What’s Wrong with the World

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What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

Happy Birthday To The Federalist – Part One: Here We Go Again!

In case you weren’t paying attention, the lively and smart web magazine The Federalist just turned one year old about one month ago and many of us here couldn’t be happier for the exciting new voice for “the broad center-right”. As a recent profile of the website explained:

“The Federalist exists because we believe there was an audience for smart cultural-opinion writing speaking to a center-right audience,” founder Domenech told the Washington Examiner. “While there are a number of excellent media entities on the right, most of them focus on horse-race politics and policy arguments. That's secondary for us.”

One goal, he added, is to avoid the bubble mentality so common with writers in Washington, D.C., and New York City.

“Most people speak about issues through the lens of culture, sports, and relationships, not based on elections and legislation,” the 32-year-old said. “That's why our most popular stories are about sex, pop culture, faith, child-rearing, and more, and why we don't write gauzy profiles of congressmen.”


The Federalist aims to appeal to readers from all backgrounds, but there’s also a specific focus on attracting millennial and female readers.

“The idea was a web magazine for a broad audience where culture was not an afterthought, where women would be sought after as writers and readers, and where inside-the-beltway thinking was viewed skeptically,” senior editor Mollie Hemingway told the Washington Examiner.

Further, according to senior editor David Harsanyi, formerly of the Denver Post and Human Events, the Federalist also offers a forum for social conservative and libertarian authors to hash out ideological discussions and differences.

It’s “a space where libertarians and conservatives can debate policy,” Harsanyi told the Washington Examiner.

Indeed, our own social conservative, Lydia McGrew, wrote an article for the website detailing some of the flaws with an IUD/contraceptive implant study that was characteristic of her usual detailed incisive commentary.

But, speaking of a “space where libertarians and conservatives can debate policy,” the website recently hosted two interesting essays on the interminable topic of torture – the first called “Torture is Unacceptable; But What is Torture?” by Rachael Lu who I think considers herself a traditional social conservative and the second called “Yes, Christians Can Support Torture” by D.C. McAllister who identifies herself as a libertarian. Both pieces are flawed, but I will focus on the more egregious of the two, the obviously wrong Ms. McAllister.

Non-Sequiturs and Intrinsically Evil Acts

McAllister begins her piece with a bunch of statistics that are irrelevant to the actual question: she cites a poll that suggests 79% of evangelical Americans as well as 78% of Catholic Americans support the use of torture. Yes, well at least in the Catholic Church, we don’t define orthodox moral theory by democratic vote (or by polling) and I’m sure serious evangelicals would agree with me and simply shake their heads in disappointment in those polls – we need to do a better job in teaching basic Christian morality to the American public!

Next she provides a pretty good definition of torture that I’m happy to use for the purposes of this blog post (although like our old friend Zippy Catholic, I think it is important not to get bogged down in the “appeal to the incomplete definition”): “Torture is the infliction of severe pain on a defenseless person for the purpose of breaking his or her will.” McAllister then decides to create a special moral category separate and distinct from your run-of-the-mill authoritarian despot who tortures for fun and/or to keep his enemies in check: the kinder, gentler torture known as “interrogative torture”:

Interrogative torture is minimal, acute, and designed to gain necessary information to protect society. Some might not feel comfortable using the term torture, but for the sake of this post, I will. It is sometimes morally justified to use pain to break a terrorist’s will in order to save lives. Interrogative torture is not prolonged, maximal, pleasurable, vengeful, or punitive, and it does not have long-term debilitating consequences that completely disrupt a person’s ability to function normally.

This kind of torture is a “lesser evil” than death. While torture does involve the exercise of control over another human being for a time, it does not end their autonomy as death does. When someone is dead, they have no autonomy, no hope of life, and no dignity. They’re dead. However, when a person is tortured in a minimal way, they have not completely lost all autonomy—even in the moment of intense pain. They can still give up information and end the interrogation, or they can remain silent and suffer. There will come a time when the pain will end, when they will regain their autonomy, and they will continue their lives. There is no such hope for a dead person.

So there seem to be two key issues to Ms. McAllister’s definition here: the “interrogative torturer” wants to save lives (in other words, the torturer’s intent is key) and she compares this form of torture to killing someone, presumably in the context of administering the death penalty for a terrible crime; and she place great importance on the fact that at least the person tortured can go on with life in comparison to those punished with death.

