Monday, July 31, 2006

The Facts On Israel's War

[I don't usually comment on international relations, but Krauthammer sets the record straight on Israel's war with Lebanon.] -- Section: Viewpoints, Outlook
July 27, 2006, 9:35PM
Stop demonizing of Israel for merely defending itself


What other country, when attacked in an unprovoked aggression across a recognized international frontier, is then put on a countdown clock by the world, given a limited time window in which to fight back, regardless of whether it has restored its own security?

What other country sustains 1,500 indiscriminate rocket attacks into its cities — every one designed to kill, maim and terrorize civilians — and is then vilified by the world when it tries to destroy the enemy's infrastructure and strongholds with precision-guided munitions that sometimes have the unintended but unavoidable consequence of collateral civilian death and suffering?

Hearing the world pass judgment on the Israel-Hezbollah war as it unfolds is to live in an Orwellian moral universe. With a few significant exceptions (the leadership of the United States, Britain, Australia, Canada and a very few others), the world — governments, the media, U.N. bureaucrats — has completely lost its moral bearings.

The word that obviates all thinking and magically inverts victim into aggressor is "disproportionate," as in the universally decried "disproportionate Israeli response."

When the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor, it did not respond with a parallel "proportionate" attack on a Japanese naval base. It launched a four-year campaign that killed millions of Japanese, reduced Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki to a cinder, and turned the Japanese home islands to rubble and ruin.
Disproportionate? No. When one is wantonly attacked by an aggressor, one has every right — legal and moral — to carry the fight until the aggressor is disarmed and so disabled that it cannot threaten one's security again. That's what it took with Japan.

Britain was never invaded by Germany in World War II. Did it respond to the blitz and V-1 and V-2 rockets with "proportionate" aerial bombardment of Germany? Of course not. Churchill orchestrated the greatest land invasion in history that flattened and utterly destroyed Germany, killing untold innocent German women and children in the process.

The perversity of today's international outcry lies in the fact that there is indeed a disproportion in this war, a radical moral asymmetry between Hezbollah and Israel: Hezbollah is deliberately trying to create civilian casualties on both sides while Israel is deliberately trying to minimize civilian casualties, also on both sides.

In perhaps the most blatant terror campaign from the air since the London blitz, Hezbollah is raining rockets on Israeli cities and villages. These rockets are packed with ball bearings that can penetrate automobiles and shred human flesh. They are meant to kill and maim. And they do.

But it is a dual campaign. Israeli innocents must die in order for Israel to be terrorized. But Lebanese innocents must also die in order for Israel to be demonized, which is why Hezbollah hides its fighters, its rockets, its launchers, its entire infrastructure among civilians. Creating human shields is a war crime. It is also a Hezbollah specialty.

On Wednesday, CNN cameras showed destruction in Tyre. What does Israel have against Tyre and its inhabitants? Nothing. But the long-range Hezbollah rockets that have been raining terror on Haifa are based in Tyre. What is Israel to do? Leave untouched the launch sites that are deliberately placed in built-up areas?
Had Israel wanted to destroy Lebanese civilian infrastructure, it would have turned out the lights in Beirut in the first hour of the war, destroying the billion-dollar power grid and setting back Lebanon 20 years. It did not do that. Instead, it attacked dual-use infrastructure — bridges, roads, airport runways — and blockaded Lebanon's ports to prevent the reinforcement and resupply of Hezbollah. Ten-thousand Katyusha rockets are enough. Israel was not going to allow Hezbollah 10,000 more.

Israel's response to Hezbollah has been to use the most precise weaponry and targeting it can. It has no interest, no desire to kill Lebanese civilians. Does anyone imagine that it could not have leveled south Lebanon, to say nothing of Beirut? Instead, in the bitter fight against Hezbollah in south Lebanon, it has repeatedly dropped leaflets, issued warnings, sent messages by radio and even phone text to Lebanese villagers to evacuate so that they would not be harmed.

Israel knows that these leaflets and warnings give the Hezbollah fighters time to escape and regroup. The advance notification as to where the next attack is coming has allowed Hezbollah to set up elaborate ambushes. The result? Unexpectedly high Israeli infantry casualties. Moral scrupulousness paid in blood. Israeli soldiers die so that Lebanese civilians will not, and who does the international community condemn for disregarding civilian life?

Krauthammer is a Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist based in Washington, D.C. (


Jeremy said...

Dr. G, I have to tell you that this whole mess is causing me to have a bit of a crisis.

Despite my positions toward warfare, the question that has been nagging me is this: How do you talk to a nut? If the nut is fixated on your destruction, talking won't change that one iota.

