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Are there ever circumstances in which bombing civilians in wartime is morally justified?

As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me. They do not feel any enmity against me as an individual, nor I against them. They are only doing their duty, as the saying goes. Most of them, I have no doubt, are kind-hearted law-abiding men who would never dream of committing murder in private life. On the other hand, if one of them succeeds in blowing me to pieces with a well-placed bomb, he will never sleep any the worse for it. He is serving his country, which has the power to absolve him from evil. (Orwell.1:1941)

The moral failure of warfare in the 20th Century has led to a disproportionate number of innocent civilians, here on in referred to as non-combatants, being killed in comparison to the number of soldiers, here on in referred to as combatants, being killed during armed conflicts. As Table A depicts, the numbers of non-combatants killed in three separate conflicts, one being a terrorist event, has far outweighed the respective number of combatants killed. Combatants are legitimate targets in warfare, whereas non-combatants are illegitimate targets in warfare. Section II, Article 43, (Protocol I) to the Geneva Convention states, Members of the armed forces of a Party to a conflict are combatants (International Committee of the Red Cross. 2005a), therefore only they have the right to participate in hostilities and only they should be the targets of hostilities. Noncombatants are protected under Part IV, Article 13, (Protocol II) to the Geneva Convention, The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack (International Committee of the Red Cross. 2005b).

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Table. A Number of Combatant Deaths Compared to Non-Combatant Deaths Combatant deaths World War Two 9/11 Terrorist Attacks Iraq War 2003 present 15,000,000* 19** 4,578*** Non-Combatant (civilian) deaths 45,000,000* 2,981** 91,131 99,510***

* estimates of combatant/non-combatant deaths given by (Grayling.2007:--). ** the 19 combatant deaths denote the number of hijackers killed. The 2,981 non-combatants denotes the accumulative death toll from the two attacks on the WTC, the Pentagon, and the failed attack on the White House. Both sets of stats accessed from (The 9/11 Commission Report.2004). *** denotes the accumulative death toll of the Coalition Forces as of 20/03/2009, accessed from (Iraq Coalition Casualty Count.2009). The 91-131 99,510 non-combatant deaths are the estimated numbers as of 20/03/2009, provided by (Iraq Body Count.2009).

This essay is concerned with discussing whether there are ever circumstances in which the bombing of non-combatants in warfare is morally justified. However, bombing has become a tactic of warfare that appears morally neutral since it does not involve the direct killing of noncombatants. This is especially the case when the bombing of military objectives creates what has come to be called collateral damage, in other words the un-intended killing of non-combatants. But clearly, there are instances in which the bombing of non-combatants is morally un-justifiable, such as when a military force engages in the wanton destruction of enemy cities in violation of the principles of, necessity, proportionality and discrimination in warfare. I intend to argue that, although the bombing of non-combatants can never be a moral good, there are circumstances in which the bombing of non-combatants is morally justified. These circumstances arise in two arenas. Firstly, in an end-game, or supreme emergency, scenario when a country is facing defeat and subjugation at the hands of a morally backward oppressor whose impending military

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accomplishment will destroy the moral fabric of the country. Secondly, when a country engages in the strategic bombing of enemy infrastructure linked to its war effort, but in the course of the bombing campaign collateral damage is caused and enemy non-combatants are un-intentionally killed. The moral justifiability of bombing non-combatants involves a discussion of the principle of jus in bello, meaning the laws of war. Thus the discussion in this essay is of how wars should be fought. There are three broad principles of jus in bello. Firstly, the principle of necessity holds that military action is only permissible if it is necessary. If there are alternatives to military action that would cause less destruction whilst achieving the same intended objective, then these should be used. Wanton destruction per se is strictly prohibited. Secondly, the principle of proportionality holds that any destruction caused by military action must be proportionate to the intended objective of the action. For example, it is strongly believed that Osama Bin Laden is hiding somewhere within the vast mountain ranges along the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan. A military objective for the United States, and the majority of its allies, is for Osama Bin Laden to be killed. However, the United States would not be justified in using a nuclear bomb to destroy the mountain ranges along the Afghan-Pakistan border in the hope of killing Osama Bin Laden. If the military objective was achieved and Osama Bin Laden was killed, the wanton destruction of the region and its attached social and environmental costs would not constitute a proportionate use of force. Thirdly, the principle of discrimination holds that civilian life and property should not be targets of military force. Indeed, the intentional targeting of civilians would violate the principle of noncombatant immunity. However, the killing of non-combatants is not ruled out carte blanche. For example, the principle of non-combatant immunity has not been violated if civilian deaths are the un-intended consequence of military action. As Lackey (1989) posits, if civilians are killed in the

