Carol Platt Liebau: Intentions <i>Do</i> Make a Difference

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Intentions Do Make a Difference

Writing in the LA Times, Adam Shatz, literary editor of The Nation, tries to assert a moral equivalency between the accidental civilian deaths of Lebanese civilians and the Israelis who are killed each year by terrorism:

If Israeli assertions are true that these killings of scores of civilians were unintentional, does that mean that Israel can claim the high ground in its battle with Hezbollah and Hamas? Is Israel's "accidental" violence against civilians somehow better, or more morally acceptable, than that of a Hamas suicide bomber who steps into a pizzeria seeking to kill civilians? Or a Hezbollah guerrilla firing a Katyusha in the direction of a Haifa residential neighborhood? In short, do Israel's declared intentions make a difference?

Shatz believes they don't -- a statement of stunning moral obtuseness. But even the law recognizes that the perpetrators of "accidental" violence are less culpable than those who inflict it deliberately, hence the distinction between first degree murder and, say, manslaughter. Moreover, to argue that Israelis -- who warn civilians to leave the areas where they are going to bomb and seek to avoid civilian casualties, even at added risk to their own soldiers -- are essentially indistinguishable from Hezbollah terrorists who deliberately hide among women and children (the better to shield their own hides by exploiting the scruples of their opponents, scuples that they themselves lack) is hardly even a serious argument.

Rarely is either side in a conflict perfect. Real ugliness and evil can be perpetrated by both sides. But it's hard to believe that any person of normal intelligence could fail to grasp the very real differences between those who mourn the deaths of innocents -- and seek to avoid them -- and those who deliberately try to inflict civilian casualties among their enemies, while demonstrating perfect willingness to use their own women and children as human shields.


Blogger JillMartin said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:19 AM  
Blogger LQ said...

Shatz argues that Israel should attack only “key” Hezbollah positions and pursue diplomacy. How can Israel negotiate with terrorist groups and nations who want to destroy it? Why would Israel leave some rocket launching sites intact, putting its own citizens at risk?

Hezbollah is trying to kill Israeli civilians, by launching rockets from civilian areas in Lebanon. Israel’s survival depends on it defending itself, by protecting its soldiers and civilians.

Israel is on the moral high ground, or at least higher than that of the terrorists.

9:54 AM  
Blogger JillMartin said...

Carol loves playing God.

10:41 AM  
Blogger amber said...

How do we know who is a civilian in Lebanon? We can not make any distinction between civilians and Hezbollah. The media has not exactly done an honest job in reprting what is going on over there, so I will not believe a word they say, they are not trustworthy, they do not check their stories, they find sensational news and run with it and do not engage their brain in the process.

11:32 AM  
Blogger wile e coyote said...


Would you kindly elaborate on your comment?

It is not self-evident to me.

11:35 AM  
Blogger HouseOfSin said...

Carol -

This may beyond the purview of your blog, but morality is necessarily a function of the environment that spawns it.

For example, if we all lived in a climate of 80 degrees minimum and often 115 degrees or higher, we would not consider it immoral to do with considerably less clothing than we do, scanty clothing which (for most of us where we live) would otherwise be considered immorally scanty. The environment dictates as much.

So what does this environment say? It says to the Israelis that if they don't retaliate, they may well be destroyed. It is entirely moral for them to retaliate, however harsh the result.

The problem at the Times (pick one) is that the editors assume "moral relativity" means "relative to one's own whim." It doesn't and never has. It means, "relative to the environment," which in Israel's case has been foisted upon it.

12:43 PM  
Blogger dodger said...

The lesson we all should learn from articles like this is, If you see some fellas from Hezbollah setting up a mortar launch, get the hell out of the area, far as you can run.

I dam near got myself killed once by crossing at a pedestrian walkway on a busy street. I actually thought cars would stop for me. Imagine that.

1:56 PM  
Blogger COPioneer said...

house of sin: point taken, but analogy doesn't hold agua.

Isn't it hot in the Middle East? Then why do the women have to wear burkas and only bathe once a year? Ah...the environment is such that they'll get beaten by their manly masters if they don't obey...

2:46 PM  
Blogger COPioneer said...

Prager has an excellent column on a closely related topic "World Opinion".

2:48 PM  
Blogger Dittohead said...

Zbigniew Brzezinski-

"Neocon prescriptions [of use of force to try to change things unilaterally] of which Israel has its equivalents, are fatal for America and ultimately for Israel. They will totally turn the overwhelming majority of the Middle East's population against the United States. The lessons of Iraq speak for themselves. Eventually, if neocon policies continue to be pursued, the United States will be expelled from the region and that will be the beginning of the end for Israel as well."

3:11 PM  
Blogger HouseOfSin said...

I was using the term "environment" loosely. Cultural influence - yes, calculated, systematic, and indefensible purging of women's rights - is responsible for the burka.

8:14 PM  
Blogger Alan Kellogg said...

On Climate and Garb

The factors are temperature and humidity. When it is hot and dry you want shade. Loose clothing provides shade, while giving the room needed for air to circulate around the body.

When it is hot and humid is when you wear little, or nothing.

In short, you do what you must to ensure survival. When facing an enemy who takes hostages, and who refuses to negotiate in good faith, you do what is necessary to stop them. Keeping in mind that this can cause the loss of innocent life.

You can't absolutely guarantee anything is absolutely safe. In all enterprises there is always the potential for death. No exceptions. Death will always be with us, it is time we accepted that fact and got on with our lives.

Observation: Do you get the feeling that journalists as a group have just learned of mortality, and they are in denial?

5:12 AM  
Blogger Dittohead said...

And the world energy market is an interesting environment.

The Strategic Re-routing of Central Asian Oil

Diverting Central Asian oil and gas to the Eastern Mediterranean (under Israeli military protection), for re-export back to Asia, serves to undermine the inter-Asian energy market, which is based on the development of direct pipeline corridors linking Central Asia and Russia to South Asia, China and the Far East.

Ultimately, this design is intended to weaken Russia's role in Central Asia and cut off China from Central Asian oil resources. It is also intended to isolate Iran.

Meanwhile, Israel has emerged as a new powerful player in the global energy market.

6:13 AM  
Blogger dodger said...

Ditto, was that a sane comment? Serious, it sounded sane. It read sane. Did I miss something?

8:31 AM  
Blogger Dittohead said...

Of course it is another insane statement when Israel is killing twelve times more women and children than combatants.

11:39 PM  

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