July 21, 2006


War Fair: THE ETHICS OF BATTLE (Michael Walzer, 07.19.06, New Republic)

It is an important principle of just war theory that justice, though it rules out many ways of fighting, cannot rule out fighting itself--since fighting is sometimes morally and politically necessary. A military response to the capture of the three Israeli soldiers wasn't, literally, necessary; in the past, Israel has negotiated instead of fighting and then exchanged prisoners. But, since Hamas and Hezbollah describe the captures as legitimate military operations--acts of war--they can hardly claim that further acts of war, in response, are illegitimate. The further acts have to be proportional, but Israel's goal is to prevent future raids, as well as to rescue the soldiers, so proportionality must be measured not only against what Hamas and Hezbollah have already done, but also against what they are (and what they say they are) trying to do.

The most important Israeli goal in both the north and the south is to prevent rocket attacks on its civilian population, and, here, its response clearly meets the requirements of necessity. The first purpose of any state is to defend the lives of its citizens; no state can tolerate random rocket attacks on its cities and towns. Some 700 rockets have been fired from northern Gaza since the Israeli withdrawal a year ago--imagine the U.S. response if a similar number were fired at Buffalo and Detroit from some Canadian no-man's-land. It doesn't matter that, so far, the Gazan rockets have done minimal damage; the intention every time one is fired is to hit a home or a school, and, sooner or later, that intention will be realized. Israel has waited a long time for the Palestinian Authority and the Lebanese government to deal with the rocket fire from Gaza and the rocket build-up on the Lebanese border. In the latter case, it has also waited for the United Nations, which has a force in southern Lebanon that is mandated to "restore international peace and security" but has nonetheless watched the positioning of thousands of rockets and has done nothing. A couple of years ago, the Security Council passed a resolution calling for the disarming of Hezbollah; its troops, presumably, have noticed that this didn't happen. Now Israel has rightly decided that it has no choice except to take out the rockets itself. But, again, how can it do that?

The crucial argument is about the Palestinian use of civilians as shields. Academic philosophers have written at great length about "innocent shields," since these radically exploited (but sometimes, perhaps, compliant) men and women pose a dilemma that tests the philosophers' dialectical skills. Israeli soldiers are not required to have dialectical skills, but, on the one hand, they are expected to do everything they can to prevent civilian deaths, and, on the other hand, they are expected to fight against an enemy that hides behind civilians. So (to quote a famous line from Trotsky), they may not be interested in the dialectic, but the dialectic is interested in them.

There is no neat solution to their dilemma. When Palestinian militants launch rocket attacks from civilian areas, they are themselves responsible--and no one else is--for the civilian deaths caused by Israeli counterfire. But (the dialectical argument continues) Israeli soldiers are required to aim as precisely as they can at the militants, to take risks in order to do that, and to call off counterattacks that would kill large numbers of civilians. That last requirement means that, sometimes, the Palestinian use of civilian shields, though it is a cruel and immoral way of fighting, is also an effective way of fighting. It works, because it is both morally right and politically intelligent for the Israelis to minimize--and to be seen trying to minimize--civilian casualties. Still, minimizing does not mean avoiding entirely: Civilians will suffer so long as no one on the Palestinian side (or the Lebanese side) takes action to stop rocket attacks. From that side, though not from the Israeli side, what needs to be done could probably be done without harm to civilians. [...]

Until there is an effective Lebanese army and a Palestinian government that believes in co-existence, Israel is entitled to act, within the dialectical limits, on its own behalf.

Too bad we couldn't get Mr. Walzer for yesterday's discussion, but we were fortunate enough to get to use one of his essays in the book.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 21, 2006 12:55 PM

I concur with Walzer's LoW analysis. Israel's actions have met the requirements on proportionality and military necessity.

The stunning brilliance or our alliance with Israel is thus brought home.

Posted by: Lou Gots at July 21, 2006 2:08 PM

I concur with Walzer's LoW analysis. Israel's actions have met the requirements on proportionality and military necessity.

The stunning brilliance or our alliance with Israel is thus brought home.

Posted by: Lou Gots at July 21, 2006 2:09 PM

Could someone explain where this "proportionality" argument came from? It doesn't seem to have existed until the rise of the USA as a global hegemon. And if you do that, could you explain why any nation at war should give it the slightest consideration? Isn't that one of the big reasons the conflict in Vietnam dragged on so long?

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at July 21, 2006 3:22 PM

AOG, good question. I wonder if the anti-war crowd has squeeled so long and hard they may be making a difference? I also wonder where the situation would be now if Sharon were in charge.

One thing is for certain. The US and it's close allies are monthly being curtailed on how to conduct war. The opposition doesn't seem to be affected though. What's next, rubber bullets for the US and it's allies? After that maybe we can count coup like the American Indians did.

Posted by: Tom Wall at July 21, 2006 4:04 PM

Sorry to be too busy to give chapter and verse and dates of particular conventions--maybe later. Sources may be found at http://www.icrc.org/ihl.nsf/TOPICS?OpenView

The concept of proportionality in the LoW arises in connection with collateral damage to protected persons and places. Military necessity may allow a party to incidentially harm these absent a primary intention to do so, but such damage must be proportionate to the necessity.

The life of the law is experience and the LoW is no different. Experience tells us that the real war crime is losing.

Posted by: Lou Gots at July 21, 2006 8:16 PM

Ah so des ka...

I was about to write a post about that very thing and now I see that I was correct. "Proportionality" in the LoW is about the military means and ends of a particular side (which with I agree) while the current re-defined meaning is about comparing the military ends of the various parties to the conflict. So in the end it's another NewSpeak effort by the tranzis.

I.e., the LoW says "if the Israelis want to do X, it is disproportionate to use means Y to do that" where as the meaning as used by the caliphascist fellow travelers is "the Israelis shouldn't want to do X because Hizballah didn't do Y". Not quite the same thing.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at July 21, 2006 8:30 PM

A little known story as to WHO did what to start the massacre:

Ive been reading in the antiwar sites and at a rally
that i attended in Canberra Australia, Saturday, that
the War on Lebanon was caused by Hizbollah entering
Israel and capturing two israeli soldiers...

In fact some little known articles from July 12 and
onward paint a very different picture.
Earlier news items are quiet clear as to the events.
Mike Rivero of www.whatreallyhappened.com has
collected a few of these:

A sample:
'The Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah movement announced on
Wednesday that its guerrillas have captured two
Israeli soldiers IN southern Lebanon. "Implementing
our promise to free Arab prisoners in Israeli jails,
our strugglers have captured two Israeli soldiers in
southern Lebanon," a statement by Hezbollah said.

"The two soldiers have already been moved to a safe
place," it added. The Lebanese police said that the
two soldiers were captured as they "infiltrated" into
the town of Aitaa al-Chaab inside the Lebanese border.
[Hindustan Times 7/12/06]'

2. TRANSLATION: According to the Lebanese police
force, the two soldiers were captured in Lebanese
territory, in the area of Aïta Al-Chaab close to the
border, whereas Israeli television indicated that they
had been captured in Israeli territory. [fr.news.yahoo

Forbes.com had a piece on July 12, the day of the
'The militant group Hezbollah captured two Israeli
soldiers during clashes Wednesday across the border IN
southern Lebanon, prompting a swift reaction from
Israel, which sent ground forces into its neighbor to
look for them.

The forces were trying to keep the soldiers' captors
from moving them deeper into Lebanon, Israeli
government officials said on condition of anonymity.

The Israeli military would not confirm the report.'

Now its obvious that if the two soldiers were
captuted(not 'kidnapped' as much of the press has it,
as if soldiers are ever 'kidnapped') then Hizbolah
cant be blamed for starting the conflict. It was in
the right to capture enemy combatants invading
Lebanese territory.
In fact, this appears to be an israeli provocation
designed to serve as a cause of war...just as Israel
practised in 1967, when it sent bulldozers into
The earliest reports have Israel non-commital...but
later Reuters using Israeli sources(presmably
military) puts the incident on Israeli side of border.
That israel is the real cause, that its intentions are
as in 1982 to destroy any military opposition in
Lebanon, this information needs to be taken up,
investigated by the anti-war movement...The
'collective punishment' angle is a bit of a furfy.
I trust you appreciate the gravity of all this.

The only way to stop this war is to show that Israel,
not Hizbollah, was the source of the conflict (very
easy to do), and that at least the media stories are
in conflict and dont provide a clear cause for war.

Has the truth been fudged once again? It looks like it

Posted by: brian at July 24, 2006 3:13 AM