Killing to Save Lives? Moral Discourse of Targeting a Military Facility With Collateral Damage
In this paper, I will argue that hitting my enemy‘s military facility in region A in the context of war, despite causing a lot of foreseen collateral damage to civilians in that region, and leading to terror, is morally permissible.
The only alternative way to achieve our goals is to intentionally kill a few civilians in region B, That, however, will cause terror in few others.
The action of hitting your enemy’s military facility causes two distinct impacts, which I shall call collateral damage and terror inflicted. Collateral damage is derived from the word collateralis, from col-, “together with” + lateralis (from latus, later-, “side”) and in this context is specifically human casualties as an unintended outcome of an action. Terror is a war method first defined by Aristotle: ‘the first and end (of tyrants) is to break the spirit of their subjects’ and developed through methods of ‘random murder of innocent people’1.
Suppose the military facility that we are hitting is manufacturing weapons of mass destruction and the harm caused by this facility is so deadly that it causes civilian casualties and terrorizing the population. This facility used by the leaders of the country as a tool for tyranny of the majority in oppressing the minority of the country. Would destroying such a facility be considered morally impermissible? I would argue otherwise. The intention of hitting the military facility in region A is to destroy weapons of destruction. Failing to destroy the enemy’s military facility would not only lead to our own military casualties but sometimes also civilian casualties. Destroying the facility could, in fact, result in fewer civilian casualties than allowing it to exist. The long-term effect of the facility stand would be more destruction and greater collateral damage from the product this facility is producing. Proponents of non-consequentialism would argue that collateral damage even if known and compensated for, is less serious than intentionally killing civilian.
The intrinsic value of killing fewer civilians in region B and the terror caused should be defined distinctly to allow moral permissibility. And hitting the enemy’s military facility even with careful planning to avoid innocent bystanders, might still resulted in casualties. That hitting military facility in region A is merely foreseen to cause a lot of collateral civilian damage and terror in that region should not be a basis to choose killing civilians in region B.
Further, having a military facility in enemy possession would ultimately cause fear to our own citizens. And its very existence would enable the enemy to instill terror in us. Thus, our action in attacking the military facility would respond to the terror that the facility is causing to our own citizens. Hitting the enemy‘s military facility in region A is intended to destroy the military plant to the point that the enemy is unable to rebuild the plant in a period of time sufficient to substitute its intrinsic value. Hitting the military facility in region A is why we act, even though causing collateral damage and terror is morally permissible.
The large nature of terror inflicted from hitting the military facility would compensate for the terror presence of the military facility. By doing so, we would demoralize the enemy and lead to an early end to the war. Permitting the enemy to keep the military facility would only prolong the fear of the people. Proponents of bombing in region B have also agreed that killing civilians as a means of ‘military purpose’ is impermissible.
The destruction of military plant can also be analyzed with the double doctrine effect (DDE). In bombing my enemy’s military facility in region A, the good achieved is the removal of the military facility, while the foreseen evil is the civilian casualties2. Bombing the military facility contributes to the civilians killed, but they are not the intended targets. In accordance with Walzer’s modification of the principle of double effect, the bombing of region A should be done in such a way that it reduces civilian casualties, even though some casualties are known to be inevitable. If carried out in this way, the bombing of region A would be morally permissible.
Proponents of bombing region B would agree that a smaller number of civilian casualties is better and the intention of the bombardier in region B is no different in any respect from that of a good bombardier in region A. But, I would argue otherwise. Bombing a military facility and intentionally killing a few civilians are very different in its nature.
Word Count: 784
1 Walzer, Michael, page 198 ‘Just and Unjust Wars’, Basic Books, New York;
2 Walzer, Michael, page 155 ‘Just and Unjust Wars’, Basic Books, New York;