[Reader-list] Disproportion and the Justification of War

Tapas Ray t.ray at vsnl.com
Sat Aug 5 10:20:19 IST 2006


I sent the last quick response to the Sarai list as I thought you had posted 
your message on the list. I did not realise it was a personal message, 
because it had landed in my Sarai folder. That was because of the way I had 
set up the filter - based on the 'Subject' line instead of the 'To' line. 
Have now modified that.

I am posting this one on the list, because you had said I might. Let me tell 
you, at the outset, that sometimes I have only tried to get under the skin 
of each side and what I have written in those places does not constitute an 
attempt to justify what they have been doing ... if anything, it is a 
condemnation of the way things are, overall.

> (1) Prospective justification: that is that these rockets and air
> bombardments, even with their collateral damage, are necessary (or 
> optimal)
> means to an end / objective that is sufficiently valuable to make such 
> damage > worth it. What would such an objective be? The security of 
> Israel - it seems
> to me that this is more than ever put in jeopardy by these actions.

I agree with you entirely, that the prospective justification does not 
work - that the Israeli attacks have jeopardised Israel's security ... I 
think PERMANENTLY ... rather than improved its prospects. Actually, it may 
be more than that - it may be permanent anger at the West as a whole, or at 
least the USA and UK. What OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu said 
may be spot on: "I am afraid that the anger of the Muslim masses is being 
transformed into permanent hatred against the aggressors and their implicit 
and explicit protectors." 

> (2) Retrospective Punishment: that is, that these rockets and air strikes 
> are > deserved punishment. It seems to me that punishment of this general 
> kind *is* > part of what constitutes justice. But it won't apply in these 
> circumstances,
> since neither the rockets nor the airstrikes are adequately targetted so 
> as to > constitute punishment. If you want to punish, then it is the 
> politicians and
> commanders that you should strike. Even if everyone bears some 
> responsibility > for the actions of their elected governments (and this 
> will apply much more
> readily to Israel than to Hizbollah), still the leaders bear a greater
> responsibility.

The retrospective justification, too, does not work as you have explained. 
But then your arguments are rational, in the sense of being reasoned, in 
this case on ethical lines. I am not sure that is how politics (war being 
politics by other means) is always conducted. I think politics has a 
visceral element, because crowd psychology probably does not follow 
individual rationality and works according to its own logic instead. It 
would be great if someone could shed light on this aspect. What you say is 
right - the Israeli leaders are probably acting out of the compulsions of 
internal politics.

> Are the Hezbollah justified in hitting civilian areas in Israel because 
> the
> Israeli Army is a conscript army and the civilian population is, 
> therefore, an > army in waiting?[JD]
> No. Certainly not. The nearest to justification that they could get along
> these lines would be:
> Hitting these civilians is justified because by killing persons A, B and 
> C,
> they prevent A, B and C from undertaking worse and more heinous crimes 
> that
> they will otherwise commit when on active service in the Israeli army.
> It just seems wildly implausible. And it certainly doesn't justify the 
> killing > of the old, and those exempt, etc..

Rationally, your argument seems flawless to me. But what if Hezbollah's 
popular base wants some Israeli blood and it wants that in spite of the fact 
that it knows shedding it will bring down more retribution rather than 
stopping Israeli atrocities? Again, the visceral element. As for the old - 
it is likely that they were in the army at some point, so they are fair game 
in Hezbollah's eyes.

> It is also the case that if people are conscripted, they are not choosing 
> to
> be involved in the war. So, this reduces the justification for treating 
> even
> the regular soldier as a "legitimate target" because a combatant.

It can also be said that by choosing not to stay out of the army - possibly 
at the risk of inviting a jail term - people are choosing *to be* in the 
army. In a sense, no law can take away your freedom to choose.

> ... note that the question of proportion is not a matter of measuring HzbU
> violence against Israeli violence. It is a matter of measuring the 
> violence of > each party against the benefit that the use of violence will 
> achieve. It seems > to me that on this measure, both sides are guilty of 
> disproportionate
> violence.

But here, we are weighing the benefits accruing to the peoples of each side 
individually, against the violence committed by its own side. In this way, 
it seems to me, we are considering the Israelis and the Hezbollah 
individually, in isolation. Suppose A's violence is proportionate in terms 
of the violence committed by it, and so is B's. But A's proportionate 
violence is still killing B's people and vice versa. Why is benefit to the 
Hezbollah's people superior to benefits to Israelis or vice versa?

If the answer is that neither is superior, then what is the way out in a 
situation in which one side or both sides feel(s) cheated or oppressed or 
treated unjustly?


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