Acceptable civilian casualties

  • News
  • Thread starter Hurkyl
  • Start date
  • #1
Hurkyl
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
14,916
19
Many of the threads here boil down to an argument over what constitutes an acceptable civilian casualty rather than discuss the issue from which the thread arose, so I thought it might be worthwhile to start a thread on the topic that people are really discussing. :tongue:


The question for each of the following scenarios, of course, is if civilian casualties are acceptable. Some will be realistic, some not. Some of these will lead into additional scenarios (such as 5 and 6).


Let's start with the most unrealistic:


(1) Each enemy combatant is surrounded with three enemy civilians who have willingly decided to serve as a shield.

(2) Each enemy combatant is surrounded with three enemy civilians who have been forced to act as a shield.

(3-4) Same as above, but with friendly civilians.

(5) Civilians who wear the enemy's military uniform in a battle zone.

(6) Civilians who wear the enemy's military uniform and marcn en masse on a military stronghold.

(7) Civilians resupplying the enemy combatants with ammunition during a firefight.

(8) Civilians transporting military equipment to a battle zone.

(9) Civilians in a military installation.

(10) Civilians willingly shielding a military installation.

(11) Civilians unwillingly (or unknowingly) shielding a military installation.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
4
0
civilian casualties are acceptable in all of them.
 
  • #3
467
1
I don't think there is a distinction between enemy and friendly civilians. I would suggest Points (2) and (4) are the only ones worth analyzing. The others are pretty cut and dried.
 
  • #4
22
0
Killing civilians is never acceptable. Go further back, and look at the reasons behind the conflict which may give rise to such circumstances.
 
  • #5
Hurkyl
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
14,916
19
(12) Civilians providing shelter for enemy combatants.

(13) Civilians providing medical care for enemy combatants.

(14) Civilians providing entertainment, and other morale boosting functions, for enemy combatants.

(15) Civilians providing direct economic support for the enemy military.

(16) Civilians providing indirect economic support for the enemy military. (I suspect the level of indirectness may matter to some; comment on it in your response)

(17) Civilians showing moral support for enemy combatants.

(18) Enemy civilians dressed in friendly military garb in a combat zone.

(19) Friendly civilians dressed in friendly military garb in a combat zone.

(20) Civilians providing tactical military support to enemy combatants.

(21) Civilians living in a combat zone you are attacking.

(22) Civilians living in a combat zone you are defending.
 
  • #6
Hurkyl
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
14,916
19
Killing civilians is never acceptable. Go further back, and look at the reasons behind the conflict which may give rise to such circumstances.
When we have time machines available to avert these dilemmas, this will be an acceptable option.
 
  • #7
amwbonfire
Killing civilians is never acceptable. Go further back, and look at the reasons behind the conflict which may give rise to such circumstances.
Adam's right. Civilians never deserve to be harmed in conflict. let alone killed. How would you respond to the news that your family and friends had been killed?

Hurkyl said:
When we have time machines available to avert these dilemmas, this will be an acceptable option.
No, when leaders stop pushing their own agendas and realise that people die in war, the 'dilemmas' (how could you call casulties a dilemma?) would cease to exist.

There is NEVER a cause for war. I know that may seem like a naive view, but it's not. Can you justify war for me?

Andy
AMW Bonfire
 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • #8
22
0
Hurkyl said:
When we have time machines available to avert these dilemmas, this will be an acceptable option.
Or perhaps simply stop the activities which cause these things?
 
  • #9
1,490
22
amwbonfire said:
Adam's right. Civilians never deserve to be harmed in conflict. let alone killed.
Rules in a war are there to prevent intentionally injuring those not directly involved. Civilians should stay out of the way. It has nothing to do with what they deserve.

amwbonfire said:
No, when leaders stop pushing their own agendas and realise that people die in war, the 'dilemmas' (how could you call casulties a dilemma?) would cease to exist.
Wishful thinking, my friend. Wars do happen and civilians if they wish to be considered civilians, should stay as far from the battles as possible.

amwbonfire said:
There is NEVER a cause for war. I know that may seem like a naive view, but it's not. Can you justify war for me?
Andy
AMW Bonfire
I don't think that Hitler would have stopped without violent opposition.
 
