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Moral Question re Civilian Casualties:

Israel's daring commando raid in Tyre Friday night, reportedly killing several Party of God missile experts in charge of firing on Hadera (near Tel Aviv) in their apartment raises a very interesting moral issue. According to at least one press report I saw, Israel said that it could have simply leveled the building with a bomb, but it wanted to avoid civilian casualties. Let's assume this is true. Meanwhile, two Israeli soldiers were killed in the raid, and eight wounded, two seriously.

Here's the question: let's say you are an Israeli officer in charge of taking out the Party of God commanders in question. Your analysis shows that a bomb is 90% likely to be effective, as is a commando raid. Expected losses from an air attack to your forces are zero. Expected losses from the commando raid are two killed, eight wounded. The only reason to prefer the commando raid is to avoid civilian casualties (this may not be true in this particular case, but play along). How many civilian casualties do you need to avoid to justify the deaths and injuries of your own men? What if five civilians live in the building and would likely die from the raid? Ten? Fifty? One hundred?

Assume also the the target is sufficiently important that even one hundred deaths on the other side would be considered "proportionate" under whatever standard you use for such things. Further assume that the war is a just one. To what extent, if ever is morally justified for a commander to risk the lives of his own soldiers to keep civilians out of harm's way? (Avoid the complicating factor that the Israeli army, despite calumny from many, takes pride in trying to avoid civilian casualties, and this pride may increase the army's motivation. And of course, forget about the p.r. implications. I'm trying to avoid the practical issues here, and focus on the moral dilemma.)

UPDATE: If it helps you focus on the issue at hand, ignore Lebanon completely, and think about, say, the U.S. in WWII. The U.S. is going after an important German military target. The options are air raid or commando raid. How many German civilians need to be saved to justify two dead, eight wounded soldiers in the commando raid?

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Moral Question re Civilian Casualties Revisited:
  2. Moral Question re Civilian Casualties:
Ron Hardin (mail) (www):
The value of human life is infinite. Which means, not that it's big (it's not), but that you can't calculate with it.

It has to be judged on other considerations, in other words.

You might, for example, want to display good character.

You have a conflict of interest here : as Coleridge wrote (there's 3 volumes of his Op-Eds from around 1800 in various papers) a conflict of interest is the pulley on which good character is hoist into view.

Not only for others, but your own view, I could add.
8.6.2006 10:16am
Ron Hardin (mail) (www):
Another Coleridgeism, not in an Op Ed but I can't locate it, is that moral puzzles are designed to dull the moral sense, not to sharpen it.

That is, the puzzle maker shades the puzzle so as to make it as hard to come down on one side or the other as possible.

The implication is that a bright line is necessary or you have no morality at all.

But you can bring a bright line out in what you do in fact, which is to say it's in the character of the agent, in the end.
8.6.2006 10:19am
Donald Kahn (mail):
Avoidance of "collateral damage" was an unquestioned tenet before 1939. It went by the boards in that war, which was an incident in the re-descent of our race into barbarism.

There is a word for the virtue of Israel's policy: chivalry.
8.6.2006 10:32am
rarango (mail):
Professor B: My answer to your question comes from my experience as a career officer who served in combat in Viet Nam. Quite frankly, I am not aware that that calculation is ever made by the operational forces that carry it out; regretably, combat is not a calculation--it is mechanistic barbarism and at the operational level most soldiers and their their leaders resort to trying to stay alive.

I do grant you that at the highest political-military levels that kind of calculation might be made; if so, one argument for that kind of activity is that it sends a very clear message to the enemy: we know who you are, we know where you are, and we can get in and kill you. I do believe Israel has already established its bona fides as attempting to minimize civilian casualities: thus this calculation, it seems to me, was made at the pol-mil level to send a message to the Hezbollah, Syrian, and Iranian leadership.
8.6.2006 10:45am
Humble Law Student (mail):
Well, against Germany, German civilian causalties were hardly ever a cause of concern. Nevertheless, I don't think current national and world opinion would approve a repeat of the WW2 strategies, e.g. the Allies decision to firebomb Dresden, knowing there were few worthwhile targets, but instead sought to damage German moral through the wholesale slaughter of German civilians. As such, the moral calculus of that time isn't relevant to today.

For better or worse, the moral question is decidedly subjective.
8.6.2006 10:51am
Shangui (mail):
(Avoid the complicating factor that the Israeli army, despite calumny from many, takes pride in trying to avoid civilian casualties, and this pride may increase the army's motivation. And of course, forget about the p.r. implications. I'm trying to avoid the practical issues here, and focus on the moral dilemma.)

But doesn't this miss some of the most important factors? Israel needs to not only be successful in this hypothetical operation, not only in this larger attempt to destroy the Party of God, but also to do these things in such a way that the people of Lebanon will not see them as sworn enemies to be resisted whatever the cost. Haven't we learned from Iraq that pure military success is, to put it very mildly, not enough? I understand the interest in a hypothetical like this, but it seems to be beside the real point in this case.
8.6.2006 10:51am
DavidBernstein (mail):
Shang, I agree with everything you wrote. But I'm interested in the moral question beyond the current situation. As a commander, your first responsibility is (obviously?) to your own troops, but how far does that go?
8.6.2006 10:55am
o' connuh j.:
This is not new. The historical event which immediately springs to mind is whether to commit ground troops for an invasion of Japan risking upwards of hundreds of thousands of troop casualties or have the bomb take out Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
8.6.2006 11:07am
Frank Drackmann (mail):
I would rather lose 999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999 enemy than one American, even if the American is Jessie Jackson.
8.6.2006 11:07am
Jim Barnes (mail):
No, David, his first responsibility is the mission. Getting the mission done with no loss to his own troops would be an objective.
8.6.2006 11:11am
Humble Law Student (mail):
o' cunnuh j,

The situations aren't really analagous. A key distinction is that the bombing of H and N arguably brought about peace with fewer American military and Japanese civilian causalties than if the US invaded the Japanese mainland.
8.6.2006 11:11am
johnt (mail):
I doubt there's a ratio or calculus, or for that matter a army field guide, to provide an answer to the dilemma. Considerations not demonstrably as evident as numbers come into play, such as the importance of a particular target or goal, the stage &condition that an armed force finds itself in at any time &geographical place. If it's generally true that nations, not armies, fight wars then unfortunatly or not civilian casulties are judged on a sliding and ever variable scale. Distressing to contemporary humanists, whose ethics also appear on a sliding scale, but generally true.
8.6.2006 11:14am
Eli Rabett (www):
First of all, there were many commando raids in WWII that might have been displaced by bombing. However your question is based on a false premise. While a contributing reason for using commandos is to avoid civilian casualties, the major advantage is to gather intelligence and take prisoners. Think how valuable that would be to Israel in the current situation
8.6.2006 11:16am
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):

Avoidance of "collateral damage" was an unquestioned tenet before 1939. It went by the boards in that war, which was an incident in the re-descent of our race into barbarism.


Oh, where do people come up with this nonsense?

Tell this to the residents of Atlanta when Gen Sherman came through.
8.6.2006 11:26am
Currence (mail):
The only selfish, moral thing for the Israeli officer to do is to save the lives of his/her soldiers and opt for the air attack. From a procedural standpoint, the officer been appointed to his/her position with the intended goal of winning the conflict (with the execution of this particular mission as only part of the overarching battle, etc.), and to sacrifice one's own soldiers for the benefit of other civilians in enemy territory is indefensible. From a moral standpoint, all the civilian blood and moral responsibility -- yes, *someone* is responsible for the deaths of the civilians -- is strictly on the hands of the group/individuals who literally forced Israel (and by extension, the Israeli officer) to respond in self-defense, taking action that resulted in the citizens' deaths. There is no number of civilians, in answer to your question, that would justify the officer's choice of a ground raid rather than an air raid.

Israel is a sovereign nation acting in self-defense against a nation that knowingly harbored (as elected officials no less!) terrorists. More than that, even if the killed civilians were completely innocent, devoid of all pro-Hezbollah sentiment, the moral responsibility lies with the group/individual who initiated the conflict: Hezbollah thugs.

As so with Germany, and so with Hiroshima/Nagasaki. The killing of innocents is more than tragic, it is a moral crime, but it was committed by the Axis powers at the start of the war: once you start a war, you are responsible for every death resulting from actions taken by the defending countries. The Allies had a moral obligation to respond in the most effective way possible, and this included bombing civilian areas. And so it is in the case of Israel/the West against Hezbollah/terrorism.

