Reflect Critically on America's Way of Fighting War


[1] Isn't this moment of our national humiliation and new awareness of vulnerability an occasion to reflect critically on America's way of fighting war ever since Dresden and Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Agent Orange and 'bombing villages to save them?' Is it unthinkable to wonder in what sense we may have gotten a taste of our own medicine on September 11? I am thinking, of course, of the in bello criteria, specifically the prohibitions of covert warfare or tactics directed against civilian non-combatants. I grant that our military tries to minimize collateral damage to civilians. But this well-intentioned effort falls short of the criterion. In other words, I am calling into question more fundamentally the notion of waging 'total' war, i.e. against the enemy construed as a whole system. It is this thinking which makes things like TV towers, economic institutions and communication centers, etc. legitimate targets. In this light, I wonder how different is it that the terrorists targeted the World Trade Center as both symbol and substance of the perceived enemy system? There are other aspects of the terrorist attack which were beyond the pale. But on this particular point, I do mean the question seriously. I am struggling to understand why Americans can regard, for example, the NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia as a brilliant victory on the moral high ground, and the same kind of targeting, with the same purpose of demoralizing and  terrorizing the civilian base as occurred on to us on September 11, as evil.



© September 2001
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 1, Issue 1