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When Is Anti-War Speech Immoral?

Fernando Teson (PrawfsBlawg) has a very interesting post, which Juan links to below. Let me reproduce it here, so I can say a few things about it:

Let's assume, without deciding, that the following propositions are true:

1) Americans have a robust First Amendment right to criticize the government. This includes both the decision to go to war and the conduct of war.

2) The United States is facing a ferocious and determined enemy in Iraq.

3) The United States has a just cause, which means that victory by the United States is the morally preferable outcome.

4) Certain forms of speech (for example, strong demands that U.S. troops withdraw) objectively aid the enemy (say this speech emboldens the enemy, so more U.S. troops die and chances for victory are reduced), even if the speaker does not intend to do so.

If all this is true, isn't the speech in question morally objectionable, even if constitutionally permitted? Certainly, the fact that I have a legal right to say something doesn't morally justify my saying it. If telling you (frankly and truthfully) that your new haircut makes you look ridiculous will hurt your feelings, maybe I should refrain from saying it. This is why the only way I see morally to justify someone who aids the enemy with his speech is to deny assumption 3), that the United States has a just cause. In that case, the correct moral position is indeed to demand that the troops return. But if one accepts 3), then I cannot see how one can avoid the conclusion that the speaker is acting immorally.

It seems to me that all four of the assumptions are sound; in particular, I do think that certain kinds of antiwar speech do objectively aid the enemy. In Winston Churchill's words, statements that "weaken confidence in the Government" and "make the Army distrust the backing it is getting from the civil power" may prove to be "to the distress of all our friends and to the delight of all our foes." (Winston Churchill, Speech in the House of Commons (July 2, 1942).) Such assumptions of objective harm to the war effort are sometimes made too hastily, but it seems to me that they are often correct (though of course we can speak more confidently of their tendencies than of any precisely provable effects, since the effects of such statements on morale both of our forces and our enemies' are hard to accurately measure). This is often good reason for people to refrain from certain kinds of criticism of the war effort.

Nonetheless, it seems to me important to recognize two matters.

1. Speech often has multiple effects (and therefore so does silence). Much wartime speech may both embolden the enemy -- which the speaker may genuinely regret -- and help accomplish other morally worthy goals. For instance, exposing improper conduct by American soldiers or intelligence agents may both hurt the war effort (for instance, by hurting our military morale, weakening civilian support, moving some neutrals towards our enemies), which is bad, and stop, diminish, and deter such improper conduct, which is good. Likewise, one might think that victory is the morally preferable outcome, but not if the cost in U.S. soldiers' lives is too great; calling for a withdrawal of American troops may therefore have bad effects (reducing the likelihood of victory) as well as good ones (reducing the loss of U.S. soldiers' lives).

Conversely, a social norm that people ought not criticize the government during wartime, since this will hurt the war effort, may both help the war effort and at the same time help shelter improper behavior by the military, or increase needless waste of our soldiers' lives. We need to consider the aggregate of these effects; we should neither solely focus on those effects that decrease our chances of victory nor ignore those effects.

2. Much of the debate may have to do with people's disagreement about #4. Some people, for instance, believe that withdrawing U.S. troops will actually increase the likelihood of victory, because it will reduce one source of Iraqis' anger, and make them more willing to make peace. Those people may well be mistaken; but say they're sincere in their beliefs, and especially if the beliefs are reasonable, even if not persuasive to us. The speakers then basically share our goals (victory and saving U.S. troops lives'); they simply disagree with us on the empirically sound means to accomplish those goals. It's hard to see their speech as "morally objectionable" when it rests on such predictive disagreement, especially when the disagreement is reasonable.

So before we decide whether someone's wartime speech is morally objectionable -- even if we think the speech would aid the enemy -- it seems to me that we need to know a lot more about (1) what other effects the speech may have, and (2) what the speaker believes the likely effects of the speech will be.

rational actor (mail):
And when shall we address the question of the circumstances under which pro-war speech is immoral? Is it immoral to tell falsehoods and tug at the heartstrings of ordinary citizens in order to convince them they are threatened by someone who has no possible means of attacking them? Is it immoral to urge people into a war with neither a clearly defined objective nor the troops required to win it? Is it immoral to support a war that is being fought with troop levels that your generals say is insufficient? Is it immoral to support a war that you initiate, being fought in a foreign country, that is decimating the infrastructure of that country?
There is no question that speech about war can be immoral, even if not illegal. I guess morality just depends on which side of the coin you believe is heads.
12.8.2005 8:06pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
I see the earlier posting got wiped, including many valuable comments, and also mine.