  • #10
22
0
Artman said:
Rules in a war are there to prevent intentionally injuring those not directly involved. Civilians should stay out of the way. It has nothing to do with what they deserve.
They deserve to be safe in their homes without attackers bringing the war in there. Hard to "stay out of the way" when soldiers come into your town, conduct searches in your family's home, park tanks out the front, drop bombs on your town's infrastructure, and in general turn your home into a war zone.

Wishful thinking, my friend. Wars do happen and civilians if they wish to be considered civilians, should stay as far from the battles as possible.
See above.
 
  • #11
russ_watters
Mentor
19,861
6,282
JohnDubYa said:
I don't think there is a distinction between enemy and friendly civilians. I would suggest Points (2) and (4) are the only ones worth analyzing. The others are pretty cut and dried.
In the first set of circumstances, none of them provide a basis for stopping a fight (from the point of view of the other side). In Gulf II, American civilians did go to Iraq to act as voluntary human sheilds. That act is only half a step above treason.

The real question is would the soldiers with civilians around them do anything to protect them (and would the civilians do anything to protect themselves). According to the rules of war, its the people using forced human shields who are comitting a crime.

In the second set, #12, they are combatants.

#13 isn't specific enough: are they providing medical treatment in the middle of a battle? In that case, they are treated the same as any military medical personnel - they are noncombatants (you can't shoot them on purpose), but you don't stop the battle for them. If they are not treating injured people in a battle (say, they are in a MASH hospital), then none of them, including the soldiers, are combatants. Anyway, 13 is generally a "no."

#14, they are not combatants, but being around military makes you a target: a USO show is a legitimate target - Bob Hope's presence (Playboy bunnies or not) doesn't give all the soldiers a free pass.

#15 also is not specific enough. Does that mean giving money to buy weapons or what? In any case, that would generally be a no, with the caveat that if they are near combatants by choice at any time, they are not protected.

#16, I can't think of any situation where economic centers are viable targets. Again, the rules have changed (for the civilized world) since WWII.

#17 - moral support as in waving a flag from inside your house? No. Again, the critereon are action based and its the level of participation in the battle that matters.

#18 and 19, impersonating military is likely to get you arrested, but if you're in the middle of a battle, you might get shot.

#21,22, these civilians should be protected to the extent possible/reasonable. Obviously, there is wiggle room there, but actions such as shooting from residential apartment buildings (which the terrorists have done) and hiding your equipment/vehicles in civilian neighborhoods (which Saddam did) are war crimes. For the more general case of collateral damage, precision guided weapons make it possible to vastly reduce the number of civilian casualties - but not all are avoidable.

As a general rule, Artman's characterization is correct:
Rules in a war are there to prevent intentionally injuring those not directly involved. Civilians should stay out of the way.
Using that as a guidline will allow you to figure out 95% of cases.

amwbonfire and Adam: 'we shouldn't go to war in the first place' is a nice sentiment, but it does not answer the question asked. Its completely irrelevant here. Worse, it ignores reality. You can't close your eyes and wish and make these situations disappear. When you open your eyes, they are still there and rules on how to act still have to be made. If your objection is to the current conflict, thats also irrelevant as Hurkyl framed his question in general terms.
Adam said:
Killing civilians is never acceptable.
Thats a nice, canned thing to say, but it also ignores reality. Real life is seldom that simple as the cases Hurkyl brought up (and you utterly ignored) indicate. Further, this directly contradicts what you said in another thread. You said the WTC was a legitimate target. Your attempts to be black and white about this are a transparent attempt to avoid the issue.
They deserve to be safe in their homes without attackers bringing the war in there. Hard to "stay out of the way" when soldiers come into your town, conduct searches in your family's home, park tanks out the front, drop bombs on your town's infrastructure, and in general turn your home into a war zone.
That's true, of course. But one at a time:

-"They deserve to be safe in their homes" - in the incident that precipitated this discussion (and in several of the cases presented), they chose to leave their homes.

