War creates its own ethical imperatives
United States Civil War General William Tecumsah Sherman, who cut a swath across [U.S.] Georgia that devastated everything in his path, later reflected that “war is hell.” He was not speaking in a regretful mode. On the contrary, he meant that war is a process of delivering hell to one’s enemies. His position was that to exercise restraint is to prolong the war and increase the number of casualties.
From 1931 until 1944, along with many other countries, the United States condemned the bombing of civilian populations. We condemned the Japanese militarists for bombing the Chinese; Mussolini’s air force for bombing the North Africans; Franco for bombing his own people in Spain, and the Nazis for bombing London and Coventry.
When Franklin Roosevelt became assured of the Allies ultimate victory in the Pacific, he decided that there would be no negotiated peace with the Japanese. “Unconditional surrender,” became the new war cry, and the British, the Chinese, the French and the Russians agreed.
The possibility that the Japanese would not yield without an invasion of their homeland led to a drastic change in American policy. To forestall a huge loss of combat personnel, we bombed civilians. We killed 100,000 souls in the fire bomb raids over Tokyo; 100,000 in Hiroshima, and another 75,000 in Nagasaki. It worked. The Japanese surrendered, and the Second World War was over.
Today, there are only two possibilities respecting “the war on terrorism.” If the phrase is being used merely as a strong figure of speech, then a different rhetoric should be adopted. Otherwise, the concept of victory would be reduced to an abstraction. On the other hand, if there is a real war, then it seems to me that it must be fought in earnest.
Thus far, we have seen no armies of terrorism: the terrorists are individuals. Each is willing to sacrifice his or her own life, but more to the point, they believe that their death will be the only price they might have to pay for their atrocities. Perhaps it is time to raise the ante; that is to say, to increase the price we exact from them exponentially, like Sherman’s march through Georgia or America’s dropping not one, but two atomic bombs on Japan.
Since we know most of their identities, I propose that we kill the mothers, the fathers, the sisters, the brothers, the spouses and the children of the terrorists. Killing the mother of a terrorist renders her no more dead and no more innocent than the victims murdered by her son or daughter.
Previously, one of the arguments against this approach has been that the terrorists might be more willing further to kill relatives of their intended victims. Recent events in Russia put the lie to that argument. Where terrorists murder civilians, including women and children, by the hundreds, the destruction of their own families, where they live, becomes a proportional response.
The so-called liberal approach to terrorism involves an assessment and a remediation of “root causes,” such as poverty and ignorance. I put it to you that poverty and ignorance are two of the very terrorist justifications for murder. We need not adopt their social premises, let alone abide their religious adventurism, while there is a desperate need to safeguard our own lives.
Our first obligation as a civilization is to enforce our right to navigate the skies, to educate our children, to defend our culture, and to protect our economies. Terrorists have wreaked terrible havoc on our societies. Anything short of killing their mothers, their fathers, their sisters, their brothers, and their children would represent nothing less than our own unconditional surrender.
Harvard Hollenberg is a writer and a lawyer in New York City