An Open Letter to Dr. Ben Carson: Physician, Correct Thyself

It could happen to any of us, Dr. Carson, and does, doesn't it? We fall headlong into error and embarrass ourselves. My guess is you feel that way about your remarks made in your recent interview with Fox Television Network:

"Our military needs to know that they're not going to be prosecuted when they come back, because somebody has said, 'You did something that was politically incorrect.' There is no such thing as a politically correct war. We need to grow up. We need to mature. If you're gonna have rules for war, you should just have a rule that says no war. Other than that, we have to win."

You didn't really mean to say that there should be no rules for war, did you? You didn't seriously intend to advocate for an absence of accountability in the conduct of war, did you? I think I understand what you mean about "no such thing as a politically correct war," although WWll might have been. I certainly support your idea of a rule for no war. And yes, absolutely yes, if we are going to fight a war, by all means -- well, by all moral means -- let's win the thing.

But no rules? Without rules there would be no right or wrong, no justice, no morality nor immorality, no law and order, no fairness, no hope, no peace. Only chaos.

To tolerate everything is to commit civilization suicide. Freud correctly noted, in 1929, that civilization is only possible when our aggression (and sexual) instinct(s) are regulated. Otherwise, the result is barbarism. All civilizations have rules, including their militaries, which signify in advance right and wrong conduct. This is called morality. Morality is about the way we treat people. We must not act in a way that makes civilized life impossible.

My letter, dear sir, is non-partisan. By all accounts you are a good man and a strong 2016 presidential contender. Both contentions appear true, all the more important we re-think your stance on the execution of war.

The gates of license in war swing both ways, do they not? By your stated ideals, the conduct of ISIS would be acceptable, as would Auschwitz, Dachau, Treblinka, and Buchenwald. (Along with the massacre by U.S. soldiers of 347-504 unarmed civilian women, children, infants, and men, and the rape and mutilation of women, in a Vietnamese village called Mylai, in 1968.) Did you mean to sanction such evil? No, and I know it. That's why I share your certain remorse over your having fallen temporarily into error.

I'm certain you and I do agree on much: war is evil. War opens the gates of hell. Not all evil, of course, can be avoided. We must, at times, by necessity, choose between the lesser of evils. Hence war. Yet, even if, or when, the enemy commits unspeakable atrocities, such as rape, beheadings, and civilian murder, we will not. We will do the right, because it is right. If we descend into the darkness of our enemy, matching their evil deeds, will we not lose the most important battle being fought: the war of morality? Are we really willing to pay so great a price? Is it not possible to win a war and lose our souls?

So Dr. Carson, dear sir, friend, and fellow fallible mortal, please, physician, correct thyself.

J. Randall O'Brien