The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

The Moral Calculus of the Woolwich Murder

So, a man killed a soldier in Woolwich London by hacking his head off.

That’s bad.

But on the scale of bad, immoral things, it ranks very low.

The murderer took the time to kill someone in the military.  He did not target civilians.

This makes him superior, morally, to the Boston bombers.  It also makes him superior, morally, to Obama, who routinely murders civilians, knowingly, by hitting weddings and funerals.  It makes him morally superior to the British ex-Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and to George W. Bush, who launched a war based on lies against a country which was no threat to Britain or to America.

All the hysterical hand-wringing and the rush to moral condemnation bores and tires me.  It is a fact that America and Britain killed, deliberately, tens to hundreds of thousands of civilians in a war which was not even pre-emptive. The Iraq war was exactly the same type of war-crime for which Nazis were hung at Nuremburg.  Exactly.

You should read a transcript of the Woolwich murderer’s reasons.  It seems that he was offended by the fact that other Muslim civilians were routinely being murdered.  Having been taught, by the state, that murdering is acceptable, he proceeded to do so.

He, however, proved himself superior to the contemporary American and British States by murdering a military man and not a civilian.  He took far more care in choosing his victim than Obama does his.

So spare me the hand-wringing and condemnation.  He’s a bad man, to be sure, but he’s not as bad a man as the men we put in office.

When Tony Blair and George W. Bush are put in front of war crimes trials, along with Rumsfeld and many others, we can talk.  Till then, our “justice’ isn’t, it’s just tribalism dressed up in the name of justice, because it picks and chooses amongst murderers, letting the greatest of them, the ones with the most blood on their hands, walk free.

on edit: oh yes, and there are calls to censor the internet more.  The net result of these attacks is to reduce your freedom.  And no, censoring the internet more won’t make you more safe.


Interview on causes for hope, fracking, global warming and the surveillance state


Ethical Degradation


  1. Celsius 233

    Ian, I applaud this post. It’s a brave thing you do in the face of the attacks on the freedom of speech. And the suppression of the responsible media of which you are one.
    My internet connection consistently freezes when accessing your site and the Agonist. I report and report and report; but it still happens every day.
    The interesting thing is; when I use a proxy; no problem?????????????
    Gee, I wonder…

  2. Carol Newquist

    Think how much more moral his decision would have been if he hacked off the head of an officer….a General even! Was watching Ken Burns The War documentary yesterday, and I have to say the callous disregard for human life by the politicians and military leaders on every side was repulsing. Oh, and Ernie Pyle was an incredible correspondent. You don’t find that caliber of journalism these days from the complicit press.

    The most vivid change is the casual and workshop manner in which they now talk about killing. They have made the psychological transition from the normal belief that taking human life is sinful, over to a new professional outlook where killing is a craft. To them now there is nothing morally wrong about killing. In fact it is an admirable thing.

  3. Placing my objection on record.

    I respect that you make a legitimate point overall, Ian, and I’ll concede (some) that it needs to be made.

    But I’ll not concede that morality is on such a sliding scale, because that is a slippery slope, indeed (yes, I generally dislike slippery-slope arguments.) Murder wrong. The stridency of using “superior” in this context cries out for my objection.

    I’m sure that most who would detract from your argument will do so from a “patriotic” standpoint – especially on this Memorial Day – but I am not coming from there by any means. Soldiering is a poor lifestyle choice, and those who make that choice hurt us all. I just can’t go so far as to give even a sliver of comfort to those who think that they’re “fighting the good fight” by murdering a soldier – most especially if it is not in a defensive, open combat situation.

    Not that we Keyboard Kommandos have much of an influence in the area of giving comfort, but the pen is my only weapon, my weapon of choice.

  4. S Brennan

    Dunno Ian, the killer picked out a band member, not an infantry soldier. Forget the defending God & Culture crap, the killer did so because he wanted to show his physical prowess against a defenseless target. The killer loves to kill…any justification will do.

    While we are in the 13th year of the Bush/Obama administration, whose sociopathic acts include mass murder through wars of aggression…among other crimes, let’s not lose sight of the fact that most soldiers are soldiers due to economic circumstances. In the US in particular, all alternate economic routes have been closed with the lockstep cooperation of the wealthier “liberals”, “conservatives”, “right”, “left” & “center”.

