Um. Is George W. Bush Evil?

I apologize in advance for the Intro to Philosophy-ass rant that follows.

Let’s concede off the top that ‘evil’ is usually the kind of word you’d like not to invoke in political or even quasi-political conversations because it automatically derails constructive discourse about weighty, complicated matters (though we should note the irony of affording Bush this courtesy).

But this isn’t really about Bush, even, so much as it’s about evil and its parameters. Like a lot of people with humanist inclinations, the word tends to make me uncomfortable, but I’m at a loss as to what else to call human suffering caused by violence we’ve seen in Iraq. So let’s assume that the violent deaths of hundreds of thousands of people meets the criteria for evil. Bush and the war’s architects offered up lots of flimsy and since-discredited rationale for going into Iraq. But if the war is evil, then aren’t its actors and architects evil by extension — even if they thought their intentions were noble and the ends justified the means?

On a related note, there’ve been a lot of smart posts in the blogosphere  lately about  “just war” in the light of the madness in Gaza. Here’s Larison:

“…war, while sometimes necessary, is a great evil. It should not be easy to go to war even in self-defense, much less should it be easy to escalate or start wars… the reason for invoking just war theory seems to be mainly to gain the political benefits of being able to claim to being on the right side, and preferably without having to meet most of the obligations that just war theory requires (or to lower the standards for meeting those obligations such that virtually every operation will meet them no matter what happens).”

Okay. So war is evil even if justified. But doesn’t that make the person most directly responsible for its prosecution evil by extension? Or is the evil of an act — even acts with a scale of war —  independent of the actor?



Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs and reports on race and ethnicity for NPR's Code Switch team.
  • Molly

    If Bush = War and War = Evil, then Bush = War = Evil, or Bush = Evil. All you had to do was look a that bleary-eyed, smug, true-believer face to know that you are witnessing evil!

  • ladyfresshh

    Bush is Evil

    though i’m happy that the country was able to keep the soldiers out of the moral condemnation crossfire this time

  • lfresh: why wouldn’t the soldiers be evil? doesn’t this formulation follow for them as well?

  • Molly

    Totally agree. The socio-economically-based “draft” is horrible, but killing people is an act of malevolence.

  • Molly – even if you’re in a “kill or be killed” situation?

  • Molly

    Good point.

  • Molly

    How unbelievably tragic for all pawns in the game.

  • ladyfresshh

    G.D. – Molly said it best – soldiers are pawns

  • ladyfresshh

    G.D. – i knew the nazi’s were goin to play into this because i thought about that as well

    but frankly all wars are not the same and i would compare it more to vietnam in which the people violently opposed the soldiers in addition to the government and it just did not sit well with me

  • GD: like you I have an aversion to the word “evil”. I read a quote somewhere once that said “War is the playground of the ignorant.” I think I can get behind that. I don’t think of Bush as evil but I do think of him as damnably shortsighted and willfully ignorant. Of course that’s nearly as bad but I think it lacks the element of intent that the word “evil” connotes. As far as the role of soldiers, I think it’s definitely a grave mistake to characterize soldiers as evil by extension. Of course there are going to be some people who do get off on killing people, but there are also those who have to be conditioned into it be processes of deindividuation and desensitization and yes, there are those who are “just following orders”. We’d all like to think that in a particular situation we would be upright, humane, self-sacrificing or whatever, but when you read things like the results of Stanley Milgram’s classic experiments on the effects of authority and obedience here:

    Are the people who were unable to resist authority and followed through in “shocking” a victim evil?

  • UE: We ride (rightly, I think) for soldiers. But the reason i even went there with the soldiers was exactly because the word ‘evil’ is sort of a black hole. I’m not sure that if you’re calling someone evil, you can say that the people who are putting his evil will into practice are just neatly cordoned off from it.

  • GD: Yeah, I knew where you were going with it. It’s a dangerous word I think. It falls in the category of things I seldom say and mean, like the word “hate”. I have a lot of students who talk casually about “hating” someone not realizing what a heavy word it is. I think there are a lot of people I actively dislike, but I can’t think of anyone I hate.

  • ladyfresshh

    G.D. – i’m disturbed by how lightly bush is treated frankly (especially with regards to this war and impeachment people shy away because it’s seems inconvenient almost) it’s a heavy word for heavy deeds, intents and consequences
    hitler was also willfully ignorant what places bush in a different category? is it demeanor?

    this reminds me of a conversation i had with my mother recently in which people love labels for other people not themselves and anything connected with them because then it seems harsh

    a person can be caught lying but will not admit to being a liar, stealing and they are not a thief, cheating but they are not a cheater, mothers decry the innocence of their children who committed murder but their child is not a killer, and lawdy don’t call someone racist

    i understand situations and circumstance can be subtle and nuanced. Bush is a bumbler, he is ignorant and he is someone who has performed intentional negative moral acts has intentionally caused cruel, unjust or selfish deeds
    he is evil

    this is not to say he does not have other qualities and also not to say that there aren’t level sof evil
    but frankly i have no qualms (also note no intense emotion… i won’t be throwing a shoe at him) in applying this label…unless ya’ll convince me otherwise

  • R.

    I don’t think I could’ve said it better than UE. I believe Gdub’s willful ignorance is/was due to a heavy dose of blind faith on some of the worst set of characters and what they would bring to the table (Cheney, Rumsfeld, etc).

    Evil he is not and from the looks of it, neither terribly bright. I mean, you’d figure that at one point the bad decisions would stop. And I get the feeling that the shoe thrower was targeting a complete dumbass rather than the devil himself.