The blame is rightly placed on the shoulders of the initiators of force, not those responding to it in self-defense.
8.6.2006 11:29am
scepticalrepub:
These issues were addressed by the right wing and neocon critics of Bill Clinton during the Kosovo/Bosnia bombing campaign. Alan Keyes, in particular, gave several good speeches on just war doctrine and how allowing focus groups or polling to determine if 3 dozen GI's were worth more than 2500 Serb civilians was not the moral calculus America should be involved in.
8.6.2006 11:48am
Erasmussimo:
I agree with Currence that, when the problem is approached exclusively from a military point of view, there is no reason to assign any weight to civilian casualties. However, Mr. Bernstein's question is presented in the moral sphere, not the military sphere. If we approach it exclusively from the moral angle, then the answer is simple: there is no basis for assigning higher moral value to one person's life than another, and so the weighting factor for Israeli casualties relative to civilian casualties is 1.0.

Of course, we can also approach it from the political angle, in which case we are likely to assign larger weighting factor to Israeli casualties -- and that is a messy political calculation.

My main point is that the question can be asked in three different contexts: military, ethical, and political; and that each context yields a different answer.

I anticipate objections based on arguments that mix the moral, military, and political considerations. For example, one objection argues that, since the Israelis are the "good guys" in this conflict, they are assigned a higher weighting factor. This argument mixes political considerations with ethical considerations. The overall validity of such a mixing is a debatable proposition; but the issue posed in this topic clearly excludes political and military considerations and focuses exclusively on the moral ones.
8.6.2006 11:55am
Russ Meyer (mail):
Both the civilian death avoidance and principle of civilian casualty avoidance is only calculated by a stronger side, for it's only then that you can afford it.

Finally, I agree with Charlie (Colorado) about Donald Khan - collateral damage avoidance is a new phenomonan. Aside from Atlanta, there has been the bombing of Manila in the Spanish-American War, the Rape of Nanking by the Japanese, British impressment of service prior to 1812, and the wholesale massacres of the Crimean War. Heck, look through history and tell me that the Crusades or the folks who sacked Rome were avoiding collateral damage and I'll know I have a new sucker who would believe Nigerian Investors really have $90 million for them.

War is uncivilized and our greatest shame......and, unfortunately, sometimes also necessary, for the alternative is tyranny.
8.6.2006 11:58am
Tom20060806 (mail):
Israel has a very limited supply of combat personnel. They will lose a war of attrition against the much more numerous Arabs who recruit forces from many nations, so they must avoid casualties and make war efficiently. So, bombing and accepting civilian casualties is the rational course of action.

They have issued warnings, and that allows some civilians to escape, but it also allows the enemy to escape.

Doing the killing with commandos yields better information and intelligence than a bomb, so it is not quite an equal trade. The commandos can report how many were killed, collect information to identify the dead, collect additional intelligence from the site, capture prisoners, interrogate prisoners, interrogate uninvolved civilians.

Re P.R., I don't think it matters. Israel could be perfectly careful and cause no civilian casualties, and still be vilified in the press.

War means anhilating your enemy, and the victors write the history books. Although "civilized" rules of war were developed and honored in Europe the past few hundred years, attempts to play honorable, civilized war in the Middle East and Asia have failed. Once the decision to make war is made, morality during its prosecution doesn't have any meaning. War is intentional mass murder of the opponent.
8.6.2006 12:17pm
Enoch:
If it helps you focus on the issue at hand, ignore Lebanon completely, and think about, say, the U.S. in WWII. The U.S. is going after an important German military target. The options are air raid or commando raid. How many German civilians need to be saved to justify two dead, eight wounded soldiers in the commando raid?

Since the U.S. did not have the option of a "precision" air attack in WW2, they could not make such a choice (the air raid would be highly unlikely to be as effective as the commando raid). Nor is the situation analagous, unless the civilians in question were not German (i.e. how many French civilians would you be willing to kill in order to destroy German forces operating in France). Nor is it the same kind of war.

Collateral damage avoidance before recent decades was not an issue because you pretty much couldn't avoid it. The technology wasn't there.

If we approach it exclusively from the moral angle, then the answer is simple: there is no basis for assigning higher moral value to one person's life than another,

There absolutely is. In any event, the distinction between Israeli "soldiers" and Lebanese "civilians" is false, because the Israeli soldiers are also civilians, although they wear a uniform. The idea that somehow their lives are "more expendable" than Lebanese civilians is preposterous.
8.6.2006 12:19pm
Ken Arromdee:
If we approach it exclusively from the moral angle, then the answer is simple: there is no basis for assigning higher moral value to one person's life than another, and so the weighting factor for Israeli casualties relative to civilian casualties is 1.0.

You should take into account the possibility that sparing the civilians by sacrificing your soldiers leads to the enemy being more likely to put civilians in harm's way in the future, this leading to a long-term increase in civilian deaths.
8.6.2006 12:34pm
Erasmussimo:
Tom20060806, I'd like to quibble over a secondary point:

War means anhilating your enemy

To trot out von Clausewitz, war is the extension of policy to other means. It's not a football game, and there are no winners. It is a way to get something done, a transaction in which you spend a certain amount of blood and treasure to obtain a desired policy result. Usually the actual result falls short of the desired result, and the costs exceed the projections, and so many politicians who resort to war as an instrument of policy end up regretting their choice. The ideal war is short, sharp, and precisely focused on obtaining the desired result.

Enoch, you declare that there absolutely is a moral basis for assigning greater weight to one person's life than another, but you don't present that moral basis. What is it?
8.6.2006 12:36pm
rjh:
The question is poorly posed. It is particularly true in maneuver warfare and guerilla warfare that the purpose of any action is to cause the reaction. The goal is not killing person X. In this example, the goal is disrupting the command and control system, plus likely other goals such as intelligence gathering. This is a sub-goal derived from the current situation and the much larger policy goals of Israel.

The selection of tactic is derived from the expected reactions of the enemy. What tactic will result in the most C&C disruption? what will be most demoralizing? what will encourage the most enemies to abandon the fight? I could slag the entire town with a nuclear device to assure that I get the target even if my intelligence on the building location is wrong. But that is not going to have a good reaction from enemies, allies, or internally.

Selective killing of leadership leaves behind more chaos in terms of confused survivors. It leaves behind less vendetta motivation. It reminds the enemy that if they abandon the fight that they and their family will be safe. It leaves behind your informers alive and safe. There are many possible reasons to prefer a selective killing.

Then there is the entire philosophical arguments around the "just war" concept to consider. Even if you find them unconvincing, they do have ramifications in terms of the expected reactions to your actions.
8.6.2006 12:58pm
Brother Bark (mail):
Firstly, I'd be inclined to value the life of a single soldier over the lives of a thousand civilians on the other side for the simple reason that there is a fundamental moral obligation not to sacrifice the life of the soldier, who agreed to fight, not to be used up like so much toilet paper. As for the civilians, that would be deeply regrettable, but the onus would be on the heads of the enemy for having deliberately put the civilians into the line of fire with which to begin.

Secondly, if the enemy did this sort of thing, I'd try mightily within my power to promote a policy of vigorous and relentless assassination of any and all hostile enemy politicians, military leaders, etc., until they stopped using non-combatants as human shields.

It's hard to know what else to do about such an evil policy as that of using women and children and other non-combatants as human shields. I'd suggest vicious, publicly broadcast torture of captured enemy commanders and politicans if that could be done without seriously endangering captured friendly soldiers.

Islamic terrorists are simply evil, and must be utterly eradicated.
8.6.2006 1:02pm
Greg_L (mail):
There is no moral question involved. You always sacrifice the troops if that's what it takes to accomplish the mission. The real question is "what is Israel's mission in Lebanon?". The mission could be:

1) kill as many Hezbollah members as possible
2) stop Hezbollah from attacking Israeli border patrols
3) prevent any rocket attacks on Israeli towns for the next 50 years
4) develop a cooperative and supportive relationship with the Lebanese government and help them rein in Hezbollah
5) something else
6) many different things at the same time

The different missions above make for a different calculus of IDF &Lebanese civilian deaths. The fact that the official mission is to crush Hezbollah and that IDF lives were put at risk to prevent/reduce civilian deaths leads to the conclusion that something else is at play.

Could it be the concentration of international jurnalists in Tyre and the rising world condemnation of Israel's "disproportionate response"?
8.6.2006 1:06pm
The Drill SGT (mail):
One branch to this dicussion that I haven't seen yet is to distinguish between real innocent civilians and willing participants in civilian clothing.

In the example given of an apt in an urban area, one can assume for the sake of argument that the civilians in question are really innocent of complicity.

In a Qana scenario where the "civilians" are either human shields or relatives of the fighters or the fighters themselves, one has to shift some of the moral calculus from the Iraeli side of the balance sheet to the Hizbollah side. Those "civilians" and the fighters knew what was eventually going to happen.
8.6.2006 1:24pm
Justin (mail):
DB,

I don't think the Israelis acted improperly in this raid. The calculations you refer to are difficult, and sometimes you're going to come on one side, and sometimes the other. One of the problems with a disproportionate military response is that these calculations become even more difficult to justify.

