Proportional Art

Captain Ed observes, about the proportionality canard:

To use a crude analogy, if someone is stupid enought to bring a knife to a gunfight, it doesn’t mean that those holding the guns have a moral obligation to fight with knives instead. Proportionality demands exactly that, and it leads to nothing but longer and more destructive wars.

As I argued before, those who argue for a “proportional” response argue for an ineffective and essentially symbolic response that changes nothing. I find such arguments morally suspect. Given that any military operation will result in some civilian deaths, we should only launch such an operation when we honestly think that doing so will result in a significant positive change.

I can think of few things more vile than advocating for the deaths of innocents for what amounts to a very large and expensive piece of performance art.

[Note: The Captain’s Quarters blog suddenly became unreachable while I was writing this post. The above links may not work.]

10 thoughts on “Proportional Art”

  1. A powerful concluding statement. Thanks, Shannon.

    The belief that all is performance with no intrinsic meaning dominates the thinking of many who comment on the war. Such thinking is not just shallow but remarkably destructive because it ignores consequences; an actor’s gesture has no consequences in the “real” world. We indulge in the sentimentalism of sympathy for the Lebanese caught on the road as an Israeli rocket pins them down, but ignore the fact that the Israelis (and most Lebanese as well, I’m sure) want a solution that looks better much farther down the road – is still working when those children have become parents. (And such “news” moments are dictionary definitions of the sentimentality we find so superficial in the nineteenth century.)

    Your assessment describes well the theater of the feckless temporary UN force’s blue flag and watchtower.

  2. The purpose of the “proportionality” argument is to undercut and hamstring any effective Israeli response to attacks by Hezbollah or Hamas.

    It is similar to the horror expressed when Israel targets a member of the leadership of one of these terrorist groups, but not when Hamas blows up a bus or market place.

    Our local rag today had a huge article about some poor Lebanese family whose vehicle was hit by an Israeli rocket. A tragedy, surely. Way down in the last few paragraphs of the two page sob piece there’s a brief mention of the Israeli “body count”, starting, of course, only last week.

    No sense confusing the issue with all those other bodies from all those completely unrelated bombs and shootings and rocket attacks that just happened to be Israelis killed by Islamic terrorist activities. Nothing to be learned there, no connection.

    The pattern of aiming concerns and questions at only one side of this mess is too pronounced and too prettily choreographed to be spontaneous moral outrage.

    When you watch an old Busby Berkely film, you don’t actually believe all those women just happened to wander into the pool area in identical swim suits and then jump in the water in order because they felt like it.

    We tend to use publicity campaigns to sell corn flakes and cars. Other people are selling something too, but it smells, and I don’t buy it.

  3. Proportionalism is misunderstood. It is not “tit for tat”, it is “proportional to the task”. At the margin it overlaps with the principle of discrimination, which says you should try to spare the lives of noncombatants, and use weapons that allow you to discriminiate. The idea of proportionalism is similarly to allow the accomplishment of morally just military tasks with the smallest destruction of lives and property. Proportionalism need not mean, “he has two guys with guns so I can only send two guys with guns” or any such stupidity. Thomas Aquinas, who first laid out this thinking systematically, was neither an impractical man nor a moral idiot nor, for that matter, a man ignorant of military affairs. It means, e.g., do I send an armored division preceded by a massive artillery shoot against a half dozen terrorists if this will mean that more death and destruction will occur than if I used a more appropriate level of force? That kind of things. It is a prudential analysis.

    It seems to me, from what I can see, that the Israelis are making a reasonable assessment of what it will take to defeat Hezbollah, destroy their missiles, which are used to murder civilians, and do so with the least loss of life, e.g. leafletting to warn civilians away from areas that will be attacked. Of course, Hezbollah makes it a practice to store munitions in schools, etc. because it has a positive desire, for its own political purposes, for images of dead women and children to be on the TV.

    But that all gets us more into questions of jus ad bello rather than jus in bellum.

  4. All well and good, Lex. However, the term “proportionate,” like “liberal,” has taken on a new meaning in public discourse. Political effectiveness requires us to respond to the new meaning rather than try to convince everyone that the old meaning still applies. The people who use the “disproportionate” canard against Israel and the USA really do mean that if the enemy shoots one bullet at us we should respond by shooting one bullet back. These people who make the “disproportionate” accusation tend to be either ignorant and confused about war and the morality of war, or they are trying to help our enemies. I think that we should respond to what these critics are trying to say and do, rather than argue semantics.

  5. OK, agreed, the term is being abused for political advantage by people who want to oppose Israel and the USA. And I agree that this is one more corruption of the language by ideological fanatics. I thought that was a given and perhaps I should have been clearer.

    I am saying that the actual idea is not stupid. It isn’t. Those who disagree with its current misuse should not accept the false definition being used by this current crop of idiots. Making coherent moral assessments of how and when and why to use force is necessary. Allowing the intellectual tools to make that analysis to be degraded, that have developed over centuries, is a bad thing in itself.

  6. I have been very critical of Israel’s response, but only for targeting population centers.

    However, they absolutely should respond disproportionately. That’s the only way to stop Hezbollah from doing it again.

    The problem is that they made tactical mistakes and turned most of the free world against them.

    They had hundreds of targets on their hit list. They should’ve taken the high civilian risk targets off the list.

  7. PoliticalCritic,

    The problem is that they made tactical mistakes and turned most of the free world against them.

    No they didn’t. All the usual suspects piled onto the “proportionality” canard. The only difference between this incident and previous ones is that it took the anti-Israeli bigots a couple of days to come up with a rationalization. Don’t delude yourself. People who reflexively blame Israel are going to find fault regardless of which course Israel takes.

    They should’ve taken the high civilian risk targets off the list.

    I don’t suppose it occurred to you that they did? A F-16 carries a payload as large as WWII era B-17. Israel has flown nearly 3,000 sorties. If they did not take extraordinary care with their attacks thousands would be dead.

    Again, these attacks are not symbolic. Israel attacks targets that contribute to Hezballah’s military capability. Hezballah intentionally sited those assets so as to maximize civilian casualties. Should Israel reward them for using human shields?

    For that matter, when fighting an enemy that routinely sites military assets in civilian buildings, use civilian resources like roadways and communications and whose combatants adopt civilian guise almost all the time, how can you possibly tell how many non-combatents are actually being killed?

  8. As far as I know, American police is instructed to use overwhelming force when dealing with a dangerous criminal. Because the quicker the murderer is disarmed and apprehended, the better for innocent people around him whom he threatened.

  9. As far as I know, American police is instructed to use overwhelming force when dealing with a dangerous criminal.

    Yeah, pretty much. It’s known as Monopoly of Force.


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