FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Fallacious Human Shield and Collateral Damage Arguments

by

Lady Justice, Justitia, depicted as a blindfolded statue since the 15th century, illustrates John Rawl’s conception of justice as requiring a veil of ignorance (A Theory of Justice, 1971).  Such a veil of ignorance means that, in order to be just, we must ignore the differences between people, such as their identity, power or weakness.

To be just, in the following cases, we must not victimize the innocent, whether that person is a cherished child in one’s family or an unknown girl in Iraq, Gaza, or Israel.  To do otherwise, in cases of violent conflict, would not only be unjust, it would be terrorism.  If one accepts this principle, then the justifications of bombing “militants,” regardless of their use of human shields, or the inevitable civilian deaths as “collateral damage” are fallacious arguments, as explained below.

The human shield argument, in the news today from Israel and the war with Gaza and in the ongoing debates about drones, is similar to the collateral damage argument.  Let’s take the collateral damage argument first.  (Of course, this argument is given from the perspective of those asserting the argument, not the victims of the argument.)

The collateral damage argument goes like this: First, the enemy intentionally places itself close to civilian populations, so that any attack on the enemy will necessitate civilian deaths.  Second, since it is the enemy’s intent to put those civilians at risk, civilian deaths are the enemy’s responsibility, not ours.  Therefore, the argument’s proponents are, however regrettably, free to kill civilians because the enemy put them in harm’s way, and cynically uses these deaths for propaganda advantage.

Following along the lines of this collateral damage argument, the human shield argument goes like this: First, the enemy hides amongst civilians, notably in hospitals and schools, so that any attack on the enemy will necessitate civilian deaths, especially children and the sick.  Second, since it is the enemy’s intent to put those civilians at risk, the deaths of these children and infirm are the enemy’s responsibility, not ours.  Therefore (again with sorrow) we are free to kill children, nurses, doctors and patients because the enemy put them in harm’s way, and cynically uses these deaths for propaganda advantage.

Now, let’s look at these arguments from the perspective of the “enemy,” the potential victims of this argument.  Their reply is, “How else would you like us to situate our soldiers, leadership, and munitions manufacturing?  Would you like us to place these people and buildings in areas free of civilians, so that they could be more easily targeted and destroyed?”  Furthermore, it is important to remember that the world exists in an era of asymmetrical warfare, where exceedingly powerful countries are perceived as occupying and forcefully governing lands of disputed rule or ownership (e.g., Palestine, Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan), and are waging war against an overmatched enemy that resorts to guerrilla warfare.

Using an analogy (and being mindful that no analogy is perfect), consider two bank robbery scenarios.  In one case, the bank robber takes a child hostage and holds the child in front of himself as a human shield.  In this case, a police officer would not shoot through the child to kill the bank robber.  There are other ways of catching the bank robber that would not entail the child’s death.  In the other case, we would not drop a bomb on plotting bank robbers having a meeting at an apartment complex with innocent people around.  There would be another way of stopping bank robbery conspirators.

Indeed, if terrorists were in an apartment in Manhattan or Seattle, we would not bomb the apartment–no matter how “smart” the bomb. Innocent civilian life is too highly valued to do that.  There would be another way of apprehending those terrorists.

If we apply our ethics, as Justitia, we would protect our civilians, children, and infirm, in Phoenix, Arizona, just as we should do everything we can to protect the civilians in rural Afghanistan, Iraq,  or in Gaza or Israel. At the very least, we should contribute nothing to hurting those children.  All civilians deserve the freedom from being treated like expendables by any military anywhere.  Anything short of respecting that freedom makes us all terrorists.

Robert J. Gould, Ph.D., is an ethicist, writes for PeaceVoice, and directs the Conflict Resolution Graduate and Undergraduate Programs at Portland State University.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 30, 2017
William R. Polk
What Must be Done in the Time of Trump
Howard Lisnoff
Enough of Russia! There’s an Epidemic of Despair in the US
Ralph Nader
Crash of Trumpcare Opens Door to Full Medicare for All
Carol Polsgrove
Gorsuch and the Power of the Executive: Behind the Congressional Stage, a Legal Drama Unfolds
Michael J. Sainato
Fox News Should Finally Dump Bill O’Reilly
Kenneth Surin
Former NC Governor Pat McCory’s Job Search Not Going Well
Binoy Kampmark
The Price of Liberation: Slaughtering Civilians in Mosul
Bruce Lesnick
Good Morning America!
William Binney and Ray McGovern
The Surveillance State Behind Russia-gate: Will Trump Take on the Spooks?
Jill Richardson
Gutting Climate Protections Won’t Bring Back Coal Jobs
Robert Pillsbury
Maybe It’s Time for Russia to Send Us a Wake-Up Call
Prudence Crowther
Swamp Rats Sue Trump
March 29, 2017
Jeffrey Sommers
Donald Trump and Steve Bannon: Real Threats More Serious Than Fake News Trafficked by Media
David Kowalski
Does Washington Want to Start a New War in the Balkans?
Patrick Cockburn
Bloodbath in West Mosul: Civilians Being Shot by Both ISIS and Iraqi Troops
Ron Forthofer
War and Propaganda
Matthew Stevenson
Letter From Phnom Penh
James Bovard
Peanuts Prove Congress is Incorrigible
Thomas Knapp
Presidential Golf Breaks: Good For America
Binoy Kampmark
Disaster as Joy: Cyclone Debbie Strikes
Peter Tatchell
Human Rights are Animal Rights!
George Wuerthner
Livestock Grazing vs. the Sage Grouse
Jesse Jackson
Trump Should Form a Bipartisan Coalition to Get Real Reforms
Thomas Mountain
Rwanda Indicts French Generals for 1994 Genocide
Clancy Sigal
President of Pain
Andrew Stewart
President Gina Raimondo?
Lawrence Wittner
Can Our Social Institutions Catch Up with Advances in Science and Technology?
March 28, 2017
Mike Whitney
Ending Syria’s Nightmare will Take Pressure From Below 
Mark Kernan
Memory Against Forgetting: the Resonance of Bloody Sunday
John McMurtry
Fake News: the Unravelling of US Empire From Within
Ron Jacobs
Mad Dog, Meet Eris, Queen of Strife
Michael J. Sainato
State Dept. Condemns Attacks on Russian Peaceful Protests, Ignores Those in America
Ted Rall
Five Things the Democrats Could Do to Save Their Party (But Probably Won’t)
Linn Washington Jr.
Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Hiring Practices: Privilege or Prejudice?
Philippe Marlière
Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Presidential Hopeful, is Good News for the French Left
Norman Pollack
Political Cannibalism: Eating America’s Vitals
Bruce Mastron
Obamacare? Trumpcare? Why Not Cubacare?
David Macaray
Hollywood Screen and TV Writers Call for Strike Vote
Christian Sorensen
We’ve Let Capitalism Kill the Planet
Rodolfo Acuna
What We Don’t Want to Know
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of the Electronics Ban
Andrew Moss
Why ICE Raids Imperil Us All
March 27, 2017
Robert Hunziker
A Record-Setting Climate Going Bonkers
Frank Stricker
Why $15 an Hour Should be the Absolute Minimum Minimum Wage
Melvin Goodman
The Disappearance of Bipartisanship on the Intelligence Committees
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail