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Moral Question re Civilian Casualties Revisited:

Having suffered grievous losses in recent battles, IDF soldiers wonder why they are being sacrificed in ground combat, when bombings could have cleared the villages of Party of God hideouts, which also happen to be civilian homes: "What really bothered us is that in all of the villages we passed through the houses are standing and are untouched. The IDF's morality during war is exacting a very high price. We can flatten the territory, without ground forces, but from the air."

Thinking about my prior post on this issue, and again putting practical, as opposed to purely moral, concerns aside, it strikes me that military commanders should think of themselves as agents for their soldiers. Instead of looking at things from a collectivist perspective (how many soldiers should be sacrificed for how many civilians?),the question, perhaps, is, "what risk of losing your own life would an average soldier take in return for what reduced risk of killing civilians." The answer would depend, in part, on how complicit the civilian population is aiding and supporting the government--perhaps a different answer in occupied Belgium than in Dusseldorf in WWII. No easy answers, but I think at minimum it's safe to say that most soldiers in a civilized country would be willing to take something more than a non-zero risk to avoid a very high chance killing purely innocent civilians, but would not be willing to take a very high risk (or perhaps any risk at all) to avoid a small chance of avoiding harm to those who, e.g., purposely serve as human shields.

Again, this question is arising specifically in the context of the Lebanon situation, but it has implications for any modern war for any civilized nation, so please avoid using your comments to vent on other issues concerning Israel/Party of God/Lebanon.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Moral Question re Civilian Casualties Revisited:
  2. Moral Question re Civilian Casualties:
anonyomousss (mail):
why agents for the soldiers specifically? why not agents for their immediate superiors? or for the civilian leadership? or for the entire civilian population of israel?

each of these choices is presumably defensible, so i'd be interested in why you picked the one you did.
8.10.2006 12:41pm
davidbernstein (mail):
agent only in terms of making the particular decision of whether to risk soldiers' lives to potentially save civilians; I'm assuming that (other than potentially losing more soldiers) the decision one way or the other has no military consequences. Why for the soldiers? They're the ones whose lives, literally, are on the line. But you're right, other choices would be defensible.
8.10.2006 12:44pm
frankcross (mail):
Well, I don't think it makes sense to put practical concerns aside. They are not separate from moral concerns. The consequences of an action inform its morality. I'm not sure how those concerns cut, but if killing civilians undermined the war effort, that has moral dimension as well.

I'm not sure I would call someone who "purposely" served as a human shield a civilian, but someone who was forced into the role would surely qualify.

I think conscript vs. volunteer army is relevant here. One can fairly expect a volunteer army to take great risks to protect others. Less so with a drafted force, I would think.
8.10.2006 12:57pm
Medis:
Again, this is borderline absurd: "Thinking about my prior post on this issue, and again putting practical, as opposed to purely moral, concerns aside, it strikes me that military commanders should think of themselves as agents for their soldiers."

I highly doubt that Bernstein that can come up with a "purely moral" justification for military commanders being "agents for their soldiers". And even if he could, it would obviously be trumped by other moral considerations as soon as we relaxed this bizarre requirement that we have to ignore any longterm consequences of what the military commander decides. In other words, the moral duties of military commanders in the real world are informed by the long term consequences of their decisions, and it is hard for me to imagine what legitimate purpose Bernstein sees in discussing what the duties of military commanders would be in a purely hypothetical world where there were no longterm consequences.

In short, this approach not only tells us nothing about what pragmatism requires of military commanders, but also nothing about what morality requires of military commanders, because morality cannot be completely divorced from the consequences of one's actions.
8.10.2006 12:57pm
Domer88 (mail):
Military commanders are not agents for their soldiers. Rather, they are agents for the government they serve. Military action is one tool among many in the government arsenal, and should always support political objectives. If the government decides that excess civilian casualties, even if acceptable from a moral standpoint, do not advance the nation's strategic objectives, then the government may decide to accept more risk to its soldiers. In Israel's case, they are fighting a bigger battle for world opionion than they are for ground in Lebanon.
8.10.2006 12:57pm
Veritas:
Since many of the civilians are now openly clamoring for Jewish blood to quench their thirst, I would say Israeli soldiers should not take much risks to save the lives of their enemies.

No one, save Islamists, wants to kill innocents. However, a very large percentage of the adults either aid &abet Hezbollah or outright support them, while the children are being brainwashed to become shahids. (Homicide Bombers). In this context, Israeli soldiers should minimize their own risks.
8.10.2006 12:57pm
Gordo:
I think one key point is the level of complicity of the civilians involved. We are getting conflicting versions of this level of complicity - one version is that the civilians are willing human shields, the other is that they are forced into the role by the Party of God.

If you want to use WW II analogies though, I think even this question is irrelevant. I don't know if the situation actually came up, but I don't doubt the U.S. forces would have just as easily destroyed a German position in Belgium using unwilling human shields as a German position in Dusseldorf. On the Pacific Front, the U.S. certainly didn't blanch from rooting the Japanese out of Manila at an appalling cost in casualties among unwilling human shields.

