Friday, July 28, 2006

Why Armies Target Civilians

From Targeting Civilians, by Thomas J. DiLorenzo

"Perhaps the most hideous precedent established by Lincoln’s war, however, was the intentional targeting of defenseless civilians. Human beings did not always engage in such barbaric acts as we have all watched in horror in recent days. Targeting civilians has been a common practice ever since World War II, but its roots lie in Lincoln’s war.

In 1863 there was an international convention in Geneva, Switzerland, that sought to codify international law with regard to the conduct of war. What the convention sought to do was to take the principles of "civilized" warfare that had evolved over the previous century, and declare them to be a part of international law that should be obeyed by all civilized societies. Essentially, the convention concluded that it should be considered to be a war crime, punishable by imprisonment or death, for armies to attack defenseless citizens and towns; plunder civilian property; or take from the civilian population more than what was necessary to feed and sustain an occupying army".


I think it can be safely said that the deliberate killing of civilians by armies engaged in warfare was used tactically, if not strategically, long before the American Civil War. What I want to get at is the continuing practice of it by so called modern armies, operating under, or in non compliance with international law. In recent weeks we've seen the most stark examples of this practice as Israel has launched a massive and sustained bombardment of southern Lebanon. I'm not interested so much in discussing Israel's justification for the attack, but rather what it's military objective is, and how it is allowed, under international law, to continue it's brutal targeting of civilian infrastructure, housing, hospitals, and even convoys of fleeing civilians.

Israel's official stance is that anyone remaining in southern Lebanon is a terrorist. This must also include U.N. Peacekeepers as it appears now that they were also intentionally targeted.

There are many examples of civilian infrastructure and cities being targeted in recent history. In WWII British and American commanders justified the razing of Dresden , Germany because they claimed it was a rail hub for transporting German reinforcements to the Eastern Front. And so, in an effort to aid Soviet forces advancing into Germany from the east they justified the obliteration of an entire city, with the deaths of civilians and refugees reaching into the tens of thousands. Why obliterate an entire city when bombing the railroad centers would likely have been sufficient to to their goal of slowing or stopping German reinforcements?

From Wikipedia, Chuchill's response,


"It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the TERROR , though under other pretexts, should be reviewed. Otherwise we shall come into control of an utterly ruined land… The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing. I am of the opinion that military objectives must henceforward be more strictly studied in our own interests than that of the enemy.
The Foreign Secretary has spoken to me on this subject, and I feel the need for more precise concentration upon military objectives such as oil and communications behind the immediate battle-zone, rather than on mere acts of terror and wanton destruction, however impressive."


There's that word, TERROR. Could that be the reasoning behind such attacks? Convenient though that Churchill thought it wise to give closer consideration to those tactics, but only insofar as not to lay waste to the spoils of war that the victors would claim for themselves.

Others however, considered it a war crime,


The absence of a direct military presence in the centre of the city, and the devastation known to be caused by firebombing, is regarded by supporters of the war crime position as establishing their case on a prima facie basis. They contend that these points are sufficient in themselves, without considering the absence of military necessity, the civilian death toll, and Dresden's cultural significance.

Why then was the attack not prosecuted as a war crime? Especially in light of this. From The Hague Conventions,

Aerial area bombardment and international law
International law up to 1945

Article 25: The attack or bombardment of towns, villages, habitations or buildings which are not defended, is prohibited.

Article 26: The Commander of an attacking force, before commencing a bombardment, except in the case of an assault, should do all he can to warn the authorities.

Article 27: In sieges and bombardments all necessary steps should be taken to spare as far as possible edifices devoted to religion, art, science, and charity, hospitals, and places where the sick and wounded are collected, provided they are not used at the same time for military purposes.
The besieged should indicate these buildings or places by some particular and visible signs, which should previously be notified to the assailants.


I suspect the answer might have something to do with the exceptionalism of the allies.

As I've said, there are countless examples throughout history and more recently.
U.S. targeting of civilians in Fallujah in 2004. Civilians who were trapped within the city by American forces that ringed that city. And not content to just commit that crime, the U.S. used a banned weapon, white phosphorus to attack them, at first claiming that the weapon was used only for illuminating those they wished to liberate from the terrorists. Only later was the U.S. forced to admit that it used the munition as a weapon, which is not permitted.

