The Israeli invasion of Gaza and the subsequent casualties caused to the civilian population are generating much discussion of the morality of those actions causing civilian deaths. Just this morning I heard a long winded talk about the Law of War on PBS and a detailed explanation of how commanders on the ground were to make decisions about when to fire or not fire on a target in class room theroy at least. It made for interesting chatter but I believe it has no value when young men in harm’s way are faced with life and death situations and action or inaction has to be determined in a matter of seconds or even split seconds. They talked about proportionality in response to an attack or provocation. Again I think that whole concept is always going to be assessed in hind sight after the smoke of battle has cleared. If you are a corporal leading a troop of 7 men and you come under fire from a building how to you know the power and lethality of the weapons used. How can you be certain that it is only one guy who may have a old gun of small caliber and he may be ill trained and a terrible shot. But how do you know that? What if there are 20 other fighters in the building and they are merely hiding waiting for you to expose your position and then open up on you with heavy weapons. If you have a heavy weapon with you like an anti-tank gun I think to protect yourself and your men you might well decide to blow up the entire building rather than risk death or injury to yourself or the men under your command. That would certainly be rational and you are fighting the enemy after all. These decisions are made on the spot and quickly. You won’t know until later if the building had fighters or was occupied by mothers and their children. The enemy doesn’t hold up a sign identifying themselves and exposing their position and giving their capabilities.
Any death in a war is tragic and the loss of women and children can be particularly hearth wrenching. That is why the initial decision to go to war needs to be the right one and worth the candle. Once hostilities begin the victory, however it has been defined, should be the only goal and collateral damage simply can’t be considered. That is a sad fact of the matter. Concern over collateral damage is a relatively new phenomenom of the last few decades. When we were preparing the invasion of France in WWII in the weeks leading up to Normandy we and the British bombed the hell out of France because that is where the Germans were. Imagine that. It has been estimated that in those weeks over 30,000 French civilians lost their lives due to the Allied bombing campaign. We went after the expected targets like marshalling yards, bridges, assembly points, supply depots even if they were in a crowded area, and manufacturing facilities used by the Germans. We had been bombing France for years before this. Until the breakout from the Normandy beachhead there were more French killed in that battle than Germans. Sometimes the harm to civilians is even more calculated than that. It is intentional. The carpet bombing campaign against the Germans was deliberate i.e., Dresden and Hamburg. We meant to kill civilians that worked for the German war machine. Likewise the German blitz was not designed to destroy the British war machine because it couldn’t but rather to break the morale and will of the English with the terror bombing of England, making the war so miserable that the British would sue for peace.
Often you hear accusations that the West only uses force against dark skinned or ethnically different folks. The history of warfare doesn’t support this contention. We have been as cruel to our “own” kind as we have to everyone else we went to war with. It is ridiculous to think we used the atomic bomb against the Japs only because they were Asian. If the Germans had still been in the game they would have received the same result without question. We even made very cold blooded decisions regarding the probable death of hundreds of thousands of Germans after the war ended.
H. Morgenthau was cabinet secretary under Roosevelt and then Truman. As it became clear we were going to win the war obvious questions arose about what to do with all the German civilians who were without the basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter. The Morgenthau Plan was devised. It essentially provided that all other portions of Europe would receive all the aid that could be made available to the civilians. The Germans were left on their own. The infrastructure had been obliterated in most of Germany. This meant that starvation and freezing to death would result for them. This is exactly what happened. This was a public policy of the Allies, not some decision made by a local commander but this came from the heads of government of the Allies. It was really the winter of ’46/’47 that produced the worst for them. Only the lucky ones who lived in the country or had access to it had a chance for a decent diet. The POWs in German uniform were permitted 850 calories a day.
So as you hear of these new horrors from the Gaza keep them in perspective. That perspective doesn’t justify or ameliorate anything or anyone. People die in wars and battles. History has shown the only reasonably safe thing that civilians can do is to try to evacuate. That has it own set of troubles and woes but civilians in or near the battleground are in great peril and that is not going to change anytime soon.
I note that the Dems may back off their opposition to the Burris appointment by Blagojevich. I hope that it true. The rule of law should mean something. My only regret is that the “theater” of it all might c0me to an end. Great entertainment and you don’t even have to pay an admission fee.