Comments: Is Terrorism Worse Than Collateral Damage?

Bernard,
But isn’t the “collateral damage” purposeful? A form of terrorism in itself? That civilians are purposefully targeted in modern warfare is a given. Aren’t people terrified when a warplane roars over their house and a bomb explodes maybe right next door? Is there anything worse than State terror due to its scope?

Posted by Rob Payne at July 16, 2009 01:41 AM

Rob - of course modern warfare is mostly terrorist, Bernard deals with this early on by defining terrorism in the fox news, narrow way, so as to avoid a discussion around "terrorism" semantics

Posted by Mat at July 16, 2009 03:10 AM

Bernard, interesting argument but I would maintain that your unarmed case is not terrorism, it's simply hostage-taking i.e. threatening Alice to force Bob to act. The direct causality in fact negates the whole argument. Here is terrorism: Bob's office is surrounded by security guards. You can't take them on yourself, but with enough people you could overpower them. The townspeople aren't willing to help you, so you start killing random people at regular intervals until they form an angry mob and assault Bob's office. That is using actual terror (fear of random violence) to force an entire society to act, as opposed to a quid-pro-quo (join my group or I'll kill your family). See the 1990 Nicarauguan election for a canonical example.

Posted by john at July 16, 2009 10:44 AM

P.S. Or see the Battle of Algiers. As a tactic it can only work if the underlying cause has at least some merit. More people - when forced to choose - would rather oppose their own government than continue the war. In Bob's case, the angry mob would just as likely come after you instead of Bob, unless (a) people assumed someone else would continue in your place and (b) one way or another people are dying without the antidote.

Posted by john at July 16, 2009 10:52 AM

The problem with analogies is that someone always thinks your analogy leaves out crucial factors and then they propose their own--see above.

The problem with collateral damage is largely one of bad faith and hypocrisy, as you mentioned. Assuming, of course, that one isn't a pacifist. If one isn't a pacifist, then you have to admit that even you fight the very most just war in history acutely sensitive to civilian casualties, you're still going to kill innocent civilians. The problem is that people don't take all that much care, but they want credit for having good intentions.

Take the US, which now claims it's going to cut way back on air strikes in Afghanistan in order to spare civilians. That's a tacit admission that they were doing something wrong before, but they don't admit it. And when all those air strikes had killed those civilians, they always tried to mimimize the civilian death toll and put all the blame on the Taliban. But that just made the Afghan population angry, so now they've switched to Plan B--take more care (or so we're told) not to kill civilians.

Michael Walzer, of all people, had an interesting suggestion--the "enemy" civilians should be treated with the same consideration one would give one's own countrymen. Of course in some cases that still wouldn't be sufficient, but it's a start. It's also naive to think the IDF was simply guilty of carelessness--in the case of Gaza civilian suffering was part of the point, whether the Israelis want to admit it or not.

Which, of course, is the other obvious point--often collateral damage is just another term for state terrorism.

Posted by Donald Johnson at July 16, 2009 11:14 AM

@Rob: Exactly, the killing is purposeful in both cases. So that's not the difference, you're right. My point is that the *only* difference between terrorism and collateral damage is the placement of the killing in the causal chain. It's how you set up the props. The difference is factual, not moral. (Well, there is a second-order moral element but let's skip that.)

@john: I tried to make sure this was not hostage-taking.
("It is assumed that you know everything about Alice's condition, the presence of the vial, the time needed to open the lock, etc. Your only uncertainty concerns the efficacy of the antidote.") You know that Alice will die regardless of Bob's action. No trade, no bargaining. Your goal is to kill Alice in order to terrorize Bob into doing something to your advantage. You don't negotiate anything in my story. You just kill her first. (Your scenario is certainly original. You turn against your own people to save them. Executing deserters in war time has an element of that, I guess. Very interesting.)

@donald: To his credit, Walzer had harsh words against the IDF in the last Gaza operation. But I fundamentally disagree with him about just-war theory. I believe just-war, as a theory, is a pernicious idea. (Maybe I can write another boring post to say why.)

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at July 16, 2009 11:50 AM
I tried to make sure this was not hostage-taking. You know that Alice will die regardless of Bob's action. No trade, no bargaining. Your goal is to kill Alice in order to terrorize Bob into doing something to your advantage.

This isn't clear from the presentation. If Alice is going to die anyway then there is no reason for Bob to ever open the door. The assumption is that Bob can actually save her, or at least thinks he can. That is the implcit exchange.

You turn against your own people to save them.

That's one way to look at it. Suppose the level of random violence inside Israel was such that an election was won by a party pledging to cut off support for West-Bank settlers. You could say that this was just a rational cost-benefit calculation by Joe Israeli, but if that is the case then "terrorism" is a perfectly rational strategy for Joe Palestinian.

Posted by john at July 16, 2009 12:09 PM

I believe just-war, as a theory, is a pernicious idea.

It's the moral aloe vera used to soothe the wound of a guilty conscience.

Posted by Happy Jack at July 16, 2009 12:11 PM

Collateral damage and terrorism have one thing in common--they're both marketing terms. So is one worse than the other? One what?

Is setting off a car bomb in your own country, which happens to be under occupation by a foreign army, morally superior to the nuclear annihilation of the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the firebombing of Tokyo? Hmmm, let me think, what would Kant say?


Would terrorists setting off a nuclear bomb in Manhattan be worse than soldiers shooting at Osama bin Laden but accidentally missing and hitting his brother? I better stop--I don't want the ghost of Kant to get tired!

Posted by N E at July 16, 2009 12:16 PM

Extremely good and timely post! However it's going to piss some people off.
In all of the scenarios the end is justifying the means and therefore they all lead to morally doubtful paths by Helsinki standards. We all face those situations and all, from time to time, do the immoral. Avoiding responsibility by excusing it is always bad faith.

