You’re not allowed to kill civilians

It's been awhile so it seems again it's time for a helpful reminder that noncombatant immunity isn't just a good idea, it's the law.

In other words: You're not allowed to kill civilians.

Killing civilians is against the law. Killing civilians makes you a criminal.

Yes, but …

No buts about it. You're not allowed to kill civilians.

And, also: You're not allowed to kill civilians.

This is neither new nor controversial, yet putting the matter in such stark terms always seems to upset people.

On the one hand, this isn't surprising since the killing of civilians has become a scarcely remarkable, dog-bites-man commonplace. Yet it's still surprising that anyone could find this elementary notion upsetting: You're not allowed to kill civilians. If you're one of those people who finds this upsetting, bear in mind what it is that you're upset about. Apparently someone you feel ought to be immune from criticism has been killing civilians and you feel I'm criticizing them by pointing out — in the most abstract terms, without any mention of particulars — that this is something that no one is allowed to do.

"What you really mean …" people say — because they're certain that when I say "You're not allowed to kill civilians" I must really mean something other than "You're not allowed to kill civilians" — "What you really mean is that you're not not allowed to target civilians."

No.

What I really mean — and again it's not just me, or my opinion, or my preference, it's the law — is that You're not allowed to kill civilians.

"But what if …?" And here come the hypotheticals (which aren't really necessary since the world is full of actuals) positing all the many scenarios in which it is not only acceptable, but obligatory, to take some action that will, in fact, result in civilians getting killed.

The common thread in all of these scenarios — hypothetical or actual — is the idea of double effect. A doctor, for example, is bound by oath to "do no harm." Slicing someone with a razor-sharp knife would certainly seem to constitute doing harm. But if the doctor is slicing someone with a scalpel because this cutting is an inescapable part of surgery needed and intended to heal, then the doctor may — perhaps even must — perform such slicing without violating her oath. The harm done by the slicing is an unavoidable second effect and is not the doctor's main intent. The slicing could be called — to borrow the military phrase — "collateral damage."

Military officers really can, do and must think in such terms. That's what separates an army from a barbarian horde. That's what separates a soldier from a thug with a gun.

The key elements here are the intent, the justice/goodness and necessity of the primary effect, and the inescapable/unavoidable nature of the secondary, unintended effect. All of which sets the bar considerably higher than the oversimplified cartoon version of "the ends justifies the means."

If there is any possible way to achieve the intended effect without producing the unintended effect, then double-effect does not apply — the doctor may not slice, the general may not attack. If there is any possible way to achieve the necessary intended effect without producing the unintended effect and you act, instead, in a way that produces this secondary effect, then you have not produced "collateral damage," you have simply slaughtered civilians.

And, by the way, You're not allowed to kill civilians.

  • Duane

    By the standard used against the GOP here (“Killing civilians makes you a criminal”), FDR is a criminal.
    You can’t untroll yourself long enough to voice your own opinion and provide some insight into how a libertarian might view the issue?

  • Scott

    You can’t untroll yourself long enough to voice your own opinion and provide some insight into how a libertarian might view the issue?
    Um, no firebombing cities w/ no military value like Dresden? Is that too much to ask from a liberal?
    I forgot, yes, it is.

  • hapax

    Umm, Scott, I hold no brief for FDR. Actually, as a pacifist, I’d go even further than Fred, and say that “you aren’t allowed to kill ANYBODY” (except under very limited and precise conditions of self-defense, or even more precise and limited conditions as a duly authorized officer of the law defending the lives of others). And I’d note that all available evidence indicates that the deaths in Waco were caused by the Branch Davidians themselves, not by the forces of the government.
    But with those caveats in place, sure, I’ll say that the firebombing of Dresden and dropping the atomic bombs were war crimes, as were the bombings of civilians during the Vietnam War under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Happy now? Now would you please answer Duane’s question?

  • Scott

    Um, no firebombing cities w/ no military value like Dresden? Is that too much to ask from a liberal?
    I left off “no lying us into a war, whether it’s the Gulf of Tonkin or WMDs”.

  • Scott

    And I’d note that all available evidence indicates that the deaths in Waco were caused by the Branch Davidians themselves, not by the forces of the government.
    And if the Iraqis had greeted us w/ flowers instead of fighting an insurgency, nobody would be getting hurt now, so Bush is blameless. The govt pumped the Davidian structure w/ flamable, disorienting tear gas after a big publicity-seeking raid – no ducking responsibility if anyone got killed.
    If Bush treated an inner city housing project the way Clinton treated the Davidians, I doubt y’all would be quite so forgiving.

  • hapax

    Scott, I’m trying very hard to read more into your argument than, “if Democrats have done horrible things, they aren’t horrible any longer when Republicans do them.”
    I’m quite certain that you have more nuanced views on whether or when violence is justified against civilians. I’ll pre-emptively agree that pointless killing of civilians and trumping up a false pretext for war is absolutely WrongWrongWrong regardless of the party affiliation, economic accomplishments, and snappy fashion sense of any government figure you care to bring up. Do you have any thoughts about the general principle under discussion, or how it applies to the specific case in Lebanon?

