The Ends-Means Problem in Chart Form

Often, people think that when I argue with them about the war on terror, or the war in Iraq, or the war in Afghanistan, that I am somehow traitorous or ‘morally indistinguishable’ from a fifth-columnist or Al-Qaeda terrorists. Especially when I note that many of their political complaints are founded (though as I’m sure you can tell, I think the religious ones are just crazy).

Call it ‘nuance’ if you will, but for me, the distinction between ends and means is very important for me. I don’t think that we must take any action in the cause of justice or freedom or whatever it is we’re pretending to be fighting for today; we should take the right action. Some like to throw resources (money, troops, lawyers) at problems and others demand we retreat to our caves and abandon all collective enterprise so the wolves can feast on it. Neither of these approaches really work.

The problem is, if we recognize the validity of the other sides’ grievances, some will inevitably feel that this is a capitulation, that America must seem strong at all times, at all costs. (Incidentally, these are likely some of the same people who think that perception abroad of weakness invites terrorist attacks, when in fact, it has no bearing on the frequency of attacks whatsoever.) This position is fine, if you have no problem with civilian deaths, both here at home and abroad. If you wish to do anything about the death rate, it’s not really defensible to throw so many people upon the the fire of our supposed ‘national pride.’

I’m getting off on a tangent; my principal task here is to show you how I mean by ‘the means-ends’ problem. So, here are some sample breakdowns:

Good End Bad Means Good Means
Addressing Saddam Hussein's criminal abuses of Iraqi citizens Support him with with weapons and strategic aid against Iran, allow him to stay in power after he invades Kuwait, starve his citizens to the tune of 1.5 million deaths, invade in 2003 Don't give him wepaons with which to kill people, support the anti-Saddam insurgents in the 1991 civil war, eliminate corrupt U.N. embargo which only enriches Saddam and bureaucrats at the expense of citizenry.
Removing violent U.S. backed kleptocracies around the Muslim world Using terrorism to kill civilians, setting up Islamofacist governments Grassroots democracy in the Middle East
Getting Israel out of the Occupied Territories Intifada, suicide bombings Demographic and diplomatic pressure (which forces Israelis to withdraw to keep Jews in the majority)
Getting foreign troops and corporate thieves out of Iraq Killing civilians and police recruits Hmmmm. Um...?
Saving the village Burning the village Saving the village


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