The Demise of Conscience


As libertarians have long pointed out, both the welfare state and the warfare state have brought immeasurable damage to our country.

With its various programs of confiscatory taxation of income and capital to accomplish its coercive redistribution of wealth, the welfare state has brought standards of living lower than otherwise would have been the case. This is especially true for those at the bottom of the economic ladder, who oftentimes spend large portions of their lives as dependent wards of the state rather than as productive, self-reliant people in society.

The damage from the warfare state has been even greater: terrorist blowback, torture, rendition, suspension of habeas corpus and civil liberties, disregard of constitutional constraints on power, wars of aggression and foreign occupations, governmental secrecy, assaults on privacy, and, of course, an ever-growing military-industrial complex.

Together, the welfare state and the warfare state have produced out-of-control federal spending, which has resulted in an endless cycle of financial, monetary, and economic crises, most recently demonstrated by the home-mortgage crisis and the 50 percent drop in the value of the dollar during the past five years alone.

Another adverse consequence — perhaps the most important — has been the demise of individual conscience among the American people, which has accompanied the rise of the welfare-warfare state.

To understand how the welfare state has contributed to this phenomenon, it is necessary to understand how the welfare state operates. Under the welfare state, the government takes money from some people, generally the wealthy and middle class, in order to distribute it to others. The recipients are generally supposed to be people in economic need — the “poor” — but massive amounts of tax money also find their way into the pockets of corporations and wealthy and middle-class individuals and families as well as local, state, and foreign governments.

Most Americans have come to accept the legitimacy and inevitability of the welfare state as part of their everyday lives. One of the main reasons for this is undoubtedly that they have been born and raised under a welfare state and cannot imagine life without it.

More important, except for libertarians most Americans give nary a thought to the fundamental immorality of the welfare state itself. It’s almost as if people have elevated the federal government to the level of a deity, one whose welfare-state operations are moral per se and immune to challenge.

Suppose I were to rob a bank of $100,000. Suppose also that the money was taken only from the accounts of millionaires. I don’t use the money for myself but instead distribute it in various proportions to impoverished inner-city youth, struggling schools, a poor person needing a heart transplant, homeless people, and penniless couples in their 80s.

I’m a good person, right? Selfless, saintly, caring, and compassionate, right? After all, I didn’t spend one dime of the money on myself. I gave it all to the poor and the needy.

Most people can easily see the flaw in that reasoning. “It wasn’t your money that you were distributing,” they would exclaim. “It’s money that you stole from others.”

Suppose I responded, “So what? The money came from millionaires, who didn’t need it as badly as the people to whom I gave it. And I didn’t use any of it for myself.”

Again, most people would recognize the fundamental immorality in what I had done. They would say, “You are nothing but a thief. Your actions deserve condemnation and even punishment, not praise or commendation. That money belonged to those millionaires, not to you and not to the people to whom you gave it. You could have asked the millionaires to donate their money to the poor but you had no moral or legal right to steal it from them, despite what you did with the money.”

Yet as soon as the process is elevated to the ranks of the federal government, the moral compass of most Americans (libertarians being an exception) is thrown entirely out of kilter. The standard mindset is: If the federal government is doing it, then it must be morally right.

Suppose the majority of elected representatives in Congress vote to impose a tax on all millionaires. The IRS collects the money, on pain of fine, imprisonment, and levies and liens for anyone who refuses to pay. Federal welfare agencies distribute the money (or actually what’s left of it after paying governmental expenses associated with collecting and distributing it) to the poor, the needy, the disadvantaged, and the elderly.

What’s the response of the average American? “What a caring and compassionate person I am. How fortunate that I belong to a society where my government taxes the rich and gives to the poor. We are all good people — politicians, bureaucrats, and citizens alike.”

What about all the moral principles that applied to me, the person who did the same thing that the federal government did? In the mind of the average American, all that disappears as soon as the welfare state enters the picture. The exercise of conscience doesn’t even enter the picture because of the supreme deference given to the federal government and its welfare state.

Conscience and choice

Consider also the effect that the welfare state has on an individual person’s exercise of conscience — that is, in deciding what to do with his income and savings. Suppose we live in a society in which there is no income tax (i.e., the kind of society our American ancestors lived in). Let’s say that after paying off all your expenses, you have $10,000 left over. You have a range of choices for disposing of that money. Should you donate it to your church or to some fund-raising drive for the poor? Should you use it to help out your ailing parents? How about a new motorcycle? Vacation? Save it for a rainy day?

