I'm kinda confused by the world we live in, especially life in the United States, and hoping someone can make sense of what I am observing.

So, if I understand correctly, the president of the United States can declare war on a nation. Before the war officially begins, the Pope, or the president himself, will say something along the lines of "God, please bless our nation and keep our troops safe". When the war begins, it is common for our troops to kill the troops with whom we are at war with.

So my questions are:

  1. It appears it is ok for the president to grant permission to declare war and, as a result, order the killing of other people. Why doesn't the president go to jail for committing murder?

  2. When the Pope and/or president asks God for protection in war, I thought God was against killing?

It's all very confusing to me. Thanks for any insights you can provide.

closed as unclear what you're asking by user2953, Swami Vishwananda, jeroenk, James Kingsbery, Joseph Weissman Sep 9 '15 at 18:27

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    It's not Obama who kills people personally, and I don't think that muslim god is against killing, say. – sure Sep 4 '15 at 19:30
  • To quote Friedrich the Great, King of Prussia: "Dear God, I don't ask you for your help, but please don't help that dogs arse on the other side either". On what occassion did you hear a pope asking God for protection in war? – gnasher729 Sep 4 '15 at 22:26
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    Before you get too far down this path, you do realize that not all killing is murder. War, at least theoretically, is always self-defense or defense of another life, and killing in those cases is legal and may be morally mandatory. – user9166 Sep 5 '15 at 0:06
  • "Murder" is usually taken to have a different meaning than simply "to kill" in English. It usually means something like "to kill an innocent person," or "to kill against certain regulations." Also, I'm not clear in your question where the Pope comes in. – James Kingsbery Sep 8 '15 at 15:48

Sorry to rant, but I am going to.

What is wrong here is not in the logic of the statements you question, it is in the weird attachment a modernity shaped by Christianity has made to feminine morality in the name of a patriarchal God.

God is not against killing. Even in the most rigid version of Evangelical Christianity, there is no logic to be had in this notion. Jesus condemns wealth a dozen times as often as violence, and never mentions killing.

The early Church thought the world was ending soon, and we might all have fairly few years of life left anyway. They were much more concerned about being kind to people while they were alive.

The Old Testament is even clearer on this issue -- the first few murderers in the Bible go free, while the first rape mentioned is avenged with the deaths of an entire village.

Killing for stupid reasons is out, but the word we translate as 'kill' in the ten commandments does not apply to war, or punishment, or appropriate vengeance, and may actually not cover most of the reasons people kill. Otherwise the recounted killings to avenge rape, or punish adultery, or take Jericho would not be demanded and praised in the same text.

OK, enough ranting at people who cannot read their own books.

Our morality in the meantime has slid into what Nietzsche calls 'slave' morals, where the preservation of life is always paramount, discarding a whole host of traditional male values in the process.

Morality is obviously about more than preserving life, it is about allowing people to actually live. If that means that sometimes they only live for a shorter period, because they choose to stand up for the freedoms of people in another country; then that can constitute "really living", more than staying home and fretting about it.

We like to give people choices in modern societies, but one of those choices can be whether or not to become part of a military force and risk having to balance the value of individual lives against all the rest of the values of one's own and one's society.

  • what is wrong with the question is that so many premises of it are so f***ed up that it makes little sense to answer it in any manner. ranting or not. and BTW, Quakers and Mennonites might disagree with you about Jesus' attitude toward killing. kinda hard to love your enemies while machine-gunning them to death. – robert bristow-johnson Sep 6 '15 at 18:16
  • Actually, if you are in exactly the same circumstance, it may not be hard to love them at all. You may have perfect empathy with them, and no hatred. Jesus did not disapprove of the Centurion whose daughter he cured, and the man probably went right out and kept following orders to kill. Caesar should get what is Caesar's. Presumably that included this man's skills at killing, when he was drafted. The point isn't which set of values is right, but that we have changed something obvious and clear into its exact opposite, for reasons of our own. – user9166 Sep 6 '15 at 18:58
  • We don't know what God wants, and we are not even paying attention. Quakers and Mennonites, and even Catholics are driven to basically forget the Bible, and depend upon 'continuing revelation' to hold their positions as Christians. Then they can put their opinions back onto scripture. But it is largely a pretense. – user9166 Sep 6 '15 at 18:58
  • I am actually an ex-Quaker and an ex-Catholic, and I fully understand the theology involved. But I am also just sick of 'God-talk' as part of ethical argumentation. Quakerism cannot adopt a theology of conscience, and reject things that men traditionally find in their consciences -- that defense of other people's autonomy is quite often more important than their lives. – user9166 Sep 6 '15 at 19:06
  • listen, you brought up the Jesus-talk. your argument is scattered all over the place as nearly as non-sensical as the question. it's less non-sensical, but for the most part still basically wrong, repeating many canards (like the one about the work "kill" in the 10 commandments). doesn't matter. – robert bristow-johnson Sep 7 '15 at 14:01

It's a basic error that leads to confusion when all acts that have something in common are rolled up into one genera and then all differences are abolished by declaring this commonality is what matters most.

In this case it is the taking of life: so abortion, murder, accident, war, euthanasia, suicide, self-immolation as protest, collateral damage are to be considered all alike: as murder.

Except of course it is not; there are many significant differences between all these acts; in your example war is not murder, it is an act justified by the self-preservation of a nation-state; and is justified by Just War Theory; for Clausius, classical war is declared by a state; in this case the President of America, when he declares war, is not acting in his own capacity as a man directed towards his own needs; but as the representative of the state directed towards the needs of the state.

This does not mean that war does not involve atrocities, or murder; or that the declaration may not be justified; this can certainly be case - and many such cases have been documented.

Certain polemics against unjustified acts of war, massacres or atrocities may involve declaring war as equivalent to murder; and perhaps it is this that has prompted your thought.


Part 1 of your query is more interesting and paradoxical than it appears at first. No "person" is above the law. However, the "office" of the Commander in Chief is external to the legal system. Indeed, that office must "transcend" the legal system in which it is axiomatically included in order to interact with other, external legal systems. Violently or otherwise. Thus the legal "person" legally occupying that "office" acts both inside and outside of the legal system, demonstrating something like Russell's paradox. The barber, so to speak, steps outside of the town limits, then shaves himself! The same holds, in ethical inversion, for those who employ civil disobedience for some higher moral aim. Hegel proposed this paradox as the pivot of tragedy, wherein someone, Antigone in his case, is personally caught and crushed between two incommensurable sets of legal-ethical imperatives. In reality, this does reveal something of the tragic character of presidents. An Abraham Lincoln or Lyndon Johnson is torn asunder by this dual role, while a J.K. Polk or G.W. Bush appear utterly nonplussed. While the other responders are correct as far as they go, I would say that it is very worthwhile to "naively" collapse the war-murder distinction from time to time as a way of analyzing our legal system. This is increasingly so as our legal and economic systems are clearly adapting to a state of permanent war on "terror" external to old national boundaries, lacking formal approval, and without constitutional or even lexical definition.For this reason I am clicking your -1 back to 0.

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