When one is weighing the benefits and downfalls of a law or act that is to be made by the government, one must always keep the policy of utilitarianism in mind. Utilitarianism is to always do what does the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people. It is important to keep in mind the policy of utilitarianism when debating the topic of paying ransom for people captured by terrorist organizations. Ransom is the payment made to captors in return for the captive by either the government or the captive’s family. To deal with terrorist organizations effectively, the American nation must prioritize the benefit and safety of the majority of citizens over the life of a single captive.
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With the kidnapping of American and European citizens by terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda and ISIS, there has been an uproar of controversy about whether or not the payment of ransoms should be abolished in the United States. In the past few years, capturings of Americans and Europeans have proven to be an apparent issue, as governments of Western countries struggle to decide whether or not to pay terrorists for the lives of their citizens. This is why a G8 contract was signed by all major Western countries, after they all decided that paying ransoms does more harm than good, and committed “not to pay ransom to terrorist groups.”, as phrased in the Washington Post. Out of all the nations that signed this binding contract, Britain and the United States have been the only two countries to stay committed to the agreement. The other countries, such as France, Spain, Germany and Italy, “have found ways of channelling money to militant groups in exchange for their citizens”, as stated in the Guardian. The fault in the U.S. policy is that although the United States will not pay ransoms, families and their insurances are able to legally pay the ransom that is demanded. To minimize the capture of innocent peoples and discourage terrorist groups, it is imperative for the this payment be stopped, for it is impractical in a moral and economic way. The refusal of the United States to pay ransoms will result in the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people.
Not only can ransoms be used against the country that paid them, but they are also an unjust reward to terrorists for terrorizing innocent people. When an French citizen is kidnapped, and a large ransom is paid by the government, France is practically paying for their citizens to be kidnapped in the future. In fact, two researchers from the University of Texas have concluded from recent statistics that with every ransom paid, nearly 3 new kidnappings arise. This predicted stark rise in kidnappings shows that the country paying ransom for this single captive values the safety of all of its traveling citizens less than just one single person. The country of France is failing to commit to the G8 contract and endangering it’s citizens. It is simple to see the correlation between the paying of ransoms and a rise in abductions. France currently has dumped the most amount of money into ransoms, standing at $58 million since 2008, according to a recent New York Times investigation. It is no surprise that they have also had more citizens kidnapped than any other country in the world in the past few years. By not paying ransom, the United States will be protecting their own citizens, instead of selling them out to terrorists as France is currently doing. It is immoral to entice terrorists to kidnap a people of a certain country by offering a multi-million dollar reward.
The payment of ransoms is not only putting the safety of one above countless others safety, but it is also putting one person’s safety over the economic stability of the entire nation. Utilitarianism should be taken into consideration from an economic aspect as well, as the life of one person can cause an entire nation to fall into poverty and starvation, very possibly causing the death of many others due to starvation and disease. As ransoms are paid, the market is tipped. Ransoms will only skyrocket in price, placing the government in an impossible situation. As America pays more and more money to fund terrorists, our country’s citizens are becoming more and more poor. Soon enough, the incredibly wealthy and powerful terrorists will be laughing at a debt-ridden, economically drained United States. Those who are safe from the possibility of being kidnapped may now be faced with starvation and poverty.
Currently, the United States allows American citizens to pay the ransom for their captured family members by paying it themselves or having their insurance do it. This could be seen as beneficial since there is a chance to save the captive. However, this policy can result in the same detrimental effects as when the governments pay the ransom. The payment is no longer bad for the entire economy, and is now only affecting the single family, but it is still enticing terrorists to continue kidnapping American citizens. The payment is also made nearly impossible for regular families to be able to afford. For example, ISIS demanded $23 million dollars for the kidnapped Foley. This price set to be so high because other governments have been paying so much money for their citizens. Foley’s family was obviously not able to pay this amount, even though ISIS captured him to get paid.
The payment of ransoms to foreign terrorist organizations is morally wrong, because it puts other American citizens at a higher risk of being abducted. Some argue that putting a captured citizen at the risk of dying or never being released is very immoral, because it directly causes the grief of the family of the captive and the death of an innocent victim. For example, when Britain stayed true to the G8 contract and other European countries did not, “The public agony of British captives’ families contrasted with the joy and relief of the families of freed European hostages” (The Guardian). If moral consequences were the only issue at hand, the argument made by the opponent would most definitely be an substantial case. However, it must not be forgotten that these terrorist groups are terrorists that kill thousands of innocent people. When they receive the millions of dollars handed to them by the American government, they turn around and use that money to kill innocent citizens of the country they are stationed in, or buy weapons to kill the soldiers of American allies. It is not morally sound to allow for the safety of one being, at the cost of thousands of innocent human lives. A direct quote from a German general is “We need to ask ourselves whether or not we can live with the fact that the money we are paying in ransom for hostages could be used to buy weapons that could kill our soldiers in Afghanistan.” Writers of “The Guardian” also argue that it is the government’s job to protect the lives of their citizens. However, by protecting one life, the government is potentially putting thousands of other people at stake. Also, it must be understood that these journalists are well aware of the danger they are in when they agree to go document events in warzones. These journalists are willing to take the risk. Not only do they know that they are taking a risk, but not paying ransom for a man is not a death sentence. In fact, a few days after Foley was unfortunately killed, a man named Peter Theo Curtis was returned safely home after being captured in Syria. Ransoms are not necessary for saving lives, and paying ransoms actually put more lives in danger, so it is not possible to argue that paying a ransom to save one life is more beneficial that the alternative option.
If ransoms are paid by the American government or by individuals, the devastating results will affect the entire nation. To put a few people over the safety and well being of an entire nations is massively immoral. It is much more morally sound to be a utilitarian country that thinks of it’s hundreds of millions of inhabitants over a few unlucky souls.
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