Saturday, June 25, 2005

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Pope Benedict, Modern Weaponry and Civilian Casualties

With respect to the war in Iraq, it must be recognized that Pope Benedict has offered a somewhat stronger, more explicit opinion on the war in Iraq, as documented by Michael Griffin of the Catholic Peace Fellowshiop ("A New Peace Pope"). In a May 2, 2003 interview, then Cardinal Ratzinger reiterated the Pope's appeal to conscience and Martino's question of the applicability of the Just War criteria:

Q: Eminence, a topical question that in a certain sense is inherent to the Catechism: Does the Anglo-American war against Iraq fit the canons of a "just war"?

Cardinal Ratzinger: The Pope expressed his thought with great clarity, not only as his individual thought but as the thought of a man who is knowledgeable in the highest functions of the Catholic Church. Of course, he did not impose this position as doctrine of the Church but as the appeal of a conscience enlightened by faith.

The Holy Father's judgment is also convincing from the rational point of view: There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq. To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a "just war."

About this we can note several things. First, as with the American bishops, Ratzinger's predication of the judgement that modern warfare is "inherently unjust" on the destructive capacity of modern weaponry is not immune from criticism. Just war scholar James Turner Johnson addresses this very criticism in "Just War, As It Was and Is First Things 149 (January 2005):

The problem with this conception of gross destructiveness as inherent in modern warfare, though, is that it is a contingent judgment being made to do service as a permanent truth. By contrast to the model of the two World Wars, as well as to imagined models of global nuclear holocaust, the actual face of warfare since 1945 has been that of civil wars and regional armed conflicts. Such armed conflict has indeed been bloody, sometimes genocidal, sometimes terroristic, always characterized by violence directed toward noncombatants; yet there has been no "World War III" -- or rather, given the ubiquity of this kind of conflict, this is in fact the face of "World War III." The destructiveness of these recent wars has everything to do with the choices made by those who fight them and nothing to do with any alleged inherent destructiveness of modern weaponry. In other words, the modern-war pacifists get it wrong: their contingent judgment does not describe a permanent truth about warfare in the modern age. The morality of modern war, as of all war, depends on the moral choices of those who fight it. It is not the choice to fight that is inherently wrong, as the "presumption against war" argument has it; it is the choice to fight for immoral reasons and/or by immoral means.

As Johnson says, the actual villians here "are not states as such but regional warlards, rulers who oppress their people to maintain or expand their power, and individuals and groups who use religious or ethnic difference as a justification for oppression, torture, and genocide." Civilian casualties occur not due to indiscriminate bombing so much as the fact that they are made the direct targets "the direct targets of weapons ranging from knives to automatic rifles to suicide bombs." A case in point would be the current state of Iraq, where Islamic fundamentalists are waging a campaign of terrorism and mass-murder against the civilians of Iraq who are in a process of building their own country and democratic government. On a similar note, says Johnson:

As progressively shown in the Gulf War of 1990-91, the bombing of Serbia over the oppression of the Albanian Kosovars, the campaign in Afghanistan aimed at al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and most recently (and most fully) in the recent use of armed force to remove the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, the United States, and to an important degree also the British, have channeled high technology in ways that allow war to be fought according to the actual principles of the just war jus in bello: this includes avoidance of direct, intended harm to noncombatants and avoidance of disproportionate harm in the use of otherwise justified means of war. The results, for those who care to look at them, are simply astonishing, especially by contrast to the level of destruction and the harm to noncombatant lives and property found, say, in carpet-bombing. This, too, is the face of modern war.

Today we see a new kind of confrontation. On the one hand, we see non-state actors, as well as warlords and heads of state who use relatively unsophisticated means to gain their ends by targeting, terrorizing, and killing noncombatants and, as in the destruction of the World Trade Center towers or the bombing of the Madrid trains, intentionally causing lasting property damage, civilian deaths, and widespread fear. On the other hand, we find a state that has used its intellectual and economic capital to develop weapons, tactics, strategies, and training directed toward maximizing discrimination and proportionality in the use of armed force. Both of these developments in the actual face of war need to be taken seriously and integrated into a contemporary moral assessment of war based on a recovery of the classic meaning of the just war tradition.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Shock & Awe, Civilian Casualties and Questionable Statistics

I'd like to touch briefly on the issue of casualties in the U.S.-Iraqi conflict and how they are referenced, first in relation to the U.S. "Shock & Awe" campaign; secondly in relation to certain statistics.

"Shock and Awe" - A Case of Indiscriminate Bombing?

Initiating the U.S. war with Iraq in 2003, the "Shock and Awe" campaign was designed to shatter the will of Saddam Hussein by strategically obliterating key military targets and infrastructure. Described as "a devastating premeditated attack on a civilian urban population," likened the Bush administration's plans for the campaign to "Hulagu Khan and Tamerlane, the Mongol warlords who laid bloody waste to Baghdad in 1258 and 1401" and predicted that "Baghdad could become the 21st century's Guernica," the Basque village carpet-bombed by the Nazis in 1937 ("Shock & Awe: Guernica Revisited"). Other anti-war critics compared the campaign to Dresden, even Hiroshima.

Granted, many of these comparisons were made prior to the launch of the campaign itself (if anything, a testament to the effectiveness of the Pentagon's propaganda campaign, who freely publicized their intentions so as to intimidate the Iraqi military), but even to this day you will find similer allegations. Michael Moore, for instance, made use of the imagery in his notirious propaganda film Fahrenheit 911, portraying Iraq as a peaceful nation with footage of care-free children flying kites, set against the thunderous explosions and falling bombs of March 22, 2003.

