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Kkat


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Mar
14th
2014

On Heroes & Violence · 7:51am Mar 14th, 2014

A recent comment on Fallout: Equestria brought up the commonly argued topic of the acceptable use of violence, and the roles of justice and mercy. (I have no doubt that this is going to be one of my most controversial blogs – both because I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with my opinions, and because there are few subjects where we as people confuse beliefs with fact as we do on topics of ethics and morality. Either that, or a massive, wasteful exercise in preaching to the choir.)

:twilightblush:

art by Limreiart

The comment addressed the fight with the bandits at Arbu, one of the decidedly greyer conflicts in the story. Before discussing the battle, or the validity of violence, it is first necessary to establish a belief in a person’s “right to life”, and the parameters within which that right exists. For that, I will draw on the essay of a West Point army officer on the morality of killing of enemy combatants:


from Thoughts of a Soldier-Ethicist:

Every person, by virtue of being a human being, possesses the right not to be killed by another person. This is commonly referred to as the “right to life”…

Our rights as human beings put limits on how others can act towards us. One person’s right has priority over another person’s freedom. For example, my right not to be killed trumps my angry neighbor’s freedom to kill me over our dandelion dispute. Were he to kill me, he would commit a moral wrong. To paraphrase the philosopher J. S. Mill, we possess the freedom to choose our actions provided they do not violate the rights of another. Rights must trump freedoms, if rights are to have any meaning at all.

Rights themselves are absolute, but possession of them is not. People forfeit their rights if and while they are engaged in violating the rights of others. This explains the rights of self defense and defense of others. When an attacker violates the right not to be killed of those who possess it, he forfeits his own right not to be killed.

Enemy combatants are people who are engaged in violating and threatening the rights of others not to be killed or enslaved. Thus, when we kill combatants, we do no moral wrong; we violate no rights. In fact, we vindicate the rights of those people whom the enemy combatants were threatening.

Next, we must ask: what is the nature of a hero?

This is a question that No One has explored at length, and with greater skill than I did, in his story Fallout: Equestria – Heroes. However, I’m not going to draw from that story for this essay as it has yet to reach its conclusion, and (at least up to the point I have read) the story has not settled on an answer.

The Free Online Dictionary defines a hero as a “person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life” and this is expounded upon by Wikipedia:

A hero (masculine) or heroine (feminine) (Ancient Greek: ἥρως, hḗrōs) refers to characters who, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, display courage and the will for self sacrifice—that is, heroism—for some greater good of all humanity. This definition originally referred to martial courage or excellence but extended to more general moral excellence.

For the purposes of this essay, I am going to define a hero as one who acts to save others from harm, who is willing to risk their own life and wellbeing for the live and wellbeing of another, and who is willing to sacrifice what is theirs so someone else doesn’t have to without expectation of compensation.

To that end, it is the first duty of a hero to protect the lives and safety of innocent people. The hero must be able to do this even if he or she is afraid, or if it calls for actions she would otherwise prefer not to take.

art by Mistermech

And this brings us to a final definition that I feel needs to be laid out for purposes of this essay: the good pony.

The good pony is the pony who will try his or her best to be honest and generous, kind and forgiving – to hold their actions to a moral standard because they believe that this behavior is the right thing to do, the best thing to do.

Particularly in the Equestrian Wasteland, the quality that divides the good ponies from those who are not is the quality of mercy. Mercy isn’t an obligation. Mercy isn’t something the hero is required to give because the villain deserves it. The villain doesn’t deserve it. Mercy is something that a good pony gives because they are a better pony than the villain.

From Project Horizons by Somber:

“I’m sorry, is there something to think about here? This buck is responsible for the death of possibly hundreds of ponies. He’s been in charge of Brimstone for years!” P-21 said in a low voice. “He’s hurt everypony here. Now they get justice!”

“This isn’t fucking justice!” I hissed as I stared at him, unable to touch that button, unable to look away. “It’s murder.”

Now I regretted my show. If I’d appeared near death... no, that would have put the blood on somepony else’s hooves. And he’d be just as dead.

P-21 would have killed me right then if he could. Cold rage burned in his eyes as he leaned towards me. “Do you know what fucking justice is? It’s giving to others as is given to you.” Be kind. “It’s killing the fucker to make sure that she never does it again.” Be kind. “It’s making sure every bastard who even thinks of copying her crime hesitates because they know they might face the same punishment.” Be kind. “It’s what’s fair!”

be kind

These ponies needed justice. Was this it? Killing him wouldn’t bring anypony he had killed back. Would it even bring peace? Or would somepony else decide that it wasn’t enough and drag one of the former guards up there next?

He was dead anyway. Send his broken body out the gate and the Wasteland would eat him. They’d track him down and lynch him. It wasn’t any different in Stable 99; he’d be retired without hesitation. Recycled. If he was put on some kind of trial, what verdict would be returned besides guilty? How was this not justice? Just a week ago I wouldn’t have hesitated. In fact, I probably would have been honored to push the nice red button.

be kind

Ante up.

I believe that some people confuse being a hero with being a good person (or, in the case of the Equestrian Wasteland, a good pony). The two are usually related, as a hero should desire to be a good pony should situations allow. But part of what makes the hero is that the hero is willing to make the hard choices and to sacrifice – including the hero’s moral comfort – to save and protect others. A good person doesn’t want to kill anyone; a good cop will still do so if that is necessary to save someone from the bad guy.

In the scene outside of Arbu, the group came upon bandits setting up an ambush for a caravan. Littlepip recognizes that these are a different class of threats than those she had fought before.

From Fallout: Equestria:

The rain-soaked ponies I saw moving between the rubble, setting an ambush for the caravan, didn’t look like raider ponies. They lacked the fucked-up, “scourges of ponykind” motif. No necklaces of pony bones or cutie marks of bloodied weapons. They just looked like bandits.

“Uh… Calamity? Maybe we should just scare them off?”

A few issues can be raised here. First, are the bandits bad? What if they’re just trying to get food? Provide for their families. Now, hopefully everyone can sympathize with the need and the desperation, especially where loved ones are involved. And, to an extent, the bandits can be seen as heroes to their families, risking their lives in a violent action to provide for them. But the method which they chose to do so it to attack an innocent with lethal force. And with that decision, they become the villains.

I happen to be a firm believer in personal responsibility. An individual chooses the actions they take. Someone’s choices are not the fault of their parents, or peer pressure or their religious beliefs… or any other agency. Those things may skew an individual’s perceptions, and circumstances may put them in a horrible position, but ultimately they still make their own choices. The consequences may not be on their shoulders – other factors may come into play, or information they didn’t know may cause an unexpected outcome – but people have responsibility for everything they choose to do. And if they chose to act to harm another, that is on nobody but them. And it becomes the hero’s moral imperative to prevent them from doing so.

The second issue is that Calamity fires first. However, while it can be argued that other choices may have been better, this doesn’t prevent this from being the right thing to do. Bandits with lethal weapons were setting up an ambush. How absurd would it be for a hero to stand back and say, “Well, maybe they’re just planning to stop the trader so they could all give him hugs and cake? I should wait and see.” No. A hero doesn’t wait for people to be killed before acting. And a hero isn’t supposed to give you the benefit of the doubt when an innocent life is at stake. A hero acts swiftly to prevent harm and loss of life.

The third issue is that Calamity uses lethal force. Even Littlepip suggests another method of intervention. But what if they had swooped down and tried to scare off the bandits instead. First, there are many ways that could have backfired, and a high chance it would have caused more bloodshed rather than less. Second, even in they had done so, it would have only deterred this particular ambush while allowing the bandits to try again at a later date (and leaving them on a lookout for the Sky Bandit to ensure they weren’t interrupted the same way twice. Calamity makes the point:

Calamity, Fallout: Equestria

“So they c’n jus’ attack the next caravan instead?” Calamity asked gruffly, kicking the reload bar of his battle saddle. “Plan t’ go ‘round ‘pologizin’ t’ everypony they kill after we let ‘em go?”

Now, Calamity approaches these situations thinking not just on the terms of what a hero is called to do, but in the broader terms of what actions have the better long-term effects on the wasteland and are most likely to discourage other potential threats. But those arguments cease to be about heroic action and become about policy.

Issues of policy aside, should a hero act to preserve the life of the villain as well as the victim? Not necessarily. If you are threatening someone, a hero’s moral imperative is to stop you with whatever force it takes to prevent harm and/or loss of life to your would-be victim. Your wellbeing is not the priority – your victim’s is. A good person will try to disarm the threat that you pose in the gentlest way possible, but the hero isn’t obligated to. A hero will generally try to if the situation allows for it so long as attempting to do so doesn’t gamble with the lives of the innocent.

Batman. Hero. Not interested in being a good pony.

If the universe is kind enough to provide another way, the hero is wise enough to glean that other option in sufficient time to act on it, and the villain(s) make it feasible, then the hero will take the kinder option. If a hero is trying to stop you, and you want to be treated with kid gloves, it is your responsibility to make a reasonable option for the hero to take.

In On Raiders, I discussed a similar incident in the story – that of Calamity shooting the child raider. This child had participated in the rape and brutalization of a woman, and was now chasing her down with a serrated knife. There was no question that he posed a clear and imminent threat, and Calamity responded accordingly, again with lethal force.

What if Calamity had shot to cripple rather than kill, and the group had taken a moment to discuss what options, if any, they had for trying to save the child? In truth, Velvet Remedy would have had the chance to offer up what was really the only other option open to them at that time: find a way to keep the raider child bound and subdued while they backtracked, attempting to deliver him to Shattered Hoof in the hopes that Gawd and her people could help him. And pray that he didn't find some way to escape and/or harm someone before that happened...

...but by then, the little raider would already have been dead. He would have been dead before any of them could reach him. Because crippling him would have left the raider helpless at the hooves of his victim, the blue mare, giving her the chance to turn that storm of hurt and rage that was eventually released on the ghoul doctor instead upon the last remaining of her tormentors.

Would this have been a better option? Possibly, but Calamity didn’t see that option; his mental framework for dealing with a clear and imminent threat to a mare’s life didn’t include “maim the monster then sit around and talk about it while the monster’s still alive and armed” – to the point that he was seriously confused when his companions reacted in dismay. His choice may not have been the most right option, but in that situation, it was by no means a wrong one.

art by Vombavr

In most cases that Littlepip and her friends had fought in before, the other party attacked first. Once self-defense comes into play, there is no question of action. If your life is threatened, you have a moral imperative to fight to preserve it by whatever means is necessary. If someone attacks you with intent to maim, rape, enslave or kill, they have forfeited their right not to be killed. When the other party attacks first, there is no question that Littlepip and her friends are right in responding with lethal force. So, does that then also apply to the bandits?

from Thoughts of a Soldier-Ethicist:

Briefly, the argument for the “moral equality of soldiers” states that since combatants on both sides take up arms against each other, then all combatants are both threats to their enemy and threatened by their enemy. Combatants on both sides, by this account, are equally guilty of being threats, so they all forfeit their right to not be killed. Consequently, all combatants are also equally innocent of violating their enemy’s rights. Thus, soldiers on both sides are moral equals, and no moral wrong is committed when one combatant kills another…

Should we accept the idea that enemy combatants are our moral equals? As a soldier, I am offended at the claim that soldiers who fight for human rights and freedoms have the same moral standing as those who fight for Nazi or Islamist fascism. Moreover, as an ethicist, I am concerned that we would accept an argument that rationalizes killing on the basis that no one is morally wrong because everyone is morally wrong; i.e., all combatants have forfeited their right to not be killed, so none of them is wrong to kill each other. This line of reasoning has implications that we should be unwilling to accept… it is only the moral inequality among people in a context that gives killing in self defense its moral authority.

Self-defense is the act of doing what is necessary to preserve your life. If a person or persons are being attacked because they are threatening the lives of others, the only moral imperative to preserve their life is to stop violating the right to life of others, the act which is also endangering themselves. If they want the hero to spare them, their imperative is to surrender.

The reason that the situation with the bandits is so morally grey isn’t because it was wrong for Littlepip and her party to engage the bandits in order to prevent them from killing the merchant they were attempting to ambush, nor was it because Littlepip’s side shot first. And I would say it wasn’t even because a lethal option was taken against an enemy intent on killing. The real moral murkiness of the situation comes from the fact that the bandits knew something that Littlepip and her friends didn’t, and that something removed the option of surrender. It could be argues that because of who was fighting alongside Littlepip – the town of Arbu – the moral inequality that should have been in play wasn’t. And thus, the bandits were just as morally justified in lethal self-defense as Littlepip and friends where in charging to the rescue.

art by Favmir

But remember, hero is not a paragon of the heroic imperative. Nobody is truly a paragon – even the pony associated with Honesty will sometimes lie, the pony associated with Generosity will sometimes be greedy – and the fool who demands or expects otherwise has forgotten that people are people. People will always have failings, faults and moments of weakness. As DJ Pon3 says, the truth of the matter is that everyone has done something they regret.

The hero will try his or her best in a situation to make the right choices, but will not automatically make the best ones. Characters who always chose the absolute best possible method of dealing with a situation are not realistic or relatable characters. Again, it is important to remember that the quality of choices is not binary. There are good choices and better choices; just because something isn’t the best choice doesn’t make it a wrong one.

Likewise, there will always be people who play armchair quarterback, tearing apart every choice and analyzing every possible alternate choice that a hero (or for that matter, any public figure) could have been made in hindsight. But such arguments are disingenuous, being neither realistic nor fair, and are the bread and butter of those attempting to tear down a hero (or other public figure) for their own gratification or agenda, not a practice engaged in by honest critics.

This is not to say that lethal force is always the right or preferred method of a hero. The hero’s job is to prevent harm of innocents, and must take whatever is the swiftest and most guaranteed course of action that the hero can perceive to do so. But if circumstances allow or the hero is equipped with the ability to intervene in a non-lethal manner, then the hero should always take that option unless that option unfairly gambles with the safety of those the hero seeks to protect. A hero should apply mercy whenever mercy does not interfere with the main priority of the hero. (However, when dealing with a villain, I believe mercy should not be applied when it would violate the moral imperative of self-defense.)

Additionally, a hero will not respond with grossly inappropriate levels of force. If a hero is attempting to prevent a murder, lethal force is appropriate. If a hero is attempting to prevent rape or enslavement, lethal force is most often appropriate unless the antagonist(s) allow a non-lethal option, usually by surrender. However, in circumstances `where the antagonist(s) can be subdued non-lethally with minimal risk to the hero or those the hero is protecting, then lethal force is unacceptable. If a hero is stepping in to stop some bullies from beating a smaller child, lethal force is not appropriate (although it may become so if one of the antagonists draws a lethal weapon or similarly escalates the situation to life-and-death).

The potential for incarceration and rehabilitation should also be taken into account. In a situation like the Equestrian Wasteland where Littlepip and her friends are operating, there is no law of the land, no justice system outside that of isolated communities that do not have the capacity to incarcerate the criminals outside their walls. In an alternate setting, where incarceration and rehabilitation are viable options and have the chance for positive results, a hero should make greater effort to subdue an antagonist and deliver them into such a system so long as doing so doesn’t significantly increase the likelihood of the antagonist harming others.

In the Batman comic series, Batman chooses not to kill, instead subduing (often with extreme violence) criminals and other antagonists so that they may be incarcerated. The fact that rehabilitation is almost always ineffective, and that the criminals escape, are the fault of the justice system and the institutions involved. This inevitably leads to the criminals killing more people and causing more havoc. As an advocate of personal responsibility, the criminals and they alone are responsible for their actions. If a criminal commits murder, it isn’t the fault of the hero (whether it be Batman or a police officer) who didn’t shoot him in the head, it is the fault of the criminal alone.

However, what about those who are incapable of making moral choices due to impaired mentality, such as the incurably insane? Doesn’t the responsibility for their actions falls on those who do take on the responsibility of dealing with them and then refuse to eliminate the problem. Is the blood of the Joker’s victims on Batman’s hands?

In Fallout: Equestria, Diamond Tiara is faced with a moral dilemma: should she release those imprisoned in the Shattered Hoof correctional facility when leaving them their meant they would starve to death, but releasing them would mean turning them loose on a devastated civilization incapable of dealing with the threat they posed? What should the hero do if she knows the one who needs to be saved will become the villain tomorrow? In such a situation, policy will often become the deciding factor, but personal responsibility dictates that it is the ex-convict’s choice, not the hero’s, to continue being the criminal should he or she live. However, if a person chooses not to save someone, that blood is on her, and that is not the actions of a hero.

In my Stalliongrad game, one of the most haunting locations that the wastelanders visited was The House of Kindness, a Ministry of Peace hub where the upper floors served as an insane asylum. One of the threats in The House of Kindness were robots that had been reprogrammed to administer a painless, lethal toxin (via tranquilizer guns) to any living beings within the building. When the final day started, one of the nurses was faced with having to decide what to do about the wards of the asylum. Realizing that the Stables were not equipped to handle them and that introducing them to a Stable was to put everyone within it at risk, but unwilling to release them to die horribly in the radiation blanketing the city, she made a very hard choice. It was the merciful one.

photograph by Eddie Adams

The above picture is one of the most famous photographs in history: the execution of a Vietcong guerilla by a general during the Tet Offensive. The general was South Veitnamese National Police Chief Nguyễn Ngọc Loan. The prisoner was Bay Hop, a mass-murder whose death count included slaughtering the wife and six children of a South Veitnamese colonel that very morning just up the road from where this photograph was taken. Loan remarked immediately afterwards that the execution was an act of justice, stating “They killed many of my men and many of our people.”

When the American people saw this photograph, they did not see the context. They did not see ditches filled with the bodies of civilians unfortunate enough to meet Bay Hops and his guerillas, nor the photographers and civilian journalists that were slain in cold blood for trying to tell the world about the Vietcong. Instead, they saw an iconic image of the excess and brutality of the war.
Jason Fransisco, “War Photography in the Twentieth Century: A Short Critical History”:

For many viewers, the picture was also climactic, proclaiming the horror and immorality of the war, signifying its barbarity and its incoherence.

This photograph stoked a backlash against General Loan and against the war, even by the people of a country that largely supported (and can be argued to still largely support) the death penalty. People react emotionally and even irrationally when confronted with violence.

The photographer, Eddie Adams, praise General Nguyễn as a hero, and spent the rest of his life regretting taking the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph. In his words:

”The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. What the photograph didn't say was, "What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American soldiers?”

Was this justice? I believe, unequivocally, that the answer is “yes”… or at least as close to justice as possible without descending into inhumane barbarism and brutality. Was it heroic? The man was barefoot, bound, captured… he was at the mercy of General Nguyễn. He didn’t deserve mercy, and General Nguyễn was under no obligation to offer him any. There is no reason to believe he could have been reformed. If he was ever to escape, he would murder again.

