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Declaring War on War

November 20, 2014

Pacifism, War, Warfare

Drones

During the first five years of drone operations in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, more than 2,400 people have died, and according to the most reliable estimates, the civilian casualty rate has been eight to seventeen percent. Earlier this year Obama told the New Yorker that he “wrestles” with civilian casualties, but, he said he has:

“a solemn duty and responsibility to keep the American people safe. That’s my most important obligation as President and Commander-in-Chief. And there are individuals and groups out there that are intent on killing Americans — killing American civilians, killing American children, blowing up American planes.”

So, presumably, the rationale for killing innocent foreign civilians is that this will save the lives of innocent American civilians, as doing nothing is equivalent to letting them die. Ignoring the morally indefensible view that Pakistani or Yemeni lives are somehow worth less than American lives, is it true that it’s better to kill some innocent persons so as not to let others die? Are killing someone and letting someone die, morally indistinguishable acts? Don’t we all “let” others die all the time, in the sense that there are countless persons around the world suffering from hunger, disease, exposure and malnutrition, whose deaths we could prevent by our efforts, if we chose to do so? Just because we let others die in this sense does not mean that it’s also permissible to kill them. Surely we have a greater obligation to refrain from killing innocent persons than we do to save them?

Imagine yourself as an innocent Pakistani civilian threatened with death by an American drone aimed at your terrorist neighbor. Now imagine yourself as an American civilian threatened with death by a terrorist. In both examples your right to live your life free of aggression is being violated, even if, in one case the aggressor is reputedly a good guy and in the other a bad guy. In both cases innocent lives are being sacrificed to achieve someone else’s ends, a morally repugnant outcome.

Of course this argument could be extended to prohibit far more than just killing by drones. If killing innocent people is wrong and the nature of modern urban warfare invariably leads to innocent civilian deaths, then engaging in modern urban warfare is also wrong. To forestall being buried in adverse comments I should add that I’m sure it’s possible for someone to come up with a valid justification for urban warfare that overrides the presumption against the killing of innocent persons, it’s just that I don’t ever recall having heard one. Maybe you have?

_______________________

“…all I ask is that, in the midst of a murderous world, we agree to reflect on murder and to make a choice.” Albert Camus

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About Malcolm Greenhill

Malcolm Greenhill is President of Sterling Futures, a fee-based financial advisory firm, based in San Francisco. I write about wealth related issues in the broadest sense of the word. When I am not writing, reading, working and spending time with family, I try to spend as much time as possible backpacking in the wilderness.

View all posts by Malcolm Greenhill

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83 Comments on “Declaring War on War”

  1. Mikels Skele Says:

    We’re in accord on this one. (Kind of disappointed not to have an argument 😉

    Reply

  2. xstatman Says:

    Alas Malcolm, I fear that you’re a couple of hundred thousand years too late: The world’s as the world is; the nations rearm and prepare to change; the age of tyrants returns; The greatest civilization that has ever existed builds itself higher towers on breaking foundations. Recurrent episodes; they were determined when the ape’s children first ran in packs, chipped flint to an edge.

    [image: John Varady (you)’s profile photo] Zoli

    The beauty of things was born before eyes

    and is sufficient to itself;

    the heartbreaking beauty will remain

    when there is no heart to break for it.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Zoli, thank you. You may be right. As a peculiar type of naked ape, murder and violence may be in our nature and, as you say, our more shameful episodes may have been determined when “the ape’s children first ran in packs”. If that is the case then we should at least go out struggling against our nature, redeeming ourselves somewhat for posterity. However, all hope is not lost. There is increasing evidence that we are adapting to our environment and evolution no longer needs thousands of years to do its work. Just as the thick skulls of Neanderthals gave way to the thinner skulls of modern humans because we no longer needed the additional protection, so there is some evidence that our behavior is evolving as well and becoming less prone to violence.

      Reply

  3. Ernie Grafe Says:

    If I see someone about to kill another person and I try to shoot the aggressor, but instead hit a bystander, am I “wrong”? I would really question whether we are both trying to “achieve someone else’s ends,” since (and I think this is crucial) my action wouldn’t have been brought on except for the other action. I’ll be very interested in this discussion too, because I wonder how the question of right and wrong can be applied to self defense. Has there been any war in which innocents weren’t killed?

