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7/31/2006
THE CIVILIAN PARADOX IN MODERN WAR

“There is something fundamentally wrong with a war where there are more dead children than armed men.”
(Jan Egeland, UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs)

Mr. Egeland is commenting on the fact that out of the more than 700 Lebanese civilians who have been killed in the Israeli-Islamist War, half have been children. The Qana tragedy, where Hizbullah terrorists deliberately sighted their rocket launchers next to a building bursting with Lebanese children and oldsters knowing that Israeli retaliation would in all likelihood result in massive civilian casualties, cost the lives of more than 3 dozen youngsters alone. And Hizbullah’s actions are at the heart of what has become the number one question for armies that fight terrorist groups like Hizbullah, Hamas, or al-Qaeda.

Who bears responsibility for a civilian’s death when one side puts a bullseye on an innocents back simply to gain a propaganda advantage by his death?

There seems to be no interest by the international community to discuss this question. The reason is simple. Since it is western armies faced with this paradox and most of the world is made up of non-western states, it is to everyone else’s advantage to pretend, as this gentleman does, that there is an absolutist position on the death of civilians; it is always wrong:

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.

To be fair, the writer does mention that there may be extenuating circumstances where the killing of civilians is unavoidable. But that doesn’t address his moral condemnation for violating his simplistic mantra. The fact of the matter is, that there is a clear moral mandate to condemn the cynical use of civilians by Hizbullah and what’s more, place the blame for civilian deaths squarely and confidently in the bloody hands of the terrorists.

James Lewis brilliantly explains:

We have lost elementary moral distinctions over the last century. As a culture, we pretend we cannot tell the difference between accidental shootings by police in pursuit of killers, and deliberate killing by those intent on destroying innocents. This is not, as the Left likes to boast, a reflection of our higher morality. It is a loss of elementary moral discrimination. We are much less moral than our ancestors of a hundred or two hundred years ago.

One role of the New Media must be to restore that common sense morality which says that hiding behind women and children in war is murder, plain and simple. The onus for murder is on the terrorist, not the cop.

There is a solution: It is for the media and the United Nations to rediscover the elementary moral distinctions of the original Geneva Conventions. Killing innocents is murder. Drawing enemy fire on children is evil. It’s not hard.

Why then is there no outrage against Hizbullah except in the narrow ideological confines of conservative western thought and a few liberal outriders going against the grain of the lockstep left?

It is more comfortable to pretend that the old verities regarding war are somehow still operational in a real world sense. An unarmed 10 year old boy leaning out a window in Anbar directing fire against American positions in Iraq presents a wrenching moral choice for the officer in command of the action. What guides that American officer is usually contained in the Rules of Engagement. Sometimes it’s how he was trained. But it is always what is inside the officer himself - his own personal code of morality and honor. Whether the boy is targeted or not, whether his death can be justified or not is really not the point. The child is a civilian in a combat zone and according to a strict reading of the laws of war and dictates of humanity, killing him is wrong.

Or is it? This situation, hypothetical as it is, brings us all into a new moral country as do the actions of Hizbullah with their brazen use of civilians as a combination human shield and fodder for press releases. Have you heard of any gathering of the great philosophical and ethical minds of our time to address these questions? Has there been any Security Council meetings to examine the implications of not only what Hizbullah is doing but what Israel (and to a lesser degree the United States) is forced to do in response?

Has there been any effort whatsoever on the part of the naysayers, the carpers, the condemners, to look beyond their spiteful, absolutist moral positions and delve into these dilemmas? I am not looking for an ethical or moral justification for dead civilians as much as I’m seeking a moral framework that takes these tactics into account. There is none. The American officer in Iraq or the Israeli Air Force Chief of Staff targeting Qana are all alone with their agony. And I firmly believe that this need not be the case.

Again, James Lewis:

European warfare came out of a tradition of chivalry. The military uniform marks combatants from bystanders. The British Redcoats were brilliantly visible, as were Napoleon’s armies. The idea of disguising oneself in the face of musket and even cannot fire was treated with contempt. Far more, the idea of drawing enemy fire while hiding among women and children was simply criminal. The British Navy would have hung its own sailors for such crimes. European soldiers were ready to die rather than be contemptible.

The Geneva Conventions came out of this tradition. Wars were terrible, and became much worse as they become industrialized. But they still reflected some of the values of chivalry.

[snip]

For the Nazis, savagery and murder became a matter of ideology and policy. SS men sent to murder Jews and other civilians were told to reject any feelings of compassion. The Nazis explicitly rejected Christian values, a point that is constantly lost to the Left. On the hard-hearted Left, during the Lenin-Stalin period, explicit orders were constantly given to kill peasants who resisted Moscow’s orders to give up their land and huddle in communal farms.

Thus the Roman and later Christian doctrine of Just War was steadily diluted as the 20th century wore on. Israel has a similar doctrine of “purity of arms,” and has recently revised its ethics code for the protection of civilians in guerilla warfare—- war in which civilians are used to shield the warriors, and innocent deaths are desired for their propaganda value. The media, consisting of nostalgic Lefties and old Mao-worshippers, fall for the double standards every day.

I would disagree slightly with James in that the media doesn’t so much “fall” for Hizbullah’s ruse as much as they and the left pretend, as do Islamists the world over, that the outrage is solely confined to “civilian deaths” and not to those who cause them.