EV addresses the weakness of (4) to some extent, but I think we have to balance at least 3 factors: (a) the "objective harm" (which I think is almost always exaggerated, and near-impossible to measure in any event); (b) the possible good of following the course of action advocated; and (c) the possible harm of violating our free-speech ideals.

And (3) is weak by omission; merely because Outcome X is morally preferable, that does not make it realistically possible. Indeed, it may be morally bad to spend resources on a goal that isn't realistically possible.

The big problem remains, as EV suggests, the "objective harm" assumption. Every single criticism of Bush gets labeled this way by his zealots. The odds that any given statement is really so harmful that its potential good and the harm of punishing it are outweighed, seems vanishingly small.
12.8.2005 8:09pm
trotsky (mail):
I can't imagine that anyone who accepts premise No. 3 -- that the U.S. cause is just -- would engage in much anti-war speech, so this is rather a silly argument.

However, if anti-war speech objectively aids the enemy (arguably true) then it is equally true that war objectively erodes liberty and democracy.
12.8.2005 8:18pm
mk (mail):
Agree w/ Trotsky-- Anyone speaking out against the war presumably HAS to believe that the morally preferable outcome is troop withdrawal. That's what it means to be a protestor, right?

You're nevertheless assuming premise 3, which means this protestor is (by assumption) wrong, but wrongness (honest disagreement) is not morally culpable unless they're being negligent or unreasonable in some way.
12.8.2005 8:28pm
BruceB (mail):
I think discussion and criticism is essential to our democracy. Citizens need to be able to criticize government, and hold debates on policy, and I don't think that is immoral. It's a necessary check and balance on government action.

As a side topic, I am very concerned about the meme going around that it is not appropriate to question or criticize the government "in time of war". Why? Because we are in a global war on terror, which much like the war on drugs, is vague enough to never be able to declare victory or an end. Since we are involved in a new type of war, which for all practical purposes will never conclude, we can no longer say that the government deserves special powers or special treatment in time of war. It will *never* again NOT be a "time of war".

I'm not saying that the war in Iraq is never ending - but the war on terrorism is. As a result, it makes no sense to say the government/president deserves special powers and special treatment.
12.8.2005 8:32pm
jimbino (mail):

3) The United States has a just cause, which means that victory by the United States is the morally preferable outcome.



Your number 3 totally begs the question. Since the ends always justify the means, if the end were to beat the terrorists, with total disregard for other human values, such as truth, liberty, justice and democracy, the US would be justified in its actions.

However, as we all should know by now, not even life is preferable to liberty, nor victory preferable to justice, nor happiness preferable to truth, nor majoritarian satisfaction preferable to guarantee of minorit rights.

Our war does not serve numerous ends that many of us hold in highest regard and cannot, therefore, be so simply justified.
12.8.2005 8:32pm
David Berke:
I disagree with the characterization of #3.

One may have a just cause without winning that cause being morally preferable. By way of example, conceivably, one could believe that the war against Iraq is justifiable, and agree that it is important to help the oppressed, let democracy reign, etc. However, despite this belief, one could easily also believe that a policy of non-violence is more important and serves higher ends, regardless. Accordingly, such speech would be the better moral decision.

To the extent one thinks I misinterpret #3, you must be interpreting it as one believing that the cause must be more just than any which could be served by voicing disagreement. However, if one truly believes this, they will not speak out, and would have no reason for doing so in the first place. Accordingly, under such a definition, the exercise is meaningless; it only applies to those who would never engage in the morally reprehensible activity.

FWIW, I support the war in Iraq.
12.8.2005 8:33pm
The Original TS (mail):
so more U.S. troops die and chances for victory are reduced

The flaw is that you essentially assume your premise. This argument assume all criticism of the war's conduct reduces the chance for "victory." In other words, that the war is already being conducted as perfectly as possible.

It is perfectly possible and, indeed, rational, to support the goals of the American adventure in Iraq while recognizing that the administration has made a hash of it.