    Or does it come down to whether a state of war exists? How can we drop bombs (or fire cannons) with the assurance of hitting only combatants? Yet we seem to accept that situation during war while feeling queasy about it when drones are involved. Can someone pinpoint why there is a difference? Both involve defense, whether trying to end a war or prevent future attacks.

    I’m horrified by all innocent lives lost, but what do you do if you’re the subject of aggression? If you can’t respond unless you’re 100% assured of no civilian casualties, do you just accept the consequences?

    I sure hope someone can provide some moral clarity, if it’s possible within these situations.

    Reply

    • NicoLite Великий Says:

      I don’t think your example applies to the situation being discussed. First of all, why own a firearm for the purpose of protection if you couldn’t with a reasonable degree of certainty hit your intended target? Secondly, if you are aiming your weapon at said target, which is focused on a person other than yourself, you could prevent him from killing the other person by warning him to surrender or die? He would not be able to achieve sufficient focus in time to shoot you before being shot himself, so surrender is the only reasonable thing to do. Luckily, we do not live in Hollywood movies. In drone warfare, you are reliant on second-hand accounts to verify the identity of the target, who is not acutely threatening anyone’s life, without the ability to tell him to “stop plotting to kill Americans or this drone will take out the block you live in”.

      Reply

      • Buzz Says:

        This seems to be really reaching. 1: I can be reasonably proficient with firearms and still make a mistake (the guy moves at the last second). 2: It’s in a Hollywood movie that someone might listen to a warning. In real life things like pulling a trigger happen instantly. 3: During WW II we were always relying on second-hand accounts (about locations, etc.) against Germany, which was no direct threat to U.S. citizens. If you’re saying that we should have politely warned Hitler before bombing a munitions factory, then I don’t really have a response.

        Reply

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Buzz, here is my half pennyworth:

          My post was about the inevitability of innocent civilian casualties with urban warfare. There is no inevitability about such casualties when one uses a handgun. Accidents can happen, such as someone suddenly walking across the line of fire, but they are not guaranteed. If you accidentally shoot someone by mistake you are responsible for your actions and for the consequences of your actions.

          “How can we drop bombs (or fire cannons) with the assurance of hitting only combatants?”

          In an urban environment (as opposed to two armies slugging it out in a rural setting devoid of civilians) we can’t be certain that we are just hitting combatants, in fact we are certain that we are not. Because killing innocent civilians is wrong I am suggesting that we should not be fighting.

          “I’m horrified by all innocent lives lost, but what do you do if you’re the subject of aggression? If you can’t respond unless you’re 100% assured of no civilian casualties, do you just accept the consequences?”

          I am not defending pacifism. If someone hits me I will hit them back. I never argued that you need 100 percent certainty that there would be no civilian casualties before defending yourself. I simply stated that urban warfare inevitably leads to innocent civilian casualties and therefore, unless you have a justification that can override the presumption against such casualties, it is wrong.

          “If you’re saying that we should have politely warned Hitler before bombing a munitions factory, then I don’t really have a response.”

          I wasn’t saying that. There might be civilians in the munitions factory but they would not be innocent civilians as they would have been directly contributing to the war effort.

        • NicoLite Великий Says:

          reasonably certain doesn’t mean you can’t make mistakes, but with drones, you can be reasonably certain to kill innocents with your intended target. OF course, if someone is wildly shooting people in the street, I don’t hesitate and shoot to kill. But if it is personal, the killer might be dissuaded – at gunpoint. The Hollywood phrase was about his ability to turn and shoot before you squeeze it, so yes, I am aware of how mechanically easy it is. In WWII, we were fighting a country that had pledged itself to total war. At that point, there really was no alternative. So again, you are going to an extreme example to prove a point that you may, or may not, have

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Ernie, I think Nico nailed it. I would just add that urban warfare inevitably involves civilian casualties but stopping someone with a handgun, as long as they are in range, does not. Let me know if you feel additional answers are required to your questions.

      Reply

      • Buzz Says:

        Thanks, Malcolm. I don’t see a way to reply to a reply, so I’ll do it here. The Hitler/munitions factory remark was a response to Niko, not to you. But a bomb could certainly miss the factory and hit a neighborhood.

