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The Ethics of War and Revenge


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(warning a 443 word long personal view)

Considering the recent Canadian involvement in bombings in the Middle East and the recent incident where an individual entered a military recruitment office and two soldiers were stabbed, I began to recall a well written book of fiction which I read and enjoyed a few years ago.

The name of the book is “The Lions Game”: a 2000 novel by American author Nelson DeMille.

It is a fictional account of a “terrorist” seeking revenge. When the main character was a teenager, his whole family was killed as “collateral damage” by an American bombing run seeking to assassinate Muammar Gaddafi, dictator of Libya. They were unsuccessful. The young man grows up in the Middle East learning how to assassinate and infiltrate.

When he is ready, he searches for and finds out the identities of the pilots and crew of those American airplanes which killed his family. He creates his revenge list. He then travels to the USA, locates each person on his list and kills them. He is killed at the end but not before taking out most of his targets.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lion%27s_Game

He is a “terrorist” but he and his family had nothing to do with Gaddafi. They were killed as an acceptable (by American standards) byproduct of the American intention of getting rid of Muammar.

Today, we have thousands of innocent civilians being killed as “acceptable collateral damage” by those dropping the bombs in the Middle East. We are creating hundreds of potential Asad Khalil's (whose name means Lion in Arabic) looking for revenge.

Social media is very popular around the world makes finding people much easier. Those who really want to find out the identities of military individuals who are serving and participating in action in the Middle East are now able to do so. It is fairly uncomplicated to find the location of the families of our military. The world is also a smaller place with anyone able to travel anywhere.

We in Canada accept that our soldiers actions may be killing innocents “over there” but if one of “them” comes here to return the favour they are considered crazed terrorists. Are they?

What are the ethics of an “eye for an eye” and “tooth for a tooth”? Are they the same as a “family for a family” or “a father for a father”?

What is the rationalization for accepting an act of killing “over there” but not “over here”?

Are we more important than “them” and they are expendable? If they get in the way then it is their tough luck?

Do not be surprised if we reap what we sow.

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Today, we have thousands of innocent civilians being killed as “acceptable collateral damage” by those dropping the bombs in the Middle East. We are creating hundreds of potential Asad Khalil's (whose name means Lion in Arabic) looking for revenge.

The nasty thing about collateral damage is that even if one does nothing there is collateral damage from that decision (i.e. despots stay in power and massacre innocents). It really does not make sense to get all bent out of shape because of unintended civilian causalities as part of an effort to improve lives in a region. The moral compass of people who do get bent out shape about such things is roughly the same as the moral compass of people who hear a women get raped and murdered in a park and do nothing.
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The nasty thing about collateral damage is that even if one does nothing there is collateral damage from that decision (i.e. despots stay in power and massacre innocents). It really does not make sense to get all bent out of shape because of unintended civilian causalities as part of an effort to improve lives in a region.

The problem is this assumes perfect knowledge of the consequences of multiple different courses of action, only one of which can then be implemented. For example, an intervention in Iraq to remove Saddam may have saved some lives as he killed some of his own people and potentially threatened surrounding nations, but also led to a continued insurgency which eventually metastasized into ISIS, which likely has already killed far more people than if Saddam had simply been left alone.

Often, government "efforts to improve lives" have the opposite effect, whether one is talking about social programs with unintended negative consequences/costs, or foreign military interventions.

My opinion is that foreign interventions for "humanitarian purposes" should be carried out if and only if there is an instance of genocide (actual genocide, not the meaninglessness that the term has taken on recently) is going on. Specifically, if a particular ethnic group is being systematically exterminated by a government or group, we should intervene. Other than that, I don't think humanitarian interventions make sense as they are just as likely to cause worse results than the problem they are trying to address. Note that I'm just talking here about military interventions with a humanitarian basis - there may be other valid reasons for military interventions, such as security concerns.