If Israel is truly facing a fight for its very existence, and I happen to think that it is, it will not let civilian casualties stop it from rooting out the Party of God from Lebanon root and branch.
8.10.2006 1:00pm
davidbernstein (mail):
So let's say the military commander (with orders from civilian superiors) considers the political implications, and decides that additional casualties of his own soldiers will weaken support on the home front, and decrease morale among the soldiers, while increased civilian casualties will create negative world opinion and increase resistance. Conclusion: these factors balance out, and we are left with the moral dilemma.
8.10.2006 1:03pm
N.I.:
"Since many of the civilians are now openly clamoring for Jewish blood to quench their thirst, I would say Israeli soldiers should not take much risks to save the lives of their enemies."

Excuse me, but if the IDF had done to Los Angeles or New York what it has done to Southern Lebanon, you would find an awful lot of Americans, including many who previously had no anti-Israeli animus, clamoring for Jewish blood. I think reasonable people can reach different conclusions about whether the Israeli actions are justified, but I don't think there's any reasonable argument whatsoever that civilians whose homes and livelihoods have been destroyed are going to hate whoever did it.

I hardly ever agree with Pat Buchanan, but this one time he hit the nail pretty much on the head: "Hezbollah ignited the hostilities. But it was Israel that escalated to rain destruction on a people and nation that had not countenanced or condoned Hezbollah’s provocation, but condemned it. Think back. Had Reagan done to Lebanon, when half a dozen Americans were seized as hostages, what Israel has done, when two soldiers were taken hostage, Democrats would have denounced Reagan as a war criminal. Conservatives would have begged him to ease up."
8.10.2006 1:07pm
Daniel San:
It makes a difference that Isreal's goals include an intact government in Lebanon. The less infrastructure destroyed, the more likely that can be accomplished. Destroying entire villages may be the best way to their short-term goals, but it seriously undercuts their long-term goals.
8.10.2006 1:09pm
Jman (mail):
Is that a question for the commanders or for the policy makers? I think this scenario leaves the military commander with far too much policy discretion. I think it would be inappropriate for a commander to put his own soldiers at risk assuage his own "sensitivities" (or to kill enemy civilians contrary to civilian-imposed policy). The commander, after all, is also an agent of his country.

As for the ultimately policy (whether madeb the commander or by the civilian government) and the level of complicity question, one ends up with a situation a kin to Abraham bargaining with God over the fate of Sodom and Gommorah. What would count as complicity? Because there will always be someone innocent you can find. A child, a dissident trying to promote change from within. Is one enough? Is ten innocent people enough?
8.10.2006 1:10pm
Matt Tievsky (mail):
N.I.:

Without judging either way, let me note that there are two significant and related differences between the situations which invalidate your comparison, I think: Lebanon does not neighbor the U.S., and the U.S. is much stronger and better-defended than Israel.
8.10.2006 1:13pm
Kristian (mail) (www):

Military commanders are not agents for their soldiers. Rather, they are agents for the government they serve.


Yes and no. Clearly, the objectives are set by the Civilian and upper military commanders (aka Strategy). But he actual achieveing of those objectives is done at a much lower level. To the extent that the squad and company level commanders have discretion on how to achieve their objectives, they are acting as agents for the soldiers.

There are times that they are compelled to act in a manner contrary to their immediate subordinates best interest, but that is rarer than you'd think. Which is not to say that they don't act contrary to their interests. Which seems to be the basis of the IDF soldiers complaints.
8.10.2006 1:14pm
guest:
I think this and your previous hypothetical actually justify the Hezbollah's use of Katyusha rockets. If the Hezbollah were to invade to attack Israel's military, it would be certain death. However, by launching attacks (in areas that they've asked to be evacuated), they hit military installations every once in a while without suffering casualties. It's unfortunate that they wind up killing innocent civilians, too, but justifiable, since it significantly reduces their own risk.
8.10.2006 1:17pm
dwshelf (mail):
Occupied Belgium and even Italy ca 1944 make for bad analogies, because the civilian populations _welcomed_ allied armies as they arrived.

I see no such behavior from the Lebanese. I do not see the government of Lebanon welcoming Israeli liberators, nor the masses of Lebanese civilians joining with the Israeli army to root out any pockets of remaining Hisbollah. If they, the government and the civilians would do that, the war would be over soon, with no need for further violence.

Instead, we find the government of Lebanon making demands that the Israelis leave. We find the government of Lebanon codifying the power of Hisbollah. We can easily predict what would happen if Israel did leave, Hisbollah would rearm, and be even more powerful the next time. The entirety of Lebanon has declared themselves the enemy of Israel, and thus are legitimate targets. The equation should either not consider them at all, or, perhaps consider the positive value of having more civilian deaths. There is no more moral dilemma after your enemy has killed you.
8.10.2006 1:17pm
JRL:
Are we talking about risking the lives of Israeli soldiers to save Israeli civilians or Lebonese civilians?
8.10.2006 1:22pm
dwshelf (mail):
I think this and your previous hypothetical actually justify the Hezbollah's use of Katyusha rockets.

If you're in a war, and Hizbollah certainly is in a war, their use of rockets against Israeli civilians is perfectly logical, because it is effective.

This moral dilemma stuff is a luxury granted only to someone facing no serious threat.
8.10.2006 1:23pm
Philistine (mail):

Clearly, the objectives are set by the Civilian and upper military commanders (aka Strategy). But he actual achieveing of those objectives is done at a much lower level. To the extent that the squad and company level commanders have discretion on how to achieve their objectives, they are acting as agents for the soldiers.