        Obviously my effort to create a personal example was a muddled mistake. And perhaps I’m not understand your meaning of “urban warfare.” It just seems to me to be getting harder to define what war is, since non-state organizations are in effect going to war. If we know, let’s say, that a man is planning and directing others in a bombing or missile attack or anything of that nature, is that justification or not? It seemed to me that, in the original post, you were equating the possible death of a terrorist’s neighbor with the death of a civilian killed by that terrorist—that both were “morally repugnant” in equal measure. That’s the thing I’m not grasping.

        My impression has been (naively?) that efforts are made to target drone attacks without hitting innocents, so I question the idea of 100 percent certainty. But if we do decide not to fight, as you suggest, what do you say to the innocent civilians who are then killed by that terrorist. What is the morality of letting them die instead of the civilian who MIGHT have been killed by accident?

        Again, I hate to sound cavalier about the terrorist’s neighbor. He is definitely innocent, and it’s certainly understandable why there is anger and hatred toward the U.S. It’s just that the whole situation seems so impossibly difficult, not clear cut or black and white.

        Reply

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Buzz, we know that 8-17 percent of deaths by drone are innocent casualties or collateral damage. The rest are those targeted by the relevant intelligence agencies. How much confidence do you have that these agencies target the right people? We know from our experience in Iraq that people often took money to finger those they had a grudge against. We understand so little about these tribal societies but we do know that our dollars corrupt virtually everything they touch in these countries. Given the fact that we know our actions are going to involve killing innocent civilians and given the fact that we have little confidence that the right people are being targeted in the first place, I, personally, have no hesitation about condemning the use of drones to assassinate people.

      • Buzz Says:

        Malcolm, condemning drone attacks may indeed turn out to be the correct moral position. It certainly appears so, given multiple failures. It’s just that I wonder if there’s an “invisible” component—all the innocents who would die if the U.S. and Israel and other countries just tied their own hands and allowed the proliferation of evil. Since it can’t be known what might have been prevented, no one can speak for them or weigh their interests against the more concrete realities of using drones.

        Reply

  4. cindybruchman Says:

    Malcolm, have you seen the documentary ‘Dirty Wars’? A theme brought up in the doc concerned the free reign of power of JSOC and the executive branch of the government. Preemptive kills scare me as it resonates with the science fiction (reality) of Spielberg’s ‘Minority Report’. We’ll kill you based upon the odds that you will kill us first. Total war is ignoble.

    https://cindybruchman.wordpress.com/2014/04/10/film-spotlight-dirty-wars/

    Reply

  5. mdtodorovich Says:

    Malcolm,

    Excellent post as always!

    Have you had the opportunity to read MG Butler’s “War is a Racket”? I think that you’d enjoy it!

    Michael

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Michael, thank you. No, I have not heard about this book before but I just downloaded it to my Kindle as it is the kind of anti-war classic that I ought to read. Thanks again. I believe this is the second good book you have recommended to me.

      Reply

  6. NicoLite Великий Says:

    After Italy deposed Moussollini and left the Axis in ’43 (I think it was ’43) Mazi Germany took control of Rome, which was then the Capital of an opposing Nation. There was an underground resistance, German soldiers were killed. The germans then took the Population of Rome hostage, threatening to kill 500 civilians for every German soldier killed by the resistance from that time forward. You might think that only Nazi Germany was capable of doing such a thing, but until then, that was a perfectly normal thing to do in times of war. Killing civilians in Drone warfare would be less ethically wrong if we were in fact at war with Pakistan, Yemen, and those other countries. But we are not. Being at war with terror, terrorism or terrorists is a stupid concept to begin with. It’s a job for Interpol, not the US Army.

    Reply

    • Buzz Says:

      Here I think is really the heart of the issue, and I wonder if we’re in the middle of some historic shift in conceptualization. No, we’re not at war with those countries. But is it “stupid” to be in something like war against organizations that happen to have a presence IN those countries, and threatening the same kind of destruction a state/country might threaten? The conceptual framework used to be that one state fought with another state, but can it continue to be that limited in the age of El Qaeda and ISIS? i’m not sure how effective Interpol could be against ISIS.

      Reply

      • NicoLite Великий Says:

        I believe there is a shift in conceptualization, too. Old-fashioned warfare is absolutely counterproductive. Instead of going on a rampage as a nation, we need to coordinate police efforts. National Armies need to be dialed down, and Interpol and the UN need a stronger hand in the matter. Also, I don’t consider ISIS to be a strictly terrorist group. Their M.O. is more like that of a civil war party.

