complete disregard to life. The same event, when held under different lights, is both immoral and moral, nullifying the idea of the static moral compass. A less trivial event such as the American Revolution would appear to disprove this. Nearly all textbooks account for the religious discrimination and persecution future settlers faced, the entire reason America came to be. Yet none of these textbooks describe the Boston Tea Party as an act of terrorism. That is because, as Herman Wouk verbalizes in The Winds of War, “the winning side writes history” (Wouk 566). The Boston Tea Party was an act of rebellion that destroyed property and caused harm to others. 9/11 also destroyed property and (severely) injured others. In essence, are they both not the same? The only difference is that the attacking party in the Boston Tea Party, America, won. Had Al-Qaeda succeeded in their ultimate mission of bringing down America just as America did in gaining independence from Britain, history might record September 11, 2001 as a day where the giant greed machine that is America was forcefully and rightfully destroyed. Instead, Britain was revered as a tyrant and Al-Qaeda a threat against humanity because “defeat, quite naturally, casts doubt on the conduct of the war by the loser” (Wouk 814). Given human’s natural state of ambition, why would we repeat the same actions as the losers of history? This may explain why ISIS has behaved differently than Al-Qaeda. Seeing that flying a plane into some of America’s most important buildings failed, they have instead taken to the method of beheading innocent civilians and broadcasting it worldwide (CNN).
Racism and murder: two ideas regarded as inherently immoral. Never in any circumstance are they acceptable, which is especially evidentiary in studying the mix of serious and fallacious allegations of police brutality. Yet looking back into America’s recent past, we find a different thinking behind killing. Roger Lane, in his analysis of “Crime and Criminal Statistics in Nineteenth-Century Massachusetts,” focuses on organized police efforts in the “wild west.” With police being almost non-existent, crime was handled by “private citizens [who] may initiate the processes of justice when injured directly” (Lane 160).Specifically, shootouts were gentlemanly murders, seen as acceptable ways of killing your foe. Today, “gangbangers” who participate in shoot-outs are perceived as thugs and hoodlums, a stark contrast to the glorified cowboys. By comparing the morals of the same country in different time periods, one completely shatters the idea of static morality said to exist in all humans. In fact, “there is no morality in world history… victors write history, pass the judgements, and hang or shoot the losers” (Wouk 1016). Racism is a more recent revelation in morality. Not until the 60s did African Americans achieve civil rights, and still today they face discrimination. Our lack of an inner morality is why the American Civil War even occurred; it is why the south seceded from the union; it is why Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. John Carey’s Eyewitness to History observes that John Wilkes Booth yelled “sic semper tyrannis” (Carey 373), meaning “thus always to tyrants” (“Virginia State Flag”) as he fled the theatre after killing Lincoln. Booth obviously saw Lincoln as a tyrant with no regard for anyone but himself. It is a well known fact that slavery was essential to the south’s economy, and Lincoln’s freeing of the slaves would have certainly been detrimental. In Booth’s mind, killing Lincoln seemed the right thing to do, for it would not only benefit him, but the entire south as well. Ambition and survival are what drive us. Booth simply saw this as a survival tactic, which is moral for him. It only so happens that public opinion was against his favor, keeping him from being regarded as a national hero.
It is easy to sit back and judge historical events of all time periods as immoral or moral, especially when only studying one side of history. But with all minds and thoughts come subconscious bias and predispositions. For so long, morality has been looked at through a microscope with one setting, only proving that it exists. It does not show the layers of subjectiveness, the exceptions, or the omissions. If right and wrong were standardized as believed today, there would be no need for different versions of world history text books. History included the facts as one side saw them, usually failing to mention the other. Not everyone in the world thought Hitler as a deranged world executor, or else his campaigns would not have been so successful. Yet today, we do not hear from those who regarded him in high standards; we only hear the allie’s side of the war. The combination of predisposed superiority and an extremely connected world have created a false sense of likeness among society. Just like bandwagon Patriots fans after the Superbowl, everyone agrees on social issues because of popular opinion instead of their own beliefs because popular opinion is the winning team. History’s record of prosperous and disastrous escapades have decided our culture’s morality for us: genocide is immoral because of Hitler’s failure; the American Revolution was just because of its success. A simple investigation into the cultures of all parties involved in key world events would reveal that right and wrong are not predetermined. Morality is like water, fluidly moving in whichever direction each river dicates.
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