Passport

Six degrees of civilianality

FP Blogger at Large Gideon Lichfield, Jerusalem Gideon Lichfield, Passport’s esteemed guest blogger and Jersusalem correspondent for The Economist, offers up another dispatch today on the moral minefield of assessing degrees of ‘civilian’.–CO Proportionality? Passé. The mot du jour is “civilianality”. While the rest of the world debates whether Israel’s attack on Hezbollah is “proportionate” ...

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FP Blogger at Large
Gideon Lichfield, Jerusalem

Gideon Lichfield, Passport's esteemed guest blogger and Jersusalem correspondent for The Economist, offers up another dispatch today on the moral minefield of assessing degrees of 'civilian'.--CO

Proportionality? Passé. The mot du jour is "civilianality". While the rest of the world debates whether Israel's attack on Hezbollah is "proportionate" in light of the fact that the Lebanese are suffering about ten times as many civilian casualties as the Israelis, Alan Dershowitz proposes weighting the numbers according to how "civilian" the civilians really were, ie, how complicit with Hezbollah. Just as passive accomplices to a crime are not free of guilt, he argues, nor are those who allow terrorists to store their rockets in the basement. And as to those who just happened to be living next door:

FP Blogger at Large
Gideon Lichfield, Jerusalem

Gideon Lichfield, Passport’s esteemed guest blogger and Jersusalem correspondent for The Economist, offers up another dispatch today on the moral minefield of assessing degrees of ‘civilian’.–CO

Proportionality? Passé. The mot du jour is “civilianality”. While the rest of the world debates whether Israel’s attack on Hezbollah is “proportionate” in light of the fact that the Lebanese are suffering about ten times as many civilian casualties as the Israelis, Alan Dershowitz proposes weighting the numbers according to how “civilian” the civilians really were, ie, how complicit with Hezbollah. Just as passive accomplices to a crime are not free of guilt, he argues, nor are those who allow terrorists to store their rockets in the basement. And as to those who just happened to be living next door:

The Israeli army has given well-publicized notice to civilians to leave those areas of southern Lebanon that have been turned into war zones. Those who voluntarily remain behind have become complicit. 

I like Dershowitz’s free and easy use of the word “voluntarily”—as if deciding to pick up your family at a moment’s notice, abandon friends and relatives who may depend on you, leave behind a home and belongings you may never see again, and flee along roads that are being bombed daily, using transport that hundreds of thousands of other people are competing for, requiring money that you may not have (I’ve heard anecdotally that the cost of a taxi trip from Beirut to Amman has gone up from $200 to $3,000), is like choosing which flavor of yoghurt to have for breakfast. (More after the jump.)

But let’s leave that aside. If we accept Dershowitz’s argument, then there must be a calculation you can do to assess the moral rightness of your war. Let p be the index of proportionality, where p>1 is disproportionate and p<1 is within the bounds of acceptability. Of course we have to assess how ‘civilian’ each dead person is, based on just how complicit they were, so let ci be the civilianality quotient of dead person number i, where c=1 is a newborn baby and c=0 is Osama bin Laden. And let n be the total number of Lebanese dead people, while m is the total number of Israeli ones. (We don’t need to assess the civilianality of the Israeli victims because they do not aid and abet aggression like Lebanese do; the fact that most of them serve in the army is, of course, irrelevant.)

If I remember my college maths right, this gives us which is a nice little formula

 

 

that I could probably make some money selling as an applet for conscience-stricken generals to install on their PDAs. Now, of course, the tricky bit is setting a value for cisince it requires a subjective assessment of complicity; but basically, for ten Lebanese deaths to be proportionate to one Israeli death, each Lebanese would have to have an average ciof 0.1, which must equate at least to polishing the Hezbollah guys’ combat boots and helping sluice the grit out of their rocket launchers. At any rate, you’d need to do a bit more than dawdle getting out of south Beirut.

Gideon Lichfield is deputy editor of The Economist online and was previously its Jerusalem correspondent.

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