Saturday, July 22, 2006

Not all the monsters are in the movies

The truly revolting thing about this argument is not that it conflates legal culpability with moral responsibility:

No rational person would suggest that any of these people were entirely free of moral guilt, although reasonable people might disagree about the legal guilt of those in the last two categories. Their accountability for rape is surely a matter of degree, as is the accountability for terrorism of those who work with the terrorists.

It will, of course, be difficult for international law — and for the media — to draw the lines of subtle distinction routinely drawn by domestic criminal law. This is because domestic law operates on a retail basis — one person and one case at a time. International law and media reporting about terrorism tend to operate on more of a wholesale basis — with body counts, civilian neighborhoods and claims of collective punishment.
A blind man can see where this is going: Israel is never wrong! Israel must be able to defend itself, however it chooses to do so! And how do we get to this clear recognition of Israel's purity of heart?

...the recognition that "civilianality" is often a matter of degree, rather than a bright line, should still inform the assessment of casualty figures in wars involving terrorists, paramilitary groups and others who fight without uniforms — or help those who fight without uniforms.
"Informs"? Does he mean makes it easier to take when a loved one is blown up by a guided missile, or a Hezbollah rocket? The latter, of course, are victims of terrorism, in Dershowitz' moral universe; the former may carry moral responsibility for their own deaths, depending entirely on how they spin it:

Hezbollah and Hamas militants, on the other hand, are difficult to distinguish from those "civilians" who recruit, finance, harbor and facilitate their terrorism. Nor can women and children always be counted as civilians, as some organizations do. Terrorists increasingly use women and teenagers to play important roles in their attacks.

The Israeli army has given well-publicized notice to civilians to leave those areas of southern Lebanon that have been turned into war zones. Those who voluntarily remain behind have become complicit. Some — those who cannot leave on their own — should be counted among the innocent victims.

If the media were to adopt this "continuum," it would be informative to learn how many of the "civilian casualties" fall closer to the line of complicity and how many fall closer to the line of innocence.
Culpability is assigned after the fact. Those who stay behind, like the rooftop victims of Katrina in New Orleans, are responsible for their own problems; it's no longer the government's responsibility to save them. Likewise, Israel has discharged its moral charge by warning people to leave the neighborhood. Those who don't, have shifted the moral burden of their deaths to their own shoulders. If we can just get the media to report it that way, we can comfort ourselves that Israel has not killed nearly 10 times as many Lebanese as Hezbollah has killed Israelis: after all, those Lebanese were not "innocent victims." Their deaths don't matter. Not to us, anyway; and our concerns are the only ones that matter, aren't they? The friends, family, neighbors of those killed? Well, who cares what they think.

Once we eliminate "innocence" from our vocabulary through such cynical sophistry, we can rest comfortably on our bed of bones.

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