August 9

It is not permissible to deliberately target non-combatants with a weapon of mass destruction. To do so is always, in all times and places, wrong and monstrous and forbidden.That's not my rule. It existed for centuries before I was born and it will remain true long after I die. It has, over the centuries, been violated by nearly everyone who has had the power to do so, but none of those who violated it ever succeeded in refuting it. None of them ever made a convincing case that the rule … [Read more...]

Cleaning the lake

Here is the passage I was looking for the other day when I instead stumbled onto that bit about cheese sandwiches. This is from Philip Gourevitch's award-winning history and meditation, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families. The desertion of Rwanda by the UN force was Hutu Power's greatest diplomatic victory to date, and it can be credited almost single-handedly to the United States. With the memory of the Somalia debacle still very fresh, the White House had … [Read more...]

Terrorists are Bad

Let's try another angle: Nobody likes terrorists, right? I mean, those of us who aren't terrorists can all agree that, you know, terrorism is Bad and terrorists are Bad People, right? I see most of you nodding but a few of you -- that bunch there in the back -- look worried. You're probably wondering if this is some kind of trick question. It's not. Or at least not in the wingnut sense of pretending-everybody-I-disagree-with-is-a-terrorist-and/or-lover-of-terrorists (such … [Read more...]

Perverse arithmetic

"You're not allowed to kill civilians" is not exclusively, or even primarily, a legal statement. Like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this prohibition is spelled out in international law. But, like those rights, it precedes this particular legal formulation. Just as the Universal Declaration is not the source of the human rights it affirms, so too international law is not the source of the prohibition against killing civilians. But let's save the metaphysics for … [Read more...]


Sixty-one years ago today, my country dropped an atomic bomb on a nonmilitary target: In the closing days of World War Two, the United States dropped a 10,000-pound plutonium-239 bomb, nicknamed "Fat Man," on Nagasaki. It exploded about 500 meters (1,600 feet) above the ground, instantly killing about 27,000 of the city's estimated population of around 200,000. By the end of 1945, the number of dead due to acute radiation exposure reached about 70,000. The names of 2,831 people … [Read more...]

YNATKC (cont’d.)

"You're not allowed to kill civilians." That sentence, deliberately, lacks specificity. The "you" is universal -- it refers to everyone. No one is allowed to kill civilians. Feel free to provide particulars, to make the statement more specific: "Bob is not allowed to kill civilians." Let's be clear that this sentence does not include an unspoken "only" at the beginning. It should not be read as "[Only] Bob is not allowed to kill … [Read more...]

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 … [Read more...]

August 6

Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S. Four years ago today President Bush received a daily brief warning him that terrorists planned to attack America. He spent the next three weeks on vacation. If he had done something, anything, might the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 have been prevented. I don't know. Nobody knows. But here is what we do know: He did not do anything. And nearly 3,000 people died. The blame for the attacks lies, of course, with the terrorists who carried them out and not … [Read more...]