However, just because, given the unique facts in this raid, Israel chose the right avenue to proceed doesn't excuse them for the horrors of Beiruit and Qana, things that will damage the Israeli psyche as much as Beiruit did several decades ago.
8.6.2006 1:26pm
Shane (mail) (www):
I find this to be an interesting question, although others have brought up that the moral questions are probably less important than the strategic questions in a case such as this.

Regardless, I'm inclined to say that the life of a true civilian, uninvolved in the current conflict, to be approximately as much as one of your soldiers.

Let us think of a scenario with police, criminals, and hostages instead. The police have 2 choices - one which will result in police deaths, and one which will result in hostage deaths. In my opinion, the morally correct response is to minimize all non-criminal deaths. And so I believe the same for the military scenario with bombs vs. commandos.

Brother Bark, you say that the lives of soldiers should be weighted more because they agreed to fight. I disagree. I believe that by agreeing to fight, you are implicitly agreeing to put your life in danger to achieve an objective. The civilians have made no such conscious decision. I do believe that you have some greater obligation to preserve the safety of your employees (in this case, soldiers) whenever possible. For what it's worth, I am an American soldier now, and willing to endanger my own life to achieve a strategic or tactical objective.

And do we do the calculations by statistical expectation or what? We could even plot histograms saying Option X has a 20% chance of resulting in more than 10 civilian deaths, 10% of 8 or 9 civilian deaths, etc.

Of course, the moral "calculus" gets even cloudier when you account for people who lend material support to the opposing cause without actually picking up a weapon and fighting. However, I'd rather not take the stance that anyone who lends support to the opposing cause can be killed, because it is quite similar to Osama Bin Laden's justifications of killing unsuspecting civilians.

I personally believe that the strategic calculus should greatly outweigh any moral calculus. In this case, avoiding a PR debacle is clearly worth the strategic loss of 10 soldiers from the fight. However, looking only at the moral equation, I think a life is a life. Also, I think that in this war, Israelis can only be faulted for civilian deaths that they could have avoided at little or no cost - Hezbollah fighters deserve the blame for knowingly putting civilian lives in danger, but Israel needs to consider the civilians when responding to Hezbollah. In sum, the Israelis should weigh a IDF soldier's life the same as a Lebanese civlian's life, so long as both options have similar chances of tactical success. If the commando option isn't available, which it often will not be, fire away with artillery and airstrikes.
8.6.2006 2:08pm
JMan (mail):
I would agree with those like Brother Bark who would place the lives of our soldiers over the lives the enemy civilians from a moral perspective. At least where it is restricted narrowly to a single mission and no consequences springing from it.

HOWEVER, there may be additional variables to consider. In the case of Israel, for instance, the nation is dependent on other nations in a variety of ways. It is important to keep in the good graces of the United States who provides some diplomatic cover and economic and military aid. If Israel were to inflict casualties on enemy civilians at a scale of 1,000 to 1, the United States would probably step in and place enormous pressure on Israel to stop the fighting, regardless of where it meant a Hezbollah victory. Even if Israel were 100% justified, that foreign pressure from a key ally might in the longer run subvert the larger goals of the war.

No situation exists in isolation and what was a consideration of 1 of our soldiers versus 1,000 enemy civilians could suddenly turn into 1 of our soldiers versus long run victory. In that case, it's more of a sliding scale. Not because one places value on the lives of enemy civilians or value on our international reputation, but because one places value on military aid that may be necessary to win the war.

It's good to be right, but if your actions cause your allies to turn against you or result in being cut off from key military resources, then being right isn't worth anything if it results in your destruction. (Even though the blame would properly belong to faint-hearted allies who help legitimize the taking of human shields.)
8.6.2006 2:28pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
To help answer this question let's make it more personal. A killer K threatens your child by remote control, meaning he is far away from your child. You also know from prior experience that K kills with absolute certainty unless stopped. How many people would you sacrifice to stop K if you had that power? Would you kill everyone in a sector of the city that contains K? If that sector contained only K and his accomplices (his gang) then I think most people would say: "sacrifice all of them." But suppose everyone in the sector was unconnected with K and as far as you knew innocent, what would you do then? Would it make a difference if you knew that unless you stopped K he would do this again, an unlimited number of times?
8.6.2006 2:29pm
RainerK:
How many civilian casualties do you need to avoid to justify the deaths and injuries of your own men?

As a former Army NCO, at one point in charge of almost 50 soldiers, I have thought about this question, even though in my position I would never have had to answer it directly, that is left to the higher ranks.

Despite the obvious point that the avoidance of casualties, civilian or military, is often as much a political as a military mandate, the moral question to me was the answer to a simple question "Are the people at the target enemy?"
For the military, regular or irregular, the answer is clearly yes and my failure to act against them would amount to a court-martial offence.
For civilians the answer is the same, but distinctions must be made. Displaced persons (in WW II, forced laborers etc.) I would assume not to be enemy and, if possible, time and objective allowing, I would strive to seperate them. The same goes for children and youth up to around 15yo. It's pretty safe to say they don't make decisions that harm me or deliberately support the enemy.
All other civilians, if they claim not to be supportive, rather even hostile to the combattants of their side then they should have taken action. Saving even one of them at the cost of lives on the friendly side should be a court-martial offence unless I was ordered to do so.
I wouldn't like it, it probably would haunt me, but I'd have to get over it.
To explain: Citizens of any country are co-responsible for the actions of their government, whether they voted for them or not. That includes me.
None of the above is to mean that I would deliberately physically harm civilians IF I can reach my objective without it.
My allegiance is to my country and to my men.

PS: As regards the conflict in question, the whole discussion about what is "proportionate" is a smokescreen for the anti-Israel crowd. Even if Isreal didn't harm a single civilian, then they would be blamed that they are displacing civilians or whatever. Or they would be blamed for harming the environment as has been written up in the European press almost ad nauseam. Hezbollah is to blame for violating every rule of conflict. But hey, what do you expect from a bunch of thugs?
Also to blame is the Lebanese government for not having dealt with Hezbollah in time. Also to blame are the supporters of Hezbollah, for cynically promoting their own agenda by proxy. That includes those in the media who incessantly put Israel under the microscope while being silent or dismissive of the actions of her enemies.

I just wish Israel had thought of a better PR campaign, a' la Hezbollah.
8.6.2006 2:44pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
If we limit this to Israel/Lebanon (I know, Professor Bernstein said to generalize it), then what's being asked is the question that is behind every criticism of Isreal's self-defense or even its very existence: How many dead Jews are you putting on the table in your opening negotiation?

My moral calculus is, I've had enough of Jews being killed because they are Jews, so my answer is: 0.

Since the Lebanese who are not insane Jew-murderers (assuming such exist) have been offered an opportunity they will never get again -- while Israel is attacking Hezbollah, the weak Lebanese army, which could not practically take on Hezbollah itself, could be asserting itself against Lebanon's traitors -- and have refused to take it, it is evident that there are no 'innocents' in Lebanon. Everybody's taken a side.

QED as far as I'm concerned.

++++

I am surprised that Professor Bernstein had not linked to the faked Reuters photo of burning Beirut, which is of interest because the alleged faker may also be the source of the Qana photos.

The background to the professor's question is a factual assumption that civilians are being killed, and in certain numbers, in Lebanon. This may be counterfactual.
8.6.2006 2:46pm
fishbane (mail):
Israel is a sovereign nation acting in self-defense against a nation that knowingly harbored (as elected officials no less!) terrorists

This is interesting. When does a terrorist cease to be described as such, due to state involvment? It is my impression that the phrase 'terrorist' is used to describe non-state actors who attempt to intimidate the citizens of a state for whatever reason. For instance, whatever the merits of the claim, those who shout that George Bush is the biggest terrorist on the block are making an invalid claim, because as a state actor, he is by definition not a terrorist. State actors can sponsor terrorists, but not be one. (I suppose I can imagine a hypothetical in which Dubya straps a bomb on, and that would confuse things. But in reality that would never happen.)
8.6.2006 3:06pm
dwshelf (mail):
The calculus of WWII is far from obsolete.

To win a war, as compared to perpetuate a war, the enemy must be utterly destroyed.

Israel must learn this or die.

Lebanon, all of Lebanon, is the enemy. There are no people in Lebanon who should be spared. The calculus for winning involves the survivors realizing that they will die too if they don't drop their aggression.

Learn this, or eventually die, because _Hisbollah knows how to win a war_. Do you seee Hisbollah sorting out who is the good guys and who is the bad guys in Israel? Hisbollah, or some subsequent incarnation, will eventually kill their enemy using just this calculus, unless they're killed first.