But the decision complained of--ground assault rather than attacks by air--are made at a much higher pay grade than company commanders. And that would be the case generally with most policies dealing with rules of engagment.
8.10.2006 1:23pm
guest:
dwshelf: Yes, the moral dilemma thing is a little silly. But we should commend David Bernstein, who often seems quite partisan, for coming to the defense of an organization he believes is horrible.
8.10.2006 1:25pm
N.I.:
I have a bit of a different take on the Middle Eastern conflict than the rest of you. I don't see it as a conflict between the good guys (Israel) and the bad guys (the Arabs). Rather, I see it as a conflict between two sets of bad guys that it is in America's best interest to stay out of.

I've lived, worked and traveled extensively in the Middle East and I yield to no one in my contempt for fundamentalist Islam. That said, Middle Eastern terrorism was pioneered by Menachem Begin, who engineered the King David Hotel massacre and used to send donkeys laden with explosives into crowded Arab markets; in light of that history Israel is not in a strong position to complain when the Arabs adopt similar tactics. And I can't believe that nobody caught the irony of the Israeli government staging celebrations commemorating the King David massacre all the while condemning Arab terrorism.

When Israel was created, thousands of Arabs who had lived on that land for centuries were uprooted and driven from their homes. At least in this country, even after Kelo, you get compensation when your land is taken. If someone did that to me, I might be tempted to hurl a few bombs myself.

And finally, I have to ask what exactly the Israelis expected when they took up residence in the part of the world where anti-Semitism is most pandemic. If a Black family moves into a neighborhood populated with white supremacists, their neighbors do not have the right to vandalize their cars and throw rocks through their windows, but neither should they be surprised when it happens.

At the risk of someone accusing me of anti-Semitism, I think it is time to admit that the creation of Israel in 1948 was the grandest diplomatic blunder of the 20th century. The mistake having been made the world is now stuck with it; Israel isn't going anywhere and the sooner the Arabs acknowledge that, the better. But what a superb illustration of what happens when religious dogma is allowed to make public policy. And what a superb argument for Washington's advice to avoid foreign entanglements.
8.10.2006 1:28pm
JRL:

And finally, I have to ask what exactly the Israelis expected when they took up residence in the part of the world where anti-Semitism is most pandemic. If a Black family moves into a neighborhood populated with white supremacists, their neighbors do not have the right to vandalize their cars and throw rocks through their windows, but neither should they be surprised when it happens.


And when a woman wears a mini skirt and a low cut blouse, should she be surprised when she gets raped? She was asking for it, wasn't she N.I.?
8.10.2006 1:31pm
davidbernstein (mail):
N.I., your post is way off-topic, besides being factually incorrect in what it attributes to Begin.

Guest, very snarky, but the soldiers in Israel are not questioning whether the country should try to kill civilians, as the Party of God proudly does, but whether they should go out of their way to avoid civilian casualties while pursuing military objectives. Given the choice of a way of reducing civilian casualties while NOT losing one's own soldiers in the process of achieving military objectives, Israel would clearly take it, while the Party of God would ask for a way to increae the casualties. Put another way, Party of God's military OBJECTIVE is civilian casualties.
8.10.2006 1:33pm
The Divagator (mail) (www):
David and group--thought you all might be interested in a few short essays on the issue of just-war doctrine and civilians...found here and here

Best regards, *D*
8.10.2006 1:35pm
dwshelf (mail):
Given the choice of a way of reducing civilian casualties while NOT losing one's own soldiers in the process of achieving military objectives, Israel would clearly take it,

Sure, but that option has never existed (for suitable definitions of "reduced"). Historically, and today, Israel has reacted to that by failing to achieve necessary military objectives. Facing no real threat, one can be wishy washy about military objectives. However, Hisbollah is only one category below being a "real threat". Imagine 100x the rockets with the range to cover all of Israel. That's where they will be in the context of Israel failing to achieve military objectives.
8.10.2006 1:39pm
guest:
DBernstein: I'd guess that if they could choose, Hezbollah would target the Israeli military. But with the Katyushas, they don't have that option.
8.10.2006 1:39pm
Gordo:
dwshelf

This moral dilemma stuff is a luxury granted only to someone facing no serious threat.

Actually, it's a luxury the Party of God has no concept of. They would have no moral dilemma in killing every single last Jew in Israel. The only difference between them and the Nazis is that they aren't anywhere near as powerful.
8.10.2006 1:44pm
Ken Arromdee:
I'm not sure I would call someone who "purposely" served as a human shield a civilian, but someone who was forced into the role would surely qualify.

Why wouldn't someone forced to serve as a human shield count as a conscript?
8.10.2006 1:45pm
Truth Seeker:
JRL said:
And when a woman wears a mini skirt and a low cut blouse, should she be surprised when she gets raped? She was asking for it, wasn't she N.I.?

Well, if she travels alone in a lawless part of the world, yes, she is asking for it. Not everyone has the luxury of living in a society so civilized and genteel that even a crude remark or sexual inuendo can get one fired and one's company liable for millions. The world is not a leftist utopia.
8.10.2006 1:56pm
tschafer (mail):
There is no reason whatsoever to assume, given their rhetoric, that Hezbollah "would prefer to target the Israeli military". Hezbollah has made it clear that it draws no distinction between Jewish soldiers and civilians. And incidentally, the idea that you could not use Katyushas to target military units is absurd. That is what they were designed for, as a cheap form of field artillery. The Soviets used them against Nazi military units with great effect. I know - a friend's father operated one in the Red Army during WWII. If Hezbollah is targeting civilians with them, it is because civilians are their preferred targets.
8.10.2006 2:00pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Why wouldn't someone forced to serve as a human shield count as a conscript?


Because they're a hostage.
8.10.2006 2:00pm
dwshelf (mail):
Actually, it's a luxury the Party of God has no concept of. They would have no moral dilemma in killing every single last Jew in Israel. The only difference between them and the Nazis is that they aren't anywhere near as powerful.

May be drifting off topic...but I believe the history of Jews under Islamic domination is useful for predicting what would happen if the roles were reversed. Jews were killed when they presented a threat. So long as they remained docile, they were generally left to live as second class citizens, with occasional existence as first class members of society. This existence was mostly peaceful in a large sense, although no doubt individual violence was a recurring threat to Jews.

Crucial to this analysis is the lack of a threat to the existence of any area's local implementation of Islamic law. This is how people who have lost a pre 1950 war stayed alive. This is _peace_ in the context of strong religious beliefs. Israel remains dominated by concerns such as that presnted by Prof. Bernstein, and this is precluded from establishing such a peace, choosing instead to discuss moral behavior.
8.10.2006 2:03pm
MikeD:
Let's pretend that we had some kind of militant terrorist group operating out of Texas that had a thing against Mexicans, and perhaps believed that some portion of Mexican territory rightfully belonged to them. Let's further pretend this militant group would never be satisfied with any kind of reasonable political solution, but instead demanded something completely ridiculous - i.e., the Mexicans should all move to Uganda and abandon Mexico's territory to them in its entirety.

Let's say this group was lobbing rockets daily into Mexican civilian areas with the deliberate intention of murdering Mexican civilians, and the USA just threw up its hands and claimed there was nothing it could do to stop them. Hell, there are even a couple of members of this militant group who were elected to Congress.

Now, at this point, Mexico takes matters into its own hands, devastates a few towns in southern Texas via air attack and takes control of some territory with its army. Now what? Do we have the right to clamor for "Mexican blood"? No, we don't; the Mexicans would be perfectly within their rights to take such actions and you all know it. Some of the folks who are now denying Israel's right to defend itself would be some of Mexico's most vociferous defenders in this scenario.

Sorry, but it looks to me like Israel's crime here is to be an advanced and prosperous first-world nation, populated mostly by people of Western ancestry. As we all know, the PC crowd will never admit that such people have the right to defend themselves against those who are "traditionally opressed".
8.10.2006 2:11pm
N.I.:
David Bernstein wrote:

"N.I., your post is way off-topic, besides being factually incorrect in what it attributes to Begin."

I'm sorry, I thought we were talking about moral questions as they relate to civilian casualties in the current Israeli-Lebanese war? I had assumed history might have some relevance in answering such moral questions.

As to my attributions to Begin, I think I'm right but even if I'm not, would you quibble with my broader point that there was Jewish terrorism in that region?
8.10.2006 2:14pm
tschafer (mail):
I'd invite a look at Bat Ye'or to find out what the status of Jews was under Islam - not nearly as rosy as often depicted, with interludes of outright genocide. It was not so much "Jews presenting a threat" that triggered pogroms, since this was pretty much impossible, as Jews not being crushed and degraded enough. Any time Jews started to rise toward "first class" citizen status, this was regarded as "a threat to the local implementation if Islamic Law" and they were ruthlessly and muderously slapped down. Anyone who thinks that a Hezbollah conquest of Israel would not result in near-genocidal slaughter has not been reading what Hezbollah has been saying all these years. At any rate, it's easy to see why Israelis don't go for the sort of "Peace" that would likely result in mass slaughter, with the survivors being reduced to something worse than the status of Jim Crow era Blacks.
8.10.2006 2:20pm
te (mail):

N.I., your post is way off-topic,

So what is the cut-off date for considering the actions of Israel/ other parties?

Last week? Last year? 1967? 1948?

I don't have a clue about whether poster above is correct and that Begin was a murderer and a terrorist (I don't know what else you would call him if he did send explosives into civilian markets), but if any of that is true isn't it at least a little bit relevant to the present discussion?
8.10.2006 2:21pm
Medis:
"Conclusion: these factors balance out, and we are left with the moral dilemma."

Actually, no, what has happened is that by assuming away the significance of long term consequences (now using the fiction that every long term consequence magically achieves a perfect practical and moral balance), you have eliminated the real "moral dilemma" military commanders face and replaced it with an artificially constructed one which tells us nothing useful about real world decisions.

In other words, the real "moral dilemma" would include moral considerations involving how much risk a country's leaders should place on that country's military personnel in order to maximize that country's chances of achieving its strategic goals. Thus, assuming away any strategic consequences is assuming away the real moral dilemma.
8.10.2006 2:23pm
Veritas:
Menachem Begin never intentionally targeted innocents. The King David Hotel bombing targeted British military headquarters and they were repeatedly forewarned. N.I. likes to think this is all about the vicious lie that Jews stole Arab land---and let's never bring up the approximately 800,000 Jews who were dispossesed by the Arabs and had to flee to Israel---it's not.

Hezbollah is about JIHAD. This is a religious dispute, not a war about real estate, as the ostriches would prefer to believe.
8.10.2006 2:27pm
tschafer (mail):
It's funny how people who are always quick to say that "two wrongs don't make a right" and deplore "the cycle of violence" whenever Israel retaliates against terrorism believe that something that may have happened sixty years ago justifies what Hezbollah is doing today. But let's get a few facts straight first:

The main Jewish military organization prior to independence was the Haganah. It fought as a straight military formation, and actually fought against the Nazis in North Africa in WWII. Also in the field were two other organizations, the Irgun and the Stern Group. They were much smaller organizations, and were disavowed by the Haganah. Anything describable as "terrorism" was carried out by these two smaller splinter groups, although most of these actions were retaliation for Arab terror attacks. The King David Hotel bombing (which contained a military headquarters) was carried out by the Irgun, not by the mainstream Haganah, and even them a warning was sent prior to the bombing, so that the hotel could be evacuated. The Jewish leadership condemned the attacks, and actually helped the British track down the bombers. Immediately after the 1948 War, an armed conflict broke out between the Haganah and the Irgun (The Atalena Incident) and the Irgun was marginalized in Israli politic for many years.
Certainly Israel is not perfect, and terrorism is unjustifiable no matter who carries it out. But to link a few incidents that were carried out by splinter groups in Israel sixty years ago to today's terrorism is simply perverse.
8.10.2006 2:45pm
N.I.:
Veritas, I wouldn't say it's __all__ about real estate, though I don't think you can fairly say that real estate has nothing to do with it. And if I were having this conversation on a predominantly pro-Palestinian I would make some of the points you've made earlier.

But here's what I do think is the bottom line: As I said earlier, this is not a war between the good guys and the bad guys. It's a war between two sets of bad guys. At this point it has basically degenerated into sibling rivalry with missles and tanks: Mommy, he hit me first. Did not. Did so. Well she stuck her tongue out at me. Did not. Did so.

Which brings me full circle back to my second point: The United States has no strategic interest in whether Israel lives or dies. None, zip, zero, nada. Our policies in that region have bought us nothing but grief.

I recognize the Jewish desire for a homeland, especially immediately after the holocaust, but not everyone who wants a homeland gets one. (Basques? Cherokee Indians? Eskimos? Maori? Australian aborigines?) I can't sort out the moral implications but I think the political ones are pretty clear.
8.10.2006 2:50pm
limes (mail) (www):
Hitting ‘civilians’ with airpower is collective punishment to those who remain in targeted areas. But southern Lebanon voted for Hezbollah and were familiar with its goals and tactics. Collective punishment for those who chose to remain, despite Israel’s warnings, seems completely appropriate and moral.

Given the enemy’s stated goal of wiping Israel off the map, ‘Proportional Intent’ justifies loosening the rules of engagement.
8.10.2006 2:57pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
Going nuclear is the only sensible option. Otherwhise its just a matter of time before the Iranians get it figured out and lob one into Tel Aviv. Iran is such a shithole it could withstand a nuclear attack and not be in much worse shape than they are now. Israel doesn't have that luxury.
8.10.2006 3:00pm
tschafer (mail):
So, N.I. you believe that the Israelis are morally as bad as their terrorist enemies, that the whole conflict is childish and infantile, that Jews have no more right to a homeland than the Inuit (who, incidentally, have one) and that it shouldn't matter to America if Israel lives or dies.

Thanks. I think we know where you are coming from now
8.10.2006 3:08pm
dwshelf (mail):
At any rate, it's easy to see why Israelis don't go for the sort of "Peace" that would likely result in mass slaughter, with the survivors being reduced to something worse than the status of Jim Crow era Blacks.

The basis of peace is the certainty that any emerging threat will be quickly suppressed.

This is not possible in a context dominated by concern for the lives of civilians.

It is possible in the context of Arabs and Muslims being first class, respected citizens _when they present no threat_.
8.10.2006 3:09pm
Mongoose388:
"Excuse me, but if the IDF had done to Los Angeles or New York what it has done to Southern Lebanon, you would find an awful lot of Americans, including many who previously had no anti-Israeli animus, clamoring for Jewish blood."
It's an invalid argument unless you presuppose that the residents of Los Angeles or New York already had the terrroizing and mass murder of Israelis on their minds. Of course, if the US should be attacked unprovoked that would be another matter....
Why do anti-Israel supporters always forget that the violence would end if Party of G&D would only return the kidnapped soldiers and stop launching 100's of terror rockets every day at Israelis ?
8.10.2006 3:13pm
Brooks Lyman (mail):
I think that, humanitarian concerns aside (and they are much more important to Israel than to Hezbollah), Israel has to fight this (and any similar conflicts) with their future international relations in mind. While "world opinion" currently seems to be 1) anti-Israeli to the point of being anti-Semitic and 2) so largely misinformed as to often be more an adjunct of the Hezbollah Ministry of Propaganda rather than responsible journalism, they do constitute a large (and far too influential) body of opinion vendors - and makers.

While Israel currently may have no particular use for these people, once the dust settles and academics and journalists start analyzing what happened in this currently rather fast-moving war, the press is likely to be a little fairer. Israel is not so totally self-sufficient that it can afford to alienate those few nations - such as the US - which are its friends, not to mention the many others who, despite critical noises, are willing to trade with Israel.

