Somewhere on A1A...

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Israel has been has been greatly criticized by most of the world, for the killing of innocent civilians while targeting Salah Shehada. The criticism arises, almost universally from the civilian casualties. Even the President called the action “heavy handed.” While the criticism saddens me, I fully understand it. But the lesson that I take from the aftermath of the action, and the play earlier in the week about civilian casualties in Afghanistan, is that a vigorous debate is needed in this country over the ethics and morality involved in waging war.

Much has changed since this country last fought an all out war. Technology has been one of the biggest differences. Precision guided munitions (PGMs) make WWII style carpet bombing seem almost barbaric, but they still kill people. As long as our enemies insist on hiding their hardware and themselves among innocents we have to wrestle with the moral dilemma that comes with the knowledge that successful attack means probable non-combatant casualties.

There exists an unrealistic expectation of ‘clean’ war due to the use of PGMs. The coverage of the last war with Iraq exacerbated that problem. Sensational weapons video selected for public view, along with Hollywood and video games have generally raised expectations, unrealistically, in using high tech weapons. The fact remains, people die in war… innocents as well as combatants. While PGMs limit those casualties, they cannot eliminate them, especially when the enemy decides to hide among the civilians.

Where do we draw the line? Spoons asks if the US would have taken the shot if Osama was in our sights. I believe the answer to that is “No,” but I think the question that NEEDS to be debated is whether the US should take the shot. I think there are circumstances when we should.

Evil exists. Diplomatic and Economic action is not always successful in achieving a desired result. The application of military force… concentrated, applied violence… is sometimes necessary. To apply force means innocents will lose their lives, on both sides. How far must we go to minimize loss of innocent life? Can we afford to ignore an enemy that moves hardware into residential areas, that moves war material in ambulances, that uses UN Relief agencies as cover, that deliberately puts munitions factories in built up, urban areas because they know their enemy has a moral problem with killing innocents? Is any number of civilian casualties acceptable? Does it depend on the value of the target?

These are questions that need to be debated NOW. Condemning loss of innocent life after the fact is wrong . Ignoring a known target that later kills friendly forces is wrong. Let’s hear the debate now and not as a result of some International Court proceeding in the future.

Should we take a shot at Saddam if innocents may be killed? How about Osama? It worked when we bombed Mohammar. Is there a line to be drawn? Today, our enemies know they are much safer amid civilians. Do we grant them immunity because they choose to hide there? We cannot wage war if that answer to the last question is “Yes.” Maybe, just maybe, civilians who know they are endangered by targets hiding among them will do something about it.

I believe that through vigorous, public debate America will conclude that it is sometimes acceptable to engage targets in civilian areas. Isn’t it better to get that into the open now and debated, than to be forced to defend mistakes later?

So, to get back to Spoons’ question: I believe we’d have passed on the shot on Osama. But I also believe that after a little public enlightenment through debate, the next time the chance came we wouldn’t hesitate to take it. We’re not ready yet, but we ought to be.


free hit counter