If the "international community" had any control over this, they would stop Hisbollah. They can't, because they really don't care, one way or the other.
8.6.2006 3:07pm
JT Barrie (mail) (www):
There are several HUGE differences in this analogy:
1] We had an identifiable enemy: the nation of Germany. Destroy the German nation's ability to wage war you end up killing civilians who can work in factories and produce generations of armed soldiers. For all practical purposes all Germans could be considered the "enemy".
2] The effect of "collateral damage" in Germany or Lebanon may or may not increase support for the enemy soldiers. In Lebanon, civilian support for the enemy is a minority. The Lebanese productivity is not confiscated to support Hezbollah nor are soldiers conscripted from civilians into Hezbollah. In Germany productivity support the Nazi war machine and civilians were conscripted into the military. Collateral damage to German soldiers did more damage to Nazi armies than they do to Hezbollah.
3] In World War 2 there were few uncommitted major political entities who were likely to side with either the allies or the axis based on reports of atrocities against civilians. The US had little incentive to minimize casualties of enemy civilians. Israel has little incentive to court Arab public opinion; they are hardened against their mere existence. However, there is a very large undecided bloc of countries outside the Middle East whose interference can spell problems.
4] Infliction of "collateral damage" had negligible effects on either demoralizing enemy or getting them united against the enemy in World War 2. All civilians were committed to supporting their government in countries of both the Axis and Allies. In Lebanon, an clear majority of people are not open supporters of Hezbollah. The infliction of heavy "collateral damage" does carry a real risk of strengthening Hezbollah both from within Lebanon and from terrorist organizations looking for credible bases of influence.
In fights against identifiable enemies with clear lines of engagement between bonafide governments [quick name any wars within the past 50 years that met that criteria?] "collateral damage" takes a clear second fiddle to "minimal casualties". In conflicts against freedom fighters without an identifiable civilian base, avoidance of "collateral damage" is a serious factor to be considered - especially if you want to avoid an endless quagmire.
8.6.2006 3:08pm
dwshelf (mail):
The infliction of heavy "collateral damage" does carry a real risk of strengthening Hezbollah both from within Lebanon

You're missing the point.

The goal is not "collateral damage".

The goal is to present every single Lebanese to choose the opportunity to live or die.

Japan did not surrender due to "collateral damage". Japan surrendered because hundreds of thousands of people died in two days, and the rest of them chose to live on.

That's how to win a war.
8.6.2006 3:16pm
Donald Kahn (mail):
Don't get me wrong. I would go for the bombing raid every time.

It is just that in the long view, this only shows me to be as much a barbarian as my great uncle Genghis.

Is it permissable to regret that the world has come to this?
8.6.2006 3:21pm
RainerK:
Thinking over my earlier post, I came up with an even more morally challenging, but not unlikely scenario:

What do I do if I am engaged in the liberation of own territory from enemy occupation?

It is sad to say, but victory over the enemy must be the objective. It is up to everybody's skill to minimise the impact. Should the enemy abuse civilians to hide behind, then may the wrath of God and my arms deal with him! I curse him!
8.6.2006 3:26pm
Just:
Japan surrendered because hundreds of thousands of people died in two days, and the rest of them chose to live on.

Bingo.

That is the question the Lebanese people are now asking themselves: are our chances of living, and our children's chances, greater by supporting Israel or Hezzbollah?

Unless you are willing to use nuclear weapons and kill hundreds of thousands of them in two days, it appears the people there believe they are safer and cared more for by Hezzbollah. Even the Lebanese Christians (80% now compared to lesser support before the killings.)

I'm afraid DB you cannot separate the moral and public relations damage being inflicted, and the consequences for the future. Despite all the good intentions in the world. You need(ed) the Lebanese people to support the fight against the terrorists, and killing/displacing them is not how to earn it.
8.6.2006 3:37pm
dwshelf (mail):
Unless you are willing to use nuclear weapons and kill hundreds of thousands of them in two days, it appears the people there believe they are safer and cared more for by Hezzbollah.

It's the certainty of death rather than the absolute count of previous dead which yields surrender.

Ten or twenty per day from a population of 2 million isn't convincing, but 1000 might well be, once it's established that it could be sustained so long as no surrender is forthcoming.
8.6.2006 3:58pm
Erasmussimo:
RainerK notes To explain: Citizens of any country are co-responsible for the actions of their government, whether they voted for them or not. That includes me.

If this be true, then how can you dispute Ward Churchill's claim that the victims of 9/11 "deserved what they got" because, as American citizens, they are responsible for the actions of their government? I find this kind of reasoning reprehensible, but you seem to embrace it.

I'd like to extend this matter to all the bloodthirsty folks on this board who urge mass killing of all Lebanese. If the Lebanese deserve death because they have failed to stop Hezbollah, then did not the victims of 9/11 deserve death by the same reasoning?

I expect that there will be a scramble to deny any similarity between the IDF attacks on Lebanon and the al-Qaeda attacks on 9/11. Many of these will take the form of "but we're the good guys and they're the bad guys!" I reject this differentiation on the grounds that 'good guys' and 'bad guys' are too sloppy to be usable. One might argue that Hezbollah started it and Israel is fighting a defensive campaign, while the al-Qaeda attacks were offensive in nature. But Mr. bin Ladin would counter with the argument that the USA started it by supporting Israeli attacks against Muslims. Arguing about who started it gets us nowhere.

One could differentiate the two kinds of attacks by the actor: the IDF is an arm of the State of Israel, but al-Qaeda has no such official backing. This strikes me as a morally meaningless distinction.

Another possible differentiation would be the intent of the attack. The al-Qaeda attacks targetted civilians, while the IDF attacks target military sites, and attempt to minimize civilian casualties. I agree with this differentiation. However, the argument continues to apply against the "kill 'em all" recommendations of some of our correspondents. So I put the quandary to them: if Lebanese civilians are fair game, why aren't American civilians also fair game?
8.6.2006 3:58pm
Aebie:
When you're taking it on the PR chops, it might lead one to think that a few of one's own casualities aren't too much to contemplate if they come at the cost of proving that some of your guys die, too, and that you've tried to spare civilians.

In addition, while the guys who were taken out might be significant, if plausible deniability exits for Party of God to say they were just more innocent civilians, the air raid would look like even more overkill.

War isn't always just about the damage and deaths to the other side. PR has a role here, too.
8.6.2006 4:29pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
On the firebombing of Hamburg and Dresden. Martin Gilbert (the official biographer of Winston Churchill) appeared on the CSPAN "Booknotes" program last year. He took at least an hour of telephone questions. The topic of firebombing German cities came up. Gilbert said the firebombing of Hamburg (might have been Dresden) was caused by USSR giving a bogus command to the RAF. When Churchill found out he was furious. Gilbert said it was not British policy to bomb German cities without military significance. It went directly against Churchill's express policy.

Robert McNamara says he and others in the WWII high command that coordinated the firebombing attacks on Japanese might be guilty of war crimes for doing that.
8.6.2006 4:41pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
By Erasmussimo's reasoning, there was no justification for resisting Hitler 1939-45, because Hitler (and all the Germans) believed they had been unfairly treated by the Treaty of Versailles.

Once you resort to war, you have given your hostages to fortune. It is impossible to predict who will be killed.

So you ought to be very careful before resorting to war.

On the other hand, if you're justified in taking that step, then trying to subdivide the consequences, as Professor Bernstein asks us to do, is beside the point morally and, from a practical perspective, probably going to make it difficult to win the war.
8.6.2006 4:43pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Erasmussimo:

Strictly speaking you are correct. If all civilians are co-conspirators in the actions of the regime then, any civilian is fair game, and that includes the occupants of the WTC. The problem with Ward Churchill is he is rooting for the other side. While perhaps not a traitor in the strict legal sense, he is certainly not a loyal American. If we are truly at war with the entities that perpetrated 9/11 then we as Americans should punish Churchill because he is acting as a propaganda tool for the enemy. We punished Mildred Gillars (Axis Sally). She was found guilty of one count of treason. Of course Gillars did sign an oath of allegiance to Nazi Germany, but in other respects their actions are similar. Unfortunately for Gillars she was white, and had no race card to play like Churchill.
8.6.2006 4:55pm
RainerK:
Well Erasmussimo, Ithought I made it clear that civilians do not 'deserve' death. To wit: None of the above is to mean that I would deliberately physically harm civilians....

And you are wrong, at least in my case, that there will be " a scramble to deny any similarity between the IDF attacks on Lebanon and the al-Qaeda attacks on 9/11."
If the actors in those two events, their motives and their backgrounds are equal to you, as you clearly state (I reject this differentiation on the grounds that 'good guys' and 'bad guys' are too sloppy to be usable.), then there is nothing to discuss.
Never the Twain shall meet.