    Find me an Obama fan who doesn’t just love our bombing the shit out of Libya’s infrastructure to enable the racist thugs Al Qaeda thugs to strip the country of it’s natural wealth. Cost? 40-70,000 lives and a murderous ethnic cleansing of darker skinned people that included public lynchings that the KKK couldn’t match. Best of all, performed by a “black” president. And no, Obama is not “black”, his first contact with the AA community come at 24 years of age, but people are delusional.

    Find me a Bush fan who…oh, whats the point

    A drummer, who never fired a shot in anger is murdered and the murderers feel fully justified…prisons are filled with ’em…as are 10 Downing & the White House.

    Any any accepted justification for this act would also justify the removal of all persons of the Islamic faith from western countries…a normal procedure in war?

  5. Ian Welsh

    I do know, killing soldiers is better than killing civilians. I suppose he should have asked “are you a combat soldier, Good Sir?”


    The vast majority of soldiers never see combat, they are there for logistics or morale. That does not make them not soldiers.

    If you can’t make distinctions between killing military and civilians, between killing hundreds of thousands and one man…

    But I knew almost everyone would be pissed by this, the “patriots” from the right, the pacifists from the left.

    He’s a murderer, nowhere do I say he’s a good man. But he’s not as bad a man as a drone pilot is, or as Obama is and the distinction is important. The inability is at the core of our moral degradation.

  6. Well, glad to see I’m just fulfilling an expectation.

    In any case, fading these distinctions is dangerous, and feeds directly into the terrorists’ meme. Recalling Ward Churchill’s “little Eichmanns”, it is a small leap to consider the enabling petite bourgeoisie of the civilian middle class as being part of the same spectrum inhabited by the “logistics and morale” troops.

    Of course, you and I may make the distinction – may draw the line – there, but on what moral authority, if we are not willing to draw the line between combat and non-combat?

    I’m not angling for capitulation here, Ian – that would be foolish and you do indeed make a point, as I say. I just want these observations on the record as well.

  7. Perhaps I should say this: Sometimes it is necessary to do the wrong thing. This imperative should not convert the wrong into the right, however. It is the lauding of those who are forced into sin that creates memorials and the perverse memes of righteousness that surround sometimes necessary violence of history.

    I’m not saying that you mean to laud them, but those that have descended into the dark necessity will hear it as applause. I will not attend their parade.

  8. @ S Brennan May 27, 2013

    Dunno Ian, the killer picked out a band member, not an infantry soldier.


    A drummer, who never fired a shot in anger

    It helps if you get your facts right. Both your statements above are wholly and completely false see statement from the British MOD proves Drummer Lee Rigby killed in Woolwich incident – News stories – Inside Government – GOV.UK.

    In April 2009, Drummer Rigby deployed on operations for the first time to Helmand province, Afghanistan, where he served as a member of the Fire Support Group at Patrol Base Woqab.

    Don’t even think of trying to pretend to me that Private Rigby who was a combat specialist, specifically a machine gunner who had seen active service in Afganistan, as the FSS for PB Woqab never fired a shot in anger. The second sentence in the paragraph I have quoted above goes on to say:

    On returning to the UK he completed a second tour of public duties and then moved with the battalion to Celle, Germany, to be held at a state of high readiness for contingency operations as part of the Small Scale Contingency Battle Group.

    And as you plainly haven’t the faintest idea of what you’re pontificating about allow me as a serving military officer to explain the meaning of that sentence to you. The only soldiers accepted by the British army for inclusion in SSCBG are soldiers who have:

    1. Seen active combat, preferably on several occasions.
    2. Have been highly recommended not only by their NCOs but also by their regimental command as having proved that they were rather more than merely highly proficient.

    Private Rigby was a combat specialist specialising in machine gunnery who had seen active combat and proved in combat that he was very good at soldiering. He was also a drummer.


  9. Ian,

    An interesting post with much to commend it – I hope to find the time to give it the considered response it deserves over the next few days.


  10. Oops sorry Ian – something in my preceding comment has tripped your moderation system. Sorry about that.


  11. Canned Mandarin

    but on what moral authority, if we are not willing to draw the line between combat and non-combat?

    Ask the Obama administration. I’m sure there’s a secret legal memo somewhere.

  12. Canned Mandarin

    …a secret legal memo about it somewhere.

  13. I think that’s a pretty poor choice of words to say this “ranks pretty low” on the scale of bad, immoral things. Quantitatively, of course, one death doesn’t compare to hundreds of thousands. But qualitatively, he’s still a murderer of someone who did not harm him, he still became what he despised in others; his selection of his victim and his honesty about his motives only make him a marginally less offensive monster. Monsters are monsters, whether they are latent monsters, passive monsters, effective monsters, monstrous leaders, monstrous followers, or run of the mill monsters. They’re all scary, and they are everywhere.

