Is it ever moral to target civilians in warfare? *UPDATED*

My (conservative) book club read Victor Davis Hanson’s A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War. One of the points Hanson makes in the book is that Pericles embarked upon a new type of warfare:

Periclean strategy . . . defined the new war as battle not between hoplites or even sailors but rather soldiers against the property of everyday folks. . . .  Sherman, Lord Kitchener, and Curtis LeMay . . . all argued that battle is ultimately powered by civilians and thus only extinguished when they cannot or will not pledge their labor and capital to those on the battlefield.

Hanson goes on to comment that many Athenians thought this new civilian focused warfare was immoral.  Our group discussed whether including civilians as part of the battlefield was, or was not, immoral.

Our conclusion was that it is absolutely true that civilians finance war through their labor, direct (munitions factories) or indirect (economic infrastructure).  If you are fighting a war to win — and you’d better be sure you believe in your cause — one of the most effective ways to win assuming equality on the battlefield is to destroy the labor/economic infrastructure.  If this means pulling a Sherman by destroying the depot that not only supplies arms to the troops but also food to the civilians, you’re going to do it.  The same thing goes for bombing a munitions factory, even if you know civilian employees work there.

What we all had a problem with is targeting civilians simply to slaughter them, which is a Nazi and a Muslim tactic.  This tactic is not meant to destroy the war’s infrastructure and end the war but is, simply, meant to kill the enemy because you hate them, want to terrorize them, and don’t think they are worthy of life.  Unsurprisingly, when an army resorts to these tactics, the slaughter is usually distinguished by the utmost cruelty.  At the end of the day, a dead child is a dead child, but I still think there’s something morally different between a child killed when a bomb explodes at the IED factory next door versus a child killed when the soldiers personally toss it in the air and use it for target practice.

What do you think?

Please keep in mind as you grapple with the question that right now, today, this is not a hypothetical question.  Our troops in Afghanistan have already died in unnecessary numbers because of Rules of Engagement that value the civilian population over the lives of our own troops.

If you want to see how this can result in a massive f*ck-up for Americans, just read Marcus Luttrell’s tragic Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10. There, the fear of running afoul of political rules that elevate Afghani lives over American lives (and that have the power to destroy a SEAL’s career) led the SEALS to release an “innocent” shepherd, who promptly reported the SEALS’ position to the Taliban. As a result, more SEALS died on that day than on any other day in SEAL history.

Right now, General Petraeus is trying to change these ludicrous rules that emanated from the halls of academia, rather than the real world of battle.  Even as he goes forward with that effort, though, the administration is pushing an award (posthumous, obviously) for “Courageous Restraint.”

It seems to me that either we raised our boys right, or we didn’t.  Either they have a moral compass or they don’t.  And either we have a decent military infrastructure that, after the fact, can distinguish between legitimate battle necessity and brutal sadism — and, after the fact, can punish the behavior accordingly, thereby setting the correct example for other, future troops.

Certainly it makes sense to have baseline rules to protect prisoners of war, such as the Geneva convention.  However, to send our troops out with the instruction “Thou shalt not kill unless you’re absolutely sure you’re killing some who is from a properly identified military unit and who manifestly intents to shoot you . . . right . . . about . . . NOW” is insane and, in itself, immoral.

UPDATE:  I just want to throw into the mix the peculiar war between Israel and the Palestinians.  It is asymmetrical, because Israel has the big guns.  Israel, however, allows her morality to restrain her from using those big guns.  She is blamed continuously for anything she does, despite her herculean efforts to strike at only true military targets.

The Palestinians do not have big guns.  Both tactically and for obvious pleasure, they deliberately target civilians.  They aim their rockets and their suicide bombers at schools, hospitals and buses.  When they get their hands on individuals, they subject them to horrific torture before murdering them (and this includes people they class as “traitors” in their own midst.)  They are applauded continuously for their committed heroism.

This is asymmetrical warfare with a sick international audience that prefers the snuff film to the movie that has a moral to the story.

UPDATE II:  And apropos Israel, an essay suggesting that she get tougher, or more serious, in her pursuit of this existential war — since it is her existence that is at stake.

UPDATE III:  Caroline Glick on another facet of civilians in war, and on the will to win.  (H/t:  Sadie)

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  • Spartacus

    Although I always get nervous when falling back on the “felicific calculus” of John Stuart Mill, James Mill and Jeremy Bentham — for failure to have found a simple and proper moral litmus test for the matter in question — that is about what I come up with on this one.
    Consider four factors:
    1) Intentionality — Are the civilians being targeted intentionally, incidentally, or accidentally?  Were the attackers aware of the presence of civilians?  Did they care?  If so, were they for it or against it?
    2) Degree of Harm — How many civilians were affected, and how much?  Were they temporarily displaced or permanently decapitated?
    3) Military Benefit — Is the war brought closer to an end by this action, or is it more likely prolonged, or is it just joy of bloodlust?
    4) Culpability — To what extent are the civilians truly noncombatants?  Are they pacifist farmers who avoid all involvement in politics and war, or are they zealots who volunteer in the munitions factory after finishing their regular day job, and all but put on the uniform and pull the trigger?
    Having identified a few factors in the equation, I’ll punt on putting it all together into a coherent whole, as I’ve always found this to be a tough one.
    Speaking of Sherman, VDH makes a compelling case in The Soul of Battle about Sherman’s march as almost an exemplar of moral targeting of civilians: it targeted the plantation belt where much of the agitation toward war had come from; slaves were freed along the way; atrocities were rare and not tolerated; and while Sherman could have met and destroyed remnants of the Confederate Army in battle, he instead deftly feinted and then avoided, never slowing down while he destroyed the South’s economic ability to continue the war.

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  • Huan

    soldiers are means through which nation-states wage war. Soldiers are the tool.
    If the nation loses the will or the means to wage war, the war will end. limiting the kill to soldiers degrades a nation means to wage war, but only injury to the nation itself, is likely to cause it to lose the will.
    or it might strengthen their resolve. i.e. 911.

  • JKB

    The “Courageous Restraint” award has always seemed odd to me and a symbol that those in the Whitehouse complete lack of understanding of honor, valor and courage.  Perhaps a mind change is needed by senior officers but if a soldier uses courageous restraint to accomplish a mission then how is that somehow less valorous than one who just charges in?  Valor is a strength of mind in regard to danger.  Just keep an open mind and award those who demonstrate valor while exercising courageous restraint the same medal that is for other courageous actions.

    As far as targeting civilians, it is immoral to simply seek to raise the body count but then that was the strategy of MAD when cities were targeted.  And of course, the idea behind the neutron bomb.  Still targeting productive civilians at legitimate targets are simply the way it is.    Truth is, in the modern world, there is no way to not have civilians amongst the casualties since there is are not uninhabited places.
    The SEALS had yet another conundrum.  The shepherd was obviously captured, even had he been a Taliban captured for intelligence, the morality of executing the prisoner simply because you don’t have the resources to guard him is difficult but one often faced by commando units.  I haven’t read the book, did the ROE require they release him before they were ready to leave the area?

  • David Foster

    I’ve written two posts that address these issues…

  • Bookworm


    Those are interesting posts you wrote, and people would do well to read them.

    In terms of Dresden, does it change anything to know that the Nazis lied about the casualty figures, grossly inflating them?

    If War on civilians is intended to defeat civilian will, why would the Nazis have done that?  The obvious answer is that they did it to dehumanize their enemy (the allies), but that seems rather pointless.  Bravado would seem like the better tactic if we concede that destroying civilian will is a good way to end a way.

  • Gringo

    I am reading a book about the  decision to drop the bomb on Japan, which also includes as leadup an extended discussion of the war against Japan. There is a relevant anecdote from Curtis LeMay, the architect of the firebombing which destroyed over 50 square miles of Tokyo and other cities, and killed  ~ 150,000 civilians. LeMay wrote that it was fairly common to find a drill press standing among the rubble of a burned down house. There was a lot of cottage industry devoted to the war effort.
    I have read that for all the negative press reaction for Allied killing of civilians in Afghanistan, which is primarily a case of the Taliban doing a good job of playing the press, there is a fair amount of negative reactions among civilians to the current Rules of Engagement. Apparently a lot of civilians realize that killing Taliban  which will  result in collateral damage of civilians  is the lesser evil of keeping Taliban alive to prevent killing civilians.