  • Bugmaster

    Well, if you see the soldiers’ lives as worthless compared to the civilians’, then you’re virtually guaranteed to lose the war. You are also guaranteed to draw some well-deserved ire from your citizens, whose children’s lives you’re pointlessly sacrificing.
    Again, I’m not saying “civilians die die die, the end justifies the means, yar !”. I’m saying that things aren’t as black-and-white as all that. You don’t always have a choice between killing civilians and not killing civilians; what you have a is a tradeoff between killing civilians, losing your own soldiers, taking down that military objective so that the enemy civilian combatants stop launching missiles on your head, etc. Catchy slogans are cool, but they make for poor policy.

  • Mnemosyne

    Duane, go look at the Waco pics I posted and revel in the Majestic Power of a Liberal Democrat President, and see how those Red State Hick got what they deserved. Feel better after 6 years of Shrub?
    Yeah, Scott, those Red State Hicks sure got what they deserved:
    http://tinyurl.com/fpw6v
    Especially this Red State Hick. This one really deserved it:
    http://tinyurl.com/h7ctc
    Or do you really not understand that’s what your argument is justifying?

  • Duane

    Um, no firebombing cities w/ no military value like Dresden? Is that too much to ask from a liberal?
    I forgot, yes, it is.
    Well, ya can’t say I didn’t try. Go sober up, Scott. The rest of you can rightfully harrangue him as a troll.

  • none

    Are you suggesting that Israel is going to get Hezbollah to surrender by attacking Lebanon? Did Usama Bin Laden turn himself in when we destroyed Iraq?
    I don’t think that Israel is trying to get Hezbollah to surrender. As far as I can see, they’re simply trying to make Hezbollah physically less able to fight. They’re not trying to convince Hezbollah to change their plans (that would be pointless anyway)- they’re trying to make sure that Hezbollah simply can’t execute their plans in their current form anymore.
    And what’s your alternative idea, anyway? That Israel takes one missile, rocket or attempted border raid from various armed groups after another, and responds with nothing aside from formal protests?
    By the way, Scott, what makes you think that left-wingers today like LBJ?

  • Harald Korneliussen

    Now, I can understand why some people have strong sympathies to Israel. And I can understand that others similarly hold with the Palestinians’ cause.
    But I read all the time in my newspaper, in letters to the editor, people trying to justify killing of civilians. This is all on the pro-Israel side. Not a single letter to that paper argues that Hamas or Hizbollah has a right to do suicide bombings on Israeli civilians, but almost all the pro-Israel letters argue that yes, Israel has a right to kill civilians, if it’s too much trouble not to, if it’s really the enemy’s fault anyway, if they don’t evacuate a district when they’re told to, if it’s an accident, if there are terrorists hiding nearby etc. That’s too much for me. _That_ I can’t understand.

  • luminouscarl

    “When you give a lesson in meanness to a critter or a person, don’t be surprised if they learn their lesson.” Will Rogers
    Read the 101 Greatest Quotes of All Time here http://www.carlhuttononline.com/

  • Scott

    By the way, Scott, what makes you think that left-wingers today like LBJ?
    Come on – Medicare? The Great Society? Bill Moyers getting his start in that administration but still being respected? Should Karl Rove come out of the Bush admin smelling as good as Moyers to you?
    Scott, those Red State Hicks sure got what they deserved
    What major party elected McVeigh to office? Which politicians protected McVeigh for any accountability whatsoever for his actions? McVeigh was executed. Reno didn’t even lose her job.
    “if Democrats have done horrible things, they aren’t horrible any longer when Republicans do them.”
    Huh? My point is that both sides to horrible things, yet the left here is saving it’s Thundering Moral Condemnation only for the right and circling the wagons when their own use of power is questioned.
    Do you have any thoughts about the general principle under discussion, or how it applies to the specific case in Lebanon?
    Lebanon wasn’t mentioned in the original post, and I just want y’all to apply your “general principles” consistently instead of having them apply or not apply depending on political utility.
    Well, ya can’t say I didn’t try.
    No, you didn’t try. Go ahead and justify terror bombing cities in WWII while preaching against civilian deaths when Bush is in office. You can’t, liberal. You can only condemn it when it is politically easy.

  • Ray

    Did Scott just get a top-up of Libertodrugs or something?
    (Hint: it’s possible to think that introducing Medicare is good, but invading Vietnam was bad. I suppose if you scrinch your eyes up they’re both things that states do, but you have to drink a lot of colloidal silver before you think that means they are the same thing.)

  • Duane

    No, you didn’t try. Go ahead and justify terror bombing cities in WWII while preaching against civilian deaths when Bush is in office. You can’t, liberal. You can only condemn it when it is politically easy.
    You’re just striking out because you have a hangover. Take some B-12, drink a lot of water. You were so drunk last night you were leaving the “t” off your name. It made me think of a fat, swilling Scotsman (with angry red cheeks and fiery red hair) whom no one can reason with. Of course, I also imagined you wearing a tartan skirt but I’m weird like that..

