Friday, July 28, 2006


About a week ago, Alan Dershowitz published an execrable editorial in which he suggested that there should be degrees of "civilianality." In essence, his argument held that should you have the bad fortune to live in an area in which terrorists were being harbored, you were by that very fact less innocent than other "civilians" and presumably more eligible for being shot. This is just how far Professor Dershowitz, who has also argued in favor of "torture warrants," has wandered from civilization in this "war of civilizations."

How goes it in the real world tonight? One minute, I'm seeing video tape of the civilian victims of an Israeli attack on a Red Cross convoy. The civilian medics, drivers aides and patients (already shot) had been in contact with the IDF before setting out, had agreed upon a route, had been assured they would not be fired upon. They started out on the agreed upon route. The Israeli forces mortared them.

A test case of degrees of "civilianality"?

Then, a breaking story. Some nut has just shot several people at a Jewish community center in Seattle. As of this writing, one of the victims is dead. The guy who did this probably had an idea similar to Dershowitz's, probably thinks that civilians are somehow complicit in things with which they have nothing to do.

Whatever our other disagreements, I hope we can all join in the struggle against this kind of thinking. It's one thing to say that all of us are in some ways responsible for our government's actions. Or the actions of governments supported by our government. But once you start thinking of ordinary citizens as complicit in the horrors wrought by their states, you're well on your way to Bin Laden's cave.

1 comment:

Richard Taylor said...

I agree and disagree - I don't think your thesis is that clear cut - and I understand the way that this term "civilianality" came about - I don't necessarily think Bin Laden (if he even exists) is so bad - but that is another issue - in other words how does one define what a terrorist is - it is not clear cut - in a complex way we are indeed all complicite (but we would all often consider ourselves not to be and maybe we are not!) - this is a paradox we have to live with I think -I don't think it is as certain as you are saying - but I understand why you say what you do.

Although if we take the Lebanon-Israel conflict as an example - it is problematic - the average Israeli would support the military (most men serve in the military there I believe) - who either target or hit civilian targets while targetting military targets - although that begs another question - who is a civilian? - if I dress in a uniform - am I not now human? - am I only a soldier? -not a civilian? - and in sense in war there is no division - it is only that we have - in war - targetted military target first (as that is the most efficient method of winning war in most cases) - but in the 2WW civilians were hit by both sides when it was necessary and then later as a method of war.

And if one was strategist of a war could be completely "abstract" about all this - one would have to say that - in war - everyone and everything in that area of the place you are fighting is 'the enemy' and thus a legitimate target - that said - myself - I myself - I can only talk about this "in the abstract" and indeed this is what happens - everyone involved thinks (partly) in this abstract way -if we could instantly 'read' each ohters' thoughts - know everything about each other -feel each others pain - we would lose our individuality etc but war would stop instantly.

So in the long run we want to or maybe "should be" pacifist - in reality perhaps war doesn't discriminate so nicely - I don't know anyone who really targets civilians - it just that civilians are part of the enemy force -potentially or in fact. This unfornunately has a terrible logic to it - civilians have frequently been exterminated in wars so that no relatives can grow up to oppose the warriors or take revenge - but that is not the norm. This is taking the abstractions to their ultimate however. As a person - I have never and hope I never have to fire a gun at anyone or have to harm anyone in any way. I can see it hapenning only as a self-defence - which is what the Israelis and the Lebanese - or whoever - would both say they are ultimately doing.

This ( admittedly ambiguous - even cowardly thinking of mine ) will only explain the person's actions who killed those poor people their synagogue - it doesn't give it permission or legitimacy - only -hopefully - helps us to understand. Hopefully.

But when I see the "reality" - rather than these theoretical considerations - of this horror of war - I fall silent also...

But it is indeed "the horror" - as of Mr Kurtz - or just the ultimate of blacknesses.