That’s where the exercise of conscience comes in. That mental process of deciding whether to do this or that is what causes the conscience to strengthen. Conversely, when government suppresses such choices, the exercise of conscience diminishes. A wide range of choices in society with respect to what people do with their own money inevitably nudges morality to higher levels.

But suppose that the federal government doesn’t feel that people can be trusted to do the right thing with their money. It imposes a $10,000 tax on you and others to help fund the poor and needy. That leaves you without that $10,000 that prompted you to make choices. You just write out a $10,000 check to the IRS and you are thereby relieved of any further struggle over what to do with that money. No more anguishing over whether to give the money to your church, your parents, or the poor or whether to spend it on yourself. Now you can just automatically consider yourself a good, caring, compassionate person because Caesar — the organized means of coercion and compulsion in society — has confiscated your money and given it to the poor and needy (and others, such as foreign regimes) on your behalf.

Free will and the welfare state

Perhaps the best example of the demise of conscience among the American people is how they think about Social Security. This welfare-state program is one of the best manifestations of how people have effectively raised the federal government to the level of a deity, one that they think is working in partnership with God in such areas as helping the poor and honoring one’s mother and father.

There is a fundamental problem with that way of thinking, especially for Christians, however. God’s system relies on freedom and free will while Caesar’s system depends on the use of force.

Contrary to popular misconceptions, Social Security is a direct and mandatory transfer program. There is no fund in which people have placed their money. Instead, the state uses its monopoly of force to take money from one group of people (the young and productive) in order to give it to another group of people (the elderly).

The difference between a person’s voluntarily helping out his parents or other elderly people with his own money and the state’s forcible taking of money from one person and giving it to another person is the difference between day and night, especially from a religious or moral standpoint.

After all, can an immoral act be converted into a moral act simply by having the government do it? If stealing is wrong on a private basis, even when the money is used to help others, how is that same act converted into a moral deed when the state is doing it?

Moreover, from the Christian perspective the second-greatest gift that God has given to mankind (the first being the birth and death of Jesus Christ) is free will. What that means is that God will not impose his will on anyone. He leaves it to each person to make his own choices as he progresses from birth to death, including choices dealing with what a person should do with money that comes into his possession.

For example, when the young rich man approached Jesus and asked him what he needed to do to be saved, Jesus told him to keep God’s commandants. Then he suggested that the young man sell everything he had and give it to the poor. The young man, being wedded to his wealth, could not answer that call and walked away dejected.

Whether one believes that Jesus was simply causing the young man to confront an impediment to his following God or whether he really meant for the young man to do what he suggested, one thing is clear: when the young man rejected the suggestion, Jesus did not call on any of his disciples to take the young man’s money in order to give it to the poor. By the same token, Jesus did not call on Roman officials to tax the man so that the money could be distributed to the poor. Instead, understanding that free will entails the right to say “No,” Jesus respected the man’s choice by not forcibly interfering with it.

Compare Jesus’ response to that of the federal government and its Social Security scheme. The idea is that it’s the moral duty of children to take care of their parents, but Americans cannot be trusted to voluntarily fulfill this particular commandment. Therefore, they must be forced to do so through the tax mandates of the welfare state. Every person is required to send a portion of his income to the Social Security Administration, which then distributes the money to the elderly. Everyone in the nation, especially the politicians, bureaucrats, and taxpayers, is then considered a good, caring, and compassionate person for living in a country where the welfare state provides for the elderly. The fact that the money being distributed and received is stolen, morally speaking, from others fails to rise to the conscious level of most people, including the Christians.

Where is free will in this particular process? It’s gone. Everyone is required to send his money to the Social Security Administration. If he refuses to do so, the government imprisons and fines him. A person cannot simply say, “It is my right under principles of free will to walk away from my parents. I choose to say ‘No.’” The Social Security Administration makes sure that everyone fulfills God’s commandment, especially those who would choose to not give any money to their elderly parents.

Once again, the wider the range of choices with which people are faced with respect to the use of their money, the more their conscience will be exercised. “Should I honor my mother and father or not?” “Should I provide for them or not?” With Social Security, those questions seldom have to be asked. The welfare state, and specifically the Social Security scheme, oftentimes relieves people of the responsibility (or opportunity) of dealing with such issues.

