Mar 1, 2006

War Crimes and Apologists

ne of the most savage aspects of modern warfare must surely be aerial bombardment of cities, with the consequent loss of civilian life. This feature of modern war is another reason to doubt the myth of progress. Pre-modern wars were fought by soldiers, more or less face to face. Civilian casualties were few. Nowadays, civilian casualties often out-number military ones. Example - Iraq.

A disturbing part of this is the moral blind-spot towards bombing. We've seen it in all recent wars; Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan. Civilian infrastructure like dams and bridges are routinely destroyed, with no regard for casualties, which are dismissed with the demeaning euphemism "collateral damage." In Serbia, the US bombed a civilian radio station, in Iraq a water treatment plant. And this doesn't address all the people killed in accidental misses; smart bombs are just hype, they can't be properly targeted from the altitudes routinely flown. How this is morally better than terrorism is beyond me.

It's a cowardly form of warfare, when you get down to it. The military "exports" the risk to the hapless civilians, whom their propaganda claims to be "liberating." An ugly business.

There were attempts to outlaw aerial bombardment of civilian centres. The League of Nations passed a unanimous resolution to this effect in 1938. Fat lot of good that did.

We won't advance morally as a species until we face our history squarely. For instance, consider the fire-bombing of Dresden during the closing days of WW2. (Something I've written about before.) There remains a strange reluctance to admit that the Allies were capable of committing atrocities too.

A recent article by Deborah Lipstadt is a case study of this moral blindness. She makes a big issue out of disputed numbers; as if 25,000 (her lower estimate) were okay. Lipstadt details some things that might have been military targets in Dresden; most importantly the railyards through which the Germans were moving troops. The bombing of Dresden was not a limited strike at such targets, but the systematic and deliberate destruction by fire (the literal meaning of holocaust) of an entire city. No where does she explain why it was necessary to fire-bomb the town itself. In fact, she doesn't address the use of incendaries at all.

The first step towards a truly sane and peaceful world is to address the moral issues without prejudice. So long as we justify atrocities committed by "the good guys" we are going to go on committing them.


Robert said...

"War is the mobilisation of large numbers of people to violence. It legitimises and legalises violence." Dalai Lama in the LIP Magazine

Phil K said...

Meditation centres where people learn to confront their own conditioned neuroses and heal themselves of them are one way to address this miasma. Civil disobedience, in the extreme case, or other compassionate action in the world, is another.

The path of withdrawal and return can be a way out of the violent totalitarian state, which nevertheless extracts a toll. When it acts as a collective manifestation of ego, the state exhibits all the insanity of its members. The Tao and the I Ching would both suggest making energetic progress in wholesome endeavors, while also not compromising in the slightest with the opposite. Skillful work with duality is needed in the world, as well as the transcencendence of the religious.

Rod said...

War is good business. Whether the US wins or loses, for the Halliburtons, Bechtels, and other defence contractors it will all have been a great success.

When you live in a country where the leadership is available to the highest bidder what else would you expect? As for those who paid dearly for this fiasco, mesmerized by ideas of patriotism and democracy, what did they expect?

A clan of money freaks got hold of the key to the treasury, and whether it is the war in Iraq or looking after their own Katrina refugees, they just have to keep on talking while they fill up their pockets. The real war crime for these people will be when it all stops and someone else gets the key.