-"Hard to "stay out of the way" when soldiers come into your town, conduct searches in your family's home, park tanks out the front..." - Indeed, and I'm sure that will come up at Saddam's war crimes tribunal. The Al Queda terrorists who started the specific battle in question will be more difficult to prosecute.

-"drop bombs on your town's infrastructure" - there is nothing wrong with destroying infrastructure (bridges, roads, airfields, power stations) that are active parts of the war effort.

-"and in general turn your home into a war zone" - again, I'm sure that'll come up at Saddam's war crimes tribunal. For the specific case in question, the civilians who were cavorting with the terrorists (and harboring them in their homes) need to ask themselves the question "which side am I on, or am I a bystander?" otherwise someone else will answer it for them.
 
Last edited:
  • #12
22
0
Thats a nice, canned thing to say, but it also ignores reality.
Not at all. The reality is, those questions only come into play after people have done all sorts of stupid and immoral things. Things need not get that far. To say it is simply unrealistic to hope we can avoid wars is just another attempt at dodging responsibility.
 
  • #13
Hurkyl
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
14,916
19
Adam, amwbonfire, I think the words y'all're looking for are something like:

"I am unable or unwilling to respond to these scenarios. However, I think all due effort should be made to prevent them from occuring."

Although prevention of these scenarios is entirely off topic, I can certainly understand the desire to mention it.
 
Last edited:
  • #14
Hurkyl
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
14,916
19
There are some more scenarios I wanted to offer, but I'll hold off for a bit.
 
  • #15
4
0
Human shields. By allowing human shields to be effective in protecting military targets, then you encourage their use and put even more civilians in harms way.
 
  • #16
member 5645
amwbonfire said:
There is NEVER a cause for war. I know that may seem like a naive view, but it's not. Can you justify war for me?

Andy
AMW Bonfire
Yes, I can justify war for you. When the Japanese invaded Singapore and began debating how to attack Australia, that was a good time for war.
In this example, the best way to prevent war would have been to simply let the Japanese take over Australia. Is that a good idea to you?
Instead, brave Australian and American troops lead the battles against the Japanese, pushing them back from invading.
Do you believe that this was a lost cause? a bad idea?

If I come to your house and steal something, the easiest way for there to not be a problem is let me take and leave. In reality, that place the rest of us exist, conflict is real. Some people are evil. That's reality.
War is conflict. Wishing that one person hadn't done something won't stop it. Conflict can, and often does.
 
  • #17
4
0
Adam said:
Killing civilians is never acceptable. Go further back, and look at the reasons behind the conflict which may give rise to such circumstances.
In Germany during WW II, we killed 2 million civilians in order to stop the Holocaust and the enslavement of Europe. If the killing of civilians is never acceptable, then should we have left the Nazi in power to continue the Holocaust?
http://web.jjay.cuny.edu/~jobrien/reference/ob62.html
the victims of Saddam's regime exceeded 1 million, but there was no accurate estimate.
Iraqi Human Rights Minister Bakhtiar Amin
Iraq Body Count (IBC), a volunteer group of British and US academics and researchers, compiled statistics on civilian casualties from media reports and estimated that between 5,000 and 7,000 civilians died in the conflict. War may have killed 10,000 civilians, researchers say
So those civilians death were not acceptable either?

In proportion to its population, Cambodia underwent a human catastrophe unparalleled in this century. Out of a 1970 population of probably near 7,100,0001 Cambodia probably lost slightly less than 4,000,000 people to war, rebellion, man-made famine, genocide, politicide, and mass murder. The vast majority, almost 3,300,000 men, women, and children (including 35,000 foreigners), were murdered within the years 1970 to 1980 by successive governments and guerrilla groups. Most of these, a likely near 2,400,000, were murdered by the communist Khmer Rouge. Statistics Of Cambodian Democide Estimates, Calculations, And Sources
United States could have stopped this, but we didn't.
 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • #18
member 5645
Outcast said:
United States could have stopped this, but we didn't.
hey, so long as there was no war!
 
  • #19
4
0
phatmonky said:
hey, so long as there was no war!
Yeah, the main thing is we aren't the ones killing civilians.

