Princeton's Dr. Peter Singer Opposes the War
debate between Peter Singer & Bill O'Reilly
'The O'Reilly Factor', Fox News, March 26, 2003
BILL O'REILLY, HOST: In the Back of the Book segment, writing in The Los Angeles Times, Dr. Peter Singer, who teaches bioethics at Princeton University, says that the lives of Iraqi civilians should be on an equal moral plane with those of Americans. Therefore, we are wrong to wage war against Saddam Hussein.
Dr. Singer joins us now from New York.
Doctor, I probably didn't do justice to your column. I mean I read it, but I -- why don't you define the main point in it for the audience, and then we'll bat it around.
PETER SINGER, PH.D., PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: Well, the main point the first part of what you said, that I think we should not consider human life to be worth less because it's a member of the Iraqi people rather than American, and I don't think the American people are being seriously enough concerned about the fact that, by rough estimates, about a thousand Iraqi civilians have been killed during this war. I think that ought to be a major factor in making us think about what we're doing.
And, despite what I see as a lot of public-relations spin about minimizing civilian deaths, there's a lot of evidence that, in fact, the Americans are often firing where they shouldn't be firing and are too trigger happy with a lot of civilian casualties resulting. I think that's a tragedy.
O'REILLY: All right. Well, until that's proven -- I think that it would be irresponsible for you and I to discuss it until it's proven.
SINGER: Well, if I can say so, you just talked earlier in the program about the tanks killing two journalists.
O'REILLY: Yes, I mean sure. Mistakes are going to be made.
SINGER: Now that gets a lot of attention. That gets a lot of attention. But, when it's non-journalists, just Iraqi civilians who have been killed, it doesn't get so much attention, of course, but we know that it's happening.
O'REILLY: Hold it. All right. Look, nobody wants anybody killed. And you bring out the Iraqi civilians, all right? And the pope makes the same argument that you do. However...
SINGER: Good. I'm glad we agree for once.
O'REILLY: I -- yes. I think you might have read in a column when 400,000 individuals, human beings were killed by Saddam Hussein -- 200,000 Kurds and 200,000 of his own people -- after the '91 war. I didn't see your column in the "L.A. Times" then. My thesis is...
SINGER: Well, the "L.A. Times" did not ask me to comment at that time. If they had, I certainly would have.
O'REILLY: All right. Well, look, come on, Doctor. Don't play games with me here.
SINGER: No, that's not a game. I mean...
O'REILLY: All right. I'm not one of your Princeton students here. What I'm saying to you, sir, is this. By allowing Saddam Hussein to stay in power, he will kill far more civilians than will be killed in a crossfire situation with American troops.
SINGER: Well, we don't know how many civilians would have been killed. Certainly, in the past, he did. But, of course, the Americans supported him by supplying him with some of the biological and chemical weapons that killed thousands of Kurds.
O'REILLY: That's ancient history, sir.
SINGER: That is true. So the Americans were not concerned about it then, and I didn't hear you attacking the Americans for supplying Saddam with those poison weapons at the time when he was killing Kurds. So I don't think you should throw stones to me about that.
O'REILLY: Well, he was supplied with those weapons, as you know, sir, to fight Iran, all right, who was at that time...
SINGER: Yes. And America supported him.
O'REILLY: ... much more of a threat with the...
SINGER: That's exactly right.
O'REILLY: ... much more of a threat to the United States.
SINGER: So America was following its national interests...
O'REILLY: But what I'm saying to you is...
SINGER: ... and not so concerned about the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis or Iran who were killed by Saddam that you were just talking about.
O'REILLY: What's -- what I'm saying to you is you and the people who have brought these questions up, all right, don't seem to be concerned about allowing a dictator, a brutal man, a maniac, all right, to continue to rule, all right? You only are concerned about the United States removing him with force, and I see that as -- let's be kind -- being naive.
SINGER: No, I am very concerned about the people that Saddam was killing. I'm concerned for that matter about the people the Burmese military are killing. I'm concerned about the people that the North Koreans...
SINGER: ... are killing.
But, you know, we don't have a world at this stage where we go around and say who are the worst dictators, let's remove them. Maybe we should have such a world, but we would have to see -- you know, do that collectively.
I don't think it would be right for one nation to take for itself the power to say we're going to decide who's the worst dictator and we're going to remove them. I think we ought to go to...
O'REILLY: OK, but the reason that...
SINGER: ... an independent body like the United Nations.
O'REILLY: ... didn't happen in this case, sir -- sir, the reason that didn't happen in this case is Saddam Hussein clearly violated international law by the mandates that he refused to adhere to issued by the United Nations.
So we had a legal right to go in and remove him. We have removed him. We are going to save far more lives than are being lost, and I believe that you're on the wrong side of this argument politically and morally.
But I'm going to give you the last word.
SINGER: Thank you.
I think we should show that we are really concerned about innocent human life by taking much greater care than we have, by not, for example, firing at people when they have five seconds to get away from a roadblock, as Lieutenant Colonel Scutter (ph) was quoted in "The New York Times" as saying he would.
"If they -- if they don't move in five seconds, they're dead," he said. I don't think that's an attitude that shows that the American military has great respect for innocent human life. Anyone can make a mistake.
O'REILLY: All right. I think you're doing a great disservice to your country, sir, because, by all accounts, the American military has been very restrained over there. Very restrained.
SINGER: I think that's more spin than reality, unfortunately.
O'REILLY: All right. Well, I think you're wrong. But we'll leave it there as a gentlemen's disagreement. Doctor, thanks very much. We appreciate you coming on, taking the fire. Pardon the pun.