I’ll go on in a minute, but if alarm bells aren’t going off in your head already they should be: a basic, orthodox Christian teaching for millennia is that we don’t do evil so that good may come of it. Period, end of story. We don’t rape a woman or cut off someone’s arm if that is the only way we can save a city of millions from destruction – a hard Christian teaching but remember Christ’s words to us: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” Of course, if you are Catholic you also have the Magisterium to guide your thinking on these matters including the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Papal Encyclicals. What do they say about torture and the death penalty? As the blog “Disputations” blog once noted [my emphasis]:

The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults offers a take on the three elements characterizing moral acts that may be a bit easier to grasp than the Catechism of the Catholic Church's presentation.

Under "Life in Christ/The Foundations of Christian Morality/We are Moral Beings: Fundamental Elements of Christian Morality," we find the subsection "The Understanding of Moral Acts":

Another important foundation of Christian morality is the understanding of moral acts. Every moral act consists of three parts: the objective act (what we do), the subjective goal or intention (why we do the act), and the concrete situation or circumstances in which we perform the act (where, when, how, with whom, the consequences, etc.)

For an individual act to be morally good, the object, or what we are doing, must be objectively good. Some acts, apart from the intention or reason for doing them, are always wrong because they go against a fundamental or basic human good that ought never to be compromised. Direct killing of the innocent, torture, and rape are examples of acts that are always wrong. Such acts are referred to as intrinsically evil acts, meaning that they are wrong in themselves, apart from the reason they are done or the circumstances surrounding them.

The goal, end, or intention is the part of the moral act that lies within the person. For this reason, we say that the intention is the subjective element of the moral act. For an act to be morally good, one's intention must be good. If we are motivated to do something by a bad intention -- even something that is objectively good -- our action is morally evil. It must also be recognized that a good intention cannot make a bad action (something intrinsically evil) good. We can never do something wrong or evil in order to bring about a good. This is the meaning of the saying, "the end does not justify the means." (cf. CCC, nos. 1749-1761)

Or if you prefer a more detailed analysis of the subject, here is Pope Saint John Paul II on the matter:

"Intrinsic evil": it is not licit to do evil that good may come of it (cf. Rom 3:8)

79. One must therefore reject the thesis, characteristic of teleological and proportionalist theories, which holds that it is impossible to qualify as morally evil according to its species — its "object" — the deliberate choice of certain kinds of behaviour or specific acts, apart from a consideration of the intention for which the choice is made or the totality of the foreseeable consequences of that act for all persons concerned.

The primary and decisive element for moral judgment is the object of the human act, which establishes whether it is capable of being ordered to the good and to the ultimate end, which is God. This capability is grasped by reason in the very being of man, considered in his integral truth, and therefore in his natural inclinations, his motivations and his finalities, which always have a spiritual dimension as well. It is precisely these which are the contents of the natural law and hence that ordered complex of "personal goods" which serve the "good of the person": the good which is the person himself and his perfection. These are the goods safeguarded by the commandments, which, according to Saint Thomas, contain the whole natural law.130

80. Reason attests that there are objects of the human act which are by their nature "incapable of being ordered" to God, because they radically contradict the good of the person made in his image. These are the acts which, in the Church's moral tradition, have been termed "intrinsically evil" (intrinsece malum): they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances. Consequently, without in the least denying the influence on morality exercised by circumstances and especially by intentions, the Church teaches that "there exist acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object".131 The Second Vatican Council itself, in discussing the respect due to the human person, gives a number of examples of such acts: "Whatever is hostile to life itself, such as any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide; whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat labourers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons: all these and the like are a disgrace, and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honour due to the Creator".132

And on the subject of the death penalty versus torture, the "Disputations" blog again provides a concise analysis:

Execution, si; torture, no

I've seen several variations of this argument recently:

It would seem that every act of torture cannot be evil in its object. For every act of execution is not evil in its object. But execution is a greater punishment than torture. And since life itself is fundamental to all aspects of personal dignity, torture cannot be more contrary to personal dignity than execution. Therefore, all torture cannot be evil in its object.

