GUEST COLUMN
The U.S.S. Cole: Who Are The Real Cowards?

December 2000By Christopher Check

Christopher Check is Executive Vice President of the Rockford Institute. He served for six years as a field artillery officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.

“Terrorism” and “cowardice” are among the expressions opinion-makers used almost universally to describe the attack that left a 40-foot hole in the side of a destroyer and 17 of its sailors dead.

Cowardice is an odd charge from a nation that wages war by dropping bombs on bridges and power plants from an altitude well beyond the range of antiquated antiaircraft guns, firing missiles from over the horizon at television stations, and punishing civilians by means of naval embargoes — the last-mentioned being the mission of the U.S.S. Cole.

More baffling is the label “coward” when applied to this particular attack. Joe Leatherneck charges a machine-gun nest on a South Pacific island and earns himself a posthumous Medal of Honor for spectacular courage (and rightly so); Abdul Abulbul Amir boards a rubber raft and engages at point-blank range a modern warship, 505-feet long with a displacement of 8300 tons, and he’s called a coward ! Huh?

Christians might not be at ease with so-called suicide missions, but they are not necessarily immoral. Under the Principle of Double Effect, in wartime it is lawful for a soldier to blow up an enemy stronghold even when he knows the action will likely take his own life. He foresees but does not intend his own death for which the good effect of substantial harm to the enemy compensates. Because we cannot be certain of the intention of the Cole’s bomber, perhaps more to the point is the Islamic promise of salvation to those who fall in a Holy War. Under this moral code, such an attack seems to be an act of hope or even martyrdom — not despair. In any case, it’s not so easy to impugn the intestinal fortitude of a man who sets aside his natural instinct for self-preservation for what he believes to be a higher purpose.


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