THIS BLOG IS MY BLOG. THIS BLOG IS MY BLOG. Welcome to the Home of Hyperopia.: On Civilian Casualties - Part 1

Friday, July 22, 2005

On Civilian Casualties - Part 1

I want to continue this interesting and useful discussion from the comments section related to my previous post here. But I want to try to focus on the question of civilian casualties in warfare, both historical and modern. My primary idea here is to discuss why I think the current tactics and strategies employed by coalition forces are morally unacceptable and unsupportable, and why that means we should not be doing what we are doing.

So, setting the table, let's first recognize some already defined common ground:

  • The Velvet Fogg is correct - civilian casualties have always been and will always be a tragic part of war.
  • Terrorists intentionally targeting civilians is horrendous, terrible, immoral, and wrong.

I hope the next bullet point is also common ground:

  • There is an enormous moral difference between (1) the accidental killing of a civilian by a military actor in a cross-fire, for example, between rival factions, soldiers, fighters, etc. and (2) the intentional killing of a civilian by a military actor (or terrorist) with some sort of weapon of mass destruction (i.e., a bomb not specifically aimed at military targets or aimed at military targets in a place where it is known there are also civilians).

And now for some more interesting stuff. That I think should be common ground, but that I suspect (to my horror) is not.

I submit:

  1. That a military campaign that (a) asserts that its goal is to root out and kill terrorists and to find and destroy terrorist cell groups and then (b) drops very large bombs onto large cities in places where it knows beyond a shadow of a doubt non-terrorist civilians are living (and praying) is a military campaign that will not achieve a very high degree of success with respect to its stated goal and will result in many criminal murders and personal injuries; and
  2. That a military campaign that (a) would succeed at rooting out and killing terrorists and finding and destroying terrorist cell groups (b) would result in greatly increased casualties to coalition forces and is therefore not politically acceptable.

One thing I think is happening here is that we want blood, revenge, and justice (maybe in that order). We are mad as hell. Many horrible, violent, tragic crimes, including criminal murder, were committed against us (WTC, Pentagon, suicide bombings in Israel, Bali, etc.). On our turf. And that (correctly) makes us upset. And that (correctly) makes us want to find the criminals and stop them and kill them or bring them to justice. But at the same time most of us are (correctly) very much opposed to very many of us dying or getting hurt in that effort.

So this presents a moral dilemma for our politicians. On the one hand, it will be very costly in terms of soldiers getting hurt and killed (so politicians lose votes) to follow a military strategy that is designed to minimize civilian casualties. (Soliders on the ground are a lot easier for terrorists to ambush and kill than airplanes dropping bombs from the skies are to shoot down.) And on the other hand, it will be very costly politically to take no action because the citizenry wants to know the politicians are out there working to keep them safe (so taking no action = politicians lose votes).

So, under the circumstances, our current slate of politicians did what most politicians have done throughout history. They intentionally implemented a military strategy that was predestined to result in large numbers of civilian deaths and casualties. We are not on the moral high ground here. Our politicians have chosen an immoral path. They have chosen to kill foreign civilians rather than risk the lives of coalition soldiers. They are telling the world that they think the lives of "our" soliders are worth more than the lives of "their" civilians. It is impossible for me to reconcile that decision with the moral code we purport to follow. I just don't think that is a morally supportable decision.

I also highly recommend - on this topic - Gary North's columns analyzing and discussing the morally repugnant decision to drop atomic bombs in World War II. His thoughts and his reader's responses to his columns are very much worth reading. See Part 1 and Part 2 and Part 3 for those articles.


It is wrong for terrorists to kill civilians. It is wrong for the coalition military to kill civilians. Two wrongs don't make a right. If we want to bring the terrorists to justice (or kill them) morality requires us to choose a different path.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd like to see accountability for all those responsible for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, including senior-level military and civilian officials. Lower-ranking troops must not be made scapegoats. The cavalier disregard for international law reflected in this scandal has characterized the entire U.S. mission in Iraq.

5:25 PM, July 22, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't change the subject, thanks for playing

5:31 PM, July 22, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any news from Land's End? I can't wait till you get that money from your pants. I think about it all the time.

5:38 PM, July 22, 2005  
Blogger The Velvet Fog said...

I have increased my lactate threshold from 168ish to 175ish in only two short months. Very painful but rewarding work.

8:42 PM, July 22, 2005  
Blogger garrett said...

According to the aftermath of my recent ice cream binges, I have increased my lactose intolerance by a factor of seven.

9:05 PM, July 22, 2005  
Blogger The Velvet Fog said...

I dunno, maybe I've been watching the wrong news but I have not seen or read where we have been dropping bunker buster bombs on neighborhoods full of civilians. Certainly there will be situations where bombs fall astray, but I have not seen an abundance of large bombs dropped on residential areas. Nothing on the scale of Dresden certainly. When the insurgents are using mosques and neighborhoods for cover to purposefully increase the civilian deaths as a strategy, it is certainly going to get ugly. Granted, I haven't been following along at home as closely latey as I could be...

8:22 AM, July 25, 2005  
Blogger garrett said...

I think I can agree we haven't been doing any of the Dresden-type raids. But that is hardly a good argument to support what we are doing. If that's your argument, you're saying that since we aren't just intentionally firebombing 100,000+ people to death we're OK. That is not my point. My point is we are still waging war in a way that minimizes our likelihood of killing "the enemy" while dramatically increasing our likelihood of killing civilians.

On the civilian death toll itself, here's a couple articles I found courtesy of the good people behind google:

BBC article on Afghanistan

slightly more dubious source on Iraq civilian casualties

9:45 AM, July 25, 2005  
Blogger The Velvet Fog said...

No, I wasn't trying to say anything about Dresden really. Your article from the BBC is very interesting. I hadn't really seen any numbers from Afg. I would never be one to accuse the military of possesing a great degree of intelligence. I thought you were talking mostly about Iraq.
Afg. seems to be flying more under the radar which is unfortunate. Yes, that is rather outrageous.

10:36 AM, July 25, 2005  
Blogger garrett said...

I was talking mostly about Iraq. You were right about that. I didn't actually realize things were as outrageous in Afghanistan as it appears from that article.

Talking about when the insurgents are using mosques and neighborhoods as cover, that's sort of what I meant in my broader point: If we know that's what the enemy is doing, and we go ahead and drop bombs on those neighborhoods or mosques as a strategic plan to try to make it easier on our ground troops for later mop-up type operations or whatever, then we are behaving immorally. That's my argument. I don't think we can be morally correct to drop a bomb on a mosque or a neighborhood if we know there are both innocents and bad guys there.

11:04 AM, July 25, 2005  
Blogger The Velvet Fog said...

No, I can agree with that. It isn't morally correct. But W can't have that casualty count skyrocketing you know. Bodybags on tv don't play well.

11:37 AM, July 25, 2005  
Blogger garrett said...

That's exactly the point I was trying to make. That columnist William Lind that I referred to in some other post on here goes after this idea too. The coalition is losing this war on the moral level. When our government conducts itself in ways that are inconsistent with morality, that has long-term negative consequences. Garbage in, garbage out. And so on.

1:58 PM, July 25, 2005  

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