Would that be all right, we'd be asked? Is that a sacrifice anyone except that little girl has the right to decide upon? What would it say about the rest of us if we were willing to buy our security with someone else's suffering?
And, like students everywhere, we'd wonder, "What the fuck has this got to do with anything?"
Little could we guess that this would become a flesh-and-blood ethical question for our nation today, not that many people in the nation have managed to notice.
For starts, there are the thousands of innocent civilians we've killed in Afghanistan in our quest to root out the few in their midst who were a threat to us. Even closer to our fable is the story the LA Times broke recently that at least 10 percent of the 600-plus prisoners we've imprisoned on Guantanamo—in tiny cells, indefinitely, with no contact with the world or recourse to justice—are so obviously innocent that even members of our own intelligence community are incensed about the injustice of it.
We're talking about old men, teenagers, bakers, farmers, halfwits too dim to even know which end of a gun points out, who got sold to us by Pakistani mercenaries or got caught up in the bureaucracy, and they've been vigorously interrogated and stuck in cells half a world from their homes ever since. This after Donald Rumsfeld assured us we shouldn't worry about these people's rights because they're "the worst of the worst"?
As much as I like to rag on the Times' shortcomings, they have enterprised several kick-ass stories lately, including pieces on how many of our best and brightest Marine pilots have been killed by their balky but brass-beloved Harrier aircraft, or about how die-offs of endangered whale populations are likely caused by our Navy's sonar. Both again raise questions of our security purchased with some other person's or species' scrip.
It's a blow to freedom when newspapers don't report these stories, but what about when they do? There should be an outcry on these issues, a national debate over who we are and what we stand for. The innocents in those Guantanamo cells may be locked away from our sight, but they define who we are. What would it say about our national character if we're holding more innocent prisoners on Cuba than Castro is?
But there is no outcry. The national debate on CNN is about Michael Jackson's nose. Are we so bombarded with fluff that we don't even feel it when we collide with a moral ice shelf?
What is good? What is just? What is right? If our society no longer has the time or the collective ability to grapple with such questions, what are we but an anthill?