To respond to this, I will first point out that the Catechism deals with both execution and torture in the section on the Fifth Commandment. But execution is mentioned in the subsection "Respect for Life," while torture is covered in the subsection "Respect for the Dignity of Persons." So, while life itself may be fundamental to all aspects of personal dignity, issues of personal dignity are not wholly subsumed by issues of life. In other words, a thing may be consistent with respect for life yet contrary to respect for the dignity of persons.

The problem with the argument is that it presents execution as the upper limit of a continuum of punishment. But that's not actually the case. Once you execute someone, he's dead. With patience and care, though, there's no fixed limit to how much torment you can inflict upon him.

And I'm not saying that torture can surpass execution on the continuum of punishment. I'm saying that there is no continuum of punishment, because a continuum assumes a single dimension and punishment has at least the two dimensions of life and dignity.

So the fact that execution need not be contrary to the personal dignity of the one executed does not imply that torture need not be contrary to the personal dignity of the one tortured.

I couldn't have said it better myself! McAllister therefore is simply wrong about execution – it does not represent the be all and end in with respect to punishment that destroys the dignity of the human person – indeed, it is not even a punishment when deployed in the context of trying to coerce a prisoner to give his captors information. Grouping corporal execution with torture is a category error and confuses the issue rather than illuminates the problem of consequentialism related to torture.

Old Testament Punishment and Human Dignity

Now Ms. McAllister’s argument takes a particularly interesting turn for What’s Wrong with the World readers – because she attempts at this point to use the examples of Old Testament punishments as contrasts to the use of torture (much as she compared and contrasted the death penalty with torture). Here she is essentially saying – what about the ancient Israelites of the Bible – they stoned people for sorts of crimes including idolatry! Didn’t those ancient Israelites violate the dignity of those sinners who were being punished?
Well, no they didn’t (even if we wouldn’t use those same punishments today deeming them cruel and unusual). The sinners themselves lost their dignity via their sin – this is the whole point of the Saint Thomas quote she provides:

“A bad man is worse than a beast, and is more harmful.” Aquinas’ words are definitely in line with how God treats criminals in Scripture. Human dignity is not seen as an absolute, but as conditional. This makes it morally justifiable to kill people who have violated the law—man’s law and God’s law.”

All of that is true – and all of that refers to the appropriate punishment for someone who sins. Not the appropriate way to interrogate someone to get information from them. There is a difference, even if a criminal terrorist owes us the truth; we also owe the terrorist the obligation to treat him morally due to his inherent dignity. I agree that the terrorist has lost his own dignity via whatever sins he may have committed, but we can’t further violate that human dignity via “infliction of severe pain on a defenseless person for the purpose of breaking his or her will.” We cannot do evil so that good may triumph.

Then we get to What’s Wrong With the World’s favorite Biblical Old Testament passages: McAllister trots out the Joshua passages dealing with the slaughter of the people in Jericho. Needless to say, we here at this blog agree that Christians should have a problem with those passages; not with the clear teaching of the natural moral law and the rest of the Biblical and Christian witness on what “Thou Shall Not Murder” really means!

Finally, McAllister concludes with some irrelevant thoughts about how to make torture safer if we indeed decide that torture is justified to save lives. Shifting quickly to Rachael Lu’s piece: We find it is mostly focused on the question of how to define torture. I agree with Ms. Lu that there are some grey areas: is all sleep deprivation torture? No, but clearly, past a certain point sleep deprivation does become cruel and dangerous. Could you slap a prisoner who acts contemptuously or perhaps spits at you during an interrogation? I would say yes, and that would not be torture – but if you slapped the prisoner non-stop over a period of days with the intent to inflect severe pain, well remember our previous definition! So there are indeed grey areas, but unfortunately for the global war on terror and the United States, we often crossed the bright lines of black and white and committed what can clearly be agreed upon by all right thinking adults as torture. Hopefully, there will come a day when all right thinking Christians will reject torture as immoral and unacceptable to civilized societies.

Comments (15)

Jeff, these are very good points. Thanks for digging into this.

I agree that we shouldn't allow the fact that there are gray areas to the edges of what is or is not included under torture to cast doubt on the general norm that torture is always wrong. There are gray areas to how much you can eat before it constitutes gluttony, but we are clear that gluttony is always wrong. We can be certain of the quintessential cases even if we cannot be as certain as we would like for some boundary cases.

