FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Rethinking Killing Civilians

by

When challenged about airstrikes that kill civilians—whether from drones or jets with “smart” ordnance—the excuses given by government and military officials are twofold. Either it was a regrettable error or it was a regrettable side effect of targeting a known “bad guy”—an ISIS leader, al Shabaab terrorist, a Taliban boss or al Qaeda commander. Collateral damage. The LOADR response. Lipstick on a dead rat.

So committing a war crime is OK if you say it’s regrettable?

“Yeah, but those guys behead journalists and enslave girls.”

True that, and ISIS has well earned the hatred and disgust most decent people on Earth feel for them. As well, when the US military strafes and bombs hospitals, can we wonder at all why the US is hated with enough venom to overpower morality? Yes, it’s true, when the US slaughters civilians it calls it a mistake and when ISIS does so they crow like proud two-year-olds with zero sense of right and wrong. But my question is, when are the American people going to stop allowing our military—representing all of us in a democracy—to commit crimes against humanity?

The Obama administration claims that the only civilians worth worrying about are in countries not designated as war zones and that, in those countries the US has only killed between “64 and 116 civilians in drone and other lethal air attacks against terrorism suspects.” Those nations presumably include Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. No numbers need be given for Iraq, Afghanistan, nor Syria. Civilians there are presumably fair game.

At least four organizations are keeping independent tallies and all are far higher in their assertions of minimum civilian deaths in those designated non-war zones.

What of the broader picture?

The Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University frames the largest study and tracks civilian deaths from military actions; their study estimates from documented accounts that as of March last year approximately 210,000 noncombatants have been killed in the Global War on Terror launched in October 2001.

So, at some point, we have to wonder; If the US intelligence services determine that an ISIS homegrown leader is living in a building in Queens or North Minneapolis or Beaverton, Oregon will it be OK then to target that building with a Hellfire missile launched from a Predator drone?

How ridiculous, right? We would never do that.

Except that we do, routinely, in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Pakistan. When will this stop?

It will stop when we are not only morally opposed to it but when we decide to be effective. Our violent response to terrorism escalates at every turn, guaranteeing that, in turn, terrorism against the US will also escalate. It is time to reject the idea that a nuanced, nonviolent approach is ineffective. Indeed, it’s a bit reminiscent of what Winston Churchill said about democracy, that it’s the worst form of government—except for all the rest. Nonviolence is the worst way to manage conflict—except for all the rest.

We not only create more terrorists when we accidentally or mistakenly take out a hospital, almost more importantly, we create a widening, deepening pool of sympathy for any sort of insurgency against the US. While it is true that sympathy and support for terrorists is nowhere near the support for armed insurgency—and there is a great deal of difference—why on Earth would we continue to essentially guarantee that this global war on terror is permanent?

Why indeed? There are those who gain in status, power, and money by a continuation of this godawful war. These are the people who lobby hardest for more war.

Those people should be absolutely ignored. We need to fix this with other methods. We can, and we should.

If the US would rethink its methods of conflict management it might come to solutions without bloodshed. Some of problem is simply who is asked to advise the deciders. In some countries the officials consult with expert scholars and practitioners of mediation, negotiation, humanitarian aid and sustainable development. Those countries keep the peace much better. Most—e.g. Norway, Denmark, Sweden—have better metrics of citizen well-being than we do in the US.

We can help. As an example in our hemisphere, the rebels and the government in Colombia waged a 52-year war, each side committing many atrocities and the well-being of the average Colombian suffered for more than a half-century. Finally, peace and conflict scholars from the Kroc Institute were invited to help—the first time any academic program in our field was invited to do so in the West. They introduced new ideas and the happy outcome is that finally—finally—the Colombians have a signed peace accord. Yes, the voters narrowly rejected it, but the principals are back at the table, not the battlefield, to work on a more agreeable agreement.

Please. We have the knowledge to end this terrible dance of death known as war. Humankind now knows how. But do we have the will? Can we step up as voters and require our successful candidates to stop boasting about how tough and lethal they will be and instead insist that the successful candidate will explain and commit to a productive peace process that is proven to produce much more gain with far less pain?

Tom H. Hastings is core faculty in the Conflict Resolution Department at Portland State University and founding director of PeaceVoice

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
April 21, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Diana Johnstone
The Main Issue in the French Presidential Election: National Sovereignty
Paul Street
Donald Trump: Ruling Class President
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Dude, Where’s My War?
Andrew Levine
If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em
Paul Atwood
Why Does North Korea Want Nukes?
Robert Hunziker
Trump and Global Warming Destroy Rivers
Vijay Prashad
Turkey, After the Referendum
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, the DOJ and Julian Assange
CJ Hopkins
The President Formerly Known as Hitler
Steve Reyna
Replacing Lady Liberty: Trump and the American Way
Lucy Steigerwald
Stop Suggesting Mandatory National Service as a Fix for America’s Problems
Robert Fisk
It is Not Just Assad Who is “Responsible” for the Rise of ISIS
John Laforge
“Strike Two” Against Canadian Radioactive Waste Dumpsite Proposal
Norman Solomon
The Democratic Party’s Anti-Bernie Elites Have a Huge Stake in Blaming Russia
Andrew Stewart
Can We Finally Get Over Bernie Sanders?
Susan Babbitt
Don’t Raise Liberalism From the Dead (If It is Dead, Which It’s Not)
Uri Avnery
Palestine’s Nelson Mandela
Fred Nagel
It’s “Deep State” Time Again
John Feffer
The Hunger President
Stephen Cooper
Nothing is Fair About Alabama’s “Fair Justice Act”
Jack Swallow
Why Science Should Be Political
Chuck Collins
Congrats, Graduates! Here’s Your Diploma and Debt
Aidan O'Brien
While God Blesses America, Prometheus Protects Syria, Russia and North Korea 
Patrick Hiller
Get Real About Preventing War
David Rosen
Fiction, Fake News and Trump’s Sexual Politics
Evan Jones
Macron of France: Chauncey Gardiner for President!
David Macaray
Adventures in Labor Contract Language
Ron Jacobs
The Music Never Stopped
Kim Scipes
Black Subjugation in America
Sean Stinson
MOAB: More Obama and Bush
Miguel A. Cruz-Díaz
Minute Musings: On Why the United States Should Launch a Tomahawk Strike on Puerto Rico
Tom Clifford
The Return of “Mein Kampf” … in Japan
Todd Larsen
Concerned About Climate Change? Change Where You Bank!
Thomas Hon Wing Polin
Brexit: Britain’s Opening to China?
John Hutchison
Everything Old is New Again: a Brief Retrospectus on Korea and the Cold War
Michael Brenner
The Ghost in the Dream Machine
Yves Engler
The Military Occupation of Haiti
Christopher Brauchli
Guardians of Lies
James Preece
How Labour Can Win the Snap Elections
Cesar Chelala
Preventing Disabilities in the Elderly
Sam Gordon
From We Shall Overcome to Where Have all the Flowers Gone?
Charles Thomson
It’s Still Not Too Late to Deserve Your CBE, Chris Ofili
Louis Proyect
Documentaries That Punch
Charles R. Larson
Review: Vivek Shanbhag’s “Ghachar Ghochar”
David Yearsley
Raiding the Tomb of Lubitsch
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail