The Republican Party’s imaginary second black president, pediatric neurosurgeon and evangelical Christian Dr. Ben Carson, has some pretty interesting opinions on war for someone who professes to follow the words of Jesus Christ. In a Monday appearance on Fox News, Carson told Bill Hemmer that he would win the war on Islamic State by ignoring all those “politically correct” “rules” – you know, presumably things like the Geneva Convention, the Hague Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention:
CARSON: Our military needs to know that they’re not gonna be prosecuted when they come back, because somebody has, said “You did something that was politically incorrect.” There is no such thing as a politically correct war. We need to grow up, we need to mature. If you’re gonna have rules for war, you should just have a rule that says no war. Other than that, we have to win. Our life depends on it.
There used to be a time when we didn’t have any of those meddlesome rules preventing the militaries of the world from making all those hard decisions to end the war a little sooner. It’s not a coincidence that it just so happens to be the time when wars were fought with mustard gas bombs, flamethrowers and cluster bombs, or when mass mistreatment of POWs and civilian populations was considered the norm rather than a violation of international law.
But in Carson’s fantasy world, Americans don’t commit war crimes. They’re just waging better war, whether that involves torturing captives to extract information or using banned munitions like white phosphorous to indiscriminately inflict pain on anyone in their path. Force is merely a means to an end, apparently, and Carson seems to believe that all the U.S. military needs to do is turn the dial up to 11 to win.
Never mind that U.S. failures fighting well-armed, widespread insurrections across the globe from Vietnam to Iraq have time and time again demonstrated that defeating a determined insurgency is a lot harder than simply dropping more bombs with less precision or torturing a few captives. How’d that troop surge work out for Iraq? Or those images of horrific treatment of POW at Abu Ghraib, which became one of the Islamic fundamentalist movement’s best recruiting tools? I’d like Carson to explain to John McCain’s face how “enhanced interrogation” is just another effective intelligence tool being hamstrung by mushy P.C. liberals, or explain how attempting to avoid punishing anyone for the My Lai massacre advanced U.S. interests in Southeast Asia.
Carson doesn’t understand that he’s mimicking the language of petty tyrants everywhere from Napoleon to Adolf Hitler, or he’s willfully abandoning his principles in order to appeal to the most ignorant instincts of the GOP’s hawkish base. Either one should be an instant disqualifier for his future presidential ambitions, but probably won’t be.
But what’s really interesting to observe is that Carson’s supposedly devout Christian beliefs either don’t include avoiding completely unnecessary human suffering or go out the window as soon as the jackboot of American military power is aimed at the throat of someone he doesn’t like. In either scenario, Carson is being completely hypocritical. Where he’s now essentially proposing that might makes right in armed conflict, he’s been saying the exact opposite for years. Here’s a couple of Carson’s evangelical soundbites from over the past few years revealing how hollow his beliefs must be:
“Those of us who believe in God and derive our sense of right and wrong and ethics from God’s word really have no difficulty whatsoever defining where our ethics come from. People who believe in survival of the fittest might have more difficulty deriving where their ethics come from.” – Inside Higher Ed, 2012
“I have this feeling that as time goes on, we’re not getting any more civilized, and we should be. We’re still running around like the days of Genghis Khan. There are so many important, better things to do and we need to encourage people to reach into the brighter side of humanity and not encourage people to continue to glorify the darker side.” – Washington Post, 2013
Then there’s this quote from Ben Carson’s own book, in which he appears to acknowledge that indiscriminate use of force in Vietnam was counter-productive and morally abhorrent:
“During that war in the jungles of Vietnam, we burned villages with napalm and destroyed the lives of many innocent villagers who had nothing to do with the political struggle. The Vietcong forces had the tremendous advantage of knowing both the terrain and the people, which eventually afforded them the victory in the war. Since the Vietnam conflict ended poorly, our nation experienced a period of shame and humiliation for which the military was blamed, and many of the returning veterans were treated with disrespect. The Vietnam Was dampened America’s enthusiasm for war, and we experienced one of the longest periods of peace in our nation’s history.” – America the Beautiful by Ben Carson, 2012
Carson has also been fond of invoking his Christian principles in favor of an “an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind”-style view of moral reciprocity:
“We get out of life what we put into it. The way we treat others is the way we ourselves get treated.” – Think Big: Unleashing Your Potential For Excellence by Ben Carson, 1996
In Gifted Hands, Kids Edition, Carson biographers Gregg and Deborah Shaw Lewis write:
One verse Ben read over and over was Proverbs 16:32, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” (RSV)
Then there’s this 2013 appearance in a 2013 edition of CNN’s The Lead, in which Carson argues that bombs, missiles and a “horrible war” was a terrible strategy to remove Saddam Hussein and instead advocates for petroleum independence as a way to avoid unnecessary conflict:
“If we become petroleum-independent, we almost win that war on the terrorists immediately, because their funding disappears. We have to begin to think that way rather than bombs and missiles. That’s sort of archaic, to be honest with you.”
How flimsy Carson’s ideological framework must be if all these supposed principles go out the window as soon as he senses an opportunity to exploit his Tea Party base’s most regressive instincts. The Bible isn’t exactly an anti-war book, but it does purport to teach a consistent moral framework for coping with the sinfulness of the mortal world based on the immutable word of God. How exactly does Carson theologically justify flipping on the most basic principles of human rights?
I can’t imagine Jesus arguing that “There is no such thing as a politically correct war … we have to win,” or bitching about how “politically correct” liberals are preventing us from bombing and enhanced-interrogating our way to victory in the Middle East. Can you?