Edited by Bonam
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The nasty thing about collateral damage is that even if one does nothing there is collateral damage from that decision (i.e. despots stay in power and massacre innocents). It really does not make sense to get all bent out of shape because of unintended civilian causalities as part of an effort to improve lives in a region.

Your premise that anything the West has done militarily in the middle-east over the last 40-50 years has anything to do with humanitarian morals or "to improve lives in the region" is completely bogus. An exception may be some of the Western guilt left over from the holocaust against the Jews & support for Israel, but if Israel were not so strategically important to the region for the West they wouldn't give much a woot other than the powerful Jewish elites who lobby our govs.

The West's military involvement in the ME for the last several decades begins and ends with oil. We've been strong-arming them, bombing them, assassinating them etc to secure oil interests. The money we spend and blood we continuously spill to subsidize the oil industry is astronomical, something you rarely if ever hear in arguments in switching to other sources of energy.

What is the rationalization for accepting an act of killing “over there” but not “over here”? Are we more important than “them” and they are expendable? If they get in the way then it is their tough luck?

We're removed from the killing. Hardly anybody in North American has any conception of what it's like to live in a warzone, and it's out of sight out of mind. People are also ignorant, they don't follow nor truly understand what's happening out there, and if they do they usually don't care. So kudos to you Big Guy for actually have a brain and a conscience. It's a brutal world out there, terrorists are just playing the game the only way they have a chance to win.

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... unintended civilian causalities as part of an effort to improve lives in a region.

...

Sorry Tim, I think that boat sailed a few years ago: "'It became necessary to destroy the town to save it,' a United States major said today. He was talking about the decision by allied commanders to bomb and shell the town regardless of civilian casualties, to rout the Vietcong."

That kind of logic did not make sense then and does not make sense now.

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Often, government "efforts to improve lives" have the opposite effect, whether one is talking about social programs with unintended negative consequences/costs, or foreign military interventions.

I think one of the big problems is people (and not just governments, it can be NGOs or individual do-gooders as well) that try to fix extremely complex problems with a limited understand of the complex dynamics of that problem, especially in foreign countries with foreign cultures that are extremely difficult to fully understand. The best intentions can't fix a lack of understanding, especially when there's such a massive number of variables at play. The West also often tries to solve problems within different cultures around the world using a Western framework of how we think society works.

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Other than that, I don't think humanitarian interventions make sense as they are just as likely to cause worse results than the problem they are trying to address. Note that I'm just talking here about military interventions with a humanitarian basis - there may be other valid reasons for military interventions, such as security concerns.

I don't disagree but the important part of your statement is a clear understanding that by doing nothing harms will occur and the decision to intervene or not is based on whether the harms caused by intervention are likely to be worse than the harms caused by non-intervention. If not a choice between doing no harm and doing harm. Harm is going to occur no matter what and we must accept it. Edited by TimG
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The OP is fiction, but the actual record is that Reagan's attack on Gaddafi's compound in 1986 (Operation El Dorado Canyon) was in response to a previous Libyan sponsored bombing in West Berlin, and other terrorist attacks.

Eye for an eye indeed. Advantage goes to laser guided bombs.

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Yeah BC and in that bombing by Reagan Gaddafi's little daughter died, so did the US get its revenge and how about the thousand the US has killed in the Middle-east for 9/11, close to 3000 died, but stop and think, how many have died by US actions and too many innocent children have died in the ME.

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But my question is: Is it ethical for a member of an innocent family, some of whom have been killed by coalition forces, to locate the military members who were involved in that killing but now back home, and exert revenge?

Approximately 210,000 Afghan, Iraqi, and Pakistani civilians have died violent deaths as a direct result of the wars that were initiated by the USA.

http://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/costs/human/civilians

Remember that the reason that Bush gave for the invasion of Afghanistan was revenge the 9/11 attack.

If your children were "accidentlly" killed by a terrorist targeting a military installation and who managed to escape back to Iraq, if you had the means and opportunity would you extinguish that individual?

