Dead Sheikh: Part II

Lots and lots of responses to my challenge this morning; here’s a roundup with my thoughts.
First, I posed the following scenario to Eric Coe in the comments section of the post below regarding our late unlamented Sheikh:
If the blood is on [the sheikh’s] hands so firmly, let me pose another scenario. Suppose this same terrorist was cornered in a back alley by IDF troops. But somehow, he managed to grab a small child, and is holding that child up as a shield.
Clearly, he has placed the child in danger. Clearly, he is exploiting the child and the IDF’s squeamishness.
But if I follow the logic you and others seems to be advocating, it seems to say that the IDF should go ahead and open fire on full automatic. Because the terrorist made the choice to place the innocent child in danger, the IDF would bear no responsibility for its death. The blood would be, as you say, on his hands.
Am I missing something, or is this the exact same issue, differently posed? And if I’m not — would you agree that the IDF should go ahead and pull the trigger in that case, and sleep the sleep of the just that night, knowing that they bore no responsibility for the death of the child?

Eric has a response, concluding that — assuming the IDF fired in the scenario above — “It would bother me, and it would bother those IDF soldiers too. Even if you are morally justified, you probably will have trouble sleeping well, after dealing with a situation like that, with such a bloody outcome.”
But reading through Eric’s entire post, I’m not convinced he’s fully understood the distinction I’m attempting to make. Eric’s central argument (Coe, not Alterman), it seems to me, is that it is possible to morally justify the death of innocents if it will prevent greater loss of innocent life in the future. The problem is, I completely agree with that, and said so — or at least, tried to — clearly in my original post.
What I do not agree with is those who — like Alterman — seem to be confusing the kind of moral calculus Eric describes, which involves rationally weighing the benefits versus costs; the good versus evil outcomes of ones actions, with a kind of karmic “get out of jail free card” that magically appears if we’re clearly after a bad guy. My objection to Alterman’s piece was that he seemed to skip over the moral calculation entirely, preferring to simply wave his hands and say that it was all the sheikh’s fault, and that any deaths that we happen to inflict aren’t our responsibility.
That’s nonsense. My point is that it is possible, and necessary, to make these difficult moral decisions, without losing our morality along the way. We must accept that we are better than our enemies, and that we do bear responsibility for the civilian deaths we cause. Sometimes this acceptance of responsibility will lead us to conclude that the price to be paid is too high — and other times, we will conclude that for the greater good, that price must be paid.
PontifExMachina has also chimed in: “…you can’t absolve Sheik Shehada of all responsibility for the attack — he made his choices, and if he had chose diffferently, there would have been no attack. It’s not as if this murderer was an innocent bystander, you know. To say that he contributed to the attack is not equivelent to the Palestinian excuses for their suicide bombings, as Bear asserts. It’s called the ‘asking for trouble’ doctrine. And if you ask for trouble, and you get it, then you should probably look at yourself and say, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t ask for trouble next time.’ A failure to do so is a lack of responsibility, but it doesn’t absolve you of yours.”
I agree that you can’t absolve the Sheikh of all responsibility: I never said otherwise. My argument was never that the Sheikh bore no responsibility, my argument was — and is — against those who argue that the IDF does not bear responsibility, if you see the distinction.
As for PontifEx’s further point regarding the “asking for trouble” doctrine, this is another instance of a disturbing trend I’ve seen in this argument, starting with Alterman’s original post. Yes, the Sheikh asked for trouble. Of course. And yes, he got it. And you know what? I’m glad he’s dead. If there was a way I could make him any more dead, I’d be happy to do it. But we’re not talking about the Sheikh. We’re talking about the little kids that died. Did they “ask for trouble”?
PontifEx also concludes with a question: “Why, why, why do we insist on making snap judgements on every single little combat sortie, from the comfort of our homes, far away from the front? Why does the shortening of the news cycle have to turn into around-the-clock pontificiating about small engagements?”
My answer? I think there’s value in challenging oneself to identify the moral and the immoral in this world. Armchair generaling is one thing, but that’s not what I, at least, am attempting to do. I don’t claim to know good military tactics from bad ones — but I do claim to know, from my own heart, at least, what I believe is moral, and what I believe is not. And I think engaging in debates like this one with honest folks of integrity as to where those lines are is time well spent.
But wait! There’s more. Dr. Manhattan has a question: “What Bear seems to be saying is that Israel bears moral responsibility for the deaths of the civilians, but he is not saying that Israel’s actions were morally unjustified. But isn’t that the same question?”.
Nope, it’s not the same question. To say that Israel bears moral responsibility for the civilian deaths does not preclude one from concluding that, despite this, the net moral calculus comes out to say that Israel’s actions were morally justified. As I’ve said before, if in killing the Sheikh and those civilians around him would prevent massive loss of civilian life in the future, then Israel’s action was a morally just one, in my opinion. (And by the way, I’m not skirting the issue here: I haven’t said definitively whether I think it was or was not moral on balance simply because I don’t have the intelligence that Israel does; I am not well-informed enough to say what the magnitude of those future deaths might be.)
How much would you pay now? Still not convinced? JAE at WeekendPundit will throw in this free set of steak knives!
Actually, he won’t, but he will disagree with me — “the Palestinian militants, in making the conscious decisions to a) slaughter civilians, and b) house themselves in the shielding embrace of civilian populations, bear the responsibility for bringing about the circumstances that led to this unfortunate loss of life. Unfortunate. Nothing more, nothing less.” —- and also quotes himself from a previous post:
“It does not matter if the