7/7, 9/11, BBC, Britain, Ethics, intentions, Iraq, Islam, London, Philosophy, philosophy of action, Philosophy PhD, Political Philosophy, Politics, Radio4, Terrorism, Tony Blair, US Government

Blair, Responsibility, and Terrorism

Just heard PM’s interview on Radio4. An issue came up which already came up yesterday in the Commons; an issue of responsibility. Let us suppose that terrorism (or attacks against westerns, or whatever) has increased since, say, the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Are the US and UK Government responsible for that, given that their invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq was deliberate and intentional? Blair has a good answer to that: look (as he always, annoyingly, starts his answers), we can’t be responsible for the actions of others. And this is true. Responsibility is not causally transitive. So even if it made sense to say that the decision of the UK Government to invade Iraq caused the terrorist’s decision to blow up tube trains in London (and it isn’t at all clear what it means for one’s action to cause another’s action, given that the former, supposedly, was not sufficient to bring about the latter, otherwise the latter would not be an action), that does not mean that the UK Government is responsible for those trains being blown up; it is only who blew them up that is responsible. So that the counterfactual ‘the London trains would have not been blown up if the Government had not invaded Iraq’, even if true, would not bring with it responsibility for the Government. But there are at least to replies to Blair’s answer which, unfortunately, John (who fancies himself a bit too much to be a good interviewer) did not put to the PM: firstly, responsibility comes in if the government could have prevented what happened (but if the counterfactual is true, wouldn’t not invading Iraq have been a way to prevent the attacks? I guess the issue is whether you can do counterfactuals with people’s intentions and actions; and still, even then, it’s not clear that they would carry any responsibility). Secondly, there is an issue of prediction: because it is the Government’s responsibility to try and predict threats, it the Government could have predicted the threat, then, even though it cannot be responsible for someone else’s action, it would still be responsible for not having predicted someone else’s actions, which resulted in the attacks. In this latter case, both who blew up the trains and the Government would be responsible for the people who died on 7/7, because both who blew up the trains and the Government could and should have prevented what happened.


9 thoughts on “Blair, Responsibility, and Terrorism

  1. I found this in the middle of an article in the Times, I think it was good of you to let this man suck you to stay alive:

    For five days he kept moving through the mountains, sucking on cactus and yucca to survive. Weak from the 35C (95F) heat, he eventually came across a government patrol, which gave him food, water and his first telephone call in six years. “I had dreamt of this moment since my very first day in captivity,” he said. I’m only just entering the 21st century.”

  2. yucca, I must say that the theory that terrorists attacked because of the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan is one I reject. If that were true then all of the previous terrorist attacks would not have happened, right? I mean if I follow the line of logic here (and of course there is no promise that I have). Terrorists attack (in my opinion) for one reason and one reason only – to cause fear and terror in order to facillitate control. Anyway, interesting post.

  3. Hi WC,

    I too reject that point: 9/11 is the paramount example of how that point is weak. But you must consider that Britain, having been attacked in 2005, needs to answer that question. And the Prime Minister has two ways of answering it: it can deny the point (appealing, for example, to the fact that 7/7 is just like 9/11); or it can accept it, and deny that his government has responsibility for the attacks. Here I was just interested in this second option.

  4. Hi Yucca, I had a sense I wasn’t quite following what you were saying – now I see that in fact, we agree for the most part. I wonder though does the British government really have to answer that question? It seems to me that sometimes ignoring stupid questions is the best approach. I think one of the biggest problems we have is that somehow the crackpots with the bizarre theories have gotten traction simply because some p.c. politician made the mistake of addressing their crackpot questions – which validated the view.

  5. I don’t know WC. As I said, the distinctive element here is that Britain was attacked in the summer 2005, well into both Afghanistan and Iraq. And that, furthermore, the four who blew themselves up in London were born and raised in Britain. So I think that it is indeed important to establish whether there is any relation between what happened in 2005 and the decision-making of the British government. On the other hand though, you might be right that the second question, the one about responsibility, is a stupid one not worth answering. With just one problem: if it turns out that we have good reason to believe that the british government could have prevented the london bombings, how can we then say that the government isn’t partly responsible for them?

  6. Pingback: false truisms « an insatiable yucca

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