The concept of a ‘non-combatant’ is one that really did not arise until feudal times in Europe and Japan (I don’t know enough about Chinese, African, or MesoAmerican history to comment on their history). Before that, wars had most likely looked Homeric, as community fought community and alliance fought alliance. The able-bodied men of one community fought the able-bodied men of another, with their lives, the freedom of their women and children (this was in times when they spoke of ‘their’ women) and all the assets of the community at stake.
(I haven’t unboxed the Homer and Hesiod yet, so can’t provide a quote; but I’m sure there are a number of them about the ‘sad-eyed women being led away from the burning city’, etc. etc.)
The increasing depth of the economies (partly driven by consolidation due to conquest) began to generate larger and larger surpluses…both of labor, so that a class of landowners and retainers began to grow up whose daily labor was not needed…and of technology and wealth so that more elaborate fortifications, larger food surpluses to feed armies for longer periods of time, and most of all, more sophisticated weapons and armor were available.
Using these weapons and defeating the more-sophisticated defenses required more and more training, which consumed the time of the landowners and their retainers, and began to define them as a military class, distinct from the agrarian and mercantile classes.
Eventually, laws were passed (both in Europe and Japan) prohibiting non-members of these classes from owning weapons, or being trained in their use. (Of course there were substantial exceptions; in England, young men were required to train in the use of the longbow…)
The styles of warfighting changed as well; from the melee to the set battle and the siege, and as the practice of fighting began to become formalized, so too grew up riles designed both to define ‘honorable’ military practice, which meant both defining how to behave toward other combatants, and toward this new class of people who were to be left alone…in part because devastating a large economy meant that the wealth necessary to support armies would be destroyed.
This professionalization progressed in both cases through the Industrial Age.
It was the American Civil War which showed the impact of industrialization on warfighting. The North may have been outgeneraled, but it outmanufactured and outtransported the South. And as industrialization and the economy that supported it became the key to Northern success, their efforts to weaken the Southern economy…first through blockades, then as Sherman headed to Atlanta, through devastation of the local economies…were a key part of their military effort. Note that Sherman evacuated Atlanta before he burned it, and his orders were not to slaughter the farmers whose corn he burned and whose livestock he slaughtered. His goal was economic devastation and collapse, not massacre. And, to a large extent, it worked. It was strategic warfare…war fought against the strategic (economic) assets of the enemy, rather than the tactical (military) assets. Note that this wasn’t the first time this had been done; just one of the more successful.
The industrialization of warfare meant both that it was integrated backwards into the economy in some unprecedented ways (i.e. the factories that made the weapons and the railroads that shipped them were a part of the ‘weapons system’), and that warfighting itself was changed, as the industrial skill of Krupp and the Germans made the difference in the second Franco-Prussian war, and the invention of accurate, transportable, rapid-firing artillery, the rapid-firing infantry rifle and then the self-loading machine gun changed the way in which war itself was fought.
World War I was the last purely ‘tactical’ (as I’m defining it…meaning a war defined by maneuver and tactics addressing the opposing forces) major war.
After this war, the English led the way in refocusing their efforts on strategic warfare, as they refocused production on large bombers. Trenchard led the effort to arm the UK with a fleet of heavy bombers, with the deliberate intent of attacking an enemy’s economy, thereby collapsing the industrial supply train that supported their army.
When World War II began, the UK attacked German cities with night bombing; the techniques of precision daylight bombing would have to await the Norden bombsight. But until the German defenses were degraded, the level of losses remained unacceptable high, so the allies continued high-altitude bombing aimed at generally weakening the German economy…by destroying it’s infrastructure, killing its participants, and straining its resources (forcing them to deal with the damage done through bombing).
In effect, we had returned to the tribal warfare of Homer; the women and children of the combatants on the front lines were now directly hostage to the fortunes of the war.
And with Hiroshima, and the ensuing decades in which we concentrated on ‘strategic warfare’…meaning the demolition of enemy civilian infrastructure and the associated civilians, it sure looks like we have returned to the notion of tribal, ‘total’ warfare.
So, in effect, it looks like we have effectively blurred the distinction between combatants and non-combatants in today’s warfare.
Ironically, as that distinction has been blurred by the emphasis on strategic warfare at the top and on terrorism and intergroup violence (former Yugoslavia, Rwanda) at the bottom, we have worked diligently to bureaucratize and formalize the conduct of war, creating ever more complex rules of engagement, and using modern communications to have military attorneys review orders in real time.
So if we have passed the traditional values which separate legitimate targets (opposing military) from illegitimate targets (opposing civilians), how do we judge the appropriateness of attacks in which civilians are killed?
And to take it further, as warfare becomes increasingly economic, how do we judge the appropriateness of attacks in which civilians are indirectly killed, through famine, disease, or other indirect effect?
These questions cut to the heart of not only the Israel/ Palestinian conflict, but to the conduct of the United States in the near future as we try and deal with the aftermath of 9/11. It is obvious to me that there both is and must be some appropriate basis for judgement. It is equally obvious that different interest groups – supporters of Israel or Palestine, of immediate invasion and normalization of relationships – most likely are applying different grounds for judgement.
Next, some suggestions on sorting this mess out.

7 thoughts on “TARGETS”

  1. Date: 09/26/2002 00:00:00 AM
    Actually, it seems to me that with the advent of “precision munitions,” we can return to the old insistence on not targeting civilians, except indirectly. Which implies that only the most technologically advanced and rich nations can actually execute a just war.