In regards to the author's comment about the UN loosing its moral bearings, what do you expect from an organization run by dictators, where CHINA [!] can be the head of the human rights committee?

Tim said...

This picture on Jawa Report (now banned in India!) pretty much sums up the difference in military strategy between the two sides. You can see it being put into action here. Be sure to flick through all of the photos.

For some disturbing questions regarding the exploitation of tragic and unintended deaths of Lebanese children for PR purposes, go here and here.

BJS said...

No question: Hezbollah is in complete violation of nearly every precept of Just-War Theory. They were completely unjustified in jus ad bellum and now they are horribly unjustified in jus in bello. No doubt about it. No question whatsoever.

The issue is not if Israel is justified in going to war in self-defense. Unquestionably they meet the standards for jus ad bellum.
The question is if they are justified in how they are conducting the war (Jus in bello).

It seems that many in defense of Israel's Jus in bello are taking the line that BECAUSE Hezbollah is in violation of jus in bello that somehow frees Israel's jus in bello constraints. This is a horribly miscarriage of Just-War theory. Yes, Hezbollah is in blatant violation of jus in bello principles (big time) by hiding military force amongst civilians. A horrible crime of war. But THAT crime does not then free Israel of its responsibility to still conduct themselves justifiably in war. Sadly, far too many commentators take exactly this approach: Hezbollah is doing x (which is against JWT) so, therefore, Israel is justified in doing y (which is against JWT).

It makes me quite saddened to see this approach to JWT discussion. What if this trend continues? Will the great tradition of JWT essentially become watered down to the point of "they violated JWT in these ways so now we can violate it in these other ways." and so forth.

Look, I'm not making a flat-out condemnation of Israeli action. I understand they are under attack and trying to defend themselves. And they are justified to do so. But an all out commendation of their actions can't be right either -- it has to be more nuanced than that. Yes, certainly, situations such as this (a non-sovereign, militia-type group, hiding amongst civilians) stretches the entire Just-War model. It is difficult to know what to do.

But proportionality in war demands that unhelpful destruction that does not have a good chance of accomplishing any end should not be taken. It is hard to see (in my opinion) how the destruction Israel is raining down on Lebanon is going to accomplish anything substantial in stopping Hezbollah. The destruction costs (lots of civilian losses by the nature of the weaponry used and the difficulty in assertaining correct intel on who's hezbollah and who is not) must be proprotional to the objective gained and the likelihood of those objectives being gained. It seems like very little is being gained and the costs are way, way too high. In fact, it seems that the more Israel continues the airwar, the more Lebanese are turning to support of Hezbollah. Just look at the numbers: how many lebanese civilians have been killed compared to confirmed Hebollah kills -- and how many lebanese have joined the hezbollah cause because of those (unintentional) civilian deaths? My bet is the bottom line would be that Israel's air campaign is actually strengthening hezbollah's cause overall. It certainly is not stopping it or solving anything. If that's the case, then no JWT model can defend the airstrikes. Gratuitious, unhelpful destruction cannot be justified under JWT, even if it is taken by the nation in self-defense. (again, just because Israel was attacked, doesn't free them from JWT obligations!)

Much of this difficulty can be chalked up to the very nature of Airpower. Air warfare is nortorious for killing the wrong folks and violating proportionality (yet it is, of course, the weapon of choice because it is the safest option for the attacker -- hence both Israel and Hezbollah use it). Just because the weaponry is the "best they can do" does not give them moral permission to use them. I don't think Hezbollah can be defeated through Air power. And if that's true, then the destruction Israel is currently dolling out is unjustifiable beacuse it does not have a reasonable chance of accomplishing its ends.

Krauthammer brings up the horrors of WWII to defend his case. He takes the wrong approach: we learned from WWII, we should not try to emmulate it. And simply warning civilians to evacuate (particularly when many are too poor to leave and also considering that Israel destroyed much of the infrastructure (bridges, roads) so that they can't leave, as Krauthammer points out) does not save the case for Israel either. Kauthammer himself pointed out that Hezbollah is hiding whereever the civilians go, so how does telling the lebanese civilians to leave certain areas help them again?

Certainly, demonizing Israel, as much of the world media is doing, is not correct. Hezbollah attacked them and they are trying to defend themselves. Hezbollah is utterly wrong here. And Israel is justified to attempt to defend themselves. And so I can understand (although disagree with)in light of much of the press coverage of this war Krauthammer's knee-jerk reaction defense of Israel. And if any of you follow Realism as an ethical-political theory for war, then certainly Israel is "justified" -- they are defending their national self-interest, period.