        Reply

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Nico, very good point. We should actually stop using the word ‘terrorist’ which is politically loaded and emotionally charged. These people are criminals, no more, no less.

  7. Iris Weaver Says:

    There are always innocent civilians who are killed in wars. Having said that however, I find our reasoning for being at war in the Middle East flimsy at best, and reprehensible at worst.

    Reply

  8. Holistic Wayfarer Says:

    I agree, MG. And appreciate the clear position you stake. Can’t help wonder how those who lost a spouse, parent, or child 9/11 might feel about this.

    Reply

  9. Dalo 2013 Says:

    Declaring war on war ~ I like this thought. The one piece of the puzzle that I think people in the West forget is the point you make with this: “in one case the aggressor is reputedly a good guy and in the other a bad guy”

    I do believe that humankind will evolve to a point that makes war obsolete…unless, of course, we annihilate ourselves beforehand.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      “…unless, of course, we annihilate ourselves beforehand.”

      Unfortunately, that is only too likely because scientific progress is additive while moral progress is not. What I mean by this is that scientific knowledge will never be forgotten (we will not go back to rubbing sticks together to make fire) but moral knowledge can be completely forgotten (it was not long ago that a leader of the ‘free’ world defended the reintroduction of torture).

      Reply

  10. authorbengarrido Says:

    All lives are worth the same, eh? That seems a pretty easy position to attack.

    Reply

      • authorbengarrido Says:

        A person sacrifices his 2 year old granddaughter to save his 90 year old father.

        A general rushes to the front of a battle and dies defending a single private first class, leaving his army leaderless.

        A survivor of a cruise ship accident chooses to save the life of a person with no particular skills over the one guy who can make fresh water.

        An family with limited resources spends equally on the education of a child with severe brain damage and a child with a 1400 SAT, thus expending the funds that would otherwise pay for child #2’s tuition.

        When faced with financial collapse, a government spends equally to rescue the owner of a minor bank with limited impact on the economy and the owner of a large bank with huge consequences for the economy as a whole.

        I’m actually struggling to think of a single type of leadership that does not involve sacrificing others (their time, their resources, their lives) for the sake of the leader’s goals.

        Why are these things wrong if all people are worth the same?

        Reply

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Ben, thank you. I think the key to answering your question is the different context for each example.

          A person sacrifices his 2 year old granddaughter to save his 90 year old father.

          This is a personal decision that I don’t find instinctively wrong as genetically he is closer to his father. We recognize that sometimes people have to make difficult choices.

          A general rushes to the front of a battle and dies defending a single private first class, leaving his army leaderless.

          There are no moral lessons here. The general made a brave personal decision and a disastrous professional decision. That is all.

          A survivor of a cruise ship accident chooses to save the life of a person with no particular skills over the one guy who can make fresh water.

          Lifeboat situations are not appropriate for generating ethical precepts designed for everyday life. An injunction against murder is a good rule in normal circumstances but in a lifeboat situation one person may have to be thrown overboard to save the others. This does not mean that murder is good. In your example choosing the guy who can make fresh water makes sense on strictly utilitarian grounds for the duration of the emergency, but this does not translate into a generalized principle that some people are inherently more valuable than others under normal conditions.

          A family with limited resources spends equally on the education of a child with severe brain damage and a child with a 1400 SAT, thus expending the funds that would otherwise pay for child #2’s tuition.

          This is a family decision and they have a right to spend their resources however they please. It is not clear to me that their decision is wrong.

          When faced with financial collapse, a government spends equally to rescue the owner of a minor bank with limited impact on the economy and the owner of a large bank with huge consequences for the economy as a whole.

          The government has certain goals and decides rightly or wrongly that certain policies are conducive to achieving its goals. So, for the purposes of saving the economy the government decides to favor one group over another. This is not the same as arguing that one group of people is inherently more valuable than another.

          I’m actually struggling to think of a single type of leadership that does not involve sacrificing others (their time, their resources, their lives) for the sake of the leader’s goals.

          Sacrificing one group to benefit another group is done all the time but this is very different from arguing that one group of people is inherently worth more or less than another.

          Why are these things wrong if all people are worth the same?

          Notice that the U.S. dares not say that Iraqi, Pakistani and Yemeni lives are inherently worth less than American lives because this is a fallacious moral argument that everyone would see through. Instead they argue that you can’t make an omelet (democracy) without breaking some eggs or it is worth losing a few lives to save even more lives.

        • authorbengarrido Says:

          If you accept utilitarian notions of good, all the things I mention are moral evils, I’d think. (I’m not an expert on this by any means since I don’t usually accept universal moral codes of any type.)

          An army without a leader suffers far more than an army with a dead private first class.

          A society where young females are sacrificed to protect old men goes extinct.

          Accident survivors without fresh water all die.

          A family that pours resources into a child with little chance to succeed robs itself of the ability to advance and society of a productive member.

          In a similar vein, I fully expect to die if it means preserving the CEO of Apple. I do not expect to die if it means preserving a heroine addict living under a bridge and it’s because I understand that my life DOES carry a dollar value.

          As for the Yemeni and Pakistanis, I would argue that the extreme moral ickiness of saying they’re worth less than an American, and not some logical fallacy, is the force at work. I would also expect people in general to be okay with lots of tribesmen dying to preserve a few New Yorker/Londoners/citizens of Tokyo.

          You can see this in action in the global tendency to treat 9-11 as a horrible tragedy while not really being aware of the vastly worse (and more recent) Congolese Civil War.

          In other, we people of the world seem afraid to say Yemenis aren’t worth as much as Americans or Brits, but we’re not afraid to act that way.

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          But people don’t accept just utilitarian notions of the good, rather there is a multiplicity of values people adhere to, something Isaiah Berlin called value pluralism. Some people prioritize freedom, others equality or dignity. In real life individuals often prioritize different values at different times of their life.

          “we people of the world seem afraid to say Yemenis aren’t worth as much as Americans or Brits, but we’re not afraid to act that way.”

          Agreed.

  11. authorbengarrido Says:

    I would also submit that, in a very real sense, good is not the aim of society or humanity in the general sense.

    Thanks for the interesting article. 🙂

    Reply

  12. Michele Seminara Says:

    Brave thoughts and questions! Glad you’re blogging again, Malcom – what you do here is special, and, I think, important.

    Reply

  13. becwillmylife Says:

    Interesting post, Malcolm. Do you watch Homeland by chance? I know it’s fictional, but the dialogue between CIA agents makes me wonder if that is how things go down in this whole war on war world that we live in. It’s all beyond rationalization.

    Reply

  14. Hanne T. Fisker Says:

    Much can be said about war, much has been said about war, much will still be said about war; right and wrongs, taking sides, who started… political, historical facts or somewhat facts, yes much can be said about war. Through and through so very fear-based. War is. Not so much bravery and courage in it as there is simply a deep rooted fear. There is and always will be only one answer to it all: Love. Compassion. Kindness. Is that a fluffy wishy washy hippie thing to say? Then the power of this is yet to be experienced. Then the tremendous courage and true bravery it takes to love, have compassion and show kindness in such circumstances is yet to be explored. By humanity. Global warming, environmental issues. Same answer. Is that reaching for the stars? Well, we are made of that very same stuff, we need not to look far…

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      “we are made of that very same stuff”

      Hanne, thank you. I don’t think it is “fluffy, wishy washy” to recognize the important truth you stated above. The more we recognize our essential similarities the less likely we are to commit atrocities against each other. That is why all military authorities try to demonize the enemy and make them seem as unlike the other side as possible.

      Reply

      • Hanne T. Fisker Says:

        Malcolm, thank you. At no point did I think you would find it ‘fluffy’ 🙂 Words just took me and poured through to whoever might read it, your post being the great trigger for it.
        And I deeply agree, we are in it together, fortunately that has been realized by many, there seems to be signs of this everywhere. However, the “loudest vessels” still has a strong hold on how we perceive ‘the other’ and decides what is ‘news’ on television and newspapers etc, not realizing we are of the same… as always, your posts are wonderful for calling out reflections upon essential questions.

        Reply

  15. gpcox Says:

    How would you explain the loss of Japanese civilian life during WWII? Any different?