But ultimately, I think it comes back to the Jewish (and Christian) humanitarian ethic and tradition: "The Islamic terrorists may not care about innocent lives, but we do, and we will conduct ourselves accordingly...and any incidents to the contrary will be either accidents or individuals acting on their own, out of anger and hatred and will be dealt with accordingly."
8.10.2006 3:31pm
Bruce Lagasse (mail):
Gee, here we are at 39 comments, and we still haven't seen an appearance by faeijgoei:

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8.10.2006 3:32pm
RainerK:
davidbernstein:
"it strikes me that military commanders should think of themselves as agents for their soldiers."

Yes, sure, but first we are all agents for our people. Your argument taken to its conclusion would have meant that I could never have sent any of my men into danger, even death, to achieve my mission.
I have no special insight, but it sounds like the IDF soldiers are venting, and it looks like the IDF has more trouble with Hezbollah than they thought they would. Don't know why, not enough training maybe? Just crying for the Air Force isn't going to do it. But they clearly don't value the Arab civilians much, not surprisingly. Another fall-out of the irresponsible Arab policies towards Israel. If I were an IDF soldier I would not even support the political decision to delay action while the enemy takes the time to regroup and fire a bunch more rockets.

As to the morality of civilian casualties, I stand by my posts last time this topic came up. Deliberately targeting them is not justified except under direct threat to oneself, killing them in the course of pursuing the objective is not immoral, saving them at cost to one's own men is bad leadership. Political reasons may dictate otherwise to be decided at a higher level.
But what about the individual combat soldier?
In my experience in the military, political considerations are seen as a minor concern in the training for low-level front-line leaders when civilian casualties are concerned.
A much larger concern is the impact on morale. When men are confronted with the result of their actions and they encounter small children torn to bits, it must have an impact on them. It would take an unusually hardened person to just wipe those images from memory. That can be overcome by indoctrinating to hate every enemy, but the IDF doesn't do that.
It was emphasized that the mission is first and it is not to be deviated from just to save civilians. However, it is clearly the responsibility of the force in control of the area to care for civilians' safety and well-being. Usually that's the mission of non-combat units.
On the other hand, morale will also suffer when a commander is perceived as sacrificing his men to save the enemy's civilians, who might well be complicit. Balancing act for sure.
But my own sensitivities as a leader? While I would have them, I'd have to suppress them. Fortunately I was never put to the test.
You may have noticed, I keep emphasising mission and objective, the primary focus of a soldier.
8.10.2006 3:36pm
luagha:
From my reading of even the Wikipedia site, the King David Hotel was the administration headquarters of the British Mandate of Palestine and the military command. Furthermore, the time of the bombing was chosen to minimize casualties, and three separate warnings were sent (to the operator of the hotel, to the french consulate, and the Palestine Post newspaper) with enough time - a half an hour - to evacuate the hotel. (The warnings were ignored.)

It's these things - its use as a military command site and the warning before the bombing to evacuate - that make it a valid 'guerilla' or 'resistance' action and not a 'terrorist' action.

Terrorist activities specifically target civilians not because military sites are 'too difficult' but because they wish to cause fear amongst the civilian population. Similarily, they do not send warnings ahead of time, as that would allow civilians the chance to depart.
8.10.2006 3:50pm
N.I.:
tschafer, it's a common tactic to yell bigot whenever someone suggests that minorities are not entitled to special treatment. Blacks, women, Hispanics, gays and Jews all do it and so, for that matter, do white Christian males on occasion.

If you will read what I actually wrote, you will find that "where I am coming from" is that Israel should be held to the same standard as any other nation -- our policy should be based on our strategic national interest, period.

Now, your comment that Jews are more entitled to a homeland than are the Inuit is indeed a racist comment, because the obvious inference is that Jews are somehow superior to Inuit. If I were Inuit I would be pissed.
8.10.2006 3:53pm
Veritas:
Yes, the actions of Israel and its Muslim enemies are morally equivalent. QED.

Why bother concerning myself with details of facts and reality. It's too complex to wade through the particulars to come up with a proper moral judgment. Why not abdicate the task of knowing enough to properly judge? I have the advantage of posing as a detached neutral observer and employing a facile moral equivalence. I'm utterly sophisticated.
8.10.2006 4:18pm
Veritas:
Yes, the actions of Israel and its Muslim enemies are morally equivalent. QED.

Why bother concerning myself with details of facts and reality? It's too complex to wade through the particulars to come up with a proper moral judgment. Why not abdicate the task of knowing enough to properly assess? I have the advantage of posing as a detached neutral observer and employing a facile moral equivalence. I'm utterly sophisticated.
8.10.2006 4:18pm
N.I.:
Veritas, I never said they were morally equivalent; what I said was that they are both bad guys. There are different levels of badness.

