For the past few weeks or so I’ve been grappling in my mind with the implications of Just War theory and the current Middle East fighting. Not only with respect to Israel’s current battle with Hambollah, but within the greater context of what appears to be a showdown coming between the West as a whole and Islam.
One side of me thinks that just war theory should be followed to the T, with those of us held to the “higher standard” (i.e. Geneva Conventions) going out of our way to limit civilian casualties in the short term, even if our actions (or inactions) may lead to higher civilian and/or military deaths in the long term.
The other side of me thinks that while we should certainly not target civilians, we cannot allow terrorist and their state sponsors to hide behind human shields unpunished (as we are doing in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Israel is in Lebanon). One cannot win a war in which enemies are allowed to attack under pretenses in which their targets cannot respond out of a sense of moral obligation to innocents.
I was watching a Discovery Channel program last night on the use of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima. Surely we will never know how many men would have died as a result of an Allied invasion of Japan. However we can get a good estimate from the battles in the pacific which were fought, island by gruelling island.
And by those estimates I dare say it was a JUST thing to end the war by targeting tens of thousands of civilians directly, and hundreds of thousands more indirectly by using the atomic bomb. When you’re talking millions of deaths, tens or hundreds of thousands don’t seem bad by comparison….unless you happen to be one of them.
[Editor’s Note]: This sentiment indicates I approve of the direct targeting of civilians. I certainly do not, as this contradicts Catholic moral teaching and is unacceptable (bad means do not justify good ends). I stand corrected.
When two sides have stances which are diametrically opposed, there is no such thing as a diplomatic solution, and further there is no such thing as a casualty free war. That is why war is so despicable, so reviled and should always be considered very last option: because it is a fact that many people will die.
The fact of the matter remains that while everyone pretends that war is not what is wanted, wars continually start despite that apparent “universal sentiment”. Meaning it ain’t that universal.
And insofar as wars must sometimes be fought, I am coming to the conclusion that we, as the side held to the morally higher standard, must come to grips with what David Warren posits as potentially a horrible truth: that targeting enemy combatants regardless of civilian presence may be the only way to win.