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

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
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS’s Losses in Syria and Iraq Will Make It Difficult to Recruit
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer Bernie Morphs Into Public Option Dean
Gregory Barrett
Can Democracy Save Us?
Dave Lindorff
Budget Goes Military
John Heid
Disappeared on the Border: “Chase and Scatter” — to Death
Mark Weisbrot
The Troubling Financial Activities of an Ecuadorian Presidential Candidate
Robert Fisk
As ISIS’s Caliphate Shrinks, Syrian Anger Grows
Michael J. Sainato
Democratic Party Continues Shunning Popular Sanders Surrogates
Paul Bentley
Nazi Heritage: the Strange Saga of Chrystia Freeland’s Ukrainian Grandfather
Christopher Ketcham
Buddhism in the Storm
Thomas Barker
Platitudes in the Wake of London’s Terror Attack
Mike Hastie
Insane Truths: a Vietnam Vet on “Apocalypse Now, Redux”
Binoy Kampmark
Cyclone Watch in Australia
Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail