Somewhere on A1A...

Friday, July 26, 2002

The debate on morality, responsibility and judgment continues at The Truth Laid Bear. Generally I think that most people makng the judgment to condemn the action are doing so on with too little knowledge of the particulars. Chasing ideals is a noble thing, but ignoring realities helps nothing. Here is my reply to Bear's post of the day:

BEAR: "My answer? I think there's value in challenging oneself to identify the moral and the immoral in this world. Armchair generaling is one thing, but that's not what I, at least, am attempting to do. I don't claim to know good military tactics from bad ones --- but I do claim to know, from my own heart, at least, what I believe is moral, and what I believe is not. And I think engaging in debates like this one with honest folks of integrity as to where those lines are is time well spent."

This is the heart of the matter. HOWEVER, there is no absolute answer to most situations. Deliberately killing children, of course is morally reprehensible. But when you examine the huge gray area in order to determine the morality of a specific action in war, many factors must be considered.

Among the considerations in that examination are both, some kind of "cost/benefit analysis” and an analysis of the likelihood of achieving the desired outcome. In the case of the strike on Shehada, many seem to be jumping to the conclusion that civilians were "deliberately killed" merely because of the reported circumstances. That is not necessarily the case. If, as reported by Ha'aretz and others, the IDF made the judgment that collateral damage would be limited, and would not cause significant casualties, then some people would change their opinion of the morality of the decision. Likewise, if that judgment was wild and unsupported, then some opinions would change the other way. What that illustrates is, that some consideration MUST be given to the military aspects, specifically an analysis of the weapons available and the expected results. Truly valid judgments on the morality cannot be made without that understanding.

For the majority who are neither expert nor familiar with military matters, that information can best be disseminated through debates like this one. At the very least, we should all be conversant on the types of questions that go into the action planning. We don't need to know the specific blast or fragmentation effects of various weapons, but we ought to know that those parameters are being considered in situations like the strike on Shehada... it directly reflects on the intentions and morality of the planners. And it should be considered in the judgments those of us in the peanut gallery make in our after-the-fact discussions.

Having done a career as a Navy Pilot, I can assure you that ALL of the West's Armed Forces are well versed in the moral issues affecting strategic and tactical decisions. The IDF is certainly part of that group. No person, or any particular force is perfect, but the IDF has almost always gone to extremes in demonstrating their sensitivities to the moral questions involved in using military force.

In my limited knowledge of the circumstances of the strike on Shehada, I believe the Israeli's WERE morally justified in taking the action. It is not reasonable to judge their actions as being immoral simply because innocent children were killed.

I recognize that the general impression is that a huge bomb was dropped in a densely populated area where children were known to be. However that does not, automatically, translate to "We know children will be killed." There is a difference, and to ignore that difference may make you feel righteous, but it does not serve the purposes of the debate. As Bear says,
"I think there's value in challenging oneself to identify the moral and the immoral in this world."
And, "…My point is that it is possible, and necessary, to make these difficult moral decisions, without losing our morality along the way. We must accept that we are better than our enemies, and that we do bear responsibility for the civilian deaths we cause. Sometimes this acceptance of responsibility will lead us to conclude that the price to be paid is too high --- and other times, we will conclude that for the greater good, that price must be paid.

We can only make sound decisions and judgments by being fully informed of the realities of the situation and by measuring those realities by our ideals. Open and vigorous debate allows us, first of all, to become knowledgeable about the realities of the situation and also to come to a consensus on the ideals we share.


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