I agree with Churchill, but with caveats.
Why Churchill’s argument is potentially ethically dangerous, and a potential “slippery slope”
If you know that your husband kills someone in a robbery, and you help spend the money. Are you liable for the murder?
What if you suspect that your husband killed someone, or did something illegal, but consciously did not allow yourself to know that your husband killed someone?
When does the "approximate causation" and "culpability" (guilt) end?
The reason I hesitate to completely embrace this Churchill’s idea, is for four reasons:
First, it is not a good idea to blame the victim (as I point out Americans do to those we are killing), and
Second, what another profound BBC series the power of nightmares taught me about similar thinking of the Islamic Extremists:
Ayman Zawahiri was to become the mentor to Osama bin-Laden.
The mystery, for Zawahiri, was why the Egyptian people had failed to see the truth and rise up. It must be because the infection of selfish individualism had gone so deep into people’s minds that they were now as corrupted as their leaders. Zawahiri now seized on a terrible ambiguity in Qutb’s argument. It wasn’t just leaders like Sadat who were no longer real Muslims, it was the people themselves. And Zawahiri believed that this meant that they too could legitimately be killed. But such killing, Zawahiri believed, would have a noble purpose, because of the fear and the terror that it would create in the minds of ordinary Muslims. It would shock them into seeing reality in a different way. They would then see the truth.
Dr AZZAM TAMIMI , Institute of Islamic Political Thought:
Ayman Zawahiri came to the conclusion that because you have what you believe to be a sublime objective, then the means can be as ugly as they can get. You can kill as many people as you wish, because the end means is noble. The logic is that “we are the vanguards, we are the correct Muslims, everybody else is wrong. Not only wrong, but everybody else is not a Muslim, and the only means available to us today is just to kill our way to perfection.”
The third reason I hesitate to completely embrace this Churchill’s idea, is the movie The Weather Underground, an incredible documentary about white middle class Vietnam protestors who felt the only way to fight violence was with violence. In a ten year period they bombed several buildings, including the US capitol. One critic said that the movie was "a keen-eyed ...look at how good intentions -- even noble ones -- can cross the line."
One member, Brian Flanagan said:
"When you feel you have right on your side,you can do some pretty horific things"
Like the Islamic extremists, this group felt that violence was justified to further their cause.
PBS site: The Weather Underground
At is root both the Islamic Extremists views, and Churchill’s is the same argument as you so eloquently argued:
In her early days Emma Goldman supported the idea of propaganda by deed. In 1892, together with Alexander Berkman she planned the assassination of Henry Clay Finch, who has suppressed strikes in the Homestead Pennsylvania factory with armed guards...They believed that by killing a tyrant, a representative of a cruel system, the consciousness of the people would be aroused. This didn't happen.
Berkman only managed to injure Finch and was sentenced to 22 years in prison. Goldman tried to explain and justify the attempted assassination insisting that true morality deals with the motives not the consequences. Her time in post-revolutionary Russian meant that she re-assessed this belief that the end justifies the means, which I will discuss later.
Her defence of Berkman made Goldman a marked woman and her lectures were regularly disrupted by the authorities. In 1893 she was arrested for allegedly urging the unemployed to take bread 'by force' and was given a year in Blackwells Island penitentiary.
She was imprisoned a second time for distributing birth control literature , but her longest sentence resulted from her involvement in setting up 'No Conscription' leagues and organising rallies against the first world war. Goldman and Berkman were arrested in 1917 for conspiring to obstruct the draft and given two years. Afterwards they were stripped of their citizenship and deported along with other undesirable 'Reds' to Russia. J. Edgar Hoover, who directed her deportation hearing called her one of the most dangerous women in America.
The plus side to deportation meant that Goldman got a free ticket to Russia where she was able to witness the Russian Revolution at first hand. Goldman had been prepared to bury the hatchet of mans conflict with anarchism in the 1st international and support the Bolsheviks . However, in 1919 as Goldman and Berkman travelled thoughout the country they were horrified by the increased bureaucracy, political persecution and forced labour they found. The breaking point came in 1921 when the Kronstadt sailors and soldiers rebelled against the Bolsheviks and sided with the workers on strike. They were attacked and crushed by Trotsky and the Red Army. On leaving Russia in December 1921, Goldman set down her findings on Russia in two works - 'My Disillusionment in Russia' and 'My Further Disillusionment in Russia'. She argued that 'never before in all history has authority , government, the state, proved so inherently static, reactionary, and even counter-revolutionary. In short, the very antithesis of revolution.
Goldman time in Russia led her to reassess her earlier belief that the end justifies the means. Goldman accepted that violence as a necessary evil in the process of social transformation. However, her experience in Russia forced a distinction. She wrote:
"I know that in the past every great political and social change, necessitated violence....Yet it is one thing to employ violence in combat as a means of defence. It is quiet another thing to make a principle of terrorism, to institutionalise it to assign it the most vital place in the social struggle. Such terrorism begets counter-revolution and in turn itself becomes counter-revolutionary."
Author Naom Chomsky says that only we the rich, the members of this democracy, have the power to stop the atrocities. But even those Americans, who are activists, want simple answers, and little time commitment. This goes along the same line as this Churchill's article.
I e-mailed my Arab friend a long apology to what America has done in the third world. He hates Americans in his heart, and somehow sees me as not American. In the letter I said that there is a very small minority of people who see America the way I do, as a very violent country that has murdered millions of people. I admonished him not to hate all Americans for what America has done to the Middle East, because some of us are appalled and ashamed.
But I ask him over and over, but what can I do? I am powerless too change things. That is what it all comes down to. What can one person, or two people, myself and you, do to change an entire culture? Absolutely nothing.
On a level, yes, I think every American is guilty of the atrocities done in our name, which we all benefit from. And believe it or not, sometimes I do think that we should die for these atrocities, myself, my family, my fellow Americans.
The thing to remember is, that the root problem with why Americans don’t care is bigger than just America, we are dealing with human nature with transcends and extends past American borders, to include all humanity. Many of the crimes that we are guilty of as a nation, indifference, fear, a herd mentality, susceptibility to blind patriotism, greed, can be found in all human cultures, not just America. If America was not murdering millions of people as the strongest empire in the world, some other country would. And when America inevitably falls as all countries and empires do, some new empire, maybe even more violent, will take its place.
Have you ever read the Canticle for Leibowitz? Oh God is that a wonderful, wonderful post apocalyptic book, a classic. You should read it.
Or Fahrenheit 451? Another classic.
The entire book explains the empty shallow people, so concerned with their empty material lives, ignore the war planes passing by constantly over head, and ignore the war propaganda on the radio. It is a dark, accurate reflection of our society.
Or how about the Book of Mormon, where God smites the people for being greedy and wicked and indifferent to the plight of the poor. Joseph Smith says it is a reflection of modern day America