INNOCENT CIVILIANS

December, 2003 

Two rather significant occurrences took place this week. The first was the “State of the Nation” speech by President Bush; the other was the Israeli election. However, it was not their outcomes that were noteworthy because these had been predicted with considerable accuracy. Individual mindsets were already well known, attitudes had already been defined, and preferred courses of actions already stipulated. These events were important because they served as mediums for conveying the will of the People of each nation. Through these, the People of America and Israel spoke, transmitting their messages to the rest of the world. The People not only vindicated the stand of their respective governments on matters of national importance; they also demonstrated their resolve to back such a stand. This endorsement has been adequately impressed upon all that care to note by the cheering, the clapping, the adulatory commentaries and the substantial media blitz that have since assailed our senses.

This is democracy at work; indeed it is the essence of democracy: Government of the People, by the People and for the People. It is they, the People, who elect a leader and then charge him or her with the responsibility of carrying out their wishes. Opinion polls, Public rallies, the Media, Think Tanks, Research groups and a host of other mechanisms are used to gauge whether the elected leader is executing the wishes of the electorate or not. In most cases additional safeguards are included in the democratic process to ensure that elected leaders stay on the path desired by the People. All these elaborate and effective mechanisms guide the elected representatives in formulating policy that suits the demands and requirements of the voters. True, there are and shall always be dissenters, opposing groups and forums but they are by definition the Minority and have to yield to the will of the Majority. Their efforts must remain channeled towards convincing others of their superior policies with the aim of eventually transforming themselves into the Majority. Until then the Minority leaders busy themselves working jointly with the Majority in a cooperative, dignified and constructive manner. In this process, the Minority consciously elects to relegate personal and party beliefs into the background for the greater benefit of the Nation.

This (fairly pedestrian) explanation of democracy is considered a necessary prelude to the topic that is the subject of this article; Innocent Civilians. As the world stands poised at the threshold of a major war, it is worth contemplating upon the plight of those civilians that shall be involved in this military adventure. One is forced to ponder upon the innocence or guilt of the civilian population ofIraqon the eve of what may be the most horrific war that the world has ever known! (As I write this sentence, I cannot help relating the word “eve” to another, completely different but strangely relevant thought; “In an evening sun, even a very small man can cast a very long shadow”. I shall let the reader find the relevance)!

With each day passing, the world is brought closer to war. The media coverage of huge armies and impressive flotillas setting forth to tackle a distant enemy overshadows all other events. Tens of thousands may die. Hundreds of thousands may be maimed in the name of liberation, security and peace. And, while the coalition force shall comprise military men and women, trained combatants, volunteer soldiers and willing warriors, those who suffer the onslaught of this terrible force shall largely be civilians. We saw this in Afghanistan; we are going to witness this again, compounded many times, in Iraq.

This article is about these countless civilians that are going to be caught up in this gruesome war. It is also about those civilians that are killed routinely in the festering Palestine-Israel conflict. Civilians that are termed “terrorists” by the Israeli Armed Forces and whom the Palestinians call “innocent”. “Innocent civilians” that die in suicide bombing attacks inIsrael. These victims are, according to the Palestinians, “enemy personnel”. Who is right and what exactly is an “innocent civilian”?

The term “innocent civilian” must logically be applicable to those individuals that are not part of the war effort in any form whatsoever; those hapless citizens who are not involved in the conflict in any conceivable manner. However, it has already been highlighted that in democracies, it is these “civilians” that consciously elect national leaders and endorse his or her actions! The democratically elected leader is therefore simply executing the wishes of the masses. How can then these very same “civilians” claim ignorance of affairs and innocence of action; how can they seek freedom from responsibility for the actions of their chosen leader?

Whenever a democratically elected leader embarks upon a military adventure (s)he is acting at the behest of the public and in accordance with the wishes of the people. It is they that support and encourage the leader to pursue his or her hostile intent. The majority (of civilians) very definitely, very openly, very vocally, endorses the proposed war. The civilians are therefore very much a party to the conflict. This done, innocence is lost! People cannot then deny responsibility for this active, participatory role in the conflict and seek refuge behind the disingenuous phrase of “innocent civilians.”

And therefore, if in the ensuing war, the enemy resorts to targeting these civilians, such action must realistically be termed a valid and legal military maneuver against a justifiable and relevant enemy target. True, there would be those who have opposed the war and those who try to seek peaceful solutions, but then, in a democracy, the minority, having lost the election, works with the majority and, in most cases, endorses and supports the actions of the majority. This support emanates from their representatives who sit on the opposition benches, vote on resolutions and work for the greater national interest in a bi-partisan manner.

It is also worth considering the phrase: relevant military target. Why indeed do people consciously carry out attacks on “civilian” targets. In analyzing this phrase, the concept, role and employment of suicide bombers would also become much clearer; it being evaluated in a detached and dispassionate manner.

In any conflict, each party aims to succeed by destroying the other’s ability to undertake or continue hostilities. Methods used to enable this can be as simple and non-lethal as propaganda and blackmail or as horrific and devastating as Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is up to the Commander to use any, all or a variable mix of a whole range of weapons that are available to him for prosecuting the war. Indeed, an essential element of war planning is conducting effective and judicious “weapon-to-target” matching for maximum effect. Put simply, a Commander has to choose the right weapon for the intended target to achieve the desired result. Where the array of weapons available is huge, this selection can be a rather complex task. Where choice is non-existent or extremely limited, the Commander has to make do with whatever resources that are available.

The weapon-to-target matching process involves two major decisions; selecting the weapon for the required effect and determining the means of delivery for that weapon. For example, a Commander of a well stocked force may have the freedom of choice between a 500 pound High Explosive Bomb or a “Daisy Cutter” against a particular target. This done, he may then have the option to select delivery through a remotely piloted vehicle, manned aircraft, cruise missile or a ballistic delivery vehicle. Lesser endowed forces would naturally have their choices somewhat restricted.

The suicide bomber must be viewed exactly for what he or she is: a weapon delivery platform; the weapon in this case being a few pounds of High Explosive. To most readers this would sound sickeningly callous and brutal; nonetheless, it is a stark and inescapable fact. And it is also a tragically sorry fact because, as weapons delivery platforms go, it is rather pathetic. It is grossly limited in capability, range, explosive effect, repeatability, and precision. It must be recognized for what it is; the weapon delivery platform of last choice for a fighting force that has either exhausted or has been denied access to a conventional arsenal.

This is a cruel explanation: it would however be easily understood by the reader. What would perhaps not be so easy to absorb is the legitimacy of the weapon-to-target matching process. At the risk of being repetitive, it has to be stated that whenever a democratic nation goes to war, it is the majority that elects to undertake hostilities; the People endorse the war. The entire Military-Industrial-Manpower resource base of the Nation is committed to the ensuing conflict. It logically follows that each of these elements must therefore constitute a valid target; open to be engagement by the enemy!

The shocking yet inescapable truth is that, in a true democracy, there cannot be any “innocent civilians”.

Far more shocking and emotionally upsetting has to be the corollary to this statement.  “Innocent civilians” can, indeed must, exist in totalitarian and dictatorial regimes! In such societies Leaders are not chosen, their actions are not endorsed by the masses and the population is truly non participative in the decision making processes!

Sadly however these unfortunate souls, demeaned, repressed and subjugated as they live their pitiable lives in dismal circumstances are further not considered worthy of the epitaph of “innocent civilians” as they are dispatched to the next world by their “liberators”. For them is reserved the more palatable and conscience-soothing euphemism, “collateral damage”!