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August 19, 2006

Denizen Ry's View of Civilian Casualties...

...and some other stuff.

Ry demonstrates why he doesn't blog.... i.e., an endless post. Brevity, thy name is not Gollum. That said, it's a worthy read, I don't agree with all of it, and I will respond later.

I find a serious flaw in the argument put forward in the comments so far (carry over from the threads on this post and this post for those wondering what the farqing hell I'm talking about) in that all the focus is entirely upon the value of innocent dead and the concept that the existence of innocent dead meaning something nefarious and illegal happened.

There is no talk of the necessity of bad things to happen to end a horrible situation. Something that happens in everyday life whether it be divorce where families are torn asunder to lead to a state of greater stability for both kids and adults; or in a chemical reaction where at the point a reaction, the metamorphosis, really takes place is the most destructive time in the whole process. It denies by inference that really terrible but legal actions were taken in fights that the proponents of this position would support, like the attack on Thionville during WW2. This line of thought has become devoid of capital J Justice, bereft of the idea that there are costs for everything (TANSTAAFL) [There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch - a Heinlein reference for those who were scratching their heads. -ed] and Justice in particular, and ignores what the rules (largely Geneva, which embodies the ethical and legal philosophy of war) actually say about pursuing goals and the costs of a civilian populace may be submitted to during war.

Instead all we have is talk about dead civilians and how horrible it is, how evil it is that they died. We’re receiving commentary that seems to infer that no matter what the injury was and is it can never justify things like the attack on Qana or the horrific scenes of warfare we’ve seen in Lebanon. Yes, these things are terrible. Civilians who didn’t deserve to die are dead--- some by sheer accident while others by true spite--- but that in and of itself does not change it from jus ad bellum or jus in bello to war crimes and an always illegal act. We’ve lost sight what some of our predecessors, The Great Generation, took as a given: life isn’t fair, bad things happen to good people, and sometimes terrible---but not in themselves essentially evil-- things must be done to secure a better world. The forces of change are always destructive in one sense or another. Change has costs.

We've gone from one flawed paradigm (caring only about winning that existed before Abraham Lincoln came up with what became the Laws of Land Warfare, and interest only in the Rich and Powerful and Large Events) to another terrible paradigm (over stressing populism and Avg. Joe; and making success and failure be about how few civilians are killed regardless of objectives and other real world results---and it happens on both sides of the aisle around here---with a hefty helping of anti-colonialist induced self-hatred tossed into the mix.). By now focusing solely on civilian casualties, by going utterly and irredeemably populist with our prism we’ve lost the ability to see the bigger picture and how Justice is secured in that bigger picture. The bad guy is measured solely in how many civilians killed. He who kills more is the bad guy. By forgetting the bigger picture we’ve said bye-bye to reason and waved at Justice as we blew the popsicle stand.

We’ve moved to a shallow rubric by which we decide good and evil. A rubric that is so shallow that it allows for nothing more than deploring death in time of war as evil and always evil instead of an unfortunate event that should be mourned and treated with dignity. Creating a better peace is not something to be considered. Initial injury is not to be considered. Aims of the war, the necessity of harm to achieve said aims, and questions of jus ad bellum are not to be considered. Just civilian death is the metric. Every discussion will be, and must be, brought back around to innocent dead as nothing else matters. All because we have moved beyond the thinking of our benighted predecessors who only thought about the Mighty and Great Events and have begun to focus on The Ordinary Guy Who Gets Trounced.

The rest is in the Flash Traffic/Extended Entry.

Ry continues:

Sorry. I’m not a vulture. I don’t live or base my life, my livelihood, and philosophy upon the dead. Justice, while a fickle Lady, is just as concerned with the living as with the dead. Probably more concerned with the living than with the dead when you think about it. Justice cares about the living and the dead, and the logic being employed (see! Civilian dead! Evil! Evil! Evil! ) makes capital J Justice impossible. It allows for no balance, no nuance, and no means to rectify big problems as they will always have costs that hurt The Ordinary Guy. Unlike the samurai of old or the Japanese in general who understood the dual dictates of giri and ninjo we’ve given ourselves over to ninjo(matters of our heart which in this case is our empathy for the wrongly slain) and ignored our duty(giri) to help create a better world by actually redressing grievances---even if by military means.

