I wrote one post about Just War Theory about a year ago. In it, I rehash a paper I wrote about the topic many years ago, in which I argued that the normative justification for the feudal-era principle of non-combatant immunity no longer applies to countries with liberal democratic governments. I still think that’s true, but I also find Just War Theory rather silly, and so I don’t tend to write much on it. However, Damon Linker has a recent post on the topic that has piqued my interest:
With Hamas and smaller jihadi groups hurling rockets at Israeli cities from the Gaza Strip, Israel is clearly justified in responding. (No nation in the world would accept such a bombardment without striking back.)
What I am interested in here is what kinds of things are rendered “clearly justified” by this analysis.
There are so many possible examples to probe, but let’s just stick with the attacks of September 11. According to Osama Bin Laden, one of the justifications for the attack was the hurling of bombs in Afghanistan:
It will suffice to remind you of your latest war crimes in Afghanistan, in which densely populated innocent civilian villages were destroyed, bombs were dropped on mosques causing the roof of the mosque to come crashing down on the heads of the Muslims praying inside.
This appears to refer to the dozens of cruise missiles that were fired into Afghanistan in 1998, three years prior to the September 11 attacks. Under Damon Linker’s logic, does this mean that the September 11 attacks were “clearly justified?”
Linker may reply that the September 11 attacks are different because they targeted civilians while Israel does not. We could certainly dispute whether Israel targets civilians or not (and whether that even matters). But instead, let’s accept that point and bracket out everything that happened on September 11 except the Pentagon attack. The Pentagon is not a civilian target, but a military target. So would Damon Linker at least stipulate to the September 11 attacks on the Pentagon being “clearly justified” insofar as they were in response to dozens of cruise missiles being fired into Afghanistan?
I am not saying the Pentagon attack was or wasn’t justified, but I am curious as to what writers like Damon Linker think about it. Our National Security writers (which I admittedly only read during big events) seem willing to adjudge the justness of bombings elsewhere, but I’ve never quite seen the stamp of Just War approval on attacks that hit their own countries. When British soldiers (military targets) are slaughtered in the streets in response to British military aggression against Muslims abroad, I see only outrage. When America gets peppered from time to time for its misdeeds around the globe (which far outpace anything Gazans do), I also only see outrage.
Do these war writers mentally fail to apply their own Just War reasoning to strikes against the West? Or are they just afraid to write pieces featuring the kinds of conclusions such an application would seem to entail?