Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Dying & Killing

Michael Cholbi over at In Socrates' Wake quoted some lines by a recent reviewer of Rhodes Scholar applications, complaining about the intellectual shortcomings of recent applications, evidence that students are falling short when it comes to critical and philosophical thinking (or articulation). Given my recent trains of thought, this part stood out to me:
A young service academy cadet who is likely to be serving in a war zone within the year believes there are things worth dying for but doesn't seem to have thought much about what is worth killing for.
This is perhaps connected to the kind of intuition/judgment Duncan's students at VMI were having/making about killing civilians. Without thinking clearly about the distinction between what is worth dying for and what is worth killing for--or without seeing that these can come apart--we get all too quickly to this chilling moment in Malcolm X's notorious speech, "The Ballot or the Bullet":
If you don't take this kind of stand [viz: of fighting back in self-defense], your little children will grow up and look at you and think "shame." If you don't take an uncompromising stand, I don't mean go out and get violent; but at the same time you should never be nonviolent unless you run into some nonviolence. I'm nonviolent with those who are nonviolent with me. But when you drop that violence on me, then you've made me go insane, and I'm not responsible for what I do. And that's the way every Negro should get. Any time you know you're within the law, within your legal rights, within your moral rights, in accord with justice, then die for what you believe in. But don't die alone. Let your dying be reciprocal. This is what is meant by equality.
Is it? Or was that part of the speech part of the temporary insanity?

1 comment:

  1. I don't know how serious, or just angry, or calculatedly rhetorical Malcolm X was being here. But the question of what is worth dying for seems odd, if only because dying usually achieves very little. It's tempting to say that nothing is worth dying for. Or rather, that is the wrong question to ask. Better to ask what is worth risking your life for (not that I know the answer to that). The question about what's worth killing for is surely pretty straightforward just war stuff. It wouldn't be a bad idea for everyone (in college or the military) to take a course on this, or at least part of a course. But I don't suppose many do.