Posted by Richard S at July 16, 2009 12:28 PM

It would be more impressive if a teacher at an Ivy League college went to basics first and defined what is "terrorism," and described from whose perspective it is so defined.

This essay fails to do that, and rides along on some flawed assumptions.

Glad I didn't waste my money at Princeton, that's all I can say here.

Posted by Juan Seis-Olla at July 16, 2009 12:39 PM

You can only make a moral distinction if you are in possession of the gun. If you don't have the gun, you can only choose to follow the path of the terrorist.

Posted by cj_n_pa at July 16, 2009 02:08 PM

While acknowledging the disclaimer in the preface that the "purpose here is not to define terrorism" (which is fortunate), I'm still trying to see where terrorism fits in at all.

Mind you, there is an undercurrent of terrorism hinted at through the poisoned water supply, although this is not made explicit, and this aspect is ultimately only background scenery.

As a further digression, I must presume that Bob is not particularly clever, since at any time he can trade rooms with Alice, or bring Alice into Room B, without endangering her and seemingly improving their circumstances (such as they are) considerably. Or is the air in Room B toxic to her as well? If so, disregard this nitpick.

In any case, for a 'rational' intruder, with the directive "you must help your town", the course of action is determined by the presence of the gun itself. The death of Alice is inevitable, with no discernable difference in moral consequence in either scenario.

The only difference is that, in the unarmed case, the intruder wishes he/she had a gun, in order to deal with the possibility that Bob may decide to stay put in Room B. That is, for lack of a gun, the intruder can only hope to coerce Bob into opening his door. While terrorism (and torture) entails coercion, the latter need not entail the former.

Posted by SunMesa at July 16, 2009 02:40 PM

Wait, I forget, which one is the doomed Homeric hero? Is Bob torturing Alice or you or logic or what?

Posted by AlanSmithee at July 16, 2009 03:10 PM

I'll be interested in the just war theory post, if you do it. A few months ago I saw some references to attacks on just war theory by other philosophers--I think this was at the Magnes Zionist blog. But I forget the names of the philosophers.

Posted by Donald Johnson at July 16, 2009 03:15 PM

Donald: The problem is that people don't take all that much care, but they want credit for having good intentions.

Bingo. Excellent point. When the U.S. says it does everything possible to protect innocent lives, it's demonstrably false. They actually mean they do everything possible to protect innocent lives so long as it doesn't interfere with political or military objectives (or even tactics), doesn't place worthwhile (American) lives or equipment at risk, doesn't require non-violent alternatives, etc, etc. After all those considerations are met, would they rather not kill civilians than kill them? Yeah, sure; it's not like they're psychopaths, after all.

The difference here between the terrorist and the collateral killer is that the terrorist acknowledges the value of the lives he's ending (in fact that's the entire premise of his actions—to say that unless his demands are met, he'll continue to take our valuable lives), whereas the collateral killer places the lowest possible value on the lives of his numberless, nameless victims.

Posted by John Caruso at July 16, 2009 03:57 PM

"The terrorist acknowledges the value of the lives he's ending . . . whereas the collateral killer places the lowest possible value on the lives of his numberless, nameless victims."

There you have it: Killing people on purpose is morally superior to killing people accidentally. QED.

Posted by N E at July 16, 2009 07:34 PM

"[t]he inverse of Evil is not Good. It really takes a lot less harm to be Evil than it takes aid to be Good. If you fix twenty people's roofs, you're Jimmy the Helpful Thatcher. But if you eat your neighbor's daughter, you're Jimmy the Cannibal - and no additional carpentry assistance will change that. This is why the Book of Exalted Deeds is such an unsatisfying read... you can't just take the material in the Book of Vile Darkness and multiply by negative one to get Good."
http://forums.gleemax.com/showthread.php?t=646241

"The Good has context, that is, part of a greater thing, with belief in a power greater than oneself, an underlying assumption that there are others and they matter. The Evil demands attention as the mostest on the scene, the important bit, what matters, the victim(s) being relatively unimportant."

Posted by I do not recommend this site at July 16, 2009 08:34 PM

OK forget the analogy - it doesn't work, and you don't need it. You define "terrorism" as killing "innocent" people to produce a result and collateral damage as killing "innocent" people as a known side effect. Your real problem here is with the word "innocent".

Intuitively like many people you want to define Bob as "guilty" and Alice as "innocent". Bob is guilty why? Because he's a bad guy? You don't believe in innocent until proven guilty now? What if your country has a ban on capital punishment?

The reality is -- and this is the position of international law -- everyone is "innocent". Every life is precious. In particular the life of a soldier, even a soldier guilty of war crimes and genocide, is not automatically worthless.

The key is not how "innocent" someone is. The key is how necessary it is to take that life. The key is whether the death is militarily necessary.

Generally in a traditional war it is often necessary to take the lives of enemy soldiers. Generally it is easy to make a claim that killing soldiers is militarily necessary whereas it is hard to argue that killing non-combatants is necessary. In asymmetric warfare those assumptions break down and to some extent even reverse. Eg. it doesn't help the occupation's military goals to kill "terrorists" and it does help the terrorists goals to kill civilians. War is not nice and deaths are inevitable but the laws of war seek to reduce excess deaths -- deaths which are not necessary within the context of war. Bonus deaths if you like. Deaths "just because". Deaths because you just hate someone or find it convenient. Deaths that go beyond even the bloody hell that is bound to happen.

Now which of the two cases, terrorism and collateral damage causes unnecessary deaths? it is collateral damage isn't it? In terrorism the death is necessary to the goals -- as you note -- and therefore the deaths are moral (at least no more immoral than the prosecution of the war itself). In collateral damage it is pointless and therefore immoral. Mostly it happens because the killers are just too lazy to aim better.

Your example actually had the death of Alice necessary in both cases, which misses the point of collateral damage which is that it is unnecessary. If by collateral damage you merely mean deaths inevitably caused in pursuit of war then ordinary soldiers' deaths are "collateral damage" too. After all the aim is to win the war and they just got killed as a side effect of the means, right? All deaths which are not the goal itself (eg genocide) are collateral.

So I say your decision that "terrorism" is worse is based on a prejudice about who constitutes "innocent". There is no innocent there is only those who you have to kill and those you don't have to kill but kill anyway.

In this sense then Alice is NOT an innocent but Bob is. There's simply no reason to kill Bob.

Incidentally you're wrong about Alice's death being murder. There's no malice involved. But that misses a bigger point. It's self-defence. Alice threatens your life by her mere existence. It's not her fault but you have to kill her or you die. You are not obliged under those circumstances to lay down your life for her, to just give up and die.

Not unless you're a muslim that is.

Posted by DavidByron at July 16, 2009 09:39 PM

It's not her fault but you have to kill her or you die. You are not obliged under those circumstances to lay down your life for her, to just give up and die.

Yeah, fuck that little girl. If it's going to be me or a crippled child, I'm gonna tear her throat out with my own teeth if I have to.

You make a very good point about the use of the word "innocent" in this context, but I think that in this context, most people define "innocent" as "not a soldier", and, if asked, would readily admit that most soldiers are "innocent" too. The idea, more or less, is that certain people choose to join the military or become terrorists or whatever, and those people are more "legitimate" targets then people who just happen to randomly be in the same area as the soldiers, either because the soldiers chose their profession or because they're somehow better prepared, or some other reason that I don't know.

I think the question of whether you SHOULD kill the little girl is immaterial to the discussion at hand, because that's where the analogy really starts to completely diverge from reality. The number of wars or terrorist actions that were self-evidently necessary for one side's survival is very, very small. People seem to see the distinction between "soldier" and "civilian" as pretty clear cut.

That's a problem, but the problem with breaking the world into the groups "people you know you have to kill to accomplish your goals" and "people who are incidental to your goals" is that you can only really do that in these kind of analogies where the guy making the analogy just says "you can see the future". In the real world, that distinction is much harder to make ahead of time.

Our army never admits to collateral damage without being forced to by a giant pile of evidence. Their premise is that they are currently killing only people who absolutely have to die. Most other militaries seem to act the same way, and I imagine most terrorist groups think the same way.

Posted by Christopher at July 16, 2009 11:40 PM

I think bombing Afghanistan to get bin Laden makes as much sense (and is as moral) as bombing Murphy, NC to get Eric Rudolph.

Posted by Susan at July 17, 2009 12:25 AM

Bernard,

If you want to find a distinction, I'd say it's the other way around, and collateral damage is the worse. Whereas conventional terrorism "admits" each death caused is a deliberate consequence, whereas the collateral damage pretext opens a Pandora's box of rationalized secondary, less-consequential deaths which are qualified as necessary for achieving a supposedly higher goal. Once you do that you are essentially introducing a "multiplier" effect, wherein a calculus of how many regrettable-but-necessary collateral deaths are permissible before the cost is too high.

In practical terms the Christmas '08 offensive against Gaza demonstrates the vileness of this approach. The IDF can say that several hundred civilian deaths are accidental but necessary, whereas if they just responded in kind and killed half a dozen Palestinians and then stopped they would have to abandon the pretext that they were simply defending Israel and not extracting vengeance, but hundreds of lives would have been spared.

Apparently disguising intentionality is more important than minimizing loss of human life. Maybe collateral damage is a perverse consequence of the confluence of international law and the human tendency to game regulations to avoid being subject to them.

(I suppose this argument roughly parallels what Caruso says above about the distinction in valuing human life between terrorism and so-called collateral damage, along with my accepting Rob Payne's assertion that collateral damage is purposeful.)

Posted by Jonathan Versen at July 17, 2009 02:47 AM

earlier I copied and pasted an incomplete version. Fortunately word processing do-overs are possible, even if they make you look a mite foolish. JV

If you want to find a distinction, I'd say it's the other way around, and collateral damage is the worse. Whereas conventional terrorism "admits" each death caused is a deliberate consequence, whereas the collateral damage pretext opens a Pandora's box of rationalized secondary, less-consequential deaths which are qualified as necessary for achieving a supposedly higher goal.

Once you do that you are essentially introducing a "multiplier" effect, wherein a calculus of how many regrettable-but-necessary collateral deaths are permissible before the cost is too high. As a practical consequence this means that most collateral damage operations will usually involve more death and encourage perpetrators to tolerate more blood on their hands-- may even give them a "pass" to kill indiscriminately. For these reasons if there is a distinction, collateral damage is the worse of the two.

The Christmas '08 offensive against Gaza demonstrates the vileness of this approach. The IDF can say that several hundred civilian deaths are accidental but necessary, whereas if they just responded in kind and killed half a dozen Palestinians and then stopped they would have to abandon the pretext that they were simply defending Israel and not extracting vengeance, but hundreds of lives would have been spared.

Apparently disguising intentionality is more important than minimizing loss of human life. Maybe collateral damage is a perverse consequence of the confluence of international law and the human tendency to game regulations to avoid being subject to them.

Posted by Jonathan Versen at July 17, 2009 03:15 AM

Thanks for the information...

Thank you very much...

___________________
Andrew
#1 Satellite Television Service Provider

Posted by Andrew at July 17, 2009 05:40 AM

There you have it: Killing people on purpose is morally superior to killing people accidentally. QED.

No, the distinction is between killing people on purpose and not giving a shit whether you kill them or not, as long as it doesn't cost much or make you look bad.

Now which one is morally superior?

