Along the Tracks

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Weighing lives

It’s difficult not to feel at least discomfort at the huge civilian casualty toll in Israel’s successful attack on a Hamas leader. Everyone was quick to criticize in the media, of course, and even the Bush administration “deplored” the missile strike.

But we can only be honest in our moral indignation if we search our hearts and can say we would not have done the same thing. A comparable scenario might help.

Imagine the U.S. government has just received excellent intelligence on the exact location of Osama bin Laden. He is holed up with his family right under our noses in Afghanistan, inside a village near Kandahar. Unfortunately, the village is very pro-Taliban, it is located in a remote, mountainous area, and any sneak attack by ground is doomed to failure. Bombing is the only choice. The densely-packed stone houses in the village would require a rather powerful bomb to be certain of success. That, of course, would entail many civilian casualties - certainly dozens. Do we bomb?

Let’s carry it one step further, and say President Bush decides not to bomb, hoping to keep a close tab on the village and catch Osama escaping at some point. Another big terror attack hits our shores, killing hundreds, and low and behold, an Osama videotape is released shortly thereafter claiming he ordered the attack.

Now did we do the right thing?

It is true, we must make tough choices in any war, and at times that may mean putting ourselves at greater risk to protect civilians in enemy lands. But we also must never forget, terrorists and thugs who hide behind their families and other innocents are the ones putting those lives in jeopardy, not us. They are using those lives with no more regard for their value than the terrorists have for a bunker or cave. The fact we avoid attacking in situations where civilians will be killed says a lot about us; the fact the terrorists hide beneath the beds of their own children says a lot about them.

Total victory

The Israelis are also being accused of seeking to wage “total war” against the Palestinians and achieve “total victory.” What all these apologists refuse to face up to is the fact that the Palestinians have initiated “total war” by directly targeting civilians at a time (the beginning of the intifada) when violence was well in check and Palestinians were on the verge of getting the state they claim to seek.

I don’t buy the “total war” argument, but I find a dark humor in the fact that those who initiated such an engagement now want to make it appear the Israelis are somehow escalating the conflict.

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