What Number Abides Comfort

The international standards for what is permissible under armed conflict are not what most people think they are. The standards themselves are complicated and permit a much higher degree of violence and collateral damage and civilian death than most people understand or are comfortable with.

I heard this comment today from Frederick Kagan, a guest on The Remnant podcast hosted by Jonah Goldberg.

I want to make a deeply cynical point here and mock the notion that there is some magic number of (presumably innocent) civilian deaths that leaves me undisturbed in the comfort of my Barcalounger sipping espresso from a demitasse – “Oh, would you look at this recent report dear, it says the current estimate of the number of innocents killed in [insert latest war du jour here] is more like eleven hundred, not eleven thousand. Phew, I don’t know about you honey, but I feel like that’s a number I can comfortably live with.” The other thing worth mocking here is the implication that any ordinary citizen’s discomfort with civilian deaths greater than the “comfortable” number, matters one wit to either the practitioners of the latest war du jour, or the committee for international standards that sets the amount of murder permissible in war. I mean really, did the apparent discomfort of a majority of Americans over the rising civilian deaths in southeast Asia matter one wit to the congress, the state department, or the POTUS, to limit civilian death to a number the American People would be comfortable with? No. To the contrary. Nixon flipped his finger at the Peaceniks and doubled down with the order to carpet bomb Cambodia, without first checking in with the standards committee on what number of civilian deaths was permissible at the time. Do you think Putin and his sycophants care one wit about the discomfort of Russian citizens over civilian deaths in Ukraine, or that the number far exceeds what the standards committee has authorized is permissible? Did the standards committee permit 300,000 civilian deaths in the fire bombing of Tokyo? I doubt it. And it seems to me there is a growing discomfort with the number of civilians killed in Gaza?

Try not to let it ruin your Christmas.