PC war

I can’t stop shaking my head about yesterday’s front-page Times piece by Steven Erlanger about complaints from France and the EU, “echoed by some nongovernmental organizations” — and echoed, now, by The Times — against the “disproportionate use of force” in the Hezbollah/Israel war.

Of course, there is disproporationate use of force. Hezbollah attacked. Israel attacked back. It’s a war. Israel is going to try to win. In fact, Israel is going to try to destroy Hezbollah.

The alternative — the proportionate use of force — reminds me of an old Star Trek episode, I believe, in which two nations on a planet came to an agreement for civilized use of force. Rather than bothering with the bombs and guns, a certain number of people from each side had to turn themselves in to be killed. This argument isn’t hard to lampoon. But Erlanger doesn’t try. Only toward the end does he finally include this:

Referring to complaints that Israel was using disproportionate force, Dan Gillerman, Israel’s United Nations ambassador, said at a rally of supporters in New York this week, “You’re damn right we are.”

: And speaking of ridiculous ways to speak about this war, Eat the Press is right to pat Jon Stewart for ridiculing the networks about not calling this war — almost on the brink, on the brink… — and then for saying that we feel this war only “at the pump.”

  • Israel has what it takes to lay any and all of her enemies to waste. It’s just a question of escalation and political will.

    Israel could end this current conflict by tonight if they wanted to, but they’d face international condemnation for reducing Lebanon- and Hezbollah- to glowing green shards of glass.

  • Steve R

    International law and the UN charter permit a country to defend itself against a continuing threat. However, the force used must be both necessary and proportionate.

    Instead what we get is Israel’s signature brand of collective punishment, maliciously perfected in the West Bank and Gaza over the last 38 years.

  • That is the most ridiculous idea I’ve ever heard. Jeff is spot on in pointing to the old Star Trek episode. So should they have just rounded up and executed the first seven people they found and called it even? Then each time Hezbollah makes another cross border raid, Israel could respond with another execution of equal proportion?

    Actually, proportional would take into account population sizes. Iran, Syria, and Lebanon have a combined population of ~90 million to Israel’s 6.3 million. So actually, Israel should execute 100 for every 7 killed in a Hezbollah raid.

    OR, maybe Israel should soften Hezbollah targets from the air, invade with a ground force, destroy their missiles (and their drug factories; did you know Hezbollah grows, processes, smuggles, and sells heroin?) and make the border safe for both Israel and the Lebanese army. Granted, Iran’s $100 million of aid a year will re-arm Hezbollah pretty quickly, but at least justice will have been served temporarily.

  • Katcher —

    Your recommended death toll seems to be roughly fulfiilled, so far. CBS News had 300 Lebanese killed and 29 Israelis as of yesterday (in round figures close to your 100:7 ratio).

    Things are not working out so well on the ratio of war refugees. Yesterday’s count was 400,000 homeless in Lebanon — which means that Israel had better make 28,000 of its own citizens homeless immediately to balance things out.

  • Sebastian

    Think about what you are saying, Jeff! What would you like to tell us with this absurd star strek analogy? I will cite you a comment that Mark Grimsley has made on rantingprofs:

    «Just war theory has essentially two strands of thought: the law concerning resort to war and the law concerning the conduct of war. The latter requires discriminant, proportional use of force. By Walzer’s own formulation — not explicitly mentioned in the TNR piece but discussed at length in his classic book, Just and Unjust Wars, this requires observance of the principle of double effect: “The intention of the actor is good, that is, he aims narrowly at the acceptable effect [e.g., the death or incapacitation of combatants]; the evil effect [death or injury to noncombatants] is not one of his ends, nor is it a means to his ends, and, aware of the evil involved, he seeks to minimize it, accepting costs to himself.”

    The hundreds of Lebanese civilian casualties constitute a serious query as to whether the Israelis are observing the principle of double effect. The Hezbollah targets in Beirut are fixed and therefore pre-surveyed. An airstrike using precision-guided munitions or even a 155-mm round should be able to hit them with a 25-meter circular probability error. Radar-directed counterbattery fire against the katyusha rocket sites is the fastest way to hit the sites, but often unavailing since the operators have usually left the area before or immediately after the rocket is fired, and in the nature of the case must be executed without regard for civilians in the strike zone. Strikes on vehicles suspected of carrying Hezbollah operators and weapons are resulting in a lot of mistakes and suggests very limited concern for the possibility of killing civilians. The attacks on Lebanese infrastructure, which are apparently intended to pressure the Lebanese government, are questionable because they seem more likely to effect the collapse of that government. In the meantime they too result in numerous civilian losses, both immediate and delayed, for the loss of essential services will inevitably generate additional losses. As for the attack on a Lebanese army barracks, the casualties there, while not civilians, were certainly noncombatants in the present context of this conflict.»

  • Michael

    Words do count. Precision in the use of language is one of the responsibilities of honest journalism. And if the networks aren’t calling this war, there is a reason for this. An after all, it has a direct effect on the perception of these events.