  • Ymarsakar

    First some replies to others, then on to your subject, Book.
    Apparently a lot of civilians realize that killing Taliban  which will  result in collateral damage of civilians  is the lesser evil of keeping Taliban alive to prevent killing civilians.
    It’s just like it is here in America, Gringo. We have home owners that want to make the decision on whether to use handguns, shotguns, or something else entirely as home defense, but somebody in DC a hundred X miles away thinks he knows best how the home owner should proceed. ROE is made in Pentagon, DC, etc. But it mostly affects locals and US patrols in Afghanistan far far away. There’s always inefficiency and stupidity when you do things that way.

    The Russians, who have launched a major offensive, have requested massive air strikes in order to absorb German resources and prevent reinforcements from reaching the battlefront.

    Gotta love those Russians. Their model of warfare is still tailored around Genghis Khan, cause he’s about the only military genius they look up to. That and the Cossacks.

    Not necessarily the most efficient way of winning. The Russians have historically lost too many wars.
    Some part of it is due to the malevolent efforts of a small number of extreme right-wingers who have an unwholesome sympathy with the Third Reich.

    That makes little sense. No reason for pro-Nazis to cover up Truman’s bombing of Japanese. Nazis, after all, were all about the Aryan race superiority thing. And the Japanese, were not Aryan.
    There’s a closer relationship between White Racists combined with Neo-Nazis and the KKK in America. On that record, they aren’t easily enlisted by the Left. Indeed, Leftist organizations like SPLC use the militia movement to provide cover for the Left’s budding death squads and to kill legitimate conservative political resources.

    I must observe that many of the people who denounce Dresden and Hiroshima as war crimes are the same ones who fervently oppose any form of conventional military action against rogue states such as North Korea and Iran, preferring instead to put their faith in “massive retaliation” and “deterrence.” But what massive retaliation really means in practice is doing to Teheran (for example) what was done to Dresden, multiplied a thousandfold.

    That’s a good observation of Leftist insanity. Which is not easy to observe, not least of all because it is insane.
    In terms of Dresden, does it change anything to know that the Nazis lied about the casualty figures, grossly inflating them?

    This deals with the realm of propaganda. Joseph Goebbels knew that the moral high ground had some strategic advantages. It doesn’t provide beans or bullets but it limits the ability of democracies to respond. This cycle can take months or years to take hold. Which is why propaganda grinds exceedingly slow, but also exceedingly fine. If it once lets up, all that it had built for a specific faction will likely collapse.

    The Nazis were neither interested in protecting their own people nor interested in safeguarding non-combatants. Their Social Darwinian model of the Superior Master Race, the Aryan Nation, precluded any sentimentality over lives as worth something absent strength or victory.
    Coincidentally much of the Russian and Soviet propaganda about Jews and Americans exist today as accepted truth, precisely because the Russians, Nazis, Arabs, and Soviets never ceased propaganda operations for any prolonged period of time. They ground the truth away until all that was left was a fertile desert of unvarnished growth.
    Propaganda, it grinds slow, but nothing can last under it given a long enough time.
    My (conservative) book club read Victor Davis Hanson’s

    I can just imagine how your (liberal) book club would have done with that subject. Wake me up when the screaming stops.
    all argued that battle is ultimately powered by civilians and thus only extinguished when they cannot or will not pledge their labor and capital to those on the battlefield.

    I follow the Total War philosophy and Sun Tzu antecedents in parallel. They are both particular viewpoints and both are valuable to students of military history.

    War is powered by resources between those engaging in warfare. This is a much clearer definition, as you now begin to understand that manpower is simply another resource. Manpower, however, isn’t baby power. For one thing, there is no such thing as baby power. That’s like an oxymoron.
    There is no “ultimate” in war, as everything flows like chaos and one should not attempt to limit war with pre-defined definitions unrelated to the flow of that chaotic sea. You should not because if you do, you will have defeated yourself before the enemy even comes close.
    Hanson goes on to comment that many Athenians thought this new civilian focused warfare was immoral.

    If you read the societal conventions behind Hoplite battle, this would make perfect sense. There were few casualties in the Hoplite phalanx style of battle the Ancient Greeks utilized. This is because hoplite battle grew out of the citizen value of the various city-states of Greece. Citizens were valued, so both cities had great motivation not to waste their people in battle. This is unlike the Russians and Arabs or Chinese with their “human wave” attack tactic/strategy. In order to resolve conflict and dispute, hoplite battles became the quintessential and most definite resolution. The side that flees and throws down their valuable shields and weapons before their more valorous opponents, has no right to say that they were “wronged” ex post facto. And in fact this defeat on the battle translates to defeat on a legal and social level as well. This, for one thing, kept wars short and simple, as well as rare. Because the resources of a city-state cannot sustain anything close to Total War or even prolonged Limited War that wishes to take territory temporarily. And it was pretty obvious who won the right to declare themselves In the Right when everybody saw who was turning their backs and running away from the fight. Cowardly men have a difficult time trying to challenge somebody stronger than them.
    one of the most effective ways to win

    Keyword is “one”. More on this later.
    What we all had a problem with is targeting civilians simply to slaughter them, which is a Nazi and a Muslim tactic.

    To be more clear, what you are against is the deliberate targeting of civilians as a result of emotional or ideological reasons, rather than reasons relating to winning or losing the war.
    The importance for the key distinction here is that war is fluid and unpredictable. There may come a time when you do have to slaughter civilians, for any number of reasons, in order to achieve local victory or strategy victory. Without this distinction, the only thing you can use to argue with would be casualty numbers and intentions. Did they intend to kill civilians or not, and then judge the situation based upon that. But the situation cannot be judged using only those means. For one thing, they become more and more prone to deceptive twisting and subversion by the Left’s transnational regression.

    It’s time to go back to fundamentals. The fundamentals of war and human conflict which has never been taught in public education. And for good reason. It’s too powerful a weapon against evil. Can’t have the sheep knowing how to use fangs, after all.
    At the end of the day, a dead child is a dead child, but I still think there’s something morally different between a child killed when a bomb explodes at the IED factory next door versus a child killed when the soldiers personally toss it in the air and use it for target practice.

    Totally independent of the moral cause, there is also the effect it has on the people fighting the war. On both sides. The Nazis lost, in part, because they spent ridiculous amounts of logistical capacity on shipping Jews around, instead of using the Jewish workers to make munitions. Even when their capital was being surrounded, they still used up valuable human resources to simply kill more Jews. It became akin to their reason for existence almost. And that is not the way to win a war. For one thing, the jews were never going to become a capable foe in war until they had their own nation-state or were defending their homeland with their homeland’s support.

    Even as he goes forward with that effort, though, the administration is pushing an award (posthumous, obviously) for “Courageous Restraint.”

    Now we know where that came from, don’t we. For an egotistical coward and hypocrite like Obama, “Courageous Restraint” must sound pretty sexy. Better than Courageous Action, since Obama has no “action” to spare, not to mention his non-existent courage.
    Israel, however, allows her morality to restrain her from using those big guns.

    Which is always wrong. If they want to play at war, they can give up and let everybody live as slaves, then play their war games on tabletops and chess boards like everybody else in the world.
    Morality as used in war, is simply cultural chauvinism. Sometimes bigotry too. It has no part in achieving victory in war with the least amount of resources expended.
    War is one of humanity’s oldest institutionalized behavior. As befits such an ancient record, it has been used by many different socio-economic factions. And the number of extinct and dead cultures it has been used on, even more. Thus the study of war, how it has been practiced in order to improve upon the chances for victory in one’s own nation, state, or city, is of profound interest to human beings. Or at least, I should say, it should have been of profound interest to human beings if people were kept in the dark deliberately.
    The point of war is to win. It has nothing to do with who is right in a social context. It has everything to do with an objective standard and judgment. Whether it is God that judges or Nature’s Darwinism or Darwin’s Nature, doesn’t really matter. The result will be uncontested, by either side. That is what makes it valuable and worth enough to fight for or in. Mercenaries could not make a living if war was not valuable enough such that men of fighting ability could command significant sums from more pacific city inhabitants. And modern-day security firms would never have such a profit margin if they didn’t pay what their people were worth and if people didn’t pay them what their services were worth (Executive Protection agencies like Blackwater).

