By Bryan Caplan
Hawks love the analogy between defensive war and individual self-defense. But as I keep saying, there’s a big difference: so-called “defensive war” almost always involves the deliberate or reckless killing of innocent bystanders. Why They Die: Civilian Devastation in Violent Conflict, a new book by GMU profs Daniel Rothbart and Karina Korostelina, has details. Quick version:
The World Health Organization estimated that 310,000 people died as
the result of war in the year 2000. Recent statistics estimate that a
majority of that number are civilians. The International Committee of
the Red Cross estimated that the ratio of civilian to combatant deaths
in violent conflicts since World War II has been 10 to 1.
“…I don’t know of a
single prolonged conflict in the modern day where there are fewer
civilian deaths than combatant deaths. It is likely that any long war
will have more civilians killed than soldiers,” Rothbart says.
The larger number of deaths has to do with the increased use of
firepower, combined with the soldiers’ confusion about who is a
combatant and who is a civilian. Because of this confusion, major
casualties among civilian populations are rationalized as inevitable
and, in some cases, even necessary.
If pressed, I suspect that most people would condone the killing of enemy civilians on the grounds that “they started it.” But these same people condemn almost every other application of the concept of “collective guilt.” Very suspicious. Even more suspicious, though, is that fact that so many people combine an historical theory of justice with zero interest in history.