So indulge me an hour or two of your time (you thought I was kidding when I said brevity was for the weak?) as I strive to make a shifting chaotic scene into a mosaic that must be seen in entirety to make sense of it.

Being a Castle Contrarian Corps member it isn't hard for me to see that Hezbo may actually be waging war quasi-legally and may have some legitimacy (since it arose somewhat as a means of a minority group that historically got sheeted upon in Lebanon as well as a means of ‘Resisting the Zionist Devil’---the later being a load of sheet.). It does have a point about intra-Lebanese politics and as such it is a legitimate guerrilla force in that context since civil wars are legal. Attacking Israel and declaring war on Israel? Well, that gets complicated because it is a pseudo-state. Remember the complication part. This will show up later.

They've broken quite a few strictures (like not wearing a distinctive badge during planning and execution of military ops, using weapons specifically designed to cause greater civilian casualties,...., waging war of aggression.) so it may be hard to make the case, but the case can be made for Hezbo legitimacy and waging just war based on the meager means available to them. The Kat rocket and other sundry are all they've got. They aren't rich. They aren't a full fledged nation state and neither is Lebanon a greatly industrialized nation to provide precision weaponry. They're using 'Stalin Organs' because that's what they can afford and get their hands on. That's us back in WW2 using the Norden bomb sight with its nearly quarter mile CEP, the Atomic bombing of Nagasaki since it held crucial military industry, and reducing Metz to a smoking ruin by direct assault (well, more like ‘rock soup’ because they were the only means available to do a job that needed doing at the time they were done. The means available to you dictate what is criminal and what is righteous.

In a way Hezbollah and the manner in which it fights, well, some of how it fights, is legal, sorta, there are restrictions (all that legalese), in and of themselves. (See above where the prohibition of making the weapon a greater than necessary threat to civilians by adding things like ball bearings is broken. That isn't going to add bupkiss to industrial damage, which is the legal use of the rockets.) I know that’s hard for some to accept. Probably going to cost me some friends around here, but that’s how I see it.

Partisans aren't illegal either. Not according to the 1st and 2nd add'l protocols. And we used the OSS to train a few for us in places like Romania and of course the CIA training Afghanis during the Russian invasion because we knew it to be both legal and effective. It's not that they're Iranian/Syrian paid stooges. It's what they do. It’s not their objective of ‘freeing Lebanon from the Fascistic Zionist yoke’, an oxymoron if there ever was one, even if I do have a problem with Genocide and the destruction of Israel elements. It is how they go about it---in a strictly justly waged war vein since a war just enjoined it is not since it is entirely aggressive since they have no grounds for claiming the territory they are angry about.

So it isn’t like I'm drinking the Cool-Aid of Israel Can Never Be Wrong (ask me about the USS Liberty) and Nobody Must Ever Criticize Her and Everyone Who Attacks Her is Defacto a Moral Cretin Who Should Go To Hell Immediately or singing from the Approved Hymnal of Everyone Who Opposes Us Must Be a Terrorist. Hezbo may or may not be simply a terrorist organization, but it also may/may not be a legal guerrilla operation---which makes it a whole other kettle of fish since legitimacy by Hezbo creates new wrinkles and opens up different legal pathways for Israel to respond. Not everyone who opposes Western Thought and Institutions is a terrorist and a war criminal.

I do draw the line of honest debate well short of ‘One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist’ trope though. Nope, I’ll have none of that, thankyouverymuch.

Sorry, because I just don’t have the philosophical flair of Herr Flea in tearing that bromide to pieces you’ll have to read thru my reasoning for why I eschew it. ( Yes, I do think it important in the overall scheme of things to go over this ground, particularly since we are discussing legal actions in war and what constitutes a legal warrior engaging in war.