Why do Americans continue to embrace the welfare state despite its manifest immorality, damage, and destructiveness? My hunch is that they have lost faith in themselves, a loss that they have replaced with faith in government. They want to be relieved as much as possible of the difficult choices and decisions that life presents them. By delegating the responsibility of making peaceful choices about what they do with their money to the welfare state, they have rendered unto Caesar the things that belong to God, including the exercise of free will. The result has been a demise of conscience.

The demise of conscience among the American people is even more pronounced in the context of the warfare state than it is in that of the welfare state. The best example of this phenomenon can be seen in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. By examining Iraq, we can see how embracing the warfare state has stultified the conscience of the American people.

An examination of conscience with respect to Iraq requires an analysis of two things: first, the various rationales for the invasion and occupation and, second, a focus on the Iraqi people who have been killed or maimed during the entire operation.

Fundamental to any moral philosophy is that it is wrong to take the life of another person. An exception to that rule, however, at least for those who are not complete pacifists, involves the concept of self-defense. If Person A threatens Person B with deadly force, Person B has the right to defend himself by using deadly force against Person A.

Most nations codify the injunction against murder (and the concept of self-defense) in their criminal laws, making it illegal to wrongfully kill another person. But whether they do or do not is irrelevant from a moral standpoint. Even if the state fails to criminalize murder, the act continues to be immoral and continues to violate God’s commandment against killing.

These moral and legal principles apply to war as well. The people of one nation, operating through their government, have no moral or legal right to attack and kill the people of another nation. But if Nation A attacks Nation B, the citizens of Nation B have the moral and legal right to defend themselves from the attack. Moreover, the defense that the citizens of Nation B put up to Nation A’s invasion cannot serve as an ex post facto moral or legal justification for killing on the part of troops belonging to Nation A.

These principles were applied at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal following World War II. The Allied Powers charged German officials with the war crime of waging a “war of aggression.” What the charge meant was that Germany had initiated war against other countries, including militarily weak ones, killing inhabitants of those countries in the process. The inference drawn from Nuremburg was that while the countries that had been attacked could kill German soldiers in self-defense, German soldiers, as part of the aggressor force, had no right to kill people in the countries that Germany had invaded.

Conscience and aggressive war

Everyone agrees that neither the Iraqi government nor the Iraqi people ever attacked the United States. Everyone agrees that no Iraqi participated in the 9/11 attacks. There is no question but that in the Iraq War, the United States is the aggressor nation and Iraq is the defending nation.

In the run-up to the invasion, I recall reading an article in which U.S. soldiers were asking military chaplains whether God would forgive them for killing Iraqis. It was obvious that their consciences were bothering them. I suspect that they were wondering whether it was consistent with God’s law to kill people whose government had not attacked their country.

I’ll never forget reading what some of the chaplains told those soldiers. They told them that they need not concern themselves with what lay ahead. They said that they could place their trust in the judgment of their commander in chief. In other words, they could go into Iraq and kill people without having any crisis of conscience.

One cannot help but wonder whether those chaplains, in reaching their judgment, confronted the critical moral question: How could the killing of any Iraqi be morally justified, given that the U.S. government was going to be the aggressor in the conflict? How could killing people while serving as part of an aggressor force be reconciled with God’s laws? I can’t help but wonder how many U.S. soldiers who were struggling with their conscience before the invasion are bedeviled by it today.

A reflection of the demise of conscience that has accompanied the warfare state is the fact that, as far as I know, only one U.S. soldier refused to deploy to Iraq on the grounds that to do so would involve the wrongful killing of people. He was an officer — Lt. Ehren Watada. Watada pointed out that not only was the war on Iraq illegal from the standpoint of U.S. law (because the president had failed to secure the constitutionally required congressional declaration of war against Iraq), it would also constitute the war crime of waging a war of aggression. Watada’s conscience would not permit him to kill people in such a conflict.

How was Watada treated by U.S. officials? As a criminal. The U.S. military prosecuted him for refusing to obey orders to deploy to Iraq. He was ridiculed for following the dictates of conscience. The Pentagon’s mistreatment of Watada was a powerful message to any other soldier who might be struggling with his conscience — that this is what happens to people of conscience in the U.S. army.

While several civil libertarians came to Watada’s defense, it would be safe to say that most Americans didn’t know about or didn’t care about his case. Conscience, it is widely assumed, can play no role once the nation is at war, at least not with respect to whether one’s own government is in the right or the wrong. All that matters is victory. It was the same mindset that guided most Germans in World War II.

The WMD rationale

Prior to the invasion of Iraq, President Bush and other U.S. officials tried mightily to cast the war within the “self-defense” category, no doubt so that both the American people and U.S. soldiers could feel at ease with the killing that was about to occur. If they could convince people that the United States was the defending nation and Iraq the aggressor nation, then most people would have no qualms about killing Iraqi attackers.

This attempt was first manifested by trying to tie Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks and, later, to the anthrax attacks. When those attempts failed, Bush resorted to his now-famous WMD claim. What he and other U.S. officials were suggesting was that, while Iraq had not yet attacked the United States, there was no doubt that Iraq was preparing to attack the United States with WMDs.

While Bush never expressly said that an Iraqi attack was imminent, that was clearly the implication. That’s what Condoleezza Rice’s famous smoking-gun, mushroom-cloud assertion, along with Colin Powell’s ominous WMD charts before the UN, was all about — to scare people into thinking that this was going to be an urgent war of self-defense. That way, they could feel at ease about killing Iraqis.

One of the most significant outcomes in the history of the Iraq invasion, especially from the standpoint of individual conscience, was that the WMDs failed to materialize. By the time that confirmation was made, there had already been countless Iraqis killed. At that point, many Americans, including U.S. soldiers, may well have said to themselves, “Well, President Bush thought that Saddam was about to attack the United States with WMDs, and I put my faith in President Bush. It’s obvious that our president just made an honest mistake. Nobody is morally responsible for all those deaths.”

But there is one big problem with that position, from a moral standpoint: the circumstantial evidence leads inexorably in one direction — that Bush’s WMD rationale for the invasion and occupation of Iraq was fake and false. Yet, most Americans still don’t want to confront that horrible possibility because to do so would involve confronting their own support for a conflict that has now taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. After all, how many people have called for congressional investigations into whether President Bush intentionally misled the American people prior to his war on Iraq?

Recall that Bush spent several months unsuccessfully trying to secure a UN resolution authorizing an invasion of Iraq. If a nation was really in the process of preparing to attack the United States, would the president actually spend any time at all going to the UN and asking for a resolution to permit him to defend the country? Of course not.

Second, in the run-up to the invasion Bush repeatedly claimed that he was authorized to invade to enforce UN resolutions requiring Saddam “to disarm.” But Bush knew that legally only the UN, not the United States, could enforce its own resolutions. Moreover, if Iraq actually was about to attack the United States, would the president really be looking for UN resolutions on which to base his defense of the country?

Third, throughout the 1990s the U.S. government had imposed on Iraq and enforced what were arguably the most brutal set of economic sanctions against a nation in history. Contributing to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children, the sanctions had even resulted in the resignation of two high UN officials — Hans von Sponeck and Dennis Halliday, who, out of conscience, could not participate in the “genocide” produced by the sanctions.

What was the purpose of the sanctions? To encourage the Iraqi people, including their government officials, to oust Saddam Hussein from power and replace him with someone more acceptable to U.S. officials.

Thus, the circumstantial evidence led strongly to one conclusion: The real purpose of the invasion of Iraq was not to protect the United States from a WMD attack or to enforce UN resolutions but rather to simply achieve what the sanctions had failed to achieve throughout the 1990s — a change in the regime governing Iraq.

So what would be wrong with that? What’s wrong with it is that it’s morally wrong and a violation of God’s laws to kill the people of another nation simply to achieve a change of administrations within their government. The government that is seeking the regime change through an invasion is the aggressor nation. In fact, an invasion for the purpose of regime change is also illegal under the UN Charter, to which the United States is a signatory.

Americans who have supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq, including U.S. soldiers who have killed people in Iraq, might say, “Look, I thought there were going to be WMDs, just like the president did. We all just made an honest mistake.”

There are major problems, however, with that position, at least from the standpoint of conscience. For one, there has been no attempt on the part of many Americans, especially through their elected representatives in Congress, to investigate whether the president and his associates knowingly and intentionally lied about the real reasons for invading Iraq. Instead, it is obvious that people just don’t want to know whether their federal officials lied or not. Wouldn’t a person struck by a crisis of conscience want to know the truth in order to deal with what he has wrought?