But if you follow JWT, your assesment of this situation should be a bit more complicated than just an unqualified defense of Israel (to say the LEAST). Demands of Proportionality (including the related issues of a reasonable succes proportional to damage caused) is a principle we must hold firmly and tightly (and passionately) to -- if we let it go, we may as well give up on JWT altogether.

This is a horrific situation. A horrible thing. Dr. Groothuis, you believe that every man, woman, and child in Lebanon and in Israel that is being killed is a person made in the image of God and (therefore) has incommensurable value. I agree. And if you take such a position, the killing on both sides should make your stomach turn and cause you to pray for peace. What anyone who holds such a metaphysical commitment on the value of human life AND holds to a strong JWT should NOT do, is give such a "real-politik-proportionality-be-damned" unqualified, unnuanced defense of such tragedies. It honestly disapoints me to see you post such an article and to take such an unqualified hard-line approach on this Dr. G.

Dr. McGrew -- Of course, absolutely, the cartoon you point out to us is correct. Hezbollah is horribly wrong and Israel is trying to defend themselves. But (again) Hezbollah's wrong does not relieve Israel of the duty to do right according to strict JWT principles.

One common mistake made in ethical reasoning concerning war (that seems to be being made here) is that if one side is clearly unjustified and wrong (Hezbollah) then the other side MUST be fully justified and right (Israel). Of course, the truth is not anywhere NEAR that simple. In war it is actually most often the case that both sides are unjustified in a variety of ways. In this case it seems Hezbollah is unjustified across the board. But Israel also seems to be violating some principles of jus in bello. Ignoring that is to our (and the world's) peril.

Please... as philosophers, and even moreso as theists who worship the "Prince of Peace", a more intelligent, qualified, nuanced, and complex ethical assesment of the situation is deserved from the voice of this blog.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


From what I know, Israel is conducting itself properly, as Krauthammer points out. They even warn civilizians ahead of time that they will attack, thus giving the terrorists time to regroup.

No, two wrongs do not make a right. But Israel is not in the wrong. The civilian deaths have been unintentional. This is justificed given the doctrine of double effect.


May your crisis continue. Pacificism is not the answer. Yes, "seek peace and pursue it," but unjust peace is worse than a just war. In a fallen world, giving in to tyrants and terrorists only contributes to the evils.

Tim said...


This is also pretty disturbing. BJ, you might particularly want to look at this and at some of the links I put up in my previous post.

Tim said...


Nobody is saying that if side A is wrong, side B must be pure as the driven snow. The simple fact is that Israel seems to be making extraordinary efforts to avoid civilian casualties, whereas Hizballah is making extraordinary efforts to create them. See, for example, this story of Druse farmers in Mari trying desperately to keep Hizballah from invading their village because they know that Hizballah intends to use them as human shields -- no, that's not quite right, as human fodder, hoping that an Israeli counter-strike will kill them.

You ask:

Kauthammer himself pointed out that Hezbollah is hiding whereever the civilians go, so how does telling the lebanese civilians to leave certain areas help them again?

Israel waits to hit war materiel in areas with heavy civilian population next door until after it's dropped leaflets urging people to get out. That's how.

BJ, you are up against a well-oiled propaganda machine. If you want reports from Al Jazeera, by all means feel free to read them. But remember the Jenin "massacre" of 2002, where "corpses" fell off of gurneys, then climbed back up onto them.

Time to head over to Michelle Malkin's place, where there's a nice video today putting all of this into context.

Here's another link that may also help. Note the locations of the bomb craters in Qana.

BJS said...

Dr. McGrew,
Again, pointed out the attrocity's of Hezbollah does not give us any ground on the question of Israeli action justification.

It is amazing that when someone speaks up suggesting that this issue is more complex and that a more nuanced answer as to the justification of Israeli action is needed, I am pegged with being the victim of a "well-oiled propaganda machine." No, I'm appaled by human death and destruction period. I am not quick to acquit any party in war. I think cautious scepticism is the safest approach in ethical reasoning of this kind. There is no question that hezbollah is using tragedies as propaganda tools (or even staging them in some cases, as appalling as that is). But, again, that gives us no ground on the quesion of Israeli justification.

My question of proportionality with Israel never disagreed with the fact that Israel is "taking extraordinary efforts to avoid civilian causalities." I'm certain that they are. But just trying hard to avoid civilian casualities is not enough. The question of proportionality involves asking if the strikes in the first place are worth the possible costs for what they could gain in the war effort. The offensive military strikes must have a reasonable chance of success at some military objective that outweighs the costs of collateral damage. It is far from clear that the Israeli air strikes do have any such reasonable chance of success against hezbollah. And they certainly bring with them horrible collateral damage.