But so far as foreign policy is concerned, it shouldn't matter if they are morally equivalent or not. We have no strategic interest in whether or not there is a State of Israel, just as we have no strategic interest in whether Cyprus is Greek or Turkish. So assume for sake of argument that the Israelis are angels and the Arabs are devils. We still have no strategic interest there.
8.10.2006 4:41pm
Paul Giles (mail):
On the King David Hotel note (1) the Jewish terrorist groups had taken to giving hoax bomb warnings to create disruption without having to plant actual bombs, so their warnings had come to be ignored and (2) the Irgun was not marginalised - 2 Israeli prime ministers, Begin (organiser of the King David Hotel attack) and Shamir (organiser of the murder of Count Bernadotte, UN envoy), were democraticaly elected despite their history of murderous terrorism. And BTW, remember that the contribution of the Stern Gang to the fight against Hitler was to kill British soldiers. Israel's condemnation of terrorism is a sick joke given the history of the Zionist movement. The Irgun and the Lehi were not marginalized - they are the forefathers of the Israel political establishment of today.
8.10.2006 6:59pm
Speaking the Obvious:
I think dealing with the morality of these choices (civilian vs military deaths) requires a more detailed understanding of the history of the conflict. Clearly what is moral in defense is not necessarily moral as an act of aggression. Facts matter. So the following article from Tuesday's Guardian struck me as worthwhile information.

08.08.2006 | The Guardian
George Monbiot

Whatever we think of Israel's assault on Lebanon, all of us seem to agree about one fact: that it was a response, however disproportionate, to an unprovoked attack by Hizbullah. I repeated this "fact" in my last column, when I wrote that "Hizbullah fired the first shots". This being so, the Israeli government's supporters ask peaceniks like me, what would you have done? It's an important question. But its premise, I have now discovered, is flawed.

Since Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000, there have been hundreds of violations of the "blue line" between the two countries. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) reports that Israeli aircraft crossed the line "on an almost daily basis" between 2001 and 2003, and "persistently" until 2006. These incursions "caused great concern to the civilian population, particularly low-altitude flights that break the sound barrier over populated areas". On some occasions, Hizbullah tried to shoot them down with anti-aircraft guns.

In October 2000, the Israel Defence Forces shot at unarmed Palestinian demonstrators on the border, killing three and wounding 20. In response, Hizbullah crossed the line and kidnapped three Israeli soldiers. On several occasions, Hizbullah fired missiles and mortar rounds at IDF positions, and the IDF responded with heavy artillery and sometimes aerial bombardment. Incidents like this killed three Israelis and three Lebanese in 2003; one Israeli soldier and two Hizbullah fighters in 2005; and two Lebanese people and three Israeli soldiers in February 2006. Rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel several times in 2004, 2005 and 2006, on some occasions by Hizbullah. But, the UN records, "none of the incidents resulted in a military escalation".

On May 26 this year, two officials of Islamic Jihad - Nidal and Mahmoud Majzoub - were killed by a car bomb in the Lebanese city of Sidon. This was widely assumed in Lebanon and Israel to be the work of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. In June, a man named Mahmoud Rafeh confessed to the killings and admitted that he had been working for Mossad since 1994. Militants in southern Lebanon responded, on the day of the bombing, by launching eight rockets into Israel. One soldier was lightly wounded. There was a major bust-up on the border, during which one member of Hizbullah was killed and several wounded, and one Israeli soldier wounded. But while the border region "remained tense and volatile", Unifil says it was "generally quiet" until July 12.

There has been a heated debate on the internet about whether the two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hizbullah that day were captured in Israel or in Lebanon, but it now seems pretty clear that they were seized in Israel. This is what the UN says, and even Hizbullah seems to have forgotten that they were supposed to have been found sneaking around the outskirts of the Lebanese village of Aita al-Shaab. Now it simply states that "the Islamic resistance captured two Israeli soldiers at the border with occupied Palestine". Three other Israeli soldiers were killed by the militants. There is also some dispute about when, on July 12, Hizbullah first fired its rockets; but Unifil makes it clear that the firing took place at the same time as the raid - 9am. Its purpose seems to have been to create a diversion. No one was hit.

But there is no serious debate about why the two soldiers were captured: Hizbullah was seeking to exchange them for the 15 prisoners of war taken by the Israelis during the occupation of Lebanon and (in breach of article 118 of the third Geneva convention) never released. It seems clear that if Israel had handed over the prisoners, it would - without the spillage of any more blood - have retrieved its men and reduced the likelihood of further kidnappings. But the Israeli government refused to negotiate. Instead - well, we all know what happened instead. Almost 1,000 Lebanese and 33 Israeli civilians have been killed so far, and a million Lebanese displaced from their homes.

On July 12, in other words, Hizbullah fired the first shots. But that act of aggression was simply one instance in a long sequence of small incursions and attacks over the past six years by both sides. So why was the Israeli response so different from all that preceded it? The answer is that it was not a reaction to the events of that day. The assault had been planned for months.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that "more than a year ago, a senior Israeli army officer began giving PowerPoint presentations, on an off-the-record basis, to US and other diplomats, journalists and thinktanks, setting out the plan for the current operation in revealing detail". The attack, he said, would last for three weeks. It would begin with bombing and culminate in a ground invasion. Gerald Steinberg, professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University, told the paper that "of all of Israel's wars since 1948, this was the one for which Israel was most prepared ... By 2004, the military campaign scheduled to last about three weeks that we're seeing now had already been blocked out and, in the last year or two, it's been simulated and rehearsed across the board".

A "senior Israeli official" told the Washington Post that the raid by Hizbullah provided Israel with a "unique moment" for wiping out the organisation. The New Statesman's editor, John Kampfner, says he was told by more than one official source that the US government knew in advance of Israel's intention to take military action in Lebanon. The Bush administration told the British government.

