Thereare established traditions and laws that have governed wars inhistory. These laws and traditions have evolved throughout thecivilizations of human societies. One of the most important anduniversal elements of a just war is the noncombatant immunity. Thenoncombat community includes all individuals who are not directlyinvolved in the combat or fighting. The universal rule prohibitscombat personals from directly targeting the civilians and theirproperty. The fighters are also prohibited from taking actions andinactions that will cause psychological, emotional or physical harmto the civilians. However, this has remained one of the most delicateand controversial issues in the modern welfare. This is mainlybecause of the discrepancies in the definition of constitutestargeting a civilian population. Additionally, there has been adilemma on how can the fighter ensure that the civilians areinevitably affects by the war even when there is no intention totarget them. The elements of a just war are guided by the doctrine ofdouble effect. According to the doctrine of double effect, the warshould have no intention of harming the civilian if it would be just.This means that harm that is accidental or unintended is acceptable.The unintended harm is also acceptable even when the executors arecertain that civilians will be harmed (Timmons, 2014). However, thisis very controversial because some people have argued that combatantshave used the intention doctrine to justify gross misconducts andinjustices against civilians and noncombatants in wars. This paperlooks at the conflicting moral issues related to war on terrorism andresultant harm to the noncombat civilians.
Inthe past, wars were mainly caused by territorial conflicts orregional and international dominance. These were some of the mainreasons why the major armed conflicts such as the First and SecondWorld War emerged in the first half of the 20thcentury. However, in the modern world, there have emerged wars due toa totally different issue. This has complicated the definition ofwhat defines a just war. In the modern world, major wars constitutewhat is referred to have the war on terrorism. In the last twodecades of the 20thcentury, the risk of international terrorism became a reality. Thiswas due to the emergence of Islamic groups with extreme ideas whichemerged in Middle East. These Islamic groups have evolved intoIslamic insurgents and terrorist groups with thousands of followersand trained fighters. This happened due to support extended to thesegroup by some countries. The threat of Islamic insurgents in theworld became evident when the United States suffered a horrificterrorist attack on September 11 2001. Although there were otherattacks around the world targeting American citizens and properties,for example the attack of American embassies in Nairobi, Kenya andDar Saram, Tanzania in 1998, the magnitude of September 11 attackshock the world. The attack was both sophisticated and massive toshake the world largest nations in terms of military and economiccapacity. The al Qaeda group, an Islamic extremist group based inMiddle East, hijacked four planes, three of which were used to bombthe pentagon and world trade center in New York. It is estimated thatover four thousand people died as a result of the attack. Theseevents forced the United States to be a nation at war (Lansford,2009).
TheIslamic terrorist groups, mainly the al-Qaeda and its affiliategroups, are considered by the United States defense as combatants.This is due to it among others attempt to attack militaryinstallations such as the pentagon building and the fact that thegroup is highly militarized. Therefore, the federal government of theUnited States launched the war against terrorism. The militaryoperations mainly in the Middle East aimed at grounding theactivities of al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist groups. Thisinvolved destruction of their military and administrativeinstallations as well as overthrowing dictator leaders in Middle Eastwho supported their activities. The war of terrorism issignificantly different compared to convectional warfare. Thedoctrine of double effect rules against targeting a civilianpopulation or their property in a war. However, the nature ofcombatant terrorists has made the application of the tradition rulesof war difficult. The terrorism does not have combat uniform and hidethemselves among the civilian. Additionally, some civilians supportthe operations of the terrorists and therefore can also be consideredas terrorist communities. As a result, in the war against terrorism,the United States adopted the targeted killing policy. This policyhas resulted into numerous controversies resulting into aninternational debate. Target killing has resulted into death ofnumerous civilians (Lansford, 2009).
Somepolicy analysts have argued in favor of the military actions thathave great impacts on the civilian populations. The United Stateshave used drones targeting particular areas in which militaryintelligence indicates the presence of terrorists groups activities.However, some analysts have argued that there is a clear intent toharm the civilian which is wrong in any act of war. Morally,undertaking an action that arm innocent and non combatant civiliansin an attempt to kill targeted militants is morally wrong. Someinterpretations of the doctrine of double effect have argued that anyforeseen harm to the non combatant civilian results into an injusticeand is contrary to basic rules that government wars. Although nonlethal harm to the public such as destruction of property ordisplacement may be unavoidable despite being foreseen, lethal harmcan not be justified. The war on terrorism is characterized bybombarding and destruction of cities and residential areas resultinginto massive deaths (Timmons, 2014).
