Thursday, June 16, 2005


As seen at The Indepundit

A fevered discussion has been going on, over at Citizen Smash's place. (Well, actually, there are often several fevered discussions going on there; I'm just thinking of one in particular, because it's one that got my back hair up.)

Smash started it with a gentle reminder about Saddam's WMD threat. As he points out, just over two years ago it was taken very seriously indeed, by just about everybody. (In fact, I distinctly remember Saddam's WMD threat being used as an argument against the invasion of Iraq -- how dare we send Our Boys to face chemical weapons, and so forth.)

Naturally, this resulted in an interesting free-for-all, between supporters of the war in Iraq (me among several others) and those who continue to see no justification for it.

One person in the latter group, to my confusion, seems to believe that War Is Bad because it kills so many people. (I'm putting words in his mouth, in an attempt to paraphrase and summarize what he, in fact, has said. I believe it to be a fair paraphrase; but please feel free to see for yourself.)

This, to my mind, constitutes a fundamental misunderstanding of what war is, and why we fight wars. More on that in a bit.

But what really blew my fuses was when he drew a moral equivalence between wartime casualties (I hate the term "collateral damage") and victims of terror... and used Israel as his example:
Funny.. I consider all out war far more "deadly and destructive". The families of 22,000+ dead Iraqis might disagree with the notion that Israelis have really had it that bad in comparison (921 Israelis and 2806 Palestinians between 27 Sept, 2000 and May 1, 2004); link
I had a fair bit to say in response to that. But this, in particular, might be worth reprinting, so to speak:

"I see civilians caught by violence as exactly the same whether they are caught by terrorists or caught by war."
Thank you for your frank admission. This, indeed, is at the heart of this discussion. (I believe it's also the reason why you don't seem to understand why your words were offensive.)

Just as a point of reference: do you also see accident victims -- say, a fatality from an accidental car crash -- the same way as you see first-degree murder victims?

The problem with this sort of point of view is that it removes all context of intent... and most legal systems, as well as most systems of ethics, take intention to be quite important indeed. That, for example, is the difference between first- and second-degree murder -- can we prove that the murderer planned it, or could it have been an accident?

By removing intent, and focusing only on outcomes, you run the risk of, say, confusing the fireman (who uses an ax to enter a burning building) with the teenage thug (caught in the act of breaking-and-entering). They both broke a window of a house that wasn't theirs, didn't they?

Or, as I sometimes quote on my blog, it's like arguing that when a man pushes an old lady into the path of a speeding bus, and another man leaps in to push her out of the way of that speeding bus, well, both men are equally bad, because you just shouldn't push old ladies.

Terrorism and war are not the same, Chris, and they never have been. War is fought according to specific rules, with harsh penalties for violating those rules; these rules have been worked out over the millenia, and they are written in the blood of fighting men and women. (See Bill Whittle's essay Sanctuary for some thoughts on rules of war, and those who violate them.)

Terrorism, by contrast, is a specific decision not to abide by any rules of combat -- and, in fact, to use any and all aspects of civilization against the victims, while simultaneously claiming the protections of civiliation for itself. (That's why I maintain that terrorists are cowards. Cowardice, however, is the least of their sins.)

That's why terrorists use tactics that no self-respecting professional military organization would use. That's why terrorists fight under the cover of ambulances, places of worship, and the white flag of surrender... yet scream bloody murder if any of those sanctuaries are harmed in the slightest, even by accident. That's why terrorists deliberately target civilians, while soldiers understand that their purpose is to fight other soldiers in order to protect the civilians of both sides.

That's why terrorists are willing to hide behind women and children. (Why not? They've already demonstrated that they don't care about the lives of enemy civilians; it's therefore all too easy for them to hold their own brethren in the same cynical contempt. And, in fact, most terrorist organizations do eventually turn on their own people just as savagely.)

That's why most professional soldiers hold terrorism as being beneath contempt... and show little if any mercy for terrorists when they are caught.

And that's why equating a casualty of war with a terrorist's victim is repugnant.

Think about it, Chris. And try to gain some perspective. All deaths are tragic... but not all deaths are alike.

Daniel in Brookline

(Thanks to Rich Casebolt for suggesting that this was worth repeating. And thanks, once again, to Smash for providing the forum in which I said it.)


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