Friday, July 28, 2006

Proportional and Legitimate Response

In reading the news from Lebanon and Israel, I came across evidence of moral stupdity on both sides of the conflict.

Ilene Prusher in the Christian Science Monitor article titled, "Israelis Resolve to Use More Force," reported a front-page headline in the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv that read, "Greater Determination, Less Sensitivity." It also includes a quote from an editorial in the paper that said, "Woe is to us if we act in proportion, and what would that actually consist of? One bomb from a plane in return for a rocket? One artillery shell in return for a Katyusha?"

The quote, if it is accurate, distorts the argument of proportionality. First, it makes the implication that Israeli bombs and artillery are a response to Hezbullah's rockets. In fact, Israeli bombs and rockets were a response to a Hezbollah raid that killed 8 Israeli soldiers and captured two more. Hezbollah rockets were in response to the Israeli bombs in a classic case of escalation.

This instance of escalation shows why we must choose to promote a desire for proportionality in part by leveling condemnation against those who violate it. Violations of the principle of proportionality lead to the types of all-out violence with all of its death, maiming, and destruction.

A TimesOnline article reports the following costs so far:

Lebanese: Up to 600 killed, 1,788 seriously injured, 5,000 homes damaged, 500,000 people displaced, 200,000 have left the country, 3 airports bombed, 62 bridges destroyed.

Israel: 19 civilians dead, 26 seriously injured, 374 less badly injured, 33 Israeli soldiers killed, 50 injured, 200,000 Israelis have left their homes in North Israel.

There are other costs not listed. The breakdown in health and food services in Lebanon is going to contribute to malnutrition, disease, and other health problems that, in turn, will contribute to loss of life. Poverty also contributes greatly to the loss of life and health, and contributes to the loss of education. This means that the economic damage done to Lebanon will also cost lives and health and particularly adversely affect the children of Lebanon.

There is no guarantee that a respect for the principle of proportionality would have prevented this loss. After all, Hezbollah is clearly an organization that lacks any moral sense (as displayed by its firing missiles at civilian targets) and, so, could not be expected to respect a moral prohibition on proportionality. However, a general respect for the principle of proportionality can, on average, prevent situations such as this from getting out of hand, thereby avoiding these types of costs. As such, the civilized world has good reason to continue to promote a respect for proportionality by praising those who live by this principle and condemning those who violate it.

If the civilized world accepts Israel's disproportionate response, then the civilized world will make disproportionate responses far more likely in other future conflicts, which will likely increase the instances in which conflicts escalate out of control. We have good reason to avoid this.

On the other side of the border, another article in the Christian Science Monitor reports a different problem. Nicholas Blanford, in an article titled, "Israeli Strikes May Boost Hizbullah" writes about a poll that shows,

According to a poll released by the Beirut Center for Research and Information, 87 percent of Lebanese support Hizbullah's fight with Israel, a rise of 29 percent on a similar poll conducted in February. More striking, however, is the level of support for Hizbullah's resistance from non-Shiite communities. Eighty percent of Christians polled supported Hizbullah along with 80 percent of Druze and 89 percent of Sunnis.

Morally, it is not possible to support firing missiles at civilian targets. If there is an explanation for this support, I think it rests with the same psychological phenomena thta resulted in Bush having a 90% approval rating in the days after 9/11 -- a "rallying around the flag" whenever a foreign power intervenes. This is a dangerous tendency that sometimes leads to the support of less moral options.

In addition, I would argue that the new supporters of Hizbollah are cutting their own throat with these choices. If they support the moral principle that it is permissible to lay waste to civilians, they are supporting a moral culture that leaves their own lives insecure.

As a matter of causal fact, those who are not adverse to the killing and maiming of civilians will find it easier to kill and maim civilians. This means that the will resort to the killing of innocent civilians much more quickly and easily, resulting in more innocent civilians finding themselves dead, maimed, or otherwise harmed.

The best way for civilians to prevent being killed or maimed is to promote a stronger aversion to killing and maiming civilians. The say to do this is by condemning those who do not demonstrate an appropriately strong aversion to killing and maiming civilians.

This argument applies to the people of Israel as well. According to a Reuters article, a survey, “…showed that 82 percent of all Israelis and 92 percent of the Jewish population felt the operation against Hizbollah fighters in Lebanon was justified.”

So, we have 80+ percent of the Israeli population showing little or no aversion to the killing and maiming of innocent civilians (including children). We now have 80+ percent of the Lebanese population showing little or no aversion to the killing and maiming of innocent civilians (including children).

And we have a part of the world with a great deal of killing and maiming of innocent civilians (including children).

Some might think that this is a coincidence.

I tend to think that if innocent civilians promote such a causal attitude towards the killing and maiming of innocent civilians, they should not be too shocked over the fact that they find themselves surrounded by a lot of innocent civilians being killed and maimed.

If we do not want to suffer the same fate, then I suggest that we work to create a culture that condemns those who show such callous disregard to the killing and maiming of innocent people, as we would want others to condemn those who show such callous disregard to killing and maiming us.

6 comments:

Lido said...

Dear Alonzo,

I am an Atheist Mediterranean Arab...:

I wish whenever I see my Jewish friend to not feel bad... We meet and we pretend that nothing is happening but deep inside we feel scared from the people who can never understand our friendship...

I wish if the Jewish look at the Arab with a human side not with the Talmud vision

I wish if the Muslim look to the Jew from the human side not with the Koran vision

People can evolve and build a bridge of peace solid between the past, present and the future

No holocaust to be mentioned the massacres too... Just always remember that we are all human and we should remain so, without alienating each other…

How is that… simple be brave and stand for it… Galileo Idea about the universe kept as a taboo for centuries but now it’s a key for our evolution.

Tom in Texas said...

"The quote, if it is accurate, distorts the argument of proportionality. First, it makes the implication that Israeli bombs and artillery are a response to Hezbullah's rockets. In fact, Israeli bombs and rockets were a response to a Hezbollah raid that killed 8 Israeli soldiers and captured two more. Hezbollah rockets were in response to the Israeli bombs in a classic case of escalation."

But Hizbullah has been firing rockets for much longer than the current strife (see below link from Dec. 2005). So Israel's response was to a situation that had existed for years -- one of frequent unannounced rocket attacks into Israeli cities; their actions were not, as you imply, merely to the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers. That act was the act of escalation you attribute to Israel. When all Hezbollah did was fire rockets into the towns, Israel held back. When they backed these rockets with military raids into the nation of Israel itself, Israel responded with force.

http://edition.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/meast/12/29/mideast.alqaeda.claim/index.html

JOE said...

While it's true that hezbolla has been firing rockets for years israel has been kidnapping and torturing arabs for decades. Israel routinely kidnaps arabs from both lebanon and palestine and tortures them. It has over ten thousand humans in jail who were all kidnapped and imprisoned without a trial or charges. Thousands of these are women and children. Thousands have been tortured to death.

furthermore Israel has and is running an apartheid regime in palestine for the last three decades. It has subjugated the palestenians to unspeakable treatment including killing two thousand a year for the last few years.

Israel has vilated every international law, geneva convention, and basic human right. As civilized people we should speak out against all countries who commit war crimes, torture people, imprison people without trials, and other violations of human dignity and law.

There can be no justification for the acts of the israeli government for the last three decades. Massacre after massacre can't be justified by saying "we have a right to defend ourselves" and "our neighbors hate us"

Before anybody says "israel does not target civillians" let me state that nobody believes that anymore. At best israel is indifferent to the deaths of the civillians. Certainly it's willing to kill hundreds of them in order to spare the life of one of it's soldiers and that's an abomination under any religion.

Barringer said...

I disagree with the original posting. John Stewart was pointing out the hypocrisy in Bush's position that Embryos are life, every life is sacred, except for the collateral damage in the Iraq War. If Stewart's own position is that embryos are not life, then there is no inconsistency in his position.

Austin Cline said...

I tend to think that if innocent civilians promote such a causal attitude towards the killing and maiming of innocent civilians, they should not be too shocked over the fact that they find themselves surrounded by a lot of innocent civilians being killed and maimed.

We should add to that the fact that people appear to have an innate inability to react proportionately. If people are inherently inclined to react with far more force than they received, even when they are trying to apply the exact same force, then significant hurdles should be put in place in order to prevent escalation. That might cause the retaliation to be just about the same as the original force.

If we're lucky.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Austin Cline

I must say that your link provided an interesting read.

It also provided a reason to support the moral principle of "let no person be a judge in his own case." One of the ways of avoiding the consequences of the dispositions that you wrote about is to require individuals to go to a third party to plead their case and let the third party decide what is proportionate or reasonable. Private 'justice' is simply too likely to get out of control.