Yeah, sure; it's not like they're psychopaths, after all.

Hmm... I wouldn't be too quick to say that:

Common characteristics of those with psychopathy are:

Grandiose sense of self-worth
Superficial charm
Criminal versatility
Reckless disregard for the safety of self or others
Impulse control problems
Irresponsibility
Inability to tolerate boredom
Pathological narcissism
Pathological lying
Shallow affect
Deceitfulness/manipulativeness
Aggressive or violent tendencies, repeated physical fights or assaults on others
Lack of empathy
Lack of remorse, indifferent to or rationalizes having hurt or mistreated others
A sense of extreme entitlement
Lack of or diminished levels of anxiety/nervousness and other emotions
Promiscuous sexual behavior, sexually deviant lifestyle
Poor judgment, failure to learn from experience
Lack of personal insight
Failure to follow any life plan
Abuse of drugs including alcohol
Inability to distinguish right from wrong

Posted by NomadUK at July 17, 2009 07:37 AM

"No, the distinction is between killing people on purpose and not giving a shit whether you kill them or not, as long as it doesn't cost much or make you look bad."

I agree with that. I also actually think the military command knows, as a statistical matter, that they'll kill plenty of people. On a purely personal, subjective level, I actually find the military conduct much more appalling, because it's the result of an official policy, calculating and cold-blooded, which comes close to fitting the definition of first-degree murder, whereas at least some "terrorism" is the result of moral mistakes my screwed-up, desperate, angry people, which in those instances is closer to manslaughter.

I just don't think people should do backflips to make one kind of killing of unarmed noncombatants seem morally better than another kind. There's nothing noble about killing unarmed people no matter who does it.

Posted by N E at July 17, 2009 09:05 AM

N E: I just don't think people should do backflips to make one kind of killing of unarmed noncombatants seem morally better than another kind.

The backflips were in your mind, not in my comment, and if you'd offered a serious response rather than a misguided sarcastic toss-off I'd have explained that to you. I didn't make any statement at all about which was "morally superior"; I just made what I think is an accurate observation about the worth the killers place on individual lives in each scenario. If you think that recognizing the value of the innocent life you're about to end makes the killer morally superior to someone who sees that life as secondary to logistical considerations, that's your call, but please don't put words in my mouth.

Posted by John Caruso at July 17, 2009 11:08 AM

By the way, NomadUK, thanks for explaining the point. As to the psychopathy bit, I'd absolutely agree that the institutions behave psychopathically...but I was talking about the individuals within those institutions who make the decisions that lead directly to more innocents being killed (e.g. attacking at night rather than in the daytime because it will provide better cover). There are exceptions, but I'd say that when most of them reach the end of the checklist of practical reasons why some kids need to be vaporized on this bombing run, they'd genuinely prefer to keep it to the minimum number.

Posted by John Caruso at July 17, 2009 11:27 AM

There are exceptions, but I'd say that when most of them reach the end of the checklist of practical reasons why some kids need to be vaporized on this bombing run, they'd genuinely prefer to keep it to the minimum number.

Having been through some very limited military training at one point in my meandering existence, all I can say is that the level and effectiveness of conditioning — brainwashing, really — which results in hoo-ah groupthink is astonishing and thoroughly terrifying to anyone who thinks Man is a rational beast.

I would be surprised if very many of the people involved thought very hard about the little brown dots on the ground all, except in PR terms. If it weren't for the fact that even the supine media would probably kick up a fuss, and that it would figuratively lose them some hearts and minds as opposed to literally carbonising them, they'd drop a nuke on the place and be done with it; I honestly don't think the vast majority of them care. Moreover, it would only be the people at the top, making the decision as to which group of huts to target in Friday night's video game, who would consider it at all. The grunt at the bottom, the guy at the joystick, isn't thinking about it at all; or, if he is, he's drinking it into submission later on.

Cynical? Bitter? Me?

Posted by NomadUK at July 17, 2009 12:14 PM


John Caruso:

What you wrote speaks for itself, which is why i quoted it. I didn't and don't think it deserves a more serious response than i gave it, but that's just my opinion. And it looked like you did a backflip to me, but that was also just my take.

I commiserate with you in one way: you seem to get drawn into responding. I thought you made a dumb comment. Big deal. It's not like you're hate-mongering or anything. But like i said, I get sucked into responding too, especially when i feel dared or double-dared. It must be some sort of guy thing, and i often end up feeling all dirty and icky later, especially when i figure out that maybe my argumentative strategy wasn't even so good after all.

As both Tony Soprano and Sun Tzu said, when your opponent is choleric, irritate him. For all you know, I could be yanking your chain. Hell, maybe i am yanking your chain and I'm so clueless I don't even realize it. Maye the insurance for my meds ran out. Or as Mr. Meyers might say, and in this case it carries a real irony, maybe I'm a dog yanking your chain! But i'm typing that more for myself than you, so don't be offended.

Posted by N E at July 17, 2009 12:33 PM

Your comment was just unfair snark, N E. For one thing, you chopped out part of John's comment explaining in what sense the terrorist acknowledges the value of the lives he takes--the terrorist recognizes that we value some lives and so he takes them as a form of pressure on us. I think Westerners still do the same thing, but lie to themselves or at least the public about what they are doing. The NYT has a piece today contrasting the relative prosperity in the West Bank compared to Gaza and the reporter (Bronner) even admits the reason--the US and Israel want Palestinians to favor Fatah over Hamas. Of course this is sanctions rather than bombs, but sanctions kill too.

Anyway, if you thought John was making excuses for terrorists, you could have asked him for clarification directly rather than making an attack that would make you feel justifiably "icky" later on.

