To the Civilians of Hiroshima and Afghanistan

Today is the sixty-fifth anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The first of two examples of the worst atrocities of war: the indiscriminate killing of civilians on a massive scale. There might be some circumstances in which war is justified, but the indiscriminate killing of non-combatants can never be justified.


We rightly mourn the loss of what is now just over five hundred of our armed forces in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and I would not hear a word spoken against their service, nor against those who have been wounded in service. But it is sobering to remember that the loses to our armed forces are as nothing compared to the civilian deaths that we and our allies have inflicted on the people of these two countries.

When we choose to, we are well able to fight wars in such a way as to minimize the loss of civilian life. The Falklands War is a good example of how to fight in an acceptable way. And while I do not want to impugn the conduct of any of our service personnel and the difficulty of the decisions they have to make in the heat of battle, the way that we have chosen to fight these other wars at a strategic level has undoubtedly led to more loss of civilian life than would have been the case if we had chosen to give the same care and attention to the citizens of the places we have invaded as we've done where our own citizens were concerned.


We fight dirty wars in a shameful way.

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Cai Larsen said...

The fact that there were relatively few civilian casualties in the Falklands / Malvinas was because much of the fighting took place in areas devoid of Argentinian civilians. It could be argued that the first major engagement of the conflict - the destruction of the Belgrano & the killing of hundreds of sailors for no obvious reason other than to kick things off was just as bad.

High civilian cassualties in recent wars has been because of a perception at strategic & tactical levels that Western military lives are of far greater value than those of non estern cicilians. Thus decisions are made at both levels that minimise the risk to combatants at the cost of greatly increasing the risk to local civilians.

This perception is in essence racist.

Anonymous said...

"We are well able to fight wars in such a way as to minimize the loss of civilian life"..well yes thats true...but alas as recent evidence of the 'wars' in afghanistan and iraq show that is simply not happening. The estimates for the number of civilian casualties caused by the invasion of iraq are appalling.....running into the tens of thousands...and maybe more!!!

While as the recent documents leaked on wikileak recently show there have been many unnecessary civilian deaths in afghanistan too! Four decadesa after the us military coined the term 'collateral damage' to describe the deaths of innocent civilians occuring in military engagements it appears that nothing has really changed!

Leigh Richards

MH said...

That was the point I was trying to make, Leigh.

MH said...

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Belgrano incident, Blogmenai, it was about the death of military personnel. The large scale killing of civilians is a much more serious matter which has no grey areas.

And I'm not entirely sure that I would use the word racist. For example, the tens of thousands of civilians we killed in bombing raids on German cities in the Second World War were not of a different race. But they were of course "different" .. or at least we managed to get ourselves into a mentality where they could first be regarded as different, and then be regarded as less important. Which I'm sure is the point you were making.

One of the sadder things about the current rise in public sentiment against the war in Afghanistan is that it seems to be much more about the level of deaths and injuries to our own troops than about the deaths and injuries we are responsible for inflicting. So, ironically, the build up of public feeling against the war—which will eventually result in us having to withdraw—will actually be the result of us considering the lives of our own sons and daughters to be more important than those of the people who live in the countries we've invaded ... which is the exact same attitude that led us to wage these wars in the way we have.

Anonymous said...

From the BBC website:
"The number of civilians killed or injured in Afghanistan has jumped 31%, despite a fall in the number of casualties caused by Nato-led forces.
More than 1,200 civilians were killed in the first six months of 2010 and another 1,997 civilians were injured, the latest UN six-monthly report shows.
The Taliban and other insurgents were responsible for 76% of the casualties, up from 53% last year.... The report noted that the number of civilians executed by insurgents also rose by 95%, especially in the southern part of the country, and included the public executions of children"
Every civilian death is one too many, but it is very strange that many bloggers are choosing not to comment on these startling figures. Let us hope that the people of Afghanistan as a whole are not terrorised again by the Taliban.

MH said...

I don't think there's anything particularly "startling" about the figures, Anon. There have been estimates from a number of sources, and these are towards the lower end. If nothing else, the recent release of information through Wikileaks shows that many civilian deaths have not been reported.

But to me what is sad, as shown in recent days, is the disproportionate prominence the UK media will give when one UK civilian is killed with hardly a mention of the scale of civilian casualties to Afghans.

And it is rather too easy to use the word "terrorism" to apply to just one side of the conflict.

Anonymous said...

I, for one, was startled that the Taliban are carrying out child executions and that they are responsible for over three quarter of civilian deaths in the conflict. I have seen little or no discussion in the media or amongst political bloggers of these issues unless a foreigner is in some way involved in a particular indident. I completely agree with the general point on the media and the price of conflict. Whilst the loss of soldiers’ lives or any aid worker's life is regrettable it may be a price worth paying if it stops child executions and further wide scale civilian deaths by the Taliban. The debate is far too often framed around the issue of whether the troops should stay or leave with little discussion on the likely consequences for the Afghan people of the policy decision.

MH said...

I wonder how much of your reaction is due to today being one of the few occasions when the level of civilian deaths has been drawn to general public attention. And I could also say that the main reason this story has been picked up as headline news is that it shows that the proportion of deaths we have inflicted has gone down in the last six months.

What the "other side" does is never a justification for what we do. I'm not suggesting for one moment that the Japanese and Germans did not do many terrible things, nor that they weren't the aggressors. Of course they were. But that did not justify ourselves and our allies killing their civilians in the way we did. If that was true then, how much more does it apply in wars where we ourselves are the aggressors?

The point I am making is that we can, when we so choose, fight wars in a way that minimizes civilian casualties. So even if you believe the war in Afghanistan is justified (which it appears you do) you must surely agree that we should change the way we fight it so as to take greater care of civilian life. But if we were to fight in that way, it would mean a greater engagement on the ground rather than reliance on aerial and missile attacks and remote control drones ... which will increase our military casualties yet further.

We are fighting in the way we are because we place a higher value on the lives of our military personnel than we do on the lives of non-Western civilians.

PS. I might also note that you are making your comments about such deaths provoking "little or no discussion in the media or amongst political bloggers" in response to a post that has done exactly that.

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