Obligation can appear as a commitment solely enforced through law due to its forceful nature. However, moral obligation is also present within individuals as well as society. Within our own society there are a number of ethical issues that can be perceived differently—all of which due to the wide array of numerous morals each individual lives by. For instance, a woman has been married to her husband for only one year. The newlyweds are still undecided whether or not they want a child in the future, but for now, they would like to simply enjoy each other. Within months, the woman learns she has become pregnant despite taking all possible preventative measures. After discussing the issue with her husband, she concludes to abort the child. She figures they did everything they could to prevent pregnancy; therefore she is justified in her decision. Also, they are not yet ready. In this case, abortion is okay for the woman due to the circumstance she is dealt, yet another woman’s point of view may have differed. In other cases, another woman may presume this instance to be her fate and despite circumstance, she disagrees with aborting her unborn child. What is important to consider in this hypothetical situation is that in the end, each individual has morals, yet all differ upon what some believe is right, others wrong, and how to consider the circumstances. Although there is no concrete moral code to uphold among society, moral obligation remains vital and through that, what about other pressing ethical issues? I believe society is morally obligated to others in many situations such as helping those who face poverty, and preventing war due to its effect on the weak and marginal. In addition, we must also eliminate the death penalty due to its harsh measures on those who are usually poor and weak.
Having demonstrated the importance of obligations to others, I assert that implementing moral obligation can be successful by assisting individuals who face poverty. The world’s poverty gap is far too wide and must be bridged immediately. According to the World Bank, the world poverty gap lies at $1.25 per day. What is important to realize is that while many people live comfortably, largely among Western Europe as well as the United States and others, there are people living in countries such as Brazil, El Salvador, and Somalia who struggle to survive solely due to the shortage of food and water. While others spend money on unnecessary material items, people are starving and fighting to survive. It is a wide gap that I believe must be eliminated. Anyone who lives comfortably or has the luxury to buy unnecessary material items should be obligated to help those in need. Those who face extreme poverty are weak and marginalized. They most likely have a slim chance of working to attain a comfortable lifestyle and therefore should be protected.
Many believe that it is not required nor is it our problem to help those in need. Ultimately, they may be of a different nationality or perceived to have gotten into those positions by their own actions. However, the reality is that we are all human. Despite nationality or race, we as a society are obligated to protect life and those fighting for it due to their circumstances. It is an undeserving situation no matter who the individual and it is up to us to end it and bridge the gap. According to Famine, Affluence, and Morality by Peter Singer, “[. . .] if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it.” If we are in the means and without succumbing to the level of poverty this person may be in, then we are obligated to do so because they are weak and helpless in their position.
Along with the issue of poverty, our moral obligation to others is also successful by extending it to the eradication of war. War also is an instance where the weak and innocent are wrongfully effected. Take for example the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War. My Lai was located in South Vietnam where agitated troops ultimately opened fire on weak and innocent civilians:
As the ‘search and destroy’ mission unfolded, it soon degenerated into the massacre
of over 300 apparently unarmed civilians including women, children, and the elderly. [William Calley] ordered his men to enter the village firing, though there had been no report of opposing fire. According to eyewitness reports offered after the event, several old men were bayoneted, praying women and children were shot in the back of the head, and at least one girl was raped and killed.
Although it can be argued that it was a one-time occurrence where these troops should not have opened fire, the death of human beings is inevitable in war. These troops may not have been in their right mind at the time, and all due to the formality or war and what it causes physically and psychologically. Had the United States and Vietnamese officials negotiated, this atrocity could have been eliminated. More efforts must be taken to prevent the outcome of war. That is one of the important issues of why an individual is elected into office- for his/her leadership. It is our obligation as well as our leadership to prevent war at all costs—even if that mean months of talks and meetings. If two leaders are unable to come to an agreement, more officials should step in to provide objectiveness and possible solutions.
