The Common Good

Smart Bomb Hype and the Christian Conscience

As the U.S. government continues to try to sell the new war in Libya as a "humanitarian intervention," Christians should beware of the smart bomb hype that helped sell the last couple of wars (which we're still in, by the way). These weapons and their operators have consistently failed to live up to the sales pitch, leading to massive numbers of civilian casualties.

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Remember that back in 2002, the Society of Christians Ethics cited the use of so-called smart bombs as one of its reasons for declaring the Afghanistan War "just."

Here's just a sampling of that hype, from then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld:

''There is no comparison ... The weapons that are being used today have a degree of precision that no one ever dreamt of in a prior conflict -- they didn't exist ... . And it's not a handful of weapons; it's the overwhelming majority of weapons that have that precision. The targeting capabilities and the care that goes into targeting to see that the precise targets are struck and that other targets are not struck is as impressive as anything anyone could see. The care that goes into it, the humanity that goes into it, to see that military targets are destroyed, to be sure, but that it's done in a way, and in a manner, and in a direction and with a weapon that is appropriate to that very particularized target."

This, of course, turned out to be more than a little misleading. Maybe I'm understating that a bit. Let's put it this way: Of the first 50 "precision" air strikes against Iraq, none hit their intended targets.

And what about that war in Afghanistan, where "smart bombs" were cited as proof that the war fit with Augustinian just war principles? Unfortunately, the picture is much the same. By 2009, when the Pentagon and its allies were pushing for massive troop increases, the leading causes of U.S.-caused civilian deaths in Afghanistan had become, you guessed it, airstrikes. In fact, among war supporters, reliance on airstrikes was portrayed as a problem to which a troop increase was the solution. With more troops, the reasoning went, we'd need fewer airstrikes. That proved to be something of a fib as well, since General Petraeus recently tripled the air war over Afghanistan.

So here we are, in Current War #3, again chasing after the idea of a humanitarian airstrike campaign, and so far, it doesn't look like we can expect better results. According to the Washington Post:

"Four days of allied strikes have battered Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi's air force and largely destroyed his long-range air defense systems, a top U.S. commander said Tuesday. But there was little evidence that the attacks had stopped regime forces from killing civilians or shifted the balance of power in favor of the rebels ...

... The Libyan military's attacks and the mounting civilian deaths call into question whether the internationally imposed no-fly zone can achieve its goal of protecting civilians, let alone help loosen Gaddafi's grip on power. It seemed unlikely that the coalition, which has argued in recent days over the scope and leadership of the allied mission, would countenance a significant escalation."

Now, I'm a Christian pacifist, but even I can recognize when the just war principles of "discrimination" and "probability of success" are in danger of being flouted. I'd humbly suggest that we all read through our gospels to recenter ourselves on Christ's teachings about the use of force before we let war-industry hype further distort our understanding of what it means to "love our neighbor."

Derrick Crowe is a political director at Brave New Foundation.

+For more information, read Sojourners magazine's March 2011 issue: Afghanistan -- Why It's Time to End the War. Also, visit our Afghanistan site:

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