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Being willing to die for something is pretty damn amazing.

Notice that I said being willing to die.

Mahatma Gandhi was willing to give his life in the name of freedom for his country.  His attitude was that if he had to die to end the suffering of many people, he was willing to do it.  And what more could he have given?  Giving your life as a sacrifice to protect others is as supreme a gift as one person can rightfully give.

We have a problem in Western culture where we conflate the ideas of being willing to die and being willing to kill.  They (of course) are not at all the same thing, though in the act of killing for a cause, one might well die as well.

ImageThat is, for example, why we should never confuse the death of Martin Luther King Jr. with the death of a terrorist bomber.  King knew he himself could be killed for his campaign against institutionalized racism, but he wasn’t willing to kill other people to see his dream come true.  A terrorist bomber is just as willing to die, but, crucially, he is also willing to kill indiscriminately.

This, of course, leaves me wondering how to rationalize war.

Obviously there are some very bad people out there, people that are willing to organize the massacre and destruction of countless innocent lives for goals like power, money, or egomania.  They don’t care about the difference between dying and killing for a cause.  They offer no quarter to UN peacekeepers trying to protect and defend.  If no one goes out to stop them, what message is then sent to the rest of the would-be Hitlers, Amins, and Pots?

But in sending out young men and women to kill, even in the name of something good and true, how far are we pushing their own humanity away from sacrifice and toward something very dark?

I don’t worry at the belief that there are things worth dying for.  Freedom is worth dying for.  There is no life in slavery.  I guess I start to worry when that attitude become an eagerness to kill for it.

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