You allude to this a bit in your first point. In my opinion, one of the biggest problems with the conduct of the Iraq war is that people who knew better did not criticize the administration's "plan" out of a laudable but misguided wish to present a united front.
12.8.2005 8:38pm
washerdreyer (mail) (www):
Trotsky, you're right about point 3 doing almost all of the work in this argument, but not quite about the way in which it does so. If you define a just cause as "installing a functioning liberal (small l) democracy with a monopoly on the use of force which controls the same territory previously controlled by Saddam Hussein," and victory as that state of affairs coming into existence, almost everyone will agree that this is "morally preferable" (in quotes only because it's very strange phrasing) to either the status quo or Saddam's regime. And I think this (at least close to) how Teson is using those words, though I'm open to correction.

Almost all of the disagreement is over what means it would take to acheive that, whether it was ever realistic (or just) to use those means, and what we should do if we realize that it isn't going to be achieved with means that we are willing, both practically and morally, to use.

To illustrate with a very extreme example, killing every person who was living in Iraq during Saddam's regime, except for 10, after which the 10 of them will peacefully be governed democratically by each other, would satisfy the just cause and victory stuff, but no one (I hope) thinks those means are acceptable. Teson's unwillings to discuss means is what ruins his argument.
12.8.2005 8:39pm
murky (mail) (www):
What makes the fate of war in Iraq the output against which we judge the morality of the hypothetical input, speaking against it? This is not like shouting "fire" in the theatre. This is like judging the morality of a butterfly beating its wings in Borneo. Shouting "fire!" in the theatre has almost zero probability of precipitating immediate calls of "no fire!" Quite the opposite of a call of "Out of Iraq now!" Making such a call simply manifests your opinion, which is a good thing for a democracy. Would it be immoral if everybody shouted their opinion on Iraq, yes or no, all at once? Or would that be good? Does it depend on the proportions of the yes and no votes? What if most are "no" but the war is right?
12.8.2005 8:58pm
T. Gracchus (mail):
The logic is flawed because the terminological is poor, and the reasoning inept. Whether a particular course of action "objectively" aids the enemy provides no information at all about the morality of the conduct. Moral assessments, under most plausible theories, must tie to motivation. The 'objective' moral status is in this context meaningless. (Assuming the phrase has any meaning at all, whcih is doubtful. A moral assessment not known to the relevant actors is not much use.) Second, whether the US has a just cause does not decide anything about speech because the assessment of the cause does not tell us anything much about the prosecution of the war, which is in fact the subject of the conclusion. The US 'cause' might be just -- assuming here in heroic fashion we have a clear idea of what the cause is -- and the conduct of the war morally unacceptable. In that case, it would not matter whether the speech was or was not immoral because that would not turn on the US cause., and the moralit of the speech would not be affected by the justness of the cause. Third, premise 2 is well over the line of ridiculous. Speech in favor of the war has the same likelihood of aiding the enemy and for similar reasons. The conclusion is itself repugnant. When the Nazi state adhered to the Geneva convenetions, it acted immorally (in yet a new way) because adherence gave it a small patina of legitimacy and so objectively aided the effort.
12.8.2005 9:09pm
TM Lutas (mail) (www):
rational actor - Since nobody seems to be answering your questions here's my responses:

1. Is it immoral to tell falsehoods and tug at the heartstrings of ordinary citizens in order to convince them they are threatened by someone who has no possible means of attacking them?
A: Usually. It's pretty much a null case in practice though, once you take away the strictures of westphalian war. Even impoverished Nepal could have sent 20 people to the US to do 9/11. The only countries who are safe for us are those whose leadership wishes us no harm and are strong enough to control those on their territory who wish to do us ill. That's a depressingly short list.

2. Is it immoral to urge people into a war with neither a clearly defined objective nor the troops required to win it?
A. Yes and no. Warring without knowing why you are warring is clearly immoral. Not everybody has to know why we fight but those at the top do. I do not think that it is ever moral to give in to evil without resisting. Troops can be recruited, drafted, or bought. If we lose, we have gained everybody else time to arm and do better. Evil is never satisfied with just one unjust conquest.

3. Is it immoral to support a war that is being fought with troop levels that your generals say is insufficient?
A: If the cause is otherwise just, it is moral to support such a war. Helping to raise sufficient troops by inducing others to join in the fight would be an entirely moral endeavor. In fact, I can't remember any decent sized war where the troop levels at certain points weren't insufficient on all sides. Could you give an example?

