Protecting the Enemy

From the September 2006 Trumpet Print Edition

In traditional war, an enemy nation includes everyone in the nation, including the population of civilians that largely support the enemy war machine. In America’s “just war,” there is no such thing as an enemy nation. The “enemy” has been reduced to the smallest possible collection of corrupt leaders, as well as anyone who is visibly fighting.

“Just war” requires “discrimination” between combatants and non-combatants. This means esteeming non-combatants more highly than combatants by assuming them “innocent” and excepting them from the conflict. Soldiers are to make every effort to spare enemy civilians—even if doing so puts one’s own people at greater risk.

This approach effectively handcuffs a fighting force.

First, it creates enormous opportunities for enemy combatants to exploit. Fully aware of this policy, they routinely dress as civilians, use civilian shields, start battles in areas with high civilian populations, occupy civilian buildings for military purposes, build bunkers under civilian apartment buildings, and so on. These tactics—in addition to proving that the enemy combatants are less concerned about casualties among their own people than Americans are—force U.S. soldiers into incredibly awkward ethical conundrums while their own lives and those of their fellow soldiers are at high risk. And although these combatants defy all international war law by endangering civilians in these ways, Americans are still expected to extend to them all the rights and protections afforded legitimate soldiers.

Second, assuming civilian innocence ignores what is sometimes a high degree of sympathy, as well as moral and tactical support, that civilians supply to those combatants.

Yaron Brook and Alex Epstein comment: “Observe the inversion of justice here. Benevolent, individualistic, life-loving Americans, and death-worshiping, collectivist, nihilistic Arabs—such as the dancing Arabs who celebrated 9/11—are regarded as equally worthy of protection by the American military. The exception is if the American is a soldier and the Arab is a civilian, in which case the Arab’s life is of greater value” (Objective Standard, Spring 2006).

The U.S. has tried fastidiously to obey this doctrine over the last five years—to the point of investigating every known instance of civilian deaths and subjecting its soldiers to the withering court of global opinion, at the enormously high price of trashing their reputation.

And yet, in spite of all this effort at “just war,” criticism over civilian casualties has never been louder. Muslims (with the full support of Western liberals) have taken full advantage, stridently and indignantly demanding this policy be followed, to the point where, as one soldier expressed it, one is afraid to go out onto the battlefield without bringing a lawyer.

Liberals may be unaware how much these rules cripple force effectiveness—but the Islamists surely are not.