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What constitutes cowardice?


There has been increasing coverage on TV and on the Web of the Philippine Government's decision to withdraw its troops from Iraq in order to save the life the Filipino hostage, Angelo de la Cruz. The bandwagon effect seem to direct people's attention to the negative comments that been published in the web quite recently. I have previous posts that discuss some of these.

When a train in Spain was bombed previous to its elections, and after which, the country voted it's incumbent Aznar out of office, an increase in comments on cowardice have similarly been observed. Now, comparisons are being drawn on the Web and on Media about how the latest move by Manila is far worst a cowardice than that. Lately, with
Jay Leno's comment and insunuation through a joke that the act is that of cowardice, this brings me to a philosophical undertaking: What exactly constitutes cowardice? (Note to Leno, it's not troops, it's a humanitarian contigent)

Let us take an objective look at the word itself. Cowardice as a word derives from coward, which from Dictionary.com's etymology is discussed as literally someone who turns a tail (in), as dogs and other mammals do:

[Middle English, from Old French couard, from coue, tail, from Latin cauda.]

coward adj.
Word History: A coward is one who “turns tail.” The word comes from Old French couart, coart, “coward,” and is related to Italian codardo, “coward.” Couart is formed from coe, a northern French dialectal variant of cue, “tail” (from Latin cda), to which the derogatory suffix -ard was added. This suffix appears in bastard, laggard, and sluggard, to name a few. A coward may also be one with his tail between his legs. In heraldry a lion couard, “cowardly lion,” was depicted with his tail between his legs. So a coward may be one with his tail hidden between his legs or one who turns tail and runs like a rabbit, with his tail showing.

In the Philippines duwag or coward is caught in idiom as uklot ang tamod, or bahag ang buntot. Vaguely, it means to curl in one's tail (that of a man's private part, for in the olden days circumcision is not yet established) or if one's tail is tucked in between one's legs, as one would of a bahag, an indigenous men's clothing. (See this link to see how it is worn) Notice that the western definition is easily visible as emanating from a similar source with the same connotation as that of the Philippine context. In fact the latter is more graphic and more derogatory.

Cowardice in Filipino is Karuwagan, that is to say, being a coward. Duwag and coward are labels that are ascribed to certain people who exhibit behavior similar to this animal act, or seem to exhibit the same. Therefore, this word will not exist by itself: one needs a target, an act, and a person that makes the call and labels the target person. With this we see that, cowardice is a subjective and qualitative term, not an objective, measurable and quantitative trait.

Simply put, by definition it is lacking courage to take an act.

Cowardice though, as a concept, is much more complicated. For it to hold true the asciber of the word will have to judge the target on moral grounds, and even as in such acts any morals are culturally undefinable, ultimately ethics and universality will have to be used to render judgment. Somewhere between foolhardiness and cowardice, that's where courage lies, Aristotle mentions. Notice that to Aristotle extreme courage is foolhardy. After all, any act of unmeasured risks, or moral reasoning is that of a fools. Consider for instance two friends out in a jungle who saw a lion: the first, a courageous man ready to face a lion in battle, for whom for the sake of showing hat he is courageous will try to slay the lion with his bare hands. On it's extreme end is another man who chose to ran away and was thus labelled a coward. In this story the courageous man dies, the latter lives. The fool is thus that of the courageous.

Let's give this same situation some sense of purpose, we make this lion a wolf, that which will eat through the sheep and therefore, in the story we'll make the yound men as sheperds. One man chose to fend off the wolf, and the other to protect the sheep. Can the one who chose not to fight be called a coward? That is the conundrum in cowardice as a concept: Exhibiting signs of apparent courage through fighting the wolf does not validate one as not a coward, instead in this story inaction will be interpreted as cowardice.

Does this suggest that inaction is what ultimately defines cowardice, as a factor of choice? Since, in every moral decision, the person that should make a stand is culpable and any responsibility emanating from the repurcussions of each decision or indecision is tracable to his act, what does this say of actively not soliciting any action as a matter of choice? In a case as that, we are confounded with two options:

1. Actively not choosing
2. Being unable to choose
Let me cite this exchange I found in one of the Philo Forums on the Web (annotations and italics mine, unless blockquoted):

QUOTE "Does inaction equal complicity? "

This strikes me as a completely semantic issue. An inactive person is clearly more responsible for what happens than someone who acts to prevent it (as in those who did not chose to participate in the war against terrorism), and less responsible than someone who acts to promote it.

Therefore Manila's active position against terrorism is a responsibility, but any inaction of other states will be far more a bigger responsibility. After all such is inaction. What would that say of choosing not to participate anymore by withdrawing one's troops in Iraq? <- Well, that will be the most logical question of naysayers. Well, that is where logic goes wrong. The war in Iraq is not equal to terrorism, as this has not been proven yet. The position of the Philippines remains against terrorists. We chose, and we are not victims of inaction.
The logical question next question is thus: Does negotiating with terrorists equal associating with terrorists, and therefore, actively chosing not to fight it? Logic says No. Thus, Naysayers are wrong again.
QUOTE you simply cannot hold an individual responsible for not responding to every petty injustice.
No, but I can hold him responsible for not responding if it is a major injustice, and/or if there were only very few people available who could have (productively) responded. (i.e. made a difference, by making such a choice)
This strikes me as a bitter pill to take. If the war in Iraq is proven by history as wrong, and unfounded, then the Philippines having voted for it in the first place, and actively choosing to take part even with a 51 unit humanitarian contigent, is morally culpable for all the innocent Iraqi lives lost. By electing not to take part in the masquerade, under the guise of internal political reasons, it would seem as a good move in saving its reputation despite intense negative comments form the other particiapants supporting the United States.
QUOTE one would have to make a career of being wholly righteous to fit the bill
The goal of ethics is not to behave perfectly. Perfection is unattainable. The goal is to do the best you can.
The Manila's decision is thus that of a unique moral dilemma. It exhibits a moral choice, ethical repurcussions which in both instances apparent loss in political and ethic issues is on the table, yet at the same time it is established not on moral grounds alone but political. The goal is for the Philippines, through GMA, to make the best it can, do the best number of morally good things that it can in a single decision.

Is it morally right to continue a war that is baseless, and with that sacrifice another innocent life? Is it not morally right to exercise sovereignity in order to benefit the political sphere of 80 Million people wanting one life saved? Or is the best question, "is it not wrong to support a war only for the purposes of getting something back for it in the name of Million Dollar Development Aid from the US?" It's hypocrisy to fake it. It would in fact be foolhardy to label the Philippines cowards for electing not to be in Iraq anymore. After all the move against terrorism remains, but choosing not to be part of the masquerade is a courageous act. By electing to choose an option so hard, the Philippines has not been a victim of inaction, and therefore was not under any problem of a paralysis of the sovereign: that is having no chance to chose at all because in inaction the situation chooses the acts available. Risking development aid to do the right thing is a sacrifice by the nation of 7,107 islands.
What constitutes cowardice then? Cowardice is when knowing the truth and the repurcussions of ones choices, one still picks a morally wrong choice. Cowardice resides in the hearts of men whose eyes are being lit up by the beacon of the Philippine sun and stars to stop masquerading in Iraq, and yet persists to believe that killing innocent Iraqi lives is right. Cowardice is when you chose to label other cowards because you do not want attention directed at ones own faults and misgivings. Cowardice is when other States chose to not speak bluntly of a bully America that is fighting a wrong war. That is turning a tail in. And finally, cowardice will be proven if the American people will not elect to remove in the November election a government that has misled its own people into believing its war has just cause.
What constitutes cowardice is what throbs lively in our hearts when we see a tyrant mighty and proud and wrong and still we choose to NOT bring him down.


posted by Jdavies @ 7/18/2004,


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The Author


Jdavies lives in Quezon City, Philippines and has been blogging since 2002. A brand manager in a leading technology company and a freelance new media/web strategy consultant, he has refocused his blogging from personal, political & sociological observations, to marketing-related efforts and Internet trends that are relevant to his career and branding advocacies.

About This Blog

This blog is a depot of thoughts and observations on marketing trends which remain personally relevant to the Author as far as his marketing career is concerned. Having evolved from the personal blog of Jdavies, much of the earlier work contained herein are laced with personal speculation, political views, and similar advocacies. These posts are being kept for posterity's sake and for no other reason. No effort is being made to claim that the author will not contradict himself from his previous positions or that such advocacies are absolute.


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