Casualties of War

If I’m lucky this will be my last post on war for awhile. Whatever’s happening on the surface in the Middle East, furious unseen diplomacy is happening under it, and we’ll see its result more in the things that don’t happen, I think, than in the things that do.

And I hope so many things don’t happen.

But I have to say this: complaints and outrage from both sides — all sides — about deliberate viciousness, about pogroms and barbarity and contravening the Rules of War, are naïve at best, hypocritical at worst.

Truth is the first casualty of War. Civilians are the second.


Going back to the Code of Hammurabi, such written records as we have brim with rules to keep civilian populations safe. (Including the Islamic record devised by the first Caliph, Abu Bakr, so if you’re about to tell me about jihad, sit down.) These rules were written, and written, and written, because civilian populations weren’t  safe.


The image of two lines of brave young soldiers in identifiable uniforms exchanging fire across a disputed boundary while their respective civilian populations wait at a safe remove to learn their fate is bullsh*t and always has been. The invasion of Israel by terrorists from Hamas was for the purpose of killing civilians. Against the Rules of War! But why were the civilians there? Because the Israeli government had built settlements in the occupied territories to create a buffer zone inhabited by their own people. As a response to the invasion the Israeli military ordered the evacuation of northern Gaza, but Hamas told people to stay. Why? Israel has never shown reluctance to shell civilian territory, so it can’t be because they thought the presence of civilians would stop retribution. No, it was so that when the civilians got killed Hamas could point at Israel as monsters willing to kill civilians. Against the Rules of War! Both governments, using their own people as chess pieces.

Outrageous? Unacceptable? Sure. But what’s a siege but an attack on a civilian population? What was the Armenian Genocide but an attack on a civilian population? What were the forcible removal of Native Americans from their lands but attacks on civilian populations? Pogroms, the Holocaust, the Torreon Massacre, the wholesale murder of Rohingya? You know why castles had big giant courtyards? So civilian populations could shelter inside when enemy soldiers came.

I wrote earlier about how we’re hardwired to hate. But we’re not hardwired to kill. You have to be inflamed to do that, to be convinced those people you hate are so terrible they deserve for you to kill them. It’s damn hard to inflame people against soldiers only. War is for the purpose of wiping out the enemy. Including the enemy’s giggling toddlers. Anyone who thinks any war can be fought cleanly is fooling themselves.

Am I saying then that we might as well accept the slaughter of civilians because that’s how war is fought? God, no. I’m saying we need to accept that that’s how war is fought and stop the slaughter of civilians by stopping our default resort to war.

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