Pretty sad, though.
Let me take this opportunity to state that I find the amount of obfuscation and lack of clarity displayed by some in this thread astounding.
If this sounds arrogant, so be it. It is not normally my style to be ad hominem. However, when arguments clearly go against the factual evidence, what other motives but personal ones can be ascribed to the arguer?
Not to mention that Prof.Bernstein posited a general question, which, predictably, degenerated into a narrow discussion of the events in Lebanon/Israel. See the update to the post.
8.6.2006 5:00pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
When did U.S. behavior in WW2 become a moral yardstick?

Dresden, Tokyo, etc. would seem to counsel against that.
8.6.2006 5:18pm
Erasmussimo:
RainerK, your reasoning escapes me. On the one hand you write, And you are wrong, at least in my case, that there will be " a scramble to deny any similarity between the IDF attacks on Lebanon and the al-Qaeda attacks on 9/11."

I interpret that to mean that you will not attempt to deny any similarity between the two cases. But in the very next sentence, you write, If the actors in those two events, their motives and their backgrounds are equal to you... then there is nothing to discuss.

I interpret this to mean that you categorically deny any similarity between the two cases. These two sentences seem contradictory to me.

Let me point out that I do not deny the differences between the two cases. The 9/11 terrorists used civilian aircraft; those who would attack the Lebanese civilian population seem to prefer military methods. The 9/11 terrorists were anti-West; Israel is pro-West. The list of differences is long. But my point concerns the existence of morally significant distinctions. If you can come up with some, I'd love to read them.
8.6.2006 5:23pm
SG:
Erasmussimo:

Let's explore your questions a little further. I posit that (strategically) Bin Laden was justified in attacking civilians. Western civilization (meaning all of us) presents an existential threat to him.

After all, God wrote in the Quran the rules under which all people were meant to live, and western culture willfully violates its precepts. And not only do we violate God's commandments, our pervasiveness is insidious. How many muslims have access to satellite TV, broadcasting our amorality right into the home?

If I had my way women would be treated equally, girls wouldn't be killed for being raped, all people would be free to practive (or not) the religion of their choice, homosexuality would be tolerated and free speech would be respected. We vote for our leaders and collectively decide the laws our society lives under. Given my way, I would destroy Bin Laden's entire world, crush his moral foundation and tear up his God's instruction manual. And I believe that, without resistance and given enough time, my culture will supersed his, without necessarily killing a soul (western culture is decidedly seductive). Bin Laden recognizes this and is fighting for his entire way of life. I am his enemy.

So much of the discussion misses the larger point. People are not killing (and dying) to gain land or control some resource. This war is being waged to defend and extend a culture. The proper analogy is not WWII or Vietnam, it's the 30 Years War.

So the best way to morally distinguish the two sides is not over their tactics, but over their goal. Who's cultural vision do you share, the culture of the Enlightment, or the culture of sharia? Once you decide that, then you can discuss the most moral ways of acheiving those aims. But to simply debate the relative merits of any particular action without regard to the larger aim is morally short-sided.

So why is Bin Laden wrong? Because he's fighting to preserve and extend a culture that morally devalues its members. Any action he takes is wrong, because he fights for a morally deficient cause.

Of course, the converse (that any action we take is morally right) is decidedly not true. But you don't need to get all wrapped up in moral dilemmas to be able distinguish the two sides.
8.6.2006 5:25pm
JT Wenting (mail):
The wellbeing of your own people (be it military or civilian) is ALWAYS more important than that of others.
Therefore a solution that won't cost you any casualties (wounded or killed) is always militarilly superior to one that causes any risk of casualties to your own side at all.

That is of course purely military. When economics and politics get into play the equation might be different.
It might for example cost precious fuel and expensive missiles to use that airstrike, while an infantry assault doesn't require that investment.
Or a politician might deem it more important to be seen doing somethin (which usually means showing men on the ground with rifles at the ready) than to have the least possible chance of casualties.

Of course a military commander will try to reduce the risk of collateral damage from his operations (be it civilian casualties or material damage outside the strike area), but that's not from a humanist outlook.
It's purely because he may have to deal with the aftermath at some point, if he gets told to advance into the stricken area.
If there's no such expectation, it is often best to maximise collateral damage for the sole reason of attempting to overstress the support infrastructure of the enemy.
That's why wounding enemy troops during a retreat (or during a stalemate situation) is preferable to killing them.
Dead men require only a truck to carry them to a burial site, wounded men require hospitals, food, transportation, etc. etc. all of which needs to be secured, draining resources that could otherwise be used to strengthen enemy operations against you.
8.6.2006 5:27pm
nick:
Interesting question.

Is morality an absolute? Is the life of a soldier in combat worth less than a civilian?

Obviously morality takes into account proportionality. Thats why most would agree that nuking the building would be a grossly immoral act.

Personally, I have trouble accepting the idea of morality as an absolute: that there is simply a right and a wrong, and that this right and wrong can somehow be quantified with precision, to result in a clear +, -, or =.

In the abstract: is the cost of a soldiers life >, <, or = to the cost of a civilian life? Does a soldier agreeing to risk life and limb to serve raise or lower the cost of his life (relatively)? What if the civilian is a friendly? That is - is it worth sacrificing a soldiers life to save the life of a single civilian at home?

Yes. The duty of a soldier is to protect the civilians back home. The cost of their life is therefore reduced.

What if the civilian is an enemy civilian?

If a person changes their answer to this question, they are making an implicit modification to the value of human life based on if that human life is "us" or "them". Is that right? Is one of OUR civilians worth more than one of THEIR civilians? Unless one wants to make further modifications to the value of human life along the lines of: "if person a can contribute more to the world than person b can, the life of person a is more valuable" - leading naturally to the idea of money being a strong indicator of value in human life (a rich person has a wider range of potential than a poor person) then you have to conclucde no, in absolute terms the Soldiers Life < Civilian Life. Even if that civilian is an enemy civilian.

But lets be honest, this kind of moral quantification is not real. Real moral authority is derived from collective subjective opinion on the matter. And the best method for finding truth then would be something along the line of a morality market. Where soldiers' lives are traded against the lives of civilians. The actual value of each fluxuating through time, as peoples opinions on war, peace, and global affairs change.

Under this scenario, I'm guessing that most of america would value the life of a single israeli soldier is of greater value than the life of a single lebanese civilian (as long as those civilians aren't women or children, whos' lives run a premium, and who are generally considered 'more innocent'). Whereas most in europe would make the opposite evaluation.

These evaluations are probably more closely based on the sense of who is 'us' and who is 'them' than anything else. With america being more empathetic to israels plight post 9/11.

I wonder how different the answers to this question would be if you replaced 'civilian' with 'female or child under 15'? My guess is that people faced with the true vile nature of the decision would instead attack the question.
8.6.2006 5:30pm
RainerK:
I would like to retract my earlier comments on obfuscation ff.
They are intemperate.

It's 92 degrees today.... I plead lack of clarity.
8.6.2006 5:31pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
[Editor: DELETED. Drackmann, behave yourself.]
8.6.2006 5:48pm
Dangitall (mail):
I expect that there will be a scramble to deny any similarity between the IDF attacks on Lebanon and the al-Qaeda attacks on 9/11. Many of these will take the form of "but we're the good guys and they're the bad guys!"

I'd posit that the degree of ruthlessness one is willing to resort to in war is part of what defines a side as the good guys or the bad guys. In many wars in history there was no clear good or bad--both states were acting in their own interests. In WWII, Hitler's genocidal campaign clearly put him on the bad guy side.

If Israel took the hard line that dwshelf and others above are advocating and declared every person in Lebanon an enemy to be killed, it would relinquish any claim of being the "good guys" here.
8.6.2006 6:15pm
Erasmussimo:
You raise some interesting points, SG, when you argue that the overall objective provides a useful basis of differentiation. The problem is that your criterion is intrinsically a subjective one. It amounts to "We think we're ethically justified because we prefer our own value system." Mr. bin Ladin can use exactly the same argument to justify his actions. What I would prefer is a criterion that, when objectively applied to both sides, yields an unambiguous determination that the 9/11 attacks were morally repugnant.

Remember, too, that both sides are claiming to be defending themselves, so we cannot use the aggressor/victim criterion for differentiating the two sides.

Your suggestion that this is rather more like the Thirty Years War is especially chilling. The Thirty Years War falls just below the Black Death in terms of European catastrophes. I'd hate to think that we are doomed to such a catastrophe.
8.6.2006 6:49pm
Medis:
Why is it that the Conspirators consistently seem to want to bracket away, or just completely ignore, the pragmatic issues raised by these events? Of course, from a broader perspective, those are moral issues as well, because one loses the necessary moral justification for the application of deadly force if it is unlikely to achieve a greater good.