  • cjmr’s husband

    Aunt Janet was NOT in command at Waco or Ruby Ridge. The siege at Waco started a month before she was confirmed, and ended a month after. She had no direct intervention.
    Maybe if the GOP congress hadn’t stonewalled three A.G. nominations for a year, we would have had an A.G. in charge, and 27 innocents wouldn’t have died.
    (any guesses as to what the R in my name stands for, boys and girls?)

  • Dan Layman-Kennedy

    “Many people find my speeches, and probably my books, too, hopelessly ambiguous. But I don’t want to leave you feeling unfed. So let me throw these big chunks of beefsteak into your stew, so to speak, and speaking as a cold-blooded Commander in Chief:
    “Should Dresden have been firebombed? No.
    “Should Hamburg have been bombed and bombed? Yes.
    “Should Hiroshima have been bombed? Ask all those who would have been dead otherwise.
    “Should Nagasaki have been bombed? No.
    “Should Hanoi’s civilian population have been bombed and bombed? No.
    “Should any part of Cambodia have been bombed? No.
    “Should Libya have been attacked from the air? No. That was show biz.
    “Should Panama City have been bombed? No. That was more show biz.
    “I thank you for your attention.”
    - Kurt Vonnegut, Fates Worse than Death, 1991

  • Bob

    No, you didn’t try. Go ahead and justify terror bombing cities in WWII while preaching against civilian deaths when Bush is in office. You can’t, liberal. You can only condemn it when it is politically easy.
    Um…. I wasn’t even ALIVE when World War Two happened. It’s a crying shame, but so was slavery and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. What’s your point, and why is any of it OUR fault?
    But if it’ll make you feel better, I’ll whip myself into a frothing state of moral outrage over the actions of long-dead men who happen to be grouped for convenience in the same general political category as me–then you can castigate me for being a “guilt-tripping Liberal”, also!
    If Bush treated an inner city housing project the way Clinton treated the Davidians, I doubt y’all would be quite so forgiving.
    You know what? You’re not _quite_ angry enough yet. Go look up the MOVE Fire, and then come back here.

  • Bob, Again

    Oh, now I get it–Scott’s trying to use the Clinton Moral Equivalency Principle: “No matter what the horror perpetrated by a Conservative, if a Liberal did something even remotely comparable, then the Conservative is absolved of all blame and responsibility”.
    At least that’s how it _seems_ to be supposed to work, in Intarweb arguments.

  • bulbul

    According to the old Rules of the Game, civilians are off-limits and soldiers are legitimate targets, but we’re not playing that game anymore.
    That’s just it, we don’t. The Old Rules were all to be applied during the state of war. There is no such thing anymore. Wars are not declared and modern warfare increasingly resembles global police work.

  • Steve

    Heh. That war, just a big ‘ol crazy football game.
    Thanks, Duane, for agreeing with me that my metaphor stinks. Simply trying to point out that their is a distinct difference between being an active member of the war and a bystander. Of course, this in no way means we are unconcerned that soldiers die on either side, but they ARE allowed to be targeted in a war setting.

  • Steve

    Funny how dead civilians are so easily ignorable when a liberal hero is called into question. As long as you get the power you lust after, incinerating civilians is no biggie. Thank you, liberals.
    Thanks for stereotyping liberals based on what was NOT said. I believe it was primarily liberals who urged restraint and a measured response to 9/11 by claiming that dropping the A-bomb on Japan at the end of WWII was the worst terrorist attack ever. And Truman was a Democrat.
    By the standard used against the GOP here (“Killing civilians makes you a criminal”), FDR is a criminal.
    Whoever said the standard being applied here was against the GOP? First of all, Fred’s post seems to be inspired by the Isreal/Lebanon conflict right now. And it makes no statement condemn one sides actions and not the other. Seems you are making some assumptions about the posters in this thread and Fred himself.

  • bulbul

    I asked how FDR would rate w/ the standard given in the verbage tossed around here (you know “Killing civilians makes you a criminal”).
    Actually, Scott, there are quite a few liberals who would agree with you that FDR was as much of a war criminal as GWB is. Noam Chomsky, for one.

