Slaughter Of The Innocents

On Wednesday morning The Bishop of Liverpool, the Right Reverend James Jones, spoke on Radio 4’s Thought For The Day. He talked of war and referred to “the inevitable slaughter of innocents”.

The Slaughter of the Innocents by Tintoretto, 1587

The Slaughter of the Innocents by Tintoretto, 1587

It’s true that, these days, we expect that war will involve the slaughter of innocents but I wonder if it’s always been that way.

Certainly armies throughout history have committed massacres after defeating opposing forces but is this the same as today’s collateral damage?

Israel often asserts a distinction between the deliberate attacks on Israeli civilians by Palestinian groups and the targeted attacks on Palestinian individuals which result in civilian casualties. When Great Britain or The United States launch missile attacks against individuals in Afghanistan and kill scores this is generally thought of as unfortunate but inevitable.

Conventional armies can claim to target specific individuals as they have the technology and the ability to assert absolute power over an area even if only temporarily. The forces which we term “terrorists” are usually the weaker side, they are the people who are reacting against a status quo. They have no standing armies and only limited technology and they often resort to isolated surprise attacks on civilians.
We brand these people “terrorists” as they aim to cause terror by but can a random explosion be more terrifying than a F16 fighter bomber screaming overhead firing missiles into the ground? Donald Rumsfeld called it “Shock and Awe” and this sounds like a pretty good definition of terror to me.

Terrorism is a tactic, it is not an enemy. You can no more declare war on terrorism than you can declare war on a siegewarefare or attrition warfare.

I wonder if this acceptance of civilian casualties might have developed during the second world war with the use of mass aerial bombing. Even though it was known that dropping bombs from thousands of feet in the air must mean a high degree of inaccuracy and consequent civilian casualties the bombing was accepted. Perhaps it was accepted because of the enormity of the struggle and the sense that this was a life or death struggle for each nation.

The military have developed more accurate missiles since then and we have been shown videos of “smart bombs” being guided directly to their target yet still we hear of attacks on wedding parties in Afghanistan.

We have become so inured to civilian casualties during conflict that now a Christian Bishop tells us that the slaughter of innocents is inevitable. Perhaps it is not? Perhaps we should be a little more careful in our choice of targets and our choice of weapons?

The fact that our opponents kill innocents is no reason for us to do so. The mass slaughter of civilians in New York nearly eight years ago can be seen as the reason for much of the current military activity by The West but surely the fact that civilians were targeted should emphasise that the reason our troops are fighting is to prevent attacks on civilians be they Americans or Afghans.

It is easier to just get angry. It is easier to fight anyone or anything. It’s easier to lob missiles and hope you get the right guy.



I met an American soon after 9/11 and we discussed the attack on the twin towers and the war in Iraq and I said that the Iraqis were not involved in the 9/11 attacks and I recall his response. He said “I don’t care”.

He didn’t care who the U.S. military attacked. He thought that the 9/11 attacks were so atrocious that the U.S. was justified in hitting out at anyone.

But killing random strangers only serves to enflame hatred.

The United States are reported to have mounted a large laser weapon inside a Boeing aircraft.

I have read speculation regarding effectiveness of this laser when destroying tanks but we already have very effective anti-tank weapons which can be mounted on smaller aircraft so what is the point of the laser?

I wonder of the United States hasn’t realised that it needs a weapon which can target individuals from a great distance.

Sadam Hussein goes for a walk in the garden of his palace, a telephone call is made by someone inside the palace, a military jet stops circling and moves into position. Pfzzzzzzz!! Sadam boils away into thin air and a large sum of money is deposited in the Swiss bank account of an Iraqi official.


Yet another British soldier was killed in Afghanistan on Thursday and in Britain there is a sense that this conflict is going nowhere. Of course it is possible for NATO to maintain control of Afghanistan and to tolerate the trickle of military casualties but are we achieving anything?

In the wake of 9/11 The United States may have two immediate goals: To bring to justice those behind the attacks on New York and, arguably, to avenge the deaths of thousands of innocents. Two overlapping and some might say contradictory goals.

In the days of the British Empire this may have resulted in punitive attacks but since the Second World War, followed by The Cold War, The United States sees itself as a moral power bringing liberty to the world and punitive strikes are not now considered an acceptable response.

The United States is trying to replay the experience of the Second World War. It’s game plan is the total occupation of it’s opponents country followed by the rebuilding of that country as a industrialised capitalist democracy.

This worked very well with Germany and Japan but this is not an appropriate response for a tribal, mostly illiterate people with a weak sense of nationhood.

More importantly America has no responsibility to bring democracy to Afghanistan. This is not to say that liberty and democracy are not excellent in themselves but only that, in defending itself, The United States need not take on the burden of nation building or democratisation.

Liberal democracy in The United States and Western Europe did not come about through outside intervention. It came about through a long struggle by the people themselves. The people struggled for liberty and they now value liberty.

It was reported in the British press recently that in one area of Helmand province as few as 150 Afghans may have voted while 10 British soldiers died to allow that election. One has to ask the question:

If the Afghans are not prepared to put their lives on the line for democracy then why should foreign soldiers?

The United States has suffered a tragic attack on it’s civilians and in response has taken on the probably impossible task of converting Afghanistan to a Western style democracy. It need not do so.

The United States was attacked and it required justice. The war in Iraq and Afghanistan must have cost numerous lives and billions of dollars. If all that blood and gold had been spent on relentless tracking down the individuals implicated in the attacks on the United States then America could have justice and in addition take pride that it had resisted the impetus to simply lash out.

To Whom It May Concern by Adrian Mitchel

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