Ends, means, Spartans, lines and last resorts

Interrogator: “Tell me about the children. Dr. Halsey?”
Doctor Catherine Halsey: “You already know everything.”
Interrogator: “You kidnapped them.”
Halsey: “Children’s minds are more easily accepting of indoctrination, their bodies more adaptable to augmentation. The result was the ultimate soldier.And because of our success, when the Covenant invaded, we were ready.”
Interrogator: “Dr. Halsey, you’re bending history for your favor and you know it. You developed the Spartans to crush human rebellion, not to fight the Covenant.”
Halsey: “When one human world after another fell…when my Spartans were all that stood between humanity and extinction…nobody was concerned over why they were originally built.”
Interrogator: “So you feel in the end that your choices were justified.”
Halsey: “My work saved the human race.”

That is a transcript from the first cut-scene in Halo 4, which was recently re-released for the XBox One Console as part of ‘Halo: The Masterchief Collection’, a collection I’ve been playing pretty much constantly since it came out last month. I love the Halo universe and it’s stories; the back story to it all starts far in the future when the world goes nuts. In short, Halsey kidnapped 75 children from their homes and replaced them with clones and began a gruelling regiment of military training and biological enhancements. 30 of them would die, 12 were left disabled, meaning only 33 fully fit survivors went into service and become known as Spartans. Once they got their armour, they would be ready to fight the rebellions. except they never got to go into battle against them’, they were suddenly faced with an overwhelming and vastly technologically superior alien force called the ‘Covenant’ who believed humanity to be an affront to their gods and needed to be wiped out. Halsey was absolutely right though; if it wasn’t for the ‘Spartans’, and ‘Spartan-117, aka MasterChief’ in particular, they would have succeeded in doing that. Now, there is a unit in the military specifically for the Spartans, but it’s members are selected from already serving military personnel and the augmentations are much less dangerous. Halsey is under arrest by the very same organization that gave her permission to carry out her work in the first place because the interrogator was absolutely right; she kidnapped children and subjected them to a brutal regime and highly invasive medical procedures.

The question that they are effectively debating is did the ends justify the means? And at what point do you start asking the question of whether the ends justify the means? Where is the line and when do you draw it?

One afternoon in Pizza Hut a friend and I debated the morality and effectiveness of torture. We caused about 4 people to hastily finish their dinner, pay the bill and walk out, (and not for the first time either). As the discussion went on, it became centred around one quite specific scenario; what if you know an attack that will result in huge loss of life and injury is imminent but the exact details are known by someone you have in your custody but they’re not talking. What do you do? It obviously raises the question of how they got the intelligence an attack in the first place, and psychologists and psychiatrists are debating how effective torture (or enhanced interrogation techniques, depending on what side of the fence you’re on) actually are. The point being though, is that if you believe that someone has information that can help you prevent an atrocity and your job is to prevent said atrocity, how far do you go to get the information, knowing that if you fail, people will die?

The moral dilemma of inflicting pain on one to save many is not new. Even with advances in technology, we still need to perform experiments on animals and sometimes people to develop cures for diseases. It used to be all that we had available and we still benefit from the results today. We bombard cancer patients with radiation. We effectively tortured them to save others, or in the hope of gathering enough information to one day be able to. One of the many problems with the recent CIA report is that there was nothing in there to suggest that these ‘techniques’ actually worked or prevented any attacks from occurring, and worse still, may have been performed on people who were innocent. We didn’t see any good come from it, which is possibly why we’re morally outraged, it is right to be morally outraged at it, but what about anything else that has been mentioned, and why do we go on about every life matters but remain silent when a hostage taker is shot by police? Do we only get morally outraged about the taking of someone’s life or causing them pain when it suits us?

Perhaps something in us accepts or has become conditioned to accept that force, violence and unethical methods are, on the rare occasions, necessary; we just don’t want to think about it. In Sydney, the police stormed a café when they heard gunshots after a 16 hour stand off/hostage negotiation. Three people died and four people were injured in the raid, but no one is outraged and rightfully so. This isn’t a case of police shooting someone who is unarmed. They spent those 16 hours trying to negotiate with the hostage taker for a peaceful resolution. Only when it became very evident that the negotiations had failed and gunshots were fired did they go in with force. This is very different to using force in an attempt to extract information from someone who may not know anything anyway. Similarly with medical issues, we know that pain is often necessary in order to heal, so we feel that it is justified and won’t call for doctors to be punished.

When force is used, it absolutely must be as a last resort, and sadly, with the way the world works, it must be considered as an option and all too readily used as a first resort. It’s extremely easy to sit in the comfort of my arm chair and debate the ethics of the decisions made by others; they have whole committees dedicated to that. It is absolutely right that investigations are held into the CIA’s actions, but in extreme circumstances it may be the only thing that saves many lives. This isn’t going to sit well with love your enemy and turn the other cheek, but even though I’m a Christian, I like to think that I’m also a realist. If the world was perfect we wouldn’t need police or agencies because there wouldn’t be anything to protect us from. The decision to use force or subject anyone to pain should not be taken lightly, but I cannot say that there is never a justified use for it or that a person is then immune from investigation or punishment. But then if we punish someone for doing what is necessary, will they be willing to do what is necessary should the situation repeat itself? Some people just can’t be negotiated with and are intent on harming others, should we not take necessary action to prevent further loss of life? Should we not do everything in our power to prevent loss of life?

This is not a black and white, zero sum game. There will always be a grey area. In Halo 4, despite being instrumental in saving humanity, Halsey did effectively kidnap and torture children which resulted in the death of 30 and is rightly punished. Even if the CIA had shown that their ‘methods’ prevented a massive atrocity, they should still face punishment because they tortured people. The Sydney police shot dead a hostage taker after negotiations collapsed. So lets not pretend that we believe that there is no place for the use of force, our problem is with the context.

Advertisements

One thought on “Ends, means, Spartans, lines and last resorts

  1. […] her daughter back. I’m not sure this makes them heroes and martyrs, and the question of ends justifying means inevitably comes up, but it’s this ambiguity that makes the movie so powerful. But ultimately […]

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s