Roger’s Rangers weren’t terrorists. They were guerrillas. The Brits loved the unit when it fought on their side in the French-Indian war. They labeled it a band of terrorists when they fought the Rangers in the Revolutionary War, or more accurately the heirs of the Rangers since Rogers had his loyalty questioned at the time. In both conflicts it targeted military targets exclusively. By any measure they were not terrorists it’s just that the Brits have a tendency to whine when people don’t line up to be shot by them. They complained loudly when the Japanese in East Asia used flat bottom boats to bypass roads the Brits had invested themselves in to attack military targets in the Brit rear in WW2 as well. The Japanese weren’t terrorists. They were smart. Just like Rogers and his Rangers. Just like the Muhajideen of Afghanistan were not terrorists nor did they employ terrorist tactics like blowing up Gorky Park while trying to cause maximum civilian damage to end the invasion of Afghanistan by the USSR. There is a distinction that can and should be made between legal guerrillas/freedom fighters and those who aren’t. That doesn’t always mean just because they fight against us using irregular means that they are terrorists though. Nor does being an irregular automatically make you a freedom fighter.

Being an enemy does not make one a terrorist or a war criminal. That is an old thought form known as demonize the enemy, or dehumanization, to justify killing your enemy. It relies on stereotyping and racism instead of reason which we saw during the ‘Last Clean War’, WW2, where the populace and warfighter was bombarded with messages of the Dirty Jap or Evil Hun. It is something we rightly deplore today as runaway patriotism that borders on jingoism.

Definitions often do matter. ‘You may be compelled to wage war. You are not compelled to use poisoned arrows.’ Terrorists use poisoned arrows, essentially. Freedom fighters as legal combatants do not. That’s what makes the modern iteration of the IRA terrorists and those of Michael Collins’ era freedom fighters.

It is how you fight that defines you. Freedom fighters, as legal combatants, get certain kinds of treatment if captured or at wars end because of how they fight. War often criminals get a journey to the gallows in contrast. It is if you remain within the boundaries of ‘real war’ instead of going off into the abyss of ‘total war’ that dictates which category you are, and that’s exclusive from whether the individual or group in question fights for your interests or not. It does not matter which side you are on, which culture you come from, or whether you fight for an ideal like Greater Islam or for national interests as defined by the realist school of int’l relations. It is what actions you take and not whether you’re a hero to your ‘tribe’ that makes you a terrorist or a freedom fighter.

This leads to a discussion on how the decision of who is and who isn’t careening off into the abyss is performed. I may only be able to 'shop lawyer' the GCs, but they're available as are expert opinions; but I do not think I am that far off kilter here. Killing of civilians, while lamentable, are not beyond the pale at all times and all situations. It all depends on the objective (in both the strategic and tactical senses), the situation, and capabilities at hand.

In large part we use the Geneva Conventions to decide, as a matter of law, who is using poisoned arrows. We don’t use Just War Theory in that legal sense. We don’t use conservative or Progressive canon. There are other things as well, like the UCMJ but that’s more for individuals (in my lay opinion) than for interpreting larger scale events in terms of legality.

The GCs, like the US Constitution, are essentially a small number of Big Ideas that you could count on your fingers and toes. Lots of legalese to illustrate implementation of those Big Ideas, but it is still just those 5 to 20 Ideas.
The most important idea of all is to protect life and keep the slaughter to a minimum. That's why the poor joker riding around a battlefield, in Italy I believe, went gonzo to codify things that eventually became the Geneva Conventions and form the Red Cross. Initially these rules only pertained to the care of the wounded and of POWs as war, largely, took place away from towns by men in the Napoleonic tradition (ordered rows of men with muskets squaring off against each other). The face of war changed as cannon became more lethal (canister and double canister) and as small arms became more lethal (the Minié ball, rifled barrels) from the Napoleonic tradition to mechanized maneuver warfare we think of today with armies actually occupying towns and cities since they provide cover; and the Geneva Conventions were amended to reflect these changes.

One of the attendant ideas to the protection of life in the GCs is you don't intentionally make war on civilians (post WW2 addendum. Read the US bombing survey for why this makes sense.). Lots of legalese on how that's implemented and lots about when and if a civilian killed is just bad luck or something far worse. Nothing in there at all about civilians being utterly sacrosanct or that any and all civilian deaths are war crimes (Disagree? Cite the relevant passage, please.).

