The Fates of Civilians in Conflict

War and Peace

Interesting, short piece in the NYRB an issue or two ago by Avishai Margalit and Michael Walzer. They take issue with an academic piece by IDF/Israel government influencers Asa Kasher and Amos Yadlin, who in SAIS Review (Spring 2005) argue that state armies have no real obligation to the protection of civilians who happen to be (for whatever reason) in the vicinity of terrorists or "enemy combatants."

It's been fun tracing Walzer's evolution from somone who once viewed war with wary eyes, especially unjust wars, to embracing the vile activity, treating war like a board game that needs to be governed by strict rules if we're gonna play.

Some interesting nuggets then popped up in this piece... "Men and women without [the] capacity are not legitimate targets. (Workers in weapons and munitions factories create the means to injure and are legitimate targets. As Elizabeth Anscombe argued long ago, workers making K-rations, food for the soldiers, do not create the means to injure and are not legitimate targets. But these issue are not our subject here)."

How about this for a slippery slope! Civilians who make weapons are legitimate targets. What if you are in a refinery making fuel for jets and tanks? Are you a legitimate target? You may not be making the missile, but you are providing materiel for the missile to get from point A to point B. Anscombe says food production doesn't make a civilian a legitimate target, but is not food fuel for the soldier who will pull the trigger? Slippery slippery slippery...

And on collateral damage... speaking about a hypothetical situation, and in context of the wider, recent conflagration in Gaza, where more than half of the 1200-1400 Palestinians killed were civilians, the authors write: "Whatever Israel deems acceptable as 'collateral damage' ...should be the moral limit in the other cases too."

Interesting. Do Margalit and Walzer mean that the moral limits of collateral damage are to be determined on a state by state basis? Conflict by conflict? Seems to me that zero should be the international threshold.