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WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 24, 2005
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EDITORIAL

War and fear create odd morality, understanding

Statements by an evangelist promoting the assassination of a leader in Venezuela were irresponsible, but they also demonstrate the peculiar form of morality that comes with war and fear.

Pat Robertson, who is increasingly known for bizarre comments on "The 700 Club," presented assassination as a viable option in dealing with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

"We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability," Mr. Robertson said. "We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one strong-arm dictator."

Many of us grew up with the media, and even social studies textbooks, decrying the Central Intelligence Agency's efforts to assassinate Cuba President Fidel Castro.

Most of us did not need much convincing. Assassinations, we understood, were always a negative. The CIA's efforts were not evidence of the threat posed by Mr. Castro, but of the CIA's immorality.

Mr. Robertson's comments are not in the mainstream, but most will recognize a twisted but real morality in his proposal. Assassinations may be bad, but killing thousands of U.S. troops is worse.

Regardless of our political bent, it is difficult to articulate why a covert assassination of Saddam Hussein would have been a worse result than a conflict that has killed thousands of U.S. troops, and a whole lot more innocent Iraqis.

A couple pages before the textbook's discussion of CIA's evils was a discussion of the imprisonment of thousands of innocent Japanese-American citizens. We understood the textbook message that internment camps were immoral. History viewed the prison camps not as a measure of the danger posed by Japanese descendants but as proof our nation was out of control.

We disagree with Mr. Robertson that assassination is the answer in Venezuela. But our circumstances — at war and in constant fear of attack — teach two important lessons.

One, they teach us that condemnation of our national history should not leave our lips so lightly. Our forebears were just as rational as we are and at least as moral. We may disagree with their practices, but we should not make the mistake of believing we would have done better.

The second lesson is more important. As the self-appointed global policeman, America's favorite hobby is issuing judgment upon other countries. While we may disagree with other countries on their response to violence, our condemnation should be tempered.

Fear and death create a morality not easily understood by those at peace.

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