But that’s not how we act anymore. Each and every death is tragic but there are quite a few that are correct enough that opprobrium should not be heaped at Israel or Hezbo (like when Hezbo uses its rockets to attack industry and other legal strategic targets without packing them with anti-personnel extras). But we don’t care about legality anymore. We don’t care about the bigger picture anymore. We embrace our emotive response and run with it.

Another is you don't intentionally confuse the situation by making combatants and their stuff indistinguishable from non-combatants. Ends don't justify the means. Being the weaker side doesn't give you carte blanche. You're given some leeway (like not having to carry your weapons openly 24/7 along with a distinctive badge (i.e. a black armband/headband) 24/7 as all US or Israeli military personnel are to get full Geneva protections), but not carte blanche. The authors of the GCs understood that there would be problems of the little guy taking on the big guy and they made provisions that feel far short of carte blanche. Geneva makes no provisions about ensuring that those we think are the good guys or empathize with win. It just speaks to finding out who fought with poisoned arrows and who did not.

But we seem to forget that when we see Mr T-Shirt(you know who I'm talking about, don't you?) carrying a body. The gut level hatred of The Big oppressing The Oppressed is what that is. A purely empathic response to a scene of horror is what it is. It is not a reasoned account of whether that life was worth what was bought with. Sometimes what was purchased will not be worth the life paid. That does not make it a war crime. That’s a mistake. A tragic and cruel mistake, but not a war crime.

That's where the anti-colonialism self hatred comes in, when we bath ourselves in angst over the images of civilian dead. It must be okay since it is the weak, made weak by European derived civilizations colonization policies, to fight back, 'By any means necessary,' against The Strong(particularly since The Strong seem an awful lot like us European descended folk).

Because we do the gut level thing, the cosmopolitan Anti-Colonialist thing, we forget the very important question what’s the injury for which redress is being sought, and what the rules actually are. We start forgetting the rules and to reason our way thru tough problems to make the distinction between right and proper actions and illegal ones, even though both are bloody and gore filled.

The important thing is to honor those ideas embodied in the GC, not get so caught up in the legalese because any wording will be flawed, and not allow ourselves to be over come by our empathy. To do so would be to throw away the rules and claim, inductively, that no death is ever worth what it purchased.

And we must not bog down in semantics either. Language is a man made construct. It is imperfect and prone to misinterpretation. Its purpose is to convey the meaning or spirit of ideas not be the spirit or the ideas.

Yet, that imperfection of translation from idea to written code exists. That’s why rules lawyers, war game and role playing gamers know what I’m talking about, exist and are so annoying and in the world we live in today are dangerous or even deadly. They thrive on using the ambiguity to their advantage regardless of whether or not they trounce on the spirit and intent of the rules to get their way.

In the sphere of warfare this has been dubbed ‘lawfare’, and Hezbollah uses it immensely. Staging your building or tunnels within a few hundred yards/meters of civilian structures offers you a certain type of cover. Cover that you do not lose just because you buy up a block in a city section, or an entire building on a particular block, and stage guards to keep non-members out of your buildings. You’re relying on restraint to protect you and your infrastructure since the dictums about civilian injuries--- covering damage to infrastructure and economic damage wrought by attacks--- to forestall reprisals or being rooted out thru offensive action.

The reasoning is that attacking, since no weapon systems CEP is zero and there is cumulative error in targeting and firing--- inherent to the means you use to find the target, human error, how it is transmitted from the ‘finder’ to the weapon, and then the error in the weapon system itself--- that will cause a CEP to grow beyond the lab produced numbers, will undoubtedly cause civilian casualties or ‘collateral damage’ that the enemy believes it is beholden by law not to inflict. Couple this with dispersion of force caused by the precision of weapons and you have a lawfare nightmare staring at you: Attacks coming from predominately civilian areas that you cannot effectively hit or hit precisely enough to keep collateral damage close to zero and to the cries of ‘disproportion’ and the focus solely on the civilians mentioned above.