Similarly, we should be completely clear that corporal types of formal punishment (i.e. punishment under law levied on account of a crime for which the criminal is indicted, tried, convicted, and sentenced) are not in the least objectionable on these grounds. The mere fact of using physically unpleasant forms of punishment is not - by itself - indicative of the species "torture", at all. Yes, there certainly are punishments that are torture (crucifixion was one such), but to be corporal punishment is not to be torture.

And it doesn't matter, for torture, if the pain imposed comes about under so-called "law" after trial and conviction. Tortuous punishment is torture as well as punishment. That punishment is licit doesn't make torture licit.

The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults offers a take on the three elements characterizing moral acts that may be a bit easier to grasp than the Catechism of the Catholic Church's presentation.

Stick with the CCC and Pope JPII's explanation. The US doc gets it wrong. The first element is not "the objective act", it is "the object of the act". The difference is significant. Under JPII's (and St. Thomas's) treatment, "the act" is the moral act - the WHOLE human act, including all of its component elements. The first component should not be called "the objective act" or anything of comparable sort. The object of the act stands to "the act" as the form stands to a substantial natural object, say, a tree. The form "oak-ness" is not the oak tree, nor is it the "objective tree", it is a critical element of the tree. Similarly, the object of the act of premeditated murder is something like "take that innocent life", it is not the objective act of killing. The object of the act establishes what you are about, understood by you the active agent in so choosing, when you do the act, but it is not the objective act. What the murderer is about is taking the life. The object is the rationally intelligible species of the chosen act, that which "informs" the act so as to make it this species rather than that. The object is the proximate end of the decision because the proximate end provides the rational specification of the act itself: "Rather, that object is the proximate end of a deliberate decision which determines the act of willing on the part of the acting person. "

(The other portion of "the objective act" is the actual manifestation of the choosing and willing into enfleshed operation - normally carried out by the body. This stands to "the act" as the matter stands to the oak tree, the bark and leaves and chlorophyll and carbon, to which the formal imprint "makes" it to be an instance of "oak".)

Well done, Jeff. Thanks for giving a shout out to The Federalist, even if it is by way of introducing a sharp but needed criticism. (And thanks to Tony for articulating the source of my puzzlement and disquiet when I read the US document.)

We'll have more on this fraught subject soon, but I have come to wonder if the original (and now revived) outrage over torture was somewhat overblown. These abuses were inflicted on a relatively small number of men, most of whom (let's not mince words) had it coming. I ain't goin' shed no tears over KSM.

What really alarms me is the corruption and dishonor of our soldiers, agents, spies, etc. They were only carrying out our orders, in the sense that the popular will of the country approved enhanced interrogation. America demanded that they torture for information.

We who oppose torture for Jihadists do so as a minority party in America. This is a cause of distress for us; but it is also the cause of refutation, of any wild or convenient theory that the torture policy was foisted upon the Republic by nefarious Cheneyites.

The point fruitful conversation, I think, lies in asking, What should we do with Jihadist operatives when we capture them? How should we instruct our soldiers and agents to proceed once they have subdued and fettered one of these treacherous gangsters?

A man who fancies himself a soldier plots to take up arms and explosives, agitate his mind and numb is sympathies with narcotics, stir his morbid indignation and his murderous hate by recitation of ancient grievances, and descend upon the vulnerable and unarmed with fire and slaughter. But brilliant detective work has uncovered his plot and American agents descend on him first. What should they do with him now that they have him?

There is a sense in which some folks who wisely recoil from torture want to say, with a touch of impatience, "well just leave that to the experts; leave it to the career spooks and special forces to work this out." But that is no kind of an answer. We the people need to reform our morals, gather our wits, steady ourselves, and tell our agents and soldiers what to do when they capture a captain of Jihad.

After all, it was two peculiar psychologists, academic interrogation experts, you might say, who constructed the enhancement interrogation policy. This is too important to be left to experts.

I ain't goin' shed no tears over KSM.

I'm not going to shed tears over him, but I _am_ going to say it was wrong to torture him, not that he had it coming. I just think we need to keep saying that, no matter how much righteous anger we feel against him. IMO, he should have been tried and executed. In a sense, there may even be a connection between the lowering incidence of the use of the death penalty and the rise in acceptance of "enhanced interrogation." We don't actually become more merciful as a people when we eschew the stern understanding of execution as a just punishment. We just become more pragmatic. Which is much worse, morally.

