Sunday, January 4, 2009

From “Ticking-Bombs” to Bombing ‘Tics’ – Why We Can Kill So Many Civilians in Gaza and Sleep at Night

Last week the IDF dropped a bomb on the house of Hamas leader Nizar Ghayan, killing him, his four wives, and some of his children. Reports have put the deaths of civilians, including women and children, anywhere from 10 to 20.

The IDF claims that before the attack it telephoned the house and warned Ghayan to let his family leave. Let's assume the claim was correct. Let's also assume that Ghayan, who was described as a liason between the military and political wings of Hamas, was a fundamentalist extremist bent on destroying Israel, and in favor of suicide bombings. Let's also assume that he had been involved in killing Israelis in the past.

Was dropping a bomb on Ghayan's house morally justifiable?

If you answered yes, change the picture a bit. Substitute Gilad Shalit and ten Israeli hostages, including women and children from Sderot and Ofakim, for the family of Ghayan.

Would dropping a bomb on the house be the moral thing to do? Would you countenance the collateral damage of killing innocent Israelis, included abducted soldier Shalit, in order to get Ghayan?

If you answer no, then you are an immoral person. Because the only difference in the examples is the ethnicity of the civilians; hence, you basically are saying that the Arabs surrounding Ghayan are not human, or not as human as the Israelis, and hence have a lesser right to live than their Israeli counterparts.

If you answer yes, you are also an immoral person, because the deliberate killing of innocent civilians can only be justified – if at all – in a situation where there deaths may prevent a larger and imminent catastrophe. Thus it is arguably moral to shoot down a civilian airliner that is about to crash into the Empire State Building, or better, that could detonate a large nuclear explosion. At least it is arguable. But that is not at all the case of Nizar Ghayan, an ideologue and not a ticking-bomb. Killing him was to "re-establish deterrence".

The truth is that Israel finds it easy to justify the so-called collateral damage in Gaza for the same reason that America found it easy to justify the collateral damage in Iraq. Because most Israelis are bigots when it comes to the Arabs, whether they are Hamas terrorists or Israeli citizens. They are gnats, tics, or perhaps, some quasi-humans, who one doesn't really care about. Or as the wife of a rabbi told me, "They are animals, Jerry, all of them."

That's one of the reasons why you don't find most Israelis – including liberal Israelis – losing much sleep over the rivers of blood in Gaza.

Thank God, however, there are other Israelis. Like the thousands out there in Tel Aviv last night, protesting the carnage.

40 comments:

LeaNder said...

Wonderful analysis.

I was very pleased to see the Tel Aviv covered in the German news extensively. They even took the time to trace Uri Avnery in the crowd to interview him.

Sydney Nestel said...

Jerry,

Your moral argument is flawed.

Ghayan is not a bit player, like Shalit. So killing him may have some larger effect.

It is not unreasonable to believe that killing Ghayan may indeed save lives in the future, both because it disrupts Hamas operational capabilities and because it demoralizes Hamas. It may save more lives than the 20 that were taken with his own.

As soon as you slid into utilitarian morals the argument becomes one of analyzing the" risk" of not doing it versus the "cost" of doing it. You immediately move to realm risk analysis and of geo-political analysis, not of moral philosophy.

Second, is it not inevitable that - as the Torah tell us - the sins of the fathers are visited on the sons. These were not some random strangers who where killed but his children - who for better or worse always received some of their parents "karma".

But your final point is sadly correct. None of this interests the average Israeli (or American). The people being killed aren't like us - so who cares?

Jerry Haber said...

Sydney,

With all due respect, utilitiarianism, and consequentialism in general, is very much a part of moral philosophy. Just check the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The fact that consequentialism may lead to cases that do not sit well with our moral intutions, and rightfully so (e.g., slavery maximizing utility in a society doesn't make slavery moral) does not disqualify modified forms of consequentialism.

Note that I said that it is *arguably* moral to shoot down a civilian airliner in a case where failure to do so would inevitably and immediately result in the loss of a significant greater number of lives.

