Collateral Damage

When Osama bin Laden was killed at his compound in Pakistan many rejoiced at his death. My view was contrary as I wrote in what I believe was my most unpopular post in my time at TMV. In that piece I accused the Obama administration of having murdered bin Laden. The piece also predicted that the dark philosophy of murder-as-problem-solving would be advanced beyond that singular incident. The sentence that haunts me most is this:

“And, having held out murder as a cause to celebrate, other murders will be justified as we spiral down into false glory in the name of fighting terror.”

Today our world has changed some. Obama has been re-elected. We are winding down another war. But, the culture of death and murder continues. We argue now about a drone policy, one where we execute, assassinate, murder if you will, in other countries with whom we are not at war, striking without their permission and even killing our own citizens without due process or finding of probable cause much less conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.

Here again is what I posted on May 6, 2011 upon the occasion of the murder of Osama bin Laden. While it may remain an unpopular view it is, in my opinion, worth repeating.

It was the first day of our vacation. My wife and I had just been seated and ordered a drink at the hotel restaurant when the text from her sister came on her cell phone. Osama bin Laden had been killed. When our drinks arrived we toasted the news.

Later that evening, in our posh American hotel room overlooking the golf course with mountains in the distance shining in the late western sunset, we turned on the television to learn more. President Obama had already spoken, telling the nation that justice had been done. Early reports were that bin Laden had been killed in a “firefight” at a compound in Pakistan.

Over the next couple of days, more details became available. Osama bin Laden was unarmed when he was shot in the head. He was not holding a human shield at the time. His 12 year old daughter witnessed the event. He was not killed in a “firefight”, though there may have been one earlier on the lower floors. He was assassinated, executed. I’ll say the awful word, murdered. Wanted dead or alive George W. Bush once said. Justice has been done Barack Obama said. Shoot first, ask questions later someone once said.

Now the time comes to ask those questions. Not about Osama bin Laden. He won’t be much missed by the world he terrorized. The questions are about us.

Yes, I remember September 11, 2001. I was still lounging in my robe with a cup of coffee when a friend from Tennessee called and told me to turn on the news. There were tears in our house. And outrage. And anger. To be honest, we licked our lips yearning for vengeance in the early going. But vengeance is always a first reaction and a wrong reaction. Time and calm reflection change that. Vengeance does not bring closure.

In the wake of September 11, I watched as our nation, founded in the pursuit of liberty and justice, veered into the ugly nether reaches of curtailing liberty and ignoring justice to pursue an ill defined “war on terror”. Our precious individual liberties were stripped by emotional reaction to the day of terror when Congress passed the horribly misnamed Patriot Act. We learned words like rendition, waterboarding, enhanced interrogation, enemy combatants.

We found our phone records seized, only to have new laws passed preventing us from objecting in court to the process. Emails and internet access fell prey to government eyes without warrant or consent. We learned that our once valued system of justice, with twelve good citizens sitting in a jury, would give way to military tribunals, and that even those tribunals might go wanting as we held prisoners without charges or access to any court. And, on Sunday, we murdered a man in a foreign country.

Don’t get me wrong. I will shed no tears for Osama bin Laden. Like most of you, I believe he was evil and do not regret that he is dead. But, unlike some of you, I regret the way he died. Not for him, but because of what it means for us.

This “war on terror” has no endgame, no exit strategy. Murdering one man in Pakistan will not bring closure to our nation. The liberties lost will remain lost. The excesses perpetrated in the name of security will not be undone. President Obama, by continuing those excesses, has proven that. And, having held out murder as a cause to celebrate, other murders will be justified as we spiral down into false glory in the name of fighting terror.

Let bin Laden rot in hell, but remember that we have ceded our humanity for vengeance in murdering him. We have sacrificed our morality to make a jihadist martyr of a man filled with hate. We have squandered our treasure, our liberty and our sense of justice. We have sold our national soul to pursue unachievable “victory” in this war on terror. The nation our children will inherit is less for that.

When will we ever learn?

ELIJAH SWEETE
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sinjns
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sinjns
3 years 7 months ago

I agreed with you in 2011 and still do. This is an ongoing discussion in our house. I do not believe that the ends justify the means. I’m not a big fan of the “slippery slope” argument but I do think it applies here.

zephyr
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zephyr
3 years 7 months ago
I think you’re right Elijah when you say the “war on terror” has no endgame and that liberties lost will remain lost. In the long run it reduces our humanity, our freedom and the clarity of our vision. But, the culture of death and murder continues. It’s a culture we were already immersed in and prepped for given our glorification of war, all the violence that passes for entertainment on TV, in the moview, in games, etc. It’s easy to take those extra steps (Patriot Act, use of drones, torture, more world police actions) when the citizenry is already desensitized… Read more »
zephyr
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zephyr
3 years 7 months ago

Another example of how prepped we are for violence (and how accepting) is the massive runs on guns and ammo that take place in nearly every city in the nation whenever there is a highly publicized shooting. Yes, the belief in violent solutions is deeply woven into our culture. It’s why the NRA remains so popular, it’s why people celebrate end-justifies-means assassinations and are blase about drone strikes (even the ones that kill the innocents), This will keep happening. We are an easily manipulated citizenry.

zephyr
Guest
zephyr
3 years 7 months ago

But, it is also time we looked more deeply into our soul and perhaps, if enough are willing, began to resensitize those empathic impulses that make us human.

Amen! Any time now would be good…

ShannonLeee
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ShannonLeee
3 years 7 months ago
Drone strikes and assassinations are acceptable behavior in an officially declared war where nations fight nations. My knowledge of history fails me, but I have to believe that us forces assassinated American traitors or allied forces traitors. How many spies did we kill during the Cold War? The US government has been murdering in foreign lands since … Who knows? We are now simply more efficient and public about it. We now have very blurred lines between combatants and criminals. I believe the blurred lines makes every opinion valid, making for a very slippery slope. It is a slope we… Read more »
slamfu
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slamfu
3 years 7 months ago
Violence is the ultimate authority, it is at the end of all law and order. It is necessary. Used unwisely its chaos, but structure violence is what makes a modern nation stable and not like say, Somalia. Don’t think so? Ask Jimmy Lee Dykes. You eventually get there if someone wants to be unreasonable, and many many people want to be unreasonable. We invaded a nation to get Bin Laden. They tried to swaddle it in the name of “Nation Building” and fighting for democracy, but the reality is we were there to murder a man and anyone that stood… Read more »
slamfu
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slamfu
3 years 7 months ago

Is there something else that stops bad guys with guns? That statement is true. I think its doesn’t imply everyone should have guns, but that doesn’t make the core statement 100% correct.

slamfu
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slamfu
3 years 7 months ago

Doesn’t mean the core statement isn’t 100% correct rather.

slamfu
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slamfu
3 years 7 months ago

What good is law without the force to back it up? If you can’t physically compel people they will just ignore you. I’m not saying we shoot everyyone, but if someone breaks the law, they either surrender or it will escalate to violence. It is that threat that allows laws to be enforced. At the end of all law and order is the threat of or the actual use of force. That is all I’m saying.

zusa1
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zusa1
3 years 7 months ago

“I profoundly disagree that “violence is the ultimate authority.””

I agree that violence shouldn’t be the ultimate authority, but am not sure that it isn’t.

slamfu
Guest
slamfu
3 years 7 months ago
Really? Was it our moral right that allowed us to defeat the Nazi’s? That brought us from under British rule? That allowed the North to win the Civil War? No, it was our ability to do greater violence than them and compel them to our will and our laws. Had Germany been capable of more violence than us, I assure you Nazi policy would be firmly entrenched and humming along, vile though it is. I’m not espousing violence as a philosophy. I’m saying violence is a tool. And it needs rules and needs to be contained so as not to… Read more »
zusa1
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zusa1
3 years 7 months ago

I think violence is the ultimate means to enforce authority. A right and just authority will require less of it than a non just authority.
Thus a non just authority may not endure because it cannot maintain the level of violence required to retain its authority.

zusa1
Guest
zusa1
3 years 7 months ago

“Did American women gain the right to vote only because the “non just authority” that denied them that right could no longer “maintain the level of violence required to retain its [non just] authority?””

No. They gained the right to vote because the non just authority changed to become a just one.

sheknows
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sheknows
3 years 7 months ago

Without violence as the consequence for breaking laws, we would have chaos in our society. Most criminals don’t respond to harsh words when involved in an armed robbery, and it’s pretty difficult to effectively threaten enemies of the state with a time out.
Without consequences, what good is a threat? The knowledge that doing something heanous will result in swift and immediate repercussion is perhaps the only way an act or FURTHER acts might be avoided.

slamfu
Guest
slamfu
3 years 7 months ago
I wasn’t making a statement about when to use or not use violence. That is variable. I was making a statement that once you exhausted rational discourse, and expectations of reasonableness, it is what you have underneath it all. Of course I think reason should be used first. But the thing is, some people don’t care about that. Generally speaking, laws aren’t there for the reasonable and the rationale. They are there for the violent, the selfish, the unreasonable. And when those people don’t want to talk or listen to reason, sometimes they have to be compelled. And the method… Read more »
dduck
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dduck
3 years 7 months ago
ES, just to clarify, I said Sometimes it takes a Bad guy with a gun to kill a Good guy with a gun. It was in a gun thread and referred to a famous gun guy that was murdered mysteriously. It could also apply to the murder of the famous sniper this week at a shooting range of all places. My point is the too easy availability of guns leads to more accidents, suicides, murders and mass shootings and I think I was jousting with EElis. On the drones, I am still conflicted, but they are here and I just… Read more »
Dorian de Wind, Military Affairs Columnist
Member
Just my personal opinion: IF an individual poses a known, verifiable, real and imminent threat to Americans (e.g. about to blow up an aircraft, launch a missile, blow up Americans, etc.) And IF the individual can not be apprehended and otherwise neutralized on a timely basis (host government is non-existent — e.g. Somalia –; host government can not — e.g. Yemen — or will not — e.g. many — cooperate, etc.) And IF everything possible is done to avoid or minimize collateral damage, Then and IFF (if and only if) take the individual out with a drone, covert action, or… Read more »
sheknows
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sheknows
3 years 7 months ago

Understandable viewpoint Elijah, in a “best of all possible worlds”. It IS unfortunate that there is collateral damage, but the elimination of violence altogether is simply not possible in our less than perfect world.
We meet violence with violence in this world, not because anyone CHOOSES it over a non-violent remedy, but because it is more effective than discourse.

How far in discussion would we have gotten with Bin Laden to dissuade him from further attacking our people? If we had imprisoned him instead of killing him, what would the courts have decided for his sentencing do you think?

Dorian de Wind, Military Affairs Columnist
Member

I appreciate your suggestion, ES, and I am sorry that you take offense, but I would not dream to suggest to you what terminology to use because I personally find certain words offensive. Peace.

zusa1
Guest
zusa1
3 years 7 months ago
By ultimate, I mean Webster’s definition of ” last in a progression or series”. I think in a given situation, non-violence should be the starting point whenever possible. The assassination of bin Laden did satisfy our desire for vengeance and if that or political motives were the only reason(s) for his killing, then I would have to disagree with it. But if he could have been taken alive, I doubt it would have been without risking the lives of military personnel. I also think that having such a high profile prisoner could have led to hijackings, hostage takings etc. for… Read more »
zephyr
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zephyr
3 years 7 months ago

It is a world without room for moral persuasion.

Elijah, this comment of yours is key. When we are willing to accept violent solutions as inevitable it becomes self-fulfilling prophecy. Either we believe in the necessity of moral evolution or we don’t. Nobody said it would be easy.

Dorian de Wind, Military Affairs Columnist
Member

As to: “I trust your definitiobn of imminent threat is different than that of the DOJ memo.”

I have read the memo and its discussion of “imminent threat” and “my definition” of imminent threat is not significantly different than stated in the memo, especially when:

1. As I stated,all other conditions I pointed out have to be met to neutralize such an individual.

2. It is apparent that more watered down definitions of “imminent threat” would have required the U.S. to refrain from taking action against the terrorists who killed more than 3,000 people on September 11, 2001.

Again, just my personal views.

sheknows
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sheknows
3 years 7 months ago

Perhaps the term ” regrettable losses” or “grievous loss” would be more accurate than collateral damage. The latter does sound as though one is talking about something lifeless, I agree.

The_Ohioan
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The_Ohioan
3 years 7 months ago
I’m trying to make the connection you do of the manner of the killing of ObL with the loss of liberties in the wake of 9/11. Those decisions had been made years before his death and are not a result of the manner of his death. I, like you probably were, was appalled by the street demonstrations of jubilation at his death, just like I was at the Middle East’s jubilation at the 9/11 attack. But I don’t feel guilty about his death nor about the manner of his death anymore than I do about the killing of Mr. Dykes… Read more »
Dorian de Wind, Military Affairs Columnist
Member
While the unclassified memo has been leaked, the release of some classified documents hopefully will shed more light on many aspects — perhaps and for example as to what is really an “imminent threat” — of what went into formulating this controversial policy: The New York Times: The White House on Wednesday directed the Justice Department to release classified documents discussing the legal justification for the use of drones in targeting American citizens abroad who are considered terrorists to the two Congressional intelligence committees, according to an administration official. The White House announcement appears to refer to a long, detailed… Read more »
ShannonLeee
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ShannonLeee
3 years 7 months ago
Elijah, I think your view is the ideal that we, everyone, should strive towards. In the world I would like to live in, we should have been able to contact Pakistan and asked them to hand over OBL and they would have done so without a problem. That is not the world we live in. In our world, we have a hard enough time living up to our own expectations in our own country. Outside of our borders is chaotic and uncompromising. It is simply not possible to consistently operate successfully in those areas. A reasonable response to my reasoning… Read more »
ShannonLeee
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ShannonLeee
3 years 7 months ago

…also, I do not believe that Obama is a shot from the hip, dead or alive, unthoughtful President. I think he is a moral man that wishes he too could operate in an ideal world. I by NO means trust the US government, but I do trust that Obama is making the right decisions on drone strikes, based on the top secret information he receives on a daily basis.

ordinarysparrow
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ordinarysparrow
3 years 7 months ago
Elijah Tidbits i totally agree…good discussion… what you point towards has fingers into many situations… What comes to mind as i read the post and the comments is Plato’s Allegory of the Cave…will return to this one tomorrow…thanks for re-posting in relation to the drones… truly the drones are such a sterile, technical, and remote way to kill. Face to face combat where one sees the face and feels all the emotions that go with war, PTSD it leaves a wound yet it also that validates the soul, and it’s horror of war. Drones? perhaps what is most frightening is… Read more »
ShannonLeee
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ShannonLeee
3 years 7 months ago

OS, I think the only advantage of hand to hand combat now is that the Generals and Presidents that will be making combat decisions in the future might have had to experience real life war.

Out of touch drone pilots may be just as inept as national guard air force pilots, you know, like that one President.

ShannonLeee
Guest
ShannonLeee
3 years 7 months ago
Agreed tidbits, but that would be a different time, where the public would have to demand different rules. Maybe we are not agile enough for such a thing, but imho, it is a chance we have to take. such quick changes would require the deaths of innocent civilians…very sadly, but considering the alternative in the grand scheme of things, I still end up on the drone-positive side of the scale. I’ll say again, another strike on the homeland and the US would return to its 2002 attitudes…and the collateral damage we had in Iraq is a mountain next to the… Read more »
dduck
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dduck
3 years 7 months ago
ES, On the question of OBl, as I said back when it happened, I would have had a secret mission to snatch him and regardless of how it went down, and kept it as secret possible. If we got him alive, I would have tried for as much intelligence as possible, probably with the FBI type of interrogation (slow, as non-violent as possible). If the raid was discovered, I would say we killed him. The doctor who helped confirm OBL’s identity and the workers trying to give polio vaccine being murdered in Pakistan are more innocents, as are the kids… Read more »
zusa1
Guest
zusa1
3 years 7 months ago

SL,
“but that would be a different time, where the public would have to demand different rules.”
Once a precedent is set for any action, how do you justify the change in rules? We trusted our guy but we don’t trust yours? Each side is probably overly suspicious of the other and overly trusting of their own.

slamfu
Guest
slamfu
3 years 7 months ago
Not for nothing, I totally agree with not using the term collateral damage. In all posts I will refer to them as what they are, civilian deaths as a result of our actions. There blood is on our hands, and we should never forget that as we make our decisions to proceed with this fight against terrorism. I am not saying we give terrorist leaders a pass and not take them out, but neither do we just proceed like a bull in a china shop because human lives, often innocent ones, are being lost along side those of our enemies.… Read more »
ShannonLeee
Guest
ShannonLeee
3 years 7 months ago

Z, in one of my earlier posts I stated that such a change would have to be a result of a lot of bloodshed, dead children everywhere and very public. My assumption is that lunatics like Santorum would allow damn near anything, which would eventually result in such a disaster, resulting in a change in policy.

I will say again, better drones than starting another war and killing many many many more innocent people.

or we can do nothing and hope.

dduck
Guest
dduck
3 years 7 months ago

SL, I don’t think we really need to insult Santorum. And, no I am not a fan of his.

Enkindle
Guest
Enkindle
3 years 7 months ago

The “collateral damage” goes way beyond what happened on the night they killed OBL. For me it goes back to the day OBL’s cohorts blew the U.S. Embassy in Kenya into little bits and killed twelve Americans, hundreds of Kenyans and hundreds and hundreds more injured. The Nairobi Hospital floors where so slippery with human blood you could barely stand. As far as I’m concerned the US military took enough humane precaution to satisfy me, but I suppose it’s a matter of perspective. You either empathize, or you were there.

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