Is it hezbollah's fault that they use lebanese civilians as "human foder" as you say (correctly)? Yes, of course it is. It is disgusting. But their crime doesn't then make Israel innocent. As frustrating as it is, hezbollah may very well be making it impossible for Israel to function in conventional air warfare means in a manner that is justifiable to the principles of JWT. Is that hezbollah's fault? Yes. But that still does not relieve Israel of their moral obligations to the principles of JWT.

BTW, instead of claiming that I am up against a well-oiled propaganda machine, is it possible that many of you are up against an equally well-oiled right wing commentator media stream? Dr. McGrew, I am an officer in the US Military who studies and teaches JWT for a living. I don't think I'm just swallowing some "liberal media bias" pill here. This is a complicated, dirty, and ugly war situation and neither sides' hands are clean. One side's hands are covered in mud (no doubt) and the other side may be trying very hard to keep their hands clean (and that is certainly admirable) -- but it is still incorrect to give an unqualified defense of Israeli action.

Tim said...


I'm genuinely puzzled. So far, all that you've said against Israel's actions is this:

But an all out commendation of their actions can't be right either -- it has to be more nuanced than that.


proportionality in war demands that unhelpful destruction that does not have a good chance of accomplishing any end should not be taken. It is hard to see (in my opinion) how the destruction Israel is raining down on Lebanon is going to accomplish anything substantial in stopping Hezbollah. The destruction costs (lots of civilian losses by the nature of the weaponry used and the difficulty in assertaining correct intel on who's hezbollah and who is not) must be proprotional to the objective gained and the likelihood of those objectives being gained. It seems like very little is being gained and the costs are way, way too high.

Can you elaborate a bit? This doesn't seem obviously true. I assumed that your reason was something along these lines:

Just look at the numbers: how many lebanese civilians have been killed compared to confirmed Hebollah kills -- and how many lebanese have joined the hezbollah cause because of those (unintentional) civilian deaths?

I don't know. I know what Al Jazeera says, but frankly, after having seen actual footage of faked Palestinian "deaths" where the "corpses" walk around, after having watched their operatives lie on TV and say things contradicted by their own unedited video footage, and after having seen the staged photos from Qana, my only reaction to Al Jazeera's numbers is to shrug. That's the spin from that vector. It's hard to get good intel.

But waive that. How can a comparison of these numbers tell you anything significant? The Israeli people have built bomb shelters and they use them; does this count against them? This has nothing to do with the justice of Israel's actions in targeting war materiel with precision strikes in areas where they've warned civilians to flee.

It's hard for me to imagine a better example of the principle of double effect than what I've seen so far of the IDF campaign. Unsought, unintended deaths that the IDF went out of its way to avert should not be used to impugn the justice of their conduct. And before we number the dead in Qana among the IDF victims, there are some substantial questions that need to be answered about what actually happened there.

Jeremy said...

Wow-we-wow-wow-wow! Beej, you're all ruffled up!

I have a question. What would the scenario look like if Lebanon went after Hezbollah before this mess even started? I have a hard time believing that Hezbollah personell would simply disarm, and go quietly into the night. More likely, the Lebanese military would have to go into civilian populations, and fight Hezbollah (where Hezbollah would be using civilians as shields). Of course, Hezbollah would fight back. The result would more than likely result in a huge number of civilian casualties, and due to the fighting strategies of Hezbollah, Lebanon would appear to have used disproportional force.

Since none of this was done, as was the agreement, Israel is not only fighting Hezbollah, but is trying to force Lebanon to do something about these terrorists. Also, Israel is up against Syria, and more seriously, Iran (let's not even start about Ahmadinijad and his plans for Israel). This being the case, infrastructure had to be taken out to prevent Syria and Iran from rearming Hezbollah (and that accounts for the sea blockade as well). Unfortunately, this prevented some civilians from being able to totally escape the air raids by Israel.

However, since there is no way to fight Hezbollah outside of civilian populations, the question becomes how is Israel to prosecute this war? If air raids on Hezbollah locations, which double as civilian population centers, are disproportional, and street fighting in Lebanese streets would almost assuredly result in a number of civilan casualties, which would probably be labeled as disproportional as well, yet Israel is justified in fighting, then how is Israel to do it? This is not a rhetorical question, B.J.; I'm really interested in what you would suggest.