Consequentialists would reject your example because the mere possibility of a future saving of lives does not override the immediate consequences of the loss of life, especially if those lives can be saved in other ways.

I have no idea what your second point is. Ghayan's children are as innocent as my children or your children. I must be missing something here.

If you like this kind of stuff, check out the next post!

Anonymous said...

"Or as the wife of a rabbi told me, 'They are animals, Jerry, all of them.'"

I have rarely heard something so offensive.

It totally demeans animals.

Greg said...

"I have no idea what your second point is. Ghayan's children are as innocent as my children or your children. I must be missing something here."

What you are missing is that you are looking at this objectivity.

But life is not, can not be, lived objectively. It is lived SUBJECTIVELY.

It like when people say "all lives are equal". My response is, no, to a mother her child is the most important life in the world.

So, while yeah in a universal sense the statement that all (innocent) lives are equal, is correct subjectively ones friends, ones family, ones fellow citizens are always more important. That is just human. And yeah I say that is right.

The way you should look at it is as a direct comparison. It IS YOUR CHILDREN OR Ghayan's children. Your choice. Now if you are any decent kind of father you don't even have to think about it. If by killing Ghayan's children you even have a chance of making things safer for your children then you should support it.

Anonymous said...

"These were not some random strangers who where killed but his children - who for better or worse always received some of their parents 'karma'".

Agreed. They would have grown up to threaten Israel. Dead you don't have to worry about them growing up and seeking revenge.

And of course there is the deterrence effect. Show these scum that they aren't only putting their lives at risk but their family's lives at risk as well.

Sydney Nestel said...

Jerry

Thanks for the reply.

I was really asking, not trying to be argumentative. I recognize that utilitainsm and consequentialism are legitimate forms of moral philosophy. It just that once you take that apprach you have to also take the next step - when analyzing any particular moral problem - and that is to analyze the long term consequences of the action, not just its immediate essence. Thus it may be moral to kill 20 innocent people - if it saves 21 others. You never made that analysis in your original posting.

I reject your statement that:

Consequentialists would reject your example because the mere possibility of a future saving of lives does not override the immediate consequences of the loss of life ...

It would all boil down to some sort of complex risk analysis. (Did you ever see the movie Fog of War with Lyndon Johnson's Secretary of Defense Robert MacNamara) This kind of analysis seems cruel and heartless, but it is where the consequential approach inevitably leads. I am not sure it is wrong - despite its distastefulness.

So the question of the morality of bombing of Ghayan and his family boils down to two questions: 1) Given that we are not prophets, what are the odds that this act saves more lives than it costs; and (2) what are the odds that those lives could be saved with less deaths/harm?

Jerry Haber said...

Greg,

Read my answer to Sydney on the next post.

Jerry

Jerry Haber said...

Sydney, I don't agree with you, and I tell you why.

First of all, I am not a consistent consequentialist. If I can save hundred lives by killing 10 innocent people, I will argue that it is wrong to kill those people.

By the way, Jewish law agrees with me. If an outlaw takes a group of people (all right, Jews, but the outlaw can be Jewish, too), and says, "Give me one of your group, or I will slaughter the lot," it is forbidden under Jewish law, to surrender one person; all must die. We simply don't have the right to take the lives of innocents, even for the greater good.

But maybe you disagree. Maybe you think that drugs should be tested on people, despite the risks, because of the enormous benefit that would accrue.

The problem with this sort of, how should I call it, "gross utilitarianism," is that it can be used to justify anything. And the point of my example is that we are much more willing to make such justifications when we dehumanize the Other and turn them into instruments.

So one who is offended by performing experiments on his own kind, may have less qualms when he is performing medical experiments, on, say, Jews.

That was the point of my post and Joe's post.

Arnon Shvanzinger said...

I find this moral exercise interesting, but more than a bit misleading.

War is almost by definition an exercise in tribalism.

The choice of not bombing Ghayan if he were to be surrounded by Gilad Shalit and other Jews, is not a moral decision. It is a tribal decision.