  • Edward Liu

    Two things:
    Beth sez: “Overall, I agree with the responses to Bugmaster, but I also think he has a point. According to the old Rules of the Game, civilians are off-limits and soldiers are legitimate targets, but we’re not playing that game anymore. The label of “civilian” has become more ambiguous, and “soldier” has too. Should peacekeeping forces be treated like combat soldiers, and if not, where do you draw the line? Are the American forces soldiers or peacekeepers in Iraq?”
    Which is really the point I was trying to make way back there about the Battle of Mogadishu. I think it’s rather alarming that the militias, al-Qaedas, and insurgencies of the world seem to have learned something from that that they are applying to good use now (embedding yourself firmly in a civilian population is a win-win because either your enemy won’t attack you or will give you plenty of propaganda to use against them when they do) and the major national militaries of the world have not (screw all that counter-insurgency stuff, let’s just kick everybody really hard until they stop).
    Which also relates to the fourth guideline to justifying military force that Beth made above:
    “4. The passions inevitably fanned by violence will not cancel out any benefits of fighting.”
    What’s interesting about this as a gauge to determine if military force is justifiable is that it takes the opponent’s feelings into account. It’s something that ought to be done, but almost never is because “empathy” == “weak” to the warmongers out there. It doesn’t help that there’s an unstated fear that understanding the opponent’s point of view is equivalent to condoning it (something one can see rhetorically as well as militarily).
    During WWII, both the Allied and German high commands determined that sustained bombing of the enemy’s civilian population centers would eventually break their will to fight and end the war sooner. Nobody on either side seemed to notice that the being on the receiving end of the exact same tactics hardened their own resolve rather than weakening it. Sooner or later, humanity will learn that a lack of empathy that leads to a lot of people getting killed unnecessarily is not strength.
    And while I hate to even respond to libertrollian posts, reading “Dresden: February 13, 1945″ by Frederick Taylor reveals that there was non-trivial military value to the city. The firebombing was still a horrific overresponse even taking that into account, but it is not the simplistic “let’s go massacre a bunch of German civilians” incident that opponents make it out to be.

  • Steve

    According to the old Rules of the Game, civilians are off-limits and soldiers are legitimate targets, but we’re not playing that game anymore.
    So, the answer seems to be: this is too difficult to figure out since times have change, so go ahead and kill whoever you want in combat? WTF?!?
    I’m not denying these situations are incredibly difficult, but that doesn’t absolve us from trying to figure out how to avoid the killing of innocent bystanders in combat.

  • Steve

    I think it’s rather alarming that the militias, al-Qaedas, and insurgencies of the world seem to have learned something from that that they are applying to good use now (embedding yourself firmly in a civilian population is a win-win because either your enemy won’t attack you or will give you plenty of propaganda to use against them when they do)
    Agreed…these situations have created enormous challenges to protecting civilians during warfare. But….Bugmaster, Edward, Beth, and others….
    Do these challenges mean we just throw our hands up in the air, say its too difficult, and kill civilians indiscriminately? Or does it call for a new effort/study of war ethics to develop new rules/processes to overcome these challenges as best as possible to preserve civilian’s lives? This latter point is what I’m advocating.
    [Must get to work now...since I'm my own boss I may have to discipline myself soon if I don't.]

  • Beth

    I don’t think your metaphor stinks, Steve, it’s just a bit outdated. It hearkens back to the early 20th century, when war was viewed as a gentlemanly pursuit with clearly defined sides and fields of battle — something like cricket, only not quite so boring. That was already changing in WWII, when the Nazis bombed English cities and the Brits returned the favor. Now, as Bulbul noted, war rarely even a clear conflict between two conflicting armies, and it would be hard to apply those rules even if we wanted to.
    If we simply throw out the old rules, we’re left with a world where anything goes, where the Geneva Conventions are merely ‘quaint’ and each side gets to decide for itself how many of theirs is worth one of ours (and left to themselves, I suspect most will decide the acceptable ratio is around a million to one). So in a world where the divisions are no longer so clear, where “Soldiers, fine; civilians, never” is no longer workable, what would be fair? What soldier to civilian ratio could we accept whichever side of the equation we were on?
    since I’m my own boss I may have to discipline myself soon
    But not too harshly, ok? The old lines between boss and worker may be blurring, but that doesn’t mean we should eliminate employee rights altogether. ;-)

  • bulbul

    According to the old Rules of the Game, civilians are off-limits and soldiers are legitimate targets, but we’re not playing that game anymore.
    So, the answer seems to be: this is too difficult to figure out since times have change, so go ahead and kill whoever you want in combat? WTF?!?
    No. The answer is that we have to come up with some new rules. But that doesn’t mean we discard the old ones alltogether.
    I think it’s rather alarming that the militias, al-Qaedas, and insurgencies of the world seem to have learned something from that that they are applying to good use now (embedding yourself firmly in a civilian population is a win-win
    Well, I do not believe that the abovementioned behaviour of some armed groups is a deliberate tactic. Rather, it is a byproduct of the genesis of these armed groups. Take Hizballah, for example. The buildings the IDF bombs are usually described as Hizballah offices and/or headquarters. But they are more than that. The particular building in Daniyeh also housed a hospital or a clinic, a bank and several stores. Same goes for Hamas infrastructure and reportedly for Badr Corps Iraq, too. In other words, these militias are not just militias, they also provide basic services for the civilian population in areas where the official government can’t or won’t do so. And there is a dilemma for you: is a doctor or a plumber working for Hizballah a legitimate target?

