July 24, 2006

On civilian casualties1

For as long as I've known George, I have listened to his opinions on the Middle East, and often, I defer to them. He certainly has the expertise. I do have one minor point in regards to his post last week about the most recent conflict in the region. George declares, that Israel does not target civilians. I agree. But my question is this: does that fact absolve Israel of its conduct in Lebanon? Whether the Israeli army is targeting civilians or not, they are certainly hitting them. Simply not trying to hit civilians does not absolve any state actor of collateral damage. There are many ways, one can rationalize civilian casualties. Perhaps the state actor could only reach enemy combatants by hitting targets that also house or serve noncombatants. Perhaps the number of civilians killed is outweighed by the peace gained. Perhaps, as Thomas Schelling observed, civilians are no longer on the periphery, but rather, at the heart of the battlefield, and as a result, it is more and more difficult to ensure their safety.Yet, the question remains: Is a state actor immune from condemnation if civilians are killed, but not intentionally so? There is little room for ethical conduct in war. But if there is any space for ethics, it must be in the need for humane treatment of non-combatants. It appears that in this case, intention, while relevant, is not determinative.