Shake and Bake

"WP proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes where we could not get effects on them with HE [High Explosive]. We fired "shake and bake" missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out," the article said.

A word about the term "shake and bake." Anyone with a family to feed in the US knows what this term, properly "Shake 'n Bake, means. Made by Kraft, it is a seasoning which is put into a plastic bag with chicken and shaken before before baking. Its use gives the article the smack of reality. It's the kind of thing US soldiers would say.


War terminology...Operation Shake and Bake. What I would like to say about this isn't fit to print here.

Further examples from other wars, Rwanda, Myanmar, Nepal, and Kosovo.

But in my opinion, the worst case of targeting civilians was carried out by the one nation that holds itself above all others as a beacon of human rights, the U.S., and it's total annihilation of the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima at the end or WWII.

It's true that there were legitimate military targets within these cities, but that's not why they were wiped off the map. Truman claimed to be saving lives by taking lives. But the lives he sought to save were U.S. military, not Japanese civilians. Of course minimizing your own casualties is only prudent when engaged in war. But to commit the murder of 200,000 people can only be called what it truly is, and what it's purpose truly was, TERROR.

It's not a very wide leap to make from Truman's thinking of 60 years ago to George Bush's and his puppet, Ohlmert's thinking of today. Where Bush and Ohlmert are going a step beyond is in their opposition to a cease fire in Lebanon. Think about that for a moment. The international community and the U.N. are officially calling for an immediate cessastion of hostilities by Israel because of the overwhelming casualties being inflicted on Lebanese civilians. And yet Bush refuses to back a ceasefire. He has his own reasons for prolonging the conflict there, because it's a stepping off point for his long wished for attack against Iran. Widening the so called War On Terror. What the whole world now sees and knows is that it is his actions and his complicity in the targeting of innocent civilians that are the biggest cause of world wide terror and the continuing use of terroristic tactics.

18 Comments:

Blogger supersoling said...

I found a great article at Tom Dispatch that expresses so well what I wanted to express that I wish I could plagiarize the whole thing!

But it does a good job of explaining how the masters of modern airpower unleash barbarity on civilians while cleansing themselves of the personal brutality of it. And in doing so remove themselves from responsibility for crimes against humanity.

7/29/2006 2:37 am  
Blogger Nanette said...

I think you've put it quite well, as it is, supersoling. I glanced over the Tom article, but it's too long to read tonight.

The masters of airpower not only cleansed themselves of the barbarity and responsibility, but allow us to do the same.

It's all a pretty pretence, this "we don't target civilians" stuff. And people repeat it, straight faced, regardless of all the evidence. Some, of course, attempt to justify it such as in the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings but that does require, as dove says, "a suspension of disbelief".

I read some book long ago, don't recall the name and am not really sure what it was about, but one scene stuck in my mind. The protagonist, who was either European or American (he was white, but I don't think that is of as much importance as the fact that he was a Westerner), was in some "third world" country for some reason... as a missionary, I think.

Anyway, he was having a conversation with one of the inhabitants and they were talking about war. The missionary (or maybe teacher) mentioned the death toll of one world war, how many lost by his country, and also the enemy country.

The other man was just amazed and appalled. Hundreds of thousands and even millions dead? The fighters must be very rich in order to afford the death payments to the families of all those they killed, he said.

The missionary was appropriately awed and reflective at the quaint idea that each person should be personally accountable for those they killed in battle (soldiers or civilians).

I have no idea if there is any group of people who had this actual world view actually ever existed, or if it was something the writer dreamed up out of a belief that that's how things should be, but it seemed like such a contrast to the current "oh yeah, we killed another few hundred today" type of attitude that it stuck with me

Now, of course, I read the stories of compensation being paid to the civilians killed by US direct actions (as opposed to be bombed by others) and I think... we are indeed a rich country to be able to afford all that death payment, and not even have it make a dent in anything about our lives. Well, rich in group delusion money, that is.

Anyway, great article, will want to go over parts of it again in the morning.

7/29/2006 4:31 am  
Blogger dove said...

I'd second Nanette, supersoling - this is a really fine piece.

