"Living in a society where individuals can do whatever they like, regardless of the law, would create total anarchy…total chaos."

essays

Antranig Mesrobian

mesrobianIn this essay, LACCD student Antranig Mesrobian attempts to answer this important question: Do the ends justify the means? In the process, he explores the concepts of civil disobedience, anthropocentrism and biocentrism.

 


Sea Shepherd Conservation Society: The Ends Do Not Justify the Means

Paul Watson and SSCS: Law-Breaker and Law-Breaking Organization?

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) is a marine and environmental activist group. Headed by leader Captain Paul Watson, the SSCS has been quite controversial since its origination in 1977. However, this fact is not surprising since Watson, the founder of the society, has been radical in his approach to achieving his non-profit organization’s mission, which is the preservation of marine wildlife at all costs. Originally a member of Greenpeace, another non-profit environmental organization, Watson was thrown out because of his shrewd and aggressive tactics.

The subject of numerous charges and attempted prosecutions across “categories of offense” such as “life and health, hooliganism, vandalism and damage,” Watson, acting with the members of his organization, has clearly violated international marine and human rights law in order to achieve SSCS goals (“U.S. Ninth Circuit Court Panel To Hear Appeal From Japan's ICR Against Sea Shepherd”). However, Watson and SSCS have not faced any real repercussions for their actions. Although some countries have tried to convict Watson of various charges, Watson and SSCS have evaded prosecution, which, in itself, is a criminal act.

Is there convincing evidence that Watson and SSCS have broken the law? Absolutely. Examples of three international incidents involving Watson and the SSCS will reveal that Watson is an aggressive activist who has no regard for maritime or human rights law.

In 2002 Watson and SSCS instigated an incident against a Costa Rican vessel in Guatemalan waters. After getting word that the Varadero, a Costa Rican vessel known for shark finning. was operating in Guatemalan waters, Watson and his crew determined to stop this illegal activity by using various aggressive tactics such as taking the ship off course, using of a water cannon pointed directly at crew members to prevent them from continuing their activities, and eventually ramming the vessel itself. Irritated upon seeing the shark finning, Watson and the SSCS tried to stop it using any tactic possible. According to Watson, the crew of the Varadero was engaging in an illegal maneuver used by commercial fisherman whereby a shark’s fin is deliberately detached from the shark for its commercial value, and the shark is subsequently thrown back into the water where it will eventually die. However, in Watson’s attempt to stop this illegal activity, he and his crew violated the Navigational Regulations regarding “right of way” for ships. The 1972 Rule 8 of the IMO preventing collisions at sea basically states that one must take all precautions to avoid a collision ("COLREGs - Preventing Collisions at Sea”).

This time, Watson and his crew not only broke the law, but also endangered the lives of six Costa Rican fishermen in the process. Fortunately, none of the crew was actually harmed as a result of SSCS actions; however, the Costa Rican government did charge Watson with violation of the international navigational regulation. It is important to note that prior to 1972, compliance with the traffic scheme for boats was voluntary. However, in 1971, “the IMO Assembly adopted a resolution stating that that observance of all traffic separation schemes be made mandatory - and the COLREGs make this obligation clear” ("COLREGs - Preventing Collisions at Sea”). In spite of this mandatory obligation, SSCS was clearly willing to go so far as endangering the safety and lives of fisherman in order to save sharks. However, one of the most aggressive law-breaking incidents SSCS engaged in involved SSCS crewmember Peter Bethune.

In January 2010, Bethune committed piracy when he illegally boarded the Japanese whaling ship Shonan Maru without permission from the ship’s captain or its crewmembers. Bethune claimed he boarded the ship in order to hand a three million dollar invoice to the captain of the Shonan Maru for replacement of one of a SSCS patrol boat, the Ady Gil, which the Shonan Maru had destroyed as a result of the aggressive actions taken on the part of the SSCS to stop the Shonan Maru’s whaling activities. Bethune also attempted to conduct a citizen’s arrest of the ship’s captain because of the endangerment he had caused Bethune and his crew when the Shonan Maru rammed the Ady Gil.
According to Article 101 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, piracy consists of any of the following acts:

  • (A) Any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed :
    • I. On the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;
    • II. Against a ship, aircraft, persons, or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;
  • (B) Any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft;
  • (C) Any act inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in sub paragraph (a) or (b)” (“Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships.”)

All seagoing vessels and their crewmembers are expected to know maritime law. As a crewmember of an SSCS ship, Bethune willingly violated maritime law because he felt SSCS goals were more important than compliance with the law. However, laws are put into place to protect people and property from outside aggression or harm (whether accidental or intentional) and to provide boundaries within which all members of a society are expected to operate ("What Are the Six Purposes of Laws?"). Operating outside the established and agreed upon boundaries (whether through individual agreement and/or agreement among representatives of various governments) generally results in harm being perpetrated against someone or something and can literally have a negative impact on the fabric of society.

Living in a society where individuals can do whatever they like, regardless of the law, would create total anarchy…total chaos. International navigation regulations are written to protect vessels and their crew traveling in international waters. Through his actions and actions of crewmembers like Bethune, SSCS leader Watson displays a nature of pomposity. It is clear that he is willing to go to any length to save marine life to the point of endangering human life. But this is wrong. No individual is above the law. No individual’s worldview is superior to the law as written. Harming others is not justified simply because one’s worldview differs from the majority. How many lives is Watson willing to endanger to save the ecosystem before he unravels the fabric of society? In truth, many others may hold the same view as Watson; however, they do not go to the extremes that Watson goes to in expressing their beliefs. The law presumes obedience, and it is clear that Watson will disobey the law in order to get his point across and to attain SSCS goals.

Although Watson has committed other violations, the two incidents involving Costa Rican and Japanese ships obviously led to legal action from authorities in Costa Rica and Japan, including Watson’s arrest in Germany on behalf of the Japanese government. True to form, Watson skipped bail following this arrest and eventually triggered a red notice from Interpol in August 2012. On September 14, 2012, a second red notice was issued, this time at the request of Japan ("Paul Watson"). To date, Watson continues to evade prosecution.

Although a red notice is not an actual arrest warrant, Watson is still held accountable for his actions and must face their repercussions in a Japanese court. But justice does not seem to be on Watson’s radar. By evading international legal authorities, Watson and SSCS continue to take the law into their own hands, proclaiming their innocence and suggesting by their evasive actions that prosecution would be at the hands of unjust governments ("Paul Watson"). Watson clearly believes that his form of aggressive activism is justified. He believes strongly that his means justify his ends. But do they? And how many laws is Watson willing to violate or ignore in pursuit of SSCS goals? If his aggressive means justify an “honorable” end, what will keep others from applying similar tactics for their individual beliefs? Sooner or later every law would become irrelevant. If Watson gains support for illegal actions, if they are applauded as honorable, what will stop the next activist from choosing the same methods to implement change?

However, it is true there are times when to do greater good, one may have to go against a governing body and its laws. Although saving the whales may be considered by some to be honorable, no individual human being or organization, no matter how worthy the cause, is above the law. Watson would vehemently disagree. “I believe that saving the lives of a thousand whales must take priority over playing courtroom games with Japan and Costa Rica…. You don't win a battle by playing by the rules of the opposition" (Watson, Paul, Cpt. 1). There are also other environmental activists and organizations that would agree with him and who advocate for him. The Guardian, a British daily newspaper, named Paul Watson one of its “ ‘50 people who could save the planet’” in its January 2008 publication ("Paul Watson").

While it is clear that SSCS and Watson believe their belligerent actions are justified to ensure survival of marine life and the ecosystem for future generations, one must consider their dangerous consequences to the safety of any human beings who get in the way of their mission and the potential destruction to the fabric of society as a result of their efforts. A person cannot deem another human being’s life invaluable by claiming his or her actions endangering this human being are for survival of the planet.

In order for a society to be civil, there must be laws and citizens who abide by the laws, and the law presumes obedience. Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi were three extraordinary men who changed the fabric of their society, yet without a single act of violence. In India, Gandhi fought oppressive British rule. In the United States, although at different times in history, King and Thoreau expressed their worldview regarding slavery and sparked an entire movement that eventually brought equality to the lives of all men. According to Thoreau, “If the machine of government is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law” (Thoreau 1). However, Thoreau and the two other men did not use violence to attain their goals, and yet they got their messages across effectively. In comparison, Watson has demonstrated total disregard for the law and for the safety of human beings.

Disregard for the law and subsequently disobeying it serves as sufficient justification for labeling an individual or the actions of an organization as criminal. Watson and the SSCS, therefore, have clearly violated the law, justifying the labeling of him and the actions of the SSCS as criminal. The issue at hand now is determining whether or not one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

Paul Watson and SSCS: Eco-Terrorist and Eco-Terrorist Organization?