4. Is it immoral to support a war that you initiate, being fought in a foreign country, that is decimating the infrastructure of that country?
A: No, it's not immoral if the cause is otherwise just. The infrastructure of France got a real working over in WW II and they did not attack the US or Britain. Our invasion of their possessions and then France itself was not immoral.

Anderson - Victory by the US over just about any force on the planet is realistically possible by any US administration that doesn't care about what happens after. There is no country on the planet that couldn't be annihilated by a plan drawn up over lunch by a couple of ballistic targeting experts. Arguing the impossibility of victory essentially means that you've effectively unilaterally disarmed the US armed forces, at least in your mind.

Now, it so happens that our conventional forces are very, very good and those two ballistic targeting experts are quite likely to continue creating theoretical plans until they retire or move to a different specialty (as their predecessors have done for decades). That does not mean that they do not exist and that their skills and arms could not be brought into play if necessary.

If you did a poll of the ME, I would suggest that a disproportionate number of the people who hate the US still believe that the "koran flushing" story put out by Newsweek was true. There's your objective harm. Was the act of putting out that story immoral?

trotsky - When you have an opponent whose stated goals are to erode liberty and democracy completely down to nothing, the soft erosion of a Lincoln, FDR, or Bush is morally preferable because it is more easily reversed than the hard repression ideals of a Hitler or ObL.

BruceB - Questioning and criticizing the errors of government *is* appropriate in time of war. It's not appropriate to be sloppy about it and when you provide the enemy with a propaganda coup by purveying falsehoods, you've committed an immoral act whether you intended to do so or not (again, assuming that our cause is just as it is in the present war).

It's appropriate for the House Democrat whip to put out a document calling for increasing US military end strength by 100,000 and to criticize the present administration for not pulling in enough troops. I challenge you to find anybody who finds such criticism to be out of bounds no matter what their position on changing end strength is.

I can even see the appropriateness of calling for a pullout of Iraq as being presently unwinnable. The British were not immoral for pulling out at Dunkirk, after all (though some of those left behind might beg to differ). What makes such statements more problematic is that they never seem to say either that we've already won and will do better redeploying elsewhere nor do they say how we will return and win in Iraq after the temporary enemy victory that would come after our current withdrawal.

War criticism, to be moral, must assert that it is aiming us better towards victory. It must not betray the social solidarity of the enterprise of a moral war. The vast majority of war criticism I have encountered clearly does not.
12.8.2005 9:17pm
Josh Jasper (mail):
Quick question - what emboldened the enemy more in the war on terrorism - Murtha's talk about a timetable for a withdrawal, or confirmed stories of guards in Gitmo pissing on a Koran?

That not working for you? Then try pulling an innocent man off the street of a foreign nation, giving him a forced enema and then knocking him out, flying him to a strange country, subjedcting him to harsh interrogation measures, threatening his life, and then when you find out he was innocent, dropping him by the side of the road and threatening his life again.

Add to that telling the nation of which this poor man was a citizen that they should cover it up.

Extaordinary rendition plus torture plus an international coverup vs. Murtha's talk about an ordered timetable for a withdrawal.

I know this is a tough call for you conservatives out there.
12.8.2005 9:24pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Ah, but Jasper, it's not doing those things that's bad ... it's telling about it.

An argument that's actually been made, if I weren't too lazy to Google it up.
12.8.2005 10:06pm
DRJ (mail):
Perhaps I've missed out on how this topic developed, but I don't care about the morality of speech during war. To define speech as moral or immoral is, for all practical purposes, a subjective inquiry. I prefer an objective approach where speech is presumed acceptable unless it is legally restricted or prohibited.

I'm conservative and I deplore current-day liberal defeatist rhetoric. It hurts the war effort and America in general. But it's the price we pay for our version of democracy, and in the long run freedom of thought and expression yields intangible benefits - such as an informed and assertive electorate - that make it worth the cost.
12.8.2005 10:10pm
Wintermute (www):
Having been through all this "comforting the enemy, lowering troop morale" jazz during the Vietnam war era, it's like water off a duck's back to me.

It does become easier to reject the hawks' diehard goals, e.g., to start saying "so big deal if South Vietnam goes communist;" otherwise you get into the "bear any burden, pay any price" mentality that is more appropriate in actual defense of this country than when applied to some BS expansive declaration of "national interests."