Themoral dilemma on harms against civilians in the war against terrorismcan be viewed from the utilitarian point of view. According toutilitarianisms, “actions are right in proportion as they tend topromote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse ofhappiness”. In this regard, happiness refers to the absence ofphysical or emotional pain. On the other hand, the absence ofhappiness or unhappiness is the pain. Utilitarianism argues thatactions that cause pain and suffering are immoral while actions thatcause happiness are ethically correct. The utilitarianism thoughtsabout ethics and morality are therefore referred to asconsequentialism (Charles, 2012). This is because the action ismorally right or wrong depending on the consequences of the action.The action that brings about the maximum happiness is just and moraland therefore worth pursuing. In regard to the effects of the war onterrorism on the noncombat civilian population, utilitarian theoristswould be interested with the outcome or the consequences of the harmon the noncombat population. Proponents of the war on terrorism canargue that the benefits of the war on terrorisms are relatively highcompared to the harm to the civilian society. The threat ofterrorism, when the September 11 attack is considered is a threat tothe entire western civilization. Islamic insurgents have targetedinstallations such as air transport systems and highly populatedareas which form the foundation of the modern society. A threat tothese areas which are considered more susceptible to sabotage willdestabilize the global societies and economies which will bringsuffering to the entire global population. Any actions or inaction bythe authorities that will eliminate this threat will have a positiveconsequence. Proponents of war on terrorism would argue that therelative happiness as a result of the attacks on terrorists’installations is more compared to the resultant suffering amongnoncombat civilians. This is because the civilians who have beenaffected by the war on terrorism have directly or indirectlysupported the activities of combat militias (Charles, 2012).
Accordingto Bentham thought, human being can chose between activities thatcause pain or pleasure. The pain or pleasure can be measured todetermine its value. Therefore, to determine whether the war onterrorism and its impacts in innocent civilian is ethical or nonethical, Bentham would propose a calculation of the value of pain andpleasure resulting from the action. The activities of terroristinsurgents and Islamic militia have an impact on the entire worldpopulation. The suffering and fear that resulted from the September11 attack is relatively more that the harm to noncombat civilians inMiddle East and other parts of the world. Additionally, the spread ofIslamic insurgents with extremist ideas would threaten the existenceof the western societies, global and regional peace. To themajority, the war on terrorism will promote happiness, while only aminority will be harmed. Based on this argument, Bentham couldprobably have argued that the war on terrorism is ethical despite theharm to noncombat civilian. Similarly, the utilitarianism can be usedas a reference by those opposed to attacks directly targeting thecivilian population in the fight against terrorism. There is no doubtthat terrorism brings about suffering to the affects individuals. Italso results into fear of attack and therefore terrorism is unethicaland immoral (Charles, 2012).
Onthe other hand, harm to innocent civilian in the fight againstterrorism also results into unhappiness. Any action that causessuffering or negative consequences to an innocent individual isunethical. This includes both fatal attacks as well as non fatalattacks. Utilitarian opposed to harm on noncombat civilians in thewar on terrorism. They argue that the authority or those responsiblefor anti terrorism operations should take actions that do not harmthe civilians. This point of view would be supported by naturaltheorists such as Thomas Aquinas, whose arguments would probably beopposed to the doctrine of double effects. According to the naturallaw theory of ethics, there is a natural order that human beingshould follow. The natural order is determined by God throughreligious books such the Bible or by supernatural beings. Although itis not based on some imposed laws, the natural order is absolute. Thenatural law theory is considered to be a religious theory since itadvocates for people identifying God’s intention with their lives(Charles, 2012).
Thenatural law ethical thoughts argue that there is no wrong than can bejustified, even when it benefits others. Therefore, the natural laworder disapproves the calculation of the level of happiness or pain.Therefore, the natural law ethics would support the application ofthe doctrine of double effects in the war against terrorism.According to the doctrines, what is important is the intention of themilitary operations. If there is no intention of harming thenoncombat civilians in the war, then it is just and ethical. On theother hand, intentional harming of the civilian is consideredunethical, according to the natural law ethics. It is important tonote that in the utilitarian ethics do not consider the intentions ofthe military actions. Even in cases where there is intention to harmthe civilians, utilitarianism will look at the consequences or theoutcome. On the other hand, natural law theorists such as ThomasAquinas would look at whether the action or intention is acceptableaccording to the natural order (Charles, 2012).
Inconclusion, therefore, the threat of terrorism in the modern world isreal. The magnitude and nature of the September 11 attack on theUnited States is a clear indication that action need to be takenagainst the emergence of Islamic militia and terrorist group.Although it has been criticized, the war on terrorism is one of themeans through which the activities of terror groups can be grounded.In my view, a balance between utilitarianism and natural lawtheorists should be applied in relation to harm on noncombatcivilians. The military operation should be carried out with nointentions of causing harm to the civilians. However, due to thenature of Islamic militias where they live and operate among thecivilians, zero harm to the civilian may not be realistic. War onterrorism will definitely result in civilian casualty. This can notbe compared to the fear and destruction of life and propertyassociated with terrorism activities. Thus, the operations should becarried in such a way that the civilian casualties are minimized.
Charles,W. (2011). Theethics and efficacy of the global war on terrorism: fighting terrorwith terror.New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Lansford,T. (2009). America`swar on terror,Burlington, VT: Ashgate.
Timmons,M, (2014). Disputedmoral issues: a reader,New York: Oxford University Press.