Ramesh Ponnuru: Ignoramus, or Bald-Faced Liar?

by Gene Callahan

Greeley spoke out against killing innocent civilians in our response to the attacks. Ponnuru points out (correctly) that even in a just war, one cannot possibly guarantee that no civilians are killed. But he goes on to say:

“Perhaps Fr. Greeley merely means that President Bush should renounce any intention of killing civilians deliberately. Then Fr. Greeley’s demand would not be irresponsible. It would instead be a grave insult to the president and the nation he leads. Nobody has proposed such killing.”

Nobody? Nobody at all?

What about Senator Zell Miller: “I say, bomb the hell out of them. If there’s collateral damage, so be it. They certainly found our civilians to be expendable.”

Or how about Chris Weinkopf of the Daily News, in an article in Frontpage: “…the tactical use of nuclear weapons could provide the key to such a victory [over radical Islam].” (Note: Nuclear weapons will tend to kill a few civilians.)

Steve Dunleavy of the New York Post says (9/12/01): “As for cities or countries that host these worms, bomb them into basketball courts.”

Then there is this sequence:

Bill O’Reilly: “If the Taliban government of Afghanistan does not cooperate, then we will damage that government with air power, probably. All right? We will blast them, because…” Sam Husseini, Institute for Public Accuracy: “Who will you kill in the process?” O’Reilly: “Doesn’t make any difference.” ~ (“The O’Reilly Factor,” Fox News Channel, 9/13/01)

And here is National Review editor Rich Lowry, speaking to Howard Kurtz (Washington Post, 9/13/01): “If we flatten part of Damascus or Tehran or whatever it takes, that is part of the solution.”

Or John Derbyshire, writing in National Review Online: “Justice must go by the board for a while, as it did when we firebombed German and Japanese cities, incinerating helpless babies and old folk who wished us no harm.”

And we close off with Ann Coulter, also writing in NRO: “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren’t punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That’s war. And this is war.”

(Thanks are due to FAIR, who has assembled a collection of such quotes.)

It just doesn’t work to say that none of these actions deliberately kills civilians. It’s tragic if you shoot at an enemy soldier and hit a civilian who happens to be passing in a car, but not a war crime. But if you’re nuking major cities, you are deliberately killing civilians. A defense that says killing them wasn’t your goal is analogous to an arsonist defending himself by saying: “Well, yes, I knew the family was in the house, and I knew they would die, but all I wanted was to see the house burn!”

There are two possibilities here. The first is that Ponnuru is completely ignorant of what is being written and said in the media, including his own magazine’s web site. In this case, he should shut up until he figures out what he is talking about.

The second is that he is a bald-faced liar. He knows that many of his friends are calling for the murder of civilians on a massive scale. But when a Catholic priest points out this evil, Ponnuru tries to claim that nobody said any such thing.

If neither of the above are true, then we should see Ponnuru slapping me with a huge lawsuit. But don’t hold your breath.

September 20, 2001

2001, Gene Callahan

Gene Callahan/Stu Morgenstern Archives