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      I can’t explain it unless I put it down to revenge and American leaders being inured to mass civilian loss of life. There was no excuse for the firebombing of Tokyo or for dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki with hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties.

      Reply

      • gpcox Says:

        Would it have been better that those civilians (that were being trained to fight) to kill US soldiers when they invaded Japan?

        Reply

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          The fact is that most of the victims of the Tokyo firestorm and the bombings of Hiroshima, were civilians, including men, women and children. Here are some military and official evaluations evidencing that there was no reason to use the atomic bomb.

          “The Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing … I hated to see our country be the first to use such a weapon,” Eisenhower, 1963.

          “It is my opinion that the use of the barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan … The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons … My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.” Admiral Leahy, Chief of Staff to presidents Roosevelt and Truman.

          After studying this matter in great detail, the United States Strategic Bombing Survey rejected the notion that Japan gave up because of the atomic bombings. In its authoritative 1946 report, the Survey concluded:

          “The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs did not defeat Japan, nor by the testimony of the enemy leaders who ended the war did they persuade Japan to accept unconditional surrender. The Emperor, the Lord Privy Seal, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, and the Navy Minister had decided as early as May of 1945 that the war should be ended even if it meant acceptance of defeat on allied terms …”

          General Douglas MacArthur, Commander of US Army forces in the Pacific, stated on numerous occasions before his death that the atomic bomb was completely unnecessary from a military point of view: “My staff was unanimous in believing that Japan was on the point of collapse and surrender.”

          General Curtis LeMay, who had pioneered precision bombing of Germany and Japan (and who later headed the Strategic Air Command and served as Air Force chief of staff), put it most succinctly: “The atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war.”

        • gpcox Says:

          After years of research I know what Japan had (underground) and what they didn’t have (above ground for the civilians). Looking back in time with liberal, politically correct 2014 eyes to a time we could never comprehend fully – and then judging them – is ludicrous.

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Well, I don’t believe anyone reading this blog can accuse me of being liberal and politically correct but, more relevantly, the quotations I provided were chiefly from contemporary military leaders. Are you saying that General Eisenhower, Admiral Leahy, General MacArthur, General Lemay and the United States Strategic Bombing Survey were not aware of what you claim the Japanese had underground? Clearly, if they were aware of it then they did not think it important enough to change their opinion about the use of the atomic bomb, and if they were not aware of it there was no justification for using the atomic bomb, period.

  16. swabby429 Says:

    We keep digging ourselves deeper and deeper in destruction, resentment by others, and impossible fiscal debt. The dark-side appears to be sucking the life-blood from the American psyche. I used to be more optimistic about the nation’s and the world’s future, but my intuition has been telling me the opposite lately. I still cultivate a positive attitude about what I can influence.

    Reply

  17. Othmar Says:

    Dear Malcolm,
    it is never justifiable to kill civilians in any war scenario. Somehow, I read your post that if soldiers kill each other on a battle field, it seems permissible, or at least less unethical. I personally would oppose that thought.
    I wish to add to the debate: Even if war happens on a battlefield, where soldiers – people who presumably choose to go to war – fight each other, there have always been civilian casualties. Just remember the women who had to spread their legs after a battle to satisfy the victorious or the frustrated! Or the families that had to go hungry because their stores were confiscated to feed the combatants. Killing bystanders or neighbours with drones is just another scenario of ripples of violence started by legalized force.
    That is why I suggest a different title for your post. If I declare war on war, I psychologically remain in the spiral of violence. I would rather “imagine a world without war, and live for world in peace”.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Othmar, thank you. You are correct in your interpretation of my argument, which does not lead to pacifism. We both agree that “it is never justifiable to kill civilians in any war scenario.” However, it does seems to me that urban warfare inevitably involves civilian casualties while there is a probability (albeit a very small one) that civilian casualties could be avoided if professional armies battle it out far from population centers. I believe the best hope for world peace is that we all continue to become less tolerant of violence as a way to solve disputes. This is an ongoing process that is already well underway although we clearly have a long way to go. I accept your point about the title needing to break the spiral of violence.