BTW, we're trading with Vietnam now, the Soviet Union downsized, etc. etc.

While I regret that some gung-ho's feel let down and that some of the people fighting them might be emboldened, like I said, it goes with the territory when these interventions don't work out so rosily as first dreamed.

What are the limits of speech against a war? The revealing troop movements sort of thing.
12.8.2005 10:29pm
byomtov (mail):
Assumption number 3 tilts the playing field - indeed it stands it on its end.

If "victory by the US" is morally preferable then of course speaking against it is immoral. You might as well say, "sending criminals to jail is morally preferable to letting them go. If we assume that those accused are guilty then defending them is immoral."

But this assumption is poorly specified and incomplete. Aside from lacking a clear definition of victory, it says nothing about costs or alternatives. To what exactly is this ill-defined victory preferable? Is victory at the cost of 50,000 US casualties "morally preferable" to withdrawal? What about 100,000? And what about Iraqi lives?

Suppose victory is only attainable by sending so many troops that a draft is needed. Is it still "morally preferable" to whatever alternative you have in mind?
12.8.2005 11:27pm
Hamilton Lovecraft (mail):
Define "victory".
12.8.2005 11:32pm
SLS 1L:
1) The way (3) is written makes it sound like a biconditional, not just a conditional - that is, that if American victory is morally preferable, then the U.S. cause is just. America may well not have a "just cause" if starting the war was unjust in the first place, even if American victory is the best conceivable outcome now

This doesn't impact the validity of the argument as written, but undermines much of its rhetorical force. The rhetorical force is based on the implicit conclusion that the anti-war speaker thinks U.S. victory is not morally preferable, i.e. that we're hoping for the terrorists to win. That takes a biconditional.

2) As others have mentioned, a preferable outcome may not be a feasible outcome.

3) The argument requires the assumption that anti-war speech not merely aids the enemy, but does so to a significant degree. If anti-war speech objectively aids the enemy, but does so to a very minor extent, then it may be merited on balance as long as the speech does some good. At least in the case of the Iraq war, the evidence is on the side of "no impact, or at least a very small one." All anti-war speakers are familiar with being attacked for aiding the enemy and rooting for U.S. victory. If there were actual evidence of anti-war speech harming the U.S. cause, they'd have brought it out by now.
12.8.2005 11:33pm
Buck Turgidson (mail):
Eugene,
It seems that your admonitions are completely wasted as Teson's argument is inherently stupid. The problem is a simple one. What happens when you outline all the points the same way but replace the "anti-war" with "pro-war". For that matter, you can replace "anti-war speech" with any other kind of speech that concerns foreign policy.

The net result is simple--ANY kind of speech can be immoral. Is calling for a "crusade" against a group of Muslims not emboldening the enemy? Would we not say that almost ANY pro-war propaganda that reaches the ears of the enemy serves to embolden the enemy? I am not talking about propaganda of the results--however misleading it may be--but only the propaganda that leads to the determination that war is necessary and is not directly aimed at the enemy. Think of the footage of Palestinians dancing in the streets on September 11 and consider the situation in reverse. Would you say that this reaction--essentially pro-war--did not lead to emboldening the enemy (in this case, us)? Would we not find the behavior immoral and reprehensible even on other grounds, without ever considering it as a pro-war act? Why would we not accept then that our own action in similar vein (e.g., declaring "Mission accomplished!" in the middle of military action) can be equally immoral, despite external justification on absolutist grounds?

Either we accept free speech and allow its expression even when we find the speech inappropriate or immoral, while mounting a public campaign to demonstrate its inappropriateness, or we demonize any kind of speech we disagree with. There is no middle ground here. Once we start down this slope, there is no stopping, because whoever has the power also has the means of suppressing the kinds of speech he disagrees with. The current administration--and its sycophant supporters, e.g. ACTA--had attempted just this by declaring all opposition to be unpatriotic, cowardly, un-American, etc. If we are going to talk about inherently immoral speech at all, it is this kind of declaration that should be first on our list of immoral, if not outright evil, acts.
12.8.2005 11:53pm
Justin (mail):
3 is a silly argument for the reasons listed.

But 4 is even sillier. It's a new theme on the whole "embolden the terrorists" bull****. Like Osama would otherwise be timid. Either you don't believe in democracy (i.e., a full and frank discussion of the best outcomes is somehow per se bad), or you somehow think the insurgency would quit if only democrats didn't exist. Either defense of (4) is absurd.

