Monday, April 7, 2003

My response to some comments in the civilian casualties thread:

Ed Graham wonders:

perhaps I misunderstood you but you seem to dismiss any discussion of the "moral calculus" as an empty, perhaps even cynical exercise but then you ask why "accidential civilian casualties are not an argument against war." Well, because such casualties are one consideration but not the only consideration. They are one variable in the "moral calculus..

I'm not dismissive. I really don't understand what the value the variable called "civilian casualties" holds in this calculus. And I'm not being flip here. I really don't. No one gets specific about it except to say: "good (or just) cause" = civilian casualties are acceptable.

That just doesn't do it for me. It doesn't clarify.

After all, was this not the thinking of those who did this? (LA Times LRR)

At high noon on March 12, 1945, just eight weeks before the capitulation of Germany to the Allied forces, 1,000 American planes attacked the city of Swinemuende on the Baltic coast of Germany. The city, crammed with refugees from eastern Germany who had been ethnically cleansed and systematically raped by the Red Army, was bombed mercilessly and sprayed by machine gun fire from American dive bombers, which chased people through the city.

Of the city's 25,000 civilians, 23,000 were killed that night.

A similar fate befell the city of Wurzburg just four days later, when 225 Lancaster bombers dispatched by British bomber command dropped 1,100 tons of bombs. The city -- a bishop's seat in southern Germany, one of the jewels of European rococo style -- was destroyed by flames in 17 minutes. Although the end of the war was imminent, 6,000 civilians were killed that night.

This was more than "shock and awe": This was the final months of the relentless, five-year Allied bombing campaign that took civilian deaths to their apex -- bombing, burning, incinerating the cities of Germany in a round-the-clock effort to destroy morale, foment insurrection and weaken the industrial heart and soul of Adolf Hitler's war machine.

This was no Iraq. Despite comparisons made in recent days between the bombing of German cities and the "shock and awe" bombing of Baghdad, this was actually the opposite. Instead of seeking to avoid civilian casualties as they are doing today, the Americans and British in the 1940s sought to maximize them.

Forty-five thousand people were killed in Hamburg during the air attacks; 50,000 in Dresden, 12,000 in Berlin, 10,000 in Kassel, 5,500 in Frankfurt and so on. In Pforzheim, a city of 63,000, one-third of the population was incinerated in one night in February 1945, even as the war was coming to a close.

Night after night after night, entire cities were lighted on fire, like a nonnuclear version of Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

Never before in modern history had a civilian population endured such a military assault. One and a half million bombs were dropped on 161 German cities and 800 villages over five years, leaving half a million civilians dead, including 75,000 children. An additional 78,000 of Hitler's slave workers and prisoners of war were killed.

So, does any "just cause" justify anything in the name of that "just cause?" And quite seriously - as I have said three times this morning, and as the LA Times article points the intention today is different. But in terms of real human life and real human suffering - even of one child injured and orphaned by accidental-yet-acceptable-according-to-the-equation-ordinance-fallout-to-insure-that-his-parents-(or-maybe-even-he-himself)-won't-be-tortured-and-killed-by-the-brutal-regime - how do work this equation?

Serious discussion welcome.