Living in Northern Virginia, one is never far from some historical battlefield. State-sponsored signs commemorate the “minor” skirmishes, while the sites of major fighting have become elaborate tourist destinations. People will walk these grounds, and some even become reenactors, to capture the feeling of the battles.
I have been trying to square this sort of fascination against the current media obsession with the absurd notion of a casualty-free, or somehow “proportionate” war effort.
On a superficial level, it is much easier for us to be detached from the carnage of battles that occurred a long time ago. Consider, for example, the Battle of Antietam (or Sharpsburg), that occurred on September 17, 1862.
Oh yes, the Civil War buffs could surely relate to you that this horrific event produced the greatest number of war casualties in a single day in American history (more than 23,000). Indeed, more soldiers were killed and wounded at the Battle of Antietam than the deaths of all Americans in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican War, and Spanish-American War combined. And, for all the carnage, neither side garnered a decisive victory—at least in a strictly military sense.
Lee’s decimated forces made good their retreat, but his failure to take the war to the North influenced Britain not to recognize the Confederacy. Emboldened with this, Lincoln issued a sort of pre-Emancipation Proclamation (or a threat of same) within a few days. He admonished the rebels to return to the fold, or he would declare their slaves to be free men. Of course, they refused, and the Proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863.
Politically, Antietam was a significant turning point in the war, even though the conflict would continue for nearly three more years, with the Confederacy’s crushing defeat at Gettysburg—a total of more than 50,000 casualties in that affair—marking the beginning of the end for the South. All told, this fratricidal Hell would generate well over 1 million casualties, including at least 600,000 deaths.
So now the questions flow:
How “proportionate” was all of this, in that the war was fought to preserve the Union? How many dead people would that be worth? No responsible historian claims that “freeing the slaves” was on anyone’s mind as a casus belli until after Antietam. Besides, some of the polarization caused by this miserable war persists to this very day, and few disagree that slavery would have vanished by the end of the 19th century, in any event.
In our Civil War, as in all conflicts, “innocents” were caught up in the fighting, and some died. But, then, why is a civilian so much more innocent than a soldier? True, a solider is, by definition, a belligerent, but in most wars, they are mainly poor slobs who were simply inducted. Perhaps only weeks earlier, they were civilians themselves. How are they any less victims?
Furthermore, if a war is to be pursued with the intent of victory, any response MUST be disproportionate, or a useless stalemate is all that can be expected. Even now, there is talk of a “peacekeeping” force being installed in the latest Mideast conflict, as if such a plan has ever worked.
The fact is, any talk of a “proportionate” conflict is little more than Marxist cant, along the lines of drawing an equivalency between the use of deadly force by police, and by criminals. Worse, any attempts at “reasoning” in this vein inevitably forces one into the sophomoric fantasy that the truth must lie between the two “extremes.”
But, for anyone to believe that a negotiated settlement can possibly be created between Israel, and those who want the country to be completely exterminated, requires that he have no critical thinking skills. Or, he might just be a professional diplomat, interested only in the process, and never the result.
Making it a little more personal, one wonders if such a fool would negotiate with an desperate perp, threatening to kill his family, or, if he were able, simply cap him? If he chose the latter, which he doubtless would, his response to a mere threat with deadly force would hardly be proportionate.
It all depends on whose ox is being gored, doesn’t it?