Essay / Uncategorized

Perfection, Police, and WMD

The British police shot a man they believed was a terrorist.He was not a terrorist.This man fled from police when asked to stop. He entered the Underground System that had just been bombed.Now the British police are under fire. However, the criticism is irrational and assumes that one must be right in order to be justified in his actions.In the real world, human beings must act based on the information they have. When lethal force is being used this information must be compelling. The person making the decision must use the time he has to gather this information and make a rational choice.In the case of the victim of the shooting, the police had seconds (at most) in which to make a decision. If the man were a terrorist, lethal force had to be used quickly. All appearances pointed to the man being a terrorist. The officer made a rational decision and shot the man. His decision was the right one at the time given the information at hand and the time limits imposed by actual terrorists.It is sad that the officer was wrong and that a man innocent of terrorism was killed. The blame for this error must rest with the terrorists of London who created a situation where such decisions to shoot are rationally justified at the time of the shooting.Given actions of the terrorists, men with backpacks who refuse to stop when asked by police who run into crowded areas often the targets of terrorists are going to die.Imperfect knowledge, the only kind one gets in a fallen world, will lead to imperfect decisions.People demanding that governments never be wrong before using lethal force cannot live in the real world.The same thing is true in the case of WMD in Iraq. Bush made the decision that Iraq had WMD. He based his case on information that every country agreed was accurate. The Russians thought Iraq had WMD. The French believed it. This information had been gathered over a long period of time.There was no reason to believe that more time would lead to different information. For example, part of the UN was actually in the pay of the old regime. The UN could not be trusted to find any information. The government of Iraq lied so often it could not be believed. It had used WMD in the past. In a world where foes of the USA were beginning to gravitate to Iraq for training and perhaps for weapons, this situation was intolerable.Bush acted. . . Like the officer in London.In the case of Iraq, a brutal madman was removed from power and a democracy is beginning to take root.The situation in London is not so happy. There is nothing good about the death of the man in the Tubes except that it tells the terrorists that such behavior will now meet lethal force. The chances of taking “infidels” with them now might seem less to them.It might (one prays) deter some of them from giving their lives for “nothing.”In any case, “being right” after the fact should not be the sole standard by which we judge a decision to use force. One has to make the best choice one can at the time.Given the evils of Sadaam, Bush was almost surely justified in using force. Given the cost of letting a suicide bomber through, the police officer was also ethically justified in making the decision he did at the time.

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