[Reader-list] Disproportion and the Justification of War

aasim khan aasim27 at yahoo.co.in
Fri Aug 4 21:29:57 IST 2006

Just thought of playing devils advocate, one day
before the rally...here are some second thoughts...I
just got reading these posts ...on why protestors
( prospective) are sounding so passive, some almost
guilty in propounding their anxieties...Should not the
debate be clear.

Frankly they seemed to to have slipped into a denial
mode as far as acceptance of the war is concerned.I
mean let us accept that Wars do happen and their
pitch( wars per year) is only getting louder( or do we
still think  that '68ers still live in the
barracks).To deny it 'in principle' as Shudbrat from
SARAI says seems a bit odd.

Yes surely to support warfare that leads to the
bloodshed of innocents is definitely not right.But
then maybe that is not exactly how we should respond
as we have;Wars are a reality that we live with( even
if we don't accept it) .

So what I suggest is that we do take an active
stand,be stakeholders atleast in building opinion on
the war.

And here the question of taking sides comes into

Who do you support?

And if I were to think of the latest war then there is
to answer the question as Israel is not right.Becaue
of the Hizbollah.Arent they commiting warfare.Yes then
the answer has to be 

We oppose Israel's war and Hizbollah's war.

So if we are writng just Israel then we have to write
'disproportionate'( thats the excuse for not writing

There can be several versions on different grounds( I
mentioned few in yesterday's mail)...But for now i
think there is nothing wrong with ';Disproportionate'
in the heading.Here is something i found ...worth a
read,its conversation with an american war expert
justifying( in my view) 'disproportionate' war...

The Principle of Proportional Force in Warfare
A major accomplishment of the Red Cross and other
humanitarian agencies has been the adoption by most
states of the principle that the use of force must be
proportional to the objective and the opposition
encountered. "This turn to principles is associated
with the rise of courts, of judicial review of
battlefield justice, of war criminals." While
appearing to be a genuine limitation of the evils of
war, David Kennedy suggested that this achievement has
mainly given field commanders a set of guidelines on
how to describe afterward what they would have done
anyway, or to raise objections to perceived excesses
of the enemy.

"No professional commander says, I want you to go and
commit disproportionate violence. We don’t need
international law for that. The real work begins when
the militaries disagree, when the tactics of the other
side seem disproportional. When this happens you get
the professional military leaders using the vocabulary
of international law to express their disagreement
with the tactics of the other side."

When it comes to their own side, the standard of
military men on how many civilian casualties are
permissible, Kennedy suggested, is "Not one more than
is necessary, but as many as are necessary." That is
better than no standard, but "The difficulty is that
it legitimates a great deal: all the violence that is
necessary." The humanists have accepted the premises
of the military here. "A military strategist asks: How
many civilians can you kill? 40 for a bridge, 1000 for
a city? They wont say. Humanitarians want to say you
can't target civilians, but that is not what their
vocabulary has agreed to. The military in law claims
that every target was evaluated, including by a
lawyer. But if you ask by what standard, there is
nothing inside the box, no revealed rules by which you
can judge what has been done, was it too much. Here
the pragmatic system grinds to a halt. It does not
include any specification by which to judge costs. The
main attitude of the humanitarians since the League of
Nations has been, not to outlaw war but to civilize

--- Shuddhabrata Sengupta <shuddha at sarai.net> wrote:

> Dear Monica Mody, Jamie, Iram and others on the list
> As one of the signatories to this petition, I am
> clearly one of the 
> people who overlooked the significance of the
> qualifying word, 
> 'disproportionate'. I would like to thank Iram for
> pointing out the 
> irony in protesting against the idea of 'proportion'
> while thinking 
> about a state of war.
> I agree with Iram, that to do this is not to quibble
> at details, but 
> actually central to the way we think about a state
> of war. I am not one 
> of those people who believes that there are any just
> wars. In today's 
> world it is inconceivable that a military and
> political elite that 
> governs a nation state, would  acting
> 'proportionately' or reasonably to 
> advance its military objectives. Military action in
> defence of the 
> interests of a nation state are objectionable to me
> in principle, and 
> there can be no question in my view, that Israel
> could enter into a 
> 'reasonable, proportionate, just' war with Lebanon.
> The same holds true of Hezbollah (a state within a
> state) or the Syrian 
> , or the Iranian state, should they choose to
> retaliate militarily (as 
> they have already, in the case of Hezbollah) as
> parties involved in 
> aggression against people inhabiting the boundaries
> of the territories 
> governed by the State of Israel. Civilians, who die
> in this conflict, be 
> they Lebanese, Palestinian or Israeli do not have
> the luxury to ask 
> whether their death was in proportion to the deaths
> on the other side. 
> The arrogance of the Israeli state consists in its
> belief that the value 
> of the life of an Israeli person is greater than
> that of his or her 
> Lebanse or Palestinian neighbours. That therefore,
> the Israeli 
> military's actions are reasonable and those of the
> Hezbollah are not. If 
> we are to act against this way of thinking, we must
> insist that the 
> value of an Israeli civilian's life is the same as
> that of a Lebanese, 
> or Palestinian civilian. This would mean, that any
> party to the 
> conflict, on any side, involved in any violence that
> befalls any 
> civilians, by design or by accident is equally
> morally responsible for 
> the tragedy that has engulfed the region. We cannot
> parcel out this 
> tragedy and weigh its proportions. To do so would be
> to fall prey to the 
> arrogance that the leadership of these states adorn
> themselves with.
> I find the discussion of the laws of war somewhat
> pedantic. The laws of 
> war are to organized armed aggression like the death
> penalty is to 
> murder. While it is useful that the laws of war
> occasionally prevent 
> civilian death, I find that they are invoked in the
> main to indict the 
> inhman acts on the losing side. If it were
> otherwise, Hiroshima, 
> Dresden, the Rape and Pillage by the Red Army at the
> close of the Second 
> World War, or many of the actions of the armies of
> occupation in 
> Afghanistan or in Iraq would have attracted the
> provisions of the laws 
> of war. It is interesting to note that the charge of
> war criminal, 
> against, say Saddam Husain has some value, for his
> usage of chemical 
> weapons against Kurds, or during the Iran-Iraq war
> can be made to stick 
> only when he is a defeated prisoner. The
> governements that castigate him 
> as a war criminal today were the very same who
> ensured that he was 
> supplied with the chemicals and devices needed to
> make chemical weapons. 
>   In light of this, I find the hallowed invocation
> of the 'international 
> laws of war' somewhat trite.
> Finally, I would request the drafters of the
> petition to reconsider 
> their usage of the word 'disproportionate'. So that
> my signature on the 
> petition can rest in peace.
> many thanks
> Shuddha
> Monica Mody wrote:
> > Whether a war is just or not is a more
> philosophical response.
> > 
> > To add to Jamie's comment, the term
> "disproportionate" has also been
> > used very specifically to refer to the rules for
> conduct of war under
> > international humanitarian law, and becomes
> important when you are
> > trying to determine the legality or otherwise of
> Israel's actions. In
> > other words, Israel could be charged for war
> crimes because of its
> > disproportional conduct.
> > 
> > (For a more detailed analysis, see the Human
> Rights Watch O&A on
> > Israel and Hezbollah, available at
> >
> > 
> > Cheers,
> > 
> > Monica
> > _________________________________________
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