Recall what happened on that fateful day when it was confirmed that there were no WMDs. One option would have been for the president to announce, “My fellow Americans. I have made a grave and grievous error. I secured your support for the invasion of Iraq on the basis of my claim that Saddam was threatening our nation with WMDs. It turns out that Saddam was telling the truth — that he really had destroyed his WMDs. I hereby apologize to you and the Iraqi people who have already lost loved ones in this invasion. I am hereby ordering the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq. I am very sorry for my mistake.”

But that’s not what the president did. Instead, he shifted to what had been a secondary, alternative rationale for invading Iraq — to bring democracy to the Iraqi people. He continued the invasion, which everyone knew would entail the killing and maiming of countless more Iraqis in the process.

Now, think about that for a moment. On the one hand, the president has the American people view Iraq as an enemy nation — one that is threatening the very survival of America — one that we must defend against. On the other hand, the president is telling the American people that another reason he’s invading Iraq is to help out the Iraqi people by giving them a democratic system.

That’s a strange confluence of two completely different lines of thinking. Imagine, for example, that after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt had said to the American people, “We are fighting for our national survival against a brutal foe that is trying to conquer us and, alternatively, we are fighting to help our foe achieve democracy.”

Killing for welfare

In the days prior to the confirmation that Iraq had no WMDs, Americans could tell themselves that the killing of Iraqis was necessary to defend America from a WMD attack. On the day after that confirmation, that rationalization no longer held water. On that fateful day — the day it was confirmed that Saddam Hussein had in fact “disarmed” — the U.S. government chose to continue killing Iraqis, only under a completely different justification — helping the Iraqi people achieve democracy.

Even though this alternative justification was more in the nature of a welfare function and as far away from a self-defense function as a justification could be, many Americans didn’t skip a beat. They quickly shifted rationales in order to match their mind-sets to that of the president. The fact that they were supporting the killing of people for the sake of a welfare function (i.e., bringing democracy to the Iraqi people) didn’t bother them one iota.

In fact, the entire “We’re from the U.S. government and we’re here to help you” secondary rationale for invading and occupying Iraq is laughable because the actions of the U.S. government were clearly inconsistent with that notion. For one thing, there was absolutely no remorse or regret for having killed countless people under a mistaken WMD rationale. For another, the manner in which Iraqi people were tortured, sexually abused, and murdered at Abu Ghraib prison is inconsistent with the idea that U.S. officials were in Iraq out of love for Iraqis. So was the fact that U.S. officials nonchalantly permitted Iraqi museums containing priceless antiquities to be ransacked, an action that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld described as an “untidy” aspect of “freedom.”

Other rationales for invading

Ultimately, the rationale for invading and occupying Iraq — and killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis in the process — has morphed from one of protecting America from a WMD attack, to spreading democracy, to fighting the terrorists there so that we don’t have to fight them here in the United States. Some extreme right-wing pro-war supporters have even suggested that the invasion was necessary to oppose the threat that Muslims have posed to Christians for the past several centuries.

The third rationale is the so-called magnet rationale, which entailed using U.S. troops in Iraq to serve as a “magnet” for terrorists who otherwise would come to the United State and commit terrorist acts. The idea is that it’s okay to kill Iraqis because they’re living in the country that is serving as a magnet, which, in turn, helps to keep America safe from “the terrorists.”

Notice the moral bankruptcy in that reasoning, however. Where is the moral justification for using Iraq or any other country as such a “magnet”? What responsibility did the Iraqi people have for President Bush’s “war on terrorism”? What did they do to deserve the deadly consequences of serving as a “magnet”?

Moreover, who cares that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died? Isn’t that what war is all about, even though neither the Iraqi people nor their government wanted war with the United States? And why should conscience play any role in the killing of Iraqis, given that U.S. officials have designated their country to be a “magnet” war zone?

Finally, we cannot ignore the fact that the invasion of Iraq, just like the sanctions and other U.S. interventions, produced the very terrorist threat that the U.S. government then uses to justify its continued killing of Iraqis. Let’s not forget, however, that under both legal and moral principles, the people of an invaded country, regardless of what label you put on them, have the right to use deadly force in self-defense against an aggressor power.

The notion adopted by extreme right-wing neocons that it was necessary to invade Iraq to oppose some centuries-old plan by Muslims to conquer the Christian world is perhaps the most ludicrous justification of all for killing Iraqis. After all, isn’t it odd that we never heard about this “threat” during the entire Cold War, when communism, not Islam, was the big bugaboo?

In fact, not even the U.S. government buys this rationale. U.S. officials have never had any reservations about entering into partnerships with Muslims and Muslim regimes. For example, consider the U.S. partnerships with Osama bin Laden (to end the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan), Saddam Hussein (when the United States was furnishing WMDs to Saddam to kill Iranians), and the shah of Iran, not to mention the untold amounts of U.S. military aid furnished to Islamic regimes all over the Middle East. Let’s not forget that, thanks to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, that country itself now has a radical Islamic regime, one that has even aligned itself with the radical Islamic regime in Iran.

Notice that not one of the people who justify the killing of Iraqis on the basis of the so-called Islamic threat against the West is calling for bombing the Islamic regimes in Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or Kuwait.

No remorse for the Iraqi dead

On top of all these shifting and morphing rationales for killing Iraqis was the official policy of the Pentagon, announced early on, that U.S. forces would not keep count of the Iraqi dead. Isn’t that a rather unusual policy for a government that is supposedly doing all this for the benefit of the Iraqi people?

Through it all, most Americans have had absolutely no remorse for the Iraqi dead and maimed. Having stultified consciences, those Americans just don’t care that Iraqis have been killed. In fact, the only reason that many Americans are having second thoughts about Iraq is that American soldiers are being killed there, not because people’s consciences are bothering them because of all the Iraqi people killed. They simply take the attitude that since it’s war, people are going to die, or they compare it to other wars and blithely conclude, “Oh well, at least the number of people killed isn’t as high as it has been in other wars.”

Conscience and Iraqi deaths

In fact, some Americans have reduced the Iraq War to a mathematical equation, one which holds that any number of Iraqi deaths is worth it if it helps to achieve “democracy.” Conscience has disappeared in that equation.

All too many Americans have convinced themselves that any war in which the U.S. government is involved, including a war of aggression against a country that never attacked the United States, is automatically a just war. Such a conclusion, they feel, relieves them of any exercise of conscience with respect to the consequences of such a war.

But only defensive wars are morally justifiable and consistent with God’s commandment against killing. Does God permit killing people under a fake and false WMD rationale? Does God permit killing a person for the sake of democracy-spreading? Does God permit killing people as part of a “magnet” defense? Does God permit killing people as part of some conjured-up Islamic plan to conquer the Christian West?

Many Americans, including some priests and ministers, don’t dare to ask those questions because to do so might require the exercise of conscience, which is not an easy process to undergo.

The demise of conscience has produced a society of people who go to church on Sunday, where they regularly pray for the troops in Iraq, without permitting their consciences to consider the fact that the U.S. government has no right to be in Iraq and that the troops have no right to be killing Iraqi people.

How many Iraqis have been killed in the invasion and occupation of Iraq? We don’t know the exact number because, again, the Pentagon has steadfastly said that it has absolutely no intention of keeping track of how many Iraqis it kills. But the best estimates indicate that approximately a million Iraqis have been killed as a consequence of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Now, reflect on that for a few minutes. One million people, dead. Not a thousand. Not a hundred thousand. Not half a million. One million dead people. That is not a small number of dead people.

Now, add that million to the estimated hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people who died as a result of the brutal sanctions against Iraq during the 1990s.

The standard attitude among all too many Americans is that it’s all been “worth it” because Saddam Hussein was a “bad man” who needed to be replaced by a U.S. stooge. It was the same attitude of UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright, who told Sixty Minutes that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children from the sanctions had been “worth it” — i.e., worth the attempt to oust Saddam from power and replace him with a ruler acceptable to U.S. officials.

But no American, including U.S. soldiers, had the moral right to kill even one Iraqi, much less a million, simply because Saddam Hussein was a “bad man” whom U.S. officials were trying to oust from power. God does not permit the killing of any person for the sake of democracy-spreading, making them “magnets,” or imaginary threats. The commandment is clear: Thou shalt not kill.

Meanwhile, Americans blithely go about their business at home, indifferent to or even enthusiastic about the number of Iraqi people killed at the hands of the U.S. war machine in a war of aggression against people who never attacked the United States and who did not want war with the United States.

Conscience — the ferreting out of right and wrong and the pursuing of right — has been subordinated to the almighty judgments and decisions of the federal government. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever.”