Thread: could you kill?
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Old 29th February 2012, 11:05 AM
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wearestardust wearestardust is offline
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Default Re: could you kill?

Having thought through my ethical intuitions a bit more, it strikes me that I think that the dilemma has an implicit assumption that it is be morally permissible (or even correct) to kill the prisoner, and that the only ‘problem’ is whether one would be willing to perform the difficult act of killing someone in cold blood.

I disagree with this: all other things being equal (even in a wartime situation) I don’t think it would be morally permissible to kill the prisoner unless the stakes are very high – eg certain death for me if captured. Even then I’m not sure it would be right to kill them.

As an aside, it would not be permissible under laws of war to kill the prisoner. The Geneva conventions don’t allow for mistreatment of prisoners because it is inconvenient not to do so. Modern soldiers, at least in ‘western’ armies, have hammered home to them the ethical obligations and rules of engagement under which they operate (which is not to say they always follow them …).

Though, apropos Mr Black’s comments, armies – again, particularly ‘western’ armies - also put a lot of effort into putting soldiers into a mindset of being able to kill due to research from the second world war showing that on the whole most soldiers in most situations will refrain from harming other soldiers. Rather more effort is put into more elite troops to get them to be more ready to kill. Take, for example, the Iranian Embassy siege of 1980. One of six hostage-takers survived, and that was because they snuck out of the building pretending to be a member of staff and were identified outside the building. The other five were shot and killed on sight, including one who also identified while similarly making his way out of the building with and pretending to be a member of embassy staff. To be fair, there was a concern he may have had a concealed grenade, but thee were no questions asked before shooting.

So it’s a scenario in that regard further removed from ordinary reality, is what I am saying.
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