    The difficulties are numerous. Humans are blockheaded when you take them individually into account. They become slavish lemmings when you combine them in the aggregate. A difficulty, you see, in imparting the import of war. The people receiving the knowledge must want to know how to use it and be capable of using it. There are many different takes on how to win at war. And all of them must be known by those who wish to win in war.

    This isn’t like your college elective: pick what you like or aren’t required to take. In war, everything is valuable. Every resource is valuable. Every way to get a resource is valuable. That includes engineering, science, mechanics, agriculture, human psychology, and persuasion too. Only by having and using the sum total of all Human Knowledge can you be said to have achieved the highest capability in war. A person or entity with such at their command, would be a fearsome foe indeed.
    Luckily for us, America is the only competitor in this field. For now. It’s not a coincidence that America leads in various scientific and social fields, but also leads in war as well. Nor is it a “resource exploitation” advantage, either. Exploitation is one way of getting resources, but not the most efficient or productive way. Best case lesson is to look at New Orleans. Democrats exploit black economic slavery and how good are Dems at war as a result? (Or even fixing oil spills) Don’t answer that, we all know the answer.

    The issue of whether to target civilians or not in war is often viewed as a matter of morality or morality plus winning the war. I would take out the morality component and think only about winning the war, because that’s the only thing that will matter in the end. Morality is relative and the victory will always decide what “morality” is: what is or is not right. Any component of morality that impacts public perception, again, is a derivative component of achieving victory in war. It is not its own independent component to consider on its own merits. To consider how to achieve victory in war already includes taking into account the various different moralities of various different socio-economic spheres, cultures, factions, tribes, and so forth.
    Genghis Khan went on to wipe out any resistance, including whole villages. The reason? His political system was based upon tribal loyalty. So long as there was one living male in a tribe, you had a fight on your hands. Thus the only way to make everyone in a tribe submit was to demonstrate that you are capable and willing to kill off every member of their tribe. (Sound familiar to Arabs? Not a coincidence)

    Thus Genghis Khan’s military strategy was hopelessly intermingled with his political power. You couldn’t have one without the other. Khan couldn’t be “merciful” if he wanted. Cause he’d be dead. His own tribal coalitions and allies would kill him if they weren’t afraid he would End them. Khan would find it very hard to “win” any war with his head free-floating on a spear, you know. Thus his tactics and strategies in war were legitimate. Morality doesn’t come into it. After all, the only objective standard is victory, and Khan won many victories. People can make the argument that his enemies were more “moral” and upright people, but dead people don’t get a say. Certainly not in the court of public opinion. Or any court at all really… when you come to think of it. Funny how that works. But it does.

    Work that is.
    On the topic of killing civilians or children, it’s a complicated and morally mined sector. There are too many preconceptions, based upon what our culture and society has taught us, that interferes with a cold and objective view of the facts on this matter.
    Suffice it to say that killing children is sometimes a legitimate tactic or strategy in war, as it ends the war with the least amount of casualties and resources expended. Less resources expended, the more prosperous the people afterwards. (Assuming the victors don’t just take the spoils and tax everyone to death)
    But the number of people who can conceive of a circumstance, of a world, of a nation or of a people or of a culture that such things would make winning a war more likely… well, that’s just say that the number is vanishingly small. And I’ll tell you why. It’s not a large secret, but perhaps a small one.