      Reply

  18. mbracedefreak Says:

    Finding a target immediately after 9/11 served a purpose – we had to show we can and will bite back. Prolonged war, especially in Afghanistan, wastes money and lives. Russia had Afghanistan in their backyard and never won. Obama’s military strategy stinks. Civilians will continue to die with his strategy and hatred will breed. So, I agree with you on present conditions, but I probably would made a bigger bang following 9/11.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Thank you. The point of the post was to argue that it is always wrong to kill innocent civilians, so making a “bigger bang” after 9/11 would also have been wrong if it entailed killing innocent civilians.

      Reply

      • mbracedefreak Says:

        Much violence in this world comes due to disparity in wealth and resources. If you do not live in extreme moderation; you are a hypocrite in philosophy. Explore, the Quaker Abolitionist, Elias Hicks who is most noble. Conversation on how to eventually transition slaves into society, may have harmed fewer civilians in the Civil War and in today’s world. Those peaceful Abolitionists caused a war and set up the racial tension we have today, because they did not examine the complexity of the situation. I am blunt for brevity, but I see the complexity. Do you?

        Reply

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Thank you for this perceptive comment. However, although Hicks was an abolitionist he advocated a consumer boycott to get rid of slavery not war. The Civil War was fought to end secession not to end slavery and moreover, it can also be argued that preservation of the Union was not necessary to end slavery as the South crucially relied on the Northern states to return runaway slaves to their owners. The world is a complex place and it is sometimes very hard to decide what is the morally right thing to do. However, just because it is difficult does not mean it is impossible.

        • mbracedefreak Says:

          I know what, I told you about him and respect him but the Abolitionists created the war and even though the North won; Blacks still struggled. Zora Neale Hurston preferred the South. read what I wrote in my last post Black would have been better off with a —

          Conversation on how to eventually transition slaves into society

          Hicks didn’t face the bitter reality that most people not are not as noble as him. The same goes for the world today and your analysis of the situation and I doubt you are near as noble as Hicks. When a leader of a regime sounds like a extremist; we must take action and unfortunately civilians will die –bitter reality.

        • mbracedefreak Says:

          Quakers were and are very anti-war, if you are not familiar. But my point is they helped create a war. Lincoln signed the Scorched Earth policy which starve both Blacks and Whites in the South from, which many died.

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          So we both agree that Quakers are anti-war and that the Civil War was a bad thing. Your point seems to be that although Quakers did not want a war their anti-slavery rhetoric helped bring one about. With my previous qualification that the Civil War was fought primarily to maintain the Union I don’t find much to disagree with you so far. You say that Blacks would have been better of with a “Conversation on how to eventually transition slaves into society” but then you go on to say that “When a leader of a regime sounds like a extremist; we must take action and unfortunately civilians will die –bitter reality.”. This seems like a contradiction. On the one hand you are condemning the Civil War and then you argue that as soon as a leader sounds like an extremist we should go to war irrespective of the inevitable civilian deaths.

        • mbracedefreak Says:

          The North attacked the South first because they saw the South as extremists, but the Abolitionists were extremists for demanding instant change rather searching for progression to a goal. Do I think the Abolitionists were evil extremists and deserve attack — NO.
          But the South was not as extreme as the Abolitionists made them out to be — see my point about Hurston.

          Islamic extremists forced our hand on 9/11. You have a short window to whack them and say bad. If our leaders did their job and tried harder to work out compromise maybe 9/11 and retribution could have been avoided. I do worry the power of Jews in politics and the media may cloud facts and America’s neutral stance. I understand Israel, in many ways just fights to exist. I’m not condemning Jews anymore than I am condemning Muslims. A powerful attack after 9//11 to make Muslims listen to our true desire for peace, probably was necessary. Unfortunately our leaders fail in dialogue, in aftermath.

          My point in bringing in the Civil War is to show complexity. The noble people who wanted peace; in reality caused war and problems that still exist. Like I said – complex. But there is a difference in immediate retaliation and prolonged war. Muslims are not stupid, they know the difference.

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          “Do I think the Abolitionists were evil extremists and deserve attack — NO.”

          I’m glad you don’t think abolitionists were evil extremists, very glad.

          “But the South was not as extreme as the Abolitionists made them out to be — see my point about Hurston.”

          The South institutionalized slavery, that was pretty bad! Also, I don’t know why Hurston is relevant here as she was born a quarter of a century after the end of the Civil War.

          “A powerful attack after 9/11 to make Muslims listen to our true desire for peace, probably was necessary.”

