Fredrik Norman points to this rant by Andrew Dalton about whether or not it is ever appropriate during a war to intentionally target civilians. The short version is that most libertarians say that it is never appropriate, while some Objectivists assert that it is:
LIBERTARIAN WATCH: The one thing that seems to unite all libertariansÂ—other than their nominal support of “liberty”Â—is their disdain for Objectivism. For instance, Charles Oliver writes,
Most people accept that some civilian casualties are inevitable in war, and the fact that civilians might die isnÂ’t necessarily a good reason to forego any particular military action. Does this mean that we can, as the Ayn Rand Institute folks urge, deliberately target civilians?
He continues on with usual “No, that would make us terrorists too” arguments. But he leaves out two important contexts. The first is that deliberately targeting civilians (as opposed to killing civilians incidentally during an attack on a military or industrial target) is an extreme act that would not be justified in most military actions. It was justified during World War II, when our enemies had both the will and the means to destroy us utterly. Oliver takes issue with the mass destruction of Dresden and Hiroshima, but would he even be alive today to complain if the Allies had not destroyed those cities?
Note that what we are not talking about here is collateral damage. Everyone who accepts some sort of just war theory acknowledges that civilians are going to be killed inadvertently in war. But the issue before us is whether or not there is any situation in which it would be okay to say, “There are some noncombatant civilians over there — lets bomb them to get this war over with.”
Dalton cites to examples where civilians were intentionally bombed by Allied forces during World War II — Dresden and Hiroshima — and implies that some of us might not even be alive if it weren’t for these two bombings. Dalton needs to check his premises.
Both Dresden and Hiroshima were bombed when the ultimate outcome of the war was clear.
Dresden was firebombed on Feb. 13-14, 1945 and estimates put the number of dead civilians at 35,000-150,000. Ironically, many of those killed in Dresden were refugees who were fleeing the advance of the Soviet Army into Germany.
There have been a number of efforts to offer military purposes behind the bombing of Dresden, but the decision to bomb the city seems to have been heavily influenced by Bomber Command head Arthur Harris who was an advocate of the use area bombing of civilian areas to demoralize the population and hasten a surrender.
Hiroshima, of course, was nuked on August 6, 1945. U.S. President Harry Truman made the decision to bomb Hiroshima and then Nagasaki based largely on estimates that an invasion of Japan by Allied forces would result in enormous Allied casualties.
The issue at Hiroshima was not the survival of the free, democratic West, but rather how the occupation of Japan could be accomplished with a minimum number of casualties to Allied military forces.
The problem is that in most just war theories, combatant nations are not allowed to slaughter civilians in order to spare combatants. The claim that combatants should be allowed to target civilians is at the heart of the argument for terrorism.
Among those justifying Palestinian suicide bombers who target Israeli civilians, for example, a common refrain is that given the might of the Israeli military, the Palestinians have no choice but to target Israeli civilians.
For Dalton, on the other hand, if anything the U.S. government does not target civilians enough:
Now, with the way that the war had been fought up to that point, there was no good reason to believe that the Taliban would fall so easily. In simple terms, we got lucky. We didn’t get lucky in Vietnam. The fact is, our government was too concerned with civilian casualties (and the worthless opinions of our Arab “allies”) to fight the war in a manner that would ensure a certain victory. And the jury is still out on what kind of victory we got.
Of course the Vietnam example shows the flip side of the argument against targeting casualties. Civilian casualties — especially those inflicted by the series of corrupt South Vietnamese governments supported by the United States — seriously undermined support for the U.S. within Vietnam. In fact, if anything intentionally targeting civilians does not seem to demoralize a civilian population and hasten an end to a war as much as it seems to stiffen the resolve and support of civilians for even the most wretched of governments.
It is difficult to argue that civilians should never be targeted — in fact nuclear deterrence relies on just such a targeting and I think that can be defended on grounds of efficacy and proportionality. But I’ve never seen a convincing argument that the attacks on Dresden, Hiroshima or Nagasaki were morally just.
Libertarian Watch. Andrew Dalton, April 21, 2002.