  • Steve

    But not too harshly, ok? The old lines between boss and worker may be blurring, but that doesn’t mean we should eliminate employee rights altogether. ;-)
    Touche.
    So in a world where the divisions are no longer so clear, where “Soldiers, fine; civilians, never” is no longer workable, what would be fair?
    I think “Soldiers, fine; civilians, never” in terms of soldiers may be targeted, civilians may NOT be targeted still works. Its messier how it gets played out these days, but the intent should still be the same…to protect civilian life in the midst of armed conflict. Perhaps we’re in more agreement than it seems. It just seems to me some people are tossing aside the notion that its not okay to kill civilians just as Fred pointed out people would do: “But what about this…” and “But what about that…” We have to address “this” and “that”, but still, it is not okay to kill civilians.
    And to put this football metaphor to rest: I wasn’t suggesting football as a complete metaphor to modern warfare, only looking for an example of persons in a situation where there are some people they are allowed to engage and others they aren’t allowed to engage. Perhaps the referee would have been a better example of a bystander than the fan, because the referee IS a part of the action, but the football players must avoid contact with him. Sometimes he is still hit, and then a determination must be made: was it an unavoidable accident? Or was it carelessness or intentionality? The latter of which is punished. Then again, maybe it is too hard to avoid the ref’s, so football players should just be allowed to cream them if they get in the way.

  • Mnemosyne

    “Scott, those Red State Hicks sure got what they deserved”
    What major party elected McVeigh to office? Which politicians protected McVeigh for any accountability whatsoever for his actions? McVeigh was executed. Reno didn’t even lose her job.
    So now, in retrospect, you try to backpedal and pretend that your rhetoric about the “crimes” of Clinton and Reno had no effect on McVeigh’s actions? Are you really convinced that McVeigh just woke up one day and decided, “Ho-hum, nothing to do today, I guess I’ll blow up a federal building”?
    McVeigh did what he dd because he was fed a steady diet of hate rhetoric from the right. The exact stuff that you’re spouting now. McVeigh is your boy. He did what you told him to do. Don’t back down now and pretend that hatemongers on the right who were screaming for Reno’s and Clinton’s heads had nothing to do with his actions. You feed people this simplistic bullshit long enough and you know what? You get a McVeigh or an Eric Rudolph.

  • Steve

    Well, I do not believe that the abovementioned behaviour of some armed groups is a deliberate tactic. Rather, it is a byproduct of the genesis of these armed groups. Take Hizballah, for example. The buildings the IDF bombs are usually described as Hizballah offices and/or headquarters. But they are more than that. The particular building in Daniyeh also housed a hospital or a clinic, a bank and several stores. Same goes for Hamas infrastructure and reportedly for Badr Corps Iraq, too. In other words, these militias are not just militias, they also provide basic services for the civilian population in areas where the official government can’t or won’t do so. And there is a dilemma for you: is a doctor or a plumber working for Hizballah a legitimate target?
    These are definitely difficult situations to wrestle with. I tend to condemn this sort of thing (i.e. groups mixing military and non-military settings) because it causes additional civilian casualities. Then again, in history class, I was taught to celebrate the American Revolutionary warrior’s tactics of not playing by the standard rules of war and of hiding in not military areas and surprise attacking the British.

  • bulbul

    Then again, in history class, I was taught to celebrate the American Revolutionary warrior’s tactics of not playing by the standard rules of war and of hiding in not military areas and surprise attacking the British.
    Yep, that’s exactly it. BTW, some more on the subject here.

  • Bugmaster

    Do these challenges mean we just throw our hands up in the air, say its too difficult, and kill civilians indiscriminately?
    Again, it’s not a choice between “we lose, game over” and “let’s kill as many civilians as we can, mwa ha ha !” Remember that I’ve never claimed that civilian lives are worthless, as you seem to imply. What I am saying is that we shouldn’t throw our hands up in the air, say we can’t afford a single civilian death, and surrender. And neither should Israel, actually.
    Or does it call for a new effort/study of war ethics to develop new rules/processes to overcome these challenges as best as possible to preserve civilian’s lives?
    No, this is the silliest thing I’ve ever heard. War ethics are nice, but I think we all agree that war is hell and that killing is wrong. Surely, there should be an efford to create new tactics that avoid needless death on all sides, but that’s not the same thing.

  • Steve

    No, this is the silliest thing I’ve ever heard. War ethics are nice, but I think we all agree that war is hell and that killing is wrong. Surely, there should be an efford to create new tactics that avoid needless death on all sides, but that’s not the same thing.
    Bugmaster, personally, I’m a pacifist. But I recognize armed conflict does occur. And I’ve been pleased, at times, to hear of military officers who struggle with the ethical issues at stake, and how to minimize death in achieving military goals. Why is this so silly? You say “tactics”. I say “rules/processes”, i.e. ethical rules to guide the processes/tactics used. How is that not the same thing as “Surely, there should be an efford [sic] to create new tactics that avoid needless death on all sides”?

