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July 13, 2006

Just A Thought

Posted this in a comment. Not sure if I buy it, but it seems to be at least worthy of mention, and maybe debate:

In a way, the Muslims are really the ones practicing true warfare. A case can be made that it is we who have attempted to artificially and futilely sanitize warfare. And that it is our rules that are deviant, not theirs.

Let's face it, "rules of war" are a fairly modern invention. For 100,000 years of human history armies gleefully slaughtered civilians, took slaves, raped the living shit out of women (and boys).

Whether that's bullshit or not, and it probably is, I'm not sure I see the value in restraint any longer.

The "rules of war," to the extent they're helpful, are only helpful on a compact basis. You observe these rules (more or less), and so will I (more or less). (And WWII was a good case of America sliding towards the "less" side of that formulation, albeit in a truly desperate struggle against evil.)

But why should we continue honoring half the compact when the other side plainly doesn't? Just so we can say "we're better"?

I don't think I need that to feel morally superior. I feel morally superior just in knowing my culture, my nation offered these terms to the enemy, and was more than williing to abide by them (as always: more or less). The enemy refused these terms.

As far as I'm concerned, honor was served by simply offering honorable rules of warfare. I don't see the need to go the extra mile and actually observe rules of honor when the other side mocks them with their vicious cruelty.

A Hypothetical:


I must have slept through the part of US history where we massacred every German man, woman, and child a la Jericho. Repopulated it from Kentucky, we did. -- Hobgoblin

No, but we firebombed the fuck out of Berlin, Dresden, Tokyo, Yokohama, etc.

Firebombing is a nasty fucking thing. It's practically a nuclear strike (albeit one that takes a shitload of bombs to create). But the end result is the same -- utter decimation of a city and most citizens in it.

The Geneva Conventions have a vague approach to attacking critical warmaking infrastructure, like factories. Such civilian (quasi) targets may be hit, as long as the civilian deaths are not "disproportionate" (that may not be the exact word, but it's the right idea) to the strategic value of destroying the site.

What does "disproportionate" mean, exactly? Who knows? It can only mean what a country feels justified in doing. There's no mathematical formula to define it.

Hypothetical: There is a town of 20,000 in Iraq, or Afghanistan, that is a hotbed of terrorism. About 50% of the populace provides "critical infrastructure" to the terrorists' warmaking -- not ballbearings and ammo, mind you, but safe-houses, money, food, places to hide weapons, etc.

Does your conception of the rules of war forbid taking out that entire town as we took out Dresden?

I don't ask this as if I know the right answer. I don't. As Some Guy said above, "War is hard." There is a constant tension between victory and morality.

But in my hypo: Is it permitted to destroy the critical terrorist infrastructure even at the cost of perhaps 5,000 lives (I assume a 25% kill rate), including many innocents and many children?

Note that it will cost many, many more American lives to "clear" the city of terrorists, street by street. Fallujah cost us dearly in American blood. And maimings. And deaths.

What value do you place on an American soldier in relation to a foreign civilian? And how does that change when many of the foreign civilians are in fact cogs in the terrorists' warmaking machine?

And note, as is the case with Fallujah, you can clear out the actual fighters, but if you leave the infrastructure behind, the fighters will just come back. You will have killed some fighters but you will not have actually solved the problem.


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posted by Ace at 01:59 PM

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