kathy writes a monthly column. she's long been involved with christian peacemaker teams providing protective accompaniment here and in various hotspots round the world.
In recent years, Mennonites and other pacifist Christians have been reaching across theological and philosophical lines to find common ground with proponents of the Just War tradition. Just War theory sanctions war only when an aggressor is inflicting devastating violence on whole populations and when all other means of responding to this violence have proven ineffective. Most importantly, it considers all attacks on civilians unjustifiable. Thus, pacifists and Just War proponents can work together toward a similar goal: reducing the number of dead and damaged people in violent conflicts.
Of course, pacifists have the sneaky agenda of eventually convincing these people that none of the wars in recent history have followed Just War criteria, but even when we do not make converts, we can affirm the sparks of conscience in soldiers and guerillas who want to protect the defenseless and who think killing non-combatants is always wrong. I suspect that pacifists besides myself who watched the September 27 60 Minutes interview with General Stanley McChrystal, felt a brief stirring of approval when we heard him say that the U.S. should make not harming Afghan civilians a priority, even if it means losing more U.S. soldiers.
Thus, I was shocked when I read a New York Times Op-Ed criticizing McChrystal by a Lara M. Dadkhah, who called for the U.S. not to try avoiding civilian casualties in Afghanistan. McChrystal’s directive, she wrote, shows that the “pendulum has swung too far in favor of avoiding the death of innocents.” She said that U.S. troops should not “fight fair, ”and that the military should resume air strikes that kill civilians as well as combatants.
Media critics denounced the cynicism of the Op-Ed. But then they turned their critiques to the NYT itself. Why, they asked, had it sought out the opinion of someone whose only identification was that she worked for a “defense consulting company?” “What defense consulting company employs her?” asked Salon’s Glen Greenwald. “Do they have any ties to the war effort? Do they benefit from the grotesque policies she's advocating?”
Eventually, the NYT responded to the criticism by revealing that Dadkhah worked at Booz Allen, a poster child for the Military Industrial Complex. However, the NYT said, it had solicited her Op-Ed because of her work at the Small Wars Journal, not because of her work at Booz Allen.
In a follow up piece to his 18 February critique Greenwald wrote, “To summarize: the NYT Op-Ed Page decided, for whatever reasons, that it wanted to find someone to urge more civilian deaths in Afghanistan. The person it found to do that is someone about whom virtually nothing was known, yet works for one of the largest, most sprawling and influential defense firms in the nation, a virtual arm of the Pentagon, but they decided there was no reason to have its readers know that.”
All wars, regardless of their participants’ good intentions, result in the deaths of innocent people. [I can cite stacks of evidence for this principle when I engage proponents of Just War theory.] But Lara Dadkhah and the New York Times remind me that Just War proponents are not the people most responsible for the violence in our world. Those who blithely claim that killing civilians, if it gives one a strategic edge, is a good thing, the corporations that profit from the agony inflicted on these civilians, and the media who disguise and serve as a mouthpiece for the warmongers—they are at the heart of the violence.