          Well, we did that and peace was not forthcoming. I see no evidence that willingness to go to war convinces anyone of our desire for peace. Quite the reverse as the killing of innocent civilians helps to keep animosities alive.

          “My point in bringing in the Civil War is to show complexity. The noble people who wanted peace; in reality caused war and problems that still exist.”

          If you really believed in complexity you would not advocate war as a solution to anyone’s problem. The fog of war is so dense that it invariably just leads to further problems in the same way that the First World War led to the Second World War.

        • mbracedefreak Says:

          The South institutionalized slavery, that was pretty bad! Also, I don’t know why Hurston is relevant here as she was born a quarter of a century after the end of the Civil War.

          Only South Carolina had more slaves than New Jersey at the time of the Civil War. My on ancestor was married to a Black woman and had interracial kids – complex. Georgia was actually founded on an abolitionist platform. Why do we still have race problems? because many in the North fought, not to free blacks but to free themselves from bills they owed to the South. The North was and is racist, so Blacks struggled because the North were not focused on doing the right thing.

          I never said war solves anything, but many times the pacifists have created more war by not dealing with bitter reality. Initial retaliation is understandable even to the enemy. Sometimes you are forced to show strength.

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Thank you for the clarification although I already stated that the North went to war to prevent secession not to end slavery so we are both in agreement that racism was prevalent in both the North and the South. Please understand that I am not advocating pacifism, I just believe that killing innocent civilians is wrong. The U.S. could have showed strength by exploding the atomic bomb somewhere other than a densely populated city.

        • mbracedefreak Says:

          Agreed. My bigger bang comment was exactly that. Target a less populated target in Afghanistan and blow it the hell up. Would it have stopped anything; I can’t say. Fighting in the nuclear age makes little sense, but the Muslim world does need to stop acting like Catholics from the Inquisition era. Maybe the media warps the Muslim image, but 9/11 wasn’t a mirage.

  19. Arion Stone Says:

    My horror at the details from the many terrorist bombings of civilian targets (markets, schools, etc) initially caused me to support the drone attacks. I mean, how could it be BETTER to let someone live who has gone into another community and slaughtered dozens upon dozens of innocent strangers (and can be expected to do so again) than to kill them where they live while perhaps ending the lives of a few of their uninvolved (but probably supportive) fellows (while not risking the lives of our own people or our allies).

    But now that it is clear that these murders are being based on spurious “intelligence”, that the public is being lied to about the aims, reasoning, and success of these ghastly attacks, and finally that these attacks are resulting in even more recruitment for the terrorist organizations – I find it impossible to support them.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      I don’t think it’s good enough to say it’s OK to kill “probably supportive fellows”. The truth is that many of them are women and children and morally supporting the position of a terrorist is not sufficient to merit assassination.

      Reply

  20. Arion Stone Says:

    That said, does ANYONE have a suggestion as to how the world can STOP THESE LUNATICS from blowing up civilian targets, raping and killing women they deem immodest, and a growing list of other atrocities? I believe all people should have the right to due process before losing their life, liberty, or even property – but how is that remotely possible given how these monsters operate? Anybody?

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      The U.S. has been going into these countries to control resources and stuff ‘democracy’ down their throats for years so we are simply getting ‘blowback’. Remember, the U.S. has over 750 military bases (that we know of) around the world, often in countries where we are hated. They are not there to protect American lives but to protect our ‘interests’ as defined by the political and financial elites. If we closed down these bases and minded our own business I am confident that we would not see as many atrocities as we see today aimed at Americans.

      Reply

  21. deborahbrasket Says:

    I agree with you also. Thank you for such a beautifully written and well-reasoned argument against the acceptance of collateral damage, or the senseless killing of innocents.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Thank you Deborah. It must be synchronicity as I received your comment just after I finished watching ‘Jarhead’, the film of the book with the same name, by Anthony Swofford. I had read the book years ago but wanted to see how the film turned out. It’s a realistic account of the experience of one marine sniper during his tour of duty in Iraq. There is a powerful scene in which the marines see a huge convoy of civilian cars that had been destroyed with their inhabitants inside, by American planes. The cars had been trying to flee the fighting. It’s a great anti-war film emphasizing the huge amount of chicken shit that grunts have to endure in wars, where invariably there are never any real winners.

      Reply

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