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Asa Kasher on the morality of war, etc.




Civilians First
TO THE EDITORS:
Discussing questions of life and death requires special care. To engage in such a discussion is to see oneself as if one were holding life and death in one’s hands, once and for all, with all the responsibility this entails.
“In one’s hands”: Even if one is merely advocating a certain policy to the government or the IDF, one must act in the spirit of “what one preaches, one manifests,” i.e., as if it were within one’s power to do it.
“Once and for all”: Because a wrong answer to these questions is like a death sentence—it cannot be corrected after the fact. It is a legacy of tears.
“All the responsibility this entails”: Because these questions and answers are posited not from a “critical” point of view, which prides itself on exposing the inadequacies of human action, but from a “responsible” point of view, which properly seeks practical advantages from practical actions and the best of all possible outcomes.
Discussing questions of life and death requires that special care be taken regarding assumptions, claims, and conclusions—especially practical conclusions. While Assaf Sagiv’s editorial (“Civilians First,” AZURE 31, Winter 2008) raises important questions, it does not always abide by this responsibility. Here are some prominent examples:
Sagiv presumes that: “In a law-abiding country, and especially in a functioning liberal democracy, [military] force is recruited in the interests of the general public, or at least the overriding majority of citizens.” This is mistaken. In a democratic state, military force is employed solely to defend the lives and well-being of the citizens and the sovereignty of the state itself. “The general public” and even more so “the overriding majority of the citizens” have a great many legitimate interests: for instance, well-functioning and readily available health and educational systems. In a truly democratic state, military power is not employed to achieve such goals. In this respect, Israel is a truly democratic country, even if there is room for improvement.
“As long as a man wears a uniform,” writes Sagiv, “he is not a free subject; he is, rather, a servant, and the civilian community—led by the government—is his master.” This is a flawed depiction. The citizen in uniform is not a servant to anyone. In a democratic state, there are no masters and no servants, only citizens who benefit from communal life conducted according to the spirit of “the rule of fairness” (for more on this matter, see “A Jewish and Democratic State,” the first part of my book The Spirit of Man). It is good to think of these principles in terms of a “social contract” in which all citizens are partners, a “contract” which must meet the standards of fairness, especially with respect to everything touching upon civil liberties. Through their service in both the regular military and the reserves, men and women in uniform fulfill their responsibilities in accordance with this fair “contract.” Before being drafted into mandatory service, they benefited from the military protection provided by their predecessors in military service, and, according to the requirements of fairness, they give military protection to those who protected them before and those who will protect them in the future. None of them may be defined as a “servant;” each is considered a partner, fulfilling the role mandated by the fair arrangements that compose a democratic regime.
The differences between these two visions are not merely semantic. They are also evident on the practical level.
“In order to perform its task successfully,” Sagiv opines, “the army must often put its soldiers in harm’s way, and sometimes knowingly send them to their deaths.” It is true that if the soldiers are tools in the hands of their fellows, it is permissible to make use of them, and even to “knowingly send them to their deaths.” But in a truly democratic state characterized by the rule of law, one which constantly gives expression to the moral foundations of democracy, soldiers are not “servants,” they are not tools, and it is not permissible to make use of them, let alone to “knowingly send them to their deaths.” In a truly democratic state characterized by the rule of law, the soldiers fulfill their orders within the framework of a fair contract which demands the successful use of military power. They fulfill their duties in the face of the enemy; that is to say, in dangerous operations; that is to say, in operations in which soldiers are liable to be wounded or even killed. The soldier must act courageously, to the point of mortal danger, but he is under no obligation to march knowingly to his death. In a truly democratic state characterized by the rule of law, soldiers are educated to demonstrate courage and to endanger themselves, but they are not educated to sacrifice themselves or to commit suicide. I have great respect for the heroic behavior of soldiers and commanders who have sacrificed their lives. I do not contend against such heroism, but rather against the claim that it is obligatory.
Now I move from the negative and critical part of this matter to the positive part, which puts forth principles for the defense of all citizens in a democratic state—among them soldiers and other military personnel.
The first principle, upon which there is no dissension between Sagiv and me, is the principle of “the duty of self-defense.” (I have dealt with this at length in certain articles which I wrote with General Amos Yadlin on military ethics in the war on terrorism.) This is the obligation of the state to protect its citizens and their political organization (i.e., the state itself) by the effective use of the military (and other governmental institutions) with a constant regard for human dignity.
The second principle, based on the moral principles of a democratic state, is the obligation to justify military action in terms of necessity.Unlike the first principle, this is not self-explanatory, and deserves a short introduction. The duty of self-defense means that the state is permitted to endanger the lives of its military personnel only if it has an unassailable justification for doing so, since the state, by its nature, is compelled to provide protection for its citizens, and not expose them to danger. In a truly democratic state characterized by the rule of law, there is only one justification for risking soldiers’ lives: “there is no choice.” The state is obligated to protect itself and its citizens; there is no way to do so without using the military; military action inevitably endangers the lives of soldiers; and thus, there is no choice but to risk these lives. No weaker reason may justify jeopardizing the lives of soldiers.
The third principle, connected to the values of the IDF (and to the military ethics of every democratic state) is “the obligation to minimize casualties.” Even in the case of operations in which it is justifiable and necessary to risk soldiers’ lives, anyone who makes practical decisions about these actions is required to consider not only policy, planning, and implementation, but also the defense and protection of the lives of the soldiers involved. When considering the constant dilemma regarding the accomplishment of a mission and the safeguarding of human life, the accomplishment of the mission may be more important, and therefore, it may permit the endangering of soldiers’ lives; and yet, the value of human life does not disappear in such situations, but takes second place, and demands a persistent effort to prevent casualties.
The fourth principle, also expressed in the values of the IDF, is the principle of “full responsibility for the well-being of the soldier.” The essence of the value of “comradeship” is that if the condition of the soldier is so harsh that he is not able to deal with it himself, his comrades and commanders are supposed to help him. And if the commander cannot do so, then his superior officer is supposed to, and so on. In the end, the IDF is responsible for the well-being of its soldiers and so is the state. This responsibility is at the heart of “comradeship” in different military codes of ethics, including that of the IDF.
To conclude, we will see how these values lead to practical conclusions regarding the Second Lebanon War, Sderot and its environs, and the kidnapped soldiers.
On the matter of the Second Lebanon War: First of all, it is the responsibility of the state to protect the lives of its citizens through military action, especially when the citizens are attacked and a meaningful and constant threat is posed to their lives and safety (the first and second principles).
Second, the state has a responsibility to protect the lives of its citizens through military action while remaining obligated to minimize the number of casualties (the third principle). If it is possible to eliminate a threat through air operations that do not risk the lives of soldiers, this must be preferred over a land operation. If the air operations are ineffective, then it is necessary to undertake other actions, namely, land operations.


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