The naïveté in regard to war(fare)

Due to recent events I'd like to present two cases of naïveté about warfare.
A misunderstanding about the ethics of war(fare)

It is extremely widespread to expect that warring parties shall not kill, maim, dispossess or mistreat civilians or other protected people. A commonly heard complain these days goes like 'I don't understand it. We told them about all UN locations here, but they still shot at this UN school.'
The underlying demand is usually for warring parties to abstain from war crimes and other disdained actions.

Let's face it; this is naive. It's not the specific microlevel offence that's the problem. It's the fact that there's war(fare) in the first place. Such transgressions happen in all wars, and all warring parties are guilty of them. There's no white knight warring party, there was none, and I suspect there will never be one.

It's kind of foolish to decry war crimes. Decry war instead.

A misunderstanding about imperfect tactics

These days wars with Western invovlement yield relatively few Western KIA. Disaster stories are now about one dead, maybe four and it takes a large helicopter crash to wipe out a platoon-sized element.
'Back in the days' disaster stories were about battalions overrun, or entire divisions obliterated - and in rare cases the bulk of multiple army corps.
The broken arm analogy applies here, but my point is another one this time:
This shit happens in war(fare)!
There are scarcities, incompetents, men working in jobs they weren't trained for, generals who are rather self-promoting actors, vehicles or weapons with design flaws, misunderstandings, orders not arrived in time, decisions delayed too much, enemies overlooked, hints not understood, shots fired at friendlies, supplies delivered to the wrong place, overwatch not established, unsafe routes, tired drivers ... shit happens in war(fare).

There's this 'can do' attitude, and an ambition (especially in certain armed bureaucracies with a planning fetish) that planning shall eliminate "shit happens". It doesn't. No, it doesn't. It reduces "shit happens", but only at a substantial price.

It's kind of foolish to decry "shit happens" situations in war(fare). Decry war instead.



  1. Sharp post and great blog. I think many in the "commentator class" are forgetting the most important rule of warfare - wars are fought to be won.

  2. "I don't understand it. We told them about all UN locations here, but they still shot at this UN school.'"

    I'm deeply curious as to what makes people think its illegal to return fire when soldiers occupying a UN school shoot at you.

    As someone who generally knows such things, are you aware of a carte blanche ban on bombing such?

    1. Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions has repeated general obligations to the ratifying countries to spare civilians (Art. 51 and 57).
      I quoted the relevant quotes in my "Human shields" blog post in June 2006.

      Israel did sign the Additional Protocol I, which makes it look quite bad. http://tinyurl.com/orcnfw5
      The European countries are signatories, but the Uk holds the inglorious world record for reseavations on it.

    2. I think you mean this post from 2009: http://defense-and-freedom.blogspot.se/2009/06/human-shields.html

  3. 51, 52 and 57 seem pretty clear cut that military usage overrules civilian status in all but the most extreme examples.

    Bombing a soldier in a school acceptable
    Systematically leveling a school because one room had one soldier in it. not cool
    Systematically leveling every school because one had one fighter in one room very not cool

  4. "You can push them out of a plane, you can march them off a cliff, you can send them off to die on some God-forsaken rock. But for some reason, you can't slap 'em." - The Simpsons

  5. I think we all know that war is to be decryed; that won't stop it, however. When it comes to civilian casualties (and my, weren't there a lot of those in WW2?) the root cause is the first port of call. Let's take Hamas; it habitually, and with tactical intent sites its weapons systems, arsenals and command bunkers in civilian areas precisely to make propaganda out of the inevitable casulaties. Let's also take Hamas' purpose: to kill Jews, come what may. Then there's the complicity of the international chattering classes who give Hamas oxygen, leading to more civilian deaths. Is there a solution? Deprive Hamas of 'oxygen': money, channels for its propaganda and lack of scrutiny of its cruelty to its 'own' people.

  6. "Hamas; it habitually, and with tactical intent sites its weapons systems, arsenals and command bunkers in civilian areas"

    As mentioned before, this is normal, legal and legitimate within the Western and global approach to warfare.
    And the root cause of the civilian deaths is the aggressiveness of politicians, not the siting of hardware.