Stupid and Unjust: Smart Bombs and Just War

Posted: June 16, 2009 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Remember that airstrike that killed 30-to-140 civilians in Afghanistan? Remember how the U.S. military said they weren’t to blame and they had video to prove it and that they were eager to release it? Here, let me remind you:

The footage shows insurgents streaming into homes that were later bombed, said Col. Greg Julian, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan. He said ground troops observed some 300 villagers flee in advance of the fighting, indicating that not many could have been inside the bombed compounds….Investigators later reviewed hours of cockpit video from the fighter jets as well as audio recordings of the air crew’s conversation with the ground commander. Julian said the military would release the footage and other evidence in the coming days.

Darn. The Defense Department really, really hoped you forgot.

…a senior defense official told McClatchy Monday: “The decision (about what to release) is now in limbo.”

Pentagon leaders are divided about whether releasing the report would reflect a renewed push for openness and transparency about civilian casualties or whether it would only fan Afghan outrage and become a Taliban recruiting tool just as Army Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal takes command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Two U.S. military officials told McClatchy that the video shows that no one checked to see whether any women or children were in the building before it was bombed. The report acknowledges that mistakes were made and that U.S. forces didn’t always follow proper procedures, but it does little to reassure Afghans that the U.S. has done enough to avoid repeating those mistakes.

A note to reporters covering Afghanistan: stop using information provided by Col. Greg Julian as a credible source of information on which to base your stories. His job is not to tell you the truth. As a function of his assignment in the Defense Department, his job is to win wars, and that includes the use of propaganda. Stop running stories leading with unverified information with him as the primary source, please. In other words, do your job.

While we’re on this topic, again, let me make a similar appeal to my fellow Christians who enthusiastically embraced the war in Afghanistan and then used the absurdity of “Christian” just war criteria to legitimize war’s blatant violation of Christ’s teachings and example.  (To be fair, this included me at the launch of the Afghanistan campaign.) Back in 2002:

Members of the Society of Christian Ethics have expressed cautious support of the military effort in Afghanistan. The consensus of 350 professional ethicists at an international conference was that the conflict fits the just war principles articulated by Augustine in the fifth century.

U.S. methods fit the just war principle of discrimination, said John Kelsay, professor of ethics at Florida State University in Tallahassee. Some have estimated that more than 4,000 Afghan civilians have been killed, but Kelsay said the U.S. has used smart bombs and avoided targeting civilians.

Things certainly have changed since then, with the pro-war movement arguing that we need more troops on the ground to reduce our reliance on airstrikes–precisely because airstrikes have been responsible for more than 60 percent of civilian deaths caused by pro-Afghanistan-government forces (that’s us). Christians buying the smart bombs sales pitch might have been operating under assumptions formed by propaganda about “smart bombs” from the Gulf War in the 1990s, but even that’s no excuse, given that we knew about the attack on “the Ameriyya civil-defense shelter …which killed between 200 and 300 civilians.” This should be a bright flashing warning to Christians who want to rely on military or munitions-maker assurances about civilian casualties in the future.

If these kinds of incidents militate against believing the propaganda of the pro-war movement, they should also dissuade Christians from relying on the “massive exercise in begging the question” that is just war theory. Halden recently posted a fantastic quote from Yoder on the competing revelatory claim made by just war tradition about the treatment of enemies that conflicts with that offered by Jesus:

[Just war theory assumes] that a great number of other moral values are solidly known and accepted, so that they can provide a perspective from which to evaluate a given war or the use of a given kind of weapon. It is said, for instance that war need be waged only by a legitimate authority; but where do we get the definition of legitimacy for political authority? It is said that only such weapons may be used that respect the nature of humans as rational and moral beings; but who is to define just what that nature is and what means of warfare respect it? The evil that is sure to be brought about by war must not be greater than the evil that it seeks to prevent, but how are we to measure the weight of one evil against another? A just war can only be waged when there is a clear offense; but what is an offense? In a host of ways, the total heritage of just war thought turns out to be a majestic construction whereby a case is made, on the grounds of self-evident values that seem to need no definition, for setting aside the examples and instruction of Jesus with regard to how to treat the enemy. In order thus to function, the other values, as well as the logic whereby they operate in the given case, must have a kind of authority for which the best word is ‘revelatory.’ Otherwise they could not be weighed against Jesus. (“Christ, the Light of the World, p. 190)

Don’t trust military propaganda, and don’t trust Christian traditions that can make Jesus say the opposite of what his words mean on their face. Jesus said, “love your enemies.” That’s what he meant.

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Comments
  1. I read what you linked to, what did Julian lie about? There was an ongoing investigation when Julian made his report. BOTH reports you link to indicate the taliban force moved into a civilian village and used the civilians/civilian structures as cover.

