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Mailbag: Do you approve of civilian deaths?
A reader thinks I'm dodging the question, so let me clear things up.
A week ago in my article Palestine is not a PR problem I argued that the public positioning leftists engage in on Israeli civilian casualties — whether to condemn, celebrate, or ignore — probably won’t have significant political consequences. Several readers, however, weren’t satisfied:
Again, I don’t think posting my personal take on this matter is likely to save a single life either way. It will, however, apparently save me the trouble of having to explain myself over and over, so I might as well spell it out.
In 1946, only months after the end of World War II, Ernest Hemingway wrote a short essay called The Sling and the Pebble. In it, he spells out a position that one rarely sees anymore:
It has been necessary to fight. It has been necessary to kill, to maim, to burn and to destroy… We have waged war in the most ferocious and ruthless way that it has ever been waged. We waged it against fierce and ruthless enemies that it was necessary to destroy…
An aggressive war is the great crime against everything good in the world. A defensive war, which must necessarily turn to aggressive at the earliest moment, is the necessary great counter-crime. But never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime. Ask the infantry and ask the dead.
What Hemingway is getting at here is that even when war is just and its outcome worthy, it is always a tragedy. Victory is better than defeat, but better than both would have been a just peace where war never became necessary. The loss of that world is a terrible thing.
So personally I have no stomach for celebrating death — civilian or soldier, justified or unjustified. I think when people do it they are really celebrating the peace and justice that victory can bring, and I think that because I’ve done it myself: when Yevgeny Prigozhin died earlier this year I joked about it just like a lot of other folks did, because he was a genuinely villainous man. But while I am still glad that he is gone, and while I do not think this is a particularly major offense, that impulse to enjoy the pain he experienced is not one that I’m proud of. I think it is basically a moment of irrationality. The better thing would have been for Prigozhin to have never lived the life he lived in the first place, to have lived a decent life and to have died a peaceful death.
Ultimately, as I argued the last time, I don’t think that our positioning on this question is going to save lives either way. I also understand that other people think about these questions differently, so without talking to them directly and trying to get a handle on their reasoning and motives I hesitate to judge them. My priority at this point is ending the genocide against Palestine; everything else is academic.
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