When war causes us to suppress our deepest religious and moral convictions, we cave in to a “higher religion” called war. Yes, there is beauty in patriotism, in its unselfishness and love of country. But this beauty makes for what Reinhold Niebuhr called the “ethical paradox in patriotism”—a tendency to transmute individual unselfishness into national egoism. When this happens, the critical attitude of the individual is squelched, permitting the nation to use “power without moral constraint.”
It's easy enough to say that torture is bad (though it took President Bush a while to do so). But how does one address this classic ethical dilemma: a nuclear bomb is ticking somewhere in an urban area. The bomb-setter has been captured but refuses to divulge the bomb's location. Does one honor the rule against torture, or use whatever methods it takes, including torture, to get information that will save millions of lives?Even in this case, there's no guarantee that torture will produce accurate information. But the argument remains—an undeniable good might be done for innumerable innocents at the expense of evil performed on a single evil one.