What price war? In Syria and Iraq, U.S. coalition airstrikes will inevitability kill some innocent people, including children. This fact is apparently not enough to prevent democracies from dropping bombs and missiles from aircraft.We have known since the glory days of aerial bombardment during World War II that the killing of civilians in war has been justified for the sake of military success. Intentionally targeting large civilian populations with many squadrons of bombers was then known as “strategic bombing” and some of the most deadly bombing events were the work of American and British bombers. More than 200,000 civilians, many of them children, of course, were slaughtered in Dresden and Tokyo combined. At least 170,000 innocent Japanese were killed in the atomic bombs the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
During the Vietnam War the tactic of “carpet bombing” Cambodia , Laos and Vietnam, causing massive civilian casualties, was again justified by the U.S. government as military necessity. War, it seems, justifies almost anything.
Since the Protocol 1 Additions of the Geneva Conventions in 1977, nations launching airstrikes (which seem to be proliferating quickly) have agreed to limit whom and what they drop their bombs on to “military objectives.” In other words, “indiscrimate bombing” was outlawed. This included
an attack by bombardment by any methods or means which treats as a single military objective a number of clearly separated and distinct military objectives located in a city, town, village or other area containing a similar concentration of civilians or civilian objects; and
an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.
So to keep war legal, air forces are now required to bomb accurately so as not to cause “excessive” civilian casualties. But if you or someone you know happen to be a noncombatant who is killed or injured by a combatant’s bomb, that loss of life or limb is likely to feel excessive, no matter how “concrete” and “direct” the military advantage.
Would the incidental death of one child in a bombing raid be legally “excessive”? Would two children killed by dropping bombs be excessive? How many children can be killed in a single bombing event (or a war) before we reach the “excessive” level? The answer is “excessive” is now in the eye of the bomb-dropping beholder. In September of 2014 the Obama administration decided to loosen the restrictions on civilian casualties by coalition airstrikes in Syria that still apply, not always successfully, to drones.
There are credible reports that airstrikes by the U.S. coalition targeting ISIS in Syria on Monday incidentally killed 36 Syrian civilians in a single village, 20 of whom are reported to be children. U.S. Central Command is “reviewing” the incident. Because the airstrikes occurred in a village, they seem to violate the first part of the Protocol above. And, in my opinion, the killing or harming of any civilian for any reason is excessive and just plain wrong.
But children, women and innocent men are always killed in war, intentionally or incidentally. This fact alone ought to be enough to demonstrate that war (massive violent force) is not the humane, democratic answer.
Update– The website of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that another U.S coalition airstrike with civilian casualties has been reported in al-Hasakah province in Syria. 26 civilians are reported dead, including 7 children and 4 women.