Saturday, January 24, 2015

Jus In Bello

By now you’ve probably heard the uproar over Michael Moore’s “snipers are cowards” comment regarding the movie “America Sniper”. Some other Hollywood types and left-leaners have questioned the story’s glorification of Chris Kyle, THE American Sniper. He was from Texas, he killed the bad guys, he believed in God and he was not always politically correct. I’ll take that kind of guy on my team any day.

I get it that there are at least two sides to every story. When one looks at the photos of Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the bombs were dropped, one must ask “Was this really necessary?”. Could we have defeated the Nazi’s without fire-bombing Dresden? Did Sherman have to burn most of Georgia and South Carolina near the end of the Civil War. Why are innocent people killed in war and why do we choose to call it collateral damage? Robert E. Lee penned these words in a letter to his wife:
"What a cruel thing is war: to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world.”

“Just War Theory” (jus bellum iustum) postulates that war, while very terrible, is not always the worst option. There may be responsibilities so important, atrocities which can be prevented or outcomes so undesirable they justify war (Quinlen/Guthrie, “The Just War Tradition”). “Jus In Bello” (right conduct in war) is a key part of Just War Theory. Military necessity is a key principle when it comes to “right conduct in war”. Essentially, it says that an attack or action must be intended to help in the military defeat of the enemy; it must be an attack on a military objective, and the harm caused to civilians or civilian property must be proportional and not excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated. This principle is meant to limit excessive and unnecessary death and destruction.

I will grant that one might fairly debate the military necessity of dropping the big ones on Japan or fire-bombing Dresden. (I would come down firmly on the side of those being the right calls by the way.) But I don’t see much room even for debate on the use of snipers. This would seem to clearly fall well within the bounds of military necessity. And those bounds become even broader when fighting an enemy whose “Jus In Bello” is based on “Holy” War Theory. For it would appear that to some of our enemies, all is fair and just in their “Holy” War.

I cannot understand why some of our fellow Americans, even some of our leaders, are so critical of those who fight and shed blood and die for us. I think it’s because sometimes those heroes must also kill for us. And killing is a dirty business. That’s part of the job we send them out to do. It’s a terrible thing to take another human life. But sometimes it’s necessary and justified. And, in my opinion it’s more than OK, in fact it’s our duty and responsibility, to respect and honor those who fight our wars.

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