Every response becomes a war crime. Every mode to seek redress of injury becomes disproportionate. All because we refuse to step back from our emotional response and refuse to admit that peace and justice carry heavy costs. Because in this new paradigm there is no distinct difference between tragic or unnecessary mistakes and war crimes and evil that can be made. That’s something that is often not even considered in the current paradigm with its fetishism on dead civilians and counting up the dead on each side to see if they are directly proportional or otherwise proportionate. Unfortunately, change has costs (TANSTAAFL) and change is destructive in many senses

Kicking off a war with China by bombing the Three Gorges Dam, killing at least 5 million civilians without damaging a single military target, would be a war crime. Bombing Shanghai harbor and mining it that leads to civilian deaths in a war in which we fail to achieve our grand strategic goals would not be a war crime (unless we carpet bombed it and used napalm indiscriminately, but you get where I’m going.). Sometimes S.O.L is true. Life is not fair.

So it isn’t like I'm drinking the Cool-Aid of the Israel Can Never Be or Do Wrong and Anyone Who Says Anything Disparaging About Israel is a Cretin party (want to have a discussion about the USS Liberty or the Israelis selling US tech to the PLA of the Peoples Republic of China?) or singing from the Approved Hymnal of Everyone Who Opposes Us Must Be a Terrorist. I am not knee jerking on this issue.

And yet, I can see why Israel went to war, legally, and took the fight to civilians, also legally. Who I arrived there is best understood by looking at part of an e-mail exchange I had with a friend of mine who spent 20+ years as an intelligence officer with much of that time dealing with low intensity conflict/SOF actions.

“Scenario 1: Infiltration (land-based only, but tunnels are fair game) by special forces operatives and terrorists for the purposes of sabotage and terrorism
WHO- SOF / terrs
--You can't stop these people by internal actions in your own country - that is not their motivation. The BEST means of interfering with these people is to target their bases and support in their country of origin. Positively identify some, then notify their home state that any 'cover' used to provide political protection will not work. Under traditional international law, EVEN IF a state REALLY does not support SOF and terrs, if it is unable to prevent their transit to your state, you are lawfully allowed to intervene on their soil. Essentially, if they can't control their country, you can go there and do it for them to protect yourself. This is a great simplification of a more complicated legal issue, but it will have to to.
1- Identify all possible SOF and terr military bases.
2-ID all possible bases of popular and economic support.
3-Trace these to their various international connections and connections inside your state.
4-Once you have a good picture of the support connections diagram, ID actual targets that will crippled these bases without increasing popular support any more than necessary.
5-If possible, ID things you can do to the popular base of support that will at a minimum make them afraid to support the terrs, and hopefully cause them to desire not to support the terrs.
6-Prioritize targets.
7-Strike hard, fast and as close to all at one time as your resources allow.
8-Implement the defensive operations listed below.
Essentially, you need to stop this kind of activity at its root, not in your country at all.”

That is not just the ranting of an ideologue. That’s the professional opinion of someone who earned the right to be a member of The League of Disgruntled Majors. Of the retired military I know his opinion I respect most because he spent his career dealing with exactly this type of scenario, unlike The Armorer and others who spent their career contemplating how to kill Ivan in vast numbers in high intensity mechanized warfare. That’s no slight to John and the rest. They just spent their time studying a different situation where the rules were different. It is akin to asking an NBA center to go play as an NFL free safety. Both are highly trained athletes who know their business, but they play vastly different games by different rules in entirely different conditions on different playing surfaces.

International law, when looked at in full, makes allowances for wars with quasi-legal and very complicated situations.

So I can see why FASCAM (which I am saying DPICM is with its known dud rate well above 5 %, and I am saying that it was used because the efforts of Princess Diana et al to outlaw land mines made the need for political cover for such area denial weaponry employment) like stuff is useful in this conflict, the shattering of civilian villages and infrastructure, etc are justified and even smart at the tactical level, the strategic level, and the grand strategic level, and how it can all be legal too. It’s logical and reasoned and stemming from contemporary law.