Michelle Malkin:

The truth about Muslim outrage over Qana is that it’s not really about the tragic deaths at Qana–just like the cartoon jihad was not really about the cartoons.

Remember: Muslim outrage over the Danish cartoons was stoked and manufactured amid attempts to bully Denmark over the International Atomic Energy Agency’s decision to report Iran to the UN Security Council for continuing with its nuclear research program. Iran blamed Israel for the cartoons:

[snip]

What better way to distract from Hezbollah’s atrocities and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s annihilation plans than to start screaming about Israel’s “war crimes” and Western crimes against humanity. John Hinderaker at Power Line points to prefab jihadi banners demonizing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. EU Referendum looks at morbid photo posing. Bob Owens wonders where all the men were.

But never mind all that, right? The Muslim world is united again. And some short-sighted Westerners are allowing themselves to be duped.

With everyone pretending together - the media, the left, the enemies of Israel and the United States - it becomes relatively easy to gin up outrage not only in the streets of Arabia but also the salons of the Upper East Side and the offices of network news executives. Hence is opinion manufactured and liberal outrage assuaged.

All of this fails to take in Lewis’ main point - that the traditions in the west of wrestling with moral questions regarding war has been deliberately abandoned. Any new moral truths or clarity that would emerge from such a debate or discussion would threaten the left’s ability to use civilian deaths exactly as Hizbullah does; to beat their political opponents over the head.

It’s a shame, really. The very people who would ordinarily be at the center of helping the west in creating any new moral paradigms for fighting and winning the War on Terror are letting her down in her hour of greatest need. The 500 year old liberal intellectual traditions of moral and ethical debate have been tossed into the gutter and replaced with an unyielding, anti-intellectual absolutism that will brook no opposition to its cherished tenets and comfortable, old shoe verities.

We may yet pay dearly for their prideful ignorance before all is said and done.

UPDATE

Allah comes through with a round up of the growing pushback against the out of control condemnation by most of the non western world against Israel for Qana. Will it matter? Hard to tell from just reading the internet but my guess would be we definitely have not heard the last of Qana and that the purveyors of the storyline that says Israel is at fault will be hardpressed to defend themselves over the next few days.

By: Rick Moran at 3:44 pm
13 Responses to “THE CIVILIAN PARADOX IN MODERN WAR”
  1. 1
    Drewsmom Said:
    6:10 pm 

    Rick, how do you do it, every day more and more fantastic commentary and links. You are amazing.
    Thanks for keeping me on my toes.

  2. 2
    steve sturm Said:
    7:03 pm 

    Rick: sorry to not be as fawning as Drewsmom (is Drew your kid? Is Drew your childhood nickname?), but I think you miss the point. The issue is not about civilians, it is about criticizing Israel. The complainers don’t care about dead kids… certainly not if the dead kids are Israelis (heck, they don’t care if the kids are Christians in Sudan, either). They only look to condemn Israel… and if that building hadn’t collapsed, they would simply look for something else to criticize Israel about.

  3. 3
    B.Poster Said:
    10:15 pm 

    My hope and prayer is that the push back against Qana will be successful. It will be up to the alternative media to do this. Thank God for the alternative media. Without the alternative media the Islamic Extremists and their Marxist allies probably would have won by now.

  4. 4
    AnyMouse Said:
    11:05 pm 

    The Israeli bomb in Qaan struck at around midnight. The victims were women and children of two families. Where were the men at midnight?

  5. 5
    crosspatch Said:
    2:15 am 

    As long as Hezbollah is able to make political hay from civilian deaths, they will have incentive to maximize those deaths. Killing civilians is what Hezbollah does. Their rockets kill civilians in Israel, and their attacks are based from places designed to cause civilian deaths if responded to. Their entire doctrine is based on maximizing civilian deaths. The sad part is that the major media outlets play so easily into Hezbollah’s game.

  6. 6
    Drewsmom Said:
    5:50 am 

    No Steve, I am a real person, have a kid and live in the DEEEEP South and no, I am not a figment of Rick’s imagination, I just know good work when I see it. I am addicted to politics and I go to all be best blogs out there, Rick’s just happens to be one of the better ones.
    Have a good day everyone and be observant out there.

  7. 7
    Doug O'Leary Said:
    8:26 am 

    Hey

    I’m one of the thousands of lurkers. Very much enjoy your blog and read it regularly.

    One minor point to your post:

    >>An unarmed 10 year old boy leaning out a window in Anbar directing fire against American positions in Iraq presents a wrenching moral choice for the officer in command of the action.

    By his actions, this (hopefully) hypothetical boy has made himself a combatant. If this were an adult in a regular military, he’d be called a forward observer and would be a high priority target.

    The wrenching part of the decision wouldn’t be combatant vs noncombatant, but whether or not the cmdr could live with himself if he ordered the death of the boy or, by his inaction, the death of his troops because he couldn’t eliminate a forward observer…

    Doug

  8. 8
    Bob Zimmerman Said:
    9:36 am 

    I don’t think you have a choice but to take out the 10 year old. War sucks but you have to do these things.

    I watch a show they other day about the fire bombing in Japan during WWII. 100,000 men, women and children in one night. The people of Lebanon have let the terrorist work out of their homes and businesses. They are happy when terrorist blow up Jews on a bus. They are now learning what the Japanese people had to learn.

  9. 9
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    3:27 pm 

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  10. 10
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    2:20 am 

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  11. 11
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