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Dead Civilians

By David Warren

When you get old -- or at least, older -- you become the more puzzled over the complexity of the world, but also, the more resigned to it. In youth I could see problems with neat solutions. But I've come to realize there are no solutions in this world, outside the realm of mathematics; only ameliorations. It does not follow, or should not, that you stop trying to fix the mess. It ought to follow, that you become better at distinguishing what is, and what is not, of this world.

Perfection is not of this world, though we seek it, led along as all men and women before us by intimations of truth, beauty, and good -- hazily received through the imperfect equipment of human mind and heart. Peace we seek, and sometimes transiently find, in a harmony without which peace is just a lie. But real peace is not reducible to the mere absence of war.

Now, this may strike my reader as a cumbersome preamble for a screed against mindless pacifism, but I will try to make the connexion. The idea that war is an absolute evil, that no good can ever come of it, is among the most earnestly cultivated utopian notions afflicting the contemporary "liberal" soul.

"It has a better track record than social work," was how the American "neo-conservative", Richard Perle, explained it once to some ditzy TV host. Defeating an aggressor is invariably more effective than bandaging his victims.

I wrote last week about the "rules of war" -- about how we in the West had, until recently, an intelligent consensus on what made a war just, and what were acceptable ways of fighting. As I hinted then, we need to have such things thought through, because war is not something that never happens.

Israel has been condemned in our media for building walls to keep out suicide bombers. She is now condemned for going after the people who send missiles over those walls. To defeat such culprits is not only the right, but the duty of any legitimate government. And when that enemy has the settled habit of using non-combatants as "human shields", there is no choice but to accept "collateral damage".

Yet even when this is conceded, we are inundated daily with media reports that focus almost exclusively on the number of civilian casualties, and on the tribulations of everyone else around the war zone.

It will not do for journalists to justify behaviour by the standards of the pack. It will not do for them to assume that only soldiers must answer difficult moral questions. In this case, they must ask or be asked: Who benefits from such reporting?

For the answer is obviously, Hezbollah. The very reason they take such trouble to assure a high body-count among non-combatants -- by for instance preventing civilians from fleeing the territory they control -- is to use their corpses as a weapon against Israel. The Western and Arab media oblige, by building this body-count into a drumbeat against Israel's attempts to take the battle to the enemy.

Let me sharpen this point further. The value of civilian corpses to Hezbollah, and allied terrorist forces, depends on the media's willingness to make an issue of them -- thereby inferentially blaming Israel for disasters that Hezbollah's methods have contrived. Quite plainly: the more obsessively the media focuses upon this body-count, the higher it is going to be.

In past generations, journalists understood there were moral consequences to the way they shaped the news. In the present generation, they seem to think that morality consists only of opposing war, as if war itself were an absolute evil. Their utopianism effectively serves the interests of the most ruthless party.

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