Substitute Ghayan with Hitler (a more obvious enemy - albeit controversial in polite discussion), sitting in a bunker surrounded by Jewish human shields, and once more the pendulum swings the other way - most Jews would accept bombing that bunker.

Much the same way they accept the deaths of Jewish Israeli soldiers as collateral damage if a "greater good" for "our tribe" might be achieved by this war.

"The poor of your city come first" or something.


This moral argument is half-cooked.
Tribalism is deeply rooted in human psychology. It might not sit well with Enlightenment and pluralism and other "high" ideas we hold, but just saying it's bad does not advance us in any way in eradicating it (or at least its negative sides).

Jerry Haber said...

"War is almost by definition an exercise in tribalism."

Please distinguish what I call "tribalism" from pursuing self-interest (or favoring one's own) when morally justifiable.

Those who believe in Just War theory argue that wars of self-defence are morally justifiable, when other routes are closed.

Of course, a tribalist believes that whatever he does to preserve and enlarge his tribe's domain is justifiable. See under "Nazi"

"The choice of not bombing Ghayan if he were to be surrounded by Gilad Shalit and other Jews, is not a moral decision. It is a tribal decision."

Well, at least you understood one of my points.

But all life and death decisions are -- or should be -- moral decisions.

"Substitute Ghayan with Hitler (a more obvious enemy - albeit controversial in polite discussion), sitting in a bunker surrounded by Jewish human shields, and once more the pendulum swings the other way - most Jews would accept bombing that bunker."

That depends, my friend. If we are talking about taking out a Hitler who has no capability to do serious harm -- say a Hitler hiding in Argentina -- then bombing him in a revenge killing in a way that would take out innocents would be a Nazi-like thing to do. And Jews who support that would be Nazis themselves.

But if you are talking about bombing Hitler during war time when, say, he was visiting a concentration camp -- that indeed would present people with a moral dilemman. Some may argue with justification that the greater good would be served by taking him out. But the point that I am was making -- and few have been able to grasp this -- is that, in that case, it wouldn't matter what would be the ethnicity of the civilians surrounding Hitler.

But that is the difference between a Hitler, who had the power and used it to kill millions and to wreak incredible havoc, and a Hamas leader like Ghayan, who isn't anywhere on the same page. I mean, more innocents have been killed because of Ehud Barak's decision in a week than Ghayan had killed in his lifetime -- or could kill for that matter.

Look, the Hitler case is not unproblematic, nor is the Hiroshima case (which seems to me a clear war crime, as the Dresden bombing cases.) But that doesn't mean that I would not fight in any war, or justify participating in any war.

"The poor of your city come first" or something.

Yeah, and "Beloved is man because he was created in the image of God," or something

"Whoever kills a person is as if he destroyed and entire world" or something.

"One visits the sick of idolators, give charity to them, bury their dead, because of improving the world" or something.

"One returns the lost property of a gentile because of sanctifying God's name" or something.

You can either take the universalisitic statements of Torah and turn them into refined moral principles.

Or you can take the particularistic principles -- perfectly justifiable and commendable within limits -- and turn them into mafia principles.

Do the first, and you sanctify God's name and exalt His Holy Torah.

Do the second, and you desecrate His name and shit on his Holy Torah.

"Tribalism is rooted in human psychology," and, I would add, in human biology. It is as natural as having sex. Or rape, murder, incest, and mutilating the bodies of your enemey.

Again -- if you can't distinguish between tribalism that can be morally justified and tribalism that can't, then I don't know what to do with you.

By the way, all those folks who scoff at the moral argument remind me of the story of the undergraduate who wrote a paper defending the thesis that there were no objective values, just subjective preferences, and that nobody could criticize Hitler for what he did, because that is what he wanted to do. When he got the paper back -- which was well-researched and brilliantly argued -- he got an F. The student went to the teacher and said, "Sir, didn't you think this was a good paper" The teacher replied, "I thought it an excellent paper." The student pressed on, "So why didn't I get an A." To which the teacher replied, "I was so impressed by the thesis of the paper, that I gave it an F." The student complained, "But that's not fair."

You can imagine what the teacher's reply was.

Arnon Shvanzinger said...

haha,
fair enough. Your points are well taken.

About that quip from the bible - I should have known better.

A. because one can usually find a verse that supports whatever point of view you wish to advance.

B. because you'd obviously be able to beat me at that game hands down - as you did.


I'll try to clarify my point nonetheless (for you as well as for me):
The flaw in your argument is the assumption that an Israeli would not support bombing Ghayan if Shalit or other Jews were in the building out of a moral choice.

If that were the case then the rest of your argument would be sound.

My point is that the decision not to bomb Ghayan+Jews is not a moral decision. It is an emotional tribal/clan/group decision.
ie. I don't want to kill my OWN people if I can help it.

However even these same people choosing not to bomb Ghayan+Jews, if presented with such an option, and told it must be done for tactical/strategic/whatever reason (ie. those Jews in the building must die so we can kill Ghayan), would not consider such a decision immoral either.
They might not like it. They might not even support it. But they wouldn't consider it immoral if it were done.

The crux of your argument is that this distinction between Jewish or Palestinian collateral deaths in the minds of Israelis is a moral one.
And I insist that it is not - it is entirely a sentimental/emotional one.
Morally they're both justifiable (or both not justifiable - depending on who's taking the test).

So either case of your mental exercise gets you an answer of they're both moral or they're both immoral - never a split.
Therefore the test itself fails in proving immorality (or morality) on the part of anyone.

I feel your friend George Rey played a little semantic trick with this seemingly purely logical test.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for maintaining this site Jerry. It brings me a great level of hope for the future. We need more people like you.

Steve said...

"Morally they're both justifiable (or both not justifiable - depending on who's taking the test)."

Exactly, that is the realization I have come to. A lot of things depend upon "where you sit" as opposed to any objective standard of right or wrong.

That means in real life both sides that are fighting could be considered right. It just depends upon the viewpoint of who you choose to see it from. Or if you are an active participant, the viewpoint that fate, birth, etc put you in.

Sure, I can understand why the Palestinians might be pissed. And if I was one of them I too would want to push the Jews into the seas and would help efforts to do so.

I choose to see it from the Israeli perspective because although as an American I am somewhat an "outside observer" as opposed to a "participant" Israel for better or worse has been an ally of us.

Sure, I don't like the level of control the Jews have over our politicians but it is just a fact of the way things are. And as an ally of the Israelis, victory for them would somewhat be victory for us.

I look at it from a perspective of if only one of these two peoples/cultures are to survive, which one would give more to the world.

And quite honestly, Jews have contributed much to the world. Palestinians on the other hand are still pretty primitive and haven't really contributed much to the society I find myself in.

So, no, it doesn't make Jews any more deserving of life and human rights than the Palestinians on a universal/objective level, but my birth at this the point of time and circumstance I live in doesn't make me an "objective observer" as if I was looking back on the situation from say a historical perspective. Victory or defeat will have some repercussions that I can't ignore.

So, I am forced to throw my lot to some extent with the Jews. Not like the people who were born Jews in Israel mind you, and they should be even stronger in this than I because it effects them so closely. I don't envy the position fate has put them in and I thank God that my culture solved it's "Native American" problems long before I was placed on the scene.

It is much better for the Western Society in which I live that Israel prevails. If that wasn't the case I would be rooting for the Palestinians.

In the end it all has to do with where one sits.

Anonymous said...

Here is how a leader should think (typically with few exceptions).

You need to end the war with Finality! You need to do what it takes to win it. If it isn't worth doing whatever it takes to win, then the war shouldn't have been fought in the first place.

So, as you fight it you need to try to fight it in a way while not risking defeat, achieve victory with the lost of the fewest of your soldiers as possible.

If you can do so without jeopardizing the first two aims (victory), (lost of as few of your troops as possible) then you should consider achieving your objectives with the least lose of enemy civilian life as possible. Again, as long as it doesn't put your troops too much at risk and of course doesn't jeopardize victory.

And then only after all of that are considered first only then can you consider victory with losing the lowest amount of enemy soldiers lives, again, only if it doesn't put first victory or then in order lost of your troops, and lost of enemy civilians at risk,

So, in the case of Hiroshima could there be another way to achieve victory. Yes, but that would have been at the cost of many more of our soldiers lives. And that is where the consideration stops.

But it was the case that Hiroshima actually did even save more of the enemy citizens and enemy soldiers than the other options presented.

But again, what mattered was there was no other way of obtaining victory that would have not cost us more of our soldiers.

Jerry Haber said...

Steve, I have no doubt that from where the Nazis "sat" (your term), they thought they were right. There were lots of books written on ethics and morality in the Third Reich.

But are you concluding that from the fact that the Nazis thought that they were right, that they were right?

A lot of people think that there is something to astrology. But does that make them right?

Sure, people who have been educated to think there side is always right can't see the other side. People who have been educated to see how similarly the arguments of both sides are, can see how little difference there is besides them.

As for the relative worth of Palestinian vs. Jewish culture, some points.

First of all, you have no convincing argument that the state of Israel is essential for the survival of the Jews, much less Jewish culture. On the contrary, it is arguable that Jewish survival is threatened by Israel. Certainly more Jews have died a violent death in the last sixty years in, or because of, Israel, than outside Israel. And because Israel identifies itself as a Jewish state, Jews in the diaspora are also at threat. When the IDF bombs Arabs, Jews suffer around the world.

Secondly, the idea that peoples should be ranked by virtue of their contributions to human culture is an old one that led to Nazism. Why not just kill all the unproductive peoples (they take up enormous resources) and leave the ubermenschen?

And, as you point out, Steve, who is to say which culture or civilization contributes more. Doesn't that depend on where you sit, too?

I hope that you think about this a bit more. And maybe get educated a bit while you are at it.

Greg said...

You should really read General Sherman's letter to the Citizens of Atlanta before he burned that whole damn place to the ground.

http://www.rjgeib.com/thoughts/sherman/sherman-to-burn-atlanta.html

"You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out."

Steve said...

"But are you concluding that from the fact that the Nazis thought that they were right, that they were right?"

They were right from their perspective. I think though the difference is they didn't have to do what they did (in the killing of the Jews) in order to achieve what they wanted to achieve. I believe there were other ways to achieve the same objective without causing such pain and death.

And if there wasn't then I guess it would depend upon if you thought what they achieved was worth what they had to do in order to get there. Again, I guess that would be subjective as well.

I would say they were wrong a) because there were other ways to achieve their objectives and b) because at least to me I didn't find their objectives that worthy of being achieved. But again with b) at least that is very subjective on my part and if I was a believer I would probably fall down the other way on that.

Steve said...

"Secondly, the idea that peoples should be ranked by virtue of their contributions to human culture is an old one that led to Nazism."

I said that I don't rank the people by the virtue of their contributions to human culture but when I look to outcome of conflicts I must (subjectively) look to see if which outcome would be "best".

And would it be better (from my perspective) that the Israelis are pushed into the sea or the Palestinians are pushed into the desert? And given what would be lost of the Israelis were pushed into the Sea to what would be gained if the Palestinians won, it would be much better for the Israelis to win.

Steve said...

"And, as you point out, Steve, who is to say which culture or civilization contributes more. Doesn't that depend on where you sit, too?"

Absolutely, I didn't say otherwise.

If I sat elsewhere I would see more value in Palestinian survival (say I was a Muslim) than Israel's.

It is totally based on where I sit. If you look at it as an "outside observer" then you can't really condemn either side.

Just like looking at it historically you can't really condemn the American Settler defending his family or the Native American defending his. In the end no heroes or villains. Just people in conflict where only one can eventually prevail.

Steve said...

"Certainly more Jews have died a violent death in the last sixty years in, or because of, Israel, than outside Israel."

Can't really make that statement because you don't know what would have happened if no Israel existed.

Could have been quite possible that if the Jews were not living in Israel the European country they were living in would have done another pogrom taking far more lives than have been lost over these sixty years.

Alex said...

"the idea that peoples should be ranked by virtue of their contributions to human culture "

I don't believe that is what he was saying.

I believe he was just making a subjective statement regarding what he thought "from where he sat" would be the best outcome (from his perspective) and thought that for him if it was a choice between the Palestinians and the Israelis it would be better from his perspective for the Israelis to survive over the Palestinians.

Now if he "sat" somewhere else he would obviously have a different criteria that he would use and that could lead him to a different conclusion.

The whole thing wasn't making an universal objective determination of value. Instead it was totally based upon him being an active participant (albeit a very indirect one) instead of a objective observer. It is based upon him feeling an effect (albeit a distant effect) from the outcome of events.

If he was an objective observer he would not be effected one way or the other by the outcome. Or at least say he was a historian where the effects of the situations had already manifested themselves so he could now stand back somewhat and look at things from a more detached manner.

Jerry Haber said...

Steve and Alex,

What you are saying is foolish. And it is not just foolish from my perspective. It is foolish from an absolute perspective.

What is more, you don't believe it. You say you do, and you think you do, but you don't act upon that belief. On the contrary, you act upon the belief that there are objective standards of right and wrong, and least in the sense of near-universal agreement.

So -- and here is my point -- why do you say you believe in foolishnehss (i.e., moral relativism) even though you don't really believe in it? Why, for that matter, does every undergraduate introductory class to ethics have some guys in there who sprout the same crap? Why don't they say that in classes in physics, for example -- you know, Einstein had his opinion and Newton had his opinion, and there is no objective answer.

(And discerning folks out there -- don't interrupt me and quote Feyerabend -- you're in the wrong class.)

Moral relativism, like extreme skepticism, is the refuge of a lazy thinker. It is easy to say ("How you do know?" is only four words), and very difficult to disprove, because in expressing it, one has left the ground of common discourse. If you try to defeat the skeptic, she will deny the validity of all arguments.

But -- and here is the weakness of the moral relativist or the extreme skeptic -- in order to make a case for these positions, an advocate has to use arguments. And those arguments, like the ones used by Peter and Steve, are so bad, that even if their position were correct, who would want to be associated with them?

All right, the above was condescending and nasty. Let me see if I can say something more substantive.

Steve, you say that the Nazis were wrong absolutely because they could have achieved their goals with less lethal methods.

But what were their goals? One was the extermination of the Jewish race, which was a poison to civilization. How could they have done that with less l

Both of you say that what we believe is influenced by our environment, and by being part of a certain state, religion, etc. Well, obviously. But here I am, an American and an Israeli, and I am highly critical of the tribes of which I am a member. And that is because I am also a member of other tribes (tribe of educated individuals, tribe of liberals, tribe of enlightened Jews, tribe of folks who like the banjo, etc., etc.). We all have multiple identities, and multiple pulls.

Education, including moral education, is intended to make us better people, more discrimininating, more sensitive to others, more guilty when we are not, etc.

I have found that moral relativists exist only in the classroom or on the comment pages of blogs. When those people turn to the real world, they are constantly appealing to universal standards. One of the first things children learn in their moral education is the meaning of "fairness." "That's not fair" is universal, even though standards of fairness may vary (less than you think.) It's part culture, but it's part biology, as well.


An active participant can try to be as objective as possible. When a soldier refuses an order because he deems it immoral, he tacitly or explicitly is appealing to an objective standard. In his case, he refuses to stand with his tribe -- or, rather, he stands with the trans-national tribe of moral people everywhere.

Mikha'el said...

Someone "racist" would think that biologically speaking, the Palestinian Arab civilians next to terrorist Ghayan's house (including his own family members) are incontrovertibly inferior to Israeli Jewish civilians.

I propose that people debate the morality of this decades hence and let the IDF concentrate on getting the job done now--just as they did when the RAF firebombed Dresden, an act that burned crispy tens of thousands of innocent German civilians in just one night-- on a disproportionate scale scale to the tens of thousands of British civilians killed in the London Blitz over the course of many months.