But at the same time, he was not an imminent threat to anyone. Taking his life did not immediately protect or save anyone else. He could have been imprisoned for the rest of his life. Would that have been better? Would it have even been more merciful, especially given the conditions that were likely to be his imprisonment? And would his imprisonment serve as fuel for further terrorism and murder? Would he be able to extend influence and twist people to his ideals as long as he lived, even from a cell? Or, conversely, would his death make him a martyr to the Vietcong?

And finally, in a country ravaged by war, the food and resources needed to keep Bay Hop alive might have meant someone else went hungry and cold, and possibly perished. Are you still being a good person when the mercy you give to the undeserving becomes a cruelty to the innocent?

Littlepip, faced with the same choice, makes the same decision:

art by JohnNoz

Littlepip wasn’t kind; she wasn’t merciful. At least not to the mass-murdering crusader whom she put down. You could definitely argue she was to all those who would have been his future victims. What she did was justice, and she did it to save those who he threatened just by being allowed to live. If you are to agree with Eddie Adams, she was a hero. But unlike Blackjack in the quoted passage above, in that instant, Littlepip was not a “good pony”. Or, at least, she didn’t consider herself such. She sacrificed being a good pony to do what was just, necessary and (at least arguably) what was right.

A small number of people have attempted to re-interpret Littlepip as a Villain Protagonist – mostly people with a vested interest in tearing down the story, or whose opinions were derived from such sources. However, as much as someone would have to twist or ignore large portions of the story to justify this viewpoint, is it entirely without merit? Littlepip almost always acts to save lives and protect people, behaving in accordance to the call of a hero, forced to use violence to solve problems because any other option gambles with innocent lives. Almost always.

Take the case of Old Olneigh. On the bridge over Old Olneigh, Littlepip engages in a sneak attack on monsters that are later revealed to be sentient people. The monsters in question were in general known to be genocidal towards ponykind, and a group of these monsters had just launched a surprise attack where they targeted Littlepip and her companions as well as others, resulting in the loss of several lives. Calamity’s would have been one of them had it not been for protective spell.

However, at the time there was no evidence that this specific community of the monsters were involved in any attacks against others. All Littlepip knew was that the territorial nature of the monsters would drive them to attack the group if they tried to sneak into Old Olneigh and failed, that they monsters were extremely deadly in close combat, and that they were between her friends and the medical supplies she hoped would cure the grievous injury Calamity sustained in the previously mentioned attack.

The rare failure to act heroically in a dangerous situation does not make for a “villain protagonist”. Littlepip is tarnished, imperfect hero, yes – and perhaps one with no right claim being a good pony – but she is still unquestionably a hero. Additionally, these failures also add a deeper layer of grey to the character of Littlepip – a character who is far from perfect.

Homage, Fallout: Equestria:

The true mark of a hero is not that they never fail, never fall down. I’ve said it a hundred times and I’ll say it again: the one great truth of the wasteland is that every pony has done something they regret.

“No, you know a true hero by what they do after they fall. By the way they pick themselves back up again, shake themselves off, and throw themselves back into that good fight. Despite what they done, and despite the bleak prospects of a happy ending.

As Homage states in the chapter “Cold Dawn Light”, being a hero doesn’t mean never making a mistake or never doing the wrong thing. The true measure of a hero is in continuing to be a hero even after you have made mistakes, and in learning from your mistakes and trying to be better.

Or as Watcher says it perhaps even better in Somber’s Project Horizons:

You do everything you can to make up for it, knowing that you’ll never succeed in getting rid of the guilt. You devote yourself to spending every second trying to do better despite the fact that it will never be enough. And you pray with every single good act you do that somehow, when your life is over, that you came close to making up for the wrong you committed.

While the view of Littlepip being an actual “villain protagonist” is unsupportable and easily debunked (with other arguments predictably either revealing a desire for a protagonist who is not willing sacrifice being a good pony, or engaging in morally repugnant values such as advocating the freedoms of rapists and slavers over the rights of their victims), the in-world social perception of Littlepip as a villain by some people within the setting can certainly be justified.

It takes Littlepip a long time to learn from her mistake at Old Olneigh. Less to learn from others. But before the end, she was striving to do better. And she acknowledged how the world could see her as a villain, not just for the times she failed to act heroically, but for the times she succeeded – because being seen as the villain was a price she was willing to pay to be Equestria hero.

Littlepip, Fallout: Equestria:

Your people have every reason to hate me, but I really am trying to do the right thing, the best I can. I’m sorry that I haven’t been able to do better.

After this, the pegasi will have plenty of reason to hate me too. To save Equestria, I’ve become the villain of the piece.

art by Mistermech

One final thought:

Few things will muddy the moral waters more than an appeal to “the greater good”. But at the same time, a hero may face a situation where risking the life or wellbeing of another is actually a proper choice, and even a necessary one, to save lives.

from Thoughts of a Soldier-Ethicist:

Finally, leaders must incorporate the rights of potentially affected noncombatants into their course-of-action analyses. To some in our profession, the leadership mantra “Mission First, People Always” is interpreted as “Mission First, Soldiers Always,” thus overlooking our duty as military professionals to protect noncombatants. The fact is, every human being possesses the right not to be killed, unless by his own choice to violate the rights of someone who retains her rights, he forfeits his own right. This is not a binary condition; people can forfeit some of their rights claim, according to their participation in a rights violation. Thus, civilians can lose some of their right to not be killed if they support the rights-violating activities of enemy combatants. For example, a noncombatant who allows enemy combatants to assemble in her house forfeits much of her right to not be killed, so it is less of a moral wrong to take action against morally legitimate targets that results in her death.

However, while there may objectively be such a thing as “acceptable losses”, this does not in any way absolve the hero of his or her choices. Just as not being the best option doesn’t prevent a course of action from being a right course of action, an action that is “less wrong” is still wrong. Personal responsibility remains. This is arguably the hardest sacrifice and the heaviest burden a hero may ever have to bear.

Will you be a villain or a hero? A hero or a good pony? The wasteland is calling, and it will demand an answer.

Ante up.

art by Mistermech

Thank you for reading.

Joss Whedon:

The thing about a hero, is even when it doesn't look like there's a light at the end of the tunnel, he's going to keep digging, he's going to keep trying to do right and make up for what's gone before, just because that's who he is.

Report Kkat · 6,807 views · Story: Fallout: Equestria ·
Comments ( 132 )

You know my opinion on rights and freedoms and heroism: I believe that there's no objective truth and no objective 'moral', while all 'morals', 'rights' and 'freedoms' are something that a particular civilisation chooses for themselves at a certain point of their history; and they judge the past and the future according to their current morals, rights, and freedoms, even if they change (And they do change at least every century). I would make more points. I would question the nature of a hero, for one.

But I promised to you not to get into a morals discussion. So I won't. I'll just leave, and respect your opinion, if only because it is well-thought, correctly structured, and holds interesting conclusions.

~Josh

:rainbowhuh: Intriguing thoughts. Definitely a worthwhile read.

I just got passed Arbu tonight, and I'm conflicted on it. I adore Littlepip and part of me was cheering her on, even as she slaughtered an entire town, because fuck those evil pricks. But then I thought about what I was cheering for, and now I question what it says about me. And it makes me scared of Pip to an extent (but then, I'm scared of Twilight with how often she thinks it's okay to play God...and I'm talking canon Twilight here):twilightblush:

Always impressed by you, Kkat. Very well thought out.

I honestly don't know what to say. But it was a real eye opener... Made me think of this. (Maybe because I just Mcconnelled it but that's to much of a jokey thing to talk about here.)

The topic is hardly a black and white issue. Morals and values, instinct and conscience-they all have bearing on how a person (or pony, if you wish) recognizes a hero. Although I consider a hero as someone who upholds those who are oppressed and persecutes the evil, I still consider mercy and pacifism. Anyway, still a great read as expected from you, Kkat, and this'll keep the gears in my head spinning for many sleepless nights :).

Oh, dang it, Kkat. There you go blowing a theme of my fic I was going to use! :derpytongue2:

Sadly for my protagonist, Prancer, he sees the barbarity of the wasteland first... talon(?). A thing that was going to be brought up is one of your points; firing first. Taking the preemptive action is a problem that he will have to come to terms with one way or another, as he is no hero, he's a Talon.

As mentioned in my latest chapter, and I'll summarize to spare the spoilers :ajsmug:, sometimes it's your job to do it. Being a mercenary, he may not always have that "moral equality" of a nation's combatants. Some fights in his lifetime may not be black and white, but grey on grey.

But, to my point I'd like to add; sometimes stories aren't about the notion of who or what the heroes are, nor justifications for action; as well as what is wrong or right about violence, it never being a good thing in the end. In fact, violence is one of the things that must be used most carefully in my opinion. It's all about how the violence of a story drives a plot or character growth forward that is most important.

I've written some abhorrent things, and I hope that they all reflected well on the development of the story as a whole, as that is the aspiration of all writing for this community.

But, that's just what I try to portray for you in my own works. Because, not everypony is able to be a hero.

The real moral murkiness of the situation comes from the fact that the bandits knew something that Littlepip and her friends didn’t, and that something removed the option of surrender.

In the end, that just makes the whole deal an unfortunate accident. It happens.

The potential for incarceration and rehabilitation should also be taken into account. In a situation like the Equestrian Wasteland where Littlepip and her friends are operating, there is no law of the land, no justice system outside that of isolated communities that do not have the capacity to incarcerate the criminals outside their walls.

That's a very good point, which I've also made in my own story:

He'd killed before... or, at least, he didn't feel much difference between killing rabid Canterlot ghouls and mad raiders. But that last mare had really shaken him. He'd been judge, jury and executioner, all in one. That wasn't the part that really bothered him, though. The part that bothered him was that it didn't matter to the rest of the world. There was no authority to take care of them. Ponies like Capsworth welcomed it. The wastelands couldn't care less who died, by whose hooves.

-musings of Lemon Frisk, in The Daily Unlife

Of course, the character who experiences this is a ghoul who never left Canterlot before. The last time he had actually seen the land was when it was still governed by law, and the only dangers he had encountered up to that point were mindless monsters. It wasn't surprising he had a tough time handling one that talked back to him.

Littlepip is tarnished, imperfect hero, yes – and perhaps one with no right claim being a good pony – but she is still unquestionably a hero. Additionally, these failures also add a deeper layer of grey to the character of Littlepip – a character who is far from perfect.

Honestly, perfect heroes rarely make interesting characters. Frodo had his Ring, too, after all. (Admitted, the Ring was a sneaky way to give a character flaws without attributing said flaws to the character itself, but rather to an outside force. Still worked, though.)

An A+ essay in my opinion.

PC

I agree with you completely, Kkat.

A very interesting piece. I am kinda disappointed that you didn't talk about how Calamity met Little Pip, where his 'policy' of shooting raiders on site almost killed an innocent pony.

1924637

That was amongst several additional good bits of discussion that I considered adding. But I edited the essay down to just the above as the post was already looking huge. :twilightblush:

Well said. Some people could take some valuable lessons from this if they know where to look.

1924572 Yeah Twi can be scary, and so can Littlepip. Any character with power can be. But, no 'cheering' for Littlepip there, isn't really wrong. Those ponies DID deserve it. If not quite the far to extreme way it happened. I am fully on Steelhooves side in this. Littlepip was perfectly justified in taking out the murdering cannibals, but not in doing so out of rage. Not in letting the decision come solely from her emotions and acting as brutal as she did in doing it.


1924624 Well The Ring thing depends on whether you see the ring as an active corrupting influence. Or if the corruption was passive, simply the result of a persons own flaws and lust for power focusing on the power of the Ring.


1924667 Ohhhh, really like that last bit. And yes it is another point in Li'lpip's favor. That rather then simply reacting, simply going around stopping what she can, knowing that it will never be enough, she actually looks at WHY, at the root cause for things. She looks at what bout the world lets things like this happen, and tries to change THAT, remove the source. Treat the disease, not just the symptoms.


Kkat, well no surprise to anyone here but, fully agree with you. This was a really great post, as usual. Hmmmm, wish I could add more to this then simply "I agree" but, really you said most of what I would have, way WAY better then I could have.

Few things. No I don't think Littlpip ever stopped being a 'good pony'. Where there times she didn't act like one? Yes. Arbu, Autumn. But, I don't think those changed the fact that, overall, she WAS a good pony. Not necessarily 'nice' but good. When she took those actions, she wasn't doing it for her own sake, but to save others. Arbu, was the more grey of the two to me, and only because she acted purely out of rage, didn't actually think about it. Autumn, she did that cold, calculating, because she knew it was the best of several bad choices. It wasn't really 'good' but it was the best she could do, and she did it, sacrificed a tiny part of herself, sacrificed being a good pony for that moment, for the sake of all his future victims. You are right, that moment wasn't nice, wasn't good, but it was heroic. That said, I still see her as a 'good pony'. Because that is what she tries to be.

On a related note, the one bit I do kind of disagree with is

In such a situation, policy will often become the deciding factor, but personal responsibility dictates that it is the ex-convict’s choice, not the hero’s, to continue being the criminal should he or she live. However, if a person chooses not to save someone, that blood is on her, and that is not the actions of a hero.

This deal. How sparing someone who goes on to kill others does not make the one doing the sparring at fault.

Now, yes the core of any blame is entirely on the one committing the actions. BUT, someone who knowingly allows them to do so, DOES share some of the blame. With DT, yes she made the right call, because there was a chance the ponies she freed might not do anything, it wasn't a certainty, and given what was going on out there, it wouldn't have made things much worse anyway. But, using Autumn as an example. You KNOW, know with absolute certainty that letting them go will lead to them causing more pain, suffering and death, and you do so., to me, some of that blood would be on her hooves. For not stopping him when she could. It would be no different then walking right past a raider chasing down an unarmed pony and doing nothing to help them.

Ideally, yes she would be able to stop him without killing him, but that wasn't an option. The only way to stop him, was to kill him.

Sorry Khat, but: Too long, didn't read.

This post, and especially your Batman example, perfectly lays out why I view the assignment of blame as an unreliable heuristic. The world works by causal chains, not blame which is arbitrarily pooled into one or two of the parties within the chain. Criminals committing murder is the fault of every force which enables them to do so (including themselves, but not limited to it), and of every force which could have prevented them from doing so and didn't. Some of those forces may play a bigger part in it than others—if a particular gun manufacturer had refused to sell to the criminals, there would have been plenty of alternatives, while if a police officer had killed them, there wouldn't—but trying to place all the blame purely at their feet strikes me as a massive oversimplification.

Dang that was a good essay Kkat! I was dreading reading all of that, but I am glad I did. You really touched on issues I never really bothered to think about. I will not engage in heavy discussion, but this was certainly a fun and interesting blog to read. Thank you for taking the time to make it. :heart:

1924787
I completely agree with that, that if the hero lets someone live who she/he knows will kill again, they are just as guilty in the murder. This is one reason that I grew to really dislike Blackjack as a character.

Project Horizon spoilers: Blackjack had a moment similar to what Littlepip did with Autumn. She made a deal with Sanguine, a mass murderer who has tortured ponies very cruel ways, to deal with a common threat. However, Blackjack refused to stab him in the back or kill him right afterwards. In fact, she was literally going to let him just walk away after doing everything he did simply because killing him 'wouldn't be the right thing to do.' I so badly wanted one of her companions to kill him and smack some sense into her. Though conveniently he died anyways so she kept a clean conscious and didn't have to deal with the outcome of that decision.

1924572

That's what makes that chapter, and the one following it, so great...It makes you think and study the actions of the characters. On the one hand, we can say 'well she was killing cannibals, that was right.' and on the other you can say 'but she also left severl children orphans, kids who didn't deserve to lose their parents/". It something that I wish comics like the 'Punisher' or action films tackle more.

All this talk about killing vs. not killing as a hero is making me think of my own fic that I am making. In that, I am having the character take a Kenshin approach to killing and swearing off it. I think this will help me out a lot

Well, this was a damn eye-opener. Definitely a good assessment on the nature of Heroism and the trope of "Good is Not Nice/Good is Not Soft". Nice little morning read, Kkat. Makes me wanna get into roleplaying in the wastes.

#21 · Mar 14th, 2014 · · ·

Holy hell, dude. The story goes even deeper than it seems. :twistnerd:
One thing I need to applaud about this, especially, is that it's a blog entry, on a site about technicolor horses, and still is material I recommended to my art teacher. So...good on ya! :pinkiesmile:

That's why I prefer gray & grey morality over black & white. B&W is just boring, the really interesting characters are the ones morally imperfect. That's what makes Littlepip one of my favourite characters, and that's what makes fics such as FO:E or As Twilight Falls one of my favourites. And why Silver Spoon became recently my favourite character to write.

Damn. Just, damn.
Now I feel kinda bad for killing all those bandits in my Fallout Equestria: Skyfire game... Especially considering I fired first. :fluttershbad:

Damn you, string of criticals!

I mean, they did kinda shoot me, but they weren't going to give us a chance to surrender. Right? :unsuresweetie:

1924619 Just a quick point I want to make on this. As a mercenary, sometimes your jobs will come out of gray and gray, and back into black and white. Unfortunately, sometimes you'll be on the wrong side of it. That's the danger of committing violence for money. Sometimes (perhaps even often) it won't be justified. Perhaps that's another thing you can have your Prancer learn along his journey in the wastes.

*claps*

Damn good essay. Well done.

The definition of a hero is something that can, and does, change from person to person.
My definition, for example, is that a hero is someone who can and will do what i can not. Someone who has the willingness, strength, and perseverance to never give up even when the table gives them no visible chance for success.

And a hero is only as good as the friends he or she keeps.
I will leave this part to the individual interpretation. :twistnerd:

I can guarantee for a fact, that no one who commented on this essay actually read it the whole way through.

People with negative opinions will always just ignore what they disagree with. So I'm here to speak on their behalf, and say that just because everyone who commented agrees with you, doesn't mean you're right.

And the point is that heroism is SELF-sacrifice. YOUR desires come last, and killing is only a last resort when any attempts to subdue fail to make their opposition cease and desist. It's better to kill yourself for the sake of turning someone good than it is to kill someone that can be turned good because you fear for your life.

And besides, Korval already did a way better version of this.

It's kind of true in the real world. Our countries done things that most feel that they shouldn't have done and shame about it. But do we really had in choice in war? The answer is no. If we want to keep our freedom then we had to fight for it. Even that means we there will be blood on our hands. But different between heroes and villains are actions, and the more you do good or ad things tells if you are a hero or a villain. At less that's what I believe :derpytongue2:.

From reading this I would say I'm not a good person. I believe that is how one should act and that is how I try to be, save one aspect. I believe justice should come before mercy. Their crimes must be punished. If that means I am not a good person then I can live with that.

1924854

The world works by causal chains, not blame which is arbitrarily pooled into one or two of the parties within the chain. Criminals committing murder is the fault of every force which enables them to do so (including themselves, but not limited to it), and of every force which could have prevented them from doing so and didn't. Some of those forces may play a bigger part in it than others—if a particular gun manufacturer had refused to sell to the criminals, there would have been plenty of alternatives, while if a police officer had killed them, there wouldn't—but trying to place all the blame purely at their feet strikes me as a massive oversimplification.

I can understand that viewpoint, having once held it myself. But while causal chains are in play, ultimately a person alone is responsible for the choices he or she makes. Outside factors can limit a person's choices, or pile on mitigating circumstances, even leaving them with no "good" options. But when someone makes a choice, that choice is nobody's responsibility but their own. Other links in a causal chain might bear responsibility for the consequences, but absolutely no other factor than the person making the choice is responsible for the choice that they make.

My viewpoint is this:

A man shoots another man.

The gun manufacturer may make a firearm. A shady dealer might sell it in a back alley. A cop may have chosen not to shoot the criminal three weeks ago. Mommy and daddy may have been abusive or neglectful. Denver may have lost the superbowl, and now he owes money for betting on him. The other man may have been wearing a jersey for the opposing team.

Yes, all those other things that are not the man pulling the trigger do help manufacture the situation and even the mindset of the man. But ultimately, the only one pulling that trigger is the man who chooses to pull the trigger. No one else -- not mommy or daddy or the victim or the Seahawks or anybody else -- is the one pulling that trigger. No one else is responsible for that choice.

Kkat #32 · Mar 14th, 2014 · · 1 ·

1925162

That was uncalled for... and, in part, objectively incorrect.

I highly suspect that most of them (although clearly not 1924825) did read it all the way through. Don't guarantee what you assume to be true. Don't assume nobody else read something just because you disagree with it. You do your fellow bronies a disservice, and make yourself look bad in the process.

If anyone is to be accused of failing to read, look first to yourself. Many of the comments here do voice disagreement, in part or in whole. Including the very first one.

People with negative opinions tend to be the most vocal, especially with the anonymity offered by the internet. Dissenters are loudest, especially when they are in a severe minority, making up for lack of voices with volume.

Thank you, however, for taking the time to create an account just so you could post on my blog. :twilightsmile:

Hmm, overall, you raise a variety of points, views, and certainly lay out a very unique perspective on this matter.

However, I do disagree on one point. You mention, that someone growing up, in rough paraphrasing, has certain choices, I believe it was. I strongly disagree here, because of the aspects that the mind is not fully comprehensive of what they are doing. I'm not saying its a free pass, or that its right or wrong. What I am saying is that a mind young, is pre-conditioned to learn and mimic, and in doing so if its given a reward from the pre-hardwired figure it has associated with a parent, that is where the problem is.

The raider child, a big point of talk here, sadly, was conditioned to be that way by others. Just as in places you have kids learning piracy, or other ways that are turning them into modern day janissaries, or worse. A childs mind is set to learn, and to mimic until it reaches a certain saturation point physically, when you break the cycle, and introduce certain concepts, well, there is no changing what comes next. You can't, because the individual is not either willing to change, or unable to see the wrong in perception they are doing.

Arbu, no matter how you look at it. Arbu would have done this to anyone. It could have been someone else, but this was a powderkeg akin to waco. Whomever dealt with it, was going to deal with the armchair quarterbacks that are the dj's that are going to tear into anyone like fox news on a juicy democrat scandal. And half the problem here, with the whole is the fact they are only willing to excuse what could have been by virtue of firsthand knowledge here of little pip.

Comment posted by Greener223224 deleted Mar 14th, 2014

Really good points and I always thought LittlePips actions were always justified and she is a hero. Though one of the tougher situations that can be used as a example of what a hero has to go through is when Blackjack has to decide whether or not she has to put down those foals or even her whole Stable. Who's to say that she's justified or is she a villianous hero.

it took me two hours to read this its not that long im just crazy but still nice work:pinkiehappy: I was debating that myself about little pip

Woo Heroes shoutout.

I find it interesting you pointed out people who view Littlepip as a villain-protagonist as I have a character who in-universe sees Littlepip in such a way. If I am correct Equestrian Narrator has yet to reach the chapter in which it is elaborated on, but Platinum Haze is none too fond of LP, for fairly obvious reasons. Still, that doesn't mean Littlepip is a villain (or that I think she is) but just goes to show that someone being a "hero" or not generally depends on your point of view, and everyone is biased towards their own self interest.

As for the content of the essay. I'm of a mixed opinion. I think it's moral for people to act in such way to protect someone's right to life and liberty from being violated, even using lethal force if necessary, however I am not certain that makes those people "heroes" in the classical sense. I guess it depends on how one defines what a hero is...

I'd continue, but I don't really want to show my entire hand on the subject, given "Heroes" is supposedly the theme of my story, and you know, spoilers.

Good essay though.

One point I especially appreciated about this essay is regarding the relationship between mercy, good character, and heroism. While mercy and good character are wonderful things to have in an ideal world, you are right (at least in my opinion) to say that such things are luxuries or secondary objectives. They are not strictly necessary for heroism and acts of mercy can be at times unaffordable for a variety of reasons. I find that in terms of actions, the ultimate purpose of a hero is to minimize the harm to innocents using whatever means are necessary.

As much as it may bother some on this blog and possibly others, results always come first in heroism. The means are only relevant because the results produced vary somewhat by the means used. Save good people first, worry about being (or just looking) nice later.

Kkat #39 · Mar 14th, 2014 · · 1 ·

1925249

So you are someone from an outside site with a negative opinion who felt an urge beyond your self control to come to this site and create an account for the sole purpose of telling us that people with negative opinions aren't vocal and don't feel the need to speak up?

:rainbowlaugh:

Humor aside, your second comment has been removed due to inflammatory content.

That was the best definitions of a hero that I have read. Going into the murky waters of violence and coming out with a pretty clear picture. My applause for posting it.

1924787
I think that's the side I largely come down on. I think part of my fear though is that I can see myself doing the same thing, because I'm an emotional as opposed to rational person, with a bit of an explosive temper that likes to try to help people and loves people, in the abstract sense at least, even if some people I really and truly dislike (to the point of almost focused misanthropy), and I do sometimes confuse vengeance with justice and punishment with deterrent. I hope I wouldn't go as far as Littlepip did in her situation, but I do think I probably would have hurt someone at least. And I don't like that thought. My temper makes fills me with self-loathing sometimes, and I hate the idea of it ever being set off because I know what's happened before when it has.

Basically, I'm Pip, but I want to be Velvet Remedy instead.

1924928
That is a dang good point. Sometimes, in extreme situations, doing what's "right" at the time has consequences you never intended down the line.

Comment posted by Swan Song deleted Mar 14th, 2014

Damn, this was a good read.

I agree with the blog post's views of morality on a whole, but there's one thing that I'd like to touch upon more: the "victims" of a hero's judgments.

A lot of this essay is written in regards to the perspective of the protagonist, how they view themselves compared to a moral standard, and what they do to try to make up for their mistakes. I like Watcher's take, because he implies that, when lives are lost, you can pretty much never make up for a mistake, especially not to someone on the business end of it.

Sure, as a hero who makes a mistake, you can at least repair your reputation, to re-establish your reliability/credibility/intent to those you hope to work with in the future. But those hellhounds? They're dead. Forever. Everything that they ever were, and anything that they could ever be, becomes nothing. And to them in that moment, it doesn't matter how much good Littlepip has done in the past, because the one time she decided to fuck up was the one time that they were affected by it.

The weight of our moral choices may be a sliding scale to us, but to those that are impacted by our choices, it is only in the moment we influence them that our morality is sealed forever.

Comment posted by Swan Song deleted Mar 14th, 2014

1925249 Way to cherry pick her response. Frankly I'm more convinced that you read less than we have, considering you failed to acknowledge the dozens of dissenting negative opinions in this entire thread, even when their existence was shoved in your face.

1924557 Sounds like moral nihilism (morality does not exist to any objective degree; rather, we invent morals for ourselves and for others simply for the sake of maintaining our civilization).

1924889 Agreed. "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." But, as was stated earlier, the best-written heroes can sometimes make mistakes and struggle with their choices. I think the point of Blackjack constantly being forced to make those choices has a lot to do with the fact that she is almost, perpetually, struggling with her morality. Sometimes, we simply don't know enough to say for certain whether the choice we're making is the right one or not.

Before I say anything, I am going to say that I am an active duty Canadian Soldier.
The second thing, is that no soldier who has ever seen combat, will ever, ever let anyone refer to them as a hero.

During my initial training, we had a class, with a 'test' afterwards. The class, was based on moral ambiguity.
The test had a bunch of questions, some of which made no real sense (If there were 10 people tied to a train track by a mad philosopher, and the only way you could save them, would be by pushing a single person in front of the train, killing the one person, but saving the rest, Would you do it?), and other questions that really had to make you stop and think (Same as above, but that single person is your closest friend.).

There were no wrong answers. There were also no right answers. In wartime, in my profession, and in the case of protagonists like littlepip and black jack, we have seconds, or less to make these decisions. Do we sacrifice one, to save one hundred?
When it comes down to the wire, There's usually no time to think about implications. You don't know if that one guy you are about to kill has a family waiting for him to return. You don't know how many friends he has, ready to congratulate him on returning home.
After the fact, is when you start to think about that.
That's when people will start getting PTSD. Because they think they made the wrong choice, or they made no choice at all.

There is no right choice. There is no way that littlepip could have acted differently. In those moments, you have to trust your gut. If it says shoot, you pull the trigger. If it says push, you push the guy in front of the train. If it says sacrifice, then you jump on the grenade.

In my profession, we sign away our rights. We give up our right to life, food, water, etc. We do it to keep people away from our homelands.
That being said, we aren't heroes. At times, we're barely people. We make choices that affect the lives of a huge amount of people. When we come back, the people always have a black and white view of us. Some think of us as saviors. Others, find us to be monsters. Neither and both are right. We all do things we aren't proud of.


I'll be honest, I think I started ranting half way through that, and lost my train of thought.
Good blog, Kkat. I completely agree with all of it's content.

1925386
I see it differently, not as nihilism. But, as I have said, I will not start a moral debate here. You have your opinion. I have mine. Kkat has hers. Every person here have their opinion. They are not often the same. And that's all right. Let's not try to persuade one another, knowing it's beyond any point. Okay? :twilightsmile:

1925393 Oh, my apologies, I wasn't trying to persuade you or anything like that, just to understand you. I actually agree with your assessment of morality. :P

hi hi

When considering morality, I believe it is important not to get caught up in black-and-white thinking. That seemingly ubiquitous law of nature, the actions of animals to kill or be killed, is at best morally neutral. The best available option is not necessarily the best possible option. The lesser of two evils is still an evil, and one must never confuse it for being good, and certainly must never except it as being the best.

Never stop believing in it, never stop trying to do better.

Building a house can take months of strenuous labor and no small amount of architectural expertise, while burning one to the ground can be accomplished with scarcely a thought. In my experience, the right thing to do is rarely the easiest thing to do. And once someone start to tell themselves that the easy way out is the right way, they become more than capable of committing the same horrors as those they fight.

What happens when justice demands that two sides annihilate the other? You have something quite a lot like Vietnam. Where both sides killed hundreds of thousands of civilians. (To say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of children born with birth defects as a result of chemical warfare.)

In war, the first victim tends to be the truth.

Air force captain, Brian Wilson, who carried out bomb-damage assessments in free-fire zones throughout the delta, saw the results firsthand. "It was the epitome of immorality…One of the times I counted bodies after an air strike—which always ended with two napalm bombs which would just fry everything that was left—I counted sixty-two bodies. In my report I described them as so many women between fifteen and twenty-five and so many children—usually in their mothers' arms or very close to them—and so many old people." When he later read the official tally of dead, he found that it listed them as 130 VC killed.

One of the big distinctions between justice and revenge is that justice uses the least harmful means possible, not every available means. People who commit crimes do not give up their rights and more than the people who punish them through similar means. One of the things that elevates justice above revenge is that it attempts to weigh the rights of criminal as well, it shields them from that endless morally neutral cycle of kill or be killed. (Even though they may not realize it, or truly appreciate it.)

In my experience, choosing who lives and who dies like that isn't justice, at best its called triage.

---
Also: You can say that a person is solely responsible for their action, but saying that others are responsible for the consequences conflates that distinction. That distinction is already made between the similar but different concepts of cause, responsibility, and blame. Allow me to turn the situation on its head.

A man enslaves another man. Whips him when he disobeys, and threatens him with guns and hounds should he try to escape. Fearing punishment, the other man chooses not to escape. Is he responsible for his own slavery?

A young girl steps out into the street. A man is about to run her over, so he swerves his car, crashing head-on into another vehicle that he didn't even see. His action was to swerve. Is he a murderer?

It is generally considered that an agreement made while under duress is legally invalid. Is a man who signs a contract while a gun is pointed at his head responsible?

Responsibility is not a zero-sum game, which makes it problematic to intuitively grasp, but it is very possible to share responsibility without diffusing responsibility.

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