    As for the munitions, there were no indications in the second report you linked to that they failed; on the contrary, they landed exactly where they were intended to land. The report states that commanders did not follow the proper procedures prior to dropping the bombs. . .

    The larger point about the war, in my opinion, is that a large taliban force was able to move with impunity, engage coalition forces, and then move into a populated area to use the civilians as cover. They are doing this after nearly a decade in Afghanistan, which, to me, means everyone has done an abysmal job of securing the populace, instead focusing on the insurgent (groups). Hopefully that all changes soon. . .

    • dcrowe says:

      Hi wilsonrofishing:

      (FYI, there’s a HUGE post further down that was inspired by our conversation about Abdul Ghaffar Khan…hope you’ll check it out and share your thoughts.)

      The assertion made above is that Julian’s job is not to report accurate information, but to contribute to winning a war. In that capacity, he clearly fought to get a version of events into the conversation that reflected favorably on U.S. and coalition forces when he either a) didn’t have the full story yet or b) had the full story and slow-walked it to minimize its impact. Now, to be fair, that’s a flak’s job no matter what organization they’re working for. But it’s definitely a reporter’s job to do more than rush Julian’s story to the wire with a bunch of “….,the U.S. said” clauses attached to otherwise unverified assertions. What Julian did was a textbook damage control/propaganda campaign: insert counter-narrative, string the story out until it sputters, and then backtrack on promised releases of “vindicating information.” I’d say that’s a fairly generous and fair description of both his job and the job he did in this situation. If you want a really strident description of the absolute barrage of crap that came out about this incident, see Christopher Dowd’s piece.

      If by “didn’t fail,” you mean blew up and killed folks, well, sure. But the idea that the only poor judgment that occurred was that the bombers lost visual contact of their targets for a moment is just silly. The amount of ordinance dropped on an area where the U.S. knew civilians were shows either a blatant disregard for their safety or flat-out incompetence. Not to mention the fact that the quotes from the captain on the ground who ordered the strikes shows flat out that the decision to call in the airstrikes was made from the perspective of force protection, vs. the perspective required if were were actually fighting the COIN war we say we are–accepting risk to our soldiers in exchange for extreme concern for civilian safety. (See my latest post for the quote)

  2. […] these rules would have allowed the order to be given for the May 4 bombing in Bala Baluk that killed the most civilians of any airstrike by U.S. forces in Afghanistan to date. NPR’s […]

  3. […] these rules would have allowed the order to be given for the May 4 bombing in Bala Baluk that killed the most civilians of any airstrike by U.S. forces in Afghanistan to date. NPR’s […]

  4. Adam says:

    “We condemn the use of this video and the public humiliation of prisoners. It is against international law,” U.S. military spokesman Colonel Greg Julian said.

    The above comment made by lying Greg Julian is testimony to his “propaganda” job at the Pentagon.

    Did Greg Julian forget the treatment of prisoners by US in Abu Ghraib??… or Guantanamo??
    When we are dictating to others to follow “international law” , we must set an example of following it too. Check with Jesus on this principle…..preacher must set example first!

    The Afghanis so far have shown that they are treating the prisoner with respect… by offering him food and good clothing and an opportunity to communicate with his family and employer… in this case our Govt…

    Now it is in the hands of our government and its people…. to think what it is doing killing
    people in Afghanistan and terrorizing the civilians. War is terrorizing civilians…. who have to flee their homes for safety…when invaded.

    In the case of Iraq… we invaded. Now we are invading Afghanistan and Pakistan…. and justifying all the killing that is going on !

    We are not that smart with our “smart bombs” nor all the “precision” equipment we have…. when our minds are diseased!

    Shame on you Greg Julian!

    From
    Adam

  5. […] Col. Julian’s most transparent and notorious bit of flackery took place in response to the catastrophic Bala Baluk airstrike earlier this year. Same pattern: insert counter-narrative and disinformation, making it difficult to untangle the truth in press reports, and slow-walk retractions until the story sputters (hopefully) in the press. […]

  6. […] Col. Julian’s most transparent and notorious bit of flackery took place in response to the catastrophic Bala Baluk airstrike earlier this year. Same pattern: insert counter-narrative and disinformation, making it difficult to untangle the truth in press reports, and slow-walk retractions until the story sputters (hopefully) in the press. […]

  7. […] Col. Julian’s most transparent and notorious bit of flackery took place in response to the catastrophic Bala Baluk airstrike earlier this year. Same pattern: insert counter-narrative and disinformation, making it difficult to untangle the truth in press reports, and slow-walk retractions until the story sputters (hopefully) in the press. […]

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