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[casi] FW: Unnecessary Tragedy

Unnecessary Tragedy
by Sheldon Richman, April 2, 2003

The U.S. military’s killing of at least seven Iraqi
civilians — including five little children — at a U.S.
checkpoint on Route 9 south of Karbala certainly isn’t
going to help win the hearts and minds of the people
of that war-torn country. Whose fault was it?

To answer that question, we must retrace the chain of
moral logic link by link. I suspect that a good number
of Americans will say the fault lies with the driver
of the vehicle, which carried 13-15 people in all. Had
the driver stopped when ordered to do so or after
warning shots were fired, the victims would be alive
today. But some will go further and say the fault also
lies with the suicide bomber in a taxi who killed four
American soldiers a few days earlier only 20 miles
away from the incident. The fault could also be said
to lie with the Iraqi guerrillas who dress as
civilians and attack U.S. forces. If the American
military did not have to worry about suicide bombers
and fighters disguised as noncombatants, it is argued,
its personnel would be less likely to fear civilian

The next step in the chain is Iraq’s President Saddam
Hussein (if he’s still alive). Since he is surely
sanctioning or authorizing suicide bombers and
guerilla tactics, he is ultimately to blame for the
deaths at the hands of American soldiers who, it is
said, were only exercising their “inherent right of
self-defense.” This was the position taken by the U.S.
command. “The blood is on the hands of their regime
for their willingness to use their population [as
human shields],” said Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, who
conducts the daily news briefing for the U.S.

But is it that simple? Not really.

The analysis above leaves unexamined a material fact:
the U.S. military was maintaining a checkpoint on an
Iraqi road. Whether one approves of the U.S. assault
on Iraq or not, it cannot be denied that American
forces entered Iraqi territory and did so not in
response to an Iraqi attack on the American people or
territory. In other words, it invaded Iraq with the
intention to remove the government there.

This little detail cannot be ignored. One can argue
powerfully that given the U.S. checkpoint and given
the real threat from Iraqis who look like civilians,
American soldiers must protect themselves. If a
civilian-looking vehicle approaches and the driver
refuses to stop — even after shouts, warning shots,
and a 7.62mm machine-gun round to the vehicle’s
radiator — then U.S. personnel have a right to protect
themselves and use whatever force necessary to stop
the possible threat.

But that seemingly powerful argument has a weak link
in its chain of moral logic. Why was the U.S. military
maintaining a checkpoint — that is, a roadblock — on
Route 9 in the first place? The obvious answer is:
that’s what soldiers do in wartime. If troops are
taking territory and securing it, they will control
traffic with roadblocks. But this just sets the
problem back one step earlier. Why is the U.S.
military trying to secure territory in Iraq? Or, why
is the U.S. government prosecuting an offensive war
against Iraq? (It is offensive in the sense that the
Iraq government has not attacked or even threatened
the United States.)

Assigning responsibility for the deaths of those Iraqi
civilians first requires us to determine whether the
American soldiers were justified in being in Iraq in
the first place. It might be true that if the driver
had stopped, those women and children would be alive
today. It also might be true that if Iraqis who look
like civilians could be assumed harmless, those women
and children would be alive today.

But it is also true that if President Bush hadn’t sent
soldiers to Iraq those women and children would be
alive today. As the pro-war gallery likes to say,
tragic accidents and misunderstandings are inevitable
in war.

But that is precisely why wars shouldn’t be waged
except in self-defense.

Who would argue that this war is in self-defense?

Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of
Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va., author of Tethered
Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State, and editor
of Ideas on Liberty magazine.

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