Another question: If you are fighting against people who want to erradicate your entire people, is there such a thing as disproportional fighting? If you only fight a little bit, they'll come back again and again. The only way (so it seems) to keep them away is to beat them so badly that they'll never think about fightin you again.

Lastly, I'm not giving whole-hearted support for Israel. They've done plenty of unjust actions in the past, e.g., bulldozing the houses of the families of suicide-bombers, and fallen humans are always on the brink of injustice. However, in regards to this specific war, Israel seems to be operating completely within the confines of JWT.

Post Script, it may be that this is not just a war between Israel and Hezbollah, but rather a war between the West and Iran. That would dramtically change things.

Craig Fletcher said...

Q: When is evil or suffering justified?

A: When the end result is less overall evil or suffering than before. In this case, Hezbollah is a terrorist organization with limited but vast potential (and desire) to do harm to the masses indiscriminantly, aren't they? Their tactics certainly suggest it.

I agree with our president here, we need to eliminate the root cause. How can we do this without harming civilians when they hide among them? I agree BJ, not all of the civilians can leave, and that my friend, is one of the tragedies of war. If we don't wipe out the root cause, this will continue to resurface and the long term global effects of this or ANY terrorist minded organization could be devastating. It's funny how liberals view the United States government as a terrorist organization simply because we have the strength and will power to do what's right, and to do what other countries are afraid to do.

If rockets were constantly being fired into my neighborhood from a nearby shopping mall and killing my friends, family and neighbors, and at the same time there were civilians shopping there still (or hiding out) and my army had warned people to get out of there... well, we'd have to attack that mall nonetheless.

Hopefully the people would have left, but if not, yes, civilian casualities would be inevitable. Human life is precious indeed... but this is the unfortunate side of war. There's really no way around it. It is what it is.

Another question: What is it with the Islamic world shouting "death to Israel, death to America"? Why is this "America v. Islam" now? The next thing you know Islamic extremists will be indiscriminately poisoning our water supplies, killing millions, while the Islamic world cheers.

This scenario, and their tactics, clearly differentiate how the two sides value human life.

Tim said...


Douglas Lackey's comment doesn't clearly tell against Israel here. If Israel takes the area south of the Litani, this will involve the displacement of people. That is unfortunate and unpleasant. But it's not clear to me that this will violate their rights.

In any event, the "50 years" comment is ridiculous. If Israel wanted to set Lebanon back 20 years, they could do billions of dollars of damage and achieve that end by hitting the Beirut power grid. They haven't. The Lebanese PM is simply angling for sympathy with that comment.

I'd be more sympathetic to the Lebanese government if I hadn't seen the video of the interview with Hassan Nasrallah in which he says Hizballah told the Lebanese government, in advance, that they were planning to kidnap IDF soldiers. The Lebanese government is not merely weak; it is corrupt, and it will bear responsibility for its complicity in starting this war.

Hitting dual-use infrastructure like runways and roads is a short-term measure to slow the flow of weapons into Lebanon. Yes, that will take some rebuilding, but not anything like the rebuilding that would be required if Israel had hit something really sensitive.

I'm certainly not committed to a blanket defense of anything Israel has done in the past or might do in the future. These things have to be taken on a case-by-case basis. So far, I haven't seen the case that Israel is out of bounds in this particular conflict.

BJS said...

thanks for your comments and may I say, "Welcome to the conversation." We Just-war theorists need another good mind like yours at the table. Welcome aboard.

(I say this because your last comments were certainly not the comments of a pacifist. You are weighing the matters of war like any good consequentialist. you know I've always deeply respected your pacifism and so I'm a bit surprised by your turn. But, again, welcome to the table).

To answer your question and to hopefully address some of what Dr. McGrew comments on as he claims it is hard to imagine Israel handling this any more justly, let me give you suggestions of what Israel could do instead.

So, to recap, I'm frustrated because it certainly appears to me that Israeli action jus in bello is in violation of proportionality and discrimination (YES, even though that difficulty is brought on them by Hezbollah war crimes of hiding amongst civilians, etc. -- again, Hezbollah's violations of JWT don't justify Israel violations). And so you ask, Ok "how is Israel to do it?" if not the way they are doing it?

Simple: Go in on the ground.

Hezbollah has been hiding these missiles for years. Airpower is simply an ineffective means to take them out in such a way as to have any high level of precision and discrimination of targets, and, moreover, to effectively take them out period. Moreover, the collateral damage unavoidably caused to the infrastructure in attempts to take out missile sites via airstrikes makes it very difficult for the lebanese government to do what Israel is demanding they do (go in and take back control of their own country from Hezbollah), and very difficult for any stability whenever fighting does eventually cease (we are learning this lesson presently in Iraq... and we've learned it many times already)l.