  • Scott

    (Hint: it’s possible to think that introducing Medicare is good, but invading Vietnam was bad. I suppose if you scrinch your eyes up they’re both things that states do, but you have to drink a lot of colloidal silver before you think that means they are the same thing.)
    I didn’t say they were the same – I said people here would rail against Bush and overlook similar behavior from a liberal. You’re proving me right.
    Maybe if the GOP congress hadn’t stonewalled three A.G. nominations for a year, we would have had an A.G. in charge, and 27 innocents wouldn’t have died.
    Great, blame the GOP when the Dems held the presidency and both houses of Congress. You marrying into the family explains quite a bit about you, tho. Do you agree w/ Auntie Sasquatch during the coverup when she referred to tanks being used against civilians as just being “really good rental cars”?
    On April 19, 1993, Attorney General Janet Reno gave the FBI permission to flush the Davidians out of their residence. FBI agents used tanks to smash holes in the walls of the building and then sprayed tear gas into the residence. Agents also used hand-held grenade launchers to fire more than 350 “ferret” rounds into the windows of the building, but none of the Davidians obeyed the FBI’s command to exit the residence. A fire then broke out, and 76 Davidians, including 27 children, perished….
    Oh, now I get it–Scott’s trying to use the Clinton Moral Equivalency Principle: “No matter what the horror perpetrated by a Conservative, if a Liberal did something even remotely comparable, then the Conservative is absolved of all blame and responsibility”.
    It doesn’t make conservative innocent – it makes liberals power-mad hypocrites.
    Actually, Scott, there are quite a few liberals who would agree with you that FDR was as much of a war criminal as GWB is. Noam Chomsky, for one.
    I know – I just wanted to see who here would be consistent.
    McVeigh did what he dd because he was fed a steady diet of hate rhetoric from the right. The exact stuff that you’re spouting now.
    Sorry, but my complaints are not more responsible for McVeigh’s actions than Clinton’s actions were. The Bush admin takes the position that exposing their acts is the real crime, and you take the same disgusting position when it suits you.

  • Steve

    Or does it call for a new effort/study of war ethics to develop new rules/processes to overcome these challenges as best as possible to preserve civilian’s lives?
    I should add, that for all I know, this is already being done…being studied. But is doesn’t seem like it was/is applied very well in Iraq or Israel/Lebanon.

  • Beth

    I think “Soldiers, fine; civilians, never” in terms of soldiers may be targeted, civilians may NOT be targeted still works.
    I’m fine with that, but one of Fred’s points was that’s far from sufficient. The American forces weren’t targeting civilians when they bombed Fallujah; they were softening up enemy positions for the laudable purpose of minimizing casualities among the troops who would go in after. Still, those tactics meant that thousands of civilians would inevitably die, and I don’t think we can simply write all those people out of the moral equation by calling them “collateral damage.” So again, where do we draw the line? If there’d only been 50 civilians in Fallujah and endangering them would have likely saved hundreds of American troops, would it have been justified then?
    If we really wanted to complicate things, we can look at Israel-Lebanon, where “collateral damage” not only protects soldiers’ lives but civilian lives as well. It seems crazy to tell armies they can’t protect their civilian populations, no matter how few are at risk or how great the cost, but here too, ‘anything goes’ would be an invitation to mass slaughter and an ever more brutal and dangerous world.
    War ethics are nice, but I think we all agree that war is hell and that killing is wrong. Surely, there should be an efford to create new tactics that avoid needless death on all sides, but that’s not the same thing.
    If we all agree that war is hell but also agree that war is sometimes necessary or at least inevitable, then war ethics are more than ‘nice’; they’re a moral necessity. Even if we moralists could come up with effective, ethical tactics, new tactics would arise to counter them and we’d be back where we started. Tactics will inevitably be in the hands of military leaders. The best we can do is find rules the whole world can firmly support, so the tacticians will be forced to weigh political costs against the military ones.
    p.s. I have to say how nice it is to see serious discussion drowning out the trolls for a change.

  • Scott

    You’re not allowed to kill civilians, even if you’re a Democrat.
    Pity Florida, Janet Reno Wants to Govern It
    …But we must never forget that Reno presided over the worst disaster in the history of American law enforcement — Waco. More than 70 men, women, and children lost their lives when Reno approved an FBI assault on the Branch Davidian residence in 1993. Reno was hailed for “taking responsibility,” but she launched a cover-up, telling reporters that the FBI assault was necessary because she had received reports that “babies were being beaten.” One week later, Reno admitted in congressional testimony that she had no evidence of child abuse. She subsequently appointed her crony, Richard Scruggs, to conduct an investigation into the incident. No one was very surprised when Scruggs’s report exonerated Reno and the FBI.
    When Congress held extensive hearings on the incident in 1995, Reno tried to place all of the blame on the Branch Davidian leader, David Koresh. When asked about the propriety of using tanks to smash into a building containing children, Reno managed to keep a straight face while comparing the tanks to good “rent-a-cars.” The House Committee subsequently issued a finding that Reno’s decision to approve the FBI tank assault was “premature, wrong, and highly irresponsible.” That finding was lost in the partisan din — as the Democrats shouted about the National Rifle Association, the proliferation of right-wing militias, and the Oklahoma City bombing….