Israel's assault, then, was premeditated: it was simply waiting for an appropriate excuse. It was also unnecessary. It is true that Hizbullah had been building up munitions close to the border, as its current rocket attacks show. But so had Israel. Just as Israel could assert that it was seeking to deter incursions by Hizbullah, Hizbullah could claim - also with justification - that it was trying to deter incursions by Israel. The Lebanese army is certainly incapable of doing so. Yes, Hizbullah should have been pulled back from the Israeli border by the Lebanese government and disarmed. Yes, the raid and the rocket attack on July 12 were unjustified, stupid and provocative, like just about everything that has taken place around the border for the past six years. But the suggestion that Hizbullah could launch an invasion of Israel or that it constitutes an existential threat to the state is preposterous. Since the occupation ended, all its acts of war have been minor ones, and nearly all of them reactive.

----

This strikes me as reflective and more detailed in terms of real word politics than the simplistic good guy/bad guy analysis I usually read here, but if it doesn't convince Mr. Bernstein, I guess the alternative for the citizens of Lebanon is to join the IDF as quickly as possible, so as to protect themselves...
8.11.2006 2:19am
douglas (mail):
Clarity on the issue of the deaths of innocents in warfare can be found here:
On the Virtues of Killing Children

Read it. It is clear, persuasive, and poetic.
8.11.2006 5:01am
Tom952 (mail):
The cease fire negotiations are nonsense. The IDF will not withdraw until Hizbollah stops rocketing Israel and releases the hostages. There is nothing to negotiate. Do the French think Israel will ever go home and let Hisbollah keep firing rockets into Haifa without responding? Why doesn't Brian Williams or Bob Schieffer or President Bush point out this glaring fact?

"U.N. Peacekeeping Force" - Who invented that meaningless term? The U.N. cannot muster a force strong enough to suppress the terrorists in Lebannon, or anywhere else
8.11.2006 12:26pm
Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
This is why one has to take anything from The Guardian, and particularly George Monbiot, with a grain of salt:

Hizbullah was seeking to exchange them for the 15 prisoners of war taken by the Israelis during the occupation of Lebanon and (in breach of article 118 of the third Geneva convention) never released.

Members of Hezbollah, just like the illegal combatants detained by the United States, are not entitled to the protections of the Geneva conventions. Further, even if they were, by Monbiot's own claims, there has never been a cessation of hostilities. As such, there is no requirement for repatriation of prisoners.
8.11.2006 1:10pm
dwshelf (mail):
But the suggestion that Hizbullah could launch an invasion of Israel or that it constitutes an existential threat to the state is preposterous.

Apparently this writer believes that Israel is obligated to hold back while Hisbollah gains such potential before taking the threat seriously. A fair fight with an unknown outcome is better for the punters.
8.11.2006 1:55pm
luagha:
I have to laugh when I hear the claim that Israel's current attack was 'planned in advance' and merely 'waiting for the right provocation.'

I guess Hezbollah is just the stupidest guy in the room, then. They gave them exactly the highly publicized, insulting provocation desired, complete with kidnapping, killing, rocket attacks, and demands for the release of hundreds to thousands of prisoners.

It's like two kids playing the game of 'who started it' except everyone was watching the first hit.
8.11.2006 3:40pm
ChrisBrennan:
Hostage takers are always soley morally responsible for the deaths of the people the force to be their human shields.

Some soldiers are heroes would always voluntarily accept high risk their own lives to prevent even the low risk of the deaths of hostages. Other soldiers, more likely with conscripts than volunteers, wold never voluntarily accept significant risk to themselves even to prevent a high risk of the deaths of hostages.

Military commanders are agents of their government. Regardless of the average level of heroism throughout the ranks, neither a government nor its military commanders should force individuals to be risk their lives to be more-than-merely-moral heroes.

However, commanders in volunteer militaries can morally order heroic missions--risking the lives of troops to prevent risk to hostages/civilians--when it has been reasonably communicated to potential recruits that volunteering to join the military includes a voluntary commitment to obey these types of heroic orders. With volunteers, the exact tradeoff of increased personal risk for decreased hostage/civilian risk cannot be spelled out, but it is enough that the general expectations about how the military will act are reasonably clear to potential volunteers.

In the US for example, our country was founded on the idea that all people (regardless of nationality) have inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness regardless of nationality. Volunteers for the US military know that the US military will accept significant risks to our people in order to prevent harm to innocent civilians--and that exactly what the balance is will depend on the specific facts of a particular situation.

A country like Israel, regularly fighting for its very existance with a military that uses conscripts, has many people in its military who cannot be presumed to have knowlingly volunteered to risk their own lives to protect innocent civilians of countries (or regions of countries) that attack Israel.
8.11.2006 3:54pm
Speaking the Obvious:
Chris Brennan (and others) "Regularly fighting for its very existence"...with the fifth largest military in the world...

luagha: There is a difference between planning an attack and waiting for provocation--historians know Israel has done this before--and being able to guarantee the desired results. Israel having problems with their offensive in no way contradicts the claim it was a pre-planned assault.

KConnors: Your claim is laughably off point. As the article makes clear, BOTH parties routinely violate the border agreement. The point wasn't regarding cessation of hostilities and repatriation of prisoners. It was about a prisoner swap which has happened in the past because BOTH parties kidnap others on the wrong side of the border with some regularity. The American media is simply much better about reporting it when the Israelis are the victims. It's like Cpt. Renard being SHOCKED that gambling was going on...
8.11.2006 4:31pm