Posted by Donald Johnson at July 17, 2009 01:07 PM

The idea, more or less, is that certain people choose to join the military or become terrorists or whatever, and those people are more "legitimate" targets then people who just happen to randomly be in the same area as the soldiers, either because the soldiers chose their profession or because they're somehow better prepared, or some other reason that I don't know.

I agree there is a common prejudice that somehow soldiers are more "legitimate" to kill and I dispute it both as a moral act and a legal one.

Of course often soldiers are neither volunteers nor better prepared. For example the thousands of Iraqi conscript soldiers helplessly slaughtered by being buried alive by US forces in the first US-Iraq war.

But what if they were volunteers? Is it so immoral to volunteer to defend your country that it deserves death? I don't think so.

And being better equipped might make a given attack less likely to kill a soldier than a civilian but in general people don't criticise a military tactic merely for being more efficient at killing do they? On the contrary killing efficiency is the goal and that is understood in the context of war. A military tactic will be criticised for its choice of targets though.

the problem with breaking the world into the groups "people you know you have to kill to accomplish your goals" and "people who are incidental to your goals" is that you can only really do that in these kind of analogies where the guy making the analogy just says "you can see the future". In the real world, that distinction is much harder to make ahead of time.

No that's not true. This is not a theoretical opinion. It is the position of international law and is in fact extremely pragmatic. Yes, as with many things in real life there's a judgment to be made but its the same sort of judgment we all make all the time. "Can I achieve my goals without doing this thing that I want to avoid?" A very common and pragmatic question.

Posted by DavidByron at July 17, 2009 01:08 PM

"Your comment was just unfair snark, N E. . . .
Anyway, if you thought John was making excuses for terrorists, you could have asked him for clarification directly rather than making an attack that would make you feel justifiably "icky" later on."

--DJ: Snark, i agree, but not unfair. And certainly not an 'attack' either. Nor do i think my elipsis are misleading, since the full quote by John Caruso is all of a few inches away in the comments section. (Why eat up space by quoting everything again?)

Nor do i feel at all 'icky' (let alone 'justifiably icky') about that remark. I'm fine with what i said. What would make me feel 'icky' is a long argument about it, with all sorts of clarification and reclarification without really clarifying anything until I got mad at something somebody said and lobbed a verbal grenade or two. That's what i'm tryign to avoid. I'm looking to stay in the middle ground between tediously bland argument and getting pissed off and needing a time out.

For yourself, you can accept the notion that the terrorist recognizes the value of life, but i don't consider it a serious moral position and won't treat it as such even if somebody starts quoting Habermas or Adorno. I do believe the rationales for state terrorism are just as morally flimsy, and for me personally more obnoxious because they are more calculated and cold-blooded--i.e., a policy. The rest of what you wrote seemed noncontroversial to me. But those comments weren't the remark by John Caruso that i "snarked".

Posted by N E at July 17, 2009 02:13 PM

N E: What you wrote speaks for itself, which is why i quoted it.

Misquoted, you mean, since you carefully omitted the context.

As for the rest, I take it you're indeed the "Not Exactly" from this thread, and that that exchange left you so scarred that you now feel I'm your "opponent" who has "dared" and even "double-dared" you, leaving you intent on "irritating" me with snotty comments based on misrepresentations of things I've said.

No offense, but that's really pretty sad. Maybe you should consider just letting it go.

Posted by John Caruso at July 17, 2009 02:15 PM

John Caruso:

I am indeed the former "Not Exactly." I adopted the convention of just going by NE hereabout since others consistently just typed that to refer to me anyway, and i hadn't originally intended "Not Exactly" as a permanent moniker. in fact, i hadn't intended to comment regularly; i just got sucked in for a while.

I didn't follow your link, but your remarks and tone did piss me off once, though i wasn't specifically referring to you in my comment this time. You can do all the psychology you want and toss all the insults you want--knock yourself out. I don't even have a grudge against you, though i don't look for your posts, to be sure, because i read to learn and there's a lot of ground to cover. In my reformed state of mind, i'm also trying to steer clear of wasting a bunch of my own and others' time and energy, and being rude to our host, with a whole bunch of inuendo and other crap no one cares about.

If you say something substantive that I think is snarkworthy, however, I will probably snark at it.


Posted by N E at July 17, 2009 03:20 PM

As far as I'm concerned, this is all about justice.

When our world is more or less just - governed by reasonable rules with awards and punishments doled out in a consistent manner - then terrorism (any unsanctioned violence) clearly is wrong. And when our world is unjust - then all bets are off; in an unjust world 'innocence' means nothing.

Most of us live in a nice middle-class environment that we perceive as more or less just, and that's why we're terrified by terrorism. We are 'innocent' inside our just sub-universe where there is no reason for violence.

But as long as there are people in this world who (reasonably) feel oppressed, our 'innocence' isn't worth shit. Because if there is no justice for them, if their 'innocence' doesn't protect them - why should our 'innocence' protect us? Until the application of the 'innocence' rule is consistent throughout the universe, no one can convincingly claim their 'innocence' as a right not to be attacked.

Posted by abb1 at July 17, 2009 04:24 PM

"For yourself, you can accept the notion that the terrorist recognizes the value of life,"

Okay, this is one of those irritating online arguments that one gets into when someone seems bent on misunderstanding things--I'll clarify and then abandon the thread. I think John is right that terrorists "recognize" the value of life in exactly the way he described--they recognize that, for example, Israelis value the lives of their fellow citizens (far more than they value the lives of Palestinians) and so they strike at what they value. It's a purely objective description of how terrorists might be thinking. I don't know if it's right--it seems plausible. And it has nothing to do with what I think about the morality of it all.

I've never read Adorno or Habermas and my own views of wartime morality are actually rather stodgy and conventional, along the lines that you find underlining the recent Amnesty International report on the Gaza War, for instance, which was critical of both sides (though much more so of the Israelis since they committed the bulk of the war crimes).

