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My Answer to Monday's Hypothetical

On Monday, I described an ethical dilemma that supposedly shows how America’s extra-restrictive rules of engagement endanger our troops. Today I am going to debunk that story. (Click here to re-read it.) This hypothetical doesn’t prove that rules of engagement (ROE)--even really restrictive rules of engagement--are immoral or ineffective.

Monday’s story obscures the most important part of the story: the facts. The narrator barely describes the woman in question. Was she hysterical or calm? Was she screaming or quiet? Did she try to communicate to anyone in the platoon? She might seem like a spotter, but if the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taught us anything, it is that our troops lack cultural awareness. They are even worse at trying to divine the intentions of locals who don’t speak English.

Yet the story was told to me with a certainty that is impossible to find through the fog of war.

Other facts are questionable as well. Where is the sniper exactly? If his fire is so accurate, why aren’t there more Marines casualties? Did the Marines have a time crunch? Was this a single operation or a larger battalion-sized mission? The point is we don’t know. And if we don’t know all the facts, the we have to question our conclusions.

To really go meta with this analysis, though, I need to explain why the facts are obscured. To do so, I am going to borrow from Eric C’s tool kit, and use literary criticism. Basically, we have a unreliable narrator, with a clear agenda: proving that ROE gets Soldiers killed. The best way to do this is to limit the options of the Marines to either kill, or be killed.

Like the last ethical dilemma I criticized, the Marines have more than two options. In fact, they have dozens. A Marine platoon has several different weapon systems to employ against a sniper, from machine guns to rifles to A-10 warthogs. They also have access to higher headquarters, and the additional resources they bring to the fight. The Marines could have maneuvered around the building or held their position until nightfall. They could have tried the back door. They could have waited until someone could spot the sniper. They could have tried to detain the woman, or at the very least, they could have tried to communicate with the woman.

But the narrator who wants to prove how bad ROE is will never give you ten options, he will make it a dilemma. This or that. Violate ROE, or be killed.

And this is a false dichotomy.

two comments

Here was my point: so what if that woman is looking at the solders? If there were a firefight outside my door, I’d look out my window too. (And if I were a gun nut, I’d probably have a gun in my hand.)

In Luttrell’s defense, as he was being fired upon, I’m sure it seemed to him that there were only two options. Say he didn’t have the weapon systems to call on because his communications are out. The sniper fire gets closer and he begins taking casualties. And the best guess position of the sniper is inaccessible without taking more casualties. If all this is true, what does he do with the spotter?

Of course they would also have to be low on ammo in order to be unable to provide suppression fire. Perhaps they were down to small arms. And they would also have left for the operation without smoke canisters to cover an advance. Maybe the sniper even had Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility and the only way to make him remove it was to hold the spotter hostage.

My point being that the hypothetical scenario can be made to form whatever conclusion the poser of the scenario wishes to draw. In this instance, either he kills the spotter or everyone dies.