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course of a military operation directed at a military target the principle of discrimination has not been violated (Lackey.1989:60). The contemporary euphemism for this scenario is collateral damage. The principles of jus in bello came into question during World War Two when the Allies adopted the policy of area bombing of German cities resulting in the deaths of thousand of non-combatants. Assessing an objective, and its related success or failure, of the Allied area bombing campaign will allow us to assess whether the bombing of civilians in warfare is ever morally justified. One can define area bombing as the deliberate targeting of non-combatants within large urban environments, predominantly for the objective to break the enemys morale and its will to make war. The tacit approval of area bombing was established following a British RAF raid on the German city of Mannheim in 1940. Area bombing became the primary policy of the RAF in 1942 when Sir Arthur Bomber Harris was made head of Bomber Command. In one such raid on the German city of Dresden in February 1944, an estimated 25,000 non-combatants were killed, the majority suffering an intolerable death caused by a firestorm created by the raid. As was mentioned above, one of the purposes of the area bombing campaign was to break the enemys morale, in this case the morale of Nazi Germany. However, German morale only showed signs of breaking in the very last months of the war in 1945 when the populace was fully aware of their impending defeat. As A.C. Grayling argues, But until the closing months of the war, morale did not break. Even those actively opposed to Nazism were made grimly determined by the bombing (Grayling.2007:101). Indeed, the bombing of non-combatants to break the morale and will of an enemy has been shown to do the exact opposite. For example, following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 George Bushs approval rating jumped to 90% (Financial Times.2009) as the American populace rallied behind their leader in an act of defiance against the attacks. Thus, the bombing of

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non-combatants to break enemy morale, as a military objective, failed for the Allies in World War Two and failed for Al Qaeda on 9/11. However, what are the moral implications of the Allied policy of area bombing? And how could one use this example to argue against circumstances in which the bombing of civilians in wartime is ever morally justified? One can certainly be in no doubt that the Allied war waged against the Nazis was a just one. Indeed, it satisfied the three principles of a just war outlined by St Thomas Aquinas in the 13th Century. The Allied war was a just cause, was begun on proper authority (in the case of the Allies anyway), and was waged with the right intention in the advancement of good not evil. But the disproportionate and indiscriminate killing of non-combatants, shown through the example of Dresden in the above section, did not achieve its military objective, thus was not necessary and, fundamentally, not morally justified. Defeating Nazi Germany was clearly the essential aim of the Allies during World War Two but adopting the policy of area bombing as a means to that end was not justified. Indeed, in a Kantian vein, using non-combatants as a means did not justify the end (the defeat of Nazi Germany), even if the reasons for war were just. The killing of non-combatants as a result of area bombing was neither proportionate, necessary or discriminate as defined by the principles of jus in bello, and the principles of a just military action, a just military action is any action necessary and proportionate to winning the war (Grayling.2007:214). The Allied area bombing of German cities is an example in which the bombing of non-combatants in wartime was morally un-justified. It violated principles of proportionality, necessity and discrimination. Indeed area bombing is particularly controversial since it involves the intentional targeting of enemy non-combatants in wartime without appealing to the justification of collateral damage. However, there are circumstances within which the intentional bombing of non-

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combatants is morally acceptable. For example, let us hypothesise that Country A has exhausted the majority of her military capabilities and is surrounded on all fronts by the militarily superior Country B. Country B is a totalitarian, intolerant and genocidal regime seeking to annex and plunder the territories of Country A. Country A, in contrast to Country B, is a democratic, tolerant and humane regime. The annexation of Country A, by Country B, would destroy the essential moral fabric of Country A since the countries respective regimes are opposite to one another. Furthermore, the leaders of Country A, conscious of the intolerant and genocidal nature of Country B, realise that their countrys annexation would result in the massacre of large parts of her populace. These circumstances represent an end-game, or supreme emergency, scenario. In such a scenario, Country A would be morally justified, as a last throw of the dice to prevent her annexation, to intentionally bomb Country Bs non-combatants. The necessity of the action is justified by the objective that intentionally bombing Country Bs non-combatants would divert the war to Country Bs front as she attempts to save the lives of her own non-combatants. This would give Country A more time to re-build her own forces or appeal to her Allies for assistance. Therefore, the end-game, or supreme emergency, scenario provides circumstances within which the bombing of non-combatants in wartime is justified. The idea of an end-game, is provided with further justification by drawing upon the arguments of Michael Walzer. Walzer argued that the majority of wars are concerned with relative gains, where one country acquires small parts of territory off the other but stops at entire annexation. However, Walzer argued that a country faces a supreme emergency when relative gains are not at stake, rather the entire annexation and subjugation of a country is. Nations face a supreme emergency only when the costs of losing are catastrophic when massacre on a large scale would be the result (Bellamy.2004:833). Indeed, a component of Walzers description of a supreme

