Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Terrorism & Civilian Deaths

I've alluded to my position on terrorism -- I think we should be careful and define it so that everybody agrees on what we're talking about. Here's a dictionary definition:

ter·ror·ism /ter'-or-iz-um/ n : the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion

That's too vague for me. Here's my definition:

ter·ror·ism /ter'-or-iz-um/ n : the systematic practice of intentionally threatening, maiming, or killing civilians as a means of coercion

To wit, I've often heard it stated:

"One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter."


It is one thing for military forces to battle other military forces or directly target command and control personnel in a conflict. It is quite another to go out and blow up random civilians to frighten a population into buckling to your demands. It is one of the most callous forms of evil that humans perpetrate on other humans.

Don't get me wrong. Killing people is, in general, bad. It should only be done in the most dire circumstances. But leaving non-combatants out of it is one of the most basic rules of engagement if you want to claim any moral high ground.

In war, civilian casualties are unavoidable. There has never been a war where non-combatants -- civilians, have not died. The fundamental difference is intent. A terrorist directly intends civilians as his primary target. It holds government institutions and police and the general population hostage to the will to protect non-combatants.

That being said, let's take a look at why military uniforms and markings are important to the rules of engagement. Mainly, it is a way of protecting civilians. It makes it easier to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants.

And now let's take a look at what happened in Iraq yesterday where 7 civilians were killed by coalition forces (in this case U.S. forces). Iraqi combatants have made it a practice to blur the lines between them and their civilian counterparts, trying their best to look like people coalition forces do not want to target (civilians... non combatants) to stage attacks on coalition forces. Why? To use the coalition's good will against the coalition itself. It directly takes good intentions and exploits them for evil. This is what the worst villains in the movies do.

At that point, what choice does a group of coalition soldiers have when a car load of people who appear to be civilians approaches, ignoring all signals and even warning shots to stop their vehicle but to fire into the vehicle? These soldiers are not about to harm someone who appears to be a civilian and appears to be cooperating with them.

This blurring of the lines between combatants and civilians has the effect of civilians in danger. It gives our forces the choice between fighting and removing the evil dictator, or killing people who may or may not be combatants. The line has been intentionally blurred by the Iraqi regime to maximize both civilian and coalition casualties. The only sure way to avoid such civilian casualties is not to ever fire on such a vehicle or group of individuals who by any outward appearance might seem to be a civilan. This leaves Saddam Hussein in power, free to continue using rape as a coercion tool, cutting people's tongues out, dropping them in acid and plastic shredders, spraying whole populations with poison gas -- and developing the means to extend this kind of brutality beyond its current borders. Which is the worse evil? One has to choose. Allow a great evil to continue, or cause your own albeit unintentional evil while trying to remove the greater evil. (He may be 67, but remember he has two sons cut from the same cloth and a massive support structure designed to preserve their power. Left alone, this evil will go on indefinitely).

Every decent human being abhors civilian casualties, including decent human beings put in a position of having to inflict them. And this is and always has been Saddam Hussein's entire war strategy. Make sure enough innocent people die (ok, part of it is to kill coalition forces when possible, too but...) to cause a massive world-wide cry for it to stop. If he can cause them himself and blame it on the coalition, he'll do it -- and I believe he already has and intends to keep doing so. I'm not saying the coalition hasn't inflicted civilian casualties, I'm just saying that when they have, it has been devoid of that intent and with remorse. You can't say that about Saddam. And as I've said in a previous article, civilian casualties help the Iraqi regime and immensely harm the coalition effort, so the coalition (besides not wanting to anyway because they're good people with good intentions) has a HUGE disincentive for killing civilians.