The overall increase in utilitarianism in the U.S. can be seen in many, seemingly unrelated, disturbing trends. For example, no doubt the intelligence community would have deplored solemnly executing KSM after a trial because that would "waste" his information. So the just thing is sacrificed to the utilitarian _use_ of the person as a resource, and he is kept in a legal twilight zone so that he can be used. Similarly, advocates of increasingly aggressive organ procurement policies deplore solemnly and respectfully burying (or for that matter cremating) the bodies of human beings because that "wastes" their organs. Rather, they must be treated as a resource and kept in a medical twilight situation so these organs can be procured in usable form.

Similarly, too, we have seen people advocate on social media indicting and trying police officers _not_ because they deserve it in justice (which they may in some cases and may not in others) but so that they can be scapegoats to try to appease the crowd. This, of course, puts the police officer who kills someone in the performance of his duty into a legal never-never land where he is not being treated based on his just deserts but rather on what is expedient.

All of this is profoundly at odds with the values of Western justice, law, and medical practice on which our civilization was built. The observance of those values is not always "useful" in the immediate situation, precisely because using people is not the goal of those values.

Thanks for the mention, Jeff.

Tony writes:

Stick with the CCC and Pope JPII's explanation. The US doc gets it wrong.

Because it simply must be that are they are in conflict, despite the fact that Veritatis Splendour uses the term "behaviour" 61 times to refer to the object of the act, and the term "action" a similar number of times.

The problem can't possibly be internal to Tony's personal views on moral theology; because if it were, he might actually have to re-think his positions and there might actually never (gasp, actually never!) be any moral excuse for killing the innocent. So the hermeneutic must be that the one magisterial document conflicts with the other. It can't possibly be that they are saying the same thing; because that would (intolerably) imply a problem with Tony's personal understanding.


I think your comment about the dangers of utilitarian thinking are spot on -- I would add to your list the whole movement in the health care industry to cut costs when thinking about the elderly and their "quality of life", i.e. euthanasia.


Your writing on torture (like some of your other ethical and moral writing) has been a clear and forceful witness to the eternal truths of the Church. I thank you for all the work you've done and continue to do on these matters.

Having said that, you know very will that we have a comment policy against personal abuse. Your recent comment skirks that line, and you have a history of doing so in your comments about our fellow contributor Tony. This sort of out-of-nowhere unpleasantness needs to cease. We understand that you have strong personal opinions but I don't want (and I think I speak for the rest of W4) to let you litter comment threads with pointless personal snark. Please stop.

I would add to your list the whole movement in the health care industry to cut costs when thinking about the elderly and their "quality of life", i.e. euthanasia.

Yes, a funny thought: To the utilitarian, KSM's life is more valuable than Grandma's, because KSM has knowledge we can use. Which means that Grandma should be bumped off for the greater good and KSM should not be executed but should be kept alive and interrogated for his useful knowledge.

Notice too that utilitarians will speak of having severely handicapped kids as a drain of resources, unmerciful and a host of other things suggesting it's bad to let them enter this world. They will often then look at you like a scoundrel if you suggest that much of their clientele (unwed mothers, drunks, drug addicts, shiftless male rejects, thugs...) are undeserving by virtual of actual choices they've made with their lives.

The point fruitful conversation, I think, lies in asking, What should we do with Jihadist operatives when we capture them? How should we instruct our soldiers and agents to proceed once they have subdued and fettered one of these treacherous gangsters?

Excellent question, Paul. I don't propose a direct answer. I suggest 3 errors to avoid.

The first error is to treat battlefield, post-battlefield chaos, and occupation, as if they were under civil law. They are under different rules: the rule of the battlefield does not assume that every person is innocent until proven guilty, it assumes that every armed person (other than your own soldiers) is an enemy target.

The second error is to confuse fighting enemy soldiers of a formal state with fighting jihadist volunteers of a movement or clandestine entity. Soldiers in the uniform of a state are rightly accorded the moral presumption that they are acting "under orders" from a legitimate authority. Jihadist volunteers are not. Nearly all states have signed international conventions about warfare, and we can then presume a certain understanding of the limits of warfare on their part. Jihadists, not.

