Thursday, August 10, 2006

Ignoratio elenchi

That's a fancy Latin slogan that means, basically, not knowing what the question at issue is when having an argument. I'm reminded of the slogan by an interesting post at Maverick Philosopher on the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict. Bill writes:
Not every armed conflict is a war. The 'war' against Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations is more like armed conflict between legitimate law enforcement agencies within legitimate states and criminal organizations. Hezbollah is sometimes described as a state within a state. This is loose talk. Hezbollah is better described as a criminal parasite organization hosted by a legitimate state that lacks the power or the will to suppress it.

If this is right, then talk of a 'cease-fire' between Israel and Hezbollah is as obtuse as talk of a 'cease-fire' between law enforcement and a criminal gang like MS-13.
We have known, since 11 September 2001, that many of the time-honored principles of warfare generally, and of just war theory in particular, simply do not apply to the present set of conflicts in which we find ourselves. Our enemies do not always wear uniforms; they often masquerade as civilians when not merely hiding behind civilians; they almost always depend upon manipulating the media and the application of terror to achieve their political ends. This does not excuse us--or anyone else--from acting in conformity with the logic of morality, but we may find that what the logic of morality compels us to do in defense of self and of the helpless will not seem as pristine and noble as some idealists would like. It is salutary to remember that all forms of violence, even those that are undertaken in self defense, are ugly. There is no such thing, really, as a "noble" fight to the death--one must simply, sometimes, fight against those who would kill you. If those who are trying to kill you without justification wind up getting their noses bloodied--or if it is rather the noses of their friends that get bloodied--it might behoove one's enemies to cease and desist unilaterally.

In fact, that might be the closest thing to a noble act that certain kinds of enemy can ever achieve--to admit that they were wrong to have attacked you in the first place.

6 comments:

Mark said...

You may want to read an interview I have on my website at http://insomnia.livejournal.com/693016.html with an 18-year-old art student who is blogging from Beirut. She's not a terrorist, and is absolutely opposed to attacks against both Israeli and Lebanese civilians, and also opposed to Hezbollah... but she also supports Hezbollah when they're defending Lebanon from invaders, and indicates that the Lebanese are a lot more united behind Hezbollah than anyone gives them credit for.

Paul Halsall said...

Scott,

War against "non-state actors" has been a *norm* in the past. The rules still apply to treatment of combatants.

What I mean here is that slave/peasant rebellions (I suppose Spartacus is the most remembered leader), civil wars, unclear territorial boundaries, unclear endings, etc. have all been quiet normal.

Some perspective is needed before you change basic principles. Where the Anglos at the Alamo "terrorists" or "state actors"; how about those who overthrew the Queen of Hawaii?

On my blog, are argue that what is needed is a radical policy of prevarication in order that the population-base of the Islamofascists is corrupted by material desire and individuation.

In countries where you have a social group of "teenagers" and not "radicalized youths", terrorism will not prosper.

Marty Eble said...

"Hard cases make bad law" - Roman Maxim

"Our enemies do not always wear uniforms; they often masquerade as civilians when not merely hiding behind civilians; they almost always depend upon manipulating the media and the application of terror to achieve their political ends. This does not excuse us--or anyone else--from acting in conformity with the logic of morality, but we may find that what the logic of morality compels us to do in defense of self and of the helpless will not seem as pristine and noble as some idealists would like." - could have been written by a British General in 1778

Laws apply to all persons at all times under all conditions, or they are not laws.

Making a special case out of every Israeli violation of international law, common decency, and commonsense simply illustrates the paucity of the moral case for Israel's actions.

superfrog1 said...

I've read and enjoyed your posts in the past but, like some other readers, am dismayed by your take on just war in general and the situation in Lebanon in particular. You've been much too quick to level accusations of anti-semitism, which was especially unfair to Apollodorus, and also seem to have an odd understanding of just war and the ethics of killing. Frankly, you do seem more or less indifferent to the deaths of Lebanese civilians. That is not to say of course that you don't think their deaths are regrettable, but instead it seems that you just don't value their lives as you should and so fail to evaluate plausibly or persuasively the legitimacy of Israeli military action (I have in mind mainly particular tactical choices to bomb certain targets, but the larger strategic choices are similarly open to question). I'm glad that you think it would be wrong to directly target civilians (although your latest post might seem to imply - but I hope not - that you may want to loosen that stricture) but failing to properly consider the lives of civilians is likewise a gross moral failing. The Israeli military (or anyone so placed; say British or American bombers in the Second World War, although in those cases there probably was a direct intention to kill civilians) may be guilty of murder through indifference as well as intention. And knowingly creating a situation in which hundreds of thousands are trapped, starving, in need of help, and likely to suffer or die cannot be justified by glibly invoking self-defence. You have to engage seriously with the consequences your actions will bring about and in doing so, crucially, you have to take the lives of civilians on the other side to be valuable and to bear on your decision-making as much as do the lives of your own civilians. The assumed priority of the life of one Israeli over that of many more Lebanese (I mean civilians of course, not Hezbollah comabatants) is just immoral.

Apollodorus said...

Wow, at least now I feel a little less isolated. Honestly, I wouldn't argue with Scott about anything if it weren't challenging, and so I'm not usually surprised for very long when what I think are fairly good arguments turn out to be something else (we won't say just what else, though). Arguing with Scott about war has been one of the most difficult things for me for a number of reasons, but I usually learn a thing or twenty when I do it. This latest experience, besides showing me that the issue is not quite as obvious as it seems in ways which I hadn't quite seen, has challenged my faith in the efficacy of rational discourse -- a shaky faith to begin with. Honestly, I am not entirely convinced that any argument could really make a difference, or that rational assessment is what lies at the bottom of these positions about the war. But I'm not really prepared to abandon all faith in the potential efficacy of rational discourse, and so I am perfectly willing to say that neither I nor anyone else who has responded in this forum have provided Scott with any truly compelling arguments against his position. Accordingly, for me really to conclude that his position is merely some kind of ideological rationalization would be uncalled for, at least until I have provided arguments for which he really has no answer, or no answer which seems to me to have any force.

That said, I'm quite obviously in agreement with much of what the folks who have responded to this post have said. Most technicalities seem much less relevant when so many civilians are dying, no matter who is ultimately morally responsible. I'm glad there's a cease-fire, even if there are some reasons not to call it a cease-fire, and I hope to God that some progress can be made in this situation without Israel resuming its bombing, and without Hezbollah doing much more damage than it has. Surely even Scott can agree with that much?

Scott Carson said...

For what it's worth, none of my accusations of anti-semitism have been directed at Apollodorus.

That much should be obvious to anyone who can read.