  • cjmr’s husband

    Well, it’s fairly obvious that this troll’s still hungover. He thinks I married in to the family to get my last name???
    And he seems to think that authorizing “flush them out” is the same as ordering “burn them to the ground”.
    As for the serious part of the discussion: Military ethics rules are only effective when they are enforced. When the civilian powers (GWB, LBJ, it’s not a partisan issue) don’t care, and the generals that do are silenced, military ethics goes out the window. This is why our constitution puts the power of the military in the hands of the civilians. This particular can of worms was opened when congress decided in the fifties that it was OK to fight a war without a declaration.
    Moot point, really; this discussion is supposed to be about Lebanon. The only good thing about Lebanon is Lebanon Bologna. And that’s really from Pennsylvania.
    It’s time the people of the world realised that there will NEVER be peace in the middle east, and stop sending weapons. And stop buying oil from the people who are sending weapons.

  • bulbul

    The only good thing about Lebanon is Lebanon Bologna.
    Surely thou jesteth, sir.
    It’s time the people of the world realised that there will NEVER be peace in the middle east
    There will someday be peace in the Middle East. It just won’t be achieved by bombs and rockets.

  • wintermute

    The siege of Waco was wrong, and horribly carried out, and I know many more liberals than conservatives who are up in arms about it. I’ve always thought that blame lies most squarely on those FBI / ATF agents on the ground, but their superiors (up to and including Reno and Clinton) have to take ultimate responsibility.
    The assault on Ruby Ridge: ditto.
    Nuking Hiroshima: I don’t know. I think it was a terrible and lamentable act, but the military historians are probably right when they say it saved millions of lives, both soldiers and civilians.
    Nuking Nagasaki: So far as I can tell, there was no more reason for this than “Hey, we have a bomb left over. It would be a shame to waste it.” Absolutely detestable, and whoever authorised it (I’m guessing the President of the time) should have been imprisoned for life.
    Carpetbombing Dresden: Wrong. Served no purpose that couldn’t have been acheived more cheaply and less destuctively by targeted bombing of the factories. And even that was a marginal advantage.
    The current assualt on Lebanon: Poorly executed. More intent on terrorising the population than on killing the terrorists. Counterproductive. But then, I’m not sure there is a good way to deal with an enemy who repeatedly insists that you must be driven into the ocean, and there can never be peace while one Israeli still lives. Yes, I know that view doesn’t apply to the average Lebanese civilian whos going to be caught up in this, but I really don’t know how I would act in Israel’s position. It seems like they only have a choice of terrible alternatives.
    I don’t think it’s unusual for liberals to be against senseless killing, no matter who’s doing it.

  • Waco obsessed much?

    Did someone just wake up from a decade long coma and discover the internets? Sure, innocents are being slaughtered by the thousands right now, but I’ve got my undies in a bunch because “The House Committee subsequently issued a finding that Reno’s decision to approve the FBI tank assault was “premature, wrong, and highly irresponsible.” That finding was lost in the partisan din — as the Democrats shouted about the National Rifle Association, the proliferation of right-wing militias, and the Oklahoma City bombing”
    Yes, you heard him right. Lost in the din of the premeditated murder of hundreds of innocent Americans. Imagine that, the Oklahoma City bombing took the focus away. Americans are so easily distracted. Guess that kind of back fired, huh. Maybe killing innocents was NOT the right was to punish for killing innocents. You think?
    Me, I’m obsessed about Sherman’s march to the Sea. I plan to rant endlessly on any thread that will let me.

  • Edward Liu

    Steve sez: Do these challenges mean we just throw our hands up in the air, say its too difficult, and kill civilians indiscriminately? Or does it call for a new effort/study of war ethics to develop new rules/processes to overcome these challenges as best as possible to preserve civilian’s lives? This latter point is what I’m advocating.
    If anything, I think the blurring between combatant/non-combatant makes it MORE necessary to find that line, not less. Unfortunately, this also has the side-effect of making it look like I’m boiling down life-and-death decisions into linguistic nitpicking of when someone’s a civilian and when they’re not. However, it seems to me that if you’re making a serious effort to come up with an ethical system where a valid conclusion that can come out of it is, “Yeah, it’s OK to kill that guy,” then you bet your ass I’m going to nitpick the hell out of it. That’s not the kind of decision I want someone to make sloppily, and it’s also why I still have no good answer for where to draw that line.
    On top of all the issues we’re discussing, the Middle East has decades to centuries of antagonisms plus tons of guns and money. I pretty firmly believe that eradicating Israel off the map tomorrow would just result in a different fight breaking out between the surivors within weeks, if not days. In the current Israel/Lebanon conflict, I think both sides have legitimate grievances, ridiculously excessive responses to those grievances, and an incredible lack of anything resembling empathy for the other side. The base issue of “who’s a legitimate military target” is hard enough WITHOUT all that piled on top.
    bulbul: “There will someday be peace in the Middle East. It just won’t be achieved by bombs and rockets.”
    Peace is never achieved through bombs and rockets. At least, not any kind of peace worth talking about. I can achieve complete Middle East peace in 20 minutes by nuking the entire region, but that’s not a peace worth the price. Wars are won not when you destroy the enemy, but when you change the circumstances enough so that going to war with your former enemy becomes a ridiculous idea. That is achieved by diplomats, not generals, although some diplomats turned out to be wearing uniforms at the time (Marshall in Europe and MacArthur in Japan come to mind).

