Monday, August 1, 2011

Bin Laden raid story in the New Yorker.

A gripping account.


A second SEAL stepped into the room and trained the infrared laser of his M4 on bin Laden’s chest. The Al Qaeda chief, who was wearing a tan shalwar kameez and a prayer cap on his head, froze; he was unarmed. “There was never any question of detaining or capturing him—it wasn’t a split-second decision. No one wanted detainees,” the special-operations officer told me. (The Administration maintains that had bin Laden immediately surrendered he could have been taken alive.) Nine years, seven months, and twenty days after September 11th, an American was a trigger pull from ending bin Laden’s life. The first round, a 5.56-mm. bullet, struck bin Laden in the chest. As he fell backward, the SEAL fired a second round into his head, just above his left eye. On his radio, he reported, “For God and country—Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo.” After a pause, he added, “Geronimo E.K.I.A.”—“enemy killed in action.”

More philosophical nuggets from the novel “Matterhorn”

Finished reading Matterhorn over the last week, and highly recommend it. It's replete with profound and clearly communicated insight into the human condition. Here is one such:

Late in the novel, LT. Mellas waxes philosophically about his fate. He has survived 'the bush' relatively whole, where others have perished or been maimed, emotionally and physically. He sees there is no reason he personally deserved more than the others, to have survived whole. Mellas thinks about the capricious nature of luck, happenstance, muses about good and evil, and the ontology of the moral aspects of the world.

Like other things associated with living conscious things, morality is ontologically subjective, that is; the moral facts of the universe cannot exist unless there are persons. Similarly to other non moral phenomena associated with conscious life, (things like the experience of color), moral aspects of actions cease to exist when persons cease to have the requisite relationships to certain objects in their world, in particular, other persons or, even more broadly, and to use a term of art, “moral patients”, i.e., entities capable of being harmed or benefited by our actions. (Analogically, even though ripe apples have a certain molecular arrangement on their surfaces, that constitute their being red, there will be no experience of ‘redness’ without living beings eyeballing the things.)

The requisite relationships for the existence of moral properties are not simply that there be actions taken upon moral patients, but actions upon them that are undertaken with certain peculiar attitudes. For, one can certainly find instances of the same actions being undertaken, but in such a way that they are morally neutral, that is, undertaken by entities that do not have the requisite attitudes. In this passage from Matterhorn, LT Mellas considers such a case (the tiger that had killed a comrade earlier in the story) and considers a crucial human attitude that makes for the existence of morality; something he labels with the word “caring.”

Mellas spent the rest of the night trying to understand why Jackson had lost both legs while he himself seemed to bounce from near miss to near miss. He felt that somehow he had cheated. Then he laughed softly. What was he supposed to do, stand up and get blown away to make things up to the dead and the maimed?

He thought of the jungle, already regrowing around him to cover the scars they had created. He thought of the tiger, killing to eat. Was that evil? And ants? They killed. No, the jungle wasn’t evil. It was indifferent. So too, was the world. Evil, then, must be the negation of something man had added to the world. Ultimately, it was caring about something that made the world liable to evil. Caring. And then the caring gets torn asunder. Everybody dies, but not everybody cares.

It occurred to Mellas that he could create the possibility of good or evil through caring. He could nullify the indifferent world. But, in so doing he opened himself up to the pain of watching it get blown away. His killing that day would not have been evil if the dead soldiers hadn’t been loved by mothers, sisters, friends, wives. Mellas understood that in destroying the fabric that linked those people, he had participated in evil, but this evil had hurt him as well. He also understood that his participation in evil, was a result of being human. Being human was the best he could do. Without man there would be no evil. But there was also no good, nothing moral built over the world of fact. Humans were responsible for it all. He laughed at the cosmic joke, but he felt heartsick.