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June 25, 2002

Moral Clarity on Terrorism?

Maxspeak is spending the week trying to find moral clarity among the WarBloggers. I wish him luck. But while I think the Hamas bombers are in de facto alliance with the Likud in destroying the peace process, I don't really buy Max's hopes to find any moral distinction between the "collateral" murders of Palestinians and the "targetted" murders of Israelis. Both are in the most obvious sense acts of terror, meant to destroy the will of the whole opposing population to resist.
...One of the deep dilemmas of democratic nations is that the easy distinction between "civilians" and "soldiers" is harder to maintain, where universal drafts makes every person a reserve soldier. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict just highlights this issue, since Israel not only has one of the most complete requirements of military service (except for the often war-mongering Yeshiva students) but Israelis are still treated as reservists when they leave. In this conflict on the Palestinian side, it is just as hard to make the distinction since Israelis face the least likelihood of death from the official soldiers of the Fatah, but a young kid could be the next suicide bomber or sniper.
...And the people ordering the murders on both sides are not necessarily wearing khakis-- and the broad "civilian" populations of each side are supporting both morally and materially the murders on each side.
...So who "deserves" to die in such a situation? Ultimately, I think Gandhian non-violence is usually the best approach to conflict, but when justice seems to call for violence I end up at the opposite Shermanesque point, that war should be so horrible that no one would come to love it. "Rules of war" tend to be an attempt to sanitize conflict to maintain the political support to keep it going-- that was the original purpose of "just war" in the Middle Ages.
...We live in a world where out of greed we deny medicine and food to starving children all over the world; literally millions die each year due to that greed and coercion that prevents poor countries from violating the patents of pharmaceutical companies. Trying to impose fine distinctions between unjustified "targetted" and justified "collateral" deaths on those suffering injustice in such a world just seems a sadly laughable exercise.
...Death is death, tragic and final, and even sorting out "innocence" is so drenched in the ideology of the conflicts leading to the deaths that most discussions of means are really pre-judgements of the morality of the ends.

Posted by Nathan at June 25, 2002 02:38 PM


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