The Velvet Kippah
In Defense of Drones
Jewish tradition detests the screenplay. It would call for the Good Guy to hunker down to best protect himself, and quietly shoot the Bad Guy before he catches on.
There is no glory in killing people, whether individuals or armies. Killing is justifiable and necessary in self-defense and in the defense of nations. It should never be seen as anything more than a tragically necessary evil. The Talmud depicts G-d telling David that he would be allowed to begin the preparations for the building of the Jerusalem Temple, but he would not be allowed to bring the project to completion, because he had blood on his hands. David asks if this means that he was guilty of taking lives unnecessarily. Not at all, G-d responds to him. All the deaths he caused were justified. Nonetheless, the Temple will be a place where true peace becomes accessible through closeness with G-d. That peace is incompatible with the taking of lives, even when morally justified. There is no Divine glory in war and combat.
There is also nothing to be celebrated in a fair fight. The Bad Guy should be eliminated if and only if it is the only way to prevent him from killing others. When such is the case, he should be dispatched as expeditiously and efficiently as possible. There is no room for taking chances with the lives of others, or even Good Guy's own life. It is not his to trifle with.
Al-Qaeda might have preferred if al-Libi had gone down in a blaze of fire. It would have been silly for us to have given him the opportunity. War should not be a showcase for true grit. We have football for that; it was for good reason that organized sports supplanted the constant call for more bloodshed on the battlefield. Drones can take out our legitimate enemies while sparing our troops any exposure to harm. Applied to warfare, they are the best idea since white bread.
It took civilization many centuries to realize that not all is fair in love and war. Both the reasons for war and conduct in war must be regulated and restricted. Even when they are, Just War guidelines should not take into account the "fairness" of the balance of power of the two sides.
What is fair in war is keeping focus on the peace that must follow. The sooner it gets to it, the better.
Yitzchok Adlerstein is an Orthodox rabbi who directs interfaith affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and chairs Jewish Law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. He is hopelessly addicted to the serious study of Torah texts.