    People in America and certain other parts of the world, are deliberately taught not to kill or even use violence. You have had this indoctrination since childhood. You have been programmed, literally, not to even think about using violence as a legitimate and worthy tool. So how can you think of killing as ever legitimate? And if you can bring yourself to bridge that gap, to overstep the bounds society allows you, can you ever step over the gap to a world that makes it necessary to kill children or babies?
    Such a world is our world. It has always been so. People were just blinded by their own societal chains or simply by self-delusion, ignorance, or chauvinism (we’re too good and above all that, with our lily white hands).
    The issue with teaching people to understand war blows up at the point I already mentioned. Why should I expect people, sheep, who have lived their entire lives thinking of avoiding fighting, death, killing, child killing especially, to be able to think, rationally and calmly, about the most efficient ways to win a war, regardless of whether it includes fighting, killing, child killing, or anything else for that matter?
    But, however, just because people are uncomfortable with such thoughts, has no effect on war. War will be what it is, the objective judgment of human affairs, regardless of who thinks what. Even the most righteous, the most moral, the most ethical faction in existence, will be dead and forgotten should they lose too many wars. You will become dead, as dead can be: Carthage.
    America makes it easy for you. You don’t have to kill children, women, men, entire families, villages, or nations. America does it for you. You just vote (or not) and pay your taxes and everything will be taken care of. At least, that’s what some people in America think should be the case.
    I have deliberately gone out of my way to not only study (as in observe passively) such things, but I have also taken steps to prepare myself mentally, spiritually, and physically to undertake such actions. My judgment is based not only upon scholarly review, but upon deliberate training and “out of the box” thinking, unrestrained or constrained by the morality or limitations of society, any society.
    There is a difference, however. There are no constraints on what can win a war, at least not human constraints. But there is a modification. The reasons why people go to war is a human modified variable. Something we humans get to decide, for or not, based upon our society, our culture, or our personal motivations.
    What I think will win a war is never predictable. It will always be based upon fluid and unknown unknowns. What I think we should fight wars for, however, is something entirely different. I believe all wars should be fought to eliminate evil. Moral equivalence makes that sentence non-sensical, because they say “how can you end evil by becoming evil”.

    Well, that’s like saying, “how do you defend yourself against guns by using a gun”. You start to go into the Hall of MIrrors and Alice in Wonderland territory here. The simplest explanation is this. You win against evil by winning wars against evil factions. And you do so in the same way you defeat murderers that kill. By killing them first. Murderers kill, so we kill them. Moral equivalence. In war, we blow stuff up and kill children + civilians, and so do our enemies. We must be the same right? Not really.
    The objective judgment of war still applies. Victory in war is the only objective criteria humans can use to decide “who was right”. Everything else, such as courts, are manufactured by humans to avoid warfare, because some things just aren’t important enough to kill people over, so we don’t need the 100% “certainty” of war.

  • Ymarsakar


    Learn from the winners. That’s a basic rule of thumb. It doesn’t matter who they are. Learn from them. It doesn’t matter if you like them, hate them or not. Learn from them if you wish your mission, your war and nation, to be a success and not some burned down relic of the past.
    Moral midgets will say that Petraeus is just like Zarqawi and terrorists. They both kill civilians, after all. That’s moral midgets for you.
    But you know there’s a difference. You may not be able to say it clearly in your mind, but you know it to be the truth.

  • garyp

    I feel for our soldiers in Afghan/Irag.   I spent 25 years in the military (technical and medical fields) where I could have been killed by the enemy but it would have been totally impersonal.  They would have targeted my ship from a distance and I would have been a totally random victim of an attack on a military target.  I would have had little or no warning of danger and would have never seen my killer.

    Asking soldiers to risk death to follow some bright staff officers idea that being polite and non-theatening to our enemies will make them love us and quit trying to kill us fits the definition of insanity.  Remember “Trying the same thing over and over expecting a different outcome” is about the best definition of insanity around.  We have spent the last 50 years being polite and non-theatening to just about everybody. 

    In the last 18 months alone, we have bowed and apologized to almost the entire world.  Our leaders have apologized for our religion, our support of freedom and our military power.

    Your enemies don’t stop shooting at you because you are nice to them.  They stop shooting because they believe that you will kill them if they don’t give up.

    Purposely killing civilians, whether they contribute to the war effort of not, is in my opinion morally wrong.  However, civilains in the vicinity of a military target are not purposely targeted, albeit they are still dead. 

    America lost tens of thousands of airmen over Germany because we would only bomb when there was a reasonable chance of hitting military targets and missing civilians.  That was a laudable goal but how do you justify these men’s deaths to their families?   

    How do we justify asking young men to give up their lives to potentially avoid shooting someone by mistake in a war where the enemy purposely hides among non-combatants (as is the case in Afghan/Irag)?   Prohibiting purposeful filling of civilians is moral (unfortunately it is always only our side that has that compunction) but risking our soldiers lives to protect the enemy is nothing short of evil.

    If we are unwilling to allow our soldiers to take reasonable precautions to protect themselves and accept that will result in non-combatant casualties, then we should get out of these wars and bring our soldiers home.  The military can be expected to risk their lives to achieve victory, but to ask them to die to protect the tender sensibilities of leaders who would never risk their precious hides to protect this country is to me both stupid and incredible.

