Friday, July 28, 2006

Disproportionate in any Moral Universe

I've sort of gotten out of the habit of spending my time refuting various important pundits (mostly Christopher Hitchens and Charles Krauthammer) because it gives them more credit than they deserve and they don't care what I think anyway, but sometimes I see something that's just too good (bad) to pass up. Like, this one in today's Washington Post, in which Krauthammer steadfastly refuses to find anything wrong with Israel's air campaign despite the hundreds of casualties it's caused among civilians and non-combatents:

What other country sustains 1,500 indiscriminate rocket attacks into its cities -- every one designed to kill, maim and terrorize civilians -- and is then vilified by the world when it tries to destroy the enemy's infrastructure and strongholds with precision-guided munitions that sometimes have the unintended but unavoidable consequence of collateral civilian death and suffering?

Well, already there are two things wrong here. First of all, let's not forget that Hezbollah's original act of aggression was to kill eight and kidnapp two Israeli soldiers, and that the rocket attacks came after Israel responded by initiating their air campaign. And secondly, precision-guided munitions do not have the unintended effect of killing civilians when they are actually dropped on those civilian's cars as they flee the bombing, therefore it is okay to question whether in fact the deaths that result from such strikes are unavoidable.

It gets worse of course. Krauthammer then goes on to distort history to make his point:

When the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor, it did not respond with a parallel "proportionate" attack on a Japanese naval base. It launched a four-year campaign that killed millions of Japanese, reduced Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki to cinders, and turned the Japanese home islands into rubble and ruin.

Disproportionate? No. When one is wantonly attacked by an aggressor, one has every right -- legal and moral -- to carry the fight until the aggressor is disarmed and so disabled that it cannot threaten one's security again. That's what it took with Japan.

Can someone explain to me how the extremely limited war between Israel and Lebanon parallels our hemisphere spanning war with Japan? At the same time that Japan was handing us our asses in Pearl Harbor, they were lining up to do the same thing in the Phillipines, and expand their Pacific empire even into Australia. The circumstances were drastically different, and as a result we engaged in unlimited war with Japan, because otherwise they would not have been persuaded to surrender. Israel, in contrast, is not in a fight to the death with Lebanon. Thus, one is lead to wonder why they are permitted to bomb Lebanese civilians fleeing southern Lebanon in their campaign against Hezbollah. There is nothing historically similar to the war with Japan beyond the fact that somebody attacked somebody else, therefore his attempt to parallel it with Israel's current campaign is simply obfuscation. But he can't stop the WWII anologizing there; no, Britain gets tossed in for good measure:

Britain was never invaded by Germany in World War II. Did it respond to the Blitz and V-1 and V-2 rockets with "proportionate" aerial bombardment of Germany? Of course not. Churchill orchestrated the greatest air campaign and land invasion in history, which flattened and utterly destroyed Germany, killing untold innocent German women and children in the process.

Again, it's not the same thing. Britain was literally in a fight for it's life against Nazi Germany, a no-holds-barred, knock-down, drag out fight between two powers in which the only way someone was going to give up was if they were made to give up. Britain's only choice in defeating Germany was to carry the war to Germany, on the ground and in the air. Again I must ask, where exactly does Lebanon and her civilians fit in this historial parallel? A closer analogy would be that of bombing Nazi-occupied France, killing innocent French civilians who probably opposed the Nazis. The problem with that analogy is that again, Hezbollah cannot possibly destroy Israel in the same way that Nazi Germany could have destroyed Britain, and the analogy fails.

Krauthammer then goes on to assume things about the Israelis that we simply do not know:

The perversity of today's international outcry lies in the fact that there is indeed a disproportion in this war, a radical moral asymmetry between Hezbollah and Israel: Hezbollah is deliberately trying to create civilian casualties on both sides while Israel is deliberately trying to minimize civilian casualties, also on both sides.

Are they? Israel has said repeatedly after bombing convoys of fleeing civilians that they believed those vehicles were acting in some relation to Hezbollah and the rockets being fired. But how do they know that? Given that they have bombed vehicles that actually didn't have anything to do with Hezbollah, then surely their intelligence is wrong. What intelligence did they have? In truth it's most likely that the Israels have taken a dim view of any vehicles fleeing Hezbollah positions, and have bombed and missiled those they suspected of being involved with Hezbollah's activities. But when you don't know that for sure, and you fire a missle through the roof of a bus carrying 19 civilians feeling to the north, are you deliberately trying to minimize civilian casualties? Is the standard "Well, we didn't fire at anyone we knew were civilians...we think...except maybe when we had to"? Is that how low the bar is set to be "minimizing" civilian casualties?