You may say going in on the ground would be even more bloody? Well, we just disagree then. So far ground efforts against targets such as these have been highly effective and done with virtually cost to civilian life and much lower total costs in lives (that is, less combatants killed). And ground ops have very minimal effect on the infrastructure of the country for post-war reconstruction purposes.

Take today's Israeli action as paradigm. They helicoptered some special forces guys into a specific location, got the bad guys, destroyed the missile site, and got out. No civilians were ever even at risk. compare that to trying to airstrike the same target -- if the intel's wrong, whoever is there dies anyway. If the intel was wrong when the special forces went in, they just leave and move on to the next target. And even if the intel is right, believe it or not, very often an airstrike against the target can still fail to take it out -- whereas a ground ops can ensure the target is removed.

I commend Israel for the perfectly executed special forces mission today -- they need to do more of this and less airstrikes.

Going in on the ground is simply MORE EFFECTIVE, (militarily!), than the airstrikes at destroying hezbollah's ability to wage war. In also has the wonderful side effect of being phenomenally more able at implement the principles of proportionality and discrimination.

Airpower is good for many things. Being an officer in the Air Force, I certainly know this. But we in the air force are also aware of Airpower's severe limitations. This is a perfect case where airpower is not only highly ineffective at providing a reasonable chance of accomplishing the mission objectives, but it is the worst way to implement force against a target that is illegally using civilians as sheilds. Such heinous tactics by an enemy require the more effective use of specialized ground forces.

I pray that Israel will take the moral high road (like they did in their special ops mission today) and use ground forces and cease the ineffective use of airstrikes the costs of which don't outweigh the limited military objectives they gain.


Dr. Mc (and, BTW, I call Dr. Groothuis Dr. Truth out of affection. I think I may start calling you Dr. Foundy, for similiar affectatious reasons),
You write:

"How can a comparison of these numbers tell you anything significant? The Israeli people have built bomb shelters and they use them; does this count against them? This has nothing to do with the justice of Israel's actions"

And, of course, I couldn't agree more. I never asked you to compare Lebanese civilian deaths to Israeli deaths. I asked you to compare the costs of Lebanese civilian deaths to the overall gains made against Hezbollah. My suggestion is that the airstrikes are actually helping, not hurting, Hezbollah in the long wrong. If that is the case, then the military objective of the air strikes does not outweigh the costs (clearly!), and hence they violate at least two principles of JWT Jus in bello.

Tim said...


Thanks for the clarifying note. I see that I misread you: I took the phrase "confirmed Hebollah kills" to refer to Israelis killed by Hizballah, whereas what you really meant was definite Hizballah members killed. My mistake.

Even so, I'm not sure we can get the numbers you're after. Consider the flap at Qana where it is difficult to figure out how many civilians were killed -- the numbers differ wildly -- and it isn't clear what killed them.

I agree that Israel needs to go in on the ground. And they have been doing just that, and they continue to do so. Where we still disagree, I think, is in whether the air strikes are legitimate military strikes and whether the IDF's strenuous efforts to warn civilians to move north of the Litani and get out of other hotspots constitute sufficient grounds for their invoking double effect when civilians nevertheless die as a result of their actions -- as undoubtedly some have.

Does the death of Lebanese civilians that Hizballah is so obviously seeking provide Hizballah with PR material? Yes, certainly. On that much we're agreed. Whether it's worth the PR cost for Israel to take out some rocket launchers and munitions dumps with those air strikes is, however, a question I'm not prepared to answer. Under the circumstances, I don't think we have enough information to second guess the IDF on that question.

Jeremy said...

B.J., we talked a little about this over the phone, but for the sake of the conversation, I'll post a little bit here.

It's fairly well known that I have come to hold a position of nonviolent resistance. I do not take this to be the same thing as pacifism, where pacifism equals passivity. I have come to this position after a lot of thought, and carefully weighing the exegesis of such persons as John Yoder and Walter Wink, to name a few. I'm fully convinced that there arguments hold up, but in the sake of intellectual honesty, I would be happy to consider the JWT exegesis again. That said, I believe in nonviolence because it is biblically mandated.

That's the rub. I'm torn between what I consider to be the biblical perspective and what seems to be the real solution to the crisis in the Middle East.

If any of you have some good JWT exegesis that I should read, please let me know.

