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2003-03-20 | 1:04 p.m.

"I see that a man I know to be a ruffian is pursuing a young girl,” Leo Tolstoy wrote in "The Kingdom of God Is Within You." "I have a gun in my hand—I kill the ruffian and save the girl. But the death or the wounding of the ruffian has positively taken place, while what would have happened if this had not been I cannot know. And what an immense mass of evil must result, and indeed does result, from allowing men to assume the right of anticipating what may happen. Ninety-nine per cent of the evil of the world is founded on this reasoning—from the Inquisition to dynamite bombs."

This is the traditional case for pacifism. It hangs on an insight about means and ends. “Thou shalt not kill”: whether the commandment is seen as coming from God or simply from self-evident moral intuition, few dispute that to kill is to commit a wrong, and that to refrain from killing is to prevent a wrong. In war, killing is the means. The end—the “war aim,” the putative goal of the killing—may be right, but it is speculative, possibly unachievable, off in a future that is more or less unknowable. By its example, and by its corrupting effect, killing begets killing, evil begets evil. To do evil today, in the expectation that in the future, at the end of a long chain of causation and chance, something good will emerge, is the wager that pacifists refuse to make. ... --Henrik Hertzberg, writing in this week's New Yorker
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