Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Lies, Untruths, and Historically Unencumbered Examples

Anyone for whom the internet is more than a series of tubes has probably observed, over recent weeks, a widespread smoldering fire over the moral boundaries that surround violations of the eighth commandment. The discussion, on which a veritable whose-who of Catholic American thinkers has weighed, was sparked by the "sting" videos produced by an organization called Live Action at a Planned Parenthood facility. I write here not because I have anything profound to offer to that conversation (that would require that this page have an audience), but rather because I have thoughts that I want to develop myself, and this is the easiest place in which to write them.

Several writers, notably at the Witherspoon Institute, have come out strongly with the opinion that there is no exception to the prohibition on deceptive false utterances. Many of their critics have raised the Nazi-at-the-door scenario and the necessity-of-spies scenario in response. I think the Nazi scenarios are bad examples for this exercise because they carry too much baggage, leading to uncritical assumptions and conclusions.

Thus, for this exercise, we're going to take a situation that engender essentially no preconceptions, at least among Americans: there is a Frenchman, working for the French government, who slips into Sevastapol as a spy during the Crimean War. He carries false papers and is there with the express intent of passing sensitive information to the allied armies. We will assume that the Crimean War was just. Of the following acts undertaken by the spy, which are immoral as violations of the eighth commandment?

  1. The Spy comes ashore furtively.
  2. The Spy wears Russian clothes.
  3. The Spy wears his hair and beard in a Russian fashion.
  4. The Spy carries papers falsified to appear as identification documents issued by the Czar's government.
  5. The Spy carries Russian matchbooks and other personal paraphernalia.
  6. The Spy greets a Russian fisherman in Russian.
  7. The Spy greets a member of the Sevastapol garrison or police in Russian.
  8. The Spy lends a match, from his Russian matchbook, to the policeman.
  9. The Spy, when asked for his name, gives the Russian translation of his name.
  10. The Spy, when asked for his name, gives a false Russian name that bears no relation to his own.
  11. The Spy asks directions from a Russian passerby.
  12. The Spy, when asked, produces his Russian passport.
  13. The Spy, when asked about his background, says that he is from Odessa, that his father is a clockmaker. a) Assume his father is not a clockmaker, and that he was born in Marseilles. b) Assume instead that his father is a clockmaker in Marseilles.
  14. The Spy, when asked about his business, says that he has come to Sevastapol to make arrangements to sell goods to the garrison and ship them across the Black Sea (or insert preferred business).
  15. The Spy observes the dispositions of Sevastapol's defenses.
  16. The Spy communicates his observations to the allied forces by furtive means.
  17. When asked "You're not a French spy, are you?" the Spy replies "No."
  18. When asked "You're not a French spy, are you?" the Spy replies "What a silly thing to say! By the Autocrat of all the Russians himself, I'm shocked to hear such an accusation!"
  19. The Spy, when conversing with a Russian, makes disparaging remarks about Napoleon III, when he personally admires the Emperor.
  20. The Spy attends the Divine Liturgy at an Orthodox church, where he engages in liturgically correct gestures and recites the Nicene Creed without the filioque.
  21. The Spy goes into a tavern, plies a Russian soldier with vodka, and tells him stories of his adventures (which never happened) until the soldier reveals secret military information.
  22. Thy Spy engages in #21, but drinks the Russian into a stupor and then rifles his papers.
  23. The Spy engages in a) #21 and b) 22, but without telling false stories.

I can't think of any other spy activities that involve dishonesty and aren't covered here. Which are lies?

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