Perspectives: The morality of murder in war and crisis

OPINION – I love the new NBC network show “Revolution.” This show fictitiously depicts the chaos that ensues when the power goes out around the globe and people have to deal with the sudden loss of technology in an order-free world. Looters abound, people flee for their lives with what they can carry, and the characters must learn to fight against an armed militia.

On a recent episode, the heroine of the story, a young teenage girl, is put to the test when the people closest to her are held hostage by a villain in the story and she is told she must kill the villain’s nemesis to free her family. She is in anguish over killing an innocent, decent man but decides she must murder him to protect and free her family members.

She agonized over the action she was about to take.

Is it ever okay to do something bad for a good reason? Is it justifiable to kill or steal and bypass your moral compass for the right outcome in a given situation?

This prompted a heavy-duty discussion on our morning talk radio show, Fox News Perspectives. Callers weighed in on this subject of ethics and morals, as we engaged in a rigorous discussion of various situations and the justification of bad behavior.

It’s all too easy to give lip service to what your actions “would” be or “could” be when your character is not being tested, when times are easy. But, what if you had to answer this question today? Where would you stand?

Would you kill an innocent person to save the lives of your family members?

The eternal aspect of things would weigh heavily on my mind and if I were forced to choose, I do not think I would be able to murder another human being for any reason but in total defense. If I were defending my life, killing someone in that circumstance would seem justifiable. But, if I were the aggressor, I would not be able to carry out such an action.

Would you?

Going a step farther, is ending a life justifiable in times of war? War is one of those instances in which killing someone is not a prosecutable action in most cases. Killing someone is protected under the role of defending our country’s liberty.

As long as we wrap the word “patriotism” around the act of killing in wartime, does it make it right?

We dehumanize humanity in times of war to make it easier to wrestle with the moral dilemma of killing. A target is much easier to shoot at than a person with a family .If the U.S. military engages in war for reasons other than actually defending our own nation but serves the interest of other warring nations, is the killing justifiable then as well?

Is it honorable to uphold our alliances with other countries even if it means engaging in their wars and putting our own service men and women at risk? Does the end justify the means? Are those that make the decisions to go to war held accountable for the actions of the military or does the responsibility fall on the shoulders of the one who is ordered to pull the trigger? Does the soldier have a choice?

I have nothing but respect for those that sign up in the various military arms of our government and swear to defend our country’s liberty. I deeply value someone who knows the risks and signs up anyway. Yet, I cannot help but think that war should always be the very last resort; and that the fewer servicemen and women that have to engage in the atrocities of battle would be a better course. How many soldiers return home from war only to wrestle with the demons of their own conscience? The suicide rate continues to swell among our servicemen and women upon their return home; some succumb to the pressures of marital or financial issues and some suffer from depression from carrying out the actions of war.

When we violate our value system, we must re-identify who we really are. We define ourselves by our moral code and our value system.

Even in the most just situations, like the battlefield, do we take the first shot at our enemy in a preemptive strike only or wait until we are fired upon? Is one less permissible than the other?

There are many situations, even as a civilian when certain situations would test anyone’s character.

In a situation like Hurricane Sandy, yes, I admit that I would take food from an unmanned grocery store to feed my hungry family, knowing I could make amends to that storeowner after the devastating event ended.  Yet, would I kill a storeowner who refused to sell me or give me food to feed my starving family during a disaster? No. There are boundaries; lines for me that cannot be crossed or I would be in violation of my own humanity.

What would you do?

There is nothing like an intriguing ethics question to determine our character and really evaluate our own moral code.


Kate Dalley is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives morning show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are hers and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2012, all rights reserved.

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  • Roy J November 3, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    I propose that there are no definite rules in such situations; there is only honor and death and cowardice. Further, Christians might consider the actions described in the Book of Maccabees. Non-Christians might consider reading Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “Gulag Archipelago” to get some perspective on why you should never, never, never, compromise your soul (principles if you like) for anything or anyone. These are hard, worthy questions. Carry that cross!

  • Jeb November 5, 2012 at 5:41 am

    I wouldn’t hesitate to kill a looter, and I don’t care if it’s a woman with children. I’ll shoot her dead and bury her under the tomato patch.

  • Sean P. November 8, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    I appreciate your thoughtful questioning on the subject. Easily the biggest difference between those who can pull the trigger, and those who cannot, is love for others.

    Many people can claim to love their families, their friends, people in general. But, unless you are willing to risk your life, your eternal existence, to preserve the life of those you care about, your love has limitations.

    In the Marine Corps, the level of discipline required is sufficient for us to know that we are not burdened with such choices. We are tools. We do what we are told and execute without hesitation. A system that works for most marines. Most of us have no regrets for our actions, that most civilians would consider terrible. Some, do suffer with the moral dilemmas after the fact. That eats away at me, to know that my brothers were not prepared properly, and lost sight of what was important enough for them to enlist.

    Many people think military personnel join to have their school paid for. That is just a benefit. The most heroic deed any of us ever commit is during our swearing in, where we commit “up to including our own death.” Beyond that, we do what we are told, or America ceases to exist and your rights to question the morality of military personnel killing our enemies,,, well, those rights you enjoy, would be at risk.

    I am grateful and proud to read such articles like yours! It shows me how protected you are, that you can question such acts. Because if someone held a gun to your son’s, or daughter’s, or brother’s head and you did not step up to protect them… well, that is the difference between you and the people that made it possible for you to ask the question.

    If you can’t grasp it in my few words, you probably never will. Thank you for your article. It really brought a smile to my heart!

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