The issue DavidByron raised is interesting--that the soldier/civilian distinction isn't morally clearcut--and I think that's one of the points that philosophers who criticize just war theory have made. But I wouldn't go so far as to say that this means in asymmetrical warfare it might be legit to target civilians if that will reduce the total number of lives lost. I think it's better to keep the taboos we have in place and just point out (as David effectively does) that one can make a case for saying that so-called collateral damage deaths might actually be worse.

The one good thing about the collateral damage argument is that I think it probably has made warfare by Western powers less bloody than it might otherwise have been. Some decades back we'd have carpet-bombed most of Iraq and Afghanistan. Back in 1982 when the Israelis invaded Lebanon they killed something like 10-20,000. Nowadays, brutal as they are, they still feel pressured into killing less (around 1000 or so) in their last two wars.

Posted by Donald Johnson at July 17, 2009 04:28 PM

I didn't just argue that the "terrorist" killing was not as bad, I argued that it might not be immoral or illegal at all, whereas collateral damage is both.

Again in the example, killing Alice is self-defence. There's no duty on you to sacrifice your own life so someone else can live.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that this means in asymmetrical warfare it might be legit to target civilians if that will reduce the total number of lives lost

Well self-defence is a rights argument not a utilitarian argument as you seem to be putting forward there. I have a right to preserve my life by taking yours if it is down to a you or me situation. Your malice is irrelevant. You might be unaware of the danger I am in. Even if I have to kill two of you to save me. It is not a numbers game.

An occupied people have the right to fight for their freedom. That's not based on the foreign military occupation killing more people than a free state. It's based on recognising that freedom is more important than lives sometimes.

If the cost of that freedom is killing a bunch of Israelis so be it. That is a moral and legal position. It's not a lesser evil, its not an evil at all. Of course that's not to say it isn't regrettable but its not more regrettable than if an equal number of soldiers had had to die (on either side).

Naturally if you are a total pacifist you deny that political freedom for a nation or personal safety is sufficient justification for killing others. But if you are not a total pacifist that's the equation you are agreeing to.

Posted by DavidByron at July 17, 2009 04:56 PM

DJ:

"bent on misunderstanding"--I maybe was not trying as hard as you'd like to think about that. i'll give you that.

"The one good thing about the collateral damage argument is that I think it probably has made warfare by Western powers less bloody than it might otherwise have been. . . . Nowadays, brutal as they are, they still feel pressured into killing less (around 1000 or so) in their last two wars."

I basically agree with that. Public opposition to mass violence is always a plus so that the crazies in power don't kill by the millions, as they have in the past when that was necessary. But the "when that was necessary" qualification is important. Even the Nazis weren't always brutal when they didn't think they needed to be, and especially when they thought it was against their interests. That changed as circumstances changed.

The long-term key, as it always has been, is making violence by states against their interests. Terrorism doesn't do that at all, so i don't spend a whole lot of time thinking about its morality or immorality. In addition to being immoral, I think terrorism is stupid. I'd even say it's predominantly stupid. I even think terrorism gets faked a lot by states so they have a justification for doing what they want to do. I suspect this is fairly commonplace. This is not a minor flaw with the strategy of terrorists themselves--they're basically doing what the hardliners who oppose them want them to do. hell, sometimes it seems that terrorists even take on side jobs as provocateurs.

What would make actually make aggressive war against the interests of offending states and maybe change this appalling state of affairs?

I think Woodrow Wilson was barking up the right tree with his view of an international system with real enforcement powers. But that makes our many jingoes go nuts, as it always has. It isn't close to being on the horizon right now in an effective way. So we have the same realpolitik we always has, with the military constrained only by how much the public will tolerate before voting the hawks out of power.

That isn't a brake I trust. It hasn't held in the past, and though I hope it holds when things really get scarey in the future, I am skeptical. If the military decides it needs to wratchet up the violence to complete saturation bombing and annihilation of the population of whole areas of asia or south america, I don't feel sure public outrage would survive a PR campaign about how necessary all that killing was for some phony reason of self defense. When it isn't possible to call the slaughter "collateral damage," there's always something else to call it. Just look how nicely Iraq has worked out for the hawks. We're there, we've got the bases, i'm sure we're staying long term at at least the bigger bases notwithstanding what you hear, and our population thinks we've learned some sort of lesson, which shows them that our system works, at least kinda sorta.

As for Israel, I don't know what they're going to do down the road. I just don't have enough knowledge to know. Maybe they'll continue to be bad but not as bad as they could be or even used to be, but maybe they'll get worse as they need to and as their population increasingly loses empathy. I wasn't encouraged by this very thoughtful peace by someone who does know a lot about that. http://www.bostonreview.net/BR34.4/cobban.php.

And i've been reading the wise Gershom Gorenberg, and that isn't making me hopeful either.

Posted by N E at July 17, 2009 06:00 PM

"The IDF can say that several hundred civilian deaths are accidental but necessary, whereas if they just responded in kind and killed half a dozen Palestinians and then stopped they would have to abandon the pretext that they were simply defending Israel and not extracting vengeance, but hundreds of lives would have been spared."

I think that's an extremely smart observation, but it doesn't make the act of killing people "unintentionally" as collateral damage morally worse than the terrorist act of intentionally killing people; it makes the concept of collateral damage pernicious.

Massive and disproportionate violence in response to terrorism is of course immoral. If somebody shoots your brother, it's not ok to obliterate his home town, killing many of the residents in the process.

But bystanders getting killed in a shoot-out is somethign else again, and i just can't quite understand how in the ordinary sense that's morally worse than blowing somebody up intentionally.

