My wife and I are in the process of catching up on CW’s Arrow, the DC Comics-produced reboot of the famed Green Arrow character. It’s a great fun: cheesy, melodramatic, but action-packed and well-plotted. We enjoy the hell out of it.
But there’s one problem with the show.
In the first season of Arrow, Oliver Queen routinely kills the bad guys. When they threaten life and limb, he’s happy to take them out with an arrow through the chest. In the second season, however, he undergoes a moral transformation: now, he says, killing bad guys is wrong. Always. No one should ever be killed. In a culminating scene, the villain of the second season, who is responsible for dozens of murders including that of some major characters, says to Queen that if Queen kills him, Queen will become him. Queen agrees, and tries to preserve his life even if it means risking his own needlessly.
This trope – that people who commit evil acts, up to and including murder, must never be killed – is a moral inversion. Unfortunately, it’s become ubiquitous in the popular culture. How many times have you heard a Hollywood action hero insist that if he kills a terrorist, he’ll be just like the terrorist?
Hollywood is now setting up a basic standard by which defending your own life is considered immoral, even if it involves killing someone trying to kill you.
What a bunch of horse manure. Did anyone from the Greatest Generation worry that if they killed the Nazis trying to kill them, they'd be just like the Nazis?
There are two reasons to kill someone as a general matter: defense of self, and defense of others. Failing to kill someone when necessary is a grave moral sin.
Put aside Batman's obvious willingness to break bones, paralyze people, maim bodyguards paid to do a job, and all the rest. Just take his self-stated unwillingness to kill at face value.
Batman’s refusal to take life is a great weakness when it comes to the Joker – how many people would Batman have saved if instead of capturing the Joker every five minutes, packing him off to Arkham Asylum so he can escape again and murder half the city, Batman just put him down?
Even that is more defensible than superheroes taking immediate increased risk on their own behalf and behalf of others so as not to kill bad guys. You can make the argument, however weak, that Batman ought to work within the system and turn the Joker over to Commissioner Gordon and the unbelievably incompetent authorities of Gotham. But how, exactly, do you justify allowing the Joker to kill bystanders during a car chase so as not to kill him, if you could just Batarang him at the outset?
One of the unfortunate problems with English translations of the Bible is their failure to capture the actual language of the document. The Bible clearly says Lo Tirzach – do not murder (meaning premeditated and with malice). It doesn’t say Lo Tehrog or Lo Tamut – do not kill. In fact, the Bible says that anyone who sheds blood, by man shall his blood be shed (Genesis 9:6).
Hollywood is now setting up a basic standard by which defending your own life is considered immoral, even if it involves killing someone trying to kill you. That’s why the left found the comments of former Senator Jim Webb (D-WV) so disturbing in the Democratic debate. When Webb announced that he was most proud of having as an enemy a Communist who threw a grenade at him in Vietnam, and whom he had killed, the crowd went silent. Why wouldn’t they? They’ve been taught for years that Webb’s best moral option would have been to capture the soldier and send him to rehab – or to join the Communists. Whenever a police officer shoots an armed assailant, the left cries out in unanimous chorus: Why couldn’t you shoot to wound?
The answer is: because you can’t always shoot to wound. Batman is a comic book character. But real people aren’t. They must often defend their lives and the lives of others at the cost of the life of an evildoer. Our entertainment industry does us a great disservice morally when it teaches children that killing in self-defense or defense of others is morally unjustifiable.