  • pat greene

    Scott,
    I adore the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the original National Environmental Protection Act, and Title IX. And on the whole I think the opening of diplomatic relations with China was a brilliant thing to do. But I still think Richard Nixon was a lying scumbag who brought this country close to the edge of constitutional crisis.
    Don Marquis once said “An idea is not responsible for the people who believe it.” Even rotten people have good ideas.
    And no, as a liberal I don’t like LBJ. And I think the bombing of Dresden was a war crime. Not to mention Nagasaki. (The analysis I’ve read was that Nagasaki was more about sending a message to the Russians — sort of proxy containment. Anything sound familiar in that?) Hiroshima I go back and forth on — but then, I have a bias: my father had been sitting on Okinawa preparing for an invasion which I’m just as glad he did not have to be involved in. (And no, I’m not claiming that his life was intrinsically worth more than the Japanese, just that I’m glad he wasn’t killed.)

  • LL

    I take Scott’s point (in part) thusly: all presidents, if they’re in office long enough, are war criminals, if by “war criminal” you mean “presided over actions that resulted in the deliberate infliction of death and/or suffering on civilians.” By that standard, Lincoln was a war criminal. So were the various presidents who were in office while our government was merrily slaughtering the native American populations, either by direct action or by forcibly removing them from their lands so that our white forefathers could scrape out a living on the prairie without worrying about the Injuns stealing their horses or scalping them. If the Nazis had won, Hitler would have been the glorious emperor of Europe and FDR would have been executed for war crimes in Dresden and elsewhere. So, good thing we killed more of them than they did us and good thing the Commies were willing to sacrifice so many of their own people so that we could kill what was left of Germany’s army after they tried to invade Russia. Killing civilians is wrong, so maybe we should be more careful about starting or becoming involved in wars. Works for me.
    Scott’s throwing around of the term “liberal” is tiresome bullshit. Clearly, there’s no such thing as “liberal” or “conservative” anymore. If George Bush is a conservative, I’m a supermodel.
    No love for Clinton or Reno or government power here, but that doesn’t mean I can’t think Bush is a bad guy. Mostly he’s just careless and incompetent. If we were winning in Iraq, most of us could safely say “Yay, George” but we’re not, so George is a horrible guy. I don’t feel sorry for him. History will probably judge him harshly, and it should. If you’re gonna start a war, at least be considerate enough to actually win it.

  • cjmr’s husband

    Only thing nuking the Middle East will produce is a couple million Left-Behind-Worshippers pissed off that they were Left Behind.

  • cjmr

    >>The only good thing about Lebanon is Lebanon Bologna.
    Surely thou jesteth, sir.
    Well, y’know, husband didn’t grow up next to the neighborhood with all the Lebanese immigrants like I did, so he doesn’t know just how good real Lebanese food is…

  • Bugmaster

    And I’ve been pleased, at times, to hear of military officers who struggle with the ethical issues at stake, and how to minimize death in achieving military goals. Why is this so silly? You say “tactics”. I say “rules/processes”, i.e. ethical rules to guide the processes/tactics used. How is that not the same thing as “Surely, there should be an efford [sic] to create new tactics that avoid needless death on all sides”?
    Well, when I say “tactics”, I’m talking about actual military maneuvers. As in, a better way to storm a building, a cleaner way to blow up a factory, etc., etc. I simply don’t see the value in studying ethics; what we should be studying instead are practical ways of destroying the enemy with as few losses (civilian and military) as possible — and I believe that the militaries of the world are occasionally engaging in such studies. That will do a whole lot more good than sitting around discussing ethics.
    On a side note, pacifism is a very good philosophy; the only problem is that it doesn’t work unless everyone subscribes to it. Unfortunately, when one side embraces pacifism, and the other side is lobbing missiles and suicide bombers at them, the pacifists are going to suffer a major loss of life. Civilian life, too.

  • Duane

    If George Bush is a conservative, I’m a supermodel.
    Got any pics, gorgeous? Why are we so quick to give the politics of conservatism a pass for the mess the country and the world is in. The politics of conservatism has controlled the House, Senate and Presidency for six years now and by all accounts, things are only getting worse.
    What next? Are we going to absolve conservatism for the derelict leadership of 231 Republican congressman and 55 Republican senators?

  • bulbul

    On a side note, pacifism is a very good philosophy; the only problem is that it doesn’t work unless everyone subscribes to it.
    On a related side note, I was actually waiting for someone to bring up pacifism the exact way Bugmaster did, i.e. in a false dichotomy of pacifism vs. fighting. Well guess what, noone here is suggesting anything even remotely close to pacifism. We are discussing the moral and ethical issues involved in modern warfare in the current gepolitical climate. To question some types of conduct in military operations does not constitute opposition to warfare in general.


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