That’s not to say that Bad Things didn’t happen or mistakes were not made, because they most obviously did. Nor am I saying that moments of spite and hatred did not over come some of the Israeli troops, because it most obviously did in instances like blowing up 6 or so gas stations hours before the cease fire went into effect or attacking fleeing columns of civilians flying white flags from their cars.

Why this new paradigm is wrong, ultimately, is because things really do come down, both philosophically and legally, to asking hard questions that may leave us feeling dirty and unfulfilled with the answers. Questions like: What was the injury Israel was seeking to redress? Was it simply the recovery of a few soldiers? Nah Brah. It was the semi-state of Hezbo being at war with Israel that was being redressed. (see the above block quote) Other questions like: ‘What is truly Just and how much is that going to cost?’, and ‘What is the military necessary action to secure that Justice and what suffering will that cause?’, or ‘What does the law REALLY say I can and cannot do to achieve my goal of protecting my citizens from harm by insurgents/guerrillas/terrorists originating outside my territory?’ It does not attempt to ask these questions and totally forgoes anything remotely close to answering them. It just wallows in anger and sadness over the death of innocent people without checking to see what the scales of Justice show on the matter.

It became a question of military necessity to succeed in war aims to attack into civilian areas to attain the redress of injury which wasn’t just the ‘kidnap’ of some Israeli soldiers since the quasi state status of Hezbo makes such an act of war and not just a simple kidnap for ransom or PR snuff film event. A pseudo-state declared war on a state. It conducted war like operations, like lobbing missiles and killing or capturing POWs. If Hezbollah were simply a terrorist organization and not a quasi state something on the order of SOF hit squads would be the order of the day and not a full fledged conventional invasion. The doctrine of dual effect was definitely in effect in Israel’s actions when they attacked and effectively mined civilian areas.

Given that the quasi-state aspect what is the response to state like war actions supposed to look like? When we were at war with Hitler’s Germany we tore the heart of a city like Metz and in the course of fighting saw cities like Bastone turned to rubble piles. And it was legal then because it was state level war. It became exactly that because Hezbollah played lawfare and became a semi-state level power.

What’s the redress of Israel’s injury from missile attacks supposed to look like given that, legally, they were attacked by a nation state?

Tactically, guerillas aren't stupid you know. Plaster someplace with HE they'll just come back and use the place again, and again, and again. That’s lawfare, the perversion of the rules, caused game of whack a mole instead of allowing a party to end the threat and create a Better Peace. An unfair handcuffing of someone simply because they are The Strong fighting The Weak. Geneva makes no provisions about ensuring that those we think are the good guys or empathize with win. It just speaks to finding out who fought with poisoned arrows and who did not.

So it fell to military necessity, and misguided feel good initiatives, that innocents should die to protect yet more innocents. Create a mine field or otherwise deny access to missile firing sites and rallying points and arms storage sites to the military of quasi-legitimate Hezbollah. It came to ‘boots in the mud’ holding territory from which the enemy would attack into your territory from---whether Lebanon was able to deal with them and failed to or not it was legal.

So it fell, as a legal right, to Israel to attack with a swift and hard sword to crush the civilian areas that Hezbollah hides in because Lebanon could not and the civilians either could not or would not stop Hezbollah or rat them out to protect its own citizenry---the reason de etre for any nation state to exist.

That’s a sad and lamentable condition, but also reality and consonant with the Geneva Conventions to boot.

So, yeah, I shed a tear for poor little girl’s blown to bits or rent by the war on the Lebanese side. I shed more than a few. Yet, I’m not going to give in to sheer animal empathy, beat my breast, hang my head in shame for supporting Israel in this fight, and ignore that Justice, true Justice, was only going to come about in this mode.. There is both rhyme and reason in this. It is stark. It is terrible. It is very uncomfortable. It does not make it easier for me to get to sleep at night, does not allow me to ignore the deaths of innocents, or to look myself squarely in the mirror. But it is there.

Still here? Good on yaz! Well done, Ry. Now let's see how many people read through to the end *and* have something to say about it.