The morality of war has been scrutinized, parsed and debated for centuries. That should not come as a surprise to anyone. War requires a series of actions and priorities with deadly consequences. There are always deadly consequences.
No war is preferable to the state of war. Even the few who claim to like war would probably agree that. Avoidance or prohibition of war would be preferable if it were possible. History tells us that it is not possible. Operating on the theory that it is inevitable, it behooves one to be prepared to survive it. Even the moral dictates regarding “just war”, or justifiable war, include the inevitability of war. Given that it will exist, it must be undertaken with ethical concerns.
Recently, here and possibly elsewhere, there has been a disingenuous discussion of war. Some, who some of us refer to as OIEsters (Obama is Evil), state that President Obama is evil, and all those who support him are evil based upon the evil manner in which he conducts war. Most especially, Obama achieves evil by the conduct of the drone program. This is a paraphrase, and somewhat abbreviated, but the controversial drone program has attracted much criticism. Much of it well deserved.
This criticism goes overboard with a particular assertion. The main unjust assertion is the “evil” ascribed to it. The next is the evil assumed by the supporters of the President who is, by this argument, inherently evil in this conduct.
The takedown of this particular position is not new, even though the use of drones is quite new. The takedown has a logic that is centuries old, if not millennia. The counter to this view is best explained by Immanuel Kant with his argument against “moral absolutism.” The OIEster argument says, in part, that “because children and non-combatants are killed by drones, then the action is wrong/immoral/evil”...take your pick. This position holds that these results are absolutely immoral. However, Kant argues that the only absolutely good thing is good will.
Kant states that the consequences of an act cannot be used to determine good will, because good can result from good and result from bad intentions. An example is that one may derive pleasure from seeing someone harmed. If that intent actually resulted in a good consequence by happenstance, the act would not be “good” even though the result was. Likewise, an act may not be determined to be evil when the intention was not to do evil. Kant argues that morally right actions result from doing that which is based upon duty. From duty as the intent extends action, and then consequence. The result is determined to be good if it aligns with dutiful intent to do good. This is called Kant’s “deontological ethics.”
Drone attacks on those considered to be enemies of the U.S., in this particular case, which result in the deaths of those not intended, lacks the evil intent of the cases with which it has been compared in these recent arguments. First, use of the term “murder.” Murder is an intentional act by definition. Without intending to be curt or dismissive, it simply does not apply. Another case was the murder of slaves. (Also murder.) Another case was the argument in defense by those charged at the Nuremberg war crimes trial. (Also murder, deliberate, intended result of those killed.) These all differ from accidental killings. And while war is certainly a deliberate act, and this should by no means be seen as a justification for war or more war, the means by which acts of war are used to limit and minimize killing has at least two moral aspects to it. First, all versions of justifiable war include the right to defend oneself against attack. Second, killing fewer as opposed to killing more is certainly preferable.
Any statement, or any person making the statement that this says killing, or worse yet “murdering” children, or anyone else is desirable or a success is lying for effect. That has never been my argument. That is not what this means. That is not how Kant argued it. Moral absolutism does not solve a single problem. Moral absolutism is a mean by which a few seek to grab power and control on moral grounds. Think Ayatollah. Moral absolutism is reductive and coercive. The “good” and “moral” thing to do, as Kant argues it, is determined by intent, not result.