Conviction that some negotiations are impossible to make can be seen through the Camp David Accords II, where former president Bill Clinton made the effort of bargaining the Middle East conflict between former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. The accords were to end the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinians. Ultimately, President Clinton did not give up, however. Time ran out and elections took place, ultimately implementing a new leader in replace of Ehud Barak. As a result, violence is a reoccurring issue within the Middle East and innocent victims die every day due to the holy war. Had all leaders persisted to come to a collective agreement, much of this would not be an issue. In retrospect, we as humans are obligated to help the weak and marginalized. By preventing war, this can occur and innocent victims would not lose their lives as frequently.
In order to enact our obligation to others, assisting victims of poverty and preventing war must be supported, and it follows that we should also eliminate the death penalty. In many cases throughout history, there have been heinous crimes committed that outweigh others. Nevertheless, all result in victims dying. Yet, what must be remembered is we are replacing what those murderers did with a punishment that is of equal or more value. According to From Justice, Civilization, and the Death Penalty: Answering van den Haag by Jeffrey H. Reiman, “Calling for the abolition of the death penalty, though it be just, then, amounts to urging that as a society we place execution in the same category of sanction as beating, raping, and torturing, and treat it as something it would also not be right for us to do to offenders, [. . .].” It is our obligation to not repeat the same injustice these criminals commit. However, it is also important to note that in many cases, these criminals are also weak and marginalized themselves. Within the conditions they were raised, there is likely to have been some traumatic experiences that left them mentally ill or vengeful. We must look beyond using the scapegoat of capital punishment and possibly implement other programs that can rehabilitate or help these people.
It is possible that not everyone can be rehabilitated, but through this we must be able to draw the line and impose punishment by means of life in prison rather than rehabilitation and instead of the death penalty. For example, after killing 77 people, Norway’s Anders Behring Breivik was sentenced the maximum in Norway of 21 year in prison. It was clear Breivik was not mentally ill; he acted as an apparent terrorist and anti-Islamic killer. According to Why Norway is Satisfied with Breivik’s Sentence by Mark Lewis of the Time World Newspaper, “For the survivors and the bereaved families, a sane man [was] properly punished, while Breivik [felt he could] still burnish his credentials as a political terrorist, without being written off as a madman.” There was a clear distinction Breivik was not mentally ill. Although rehabilitation is an aspect of society’s obligation to prevent the death penalty, we must also be able to distinguish which criminals even serve the qualifications or genuinely need help rather than those, like Breivik, who cannot be tamed. More so, it is our obligation to prevent the death penalty and protect the weak and marginalized—in many cases, they murder and commit crimes due to these very reasons. By that, instead of choosing the death penalty, we must make an effort to identify the root of the cause and see if it is possible to change this person.
More so, we as a society have an obligation to assist others that are weak and marginalized in society. Through this means we are obligated to help human beings facing poverty, prevent war because it ultimately leads to the circulation of innocent deaths, and lastly, we must prevent the death penalty because it repeats the criminals’ mistakes while not considering they too may be the victim of marginalization. Although obligation may seem like a choice everyone should make on a personal level, why not implement a system of moral guidelines that creates a maxim for society regarding moral obligation? It is ideal for no one to suffer from starvation while the issue can easily be prevented. For that matter, why not instill a moral code that individuals can look and live by as a set of guidelines? There is no need to make it a law, however it should be a code that is commonly stressed and spoken by. It is also ideal for war not to occur; therefore we as a people must step in when officials cannot negotiate. We must force them to come to an agreement because war is not an option, and if they cannot, we improvise until there is a solution. Lastly, I believe it is ideal to prevent the death penalty because it repeats the act of the criminal and does not address the root of why the criminal committed such an act. Why not see if there is hope for that person? Then after, we can determine his/her fate. Society is responsible for each and every situation. We must step in and make a change through obligation, because without it, there would be no change made.
 “The World Bank,”
 “Famine, Affluence, and Morality.” Peter Singer
 “American Experience—Vietnam Online.”
 “History of Failed Peace Talks.” BBC News
 “From Justice, Civilization, and the Death Penalty: Answering van den Haag.” Jeffrey H. Reiman
 “Time World- Why Norway is Satisfied with Breivik’s Sentence.” Mark Lewis