Wednesday, August 30, 2006

On Civilised Warfare

Sometimes when reading what others write, I wonder why I blog at all. Others seem to be so articulate and alive on topics that really matter. Read Ken Macleod's discussion on the Israel/Lebanon conflict. Whether you agree with his political point of view or not, there are points in his argument that can not be easily dismissed.


Anonymous said...

it sounds like he really just doesn't know much about history.

On closer inspection his bio reveals:

His political experiences ... include the membership in the International Marxist Group, the British section of the Fourth International, in the 1970's; and in the Communist Party of Great Britain in the 1980's.

The last sentence in the paragraph is perhaps more telling:

His knowledge of the Left enables him to effortlessly hold forth in political discussions on the Internet.


CChen said...

Again, as I said earlier whether or not you agree with his political views, he makes certain points that can not be easily dismissed.

What basis do you have for saying he doesn't know much?

So just because he belongs to the International Marxist Group, he does not know much about history? When does your political background serve as a argument for how little or how much you know?

When someone attacks another's argument based on the other's background, instead of the other's ideas, the only thing that is revealed is the enormous stupidity, laziness, and ignorance of the first person.


David U. said...

I see, knowledge of history founded upon political pedigree. Or better yet, an ad hominem argument. Useless.

Anonymous said...

perhaps this is clearer:

"As for that guy who attacks just war theory -- he's making a straw man argument and also disagreeing with one of the acknowledged assumptions of just war theory, that intention matters. He attacks the word "just" as if it means "good" or "desirable" -- which it doesn't. He's also, without acknowledging it, only talking about justice in war and ignoring the issue where he knows he's wrong, just cause for war. But then he concludes with a statement on cause for war. His argument goes like this: war is hell (anything goes -- no just fighting), therefore Israel shouldn't exist because its existence causes war (this is a statement about "just cause"). The two justices are logically distinct, so attacking the one says nothing about the other. Here is another summary of his argument: He is implicitely apologizing for hezbollah's attack on Israel (implicitely because he says nothing about it, but apologizing because he is excusing it), and then saying there is no such thing as just fighting, and then drawing a conclusion based on an argument (Israel causes war) unrelated to his essay. He's actually agreeing with Walzer, that volunteer soldiers (Hezbollah) aren't party to the conventional rules of war (justice in war), because they're doing it for fun (willingly). The distinctions he attacks (the bombmaker on his way to work not on his way home) is strictly designed to benefit the man the state coerces into making bombs. In fact, it's designed to make citizens' lives easier *because* they will be used by (I could be dramatic: imperialist expansionist blah blah blah) states. Hezbollah, which is a volunteer group, isn't party to the justice in war rules because they do it for fun. They're free to make their own rules, which they do: "anything goes." When he decided to apologize for Hezbollah, he had to attack the very rules Hezbollah eschews because it offers them no benefit -- Hezbollah no coerced fighters or civilians who want rules prohibiting they're targetting. So fine, Hezbollah plays by no rules of war, but that makes it all the worse because Israel's soldiers aren't volunteers -- the state demands it of them -- so the one who starts the war is responsible for the Israeli soldiers' deaths as much as the enemy is responsible for civilian deaths."

CChen said...

Your argument boils down to your last paragraph:

So fine, Hezbollah plays by no rules of war, but that makes it all the worse because Israel's soldiers aren't volunteers -- the state demands it of them -- so the one who starts the war is responsible for the Israeli soldiers' deaths as much as the enemy is responsible for civilian deaths."

I sum this up to mean that the one who starts the war is as responsible as the ones who cause civilian deaths in retaliation. I don’t think at any point Ken Macleod refutes this.

The point he is trying to make, is that Israel is just AS responsible as Hezbollah, that their attempt to justify their actions morally by the war theory is hyporcrytical. (and YES Macleod has to attack basic assumptions of War Theory to make his argument, because that's how effective argument's are made. I point this out because you assume in your beginning statement, that he is wrong JUST because he attacks the acknowledged assumption)

I think the crux of the issue is presented clearly by this statement from Macleod.

“When John Bolton stands up in the UN and says that there is no moral equivalence between the deaths of civilians in Israel and in Lebanon, because in the one case the civilians are deliberately targeted and in the other they are not, it is to this iniquitous doctrine that he appeals.”

What Macleod is addressing is this moral high ground that Israel takes in justifying their reaction, believing or having the rest of the world believe that because Hezbollah started the war, Israel now has the moral right to do what they did in retaliation. It’s the moral equivalent of knifing someone after they’ve kicked you or better yet blowing up their house with their family to stop them from hurting you, when you could’ve done something different that may have caused less harm.

And if we’re going to talk about the straw man argument, you’ve done quite a lot of that yourself.

I agree with you that Hezbollah is not excused from their strike, in the same way that Israel should not be excused from their retaliation by Just War Theory.

CChen said...

One last thing, at the crux of Macleod's argument is a distaste for war theory's ability to justify war as an institution. It also allows those who invoke it to frame any action on their part as justifiable/moral while condeming the enemy's actions as unjustifiable/inmoral.

he quotes:
"It justifies every horrible, predictable consequence of imperialist assault as an unintended consequence, and condemns every horrific, predictable consequence of resistance to that assault as an intended consequence."

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