Reading about the My Lai massacre this morning and it’s got me thinking. The war criminals that killed more than 400 innocents FELT honestly threatened by the civilians. They sincerely believed they were under attack or about to be despite zero evidence, despite a plethora of evidence to the contrary. No reasonable person would have seen these villagers as a threat, but the perpetrators were not reasonable men. There’s a very similar story more recently about an Iraqi massacre by an American soldier. There are a number of parallels here. The use of deadly force is typically based on the fear of harm but what if that standard is too low? What if fear for your life is not a good enough reason to pull the trigger?
Recently there have been a number of people permitted the use lethal force against unarmed “antagonists” Trayvon Martin is perhaps the highest profile victim but there have been others. The key element in these cases is that the perpetrator felt threatened. There is no standard of reasonableness. Only the level of fear. I’m not a legal expert. Perhaps as a matter of law there is a standard rising to the level of a rational observer, I don’t know. But this is not true in practice, nor at the point of the trigger. The feeling of imminent violence was so powerful, that over 900 people in Jonestown chose suicide and murder over enduring their irrational fears.
I think we need a societal refutation of “justifiable fear” and I think we need to build a rational observer. It will be difficult because We lack faith in the the underpinnings of society. Justice, law enforcement, trust in human decency and rehabilitation of “bad guys”. We have lost an essential part of our souls when we see another human as nothing more than a rabid dog in need of a bullet.
It’s an interesting that rabies metaphor. The rabies virus is extremely painful and movement can be difficult. A rabid animal is not mindlessly violent but in extraordinary pain and confusion. Something that bears thinking on.