Tim, since I'm sure you'll see this, let me respond to a comment you made to me once in conversation. You commented about Jesus' use of the whip while cleansing the temple. Yoder, in Politics of Jesus, gives an analysis of the languagethat points to Jesus using the whip on the animalsbut not the people. It's at least one explanation. Again, I'm willing to look at anything that is contrary to that position

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

For a biblically serious, convincing, and nonpacificistic view of The Sermon on the Mount, see John Stott's book, "The Sermon on the Mount." Also see his commentary on Romans 13:1-7 (the state having the sword) in his Romans commentary.

Wink shouldn't be taken too seriously, since he denies the deity of Jesus and miracles.

Tom said...

[A quick caveat: it's late and I'm tired. While I won't use that as an excuse for the opinions that follow, I would ask for a dollop of grace with respect to proof reading, sentence structure, and basic grammar.]

I won't claim to be an expert on Middle East politics, but still I feel compelled to weigh in here on the side of BJ.

Hezbollah is a despicable organization that murders and that uses civilians as shields--indeed, even as shields that they want to see destroyed so that Israel will look all the worse.

Hezbollah's missile attacks against Israeli towns, and their kidnapping of military personnel, surely call for some kind of military response (assuming that military responses are ever legitimate). Let all of this be understood and agreed upon.

Still, what we have is a terrorist organization that is apparently incapable of causing major harm to the nation of Israel. As I understand it, the great majority of the missiles that have been fired land harmlessly in desert hillsides. I do not intend to make light of the loss of life (and even property) suffered by Israel; there is no excuse for it and they have every right to seek justice on those who have perpetrated these crimes. That some Israelis are dying this way is a terrible thing that should not be deemed acceptable.

All that said, I have a hard time seeing that the (apparently) high number of Lebanese civilian casualties and the destruction of the infrastructure of Lebanon is justified. I understand that without an airport and with no good roads leading out of the country, Hezbollah will have little chance to use their Iranian connections to rearm. So the bombing of these targets makes military sense (at least on the surface; the ill will that such bombing produces might outweigh the positive even considered strictly from a military perspective). And so it might be said that the Doctrine of Double Effect (DDE) justifies these attacks since the intention is to stop terrorist missile strikes even if the foreseen-but-unintended consequence of these actions is the killing of civilians and the destroying of the country’s infrastructure.

Now I can’t claim any expertise in moral or political theory, but I have to say that if the DDE can be used in this way, then it seems to me far too permissive a doctrine. It just can’t mean that so long as the primary effect is morally good, then just any secondary (and unintended) effect is permissible. At very least, it must say that so long as the primary effect is good, and there is no other feasible way of attaining that good end that does not produce a similarly bad side effect, then the unintended side effect is permissible. I’d also think that there must be a clause that says something about the good’s being at least proportionate to the bad side effect. That is, you wouldn’t be justified in performing an action that would bring about the good of order in a grade-school classroom if you could see that a side effect would be the nuclear obliteration of the planet. So the DDE should grant that the justified action is the only (or one of the only) feasible action(s) that would bring about the positive end, and that its bad-but-unintended-consequences were at least roughly proportionate to the good effects. And it seems to me that it is highly questionable whether the current course of action is the all-things-considered best feasible way of bringing about the good effect of preventing terrorist actions sponsored by Hezbollah, and whether the bad-foreseeable-but-unintended consequences are proportionate to the good that is likely to be gained by the actions of the Israeli military.

My understanding of BJ’s posts leads me to believe that he wasn’t so much saying that the Israeli military is *clearly* in the wrong, but only that things weren’t nearly as unobjectionable as Krauthammer was suggesting. And it seems to me that BJ is very much in the right here.

Tim said...


It's simply not true that Hizballah is incapable of killing lots of Israeli civilians. Five died yesterday. The principal issue seems to be bad aim and sheer luck; if the rockets could be aimed better, hundreds or thousands of Israelis would die. The IDF doesn't want to sit around waiting until Hizballah figures out how to improve its aim.

Everything I've seen indicates that the Israeli air strikes, when not aimed directly at war materiel, are aimed at dual-use infrastructure and are causing the minimum long-term damage possible consistent with military objectives. I simply cannot see any reason to object to this.

Casualty counts are difficult to make because the numbers are wildly inconsistent and there are serious worries about double-counting (esp. in Qana). There are also legitimate doubts about who killed some of the civilians, as witness the infamous beach bombing which was initially broadcast as an IDF slaughter but now appears to have been caused a stray Arab rocket. It is also extremely difficult to tell how many of the dead were Hizballah members or people actively helping Hizballah, e.g., by hiding ordnance in their basements. Hizballah forces routinely operate in civilian clothes. (See the links I gave earlier with photographs.) If they are killed in an air strike that hits their rocket launchers, are we counting them as civilians because they were not in uniform?