Posted by N E at July 17, 2009 06:55 PM

"But as long as there are people in this world who (reasonably) feel oppressed, our 'innocence' isn't worth shit. Because if there is no justice for them, if their 'innocence' doesn't protect them - why should our 'innocence' protect us? Until the application of the 'innocence' rule is consistent throughout the universe, no one can convincingly claim their 'innocence' as a right not to be attacked."

Rarely does someone put forward an argument so candidly, and that certainly is a stunning argument. It is not, however, an argument that leads to a progressive or just outcome. If that view ultimately prevails, the result will be unparalleled slaughter of those without power by those with power. As Emma Goldman used to say, if you pick up the sword, you hand it to your enemies.

of course, if the powerful will stand idly by while the powerless kill them, maybe it will work out.

Posted by N E at July 17, 2009 07:11 PM

"But as long as there are people in this world who (reasonably) feel oppressed, our 'innocence' isn't worth shit. Because if there is no justice for them, if their 'innocence' doesn't protect them - why should our 'innocence' protect us? Until the application of the 'innocence' rule is consistent throughout the universe, no one can convincingly claim their 'innocence' as a right not to be attacked."

Rarely does someone put forward an argument so candidly, and that certainly is a stunning argument. It is not, however, an argument that leads to a progressive or just outcome. If that view ultimately prevails, the result will be unparalleled slaughter of those without power by those with power. As Emma Goldman used to say, if you pick up the sword, you hand it to your enemies.

of course, if the powerful will stand idly by while the powerless kill them, maybe it will work out.

Posted by N E at July 17, 2009 07:11 PM

Vis-à-vis "Whats Worse?"

Maybe I'm crazy, but counting the bodies (physically and spiritually) works for me.

Intent, ideology, political situations, motivations... ok sure, context is great. How many dead, crushed and maimed again?

Posted by BenP at July 17, 2009 09:24 PM
(Maybe I can write another boring post to say why.)

But this is unresolved.

A long time ago you indicated that you'd do some posts on game theory and the real world. Why not now?

For myself, I can assure you that once it's demonstrated mathematically, it's pointless to argue morality.

Posted by angryman@24:10 at July 17, 2009 09:43 PM

Why eat up space...?

...i'm also trying to steer clear of wasting a bunch of my own and others' time and energy...
—N E

Needs work.

Posted by Save the Oocytes at July 17, 2009 09:46 PM

To be fair, you do say a lot of worthwhile things. It's just that you need to filter your responses... or something.

Posted by Save the Oocytes at July 17, 2009 10:22 PM

http://www.newsweek.com/id/206021
"The Israel Project's 2009 Global Language Dictionary"

'There is NEVER, EVER, any justification for the deliberate slaughter of innocent women and children. NEVER. The primary Palestinian public relations goal is to demonstrate that the so-called “hopelessness of the oppressed Palestinians” is what causes them to go out and kill children. This must be challenged immediately, aggressively, and directly. “We may disagree about politics and we may disagree about economics. But there is one fundamental principle that all peoples from all parts of the globe will agree on: civilized people do not target innocent women and children for death.”

Key word: civilized, presumably Palestinians are not civilized, mere savages and barbarians. As such hunting season is open, for past 60 years. Wondering, how this Orwellian double-speak is fitting into algorithm/scenario of the article?

Since the "humans" has written this "Dictionary" maybe we need help of artificial intelligence to solve this: who's is civilized.

In meantime REAL civilized are having fun with...
"so-called hopeless of the oppressed Palestinians”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=210H8wavqbc&feature=player_embedded

Posted by Anon45 at July 17, 2009 11:17 PM

NE--

I agree with much of what you say in your latest posts. In particular, I can sympathise with oppressed people who might think along the lines that abb1 outlined, but like you, I don't think it'll likely lead to a good result. The sort of people who are willing to kill children for a just cause probably aren't the sort you should be willing to trust to help build a just society after the war is over.

Posted by Donald Johnson at July 17, 2009 11:57 PM

Save the Oocytes:

"Needs work."

THAT really is funny. And thanks for adding that not everything I say is self-indulgent crap!

Posted by N E at July 18, 2009 01:34 AM

Oppressed people (and those disturbed by their suffering) will think along these lines whether we like it or not; I don't think there is any other line for them to think.

The important thing is that we - people living quietly in our nice sub-universe - realize that our niceness means nothing, absolutely nothing - and for a good reason - to people, perhaps, just on the other side of town, let along thousands of miles away. That every injustice done to them is a danger to us. Things may change when a large enough number of us realize it.

Posted by abb1 at July 18, 2009 03:21 AM

So Abb1, how should we have responded to 9/11? I agree invading Afghanistan was a poor idea,but would you also consider bringing Bin Laden and those responsible for planning the attack to the world court unfair?

Posted by Jenny at July 18, 2009 04:31 PM

Well, this is a discussion about general framing; I don't know what the best response to any particular incident would be. The most just and consistent, I suppose.

Posted by abb1 at July 18, 2009 05:12 PM

"would you also consider bringing Bin Laden and those responsible for planning the attack to the world court unfair"

i and many other people would love to watch the trial of "those responsible for planning the attack," and even better a trial of bin laden, but i feel pretty sure that show will not be coming to your local world court theater anytime soon

Posted by N E at July 18, 2009 06:27 PM

one good thing about the collateral damage argument is that I think it probably has made warfare by Western powers less bloody

Oddly I figured the exact opposite but I might be thinking over a longer period of time. Since the invention of the airplane and for a long time it seemed like the number of people killed by that invention increased by a factor of x 10 every decade up to World War 2. Very roughly. Those deaths of course are/were "collateral damage".

Theoretically bombing is a clear violation of the laws of war because by its nature it needlessly kills so many people, but military powers have used it more and more until its use has become mundane. Even now Hiroshima is far more famous than the firebombing of Tokyo that killed more people for example. Terrorist attacks on the whole are a lot more precise and targeted than conventional attacks by US forces say.