(I'm still racking up those promissory notes! More tonight!)

7/29/2006 8:09 am  
Blogger NLinStPaul said...

Excellent job super! Where your writing took me was to a point that has laid quietly unexamined at the bottom of my mind. And that is, as I begin to really embrace pacifism, I think of the Geneva conventions as a tool that enables war. It allows mostly western countries to claim some kind of cover under which they can hide the agression of war.

I know that we all watch in horror at the killing of civilians. But I find it a bit of a stretch in any situation or war to make some moral argument that certain killing is ok and another kind of killing is not. It really is absurd. And yet the Geneva Conventions, as much as they might have been a step forward at the time of their writing, are just that absurd. An exercise is deciding what kind of killing is sanctioned.

We need a whole new paradigm. One that talks about nurturing and sustaining all life as a way to live together - rather than who it is appropriate to kill in order to live together.

7/29/2006 5:00 pm  
Blogger DuctapeFatwa said...

Because the bombing of Dresden, like the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were carried out by US gunmen and operatives, they by definition cannot be considered war crimes, or crimes of any kind, and any international laws and conventions that may reference such activity, it must be remembered, exist to aid in the punishment of states that oppose US policies, whether by attempts to obstruct the generation of revenue to US companies or by engaging in unauthorized acts of retaliation against US activities in the areas in question.

The American people speak with one voice, and as Bush remarked in his famous speech at "Ground Zero" the whole world hears that voice "loud and clear."

7/29/2006 11:23 pm  
Blogger dove said...

I think Nancy is right in that critique of the Geneva Convention: war crime is an oxymoron. Though it is true that justice systems also often distinguish between different kinds of killing, considering some kinds worse than others.

DTF -- Part of me just wants to say 'yep.' Laws are made by and for the powerful, reflecting their interests. And by and large, that is exactly what they do. But part of me also remembers that ongoing hen's tooth-like moment where U.S. operative Pinochet stands trial. And though he has not yet been convicted (and perhaps never will be) still, I never expected to see him even confronted with his crimes at all. Neither, I suspect, did his handlers.

7/30/2006 5:39 pm  
Anonymous Janet said...

Timely diary.

Yesterday we got an email from Eman. She said that we are destroying Baghdad. She is fleeing with her two daughters, hopefully she can make it out safely. She has to leave her belongings... all belongings and her husband behind. They have to leave as refugees adn she said this means they can NEVER return. Not that she thinks there will be anything to return to.

She's been there throughout and even risked coming here to the US as a delegate for Peace. She said too that the daily carnage and terrorist acts are NOT Democracy.

The road to Jordoan and the airport are two of the most notorious, deadly exits...

Fuck this administration. Fuck all wars and fuck apathy.

Why the entire world doesn't hate us all is beyond me.

Sorry... a bit of a rant.. but the sky is on fire, the water has dead zones and bombs are falling onto playgrounds and what does "Dear Leader and America do??" They watch American Idol.

I totally agree with Riverbends comment in her blog. The War Machine and all who start it and all who keep it functioning.... have to be stopped.

7/30/2006 6:03 pm  
Blogger DuctapeFatwa said...

LO dove, I am sure you will understand if I wait seated comfortably, and without postponing the proverbial important respiratory activity, for Pinochet, or Kissinger, and a list longer than will fit in these comments, to be brought to justice for their crimes.

And this becomes increasingly more unlikely, if that is possible, as the Situation continues its inexorable roll toward the outcome set in motion so long ago, gathering us all in its bloody spokes like so many grasshoppers in a wheat field.

For those who believe in an afterflife, the fact that they too are equally grasshopper-gathered, there may be some comfort in the hopes of a post-temporal justice...

7/30/2006 7:57 pm  
Blogger dove said...

DTF,
Grim grin. Pull up the comfy chair -- I'm not holding my breath either exactly (you'll notice I said nothing about the size of the respective parts involved).