For the record, it's worth noting that after the IDF ground forces took Bint Jubeil, Hizballah continued to fire rockets from within Bint Jubeil area until the launchers were destroyed ... by air strikes.

Tom said...


Whether or not it is true that Hezbollah is currently 'incapable' of killing 'lots' of Israeli civilians depends on how 'incapable' is understood and on what counts as 'lots.' I agree that if Hezbollah had better missiles, they could kill lots of civilians. I assume that in the past three weeks they've been trying their level best to kill as many Israeli civilians as they can. According to CNN, as of this morning they've killed 26. During that same period, Israeli strikes have killed 603 (and injured 2,288) Lebanese civilians. To my mind, this disparity is enough to raise serious doubts about whether their actions are justified given just war standards.

Tim said...


You write:

According to CNN, as of this morning [Hizballah] killed 26. During that same period, Israeli strikes have killed 603 (and injured 2,288) Lebanese civilians.

This is the comparison that I thought BJ was making, and my response to it is the one that I made when I misunderstood a phrase in his earlier post.

Frankly, I have no idea how accurate these numbers are. A major part of my uncertainty has to do with the identification of people as civilians. There are doubtless some innocent civilians who have died -- as innocent civilians died when the Allies bombed German munitions plants, because the Nazis took them there so that their deaths could be exploited for propaganda purposes.

I think Udi and Mal Ohana have put it as well as I possibly could:

The civilian population of the area was repeatedly warned to leave. Those who chose to stay risked their lives. Israel should make it crystal clear that if a certain village is being used as a base for launchers of rockets on Israeli cities, it may be targeted. The responsibility for any loss of life is with those who use civilians as human shields. Any civilian population that is willing to serve as a human shield for terrorists turns itself into a target. You cannot store rockets in your home, and then claim that you are not involved in the fighting. Whoever sets aside a room in his home for storing rockets or ammunition should be considered as an active party in the fighting and, as such, may be targeted.

BJS said...


thanks for the agreement. I think you understand what I'm trying to argue for when you write:

"My understanding of BJ’s posts leads me to believe that he wasn’t so much saying that the Israeli military is *clearly* in the wrong, but only that things weren’t nearly as unobjectionable as Krauthammer was suggesting."


But, I have to agree with Dr. Foundy (Tim) on this most recent part about comparing Lebanese civilians deaths to Israeli deaths in pure numbers. This comparison doesn't really help us figure out the proportionality concerns. Proportionality isn't about pure numbers (especially comparisons from each side) but more about the good gained outweighing the costs for each mission considered. The fact that more lebanese civilians have died than Israeli doesn't really help us wrestle out Israel's moral culpability in any real way (that I can see).

One other rejoinder, though, against your most recent point Tim. There is evidence now that Hebollah is occasionally FORCING some civilians to stick around areas against their will when they are TRYING to leave (after they've gotten Israeli warnings, etc.). Obviously civilians in such a case cannot be blamed for not leaving the area. It doesn't radically change the moral thermometer of the issue, but it is something to keep in mind.

Tim said...


You write:

There is evidence now that Hebollah is occasionally FORCING some civilians to stick around areas against their will when they are TRYING to leave (after they've gotten Israeli warnings, etc.). Obviously civilians in such a case cannot be blamed for not leaving the area.

Yes, I've seen that too. I agree with you that the civilians cannot, in such a case, be blamed for not leaving. On the other hand, when they die in an IDF air strike, the blood is entirely on the hands of Hizballah. It is sickening and horrifying, but it shouldn't by any means be allowed to disorient our moral compass.

Tom said...

BJ and Tim:

I'm missing something. How is it that comparing civilian casualties is not relevant to considerations of proportionality? I've not claimed that it is the only factor or that it is indefeasible but only that there is reason to question whether the retaliating country that hits back in a way that involves significantly higher civilian casualties than were taken by the actions of the aggressor is acting in a morally permissible way.

Tim said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tim said...


If Israel is not at fault for the deaths, then the numbers are not relevant. What BJ and I agree on, I think, is that the key question cannot be, "How many have died?" One must always ask who is guilty of their deaths. A pretty strong case can be made that, in these cases, it is Hizballah. We all mourn the death of all innocent parties on both sides of this conflict. But that doesn't settle the question of responsibility.