  • Michael

    Why is it ridiculous to speak about “disproportionate use of force” in this war? We have to talk about it. Because the consequences of this “disproportionate use of force” aren’t ridiculous at all!

    «Why, for example, did the Israelis attack and destroy the headquarters of the Liban-Lait company in the Bekaa Valley, the largest milk factory in Lebanon? Why did they bomb out the factory of the main importer for Proctor and Gamble products in Lebanon, based in Bchmoun? Why did they destroy a paper box factory outside Beirut? And why did Israeli planes attack a convoy of new ambulances being brought into Lebanon from Syria yesterday, vehicles which were the gift of the medical authorities of the United Arab Emirates? The ambulances were clearly marked as a relief aid convoy, according to an Emirates official. Were all these “terrorist” targets? Was the little girl in the field at Tel Harfa a “terrorist” target?»
    Source: Robert Fisk in the Independent

  • Of course, there is disproporationate use of force. Hezbollah attacked. Israel attacked back. It’s a war. Israel is going to try to win. In fact, Israel is going to try to destroy Hezbollah.

    Taking out HB is useful. I would say that causing billions of dollars in damage — and hundreds of deaths, all too many of them civilian — is not.

    This isn’t just about the use of force. It’s about an argument about the right of a civilization to defend itself, and the control of reactions to that defense. It’s a discussion that’s gone on since 9/11 in earnest (although it’s been a long-standing issue). I understand the arguments…yet I see that every act of aggression is causing ripples, and those ripples are causing more fear and aggression in the peoples of the Middle East.

    Here’s one set of questions. How do you develop a solid defense that doesn’t cause the creation of more terrorists? How do you take out a civilian-hiding organization like Hezbollah, one that’s worked hard to raise it’s social status among the very people it cynically uses as human shields? And, worse, then re-uses those terrified and angry people as soldiers in their pissing match?

    The goal, to me, is to stop playing into the hands of those who’d duck bombs, then drive people into taking — or exploding — bombs, thanks to their wicked “leadership”. I think we need to consider that every time we kill a child, we might be creating more of the very thing we’re fighting against.

  • The word “disproportionate” began to be used against Israel’s actions on June 30, long before the hostilities broke out between Hezbollah and Israel. You can read about it on my blog if you’re interested.

    Israel is not attempting to fight a just war based on Michael Walzer’s theories (much as I appreciate the nuances of his argument) or a war to satisfy the moral requirements of bloggers, pundits, al Jazeera, CNN, or the American and European public. Israel is at war against an enemy–Lebanese members of Hezbollah, in this case–that welcomes war and death and destruction, and that particularly revels in leading naive or sympathetic representatives of the media to film tragic scenes of death and destruction–and they are tragic, and heartbreaking, but unavoidable in war–so that it can point out Israel’s “massacres” and “atrocities.” Hezbollah’s atrocities, meanwhile, occur far away from the cameras. The American media’s participation in this charade is shameful.

    Yes, language is very important. The “resistance” Hezbollah constantly refers to is resistance to the legitimacy and sovereignty of the State of Israel, which was granted by the UN in 1947. Hezbollah does not accept Israel’s right to exist.

    Israel’s message is: Resistance is futile. We will not give up our state or our homeland. When Hezbollah gets the message, I assume Israel will stop being “disproportionate.”

    Or maybe not. If that happens, I will rethink my position.

  • Civilians wouldn’t be dying if Hezbollah didn’t hide and fire their missiles in people’s backyards. Either you allow the terrorists to hide behind innocent civilians and let them continue raining missiles, or you destroy them wherever they are. If Hezbollah truly cared about civilian deaths, they’d march with their armies and take on Israel in the battefield. They would be destroyed, but then its more honorable than the alternative. Lebanese blood and distress is on Hezbollah’s hands.

  • I’m confused as to why anyone would not want to call what’s going on between Israel and Lebanon a war. Jon Stewart implied that it might have something to do with the US destabilizing the region, but other than that, I can’t think why anyone would want to dodge the term. Most of you – esp. Michael, above – see the use of the term as a question of being able to assess justice with regards to the actions taken by both sides.

    I’m still puzzled by the reluctance to not call it a war. The question of justice can only be addressed in one way or another after the situation has been labeled. Does anyone have any thoughts on this? I really am confused.

  • Eileen

    Thank you, Jeff, for addressing the gigantic elephant. And I know it wasn’t due to my ‘nudge’.

    The only thing that is disproportionate in this scenario is Islamofascism.

    Within one month we all will be holding on.

    Godspeed again, Jeff. Your voice will become even more important – here – but not at Al-Guardian.


  • Rick

    Hey Jeff, if kidnapping 2 soldiers is a “war” justifying any and all means on the Israeli side, then what about

    Blowing up innocent civilians like in Afghanistan or Pakistan?

    Invading a country on false pretexts like Iraq?

    Openly soliciting government opponents to overthrow a regime, like in Iran or Syria?

    Supplying arms to anti-government rebels like in Nicaragua?

    Do all these things justify a war against the US — or is that “terrorism”?

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