No, I don't think Pinochet (let alone Kissinger, the Bushes, the Poodle, his minions, the Clintons et al etc. ad infinitum ad nauseum) is likely to be convicted, however much I would like to see his guilt made official. But inasmuch as the existence and slight changes in the enforcement practices associated with such laws have deprived Pinochet of the quiet retirement which doubtless he believed he deserved for his services to nation -- and to the extent that they may have put a slight crimp in the holiday plans of certain others and perhaps caused them occasional moments of real anxiety about their own retirements, I find such laws to be not without their redeeming features. Albeit in desperate need of drastic reform and were there much prospect of that reform, well, many things would be different.

It's a bit like rape laws, I think. By and large rape is a crime committed with impunity: most rapes aren't reported let alone prosecuted. And reported rates conviction rates are 5.6% here in the U.K. In one sense, the whole thing is a joke in particularly poor taste. On the other I'd still rather have rape on the books as a crime than not. Because if it's on the books as a crime, maybe one day it will actually be considered a crime.

Though the current situation does make 'one day' an increasingly less likely proposition in both (overlapping) cases.

Janet,
Please feel free to rant away!

I hope they will be safe. When do you think you will know if Eman and her daughters made it out?

7/30/2006 10:43 pm  
Anonymous Janet said...

Dove, we don't know. Baghdad has very little electricity so just getting her email was a gift.

Medea and others are in Jordan for the peace plan.. so maybe they might know sooner(?) I just don't know.

There's been some incredible diaries by One Pissed Off Liberal... in MLW that are just amazing and have my jaw on the floor and my heart wrenching... it's all so true...

We ARE the terrorists.

And each day, I'm amazed that there aren't riots in the streets.

7/31/2006 1:52 am  
Blogger DuctapeFatwa said...

Janet, I hope you will not take this in the wrong way, for I say it truly from concern for you, but I would be very very careful about expressing opposition to US policies to anybody who is able to get an email out of any theatre in which US is operating at this time.

7/31/2006 2:02 am  
Blogger DuctapeFatwa said...

Oh, and let me add that in the event that your friend may be obtaining access to email independently of any non-US facility and/or personnel, and that would include facilities and/or personnel of any western organization, including any affiliated in any way with the "UN," that she should be very very careful about expressing any intentions of participating in any program that has anything to do with the US, or travel to the US, under any auspices whatsoever.

I am sorry to say such things, and regret having to say them on a publicly accessible website, but such are the sad dictates of the Situation at the present time.

7/31/2006 2:07 am  
Blogger catnip said...

I think the moment I knew as a young girl that I was antiwar was when I read the book 'Hiroshima' in school. I specifically remember one part where someone (I can't remember who) reached out to grab the hand of a little girl and she was so badly burned that her skin came off into the hand of the other like a glove.

I was horrified.

Then, surrounded by western propaganda that Fat Man and Little Boy secured peace in the world, I felt guilty for even thinking that the bombings could be such a horrible thing. Not for long, though. Not for long...

There is no glory in war. None.

7/31/2006 7:22 am  
Anonymous Janet said...

Thanks Ductape,

The email was sent to National CP and then on down to us in Portland. It was n't sent directly to me... however, I did reply to her. But I doubt she'll get it. As the email account is for use of many there.

7/31/2006 5:32 pm  
Anonymous Janet said...

So wow... I guess that new bill of Bush Boy will fit me just nicely...

The one that says they can treat domestic "terrists" and enemy combatants the same way as foreigners...

They can kidnap them. Detain them forever and give them no legal counsel.

My country is a sham and a shame. It's not brave... we're cowards... too scared to even place bumperstickers on our cars for fear someone might say something to us... too afraid to march because someone from work might see us...

7/31/2006 5:37 pm  
Anonymous Janet said...

Ductape, now that I'm totally paranoided out now LOL..

I forgot to add... she's not coming to the US. Probably never will.

7/31/2006 5:45 pm  
Anonymous Arcturus said...

I tpyed out a long reply last night that never managed to post -- brain's mush now, but I just wanted to say that this was a great piece, mr super!

I thought the money quote from Englehardt was the last paragraph.

Off with their heads!

barbaric indeed . . .

8/01/2006 5:12 am  
Anonymous Janet said...

They target civilians... because they can.

It's far more easier to kill innocent men, women and children than it is to question authority and stand up against an illegal war.

I'll be taking my camera tonight to the peace rally tonigh.

8/03/2006 12:00 am  

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