September 11, 2001, is a day that will go down in infamy. It is the day when Americans learned they are not untouchable. America was attacked for the first time on its own soil since Pearl Harbor. The September 11 attacks were a travesty of international justice that affected all Americans, not just those who lived in New York City, worked in the Pentagon, or were passengers on the planes that were used as bombs. The attacks shook us to the core of our beings and threatened our sense of safety. Since then, the word “terrorism” has become a part of the vocabulary of every man, woman and child.

Terrorism, according to Webster Collegiate Dictionary, is defined as “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion” (“terrorism”). The Concise Encyclopedia defines terrorism more specifically: “Systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective ("Terrorism: All Forms of a Word“). By definition then, Paul Watson’s history as a violent environmental activist and the extreme actions of his Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) clearly fall within the definition of terrorism. In fact, it can be shown that Watson and SSCS have engaged in a specific type of terrorism known as eco terrorism, which Webster defines as “sabotage intended to hinder activities that are considered damaging to the environment” ("Eco Terrorism: All Forms of a Word”). One really needs to look no further than the illegal and violent actions taken against the Shonan Maru as a prime example of eco terrorism.

Since 2003, in accordance with its mission statement, SSCS has headed down to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary off the coast of Antarctica every year to obstruct aquacultural research activities conducted by Japanese research vessels. The SSCS mission statement reads:

[The] Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) is an international non-profit, marine wildlife conservation organization. Our mission is to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world's oceans in order to conserve and protect ecosystems and species.
Sea Shepherd uses innovative direct-action tactics to investigate, document, and take action when necessary to expose and confront illegal activities on the high seas. By safeguarding the biodiversity of our delicately-balanced ocean ecosystems, Sea Shepherd works to ensure their survival for future generations ("Who We Are - Sea Shepherd.")

Although the SSCS’s yearly trek to the whale sanctuary might seem benign in theory and its mission statement compassionate, in reality Watson’s ultimate purpose in tracking the Japanese vessels every year is to systematically and deliberately stop their aquacultural research activities, and SSCS seeks to accomplish this objective with the use of any force necessary.

Before discussing the kinds of aggressive tactics SSCS has used in the whale sanctuary, it is important to note that aquacultural research is not considered damaging to the environment. On the contrary, aquacultural research is conducted under controlled environments and is the opposite of commercial fishing ("Aquaculture"). Watson, on the other hand, would have us believe that the Japanese vessels are engaged in something other than research, namely the capture and killing of whales found in the Southern Ocean sanctuary.

As noted previously, in January 2010, Peter Bethune, a member of SSCS, and his crew had an altercation with the Japanese vessel Shonan Maru. In an attempt to stop what SSCS considered to be the murder of the whales, Bethune systematically tried to hinder the ship’s ability to conduct its activities by trying to obstruct its path, going so far as pouring acid on the deck and hull of the Shonan Maru. In its defense, the Shonan Maru collided with the SSCS patrol boat Ady Gil, causing significant damage to the SSCS’s patrol boat to the point that it could no longer function. An enraged Bethune boarded the Shonan Maru, physically assaulting Japanese whalers in an attempt to conduct a citizen’s arrest of the captain and to allegedly present the captain with a bill for three million dollars for damage sustained by the Ady Gil.

Although Bethune no doubt felt he was acting within the boundaries and rights of his organization’s mission, reasonable men would agree it is quite a stretch to accept that his actions fell within legal boundaries of international maritime law.

In addition to their conscious commitment to violence, it is clear that Watson and his crew are also skilled in interpreting maritime law in their favor, including the mandate of the U.N. World Charter for Nature which states:

  • 21. and, to the extent they are able, other public authorities, international organizations, individuals, groups and corporations shall:
    • (a) Co-operate in the task of conserving nature through common activities and other relevant actions, including information exchange and consultations
    • (b) Establish standards for products and other manufacturing processes that may have adverse effects on nature, as well as agreed methodologies for assessing these effects
    • (c) Implement the applicable international legal provisions for the conservation of nature and the protection of the environment
    • (d) Ensure that activities within their jurisdictions or control do not cause damage to the natural systems located within other States or in the areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction
    • (e) Safeguard and conserve nature in areas beyond national jurisdiction
  • 22. Taking fully into account the sovereignty of States over their natural resources, each State shall give effect to the provisions of the present Charter through its competent organs and in co-operation with other States.
  • 23. All persons, in accordance with their national legislation, shall have the opportunity to participate, individually or with others, in the formulation of decisions of direct concern to their environment, and shall have access to means of redress when their environment has suffered damage or degradation.
  • 24. Each person has a duty to act in accordance with the provisions of the present Charter, acting individually, in association with others or through participation in the political process, each person shall strive to ensure that the objectives and requirements of the present Charter are met ("Mandate - Sea Shepherd").

In brief, the U.N. mandate states that the SSCS and other environmental organizations have the right to go into international waters and intervene in illegal activity by using direct force. However, heading down to the Southern Ocean sanctuary and violently disrupting research activities is a misinterpretation of the mandate’s regulations. While the Japanese claim they are engaged in research, Watson claims that the research is a front for illegal whaling operations (La Canna, 1). However, in a court of a law, the issue at hand is not what one “thinks” or “believes” to be true. It is what one can prove to be true within the confines of the law, and in this case, according to the Japanese government and maritime law, only research is taking place in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary ("Presumption of Innocence").

Even with a strong legal case against it, the SSCS continues to claim that the Japanese government is using a loophole in international maritime whaling law to justify the illegal whaling activities of the Japanese fishing industry. The problem is that Watson and his organization are not fighting the Japanese on a legal basis. They are actually taking their environmental ideology into their own hands and attempting to stop the Japanese fishing industry on a physically and criminally violent level rather than a legal one. In addition to using violent tactics, Watson evades Interpol in its attempts to bring him to justice ("INTERPOL Red Notice Issued for Paul Watson at Japan's Request"). As previously noted, Watson made his position clear when he said, “You don't win a battle by playing by the rules of the opposition" (Watson, Paul, Cpt 1).

In Paul Watson’s defense, he is fighting for an issue in which the victims cannot speak for themselves. The ecosystem has been in decline, the ozone layer is being depleted, and animals and marine life are being added to the list of extinct or endangered species (Fowler, 1). What Watson and SSCS claim they are trying to do is to stop actions that they believe are harming not only the planet, but also threatening human existence.

From Watson’s point of view, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. As a biocentrist, Watson believes in “an ethical point of view…[which] extends inherent value to non-human species, ecosystems, and processes in nature - regardless of their sentience” ("Biocentrism – Ethics”). Watson and SSCS are taking what they believe to be strong affirmative action in support of what Watson believes is right and good for the planet and mankind. He is fighting for the life and freedom of marine creatures that cannot speak for themselves. However, the depth of his commitment to a bio-centric ideology drives him consistently to a level of violence that falls within the definition of eco terrorism and is far outside acceptable boundaries of international maritime law.

Fortunately, there are more acceptable outlets for resolving differences in beliefs. One does not have to resort to violence. Two great examples would be Henry David Thoreau and Socrates. Thoreau was briefly imprisoned for refusing to pay taxes to a government that sanctioned slavery, and Socrates was executed for a crime he claimed he did not commit. However, both men managed to defend their beliefs effectively in a public forum without engaging in the kind of violence that Watson and the SSCS do.

Although it is clearly wrong to deplete the planet of its resources, what Paul Watson and SSCS are doing to save the marine environment is also wrong. There are numerous rational activist organizations and institutions seeking alternative sources of energy and methods for sustaining all forms of life, and they are not engaging in practices that threaten others’ safety and destroy their property. Unlike these non-violent organizations, Watson and the SSCS are engaged in vigilante justice, which in itself is not only harmful and dangerous to others, but harmful and dangerous to themselves as well.

Watson and SSCS engage in criminal activity, and it is clear their actions fit the description of eco terrorism; but when did engaging in violent criminal acts and terrorism become justifiable means for achieving an activist’s objective? Is it possible to justify the actions of the SSCS because they have a “noble” goal?

The way one goes about changing society is critical. Vigilante bullies who take the law into their own hands, using any means to enforce their agenda, must be held accountable for their actions. Violence is not the solution. The great men who engaged in civil disobedience—such as Thoreau, King, Gandhi, and Socrates—transformed society without engaging in terrorist tactics. They are the examples activists should follow.

Throughout history many people have broken the law in order to make the world a better place. Under these pretenses does the end always justify the means? In the case of Paul Watson, a criminal and an eco-terrorist, the mission of the SSCS clearly does not justify its means.

Paul Watson and SSCS: Do the Ends Justify the Means?

In order for any society to be civil, there must be laws and citizens who abide by the laws: citizens from whom the law presumes obedience. Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King, Jr., Socrates and Mahatma Gandhi were four extraordinary men who changed the fabric of their societies without committing a single act of violence even though they deliberately disobeyed the law. For example, King and Thoreau expressed their worldview regarding slavery and racial equality and sparked an entire movement that eventually brought freedom and racial equality to the lives of all African-American men and women. As Thoreau stated, “If the machine of government is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law” (Thoreau 1). Again, they did not use violence and yet they were all successful in achieving their noble cause. By comparison, Watson and the SSCS have demonstrated total disregard for the law and for the safety of human beings.

What noble cause does Paul Watson want to achieve? He wants to save the earth’s ecosystem and the environment (all aspects of marine life, including animals and plants). By what means does he intend to achieve this? Apparently by any means necessary. Is he justified in doing so?

Technically speaking, whales of any kind are not to be hunted for any reason. In 1986, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) issued a moratorium on commercial whaling. Iceland, Norway and Japan, three countries with citizens and economies that are dependent on commercial whaling, objected to this ban, claiming that certain whale species were not endangered. Consequently, the IWC provided these three countries with research permits that allow them to hunt a limited number of whales in order to learn more about their health and population. However, all three countries use the research permits to profit from commercial whaling. Therefore, aren’t Watson and SSCS justified in taking any means to achieve their ends: an end to hunting whales and other marine life?

Before exploring this issue further, it is important to note that various philosophical ideologies such as veganism, biocentrism, and human population control (which is artificially altering the rate of growth of the human population) are grounded in the Four Pillars of Biocentric Ethics as opposed to “anthropocentrism,” which is a widely held position that human beings are the central or most significant animal species (an assessment of reality through an exclusively human perspective) (“Biocentrism”).
In brief, these four pillars address the relationship between humans and nature (i.e., non-human entities) and extend the concept of morals to all animals, reducing man to a position of being just one species amongst many. The four pillars are as follows:

  1. Humans and all other species are members of Earth's community.
  2. All species are part of a system of interdependence.
  3. All living organisms pursue their own "good" in their own ways.
  4. Human beings are not inherently superior to other living things.

Biocentrism and environmental ethics are concepts that are becoming more and more acceptable in today’s society. People are becoming more aware of their natural surroundings, and society in general is beginning to promote this love of nature. Ironically, Paul Watson claims to be a biocentrist; however, his actions seem to go against the ideals of those who first introduced and developed the concept.

Albert Schweitzer, Pete Singer and Paul Taylor (the “fathers” of these various environmental theories) were brilliant men who held a general consensus that there is no hierarchical structure when it comes to living creatures. All organisms have a purpose and they are interdependent on one another. This concept removes the anthropocentric hierarchical structure that over time has been well established as the norm in society. Based on this explanation, however, the actions of Paul Watson do not fall under the guidelines of a biocentric worldview. If no living life form is more important than another, if all life is regarded to have equal status, then how can the actions of Watson and the SSCS be considered credible since time and time again Watson and SSCS put human lives in danger in order to save non-human life?

Even for those who do not believe that human life holds a priority over other living creatures and the ecosystem, Watson’s actions cannot be taken seriously because Watson has put human lives in danger in order to save whales. If each and every organism is not superior to other organisms, then why does Watson and SSCS place the lives of humans in jeopardy? Why doesn’t Watson fight the governments that are pursuing him by using a non-violent and legal approach? He claims that he and several other anti-whaling groups claim that Japan’s and other countries’ research vessels are undercover whaling ships. If that is the case, why not take their documentation to the world court and convict these governments of the actions that Watson “claims” they are engaged in? Think about it.

I understand the biocentric worldview with regard to organisms being interdependent in order to survive. I can respect this concept, although I do not agree with it. However, Watson may claim to be doing the work of a biocentrist, but he continues to endanger human lives. There is no real egalitarianism in Watson’s outlook or actions. In his worldview, he is the judge, jury and executioner. Watson and the SSCS decide who they want to attack, which government they want to go after, and whose lives they deem are important for the purpose of advancing his views.

In an odd way, it appears that biocentrists such as Watson and I actually have something in common: a passionate reverence for life. Like I do, he would not advocate harming or killing any human; but where we differ is that he would not advocate harming any life form since all living things are equal to him and have equal value. I am not saying that whales cannot think or feel, but until there is scientific proof and laws that support this theory, it is arguable that marine and/or plant life, for example, are on an equal plane with human beings. Again, it is not so much what one knows as it is what one can prove. In an exceedingly relativistic society, no argument should be won without proven facts and sound logic to support it. Besides, if all life forms are equal (as biocentrism suggests), why aren’t the whales doing their FAIR share to save themselves and the ecosystem as well? Think about it.

As compassionate and well-meaning 21st century men and women who were born with advanced and highly complex levels of functioning, it is our duty to protect the ecosystem and animals; however, when it comes to life, there is no sound argument for eliminating common sense and the anthropocentric hierarchical structure of living creatures. In the case of Paul Watson and the SSCS, the means he uses to justify his organization’s end appears, at best, conflicted and, from this writer’s point of view, every citizen’s worst nightmare. Some biocentrists argue that we need to kill 80% of the human population to save the planet, but killing 80% of all people is not rational, reasonable or humane. The biocentric Watson’s endangerment of human life in an effort to save marine life is, therefore, not what is universally accepted as civil behavior, nor can his effort be construed to have originated from some form of civil thought.

Our vast environment exists for human beings, and we have a responsibility to it. It is our “home,” and we often share it with animals and maybe an occasional fish or lizard; however, human life comes before everything else. We are the most advanced species on the planet, and it is our duty to protect this planet and all it offers us. However, to harm or kill people in order to save animals or plant life is extremely irrational and perhaps even immoral. Watson and the SSCS, therefore, must be brought before legal authorities and held accountable for their crimes. And why? The answer can be found once again in our four men of history.

Being a man of great conviction and integrity, Thoreau responsibly faced the punishment for his crime of income tax evasion. He held tightly to his beliefs and eventually faced the legal ramifications for his actions when he non-violently disobeyed the law: He went to jail. Martin Luther King, Jr. paid an even bigger price for an even bigger cause, and he ultimately paid for his convictions with his life, but prior to his death he went willingly to jail when arrested for breaking the law. He did not spill one ounce of blood to get his point across. He continued against all odds to speak his mind about right vs. wrong, and people who heard him either loved him or hated him and yet he kept on speaking. Even after nearly being mauled to death by the Ku Klux Klan, and feedback from observers who thought that having a family, having children, would convince him to stop sharing his beliefs in order to protect his family, Martin Luther King was not afraid of what might happen to him as a result of staying committed to his passion for racial equality in the United States. In the end, he lost his life, but those who lived to talk about him witnessed the end of segregation in America, the official abolishment of Jim Crow laws, and a new era of civil rights.

In Gandhi’s case, oppressed by the British government, Gandhi chose to use the peace within him to bring peace within his country. By fasting and boycotting and refusing to abide by British rule, Gandhi was not only successful in removing the British from India, but also set the example of how great men should fight for noble causes.

As history has shown, each of these four men disobeyed the law, yet each man was successful in achieving his political objective without the use of force, giving hope to future activists that large-scale change without the use of violence or terrorist tactics is possible. However, when individuals and organizations like Watson or the SSCS decide to disobey the law, up to and including using extreme measures with the hope of forcing their agenda on others, and they purposely evade those who are responsible for bringing them to justice, it seems an easy leap of faith to call Paul Watson, the man, a coward and a bully. More importantly, it is clear that Paul Watson, the environmental activist, can justifiably be labeled a criminal and an eco terrorist in light of his ideology and his organization’s actions.

The majority of Americans will hardly live up to the standards of the great men of stature mentioned above: Socrates, Thoreau, King, and Gandhi. However, having researched the topic of civil disobedience, what I have learned begs the question, “Are we, as citizens of a global society, called to look after animals and our environment? “ The answer is “Yes, we are,” and we do. However, in cases where protective regulations and laws are being broken and citizens or their property are in danger, insisting that violent activists be tried in a courtroom before a presiding judge and a jury is a correct action. If it is proved that their actions are criminal, then they must face the legal consequences of their actions.

As law-abiding citizens, many of whom are politically active, it is imperative that we are able to discern the non-violent from the violent activists. When disobedient yet non-violent men gain recognition, we are prone to follow them because of the manner in which they conduct their affairs. Men like Paul Watson, however, seldom if ever achieve the lasting status of men like Socrates, Thoreau, King, and Gandhi, because Watson’s conduct is so blatantly inappropriate to functioning members of society. Watson’s actions may help the ecosystem, but at what cost?

If we agree to disagree on Watson’s specific means to an end, then allow me to leave you with this final question to ponder. If Paul Watson’s actions are justifiable in the sense that harming human beings is viewed as collateral damage or a necessary casualty, are you honestly willing to risk your own life, or the lives of those you love, to save a whale?

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