Every once in a while Volokh goes off to the right of Mussilini, and each time he does it, he embarrases himself. I'm not entirely sure what directeon he's going with this, but the complete absence of an intellectually honest defense of his statements should lead him to be somewhat cautious.
12.9.2005 12:48am
Duncan Frissell (mail):
Bruce B --

I'm old enough to remember when people thought the Cold War would never end too. But it did. Give it 40 years and the war againt the Caliphate will be over too as the generations change.

As to the general question, I don't think antiwar speech is immoral (unless it doesn't represent a genuine view) though it can be stupid.
12.9.2005 9:01am
eddie (mail):
Even with a rigged argument you miss the point and frankly I am surprised that in this venue we are having a "moral" debate about "constitutional principles".

A. I thought that morality is concerned with the propriety of human actions. NOw we can have one of those famous first amendment speech/act discussions, but we should all agree that my telling you my opinion concerning the "war" in Iraq was not an act (if I lied in telling you my opinion, then that act of lying is perhaps an act, but that is not pertinent to this discussio).

Certain forms of speech (for example, strong demands that U.S. troops withdraw) objectively aid the enemy (say this speech emboldens the enemy, so more U.S. troops die and chances for victory are reduced), even if the speaker does not intend to do so.


B. This is the real crux of the argument. What the anti-anti-War argument seeks in the first place is to define certain topics as "possibly" harmful because they "embolden" the enemy and "discourage" our own troops.

Let me give you two statements and you be the judge about the likelihood of harm:

"Bring it on"
"Bring them home"

By analogy:

"Fire Fire"
"Let's go this movie stinks"

But the most insidious part of this discussion (and in an ethics of democracy, "immoral") is the fact that when the Consitution becomes "incovnenient" staunch conservatives seem to have no concern about playing the "morality" card.
12.9.2005 11:48am
George Jeffries (mail):
I think it is quite clear that the purpose of much of the left's discourse on the war is intended to undermine public support for it. This is seen clearly in the ever-changeable argument that the war was somehow based on illegitimate premises (oil, profit, greed, "lies" of various sorts, etc. ad naseum) and the constant effort to paint the US as morally inferior to its foes. Given the nature of our enemies (whose #1 weapon is intentional murder of innocents and who intend to establish a fascist theocracy) and the fact that our obvious purpose is to establish democracy, I think the current anti-war rhetoric is deeply immoral and pretty much as despicable as political speech gets. It was deeply immoral in the Vietnam era too. The re-education camps, boat people, and decades of communism in South Vietnam were all in the name of the Watergate baby Congress that cut off funding for our allies in a fit of pointless spite. The consequences of similar action in Iraq would make the killing fields look tame.
12.9.2005 5:43pm
TM Lutas (mail) (www):
Josh Jasper - I hope you realize you have the "guard pissing on a koran" story quite wrong. The guard was relieving himself outside a cell. The wind picked up and carried liquid through a vent onto a prisoner reading his koran. The guard was immediately punished and the prisoner was given new clothes and a new Koran. Relayed accurately, of course Murtha's speech is worse.

But we're not engaging in comparative morality here. Is it bad to imprison an innocent man, much less harshly interrogate him for months? Why, yes it is. Does that change the moral calculus of somebody else's actions in speech or deed? No it does not, not one jot or tittle.

Anderson - Why yes, it's the talking about the incident that's bad when you're distorting the truth of an accident into a malicious attempt at religious persecution.

I do wish you'd have addressed my actual point.

DRJ - Discussing the morality of particular speech is useful. The law should not be the sole restraint against conduct. I can say a great many things that are legal on this forum that are completely improper, immoral, and would likely get me extra-judicially sanctioned by having my account and IP banned. There's nothing particularly wrong with that. Similarly, there should be non-judicial sanctions for speech that does not cross the line into illegality. It is useful to have a discussion over where the lines should be.

Wintermute - You can take the position that we should not take the Islamists seriously when they say that their goal is to remake the government of the United States so that you, personally, will have the choice to convert to Islam, live as a dhimmi (christians and jews only please) or die. You can take them seriously and realize that we are fighting for our country. What you can't do is say "so what if they win". Didn't the boat people and the killing fields teach liberals anything?

