...are the ones that make the biggest difference



I've been chapter hopping in a book I got a few months back but haven't picked up until now - Kosovo: Contending Voices on Balkan Interventions. The book is a collection of essays by diverse authors from a wide range of fields - religion (including pieces from Bishop Ware and Fr Harakas), politics, military strategy, as well as eye-witness and first-hand accounts from both Kosovars and Serbs. Each author does not necessarily present a balanced picture, but on the whole, the diversity of presentations makes for a fair degree of parity.

Several of the authors try to examine the NATO bombing campaign against Serbia in light of the Just War Doctrine (JWD), and pretty much all of them make a great deal of hay about proportionality. Did the bombing campaign meet this criteria, especially after the campaign was expanded to include Serbia proper and all the civilian deaths this brought? Some say yes, some say no, but it got me thinking about the 2 wars our country has fought in the last few years - Afghanistan and Iraq - and I started wondering about their proportionality. Do they meet the criteria? This is just kind of an exploration - I'm no theologian and certainly not a philosopher, so this is just my own relatively uninformed thinking on the matter.

The proportionality criterion is rather simple - one can't hurt the enemy worse than they hurt you. If an enemy took control of your territory, then you getting that territory back would be proportional. If you took more than you previously owned without good reason (like preventing further aggression), then it was not proportional. You also shouldn't kill more of the enemy nation's people than it killed of your own, unless you have to in order to secure peace. Other factors play into this, though. As in Iraq, overthrowing a dictator and giving sovereignty back to the people is a huge good that could potentially outweigh a directly disproportional body count. Its kind of like a scale with both the good (installing a democratic government) and the bad (death toll & others) coming into balance. So do the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq balance out? Did the good achieved outweigh the evils undertaken in pursuit of peace?

Pinning down civilian casualty numbers for Afghanistan is hard - estimates range from a few thousand to upwards of 30,000 when you include deaths indirectly attributable to US military action. As in Iraq, the US apparently did not even try to maintain an accurate record of civilian deaths, so we're left with no solid source. For the sake of argument, lets assume it was 12,000 - thats about 4 times as many as died on 9/11; clearly a disproportionate amount. But we installed a democracy that seems to be making some gains, thousands of kids (including girls) are able to go to school, and the entire country is experiencing a greater degree of freedom. However, the government's control diminishes outside of the capital and many areas are still under the thumb of local warlords. And it will be years before the country is stable enough to exist without the presence of foreign troops and without billions of dollars in foreign aid. Which is one reason why poppy production has increased dramatically - potentially flooding the market with heroin, which makes the drug cheaper and more available to a wider range of customers. We've clearly got a mixed bag - freedom, democracy and the elimination of a base of operations for al Qaida on the good side and a weak, dependent government, disproportionate death toll and increased drug production on the bad. How do we weigh this? If you could quantify it all - how many points does democracy add to our tally and how many does 12,000 deaths subtract? How many points are added for the future generations who will get to live without the violent control of the Taliban? How many are subtracted for the many thousands of lives that will be negatively impacted, or taken, by Afghani heroin?

Of course, things get a lot murkier and more abstract when talking about Iraq. Our (purportedly) main justification for the war - WMD - has turned out to be a farce, though I suppose one could argue the alleged intention was good. Yes, we've installed a democratic government, but our own failure in implementing a good post-war plan (which was available but not used) encouraged this insurgency. And, of course, the death toll is far higher than in Afghanistan. Iraqbodycount.net puts the civilian death toll between 22,000 and 25,000. The Lancet reported some months back that their research suggested the death toll was over 100,000, and we really have no idea how many Iraqi soldiers died during the war. There is also the psychic toll the presence of US forces is having on both the Iraqi people and our own soldiers - shouldn't that be included in our calculations?

This, I think, is one of the primary weaknesses of the JWD - its conventions are too ambiguous to really be useful. How do we calculate the value of freedom? Does that value change if freedom was brought by a conquering army versus a home-grown revolution? What about the intangibles of hatred, animosity, resentment or love, good-will, gratitude? How do these things weigh against a civilian death toll? Or a military one? What is the relative worth of a civilian life versus a soldier's life in this scenario? And have these things even been taken into account by our political leadership, military commanders or the American people? I don't think they have, because we seem to lack the moral imagination to bring all facets of a conflict into play - and doesn't that factor into any question of whether or not a war was just? Does naive moral reasoning excuse its results?

So to answer my own question about the proportionality of these 2 conflicts, I am forced to admit that I just don't know. My gut tells me that Afghanistan was probably pretty close to it, and Iraq a far-cry. But we can't govern by intuition - we have to ask and attempt to answer these hard questions, always hounded by the stark realization that, on this side of heaven, we'll probably never have a good solution.

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