The third error (which Jeff mentioned) is confusing punishment with how we ought to treat these treacherous gangsters outside of a penal arrangement, in confusing lawfully organized punishment with detainment of those deemed dangerous in unsettled regions. Punishment properly specified is the aftermath of a concrete legal determination that the accused is guilty and ought to be made to suffer a proportionate penalty. We detain dangerous and treacherous gangsters on the estimation that they pose a definite risk to peaceful society. The latter is not punishment.

These differences have consequences. One of them is that (as an example) in a place like occupied Iraq, it is not presumptively correct to accord a detainee thought to be a terrorist with all the normal civil rights we give a US citizen in peaceful America, including all that implies with regard to providing an accused with access to the information and resources he needs to defend himself in court, the right to a speedy trial, etc.

Yet even if the NORMAL civil rules don't apply, that doesn't mean NO rules or standards apply. If we detain a suspected terrorist for whom we don't have proof, we can't hold him forever on the mere suspicion.

Agreed on all points, Tony.

The simplest way to resolve this is to permit, in certain established circumstances, battlefield executions; and then turn the rest over to the FBI to be treated like a common criminal. A Jihadist captured in the course of active combat or plotting may be executed on the spot, like a general who has captured a spy or saboteur. But if there is any ambiguity, the general should call up the FBI and hand the terrorist over.

I'm not wholly comfortable with this arrangement, for reasons you have sketched out; but I would prefer it to arrangements that exacerbate the already elevated temptation to mistreat prisoners.

Tony and Paul,

Ironically, in case you didn't see it, "The Federalist" just ran a piece making the case for more executions:


I'm glad they are coming around!

The comments on that article about executing terrorists are...terrifying.

The comments are not so much terrifying as they are indicative of the craven nature of many of the "USA!USA!USA!" patriots in this country. They speak of strength and badassery whilst taking an ethical position that says they will do anything to save their lives even if the cost be every value they possess.

One commenter, though, got close to the truth while missing the point. Yes, torture was widespread in WW2. What matters is that the system did not formally accept it. Torture has always been something which the authorities both circumstantially permitted by turning a blind eye while formally disavowing to protect the core values of society. It's a practical hypocrisy that served us well for generations because torture is often employed by those elements of the military and intelligence apparatus that do the true dirty work that lets most of the government keep its hands clean.

Mike -- I think you are right, to a degree, when you refer to the "practical hypocrisy" of formally outlawing torture while now and then permitting it. But great caution is necessary with these things. This is emphatically not an area where, with apologies to Madison, public intercourse and commerce will "supply the defect of better motives."

It would seem impossible to maintain an agency of spies and operatives while never mistreating a prisoner of that agency. Once allow your nation to get in the spy business are you're going have to face the fact that spies contending with other spies sometimes cross the line.

The same is true of an army, though in different details. No commander ever put an army into real action whose ranks did not tolerate certain borderline murders -- of wounded men, of surrendering men, etc.

Thus it has always been in this vale of tears.

Paul, I fear that what you say of armies in war is probably true. At the least, it is true in a great many armies in a great many wars, even where one side is fighting a just cause. It leads me to think that a political leader must exercise great caution in deciding to go to war, for he knows, prudentially, that some murders by his own side will probably come forth as a result. Which means that, in order to have those murders be not morally laid at his own door, he would have to take reasonable precautions to forbid and prevent them. It is not enough, for a wise man well versed in the particularities of warfare to simply turn a blind eye and say "I never ordered those", and not not even enough for him to say "I made a law forbidding those murders" but then pretend that making such a law was going to be enough by itself.

I also think that this is a bit different from a nation that employs a whole agency of spies trained to lie for the sake of political profit. I am reminded of the old tradition of "a gentleman's word" being sufficient testimony of it's being true: merely to be a gentleman meant telling the truth even if it costs you dearly. In those days, spies were held to be despicable men, and to catch one out meant the death sentence not merely because he was plotting evil for your country, but because he was a despicable man doing despicable things. Where a gentleman might be beheaded for a grave crime, a spy was hanged as a lower form of being. The fact that virtually all modern nations employ spies is another proof positive that we remain in a vale of tears.

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