The Afghan Massacre Was No Aberration
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The death of innocent civilians is nothing new in Afghanistan, but these 16 victims, nine of whom were children, were allegedly murdered by a rogue soldier, rather than the usual killers – drone attacks, air strikes and stray bullets. This incident has elicited rage among Afghans and westerners alike. But why are westerners not equally outraged when drone attacks kill entire families?
Drone attacks that kill civilians usually fall into our category of "collateral damage", because the dead civilians weren't specifically targeted, and we treat this category as an unfortunate consequence of war, not murder. Afghans see little difference – rightly so, in my opinion, because their loved ones are dead because of the conscious actions of Nato forces.
This distinction between collateral damage and murder seems to come down to the question of intent. Thomas Aquinas was one of the first to hone in on this distinction with his doctrine of double effect, which is still used today to justify collateral damage. It is believed in the west that some innocent death is excusable in war, as long as the deaths are not intended, and even if those deaths are foreseeable. But if civilian deaths are foreseeable in a course of action, and we take that action anyway, did we not intend them? I doubt Afghans would feel much consolation knowing that their family members were not directly targeted; rather, we just expected that our actions would kill a few people and it happened to be their family members – an unfortunate side-effect of war.
Yet, western audiences feel reassured knowing that most of the civilian deaths in Afghanistan were not intended; and they only become outraged when marines and soldiers clearly target civilians and kill women and children, urinate on their bodies, and plunder their body parts as trophies. From Abu Ghraib, to Fallujah, to Haditha, and now to Panjwai, US forces have committed massacres against civilians. These incidents stand out in the western mind, but to Afghans and Iraqis, they are no different from the daily slaughter of civilians by drones, air strikes, depleted uranium and stray bullets.
Tell a mother from Fallujah whose children have been horribly deformedby uranium weapons that her childrens' suffering was unintended, even though the health effects of uranium-based weapons are well-known. Tell the survivors of drone attacks that their dead family members were not targeted, and that their deaths were an unfortunate consequence of war. Is their pain any different from the father whose entire family was murdered in this most recent atrocity? If collateral damage is foreseeable, if it is really a fact of war, as most believe it is, is it not a crime to engage in war when it will inevitably kill innocents?
Is there really a morally significant difference between murder and collateral damage?
The consequentialist will argue that the good results outweigh the bad, that democracy, freedom and the liberation of Afghan women will improve the lives of Afghans so much that the deaths of a few are justified. This is an easy judgment for westerners to make from the comforts of their own homes; but it stinks of the same patriarchy and arrogance of the white man's burden that justified colonialism for so many years. Has anyone consulted Afghans and asked them if they think the good that the west has promised will come of this occupation is worth the lives of their family members?