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David Clark

I wonder what the good bishop thinks of Bonhoeffer's failed attempt to assassinate Hitler. How much is the modern person's comfort with the proper channels of justice merely a fig leaf covering his/her inability to articulate what justice is? After all, Augustine opined that the difference between a government and an armed gang isn't really all that much.


The commando raid on Bin Laden was a military mission, not a police action. Bin Laden was not a civilian; he was a military leader of an guerrilla military group and thus a valid target under the laws of war -- there is no exceptionalism here.

Tom Wright's apparent belief that the US should have applied to the Pakistani government for Bin Laden's extradition is particularly odd on the 50th anniversary of the extraction of Eichmann from Argentina.


I am not losing any sleep over the killing of UBL. Yes, he was a legitimate target. Nevertheless, if he was in custody or otherwise unable to resist, taking the shot instead of applying cuffs is assassination.

The analogy to Bonhoeffer fails, as he could never have hoped to have Hitler at his mercy with a helicopter waiting outside to whisk him away to a friendly aircraft carrier.

Obama has not lived up to his pledge to conduct military affairs in accordance with applicable U.S. and international law. This instance is hardly a significant example of his failing to do so, and not one that will earn him much ire even among those who recognize that assassination was not the proper tool.

"It doesn’t much matter whether the left, the right, or the center engages in war. War by definition is a form of madness."
.... doesn't mean that we shouldn't keep trying to impose some sanity on it, and avoid warfare where it can't be done with at least an effort to minimize its horror.


I agree with everything you say, Smijer, except the claim that "this instance is hardly a significant example of his failing to [act in accordance with applicable US and international law].

How this went down will be iconic always and forever. It is just as significant as the way in which Saddam Hussein was put on trial and then put to death in a less than dignified manner.

Except that justice Obama style, sending in a hit squad and taking out a unarmed legitimate target in front of his family, quite apart from questions of law, is more primitive than justice as brought to Saddam Hussein by Bush and the Shia-dominated Iraqi government.

Carl W. Conrad

I'm reminded of comments from a very bright freshman college class reading the slaughter of the suitors in Odyssey 22 for the first time. But Vergil especially raises more questions about the nature of justice and imponderables of theodicy than Job. I doubt that any two insightful readers of Eclogues, Georgics, and Aeneid derive from them a single common vision. The question, Tantaene animis caelestibus irae? really is imponderable.


Hi Carl,

"Musa, mihi causas memora, quo numine laeso,
quidve dolens, regina deum tot volvere casus
insignem pietate virum, tot adire labores
impulerit. Tantaene animis caelestibus irae?"

Ruden's translation:

"Muse, tell me why. What stung the queen of heaven,
What insult to her power made her drive
This righteous hero through so many upsets
And hardships? Can divine hearts know such anger?""

I would love to integrate a discussion of justice as understood in Aeneid into a Bible class. I do something a bit like that that already with respect to the concept of justice in Greek tragedy and how that compares with Lamentations 1-3 in the Bible.


I agree with you John that assassination is a step down from the Kangaroo court disposal of Hussein. It's just that I don't see the fate of either hated enemy as being a large component of the on-going wars, torture, indefinite detention, etc that has sadly characterized the American military mission over the last decade.


Very true, smijer. In a sense, I think we are, as a nation, at Ground Zero when it comes to thinking about the way we project force in the world.

C. Stirling Bartholomew

JFH said "It doesn’t much matter whether the left, the right, or the center engages in war."

That's right. Vietnam, JFK, LBJ, RMN.

Keep in mind LBJ was "peace candidate" in 1964. Went from advisers to half million troops.

C. Stirling Bartholomew

I have one perhaps minor criticism. It seems that JFH likes to leave questions hanging unresolved. Adding nuance to nuance, like writing his dissertation all over again. Professors are often seen as continuing to write their dissertation for the rest of their years, it becomes a way of live, massive levels of qualification applied to every question. It's a good thing that professors don't get the assignment to fight wars, that was what Vietnam was all about, war run from the Whitehouse basement by the whiz kids, McNamara, Bundy ...


C. Stirling,

I am not trying to play arm-chair general here. The goal is to frame questions in new ways, to think at the interface of faith and politics.

Have you ever read "Plato and Isaiah" by Martin Buber? Buber notes that a philosopher like Plato hopes for a philosopher-king. In practice, it didn't work out well at the time; has it ever? What does Isaiah stand for? A kind of anti-politics. In my view, there is a great need for anti-politics today. A biblical basis for anti-politics is laid out by Jacques Ellul in the Politics of God and the the Politics of Man.


I don't know if you saw the PBS Frontline Kill/Capture documentary this week, but I think it is well worth watching (or you can read the transcript). There are a number of good articles linked off that page as well.

