Faulty Parallels used to Justify Civilian Casualties

In response to the Chicago Tribune article: “Passing judgment on Israel-Hezbollah”
Passing judgment on Israel-Hezbollah

I am writing to express my consternation over the arguments raised by Mr. Charles Krauthammer in his July 31, 2006 article titled “Judgment on Israel-Hezbollah”.

Krauthammer draws an inappropriate analogy between Israel’s right to defend itself, and the right of self-defense invoked by the United States and Great Britain during World War II.

Krauthammer’s principle argument is that the allies’ defenses were not ‘proportionate’ and that as a result, Israel should not be obligated to respond proportionately to the threat of Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon.

His argument is flawed for several reasons.

Krauthammer wrote, “When the [US] was attacked at Pearl Harbor, it did not respond with a parallel ‘proportionate’ attack on a Japanese naval base. It launched a four-year campaign that killed millions of Japanese, reduced Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki to a cinder, and turned the Japanese home islands to rubble and ruin.”

Krauthammer does us a service by reminding us of the horrors of WWII. The atrocities committed by both sides are the very reason the world powers developed a system of international law.

Krauthammer attempts to dodge a central tenet of international law by citing the very massacres international law was designed to prevent. That tenet is proportionality.

The Geneva Conventions were adopted to ensure that military force is never again used against a civilian population in excess of what is necessary to fulfill a ‘concrete and direct’ military objective. In the post WWII era, violence aimed at a civilian population to further a political goal is called terrorism.

Surely, when determining proportionality, the nature of the enemy must be taken into account. Krauthammer however, seeks to justify the suffering of the Lebanese civilian population as a result of actions taken by an independent militia in their midst.

Civilian populations cannot be held accountable for the actions of terrorist organizations. Krauthammer wishes to draw on the right to self defense guaranteed by international law. To do so, he must consider Lebanon and Hezbollah as one. However, in order to boost himself up to the moral high ground necessary to justify the killing of civilians he must simultaneously condemn Hezbollah as a terrorist organization separate from the government.

Krauthammer went on to use Great Britain’s land campaign against Germany during World War II, to justify the Israeli military campaign against Lebanon. Once again, Krauthammer ignored some relevant facts.

Great Britain and the US were not compelled to enter the war against Germany and Japan simply because of the bombings of their own territory. Their reasons included Germany’s rapid advance east toward Moscow and west toward Paris, and the attempted eradication of Europe’s Jewish population, not to mention the Japanese occupation of mainland China.

The two battle fronts, coupled with the German Fuhrer’s rhetoric of world domination led the Allies to believe Germany and Japan intended to take over the world. Hezbollah on the other hand, is barely considered a regional power and does not seek world domination. Krauthammer again fails to recognize that when determining proportionality, all factors must be considered.

Krauthammer goes on to praise Israeli restraint, stating, “Had Israel wanted to destroy Lebanese civilian infrastructure, it would have turned out the lights in Beirut in the first hour of the war, destroying the billion-dollar power grid and setting back Lebanon 20 years.” It is telling that for Krauthammer 850 civilians killed, thousands injured and 1 million displaced is commendable as an exercise of restraint.

In fact, the destruction of Beirut could have the worst possible result for Israel. The seat of Hezbollah’s power is in Southern Lebanon. To destroy Beirut would be to destroy the central Lebanese government, and provide Hezbollah with an opportunity to gain more popular support and to seize even more power. A strong central Lebanese government should be the goal of any person seeking long-term peace in the Middle East.

In any event the loss of life and destruction that paralyzed the world during WWII should not serve as the model for Israel’s military campaign in the Middle East.

Azam Khan
Law Clerk