a concerted effort underway among the war camp to make sure
that the American people do not pay attention to civilian deaths
in Afghanistan. Too much focus on such unpleasantness could
cool the war fever. "Pay no attention to those bodies behind
the curtains!" shout the keyboard bombardiers.
pitches in to the effort with a recent article in NRO.
Lowry complains about the "...current handwringing over collateral
damage from the U.S. attacks in Afghanistan." First of all,
notice the verb chosen to describe the reaction of those who
object to the killing of innocent people: "handwringing." Such
a concern is apparently akin to what is felt by an uptight hostess
who worries about mismatched silverware. Then, Lowry employs
the Orwellian "collateral damage," and, in the next sentence,
"casualties," but never the obvious and truthful word "deaths."
This is the kind of language one might expect from sensitive
guests talking around the fact that their host's son has just
come out of the closet and walked in the house with his partner:
"Oh, I see Timmy Junior has a friend visiting?"
Afghan civilian casualties which may be in the dozens
or, if you believe the Taliban, in the hundreds are taken
as an indictment of the U.S. campaign, a sign that we are no
better than the terrorists (the Washington Post has a
long front-page piece today detailing such nonsensical views
from around the world).
first off ignores the great likelihood that there will be thousands,
perhaps hundreds of thousands, of deaths this winter due to
massive famine. Secondly, if Joe has killed someone and Bill
has stolen a loaf of bread, to point out that Bill's action
is wrong does not mean you think he is "no better" than Joe.
The fact that someone else has acted really badly doesn't
excuse my acting badly.
idea behind this sort of thinking is that everything is our
fault: We started the war, and therefore everything bad that
comes from it is our responsibility. Of course, it's the other
way around: They started the war, and the inevitable
unfortunate consequences such as civilian casualties are
on the heads of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. But critics
of the U.S. campaign have trouble grasping this, because they
have trouble ever recognizing the perfidy of our enemies.
suspects that Lowry is trying to confuse the reader. Who is
"they," and what is "the war"? Let's say that we accept both
the (unproven, at least to the public) idea that bin Laden was
behind the 9/11 attacks and the questionable use of terminology
in calling a crime by private parties, who do not claim to represent
any government, a war. Then we might say that bin Laden started
a war on the U.S., and that we're justified in fighting back.
(Since it's clear that bin Laden is behind other terrorist attacks,
I'm all for fighting him and his organization, even if he wasn't
behind 9/11.) But the Taliban didn't start a war with the U.S.!
No one has contended that they aided in the attacks, or even
knew that they were to occur. Is their asking for evidence before
turning over bin Laden an act of war? No, it just won't work:
Osama bin Laden may have started a war on us, but we
started a war on Afghanistan.
say, against all logic, that it turns out that the Taliban did
plan the attacks. Then we'd have a case for war against them.
But the question of how to conduct the war would still
arise. It may be that a few civilian casualties are practically
inevitable in any conflict, but it's obvious that different
ways of conducting war will result in different civilian "risk
profiles." For instance, carpet bombing from high altitude and
dropping cluster bombs, both of which the U.S. is doing, are
likely to result in far more civilian casualties than infantry
action. The note at the end of the paragraph about the "perfidy
of our enemies" is again an attempt to distract: it is the same
fallacy mentioned above, where my acting badly is "defended"
by pointing out that someone else acted really badly.
the extent this view holds in the West, it is essentially a
suicidal impulse. Followed to its logical conclusion, it would
make it impossible for us ever to defend ourselves and ever
to fight for a flawed, but morally superior goal against an
evil enemy because the evil of our enemy never actually registers
with anyone. This is what happened in Vietnam, when Western
outrage was focused on U.S. napalm runs rather than on the murderous
and oppressive character of our enemy.
Followed to its logical conclusion, it would make it impossible
for us to ever defend ourselves using immoral means.
And that, I think, is an eminently logical conclusion Lowry
would like to avoid.