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emergency is that the threat posed to a country must be particularly horrific, and one that, if it succeeded, would shock the moral conscience of mankind (Walzer cited by Singer.2002:121). Country A faced entire annexation and the massacre of large parts of her populace by Country B. This satisfies Walzers conditions of a supreme emergency and provides moral justification for Country A to waiver the principle of non-combatant immunity and intentionally bomb Country Bs non-combatants. Britain may have faced an end-game scenario between 1940 and 1942. The U.S had not yet fully entered the war, and the RAF was fully engrossed in the Battle of Britain. However, the Allied area bombing campaign only reached full intensity during the last seven months of the war in 1945 when Allied victory was imminent. Thus, the bombing of non-combatants during this period was not morally justified. One way of supporting this statement is by adopting an internalist approach to the bombing of non-combatants in wartime. Wallace (1989) explains that internalism is a form of intuitionism that focuses upon the internal features of an action. Assuming the innocence of non-combatants, they argue that the killing of non-combatants in war is always wrong, they treat the intuition that killing innocent people is wrong as though it were unique or necessarily overriding (Wallace.1989:4). For example, lets assume that Soldier A is attacking the homeland of Innocent Citizen B. Innocent Citizen B is a non-combatant according to the Geneva Convention that defines combatants as, Members of the armed forces of a Party to a conflict (International Committee of the Red Cross. 2005a) and is thus considered innocent of any crime attributed to the war. Now let us assume that Soldier A kills Innocent Citizen B. If Soldier A attempted to justify killing Innocent Citizen B to Innocent Citizen B, prior to the killing, Soldier A would have no justification since Innocent Citizen B is Innocent. There is nothing about him/her which justifies anyone in taking his/her life so it seems reasonable to conclude that his/her death can not

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be justified (Wallace.1989:8). This process is referred to as internalist abstraction (Wallace.1989:12), for it involves the abstraction of an action (the killing of Innocent Citizen B by Soldier A) from the context, or circumstances, within which the action occurred. Therefore, the bombing of non-combatants in wartime can never be morally justified, regardless of the circumstance in which it may occur. The internalist argument is incoherent for two reasons. Firstly, the internalist appeals to rules applied to disputes between individuals when morally assessing actions occurring in collective situations. The innocent civilian in wartime comes to be represented by the innocent bystander in the dispute between individuals(Wallace.1989:10). Appealing to rules applied to individuals ignores rule changes that occur when actions take place in collective situations. For example, one can posit that in disputes between individuals the killing of Innocent Civilian B by Soldier A is tantamount to murder. However, to use this judgement leads one to ponder whether murder is always unjustified? Murder clearly is unjustifiable in individual disputes, but the unintentional, and proportionate, killing of innocent civilians in the collective situation of a just war, although terrible, is in certain circumstances morally justified. Secondly, when the internalist abstracts an action he ignores the set of circumstances in which the action occurred. He isolates Soldier As killing of Innocent Citizen B from the circumstances in which it occurred. The morality of an action is determined by the circumstances in which it occurred, thus isolating an action from them is incoherent. For example, let us assume that Soldier A was the pilot of a fighter jet that was to strategically bomb a factory in which Innocent Citizen B worked. The factory made armaments for the enemy military force that Soldier A is fighting against. Soldier A successfully bombs and destroys the factory. However, the resulting collateral damage killed Innocent Citizen B. The necessary strategic bombing of enemy infrastructure, causing proportionate collateral damage;

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including the unintentional deaths on non-combatants, is morally justified. No wrong is committed by the belligerent if the harm he does to innocents is an unavoidable ancillary to military operations even if such harm can be forseen (Grayling.2007:215). Further justification to this premise is found by appealing to the doctrine of double-effect that posits that it is legitimate to do harm if the harm committed is the unintentional, even forseen, consequence of a legitimate action. Therefore, the strategic bombing of enemy infrastructure in wartime provides circumstances in which the unintentional bombing of non-combatants is morally justified. The banality of bombing as a tactic of warfare is typified by George Orwells quote at the start of this essay. The soldier in the cockpit of a plane dropping a bomb on a civilian area would never dream of committing murder but one could argue, as an internalist would, that that is precisely what he does; commit murder. However, it is clearly incoherent to apply rules used in disputes between individuals when assessing the morality of actions taking place within collective situations. Civilians will inevitably be killed in wartime. However, although bombing civilians is never a moral good there are circumstances in which bombing civilians is morally justified. When a country is in an end-game scenario facing defeat and subjugation at the hands of a totalitarian, intolerant and genocidal enemy, bombing the enemys non-combatants as a last throw of the dice, when all other military capabilities have been exhausted, is morally justified. Equally, in the course of a necessary strategic bombing campaign of enemy infrastructure a proportionate amount of collateral damage is caused, the deaths of non-combatants is morally justified. Warfare is limited to prevent a decent into pure barbarism. The limits on war are found in international law, through treaties such as the Geneva Conventions, and found within moral philosophy in principles of jus in bello, such as necessity, proportionality, and discrimination. The two moral justifications for bombing non-combatants referred to here as end-game scenarios and strategic bombing campaigns

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are rare and proportionate, respectively, in wartime. Thus the deaths of non-combatants can be limited.


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