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The Immorality of Collateral Damage

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    Sooner28posted 3 years ago

    Defenders of collateral damage claim that it is inescapable, that when conducting a war, there is no pragmatic way to avoid civilian casualties, so critics need to "get over it."

    Let's examine the assumptions underlying this argument.

    When analyzing any argument, the conclusion and reasons must be kept in clear view; otherwise, a mass jumble of information becomes confusing and the conclusion initially argued for is lost.

    So the claim of the argument is : After all precautions have been taken to avoid civilian casualties, collateral damage is morally justified.

    What is the reason?  Collateral damage is inevitable in war, even with the strictest precautions.

    Clearly the conclusion does not follow from the reason, but that is only because the underlying assumptions have not been brought forward.  All argument is like this.  Reasons alone do not necessarily imply conclusions without substituting the assumptions connecting the reasons to the conclusions (whether those assumptions be factual or valuative).

    So, to make the argument valid, what assumptions is the defender of collateral damage making?

    There are a few ways to do this.  I could plug in the most unfavorable assumptions possible, thereby making it easier to attack the argument; or I could plug in the most favorable (if I were a defender of this view) to make the argument the strongest.

    I plan to do my best to make the most reasonable interpretation I can, but I'm sure there will be disagreement.  For the record, when I use the word justified, I mean morally justified, but I don't wanna type that out over and over.  I'm also going to stop using the euphemism "collateral damage," so as to ensure the argument is accurately portrayed.

    Reason:   Killing civilians is required to win a war. 

    Assumption: All actions required to win a war are justified. (this assumes the ends justify the means, which has some very disturbing implications.  It also assumes war is justified, which implies that mass killing is justified).

    Conclusion:  Killing civilians is justified in a war.

    I'm not claiming these are all the assumptions underlying the argument, just a few.

    What say you?

    1. 84
      Education Answerposted 3 years ago in reply to this

      War is Hell.  Yes, civilians die.  Nobody who is sane wants war.  Unfortunately, it is necessary at times, and yes, there is collateral damage.  It's an unfortunate reality.

      1. Josak profile image62
        Josakposted 3 years ago in reply to this

        I have to agree with that, the concept of a just war is a nebulous one at best but there is such a thing (I would argue it's a very long time since we waged such a war as the US) but in those situations yes, innocents will be hurt and it's utterly horrible, everything should be done to avoid it but ultimately it will happen.

        What is utterly unforgivable is targeting civilians and we have certainly done that before on the basic that the ends justify it, I don't agree.

        Nor is "they did it first" a moral argument. The intentional targeting of civilian centers in WW2 conventional bombings, Nagasaki and Hiroshima and the Vietnam war (particularly in Cambodia) are not covered by collateral damage, that is intentional genocide/mass murder aimed at civilian populations.

    2. wilderness profile image96
      wildernessposted 3 years ago in reply to this

      The reason, assumption and reasoning are all flawed.  For example, killing civilians is not required to win a war, IF the soldiers will separate themselves geographically from all civilians, AND civilians will not participate in the war effort.  Is a civilian building a war plane a viable target?

      The assumption is flawed in that not ALL actions are justified.  Killing civilians in certain circumstances is, but that does not mean that all actions are, or that civilians can be slaughtered indiscriminately.

      So the connection between the two is nearly nonexistent as stated.  Both need re-worked to even come close to truth or morality.

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        Sooner28posted 3 years ago in reply to this

        I'm not arguing for this view, but I think you are attacking the truth of the reason and assumption more than the logic.  If you assume the reason and assumptions are true, it does follow that killing civilians is justified, even if the reason and assumption are completely false.  Logic and the truth of the reasons are not the same.

        I was basing the argument on what I've heard from defenders of civilian deaths.  I was just trying to lay it out in clear form.

        I think you bring up a good point about civilians building weapons.  They are participating in the war effort right?  They are contributing.  However, if we follow this line of thought, people who pay taxes are also contributing, so nearly all civilians would be fair game.  Thus, there would be no problem with immoral civilian deaths at all! (at least mostly).  This is also the reasoning Osama bin Laden used.  He claimed civilian weren't innocent in the United States because they were allowing American foreign policy to continue unabated.

        The second premise you have a problem with is the universality of the claim.  It isn't saying ALL killings of civilians are justified, just that all actions REQUIRED TO WIN a war are justified.  This doesn't mean there won't be "immoral" civilian casualties; it just means the casualties that are required to win are morally justified, which will include some civilians.  According to defenders of this (I'm almost a pacifist, so I have huge problems with the entire argument).