Peter said...

Anon from January 6, 2009 3:14 AM:

One of the major problems with your argument is that it is impossible to know what would happen had Americans not bombed Hiroshima. You say it would have cost many more soldiers lives and civilian lives. How many? 1? 1,000? 100,000? This is pure hypothetical and you are justifying a terrible crime by invoking dangers we as humans can not really estimate with any good precisions.
And, lo and behold, a lot of contemporary historians agree that it was not actually Hiroshima and Nagasaki that stopped the war but the decision of the Russians to join in and open a second front! So, here is an example of how judgments like yours can go totally wrong. If the view of these historians is correct, then Hiroshima and Nagasaki were totally unnecessary.
So, I am wary of arguments that say "if we don't do this sure more people will die", because in most cases it is impossible to know if that has any truth in it.

Steve said...

Surprising, I don't think we are as far of as you might think.

"I have found that moral relativists exist only in the classroom or on the comment pages of blogs."

That's exactly my point. Because there one is free, if they choose to be an "objective observer" and remove themselves from any consequences of what is being observed.

But life is lived not objectively but subjectively.

And when you look at it that way, no human life isn't of "equal value". The lives of your family, your friends, your countrymen comes first.

Yeah, you do believe in absolute standards of right and wrong, at least as it applies to the setting you find yourself in. And that is why I find looking at stuff like this from a "philosophical" manner so distasteful.

You really can't equate Israel to Hamas. Hamas is indeed evil and needs to be destroyed. That is what counts when you strip everything down to its essence.

The notion that had I been born under different circumstances heck, I might be Hamas myself doesn't matter, for I wasn't born into different circumstances.

So in the end, philosophical "thought experiments" are forgive the word - Crap. They don't reflect the real world.

Certainly they don't when it comes to war. In war it's killed or be killed. That's all that matters there. And your goal in war is to achieve victory with the fewest lives lost on your side as possible.

Steve said...

"Someone 'racist' would think that biologically speaking, the Palestinian Arab civilians next to terrorist Ghayan's house (including his own family members) are incontrovertibly inferior to Israeli Jewish civilians."

But it doesn't take a belief in "biological inferiority".

I believe it is correct as an universal objective statement that all lives are of "equal worth".

But life is lived in a subjective manner. And so looking at it that way the life of the IDF soldier is worth many times that of a Palestinian civilian.

Steve said...

"I propose that people debate the morality of this decades hence and let the IDF concentrate on getting the job done now--"

Absolutely. That is precisely my point.

Such academic/philosophical discussions have no relevance in the real world.

Steve said...

I have never gotten this "proportionate argument".

You attack the enemy until the enemy has neither the will nor the ability to fight you.

Of course that means your violence will in the end be disproportionate to that of your enemy.

"Proportionate" violence means the war is at a stalemate.

Jerry Haber said...

To all the warmongers out there who say that moral reflection is not for the real world but should be reserved, if at all, for the classroom:

It is not surprising that bullies are impatient with anything that will restrict their violence, or interfere with the exercise of their power.

It is also not surprising that they respond to a moral challenge with the intellectual equivalent of, "Oh, yeah?"

I remember when Israelis used to speak enviously of the Soviet Union's war in Afghanistan. "Look," the warmongers would say, "they kill all those terrorists in Afghanistan, and the UN doesn't condemn them. Oh, if only we were as powerful as a great power like the Soviet Union."

Well, look at the Soviet Union now -- and look at Afghanistan now.

Look, if you want to leave morality for the classroom, fine with me.

Just do me a favor. Don't have any childen. And if you do, don't raise them in the way you were obviously raised.

Anonymous said...

"Show these scum..."

May I suggest a side-trip to critical race theory?

http://www.princeton.edu/~amimages/gotanda.html
http://www.thenewpress.com/index.php?option=com_title&task=view_title&metaproductid=1048

Saves me from making an insulting response to this remark, which it deserves but which would be counter-productive.