  14. Formerly T-Bear

    An opinion: It is a grave and deadly error to apply civilian peacetime morality to those issues belonging to those who are Warriors. Both perpetrator(s) and target were warriors and kept their actions constrained from the civil world about them, which is in itself an exercise of the morality (and discipline) of warriors. Most civilians have little experience or knowledge of the world of warriors and are not capable of judgments concerning the workings of that world. Warriors are an institution of the state (clan, tribe, domain, state or empire) and subsist upon the king’s bread, their loyalty is to that state which directs their activities and services for state policy. As such, warriors are subject to governance of a specific rule of law that rarely applies to a civilian population, rather adhering to the needs and laws of warfare. That warriors are subject to a separate judicial system than the civilian population is not an idle differentiation of this requirement. Given this context, the transgression occurred as a state of bellicosity between warriors and their principals did not exist at the time nor place of the incident and other than a needless death, no purpose and little honour was achieved, nor a state policy fulfilled. This becomes a mere deranged crime and be handled as such.

  15. Carol Newquist

    This becomes a mere deranged crime and be handled as such.

    Sorry, all killing is deranged. It all falls within the same overlap of Venn Diagram circles as deranged. What Ian is saying, using the moral code of the Western world, it’s less morally reprehensible than what moralizing hypocritical “Liberals” have condoned with their tacit support of all things Obama up to and including his murderous policy towards civilians.

    Where’s the widespread moral outrage over this:

    Because I’m not seeing that outrage except for a very small contingent of so-called “Progressive” journalists and/or bloggers. That photo alone makes Obama and his entire administration as well as the entire U.S. military not only deranged criminals but also thee most morally reprehensible deranged criminals walking the face of the planet. They murder defenseless women and children and they don’t even have the nerve to do it face to face. They are as psychologically twisted and sick as a human can get, and if you disagree with that and utilize intellectual contrivances to legitimate such heinous behavior, then you also are as criminally deranged as the perpetrators. Warriors, my ass. Don’t hand me that weak, intellectual gobblygook. This isn’t about scoring debate points or supporting the home team.

  16. Formerly T-Bear

    @ thing above

    Please arrange to state your opinions in a free standing form in such a way your brown streaked opinions are not draped over the contributions of others. Thanks.

  17. Joe S

    I just cannot agree with you on this Ian. Homocide is homocide, whether it be in calculated cold blood or revenge it is still morally repugnant and wrong. I know you are in no way glorifying or supporting in your post the machete killing, but filtering the acts through different societal filters is folly. It forgives the crimes in the muddied layers of cultural differences and clouds the more simple and direct point: murder in self defense (kill or be killed) of one’s self, family, or nation is the only understandable (and morally defensible) reason to kill. Placing murderers on a sliding scale of justice or moral standing beyond that distinction is extremely hazardous.

    I’m not saying I can’t understand how these people became frustrated enough to commit this crime, because I can. But I can also understand the workings of the soldier’s mind and his duty; to not kill when ordered to kill is treason. Whether the leadership should be questioned and jailed is a valid (and crucial!) point, but soldiers have to kill when ordered or they are not soldiers. The fact that we have not had a reckoning in the US over the crimes of these administrations is a great national shame.

    That being said, to rank these murders as “superior” or “inferior” is tasteless and degraded. Please reconsider your points, they do not sit well on a person who thinks and feels as well as you.

  18. Eric Finley

    Ian is not ranking either set of murders as condonable or pardonable or in any way superior, as I read it.

    But he is pointing out, correctly in my opinion, the moral weight that should properly accrue to the act of condemning or condoning these sets of murders. That’s a different calculus, one we apply to the observers, not the actors.

    To condemn one homicide is, in a vacuum, laudable. However, when one is already guilty of the prodigious sin of condoning war crimes and mass murders on this scale, one adds a great deal to one’s tally of wrongs by engaging in the hypocrisy of condemning a murder like this without changing that underlying sin. This effectively outweighs the virtue intrinsic to the act of condemning a murder.

    So – put Rumsfeld and co. on the docket, or shut the f*ck up, O public. And I totally agree.