    We have always had a strong tradition of citizen soldiers.  We have switched to a professional army, mostly because our elites wanted to ensure that their children would never have to risk their lives to protect our country.  Their thought was to let other people’s children die, their children are too precious and special.  If we now are moving on to ROE that imply that our soldiers are worth less to our country than the enemy, why would any intelligent young person enter the military.  Loyalty goes both ways.  Loyalty to the unit and comrades is, I believe, very strong in our fighting forces.  How long can loyalty to a government that obviously considers dying for your country to be not a tragedy that must be accepted but rather something to be celebrated as long as the soldier showed “couragous restraint.” 

    The ROE’s our soldiers operate under in Iraq/Afghan are, in my mind, utterly contemptuous of the brave young people fighting, at the behest of a government unworthy of them, in a war that will ultimately be lost for to score political points in the next election.

  • Mike Devx

    I doubt I have anything new to add, but here goes.
    Book’s headline question is: Is it ever moral to target civilians in warfare?  I would answer, no.  But the key word in her question is: target.
    Primary targets in war: Anything and everything military, including military infrastructure
    Secondary targets, and absolutely legitimate in every case: economic infrastructure, including any and all power plants and transmission facilities, factories, depots, dumps, bridges, transportation stations, railroads, roads.
    I’m unsure of my opinion about dams due to the downstream catastrophic loss of lives.
    Any civilian working in, at or near any such targets should instinctively KNOW that they are near a legitimate war target and, if it is attacked while they are there, they will die.  You would have to be an utter fool not to know this.
    It may be nice to give them some form of advance warning, but that’s a nicety only.  Perhaps early on in such a war, the mass dropping of leaflets that generically state such a fact would suffice for nicety’s sake: “Do not go near ANY legitimate military or economic target, for it may fall under attack at any time, and you could be an unnecessary casualty.  This is your only warning.”
    The case of the Tokyo firebombing – with over 100,000 dead – is curious.  If civilian houses are used to secretly construct military equipment – eg, drill presses – then the government has turned civilian housing into legitimate military targets.  THAT action by the government is highly immoral and removes any blame from an attack on them.
    It corresponds to Muslims shooting at their opponents from within mosques, which they do.  It also corresponds to hiding munitions, armaments, missiles and launchers in the basements of hospitals and schools.  Highly immoral, and turning non-legitimate targets into legitimate targets.
    If you intend your civilian homes, your schools, hospitals and churches, to be safe from attack, you must treat them as sacrosanctly inviolate, and NEVER use any of them for any military purpose whatsoever.  (This is why the U.N.’s complicity in the Gilad Shalit seizure by Palestinian terrorists has always been so upsetting to me: They *knew* their vehicles were being used by the terrorists and did nothing about it.  It is such a grotesque violation.)

  • Ymarsakar

    The UN is a crime syndicate. Made possible with US tax money.
    In some parts, people are right that the US is funding evil, but they will never understand just exactly how that was so.

  • Mike Devx

    I would add: Civilians that allow their childrens’ schools to be used for military storage, or for military operations such as launching of missiles, have become complicit in the military operation and have deliberately put their children in danger.
    If one were to find out that your childrens’ school was being used in any such way, you should be totally outraged against your government and military.  For your child is being used as a shield and a sacrifice.  That school *is* now a legitimate military target.  Finding any one such school used in that manner makes ALL schools suspect as well, and possibly makes them all legitimate targets.   The same is true of any normally non-combatant structure, such as hospitals.