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Yeah BC and in that bombing by Reagan Gaddafi's little daughter died, so did the US get its revenge and how about the thousand the US has killed in the Middle-east for 9/11, close to 3000 died, but stop and think, how many have died by US actions and too many innocent children have died in the ME.

Innocent US children also died on 9/11. But you don't seem to be too worried about that, or even know. Naturally.

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Sorry Tim, I think that boat sailed a few years ago: "'It became necessary to destroy the town to save it,' a United States major said today. He was talking about the decision by allied commanders to bomb and shell the town regardless of civilian casualties, to rout the Vietcong."

That kind of logic did not make sense then and does not make sense now.

Then you don't understand War itself....Every aspect of war is not logical when compared to normal life as we see it....It does not follow the same rules. or follow the same logic....

The whole concept of war is to either make your enemies bend to your will, or destroy him....normally that means destroying his military ....your opponent lacks the ability to strike back. If the military objective is important enough civilian causalities take second place...There are no laws or conventions that say killing of civilians is unlawful while conducting military operations, At most it says they should be avoided, or kept to a miniumum....

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But my question is: Is it ethical for a member of an innocent family, some of whom have been killed by coalition forces, to locate the military members who were involved in that killing but now back home, and exert revenge?

Ethical? Well that's pretty subjective. But if Country A bombs and militarily dominates Country B but then non-state actors from Country B take it upon themselves to fight back against country A (because country B doesn't the means or will to do so), then it's pretty hypocritical for country A to say what they do is just but the non-state actors are unjust, especially when the non-state actors aren't even targeting civilians.

We're fighting for control over their oil. Terrorists are fighting for autonomy (Allah blah blah), If they didn't have oil over there, there'd be no reason to be in the region, and we would just leave and the terrorists would stop attacking us. But we can't leave, because then Russia or China etc. would fill the vacuum and control the world's energy supply...which is dangerously unacceptable. It's a fight for power, that same old game...

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If they didn't have oil over there, there'd be no reason to be in the region, and we would just leave and the terrorists would stop attacking us. But we can't leave, because then Russia or China etc. would fill the vacuum and control the world's energy supply...which is dangerously unacceptable. It's a fight for power, that same old game...

Excuse me but what happened to the oil glut? What the hell does oil have to do with anything now that there's more than anyone knows what to do with?

Maybe we're fighting over the ME's sunny skies and solar potential.

Edited by eyeball
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Excuse me but what happened to the oil glut? What the hell does oil have to do with anything now that there's more than anyone knows what to do with?

Maybe we're fighting over the ME's sunny skies and solar potential.

Falafel...

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The nasty thing about collateral damage is that even if one does nothing there is collateral damage from that decision (i.e. despots stay in power and massacre innocents). It really does not make sense to get all bent out of shape because of unintended civilian causalities as part of an effort to improve lives in a region. The moral compass of people who do get bent out shape about such things is roughly the same as the moral compass of people who hear a women get raped and murdered in a park and do nothing.

You're operating under the false assumption that western policies there are meant to improve lives... they are motivated primarily by self interest. We have no problem with despots and autocratic regimes that abuse their populations as long as they cooperate with us.

And the implications are not just moral... When you kill thousands of civilians, or your blundering incompetence creates conditions and power vacuums that result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands more (and gives rise to groups like ISIL), then you radicalize people against you and put your own citizens in danger for generations to come.

The rape analogy is too stupid to even respond to.

Edited by dre
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You're operating under the false assumption that western policies there are meant to improve lives... they are motivated primarily by self interest. We have no problem with despots and autocratic regimes that abuse their populations as long as they cooperate with us.

My point is harm is caused whether we intervene or not and whinging about the harm caused by interventions is pretentious preening. The fact that we don't intervene in every possible situation does not mean that the cases where we do intervene are not motivated by a desire to make things better for the people living there.

