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TAMU PHIL 315 - Operation Redwings Case Prompt

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CASE RESOLUTION - Due 16 November 2020 Thanks to the best-selling book, and movie adaption, the public has been fairly well acquainted with the particulars of the incident discussed below. Your task, however, is to consider what you would have done were you in LT Murphy’s position. If you had to make the call, what would you believe is the morally correct thing to do? Would you do the exact same thing as Murph? Or would you choose a different course of action? Whichever decision you would have made, how would you justify it as the morally correct course of action, chosen from the different options that presented themselves? Operation RedWings Case: (adapted from Lucas, “This is Not Your Father’s War,” Journal of National Security Law & Policy;2009, Vol. 3 Issue 2, p329.) The four members of SEAL Team 10 were inserted in the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan’s Kunar province on the night of 27 June 2005. The problem these four individuals faced was a deciding absence of reinforcements, or backup support of any kind in a remote and inaccessible region far from their operation headquarters. Code-named “Operation RedWings,” the mission of these Special Operations Forces (SOF) was to reconnoiter and get “eyes on” Ahmad Shah, a close associate of Osama bin Laden, whose attacks had been taking a heavy toll on U.S. Marines operating in Eastern Afghanistan.1 After setting up their observation post on a mountainside overlooking a village near the Pakistani border in which this key Taliban leader was believed to be encamped with a small army, the four-man team was approached midday by two Afghan men and a 14-year old boy who was herding a flock of goats. The SEALs debated over whether to kill the three civilians to protect their cover, try to hold them prisoner, or simply turn them loose and abandon the mission. After arguing among themselves, the four SEALs decided to let the Afghans go and attempt to reposition. A little later, however, nearly 100 Taliban fighters materialized, coming across the same ridge over which the goatherds themselves had fled. The SEAL team fought for several hours, killing an estimated thirty-five of the enemy, but eventually they were overwhelmed. Their commanding officer, U.S. Navy Lt. Michael Murphy, was shot and killed as he called for backup. Two of the three enlisted members of the team were also killed in the relentless gunfire. Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell, the lone survivor, was badly wounded, and escaped by jumping down steep cliffs, falling hundreds of feet at a time. He was found and rescued by local Pashtun tribesmen, who for several days extended him extraordinary hospitality, medical care, and protection. When finally located and rescued by Army Rangers, Luttrell learned that Lt. Murphy’s original call for assistance had resulted in an even greater tragedy. An MH-47 Chinook immediately set out in response, with seven Army Rangers and seven Navy SEALs aboard, all of whom had volunteered to rescue their comrades. Sadly, a Taliban rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) hit the rescue helicopter as it was landing, killing the two pilots and all fourteen Special Operations Forces 1 See Marcus Luttrell, “Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10” (2007).volunteers on board, the worst single incident of battlefield fatalities sustained in the Afghan conflict to date.2 As we reflect on the lessons to be drawn from this terrible incident, we ask if Lieutenant Murphy did the right thing when he reminded his comrades (as Petty Officer Luttrell reports he did) of the status of noncombatants under the Geneva Conventions, and of the vital importance to the ultimate success of the allied struggle against terrorism of maintaining stringent adherence to those provisions? For my part, I believe “Murph” Murphy did act correctly and courageously in this instance, and he fully deserved the Medal of Honor that he was subsequently and posthumously awarded. Unquestionably, however, he and his comrades paid a terrible price for this principled decision.3 It should come as no surprise, then, to recognize that this incident is the topic of intense debate. Petty Officer Luttrell believes that he and Murphy were mistaken in enforcing rules protecting noncombatants in this situation, and blames himself for this decision, and for their deaths. Many agree.4 2 In addition to Luttrell’s book, see also the accounts published in THE WASHINGTON POST (Tuesday 0ctober 23, 2007, p. A4; and Monday, June 11, 2007 in A1-A12), and also in THE NAVY TIMES (June 11, 2007). 3 SEE George R. Lucas, Jr., “Inconvenient Truths” –Moral Challenges to Combat Leadership in the New Millenium, 20th ANNUAL JOSEPH A. REICH, SR. MEMORIAL LECTURE, U.S. Air Force Academy (November 7, 2007), available at http://www.usna.edu/Ethics/_files/documents/Inconvenient%20Truths%20for%20USAF%20Academy.pdf. 4 Moral philosophers have likened this case to Jeff McMahan’s much discussed example of the “innocent aggressor,” who poses a lethal threat to one’s life, even if accidentally or unintentionally. SEE JEFF MCMAHAN, THE ETHICS OF KILLING: PROBLEMS AT THE MARGINS OF LIFE (2002), and more recently this example of justifiable self-defense, in KILLING IN WAR (2009). I object to this analogy on the grounds that, unlike the lethal aggressor, the shepherds themselves were unarmed, and posed no direct or imminent threat. It is not clear, in any case, that the SEAL team’s having been “stepped on” (that is, discovered by potentially hostile locals) itself warrants an automatic death sentence for the unfortunate locals. But these remarks only suggest how intricate and inflammatory the analysis of such instances becomes.Case Resolution With case resolutions, the objective is to put yourself in the place of the individual(s) portrayed in the case example and determine the morally correct course of action. Thus, to complete assignments of this type consider the following: • What are the available options? What are the morally relevant considerations, e.g. who would be impacted/harmed, would their rights be violated, etc.? Of the available options, which seems to be most consistent with your conception of morality? • If asked why you chose one option over others, how would you justify your decision? Would you argue from the position of a Utilitarian? A Kantian? A Virtue or Natural Law ethicist? Some conjunction of


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