Hurting the “Bad Guys”

Human history is full of righteous warriors who bravely faced their enemies and did battle against them, confident in the knowledge that they were Right, their enemies were Wrong, and any actions they took in their struggle were Justified.

The thing is, throughout human history, most of them were wrong. We like to view history through a lens of “Good Guys” and “Bad Guys”. To pick a really easy example, the Nazis were the Bad Guys. The Allies were the Good Guys. And to be clear, I am absolutely not disputing that. The Nazi ideology was pure, unadulterated evil. The thing is, the Nazis didn’t know that at the time. They weren’t waking up in the morning and going “Hey, let’s get out there and commit atrocities that will still be the benchmark for evil when our grandkids are old men.” In their minds, they knew without a shadow of a doubt that what they were doing was a righteous struggle against forces that were trying to destroy their society, to hurt the people they cared about, and that had to be defeated at any cost. They knew they were the Good Guys.

They were completely wrong. And they had no idea.

The Crusaders knew without a shadow of a doubt that they were on a holy mission to free the Holy Land from the stain and oppression of barely-human Infidels. The Pope, who they knew to their core was the infallible messenger of God on Earth, had told them as much. So they answered his call, grabbed their swords and shields, headed east, and… slaughtered a bunch of innocent Muslims, Jews, and Christians just because they weren’t European and happened to be living in the wrong place. They knew they were the Good Guys.

They were completely wrong. And they had no idea.

I could keep going. From the Hutus, to the American pioneers, to the Cultural Revolution, just about every horrifying abuse of human rights has been carried out by people who knew that they were the good guys and that they were doing something necessary.

I’m pretty sure that I have better grounds for my belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every human being than the members of the Spanish Inquisition had for their belief that the Church was under threat from crypto-Jews. I’m as sure as I can be that I’m on the right side of the line that divides me from people chanting “Build the wall”.

But how sure would I need to be before I was willing to engage in violence? How sure would I need to be before I discounted the humanity of the people on the other side? How sure would I need to be before I decided that any action I took was automatically justifiable?

Because the day that I become that sure is the day that I’ll need to look in the mirror and ask myself if I’ve become a Bad Guy.

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