Anyway, from some purely abstract moral sense, I'd put myself in the every life is equal camp.
8.6.2006 6:49pm
Brother Bark (mail):
Shane and others have offered interesting arguments in favor of the notion that (at least some) soldiers have given implicit agreement to undertake additional risk to themselves to protect civilians, even when lower-risk methods are available to the soldiers (e.g., artillery barrages, JDAM strikes). If this notion is accepted, then the moral calculus does indeed become messier.

Shane's statement in particular is well-written, and I see little to add to it. ^^
8.6.2006 6:59pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
The problem with this sort of question is that it is perfectly set up to trick you into thinking about unrelated factors.

It's like asking if it would be morally right for a doctor to kill one patient and use their organs to save several others. Assuming this was guaranteed to occur with perfect secrecy it is probably the right thing to do (less total suffering) but intuitively we recoil at the thought and we are right to do so. In any real situation it would evidently be bad to kill one patient to save several because even the slightest chance that this information gets out will outweigh the additional benefit.

In other words our brains are wired to take shortcuts in moral thinking. It would be too difficult to reason out all the distant and unforseen harms lying brings so instead of trying we adopt a rule of thumb that lying is just bad.

This case is similarly murky because you seem to want us to believe the only difference between the two situations is how many soldiers versus civillians die. If this is really the case the correct answer is whichever approach kills the fewest people (or more accurately produces the least suffering) regardless of who they are. Human life doesn't become more valuable because it isn't wearing a uniform or because the person is on your side.

However, we intuitively reject this solution because in any real case a deciscion to sacrifice your men for the enemy's men would have far wider consequences. The effect on your troops moral, your support at home, and the willingness of your soldiers to follow orders would be disastorous if they learned you would let one of them die to save one of the enemy. Additionally if the enemy learned you followed such a strategy he could easily use this knowledge to your disadvantage.

In other words we've developed a bunch of rules of thumb about how to engage in group conflict like, protect your own troops, because in the long run these rules are what works and (assuming your cause is morally just) what brings about the right moral conclusion (you winning). Asking people to pretend the reasons for these rules of thumb don't apply is almost guaranteed to get a incorrect answer because people will be answering a different question than you asked, i.e., they will answer what should you do in a real situation not what should you do if the differences you list are the only differences.
8.6.2006 7:34pm
SG:
Erasmussimo:

You're looking to apply logic to the problem. As I'm sure you know, you can logically reach any conclusions given your choice axiom, and the choice of axioms is exactly that, a choice. By my personal moral axioms (I value individual liberty), I can logically conclude that Bin Laden's goals are morally bankrupt.

I fully agree that Bin Laden's moral axioms are different (he values piety). That's why I argued that his actions are justified, they logically flow from his axioms. Arguing about the actions to the exclusion of the motivation is a meaningless exercise.

So, the question here is what are your personal modal axioms? Until you are willing to admit to your personal value system (your moral axioms), your attempt to logically resolve the morally superior position is doomed to futility.

Note that I said that you have to admit to your value system. While I believe your stated desire to have a neutral mechanism on which to compare the two positions is sincere, I don't think its true. The fact that you're (obviously) concerned about civilian deaths states that you do have a value system. I would guess that you've so internalized the values of secular humanism and the Enlighenment that you've lost sight of the fact that those values are not universal, and are in fact precisely what is being resisted by the Bin Laden's of the world.

Do you have a personal preference of western civilization over sharia? If so, then the ability to decry Bin Laden flows like rain. There's no reason to apologize for your preference. And that preference doesn't mean that you have to approve of Israel's actions, the war in Iraq, or George W. Bush either, those are (all) different arguments.
8.6.2006 7:40pm
Erasmussimo:
Yes, I certainly do have a very strong preference for western civilization over any other civilization -- especially muslim civilization. However, what makes western civilization so valuable is its dedication to rationalism. If we strip the rationalism out of western civilization, then we end up with something no better than some other civilizations that have graced this planet. And that rationalism (which, to you, might be indistinguishable from secular humanism) demands that I look at the problem from the most objective viewpoint available. You deny that any objective viewpoint exists. I disagree. I can imagine myself as a complete outsider, with no familiarity with either civilization, trying to decide whether there's any difference between Lab Rat Group A killing Group B's civilians, or Lab Rat Group B killing Group A's civilians, and concluding that there is no difference. I might decide that the rats in Group A are prettier and nicer to play with than the rats in Group B, who bite me, but I still couldn't establish any objective basis for giving one a moral edge over the other.

That's my conclusion based on rationalism. It seems that you might be rejecting a rational or objective approach to this problem. If so, that raises an additional question: are you betraying the very essence of western civilization in order to save it? (This question is purely rhetorical!)
8.6.2006 8:03pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
From a global moral perspective, an innocent life is an innocent life. But I'm not asking for such a perspective. I'm asking what to do from the perspective of a military commander, who has an obivious duty to his soldiers, and a less obvious one to the "civilian enemy."
8.6.2006 8:07pm
SG:
Erasmussimo:

But what makes Islamic civilization so valuable is its dedication to Allah. The axioms are different and there exists no intrinisic reason to prefer one over the other.

Your hypothetical posits making a moral distinction between two groups of lab rats. But the moral distinction exists in the observer, not in the rats.

You can imagine yourself as an objective observer. I believe you're sincere but as they say, a fish will be the last creature to discover water. This is not a moral dilemma. It's a problem of meta-morality.

BTW, this is not anti-rationalism. It's one of the more counter-intuitive consequences of rationalism. What you can prove is a direct consequence of what you assume. Mathemeticians and logicians have struggled with this since Euclid. Do parallel lines ever meet?
8.6.2006 8:45pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Zarkov, Churchill is white.

Anderson, for me, Allied practice in World War II is a desirable standard. Dresden was an important military target. The bombing was largely unsuccessful, but that doesn't devalue it as a target. The use of atomic bombs was probably the most humane single act of World War II, not otherwise famous for those. It's true, most of lives saved were Chinese, but I think we can count them anyway.
8.6.2006 9:28pm
Mark F. (mail):
Japan surrendered because hundreds of thousands of people died in two days, and the rest of them chose to live on

You neglect to mention that Truman refused any negotiations with the Japanese, despite the fact that Japanese diplomats were desperately trying to work out some face saving compromise right up until the day the bombs were dropped. It is quite possible that had Truman explicitly assured the Japanese that the Emperor would not be deposed or put on trial, he would have had his surrender. As it was, the Japanese government cabinet was split 12-3 on the issue of surrender even after the bombs were dropped. (A unamimous vote was required.) Only after the cabinet received Emperor Hirohito's personal request that the war be ended did the Japanese capitulate.

Also, even if you think the Hiroshima bomb was justified, dropping the Nagasaki bomb just 3 days later was unconscienable, considering that this was not really enough time for the Japanese to fully realize what had happened and to get over the shock of the situation.

Truman was a mass murdering war criminal.
8.6.2006 9:49pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
If it wasn't for the 2d A-bomb the japanese still would be fighting. Funny they make such good radios.
8.6.2006 9:56pm
Ron Hardin (mail) (www):
The second A-bomb was a bluff. We had to convince the Japanese that we had a zillion of the things, when in fact we had only the two.
8.6.2006 10:00pm
dwshelf (mail):
If Israel took the hard line that dwshelf and others above are advocating and declared every person in Lebanon an enemy to be killed, it would relinquish any claim of being the "good guys" here.

If Israel fails to take this hard line, they will eventually be killed, because their enemy is not constrained by such nuance.
8.6.2006 10:34pm
dwshelf (mail):
You neglect to mention that Truman refused any negotiations with the Japanese, despite the fact that Japanese diplomats were desperately trying to work out some face saving compromise right up until the day the bombs were dropped.

It really doesn't matter. Even accepting such absurdity as the truth, we can still thank Truman for successfully ending the war.
8.6.2006 10:45pm
Medis:
DB says: "From a global moral perspective, an innocent life is an innocent life. But I'm not asking for such a perspective. I'm asking what to do from the perspective of a military commander, who has an obivious duty to his soldiers, and a less obvious one to the 'civilian enemy.'"

But why is that duty to his soldiers "obvious"?

I think logicnazi is right: the duties of military commanders qua military commanders don't arise as moral first principles, but rather are derived, at least in part, from pragmatic concerns about the ability of an organized military to function.

But DB originally said: "I'm trying to avoid the practical issues here, and focus on the moral dilemma."

So, this appears to be an arbitrary and inconsistent hypothetical: apparently any pragmatic concerns that are relevant to determining a military commander's duties to foreign civilians are supposed to be ignored, whereas the pragmatic concerns that are relevant to determining a military commander's duties to his soldiers are apparently still applicable.

