MORE ON "COLLATERAL DAMAGE:" N.Z. Bear criticizes Eric Alterman's attempts
at warbloggering (from which he has been backtracking somewhat
), praised here yesterday.
Alterman may be morphing into a warblogger, but thus far he’s not a very good one. It's not a tough call at all. The responsibility for the death of Sheik Shehada --- and the civilians killed --- lies with the Israeli military. They carried out the attack. They bear the responsibility for its consequences, for good and ill.
This doesn’t mean the attack was morally wrong. If the planners of the attack judged that by killing this one man --- and the civilians around him --- they would be saving hundreds of innocents down the line, then it was morally justifiable. But to imply that the “ultimate responsibility” for Shehada’s family lies with anyone other than the IDF is exactly the same twisted moral calculus that terrorists like Shehada use to justify the murder of Israeli citizens. “The Israelis have left us no choice", they say, "we have no other options but to use these tactics!”
When a terrorist blows himself up on a streetcorner and murders a score of Israeli civilians, what do we hear? It is the fault of the Israelis; their oppression of the Palestinian people has left them no choice! And now, when the IDF’s actions have resulted --- accidentally, and yes, that does make a difference, but resulted nonetheless --- in the death of civilians? It is the fault of the Palestinians, of Hamas, because, in Alterman’s words, “ If you ask for war, you are asking to have your civilians slaughtered, unless you can keep the war on the other side’s turf. Well, Hamas asked.”
This is barbaric nonsense. We can’t afford to fall into that trap, or to play those moral equivalence games. There are always choices. We are the side that accepts the consequences of our choices, and takes responsibility for the morality of our acts. We do not cry out that the enemy forced us into our tactics: we act to defend our interests with the force of arms, and with the force of our own conscience. Sometimes this will lead to the death of innocents: and this we must accept as a responsibility which we bear with regret.
But we don’t simper and attempt to pin blame on our enemies for deeds done with our own hands.
If Alterman is trying out for the warblogging team, he’s going to need to learn that just crying for blood doesn’t make the cut. The reasons matter. In fact, they’re everything.
I think that there are some problems with Mr. Bear's analysis. Bear emphasizes that he is not saying that Israel's actions were unjustified, but I think his emphasis on "moral responsibility" begs the question. What Bear seems to be saying is that Israel bears moral responsibility for the deaths of the civilians, but he is not saying that Israel's actions were morally unjustified. But isn't that the same question? (Think of how ridiculous it seemed for Janet Reno to "take responsibility" for the deaths at Waco, while the idea of her suffering any adverse consequences wasn't even considered.) If Israel's actions were morally justified, then what does it mean to say that they were "morally responsible?"
As I read Bear, he is saying that it's mainly an exercise to ward off moral flabbiness, because taking responsibility for our own actions forces us to perform the moral calculations ensuring that each action we take is correct. By contrast, saying "they made me do it" and abdicating responsibility for your own actions ensures that you will never undertake those necessary moral calculations, and thus have a strong likelihood of acting immorally.
The problem I have is that a Palestinian-style abdication of responsibility, justly decried by Bear, is in and of itself a moral argument - it is a statement that "the evil we face is so great that any action we take is justified in response." (That argument can't be dismissed as always being invalid, because it may be true in cases of genocide. Hiroshima is a justifiable option when the altrenative is Auschwitz. Of course, the Palestinians' obsessive terrorism is bringing them closer - though not yet there - to being the justified victims of such a response, rather than the justified perpetrators. But I digress.)
Basically, I think Bear's argument is close to a distinction without a difference. There is no reason to say "they made me do it," but the issue is not especially important if the action was, in fact, justified.