That said, the more recent interventions have been failures which means we should have a lot more doubt about our ability to effect positive change with interventions.

IOW, intervention is not a bad idea because of collateral damage. It is bad idea because it often does not work.

Edited by TimG
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My point is harm is caused whether we intervene or not and whinging about the harm caused by interventions is pretentious preening. The fact that we don't intervene in every possible situation does not mean that the cases where we do intervene are not motivated by a desire to make things better for the people living there.

That said, the more recent interventions have been failures which means we should have a lot more doubt about our ability to effect positive change with interventions.

IOW, intervention is not a bad idea because of collateral damage. It is bad idea because it often does not work.

You're still operating under the flawed assumption that these adventures are motivated by altruism. But nation states don't spend 10's or 100's of billions of dollars on humanitarian projects. They are motivated by self interest which is why some situations get ignored. Various world powers have been screwing around in the middle east for almost a century, and it has absolutely nothing to do with making the lives of locals better.

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... The fact that we don't intervene in every possible situation does not mean that the cases where we do intervene are not motivated by a desire to make things better for the people living there.

..

Do you really believe that the American and Canadian governments got involved in Vietnam, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria et al because we make things better better for people living there.?

We spent $billions and sacrificed the lives of thousands of American and Canadian citizens as an attempt to make the lives of these folks better?

To what next part of the world should we now go and makes their lives better at the cost of our lives ?

You can't be serious!!

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Do you really believe that the American and Canadian governments got involved in Vietnam, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria et al because we make things better better for people living there.?

In all of the interventions since WW2 the end goal has always been end conflict and set up a democratic state that would emulate western democracies. You can argue that in some cases other motives also influenced the decision to intervene but it does not change that every intervention is based on the belief that by intervening the people living there will have better lives. Edited by TimG
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Do you really believe that the American and Canadian governments got involved in Vietnam, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria et al because we make things better better for people living there.?

We spent $billions and sacrificed the lives of thousands of American and Canadian citizens as an attempt to make the lives of these folks better?

To what next part of the world should we now go and makes their lives better at the cost of our lives ?

You can't be serious!!

The whole premise of this silly thread is wrong. WWII had collateral deaths. Vietnam had them. That was 50 years ago. Since then, laser guided bombs, pinpoint accuracy and the technology to check for innocents before striking has had such tremendous results that the idiots have resorted to setting up operations in hospitals, schools and churches knowing that the West holds life much more sacred than they do.

The cowards now cower in heavily populated civilian areas hoping for a few collateral deaths, something that even the Nazis never thought of. The cowards now kill innocents and throw their bodies into the craters hoping to fool the media. They use "human shields", something that old school terrorists of the 1970's would never do. The modern terrorist is a crazed idiot that deserves to die. The more of them we can take out the better. If a few innocents get injured, then BRAINWASHED by other terrorists to grow up and become terrorists, I guess that's just too bad for them.

It's the price these poor destitute countries have to pay for being too weak to throw off their terrorist oppressors. I'm glad I live in North America, and so are you whether you want to admit it or not.

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They use "human shields", something that old school terrorists of the 1970's would never do.

Probably because no one tried to negotiate with the old school when they had the chance.

Wait till the next class enrolls.

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BC, went and research and yes 8 kids died who were on those planes, which is very sad and wrong but there are thousands that have dies in the ME. and the US government is still partly responsible for letting the attacks happen in the first place on 9/11.

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...

The more of them we can take out the better. If a few innocents get injured, then BRAINWASHED by other terrorists to grow up and become terrorists, I guess that's just too bad for them.

...

Yes I agree. That is the kind of thinking that led to Hiroshima, 9/11 attacks in New York, bombing of Dresden, attack at Pearl Harbor and the current "shooting fish in a barrel" by the coalition bombers over Syria and Iraq.

So, is any terrorist attack on Canadians here in Canada be "too bad for us"?

Edited by Big Guy
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