The Second World War was the last of the great wars that is generally considered a “just war.” And, during that conflict, the Allies routinely inflicted casualties on civilian populations without much in the way of negative reaction from their civilian populations.
In a single operation in 1945, between Feb. 13 and 15, the British Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Force sent 1,300 heavy bombers to drop over 3,900 tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices in four raids on Dresden, capital of the German state of Saxony. The raid destroyed 13 square miles of the city, and caused a firestorm that consumed the city centre. Estimates of civilian casualties vary greatly, but recent publications place the figure between 24,000 and 40,000.
An extreme example perhaps, but one that only attracted widespread criticism from the populations of the western democracies several years later.
Sometime after the Vietnam War, many Canadians and others seem to have gotten the idea that war, any war, can be fought with such precision that civilian targets can be avoided.
The latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza is a case in point. Civilian casualties, especially among women, children and the aged are roundly condemned throughout the Western world. Anti-Israeli demonstrators accuse Israel of war crimes without giving much thought to the fact that such casualties are all but inevitable in the densely populated Gaza Strip, where Hamas fighters are seldom if ever far away from civilian areas when they fire their rockets into Israel.
Critics of Israel seem not to take into account that even with the best of intentions and technology, it is extremely difficult for the Israeli military forces to shield the non-combatant population from the damage associated with air raids and ground offensives.
As tragic and unfortunate as civilian deaths are, they are nevertheless inevitable. They are the consequences of war. To avoid them we should avoid war, not agonize over them and pretend that “rules of war” can avoid them. Isn’t the very concept of “rules of war” an oxymoron?
If Palestinians—regardless of justification—fire thousands of rockets indiscriminately at the Israeli civilian population centres, they should expect that, eventually, there will be consequences and that many of them will die. Cruel and unfair? Maybe, but that’s life.
Surely Palestinians must know that to win a war with Israel, first the United States must abandon Israel and then the Arab world must unite to launch a full scale war to win back the land of Israel. This is simply not going to happen any time soon.
It is well past time for the Palestinians to wake up to the fact that regardless of the wrongs of the past—and they are not blameless there—they must now look to a future that does not include any sort of return to Israel proper. They have lost their war and must now move on, just as many others have had to do down through the ages.
Sue for peace and accept the best terms available, that’s how to save lives in Gaza. Who ever promised life would be fair?