This is not just an accident. Conventional armies cause these deaths because of policy. It needn't have been that way. The numbers do tell. Terrorism kills less because it is more moral, more targeted. The soldiers who commit "terrorist" acts get close to their victims on the whole. We could imagine a history of the 20th century where the criminality of bombing was upheld and military technology went in another direction that targeted its killing as precisely as terrorists do. The deaths are not due to merely the size of the operations performed by professional armies over the amateurs.

Terrorists could go the same way but have chosen not to (because of the politics of terror they have to maintain a higher moral stance than professional armies since they are held accountable by the people and armies are not). Terrorists could try to maximise deaths of "innocents". They do not. The military either does or is simply uninterested in whether "innocents" are killed or not.

Well I shouldn't generalise too much. That's true of the US forces. For other nations I am not sure. It's also not true when the military deals with its own citizens I think. To be fair since terrorists are usually always dealing with their own citizens, or at least active within their own countries, they have to be more careful about image for that reason.

Posted by DavidByron at July 18, 2009 07:11 PM

I was thinking of the last few decades, David and gave examples of what I meant--Israel in 1982 vs. 2006 and 2009, America in Southeast Asia vs. Iraq and Afghanistan. In both comparisons the Western bombing was on a larger scale and more indiscriminate in the earlier war. I assume human rights pressure played a role here--not that the governments became less bloodthirsty.

Posted by Donald Johnson at July 19, 2009 12:02 AM

"America in Southeast Asia vs. Iraq and Afghanistan." . . . "the Western bombing was on a larger scale and more indiscriminate in the earlier war"


Hmmm. I guess that's right, but I'd bet the fatalities in Iraq are by now well over a million, based on the Lancet numbers from several years ago. That's still pretty substantial anywhere, and especially in a country of 30 million.

Posted by N E at July 19, 2009 12:29 AM

David, also interesting that during the period when militaries were conscripted (i.e. comprised mostly of "innocents"), soldiers were inevitably viewed as cannon fodder and treated accordingly. But as soon as developed states converted their armies to volunteer (i.e. "guilty", deserving to die) man-power, the soldiers immediately became heroes whose life must be protected by all means necessary. Ironic, isn't it?

Posted by abb1 at July 19, 2009 04:43 AM

abb,the reason I brought up 9/11 was due to what you said about terrorism happening due to injustice and about the middle class' percieved innocence. Thus I asked whethe rshould Bin laden and friends be prosecuted since couldn't it be argued they were acting in self-defense caused by injustice?

Posted by Jenny at July 19, 2009 05:20 PM

But I'm not saying that terrorists are necessarily acting in self-defense. All I'm saying is that where there's institutionalized injustice for some you can't demand justice for somebody else. In this situation you have to accept that this particular universe at this particular time is not just; 'innocence' does not imply any immunity against violence.

Posted by abb1 at July 19, 2009 06:31 PM

There is no difference. War is the rich man's terrorism, terrorism is the poor man's war.

The only question to be answered is: Who initiated violence?

Posted by Bill Jones at July 19, 2009 07:50 PM

Bill Jones: EXACTLY!

Posted by Mike Meyer at July 20, 2009 01:41 PM

"In The Moral Intelligence of Children (1997) Robert Coles reminds his reader, as a young woman student of his at Harvard forcefully reminded him, that there is a vast difference between moral reasoning and moral behavior, between getting an A in courses in moral philosophy and treating people with decency, kindness and respect. As Coles's student made clear, it is all too easy for intellectuals, particularly in an academic world where spirituality is seldom discussed and morality may be reduced to philosophical conceptualizations, to subsitute talk for substance."

link to the above: http://www.stephanietolan.com/spirituality.htm

Sounds to me like something Prof Chazelle would do well to take seriously. I mean, for all his e-chatter about morality, he sure finds it easy to justify immoral behavior by suggesting it's acceptable, as long as it's practiced by those who have high moral aims. Right Bernie?

Prattle on about what's moral, what's terrorism, what's torture, what's murder... but never make real distinctions. Why do that? It may actually require Bernie to be a human, instead of an exalted Ivy Prof.

Posted by Juan Seis-Olla at July 20, 2009 09:08 PM

Huh?

Posted by N E at July 21, 2009 12:13 PM

In the case of US bombardement in Afghanistan and Irak, the so-called "collateral damage" is the "collateral damage" of terrorist operations: the dropping of bombs on a nation which didn't attack the US. So we have the evil of both: the bomb targets a "terrorism suspect", which in itself is terrorism, and kills a lot of other people. Collateral damage is double terrorism !

Posted by christian at July 21, 2009 04:25 PM

The distinction is one of intent, hence recognizable by Kantian ethics. The drone pilot targeting the Taliban house foresees that noncombatants will be killed, but doesn't intend it: he could accomplish his mission just as well if all the neighbors were on vacation, and wishes it were so, but since that is not the case, achieving the justifiable goal entails the inevitable killing of innocents. The terrorist intends the killing of noncombatants: his goal cannot be achieved otherwise.

There are several consequentialist counters to this distinction. One is offered by BenP: count the bodies. Another is to say that calling the foreseeable consequences of a deliberate action "unintended" is nonsense. Another is to point out that the terrorist has the same refuge as the drone pilot: His intention is to terrify the populace by setting off a bomb in a crowded cafe, and if his goal could be accomplished with no one being injured, he would prefer that. The drone pilot's justification looks just as absurd from this point of view.

I agree with Bernard that, in nearly all cases, as with all of just-war theory, these distinctions outside of purely philosophical discussion are the perpetrators' attempts to avoid responsibility for their crimes.

Posted by Jim Anderson at July 23, 2009 03:40 AM