Same thing here in Sudan. If we get involved, we might hurt a non-combatant or some endangered species of bug or weed.
Since the start of the conflict in Darfur in February 2003:
- More than 30,000 people are believed to have lost their lives;
- 1.2 million civilians have been internally displaced by the conflict;
- 170,000 Sudanese from Darfur have sought refuge in neighboring Chad.
But you know things must be getting kind of bad when even http://www.mtvu.com/on_mtvu/activism/sudan.jhtml [Broken] starts carrying the story.
 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • #20
russ_watters
Mentor
19,861
6,282
Outcast said:
Same thing here in Sudan.
The US gov't is starting to make noise like they want to act there. Powell recently dropped the "g" word in the UN, which compells action. The UN response: complain about it (Powell's use of the word, not the situation in the Sudan). In light of this and past failures of the UN to do its job, the US leading the way outside of the UN is more than justified: its our moral responsibility.

RE: Camboadia - I didn't realize it was that bad. I'm not convinced we could have stopped it though. The Sovs would not have approved of us entering another war in SE Asia.

North Korea is a similar situation today: somewhere around 2 million of a total population of 20 million have starved to death in the past 10 years. With such a large army though, it would be tough for us to do anything about that.

In any case, where and when to act is a complicated question and depends on the situation. The first criteria of course, is can we actually help. In situations like the Sudan, where it would take a relatively trivial military force, there is no excuse whatsoever for inaction.

I hope we didn't just hijack the thread, Hurkly - if you have more hypothetical scenarios (or want to discuss some of the tougher ones you already posted), by all means....
 
Last edited:
  • #21
amwbonfire
Ok, this is becoming a bit off-topic. Maybe start another thread for "War - ethical?" or something similar.

Andy
AMW Bonfire
 
  • #22
BobG
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
185
80
russ_watters said:
#15 also is not specific enough. Does that mean giving money to buy weapons or what? In any case, that would generally be a no, with the caveat that if they are near combatants by choice at any time, they are not protected.

#16, I can't think of any situation where economic centers are viable targets. Again, the rules have changed (for the civilized world) since WWII.
If you're talking inadvertent deaths as a result of collateral damage, all could be acceptable (depends on how important the target was - obviously killing 500 civilians to get one enemy combatant armed with one AK-47 is a bit of a stretch - and the example's meant to be extreme, not a comment on any actual events).

If you're talking targets, I'd say both 15 and 16 are viable targets. How is it different than resupply convoys - WWII oil tankers and cargo ships, factories vital to creating war supplies, for example - or command and control and communications centers in Iraq and Kosovo. Once again, there has to be serious consideration of the war benefits vs. the cost in 'innocent' human lives, but it's this that has changed the rules enough since WWII to at least reduce the number of civilian casualties. We've not recently fought anyone that was a serious enough threat to our (or our allies) existence to warrant all-out warfare.
 
  • #23
4
0
General Sherman was wrong

When General Sherman said, "War is hell," he was wrong, the innocent do not suffer in hell.
 
  • #24
Hurkyl
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
14,916
19
I hope we didn't just hijack the thread, Hurkly
I don't mind; there's not really much on-topic discussion anyways. *sigh*
 
  • #25
187
0
You did not mention civilians who pay taxes for bombs who are dropped by the leaders they allowed or voted into office. Do they coun't to in this scenario? We should include every category. I think they are. That's why I want Bush out. If I were an Iraq, (I'm more intelligent American), using the logic of the Golden Rule, you bet your a** I'd be out to get even any way I can.

Those stupid and evil, like Bush, can't stand the Golden Rules logic.

Bush Guarantees an attack if he makes it into next term, although Kerry's diplmomatic attitude is claimed to be the threat. Do you really think the world said no to Bush will let Iraq go undefended?
 

Related Threads on Acceptable civilian casualties

  • Poll
  • Last Post
2
Replies
32
Views
3K
  • Last Post
Replies
24
Views
4K
  • Last Post
Replies
12
Views
2K
Replies
52
Views
6K
Replies
127
Views
16K
Replies
4
Views
1K
Replies
19
Views
5K
Replies
6
Views
2K
Replies
76
Views
6K
Top