Don't get me wrong. Hezbollah is deliberately trying to maximize civilians casualties. There's no doubt about that. And yes, they are running in and out of well-populated centers, inviting strikes that kill innocents. That's why they're terrorists. The Israelis are on the other hand not terrorists, and so perhaps we should be holding them to a higher standard. Is it wrong to hold a nation to a higher standard than that of an unscrupulous terrorist group?

Had Israel wanted to destroy Lebanese civilian infrastructure, it would have turned out the lights in Beirut in the first hour of the war, destroying the billion-dollar power grid and setting back Lebanon 20 years. It did not do that. Instead it attacked dual-use infrastructure -- bridges, roads, airport runways -- and blockaded Lebanon's ports to prevent the reinforcement and resupply of Hezbollah. Ten thousand Katyusha rockets are enough. Israel was not going to allow Hezbollah 10,000 more.

Ignoring for a second that the Israelis did just that in Gaza (apparently collective punishment of the Palestinians for daring to elect Hamas politicians is on the table), I'll agree that Israel has for the most part used precise weaponry. What I question is whether they've used precise targeting. Though, I suppose it is precise to drop a bomb right through the roof of a vehicle moving at 45 mph. Or right on top of a U.N. observation post.

Israel's response to Hezbollah has been to use the most precise weaponry and targeting it can. It has no interest, no desire to kill Lebanese civilians. Does anyone imagine that it could not have leveled south Lebanon, to say nothing of Beirut?
Leaving aside for a second that the Israelis did just that in Gaza, I'll agree that Israel has for the most part used precise weaponry. What I question is whether they've used precise targeting. Though, I suppose it is precise to drop a bomb right through the roof of a vehicle moving at 45 mph. Or right on top of a U.N. observation post.

Instead, in the bitter fight against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, it has repeatedly dropped leaflets, issued warnings, sent messages by radio and even phone text to Lebanese villagers to evacuate so that they would not be harmed.

Well yes, and then it promptly bombed some of those fleeing civilians, after bombing the roads they needed to flee on.

Again, for the umpteenth hundred time, nobody argues that Israel should have to tolerate a hostile militia on it's border actively carrying out attacks on it. Nobody argues that Israel does not have a right to defend itself. Everyone agrees that Israel had the right to respond to the killing and kidnapping of its soldiers with force. The problem is that Israel has acted with a reckless lack of concern for Lebanese civilians, to the extent that one can legitimately wonder if inflicting civilian casualties are not a way of "sending a message" to Lebanon in general that support for Hezbollah will cost them in the future. Whatever you may think of this strategy in war, it is without question immoral. Krauthammer is fond of bringing up WWII over and over again, where we committed such acts as fire-bombing Dresden and Hamburg and nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but he neglects to point out first that Israel isn't at war with Lebanon (at least no technically) and second that since then, most civilized nations have uniformely rejected the strategy of deliberately targeting civilians. That many nations continue to do it in no way excuses such a tactic. Quite simply, it strains credulity to compare favorably what Israel is doing now to the massive bombings of WWII, or to believe that Israel is not in some way deliberately punishing the Lebanese people with their complete recklessness in bombing civilians. Krauhammer knows how difficult it is to justify scenes of children being killed, and that's exactly why he brings up 60-year old events, to attempt to persuade us that against those massive bombings, Israel is acting with restraint and discipline. Don't buy it.


Nat-Wu said...

We pretty much have a policy of ignoring such pundits, but sometimes you just have to put a stop to that kind of idiocy. Good job.

adam said...

Great rebuttal. Conservatives always try to make ridiculous comparions to WWII that aren't intellectually honest at all and it drives me nuts. And the fact is, the only reason they try to rationalize the killing of Lebanese civilians is because they just don't give a damn about them. They do, in fact, and admittedly as we have seen on a fellow blog recently, care more about "stopping terrorists" than protecting innocent life. What truly, then, is the difference between them and the terrorists from any rational point of view?