Buck Turgidson - Please point out an example of anybody declaring the Democrat Whip's position that we should increase end strength by 100,000 in opposition to the administration an immoral enterprise. Not all criticism of the war effort is out of bounds by even the most calcified calculations of the hardest shell war supporter out there.

George Jeffries - Thank you.
12.10.2005 12:52pm
Fernando Teson (mail):
I am thankful for the many comments and criticisms to my post in Prawfs Blawgs. I learned much from (most of) them.
I stand by my original post, but add two further premises: 5) the war has to be winnable; and 6) at an acceptable cost.
Just a brief remark. Many commentators read my view as evincing conservative hostility to free speech. Not so. My argument has nothing to do with free speech. The First Amendment is about precluding the government (and others) from silencing citizens. I am a free speech fundamentalist and would fight alongside the antiwar movement for their constitutional right to criticize the war. But that leaves untouched the issue whether, given the appropriate context, critics am morally justified in exercising that constitutional right.
12.11.2005 5:42pm
Neal R. (mail):
Mr. Teson,

As has been pointed out repeatedly in the comments here and at PrawfsBlawg, your conclusions (that certain forms of anti-war speech are immoral and that the only way to morally justify such speech is to deny that the U.S. has a just cause in Iraq) don't follow from your premises. The addition of two new premises does not ameliorate this problem.

Try casting your argument in syllogistic form. One of your chief problems is that you are missing a major premise, which would state the general conditions under which speech is immoral. I suspect you're assuming something like, "Speech that objectively causes more harm that good is immoral" or "Speech that one has reason to know will cause harm and that objectively causes more harm than good is immoral." But your conclusions still wouldn't follow if you assumed this premise as well -- you'd also have to assume that the harm caused by anti-war speech outweighs any good it causes (e.g., by putting pressure on civilian leadership to conduct the war in a manner less likely to incite violent reprisals against U.S. troops).

As it stands, your "argument" is logically invalid -- a series of questionable assumptions followed by two unsupported conclusions.
12.12.2005 8:43am
Fernando Teson (mail):
Let's see. The major premise you mention (the one that you say I missed) is not necessarily "speech that (objectively or subjectively) will cause more harm than good is immoral." That would commit me to a straight utilitarian view, which I do not endorse. Rather, my position is standard in moral philosophy: an act (including a speech act) is immoral in the light of applicable moral principles given a set of facts. This includes deontological as well as consequentialist elements. For example, it matters morally the kind of harm or good that the agent causes. And that is in turn related to the importance of the value that is being frustrated by the act. Applying these abstractions to the war in Iraq, I would say that helping the United States and democratic Iraq to succeed is a moral imperative. Victory will not only liberate Iraq. It will help oppressed peoples in the Middle East to get rid of their own dictators, it will help Israelis and Palestinians reach peace, and it will enhance the security of the United States. It follows that one should focus primarily on this war, not on speculative or remote good consequences that the act of speech in question may have. For example, many critics have said that criticism of the war strengthens the health of our democracy, etc. Well, there are many ways to do that that do not necessitate aiding the enemy (saving criticisms for later, or outvoting republicans in the next election, for example). Given all that, I don't think it is enough to justify aid to the enemy to say that antiwar speech "puts pressure on the civilian leadership to incite to conduct the war in a manner less likely to incite violent reprisals against U.S. troops."
So my view is not that "aiding the enemy in a war is always immoral". Rather, it is "aiding the enemy in this war, given these facts, is morally objectionable." If my speech aids the enemy in some way but my government is waging an unjust war, then my speech is not only permissible: it may be even morally mandatory. If my government is waging a just war but the aid I provide with speech is inconsequential, then, depending on the values that are being served by that speech, it will not be immoral.
But this is not the case here, as was not the case in Vietnam. The enemy is counting on help by the antiwar movement, here and in Europe. And it is not too farfetched to predict that, as in Vietnam, that movement may be instrumental, even decisive, for the defeat of the U.S. forces. Again: this would be fine if the U.S. were waging an unjust war (my argument does not rely on patriotism), but in reality it would be a disaster, given that the U.S. has a just cause.
(By the way, your example of justification of antiwar speech contains, in my judgment, false factual premises. It assumes, for example, that the main reason why the Iraqi insurgents fight us is because of our conduct of the war. You must be assuming that otherwise they would love us and would happily join the efforts to build a democratic Iraq. I hope you won't require me to document why this position is wrong.)
12.12.2005 9:49am
Neal R. (mail):
Mr. Teson,

You're not making it easy, but I think I can discern a couple of syllogistic arguments here. Do one of these capture what you're trying to say?