To put it in perspective, this year 12,000 Taliban or Al Qaeda insurgents have been killed or captured (but mostly killed) by this program in the last year in Special Ops (JSOC) missions -- similar to Bin Laden.

Whatever your feelings on the case of Bin Laden, his case is a somewhat typical example of this strategy, used about 40 times a night in Afghanistan (and before that in Iraq).


Not "this year," but in the last year (12 months).

Thanks for the link. I enjoyed listening to it. Frontline is a class act. As soon as the Republicans succeed in defunding public television and public radio, I will become a regular financial contributor to both.

Obama is often quoted by political opponents as saying (at a high school in Farmington Hills MI on the campaign trail):

“My position has always been clear: If you’ve got a terrorist, take him out. Anybody who was involved in 9/11, take ‘em out.”

This quote, and goofier ones uttered by Joe Biden, might be compared to a "fake-but-true" quote attributed to Dick Cheney:

“My position has always been clear: If you’ve got a terrorist, waterboard him. Anybody who was involved in 9/11, waterboard him.”

In this race to the barbaric bottom, Bush-Cheney win on points in terms of the humane treatment of military enemies.

Obama-Biden win on points in terms of fiscal restraint. After all, it costs a lot less money to kill people than to detain them, waterboard them, and prepare to put them on trial who knows when.

War is politics by another means. Every act must be examined from the point of view of political symbolism.

Counter-insurgency is supposed to be about winning the hearts and minds of the people. That would be: the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Against these benchmarks, the Petraeus/Obama strategy in the AfPak theater cannot be judged a success. It has to be asked: are we sowing the wind, such that we will reap the whirlwind?


Hmmm, didn't I say "last year" above?

As a matter of military strategy, it seems that the current capture/kill strategy implemented by (now-disgraced) General McChrystal and greatly expanded by General Petraeus is perceived by Washington as being the most effective our counter-insurgency efforts. The fact that it is so closely associated with Petraeus, and he is now becoming the director of the CIA suggests that the program will even further expanded.


Yes, I see now that you have "this year" but also "last year" in the same sentence.

I agree with what you are saying.

The conduct of the wars in Iraq and Af/Pak theaters have enjoyed wide bipartisan support from the beginning. In particular, given the successes of Petraeus in Iraq, successes which Obama/Biden quickly claimed as their own (not just of Bush), Petraeus has been nearly immune from criticism in the Washington that counts.

For the most part, Democratic attempta to make political hay out of the war during the Bush administration were unsuccessful except in the sense of ingratiating themselves to part of their base, though I admit their opposition, such as it was, was not as hypocritical as that of Tom DeLay, who famously said "Give peace a chance" as we geared up to bomb a genocidal Milosevic into submission.

The Bush administration had no trouble getting the Senate to second his moves before the war in Iraq. Congressional leaders during the wars under both administrations have acquiesced on virtually all key strategic decisions.

The convergence continues. Walter Russell Mead is not far off when he says that Obama as president, now more than ever, has discovered his inner Bush:

It probably won't hurt Obama's re-election prospects too much, but Obama's reset of the baseline for a negotiated end to the Israeli-Arab crisis might now to be said to be the chief difference between Mideast policy of his administration and that of Bush.


Didn't see this thread but let me add my voices to the ones that thing that NT Wright was way off the mark on this one.

Consider the following scenario. A group of Irish republican terrorists carries out a bombing raid in London. People are killed and wounded. The group escapes, first to Ireland, then to the US, where they disappear into the sympathetic hinterland of a country...
But now imagine that the British government, seeing the murderers escape justice, sends an aircraft carrier (always supposing we've still got any) to the Nova Scotia coast. From there, unannounced, two helicopters fly in under the radar to the Boston suburb where the terrorists are holed up. They carry out a daring raid, killing the (unarmed) leaders and making their escape. Westminster celebrates; Washington is furious....
What's the difference between this and the recent events in Pakistan? Answer: American exceptionalism. America is subject to different rules to the rest of the world. By what right? Who says?

In answer to his question:

a) We are in a state of armed conflict with Al Qaeda, the British / England was not in a state of armed conflict with the IRA
b) Pakistan didn't claim it was an incursion
c) The USA takes responsibility for people on US soil.


I don't think Wright's analogy holds much water either, CD.

However, if the US did provide safe haven to terrorists responsible for the death of thousands in Great Britain, I would, even though I am American, support the right of GB to come over and do the terrorists in by whatever means they might choose, with or without the consent of the US government.


Yes exactly, if we were providing a safe haven for an army attacking GB that would be an act of war and they would be entitled certainly to take actions short of war to stop us.

Mike Wilson

N.T Wright's comments just show that knowledge in one area does not translate into knowledge in another. Those who lamented the assassination of Ben Laden fall into to two camps, the vile (Noam Chomsky) and the foolish, Wright.

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