Military men, a philosopher and the Morality of War

November 10, 2010 by Henry Benjamin
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Four military ethicists discussed the morality of war at the NSW Jewish National Fund’s major campaign function.

General Yaacov Amidror, Colonel Richark Kemp, Jana Wendt, Major-General Jim Molan and Professor Raimond Gaita

Colonel Richard Kemp

From the UK…Colonel Richard Kemp. Colonel Kemp argued against the Goldstone Report to the UN Human Rights Council stating that the Israeli Defence Forces “did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in combat zones than any other army in the history of warfare”.

From Israel: Major General [Res] Yaacov Amidror. The author of two books “Reflections on Army Security” and “The Art of Intelligence, Theory and Practice”.  He is an expert in strategic planning and counter-terrorism.

From Australia: Major General Jim Molan [Retired]: Author of “Running the War in Iraq, General Molan headed up a multinational force of 3000 in Iraq and was the recipient of the “Australian Thinker of the Year Award” in 2009.

The three military men were joined by Professor Raimond Gaita. Author of “Romulus My Father”, he is Professor of Moral Philosophy at Kings College  at the University of London.

The format for the function, held at the Australian Jockey Club, was a Q&A panel moderated by well-known TV identity Jana Wendt.

The discussion opened on whether or not a war could be described as being “a just cause”. Professor Gaita said that there was no degree or accreditation which could determine if a war was just…and he said that there was a case to relax international law especially in cases where a nation was at war with another where the military “mingled with the population”. Discussing the pre-conditions for going to war, Major General Molan said that going to war may be approved by the Attorney-General but “it may be legal but it may not be all that smart”.

Jana Wendt All photos: Henry benjamin

Major-General Jim Molan

General Amidror spoke of the problems facing the soldiers in battle when opposing forces often appeared to be civilians and how that complicates the implementation of war He said: “They look live civilians, they behave like civilians…till the last moment”.

Colonel Kemp said that he believed the Gaza War [Operation Cast Lead] and the war in Afghanistan are nor moral wars. He said the organisations which started the wars…Hamas in Gaza and al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan “cannot be seen as moral organisations”. He said that Hamas started the war in Gaza by “firing thousands of rockets out of Gaza into Israel with absolutely no justification”. He said the al-Qaeda protected and hosted by the Taliban backed by al-Qaeda had launched an offensive on the United States that killed more than 3000 people…”that is immoral activity and therefore those wars are immoral”

The panel answered a question from the floor on the morality of an attack on Iran to prevent the country from using nuclear arms…Wendt asked General Amidror if Israel had the capacity to launch an attack, He answered: “In two words…it’s do-able.”

Major-General Yaacoc Amidror

Professor Raimond Gaita

General Molan said there were conflicting views as to whether or not could carry out the attack. Professor Gaita stressed that the question focused as to whether or not an attack on Iran could be justified. Colonel Kemp said we should Iran should be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon. He said that Iran had not just threatened to exterminate Israel. They had killed British and American troops in Iraq using Hezbollah and the Iranian guards. They now support the Taliban more than most people understand in Afghanistan. Hezbollah has been turned into an instrument to attack Israel…through Iran. They have shown they are prepared to kill Australians, Americans, British and Israelis…so we cannot afford for them to get weapons of mass destruction.

The next question from the floor asked about the use of disproportionate force. General Amidror replied that if a man was determined to kill you with a knife and there was no stopping him and you had a gun and used it.  That’s what Israel did…after years of absorbing rockets on civilians with not one rocket targeting a military base…so Israel retaliated to stop it. He added: “We don’t intend to be loved by being bleeding”. He said that  Israel knew that the Hamas HQ were housed in a hospital and did not bomb it. He reiterated the point that Israeli Defence Forces warned residents before bombing.”

Colonel Kemp said the Taliban did the same thing…and used children as young as 14 to throw grenades at British soldiers and attempted to force us to fire on civilians. The British did the same as the Israelis and we place our soldiers in more danger than they would have been in conventional warfare.He said that he broadcast his research on the BBC which revealed that Israel had done more to minimise civilian casualties in Operation Cast Lead than ever recorded in the history of warfare.

More than 650 guests attended the event.

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