  2. Date: 09/25/2002 00:00:00 AM
    One story I’ve heard from WWI was that fighter pilots were not supposed to strafe locomotives, because the locomotive was private property – even though trains were the main means of military transport in this war, and a train in certain locations was surely a military transport. This attitude certainly changed sometime between 1914 and 1939. But in retrospect, industrial production set the pace of combat in WWI; major offensives ended when they ran out of artillery shells and could only be resumed when a big enough stockpile was built up again. Manpower in the trenches was also important – but all nations had to limit their draft so as to leave enough men in the factories, mines, and farms…

  3. Date: 09/27/2002 00:00:00 AM
    I think a lot of the modern murkiness about the status of civilians as opposed to the certainties of the medevial ethicists comes down to two things, the greater need of modern armies to consume goods than armies of long ago, and the modern notions of government as deriving its right to govern from the consent of the people.As to the consumption of goods, a medieval army would not go through many swords in a year, or even in a generation, while a modern army uses, among other things, one heck of a lot of bullets. Each bullet can only be used once, and new ones must come from the factory. Most people would agree that the bullet factory is a legitimate target, and the deaths of civilians working in the bullet factory, although to be avoided if possible, were a small tragedy of war. The bullet factory is, of course, a simplification, but the increased logistical needs of industrialized warfare bring a wide range of similar targets under the same umbrella. It takes only a tiny leap of logic to include oil refineries which provide fuel to military vehicles, but also may fuel civilian ambulances and fire trucks. Roads, bridges, rail yards, and the like are targets in that they help keep the armies in the field supplied, but they also carry the harvests from the farms to the cities. Including targets with both military and civilian uses rapidly begins to include a pretty large slice of just about everything in the country.At one time, rulers derived their right to rule from God (or the gods). Their subjects were not responsible for the conduct of their rulers (and the rulers could be unresponsive, at least in theory, to the needs and desires of their subjects). Under this paradigm, the civilians were innocents. Under later understandings of political power, the rulers’ power came from the consent of the people. Sometimes rulers had more than just the consent, but the open connivance, and even support of the civilian populace. In these situations, it was easy to believe that the civilians were not innocents, but co-conspiritors in the making of war.

  4. Date: 09/24/2002 00:00:00 AM
    True. British bombers couldn’t live in the sky in daylight and at night could barely hit something the size of a city, and then only if it had been marked by Pathfinders.The only use for Bomber Command was then city-busting. You do it or you don’t.I understand that the Luftwaffe had something like 10,000 88mm antiaircraft guns to fight the bombers. That’s 10,000 fewer of the best gun in the war dedicated to fighting the Allied tanks and infantry. Each fighter used, or used up, fighting the bombers was one less to be used as a close-support aircraft.Anyhow, today, we have a different situation.We can avoid killing civilians wholesale, or even retail, and still completely destroy their economic usefulness by pinpoint targeting of whatever economic choke point has the most impact. The Brits and Americans were always thinking about such things–ball bearings in Regensburg and Schweinfurt–but discovered it is hard to stop such an industry, and costly. But if a power plant can be knocked out with no losses and as often as it takes, perhaps on a nightly basis, nothing works. Including the people.

  5. Date: 09/24/2002 00:00:00 AM
    Re: 20th century history of targeting civilians/strategic bombingThe importance of WWI must not be overlooked. The devastation of “the lost generation” had a profound influence on military thinking. New alternatives to the trench warfare meatgrinder were sought to win the next war.It was an Italian military theorist, Guilio Bouhet, who in the 1920’s first proposed strategic bombing and of targeting cities and civilians. Many nations, including Britain and the U.S. were influenced by this theory and diverted effort to developing long-range strategic bombers.The first time air bombardment was used to deliberatly target civilians was Japanese bombing of Chinese cities in 1937. Deliberate bombing of civilians also happened during the Spanish Civil war.The British anticipated using Bomber Command to deliver a knockout blow against the Germans should war come. Anticipating the Germans might try the same led to the creation of Fighter Command, civilian bomb shelters, and mass distribution of gas masks. So the British built large heavy long range bombers, and very short range Fighter/Interceptors. The tactical applications of Air Power were overlooked in favor of the strategic theory.When the war finally came the British were surprised at how air power worked in practice as opposed to theory. The British bombers were slaughtered when sent out in daylight, reverting to improvised night bombing as the only means of survival. The fighters/interceptors of Fighter Command were too short ranged to useas bomber escorts. And the British lacked an inventory for vital tactical missions like anti-submarine naval patroling and anti-tank bombing.In contrast the Germans had built a tactical airforce designed to support the army in field operations. So the Germans built light dive bombers and medium bombers with no long range heavy strategic bombers. During the battle of Britain the Germans were ill-prepared when Hitler ordered thebombing of London in retaliation for the bombing of Berlin.Two books I recommend are, A History of Strategic Bombing, by Kennett, 1982 and Just and Unjust Wars, by Walzer, 1992.

  6. Date: 09/24/2002 00:00:00 AM
    Actually read Kennet and Waltzer; my comment about Trenchard comes from him. Bouchet wrote what we would today call a ‘white paper'; Trenchard managed to make it into an industry. Having said that, if he hadn’t soneone on one side of the war or another would have.A.L.

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