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, [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 [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 [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, [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 [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 [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 [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 [Read More...]