Anonymous said...

Critical Theory. You mean Cultural Marxism, right?

Sorry, but I am no fan of the Frankfurt School! In fact I blame them for the destruction of America.

Anonymous said...

I have just been on Wikipedia examining the deaths by Hamas from rocket attacks into Israel. In 2009 the Israeli's killed 1400 people. Hamas killed 9. This year to date no Israeli's have been killed by rocket attacks. My conlclusion is that the Israeli government throught the media are using scare tactics to insense and increase the hatred of Palestinians from ordinary Jewish people..... And its working like a treat!

Anonymous said...

Did you ever see this TV show?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkb-0uQ1c8o

I am a fan of Sherman.

War is Hell. You can not refine it.

Anonymous said...

I have no idea what your second point is. Ghayan's children are as innocent as my children or your children. I must be missing something here.

You are missing their upbringing for one.

Noah Ferguson said...

I'm writing an undergraduate paper using the war in Gaza in 2008 as a case study for the application of Just War theory. May I use some of this post?

Jerry Haber said...

Noah, knowing undergraduates, your paper is probably due today or MOnday at the latest. I would recommend you look at other posts, like my two-part criticism of MOshe Halbertal (read his original article in the New Republic first), the letter of his students, and the exchange between Margalit and Walzer and Asa Kasher in the New York review of books. These deal with in bello issues; the ad bellum issue is taken up by other critics of the war, for which see Norman Finkelstein's, This Time We Have Gone Too Far

Jerry Haber said...

for more info, or for out to locate those articles, contact me at jeremiah.haber@gmail.ocm

Jacob said...

Just read through the arguments (bit late, I know) and why did I bother since the flow is typical of the "blogosphere". But I did find one argument especially, well, funny:

"You really can't equate Israel to Hamas. Hamas is indeed evil and needs to be destroyed. That is what counts when you strip everything down to its essence.

The notion that had I been born under different circumstances heck, I might be Hamas myself doesn't matter, for I wasn't born into different circumstances.

So in the end, philosophical "thought experiments" are forgive the word - Crap. They don't reflect the real world."

Assuming you meant it, you are like that, you think it is the proper way to think and other people were like this as well.

Why then should any Goy think Israel good and Hamas evil. Not being Jews themselves they have no "natural" pro-Israel inclination, in fact whenever their groups interests would intersect with those of Jews they should act against the Jews, and any sympathy towards outsiders like the Jews would be determined by manipulation of their opinion rather than facts or universal principles.

If this argument were correct it would justify Israels actions and your own view, but also the views of any bigot, racist or anti-Semite on earth. It is the most pathetic attempt at self justification using the "real world" type arguments possible. Also, you should watch that exceptionalist tendency of yours, it is the disease of lesser minds the world over and ironically, of any "race".

Jacob said...

Just read through the arguments (bit late, I know) and why did I bother since the flow is typical of the "blogosphere". But I did find one argument especially, well, funny:

"You really can't equate Israel to Hamas. Hamas is indeed evil and needs to be destroyed. That is what counts when you strip everything down to its essence.

The notion that had I been born under different circumstances heck, I might be Hamas myself doesn't matter, for I wasn't born into different circumstances.

So in the end, philosophical "thought experiments" are forgive the word - Crap. They don't reflect the real world."

Assuming you meant it, you are like that, you think it is the proper way to think and other people were like this as well.

Why then should any Goy think Israel good and Hamas evil. Not being Jews themselves they have no "natural" pro-Israel inclination, in fact whenever their groups interests would intersect with those of Jews they should act against the Jews, and any sympathy towards outsiders like the Jews would be determined by manipulation of their opinion rather than facts or universal principles.

If this argument were correct it would justify Israels actions and your own view, but also the views of any bigot, racist or anti-Semite on earth. Really it is the most pathetic attempt at self justification using the "real world" type arguments possible. Also, you should watch that exceptionalist tendency of yours, it is the disease of lesser minds the world over and ironically, of any "race".