photo credit: kygp

In a recent interview on Fox News, General Petraeus advocated that America stand by her values with respect to how detainees are treated and processed in our legal system. In a brief review and discussion after airing the interview, two news reporters discussed various points the General had made. Regarding the comment on “embracing” and “operationalizing” our values, one of them remarked that in times of war our values are and should be “alterable and fungible”.

In other words, when engaged in military combat we should be justified in skirting the law and ignoring the rules.

Frankly, this is a stance supported by numerous historical examples, one of which the reporter himself cited. And while a case may be made regarding the suppression of such value-based actions during emergencies, the real question we must ask ourselves is: where do we draw the line?

Put in context, this question becomes extremely important if we are to stand by any values at all. The history of our nation is one of nearly perpetual warfare—especially during the last century. America’s military has been engaged in one combat zone after another, whether or not their presence was duly authorized by Congress as an act of war. Given this set of bloody circumstances, we must ask ourselves if in a state of perpetual warfare we are to tolerate lawlessness in the name of security, and subversion in the name of spreading democracy.

The United States of America have long been involved in some form of warfare, and thus the reporter’s comments should raise a high level of concern for those who agree with the General. If America is to abide by any set of principles, to what extent will we allow them to be ignored? And how principled can we claim to be when we only stand by our values when it’s convenient and expedient to do so?

Our principles are best demonstrated in times of difficulty and moral ambiguity—otherwise they are simply propaganda-laden platitudes offered without challenge or validation. Thus, the excuse of war should not be used to justify ignoring our values, especially since our constant state of warfare would allow for it to be used at any time. Rather, America should demonstrate her integrity and virtue by sticking to her principles at all times and in all places—even (and especially) when it’s easy not to.


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