MAJOR PREMISE: "[H]elping the United States and democratic Iraq to succeed is a moral imperative."
MINOR PREMISE: Certain types of anti-war speech do not help the United States and democratic Iraq to succeed.
CONCLUSION: Therefore, certain types of anti-war speech are immoral.

or

MAJOR PREMISE: "[A]iding the enemy in this war, given these facts, is morally objectionable."
MINOR PREMISE: Certain types of anti-war speech aid the enemy in this war.
CONCLUSION: Therefore, certain types of anti-war speech are morally objectionable.

The first argument is invalid. The conclusion doesn't follow from the premises (I'm sure you see why).

The second argument is valid. The only way to deny it is to deny either or both premises. (I would also note that to avoid the fallacy of equivocation, must use the same definition of "aiding the enemy" in both premises. For example, if you mean speech or conduct that objectively causes more harm than good, then you must use that definition for both premises. If you mean any speech or conduct that causes any harm to the war effort, then you must use that definition consistently.)

Assuming the second syllogism roughtly captures your logic, my only problem with your argument is that you haven't offered any support for either premise. Your major premise -- that "aiding the enemy, given these facts, is morally objectionable" -- is a moral claim that presumably can be deduced by applying some unstated "moral principles" to the facts presented. You're entitled to assume the premise if you wish, but it would be more interesting if you did a little work to demonstrate it logically. You do say, "Victory will not only liberate Iraq. It will help oppressed peoples in the Middle East to get rid of their own dictators, it will help Israelis and Palestinians reach peace, and it will enhance the security of the United States." But these are some pretty bald assertions, and even if we assume them all, they don't logically establish that aiding the United States is a moral imperative or that aiding the enemy is morally objectionable. (Again, we need a major premise that states the general moral principle applicable to these facts.)

Your minor premise, on the other hand, begs clarification. Is the assertion simply that certain types of anti-war speech cause some objective harm to the war effort? That they cause more harm than good? If the latter, how do you balance the good with the harm? This is why I brought up the question of the good that anti-war speech might do. You seem ready to dismiss the possibility entirely without explaining why. I think it is worth considering. My example of anti-war speech potentially pressuring civilian leadership to conduct the war in a manner less likely to incite reprisals against U.S. troops was only one example (hence the "e.g"). And it does not assume that only reason the insurgents are fighting us is the way we are conducting the war; it just assumes that some insurgent attacks can be traced to Abu Ghraib, accidental bombings of civilians, and the like, and that anti-war speech may help make recurrences of such events less likely. Many other examples of the good anti-war speech can do have been raised on this comment thread. I don't understand your basis is for dismissing them all, because you haven't offered any.

In any event, the main point of my previous comment was to point out that you previously had hadn't put together a deductively valid argument. If the second syllogism I proposed above roughly captures your argument, at least we have come that far.
12.12.2005 12:40pm
Fernando Teson (mail):
You're right that the argument requires acceptance of the premises, so the fact that I haven't provided support for the premises is not a valid criticism. If someone thinks either: 1) that the U.S. does not have a just cause, or 2) that the enemy is not really ferocious and determined, or 3) that the war is not winnable anyway; or 4) that antiwar speech does not aid the enemy in any significant way, then there is no issue.
Your second question gets us into deep waters of moral theory, as I'm sure you know. Some moral principles are absolute (freedom against torture) so they displace all, or almost all, consequentialist considerations. Others are less absolute, so they displace many consequentialist considerations, but not all. In this case, I just believe that the war in Iraq (which I, unlike others, see it as part of the broader war on "terror" or against "Islamofascism", or however you call it) has such high moral stakes that people should weigh very carefully before doing things that help the enemy, even if those things have beneficial collateral effects (contrary to what you say, I have not denied that antiwar speech may have some collateral good effect.) I don't think this is such an extravagant claim.
12.12.2005 2:40pm
Neal R. (mail):
FY, I commented again on this thread at PrawfsBlawg. No point in continuing to cross-post.
12.12.2005 5:02pm