Friday, April 27, 2007

Rights and War

Rights are moral principles that define man's needs in a social context. A government's function is to protect the rights of its own citizens, not the citizens of other countries, and certainly not the citizens of violent dictatorships. We form a government to fulfill *our* needs (for freedom), and our nation's policies ought to function in accordance with those needs.

In a domestic capacity, these needs are best served by applying the initiation of force principle through the police and court systems. The government acts to punish or remove from society those individuals who initiate force. Since protecting the freedom of our nation's citizens is paramount, great care is taken to ensure that innocent civilians aren't significantly affected by crime. The court system helps protect the innocent from accidental prosecution. Police make efforts not to hurt bystanders when making arrests. The military doesn't bomb a city into rubble to kill a single criminal. Again, all this is done because, in a rational society based on a recognition of individual rights, *protecting the freedom of our nation's citizens is paramount.*

One can apply the same principle to the context of a war. Every effort ought to be taken to protect the rights of the civilians in the home country. This means that the government ought to do whatever is necessary to defend the freedom of its citizens for the long term, making every effort to ensure that innocent civilians (of the home country) are not significantly affected by (international) crime. But in this context, it is not necessary to make individual arrests, place individuals on trial, and make pinpoint attacks on specific targets. This is the absolute worst way to fight a war, if a nation is primarily concerned with the needs of its own citizens.

Regarding how the principle of rights applies to international policy and the ethics of war, that's as far as one needs to go. Rights theory dictates that we *need* our government to defend our freedom in every way possible. When determining the morality of a particular action in war, one must only ask the question: Will this action best preserve the long term freedom of the defending nation's citizens? If the answer is "yes," then the action is morally obligatory. Everything else is a question of military tactics.

Those of you who oppose the targeting of civilians in war must ask yourselves this question: *If* targeting civilians were the best way to end a war quickly and cheaply, and *if* doing so were the best way to preserve the long term freedom of our country's citizens, *then* would you support it?

If your answer is "yes," and your argument is only that targeting civilians is not an effective military tactic, then I refer you to Dr. Lewis's "Sherman" article, or to the defeat of the Japanese in WWII, or a myriad of other military examples throughout history. Based on my limited understanding of military tactics, targeting civilian populations can be *very* effective in certain contexts.

If your answer is "no," then we have a fundamental disagreement. If the principle of individual rights requires that a nation frustrate the needs of its own citizens in order to protect those outside its borders, then I don't know what you're talking about when you say "rights." You've gone into another realm, the World of the Forms maybe, but you're certainly no longer talking about a philosophy for living on earth.

A few ancillary issues:

I would like to briefly address the question of whether or not non-combatants are morally responsible for the actions of their government. I say briefly, because my position is simple: it doesn't matter. Whether or not the civilians we target are morally guilty has no bearing on our right to target them. The question is not: "are they morally innocent?" but: "would targeting them be an effective tactic in protecting *our* morally innocent population?" If the answer to the latter question is "yes," then we have every right to target them.

One last point on the effectiveness of targeting civilians: No matter whether or not civilians in an enemy country sanction the actions of their government, they fuel their country's war machine simply by living and working there. They continue to produce food, cars, fuel, and other things that are used by the enemy. And they continue to provide funds for the enemy government in the form of taxes. An enemy that is bolstered by the unfettered production of its populous is much more difficult to defeat, and has much less incentive to surrender.

--Dan Edge

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