A New Morality Of War

We must change of codes of warfare to deal with enemy combatants who hide behind civilians – here’s how.

Warfare has always been governed by moral codes, but they’ve evolved with time. For example in ancient China, commanders refused to attack an enemy because he was disadvantaged while crossing a river – they judged an attack dishonorable. But such codes only work if they’re reciprocal, and over time cheaters emerge and new codes have to be developed.

This book explains the evolution:

Established “codes of honor”…are the products of past experience and social structures, as well as past war fighting techniques. Aa a result they become obsolete at the start of new wars.

For example when in WW2 Germany changed the rules protecting civilians from attack, the allies eventually adopted the same rules.

Our enemies are forcing another big change in the morality of war:

Mohammad Abd al-Hamid Srour moved missiles across southern Lebanon under cover of a white flag. Hussein Ali Mahmoud Suleiman used the porch of a private home to fire rockets. Maher Hassan Mahmoud Kourani dressed in civilian clothes, hid his Kalashnikov in a tote bag and stored anti-aircraft missiles in the back of a green unmarked Volvo. The three men, all members of Hezbollah, were captured by Israel during last summer’s war.

Now their videotaped interviews form part of a remarkable report by retired Lieutenant Colonel Reuven Erlich of Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. Relying heavily on captured Hezbollah documents, onsite and aerial photography and other first-hand evidence, the report shows how the Shiite group put innocent civilians at risk by deliberately deploying its forces in cities, towns and often private homes.

Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, has accused Israel’s military of “indiscriminate warfare” and “a disturbing disregard for the lives of Lebanese civilians.” Mr. Erlich demolishes that claim, and in the process shows the asymmetric strategy of Islamist radicals.

In the town of Qana–site of an Israeli bombing on July 30 that killed 28 and that Hezbollah’s apologists were quick to label a “massacre”–an arms warehouse can be seen adjacent to a mosque.

Use of civilians for cover isn’t entirely new – in WW2 the Germans (who seem to pioneer these things) herded Dutch civilians around their tanks to ward of air strikes and our airman had no choice but to kill them. But when that war ended, we hoped such barbarism was an aberration and reverted to the old rules.

Now the rules must change, our political leaders should make a formal declaration that our forces will seek out and destroy enemy combatants, in or out of uniform, at home or on the battlefield, in a place or worship or on the street. And that the responsibility for civilian casualties lies entirely with the enemy, not with us.

We must not undertake to minimize civilian casualties – as the Israelis have found, that leads to the dictatorships of the UN Human Rights Committee daring to investigate Israel for artillery misfires when it was trying to stop deliberate Palestinian rocket attacks.

So that’s the new rule – if you hide behind civilians, we will kill you in the most effective way, regardless of collateral damage, and the blood of innocents will be on your hands.

This is a horrible rule, but our enemies have chosen it and if we don’t follow suit, we’ll perish.


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