And I'm not sure what we are supposed to get out of such an oddly constructed hypothetical.
8.6.2006 10:48pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Harry Eagar:

"Zarkov, Churchill is white."

Yes he is, but that doesn't stop him from trying to play the race card. He claims American Indian ancestry, and membership in the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians. However, the United Keetoowah Band responded to Churchill's claim by clarifying that he was not an enrolled member, but an honorary associate member. See Wikipedia.
8.6.2006 11:22pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
WWII isn't quite comparable, since there killing civilians WAS the objective in most of the bombings. A ground commander who worried over how to balance losing his own men vs. losing civilians from the other side would have been relieved in a heartbeat.
8.6.2006 11:29pm
Just:
From a global moral perspective, an innocent life is an innocent life. But I'm not asking for such a perspective. I'm asking what to do from the perspective of a military commander, who has an obivious duty to his soldiers, and a less obvious one to the "civilian enemy."

Easy. A commander protects his soldiers lives. Keeps them alive, keeps them loyal. One for all, all for one.

For psychological reasons, you don't put them in a position to kill civilians. A crawling baby, no threat. Anyone else, possible threat. Not to overreact, but to be on guard. There is not sympathy or softness in a seasoned fighter.

Which is why you must rely on good leadership not to put soldiers in positions where their lives are threatened by civilians. Limited engagement. Small goals. Don't expect the weaponry to do the work.
8.6.2006 11:33pm
Lev:

You neglect to mention that Truman refused any negotiations with the Japanese, despite the fact that Japanese diplomats were desperately trying to work out some face saving compromise right up until the day the bombs were dropped.


Perhaps I am mistaken, but during this process of "diplomatic desperation", wasn't there an attempted coup by the army to overturn and end the government that was trying to engage in that "diplomacy"? And if I am not mistaken, what does that say for the willingness of the Japanese army to surrender in the absence of A Bombs?
8.6.2006 11:34pm
Just:



Please be an intellectual, a thinker, a guider of political leaders, if you will, DB. That was Sharon's failing. Like Arafat, a fighter can only lead, can only take you so far.

There's enough "thinking like soldiers" already. If your body is not in that danger, do more. The the "wise men" must do their jobs too. The lack of political leadership, and wise planners who can effectively use the soldiers, is appalling all around. It's like the leaders are soldier wanna-be's, from outside looking in, of course.

This thing will not be won through force alone, that only takes you so far. Look honestly at Sharon's track record. When will the negotiators, the thinkers, the long-term planners step up, and now be cowed by the label Chamberlain? When will they be strong enough, and mature enough as a generation of men, to challenge the Sharon's out there and lead in a more successful way? Until then, it's a lot of wasted blood, on all sides. Might means right: don't you believe it. Sometimes less is more, and a brain still beats brawn, any day. Seek commonalities over demonizing. Pen over the sword, etc etc. It's not too late
8.6.2006 11:41pm
Just:

Knowing the psychology of the enemy, and being able to discriminate when you're not a soldier, knowing who to trust and who not to, is also key. If you go in thinking everyone is out to get you, you're not going to win yourself many allies in a fight. You need allies to win, allies in the region, and the US is not making too many friends herself these days. Hell, even Norway is p.o'd about the Lebanon campaign and that blown up power station in Gaza. What the hell were they thinking in destroying that one?? That affects civilians, and the missing soldier there still hasn't come home. Live and learn
8.6.2006 11:46pm
dwshelf (mail):
If you go in thinking everyone is out to get you, you're not going to win yourself many allies in a fight.

And how many allies does Israel have in Lebanon?

None, today.

How many would they have if 25% of Lebanese had been killed the previous year, resulting in a peace?

What makes perpetual enemies is putting people in a cage and tormenting them. Killing enough people will make allies out of the survivors. Check the history of Islamic successes. It's how Islam went from a good speaker to a religion which holds some sway over a billion+ people. They killed enough people that the survivors became Muslims, i.e. allies.
8.7.2006 12:19am
A. Zarkov (mail):
"Norway is p.o'd about the Lebanon campaign and that blown up power station in Gaza."

So why is Norway upset? Do they have a vital interest in Gaza? If it's concern for human welfare then why aren't they as upset about Russian behavior in Chechnya? Could it be that it's safe to be critical of Israel because after all it's a small far away country that is never going to threaten Norway. On the other hand, Russia is a big dangerous and potentially aggressive country nearby. Doesn't Europe have a bad case of poltroonery?
8.7.2006 1:36am
Tom Holsinger (mail):
General Order No. 100 of the Union Army during the Civil War - when civilians are weapons of war, they are a legitimate target for military action. And civilian casualties are irrelevant unless they are intended.

Tough for the enemy.

Had Japan not surrendered after being A-bombed, we'd have gassed their cities from the air and kept on using poison gas on a massive scale against any Japanese we could find until the Japanese ceased all resistance or all of them were dead.
8.7.2006 1:58am
Harry Eagar (mail):
It is a myth that the Japanese were desperately attempting to surrender. That never happened. Hasegawa, 'Racing the Enemy,' now has all the details, for the first time using the USSR archives. I disagree strongly with Hasegawa's overall analysis, but he is definitive that the Japanese government never attempted to open surrender negotitions.
8.7.2006 2:33am
limes (mail) (www):
Mr. Bernstein; I don't know the answer to your academic question. But I do know one thing, the calculus will change when this exercise devolves to the lowest common denominator.
8.7.2006 3:22am
Lev:

Hell, even Norway is p.o'd about the Lebanon campaign and that blown up power station in Gaza.


"Even" Norway? Since when has Norway been a big buddy of Israel?
8.7.2006 3:34am
Lev:

It is a myth that the Japanese were desperately attempting to surrender. That never happened. Hasegawa, 'Racing the Enemy,' now has all the details, for the first time using the USSR archives. I disagree strongly with Hasegawa's overall analysis, but he is definitive that the Japanese government never attempted to open surrender negotitions.


"Combined Fleet Decoded" based on an analysis of US and Japanese archival material including Japanese code material reaches a similar conclusion, that there was an informal and shortlived attempt to find out what surrender might really entail. Meanwhile, the naval air force had stockpiled some 5,000+ planes for kamikaze attacks, along with the pleasantries the army had prepared.
8.7.2006 3:39am
Will (mail):
I think the only moral way to act in this situation is the air raid. Given that this is a just war (ie self defense, however defined) your soldiers are absolutely innocent. The civilians on the other side are, generally, not completely innocent in that they are part of the society that has started a war unjustly. Civilians who acquiesce in the face of the immoral actions by their fellows are less innocent than the victim of those actions.

But to go further, suppose that the civilians in question were children and so were absolutely innocent. The air raid would still be justified by the fact that it's a moral tie, and so the two choices are morally indistinct, and the commander is free to choose using other criteria.

I don't think someone who is responsible for the lives of other people has the luxury of appealing to a more nuanced moral system.
8.7.2006 5:01am
randal (mail):
I'm trying to avoid the practical issues here, and focus on the moral dilemma.

You've answered your own question. There are no moral dilemmas outside of practical issues. With the practical issues eliminated, the correct moral answer is "none of the above" - just go home. The war's over.
8.7.2006 5:22am
Medis:
Will,

The situation with civilians is often more complicated than that. From the hypothetical, we don't know if the civilians actually support the war from the other side. And they may well be acting within their power as civilians to try to end the war--eg, by political means--but have not succeeded. In fact, it is entirely possible that a majority of civilians oppose the war, but have not been able to stop those in control of the opposing military forces.

In short, holding civilians collectively responsible for the war requires assumptions that are not necessarily valid of all, or even a majority, of those civilians.
8.7.2006 7:16am
JRL:
I am of the opinion that there are no 'civilians' in war. War is an uncertainty. Despite all the advanced planning and knowledge, no one can accurately predict when it will end or how it will play out. As a result, every person must be seen as capable of contributing to the war effort in some way or at some point in time--that includes babies who might grow up to become soldiers in a war that lingers on, or the feeble who are only able to prepare meals or sew uniforms and the like. Anyone who might directly or indirectly lead to the death of one of our own must be eliminated. I am even willing to say that the president would be duty bound to kill every non-American in the world if it would save the life of just one American.
8.7.2006 10:32am
HLSbertarian (mail):
JRL: We've had American citizens run off and join the Taliban. By your logic, should we start eliminating Americans as well?
8.7.2006 11:11am
JRL:
If they've joined the Taliban, absolutely. But then I guess technically they would no longer be Americans, would they? Of course, also by my logic there would no longer be a Taliban.
8.7.2006 11:21am
Erasmussimo:
Mr. Bernstein writes I'm asking what to do from the perspective of a military commander, who has an obivious duty to his soldiers, and a less obvious one to the 'civilian enemy.'