  • Ymarsakar

    The thing is, if a family refuses to be used as a human shield, they’ll be killed, tortured, and maybe raped. While their love ones watch.
    So it is easier to rely upon the compassion and mercy of the United States, even as they give aid and comfort to our enemies. There’s no reason for them to fight, because if they are used as human shields, they won’t be killed, whereas if they refuse, they will have to take on the terrorists.
    I would make it known that human shields won’t work. In fact, if human shields are used, I would advise and authorize extreme force, such as a MOAB, FAE, or nuclear device used to take out the target. The video should be sent around the world as an education to the ignorant masses on what happens when you don’t fight off terrorists.
    Now, of course, that doesn’t give the civilians the resources or the ability to fight off terrorists. Some of them are sympathetic to terrorist demands, but most, I think, are uncomfortable having their own bodies used in the war. Most people, even Arabs, are cowards and band wagon jihadists. They cry anti-american fetishes because everybody else around them does it. When it comes time to face the Scythe of Death, they start thinking otherwise.
    Which is good. But not quite enough. That is why additional resources must be given to allow local families to successfully resist terrorist incursions. US issued weapons, mines, grenades, and GPS trackers would work wonders. ALl you have to do is to air drop them into a village and let the locals take care of matters themselves. If you wish to ensure 100% of the material goes to the locals, and not the terrorists, then you need to setup a local spy network that can report to you who to deal with on this issue.
    At the conclusion of this little resource side strip in warfare, human shields will have lost 90% of their value. It will still be good propaganda for terrorists to cry “hypocrite” and “imperialist” whenever civilians die, but this time we’re taking the initiative and not simply being passive and waiting for the terrorist to spring their next media fabrication. Initiative is what determines who is the defender being horse whipped and who is the attacker, not who kills what civilians. Nobody really cares about that. It is not their ox being gored.

  • fgmorley

    Is it ever moral to target civilians in warfare?

    Of course it is, once your enemy has performed such acts. In fact I would argue that it is immoral not to. Once the gauntlet has been thrown down all bets are off. And all this hand-wringing about having the moral high ground is a discussion best held before the war starts. Once warfare has commenced the discussion stops and the dying starts. Depending upon how quickly you want it to stop, you should use every means necessary to achieve victory. Not doing so is immoral.

  • Mike Devx

    Here’s an example I want to toss out there concerning terrorism (as asymettrical warfare) that I think is not too farfetched.
    Your strike team is observing a market square on a bright, sunny afternoon.  Business is brisk, and the market is crowded with 400 people.  You’ve received intelligence that somewhere in that crowd, two terrorists are meeting for the next ten minutes to discuss their next strike.  But that’s all the information the intel analysts were able to gather.
    Do you kill all four hundred to ensure that you kill the two?
    Does it matter if both are low-level flunkies?  What if one of them is a very high-value target?  (Here it gets far-fetched because usually you’re likely to have descriptions of that target; but assume you do not.)

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  • suek

    “Is it ever moral to target civilians in warfare?”
    Depends on your morals.  Or your value system.  You’re framing this question in a Judeo-Christian culture.  If you were framing the question in a muslim culture, it would be irrelevant.  Allah determines who lives and who dies, who enjoys paradise and who does not.  The warrior in a war for islam automatically goes to paradise, and perhaps the muslim civilians do as well, since we assume their death furthers the cause of islam.  As for the non-muslims…well…they don’t count.  Sweep them out with the trash…
    Other cultures have similar values – “we count … nobody else does”.  _Only_ the Judeo-Christian ethic agonizes over the death of “civilians”.  That issue alone should give your bookclub something to talk about! I mean…not the issue, but _why_ it’s an issue!)

  • Ymarsakar

    Do you kill all four hundred to ensure that you kill the two?
    Sun Tzu’s recommendation of better to know who the spies are and keep a watch on them, then kill them and have them be replaced by unknowns, applies here.
    You already have information that there are two in the crowd. Find a way to find them and trail them back. If you fail, try again with something else, more resources even.
    Intelligence is far more valuable than dead bodies. Dead bodies are only One method of acquiring intelligence, but most of the time it destroys intel. In Zarqawi’s case, he got deaded, but left his thumb drive intact. Good for us. Bad for his people.
    What if one of them is a very high-value target?

    If you know he is a HVT, then you know who he is. If you know who he is, you can track him, turn him, or keep observing him. I’d snatch him in the middle of the night when he is in one of his homes and put him to the question if he has anything worth talking about.

  • Mike Devx

    Y. in #19 you avoided my premise, which I think means you would say, “No, you do not simply kill the 400 to ensure you kill the two.  Your problem is your intelligence is insufficient to identify the two.”
    I think an example of the High Value Target problem would be Carlos The Jackal. (?)  No one knew what he looked like.  If you know he is somewhere in that crowd of 400, do you kill them all?  I still believe the answer is, no.  And insufficient intelligence is still the problem.