When we think about morality in our personal lives, we often focus on the simple, mundane choices that we face. Should we pay our tithing or not? How hard should we work at our jobs? How should we react when others criticize us? These are indeed moral choices, yet all of us face larger, more defining decisions every day. Let me sketch one such decision that we all currently face, as well as my belief about what the moral decision is — and some of the reasons that I’m not making that moral choice.
The longstanding genocidal conflict in the Darfur region of the Sudan has spread into the eastern regions of neighboring Chad. As in Darfur, Arab militias from Chad and from across the border in the Sudan (called the janjaweed) are now slaughtering black African residents of the region wholesale. There are political aspects of the struggle, but much of the killing seems purely racial, purely genocidal.
Actress Mia Farrow, who recently went through Chad as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, shared the following story of a girl who had been forced out of Darfur during a massacre three and a half years ago (the account can be found in a recent interview with Voice of America radio):
Now, the janjaweed had found [the girl and her mother in eastern Chad]. To compound the tragedy, a group of children that she had been with were playing with a grenade that they found because the area is so militarized now. And they picked up a grenade, which exploded, severely wounding 18 children, she among them. And as she lay in bandages, with flies settled on the bandages, she said my family says that the international force is going to come in and protect us. And then she said we’ve waited so long.
International action to end this emergent genocide in Chad is, to date, essentially nonexistent; indeed, international efforts have only been partially successful in neighboring Darfur, as this cross-border outbreak of violence illustrates.
Do we, as Mormons and (mostly) U.S. citizens, have any kind of moral obligation to help these victims of mass murder in Chad? I think we must; as followers of Christ, we are to value others, even strangers, as highly as we value ourselves (Matthew 22:39; Mosiah 23:15; 3 Nephi 12:43). If we would consider ourselves obligated to protect anyone against arbitrary acts of murder, we are also enjoined to consider ourselves obligated to protect the African victims of the janjaweed. This lesson is reinforced by a consideration of the account of the people of Ammon, who the Nephites protected against a unilateral identity-based massacre initiated by their neighbors (see Alma 35 and nearby chapters). The situation is not, of course, exactly parallel — but it is the most parallel of any scriptural situation that I can find.
So, let us conclude that we have a moral obligation to the victims in Chad. What can we do to discharge that obligation? Political action within the U.S. is likely to be unproductive. This is primarily because there is no available U.S. military power; the American military is almost fully committed to the ongoing conflict in Iraq, and the resources necessary to run the kind of major defensive mission needed in Chad are almost certainly unavailable. For the same reason, actions by U.S. citizens on the world stage are likely to be unpersuasive. Our country has nothing to offer, so who will listen?
Donations to humanitarian groups are likely to be of some help. The displaced survivors of Darfur and Chad do need food, shelter, medicine, and clothing. Yet humanitarian groups are of somewhat limited value in ending an ongoing massacre. To save those lives, military action of some kind seems to be needed.
Perhaps that is what we morally ought to do: arm ourselves, organize ourselves, and go to eastern Chad to fight the janjaweed militias. Fifty or a hundred well-organized and well-equipped people could probably defend the currently-defenseless refugee camps, saving thousands of lives. Most readers of this post are probably not trained military personnel; on the other hand, neither are most of the militiamen who are perpetrating the massacre. So our efforts might well be useful. This action, though radical, seems to be relevant to the problem at hand, within the power of most readers of this post, and responsive in a way that other available options would not be. What will any of us accomplish in the next six or twelve months that would be worth more than helping save thousands of lives?
Even so, I find that I’m unwilling to do this. Why? First, I have to admit that I’m scared of making a bumbling idiot of myself, in the way that some other private efforts at military action seem to have done. Second, I may simply suffer from physical cowardice; there is a lot of risk involved in the kind of action I’m discussing. Third, I suffer from moral uncertainty. While the cause of fighting the janjaweed and preventing genocide seems just, the action of killing — on my own authority, without the structures of military command and hierarchy to diffuse decision-making and responsibility — is extreme enough that I fear for the consequences to my soul if I have miscalculated.
What are you willing, or unwilling, to do in order to save thousands of lives?