I think this is a mistaken perspective. Policy is made by politicians; the military executes the policy made by politicians. As in any case of delegation, the military must make low-level decisions that have political repercussions, but only insofar as those decisions are permitted by the politicians. In other words, it is the responsibility of the politicians to define the acceptable civilian:military kill ratio. This is usually done by a dictum along the lines of 'minimize civilian casualties', which leaves considerable ambiguity. My point, however, is that the moral question cannot properly be taken from the perspective of the military commander; it lies primarily on the politician.

SG, you again raise interesting points. I agree that my conflation of objectivity with rationalism was incorrect. You maintain that your position is rational and that pure objectivity in moral issues is impossible. I accept your first assertion but remain skeptical of the second. Is not the essence of law the act of expressing moral values in objective terms? I agree with your assertion that all logic must start with axioms, but you seem to start with the axiom that Western civilization is good, whereas I am using as axioms the content of western civilization. To anthropomorphize the point, you seem to glorify Jefferson where I glorify Jefferson's ideals.
8.7.2006 12:33pm
christopher ball (mail):

Expected losses from an air attack to your forces are zero.


No. The probability of losing an aircraft may be low, but it is not zero. If you know of an aircraft that never crashes and cannot be shot down, let me know. I want to fly it.

There is one factor you forgot: the commando team can confirm the kills; the air raid results will be uncertain. Did the folks leave just prior to the strike, were they in a shelter, did they escape via a tunnel?

Also, there is no guarantee that the commandos will not accidentally kill civilians.
8.7.2006 1:23pm
ChrisBrennan:
Take a situation where an agressor threatens the life of an innocent defender while holding innocent people hostage as human shields.

The innocent defender may use force in defense of his life, and the the agressor, not the defender, is always responsble for any collateral harm to the innocent hostages.

There is no moral dilema for the innocent defender. The agressor is clearly the person who is morally in the wrong. The agressor cannot shift this moral responsibility to the innocent defender by taking any number of hostages. The agressor is the one morally responsible for all deaths. The more hostages they take, the more deaths they potentially become responsible for.

The defender is not required to adopt tactics that increase the risk of his life in order to retain his innocence. Of course, if there is no additional risk then the defender should choose tactics that minimize the risk to the hostages.

While an innocent defender is not morally required to increase the risk of his own life to prevent hostages from being harmed, many will choose to to risk or even give their own lives to protect others. Innocent defenders who voluntarily risk their own lives to protect others are also called heroes.

"To what extent, if ever is morally justified for a commander to risk the lives of his own soldiers to keep civilians out of harm's way?"

The commander is morally justified in risking the lives of only those soldiers who have volunteered for a mission to risk their own lives for the chance to be heroes.
8.7.2006 3:37pm
Tom Holsinger (mail):
Chris,

We're not talking about innocent civilians here. We're talking about enemy civilians, and ones who are being used as weapons of war by their own regime. That makes them legitimate targets for attack directly and indirectly.

Innocent civilians in this context would be Lebanese Christian, Sunni Moslem and Druze. Lebanese Shia are, for Israel, just the enemy, with the only difference between Shia "civilians" and Hezbollah being the immediacy of the threat they pose to Israeli soldiers and civilians.

When the only question is who dies, it should be somebody else. That's what nation-states are for - to protect their own people against attack by foreigners.
8.7.2006 4:07pm
SG:
Erasmussimo:

You ask:

Is not the essence of law the act of expressing moral values in objective terms?


That is certainly true. I agree that morality can be stated objectively. What I am stating is that there is no objective basis on which to choose the set of morals you wish to express. That's where it becomes axiomatic.

After all, the US legal code and sharia are both legal codes that express moral values in objective terms (action X is forbidden and punishable in such-and-such a manner). But (as you've agreed) the two codes have vastly different moral principles underlying them. You're looking for an objective way to distinguish between the very different two moral foundations, and that is what I'm saying doesn't exist (and not just me, this has been a popular topic amongst philosphers.)

But as a practical matter, you've already expressed a preference for one value system over the other, so the original problem you posed has been resolved. You have a basis on which you can render moral judgements; the objectives of the two parties. Since you do not support Hezb'allah's goals (an expansion of the Islamic state through the destruction of a liberal democrarcy), you have a legitimate moral basis on which to denounce Hezb'allah. And note that you can denounce Hezb'allah without reference to the moral standing of the Israelis. The two problems become distinct.

Now, the meta-ethical dilemma you pose is also a valid question but that one you need to answer on your own. But to pull it out of this hypothetical and make it more grounded: Why do you prefer liberal democratic values over Islamic values? You need to find a rational basis for that preference, and that is what I am saying doesn't exist. You can logically reduce it to a smaller set of assumptions (the natural rights of man is a good one), but eventually you will reach a point where you will have to say "Because that's just what I believe" and leave it at that. Just realize that other people (and people of good faith) will start from a different axioms and thereby reach different conclusions. It doesn't make them wrong or irrational, just different.

BTW, I'm apologize for having been unclear in my writing if I led you to believe that I am proponent of Western civilization as opposed to the values of Western civilization. I'm a strong proponent of liberal deomcratic values wherever they have taken root, and I see no reason why they shouldn't continue to spread.
8.7.2006 4:43pm
JMan (mail):
Professor Bernstein suggests that there is a less obvious moral obligation between a military commander and an enemy civilization. I'm not sure I see it at all.

The military commander acts as an instrument of the state to carry out its war. The moral obligation of the state is to protect its citizens from internal and external threats, including the soldiers.

I am not sure where a state would develop a moral obligation to the citizens of an enemy nation during a war. A commander has discretion in the tactics he uses, that discretion should be in furtherance of the protection of the citizens of his own state, not protecting the other people. A military commander is like a fiduciary of the citizens of the state and has a duty of loyalty to them, not to other country and certainly not to enemies.

Moreover, it can become highly problematic to shape a military campaign around who among the enemy is innocent. While a commander may feel that civilians have done nothing to him personally, the same maybe true of some soldiers on the opposite side as well. He may be killing enemy conscripts, who because they are conscripts have no choice about serving in the army. To the extent they serve against their will, I am not sure they are "guilty" but that shouldn't stop a commander from using lethal force against them. Also, he may be killing cooks or people in other support units who don't directly kill soldiers. One could even argue that even soldiers doing the killing are only following orders so the only really guilty ones are the political leaders and are the only ones it is legitimate to kill. You could really tie yourself in knots trying to determine the level of culpability of each enemy individual and seriously hamstring the ability of your own state to prosecute its war. (And as a fiduciary of your state, such hamstringing would itself be immoral.)
8.7.2006 10:14pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
My father fought in Europe in WW II. He says his division went easy on artillery in Holland because the citizens had not had time to flee, as would later be the case in Belgium and Germany when he was there. It cost lives, no doubt, although pointing to a particular dead American soldier and saying the policy killed him is difficult.
But there had to be some. Their lives were given to the citizens of Holland by the higher command. No choice.

I dunno. I was an Infantry officer. If I were charged with an objective and given American mothers' sons to expend in the pursuit of the objective, I don't think anybody in the vicinity would have a very good day.

Somebody would be keeping me awake nights later on, and I guess I'd prefer to be seeing unknown civilians than my guys.
8.8.2006 11:22am
Erasmussimo:
SG, thanks for your thoughts on this problem. I still believe that it's possible to formulate a rational justification for western liberal values. I agree that there has to be an axiom from which to start, but I would take it all the way down to something like the old "maximum happiness for maximum number of people" (I admit that there are a few gotchas with that). I proceed from there to argue that western liberal values come closer to achieving that goal. But that gets us into really hairy territory.

Thanks again.
8.8.2006 12:36pm
douglas (mail):
Nothing kills more innocent civilians than indecision and 'metering' of warfare which, in the end, only serves to prolong the war and thereby the suffering.
Military officers have a clear obligation to minimize casualties within their own troops (and much practical reason to do so), and to achieve the mission and it's objectives as efficiently as possible, collateral damage be damned. Of course, reducing collateral damage might be an objective, in which case the calculus gets more complex, but not indecipherable. Effectiveness is the only moral choice in warfare. Get it done, then be a humanitarian. I believe that was the standard set for us in WWII, although, Europe's appeasement and our delayed entry into the war may well have increased the suffering substantially.


Zarkov:
Erasmussimo:

Strictly speaking you are correct. If all civilians are co-conspirators in the actions of the regime then, any civilian is fair game, and that includes the occupants of the WTC.


Uh, no, he's not. Lebanon is in a state of war right now, NYC on 9/11 was not. That matters a bit, unless you have no regard for the civilizing factor of the rules of war. Lebanese civilians had a chance to prepare, to leave, to seek protection... People who went to work at the WTC did not.
8.9.2006 4:40am