Writing for, Inside Shock & Awe), Bijal Trivedi provides a brief history of guided-bombing, noting that the weapons employed in the 2003 bombing campaign constituted significant advancements in targeting technology beyond anything used in the first Gulf War (during which only 7% of the bombs used were "smart").

But of all the bombs and weapons launched in Iraq in the first Gulf War, only about seven percent were "smart." And even these bombs had shortcomings. Laser-guided precision weapons were accurate, but bad weather or clouds of smoke from burning oil fields often made it impossible to find targets. Worse, pilots needed to fly relatively low and within range of enemy fire.

Just a decade later, 'Shock and Awe' used another advance in precision bombing—the Global Positioning System, or GPS. GPS guided bombs, such as the Joint Direct Attack Munition or JDAM, can be dropped from more than twice the altitude of earlier guided bombs and from farther away, helping pilots avoid antiaircraft fire. Tomahawk missiles guided by terrain recognition software and digitized maps, or the newest models directed by the Global Positioning System satellites, can find their targets regardless of weather conditions or smoke. . . .

Curiously, it is a testament to the precision of the military's bombing that they ultimately failed to achieve the desired end of the campaign -- :

A bizarre testament to the precision of the weapons used during the first night of 'Shock and Awe' was that the streetlights still functioned. Electricity flowed to the city, including the Palestine Hotel where journalists frantically filed their reports. During the opening days of the war, even Iraqi government television was untouched and still broadcasting.

Civilian casualties did occur, but the strikes, for the most part, were surgical. Some buildings were completely demolished, while neighboring structures were untouched. Some buildings remained standing while their innards were gutted. In others still, only individual floors were erased.

The U.S. Shock & Awe campaign appears to validate James Turner Johnson's claims that in the U.S. armed forces of today "we find a state that has used its intellectual and economic capital to develop weapons, tactics, strategies, and training directed toward maximizing discrimination and proportionality in the use of armed force." ("Just War as it Was and Is" First Things 149 January 2005: 14-24).

Likewise, in a Frontline Investigate report on the Iraq war and civilian casualties, all the participants interviewed indicate that a priority for the military was the minimization of harm to civilians. This was admittedly easier said than done, difficulty rendered by the fact that U.S. troops found themselves attacked by Iraqi soldiers wearing civilian attire, driving taxicabs -- in the words of Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, "violating the laws of land warfare and putting its own people at risk."

Nevertheless, military historian Frederick W. Kagan reminds us:

When you're talking about civilian casualties in war, it's very important to understand that there will always be civilian casualties in war. You can look at any specific instance when there was civilian casualties and point to, frequently, errors of judgment, or misperceptions, or confusion, or lots of things that cause them. You can dissect any given incident and say, "Well, they shouldn't have done this and they shouldn't have done that." But it's almost certain that, in any large war, that there are going to be incidents, and there are going to be civilian casualties.

The U.S military took extraordinary pains to avoid civilian casualties in a campaign in which an incredible amount of ordinance was dropped all across a country, including in extremely densely inhabited areas. Overall, America's success in avoiding large numbers of civilian casualties was astonishing.

The problem is we're living in a world where the expected rate of success is 100 percent. We count up from zero how many civilian casualties there are, and every one is unacceptable. Of course, in principle, that's true. In war, reality doesn't actually work that way.

The Questionable Use of Statistics

100,000? 50,000? 37,000? 12,000? -- When the question of casualties is raised a number of statistics are bandied about. One blogger I've encountered is known for his persistent citation of "100,000" casualties. When he used the statistic in one of our many discussions I took him to task, inquiring where he obtained it (he neglected to respond).

The "100,000" of course comes from a controversial study by the British medical journal The Lancet, regarding which one need only point to the many criticisms of its methodology -- see "100,000 Dead - Or 8,000?", by Fred Kaplan. (Slate. Oct. 29, 2004), along with a thorough and sustained analysis by the blogging collective ChicagoBoyz. In fact, not even the Iraq Body Count (no friend of the Bush administration) will touch a statistic that high -- a website which in itself is notably flawed in its own gathering of numbers. The blogger in question has since taken to citing statistics in the range of 50-100,000 -- which leads me to believe he has taken no time to investigate the validity of the source.

This post is not to discount the loss of innocents. It is to the credit of our military that they undertake the measures they do to guard against civilian casualties. But of the statistics that are often cited by certain parties against the U.S. war in (and subsequent occupation of) Iraq, there is little/no recognition of causal factors except that of the United States military.

Which, in retrospect, is perhaps the point: If the U.S. hadn't invaded, there would be no occupation; no occupation, no beheadings and hostage takings and suicide bombings inflicted on the citizens of a new nation struggling to rise from the ashes and fashion a new democratic government.

If the U.S. never engaged Iraq, the only casualties would be the mass graves of 300,000 who perished for their opposition to Saddam Hussein.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

On the Iraq War, Potential Future Wars, and the Probable Positions of the Popes Thereof - "Tales of the Mailbag" Dept., I. Shawn McElhinney corresponds with critic of the Iraq war. Here is a continuation of the same discussion. Shawn notes that the person with whom he is corresponding is a polite and principled individual -- apparently a rare combination in the anti-war crowd.