  19. OmAli

    “Remove your governments, they don’t care about you. You think David Cameron is going to get caught in the street when we start busting our guns? You think politicians are going to die? No, it’s going to be the average guy, like you and your children. So get rid of them. Tell them to bring our troops back so can all live in peace. So leave our lands and we can all live in peace. That’s all I have to say.”

    Rings awfully true. Is anyone talking about that?

  20. Carol Newquist

    Rings awfully true. Is anyone talking about that?

    According to mfi we shouldn’t because it could prejudice the case against the perpetrator and he may not get as fair a trial as he would otherwise.

  21. OmAli

    Thanks, Carol.

  22. OmAli

    Mark, I went to your link and then to The Oud Maker and His Cat. The first thing I saw was Southern Dragon’s name. How it made my heart ache. I would like to know his thoughts about this.

  23. jcapan

    Made the mistake of reading some of the Gawker commentary (one of the internet’s vilest latrine)–clucking about radical Islam being the cause. One can only imagine what their reaction would be if a foreign drone left their family members as collateral damage–doves and flowers? As if the same commenters wouldn’t rejoice at the public execution/torture of these supposedly subhuman murderers. Would their rejoicing be due to their peaceful Christianity?

  24. @ Carol Newquist May 28, 2013

    You’ll find people pay more attention to you when you stop your habit of engaging in blatant and deliberate lies.


  25. @ OmAli May 28, 2013

    Oh I think anyone who knew Richard has a pretty good idea of what he would have thought of this. I’ll add that anyone who knew him would also have a very good idea of what he’d feel about how his resolute opposition to racism has been shamelessly betrayed on a site he loved by people he interacted with regularly.

    I miss him his resolute adherence to basic principles of decency, and our correspondence greatly, a sentiment I know that Mohammed Ibn Laith who on several occasions engaged in a three-cornered email conversation with Richard and the late “Lurch” would share.


  26. OmAli

    It would never have happened, had he been there.

  27. @ OmAli May 29, 2013

    Yes it would have happened. The difference is that unlike you and the overwhelming majority of people on that site Richard would have had the integrity and the courage to have publicly denounced the racist scum had he lived to do so. Instead they post on the front page and set the tone of the place.

    Tell me OmAli would it interest you to know that translated screenshots of the post in which Calvo editorialised USG talking points about the rebel forces in Syria and her racist dismissal of the entirely reasonable and factually based objections to what she wrote are circulating in the Middle East?

    Would it interest you to know that screenshots of the following post taken in which the so-called jokes about ‘pet Mohammeds’ drinking from toilet bowls and the other hate comments are circulating in the Middle East?

    All of that material was up for several days plenty of time for screenshots to be taken and they were. And among the points being made on the fora where those screenshots were posted about you and your friends OmAli is that not one of you.

    Had the decency or the integrity to denounce what was said as shameful and vicious. Spare me, please, the crocodile tears about what Richard would have felt and done. He would have been outraged and disgusted both at what was done and far more importantly what was not done.

    This is Ian’s site and I don’t think it either fair or honourable to impose further upon his hospitality by taking this further here. How to contact me and the sites and addresses at which to do so are public knowledge.


  28. OmAli

    Do you not recall that I was the one who called out and flagged the comment?

  29. OmAli

    Do not presume to tell me what kind of tears I have shed for Richard. You were in no way privy to our relationship.

  30. OmAli

    I apologize, Ian, for having disrupted the thread.

    Mark, I have found no way to contact you privately. I would like to tell you something, and may be reached at Omali864o at gmail dot com if you would be so kind.

  31. @ OmAli May 30, 2013

    I’ll give you the miniscule amount of credit you deserve for clicking on the “flag this comment” link I’ll also give you the miniscule amount of credit you deserve for saying that you were doing so. Being generous that amounts to rather less than one iota.

    Neither you nor anybody else. Not. even. one. of. you.

    Had the basic decency or integrity to confront the racist scum and say to them that there is no place for that sort of filth or the people who spread it on a site that purports to be an:

    online progressive community

    Quite the reverse in fact. I will repeat what I said earlier I am embarrassed and ashamed that my name was ever associated with that site.

    I echo your apologies to Ian for intruding this matter here.


  32. OmAli

    I am not looking for credit from you. I am looking for an honest representation of what happened. I called out the comment as nasty and flagged it because it was nasty and needed to be said. I also called out the deliberate insults to the name of the country of Irak. I called out the comment about the Musalla. I defended my actions when others disagreed. I defended them again on subsequent threads. I don’t appreciate your mischaracterization of my actions.

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