Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Ooohh! Some Moral Equivalence...

via DK, we get [drum roll] ...
The creators have opened a thread on a Board Game Geek forum, where a storm has subsequently blown up [you might want to choose another metaphor - Ed] in that little tea-cup. Amongst some sense-of-humour-failures of positively United-Statesian proportions, there is a serious charge of moral equivalence in respect of some of the material on the website. Aaron Silverman writes (second comment from bottom):
I'm not offended by a satirical game, even if it's in poor taste.

However, I do find some of the material posted on your website to be thoroughly ignorant and offensive. If you don't understand the difference between the attack on Fallujah and the 9/11 attacks (regardless of your general opinion of the war in Iraq) then I can only say that I pity you.
Andy (one of the creators) responds thus:
I don't want to get TOO much into a political debate here, because I believe it's largely explained on the website, but drawing a parallel between a sanctioned military act which results in the fore-known deaths of innocents and a non-sanctioned, terrorist, act which results in the same is not mere sophistry. There are many attrocities committed in this world and many would be called acts of terrorism, were it not a recognised state power committing them. I think this is a totally valid and debatable argument.
I don't. This is an attempt to suggest that the causing of any and all deaths of civilians is illegal. It is simply not true because it is simply not sensible. This argument leads DIRECTLY to the situation where party A deliberately hides amongst civilians so that party B either cannot attack or gets the blame for the collateral damage. It would not be in party A's interest to do anything else. Result: all parties hide amongst their own civilians and, because nothing has been done to address the reason why the two sides are fighting in the first place, BINGO: MORE civilians get killed.
The Geneva Conventions are perfectly clear on this. It is party A's responsibility to ensure that it does not endanger civilians in the area in which it operates. If party B attacks and civilians die, the blame lies squarely with party A. Party A is thereby incentivised to protect its own civilians - or it would be if Party A gives more than a flying f*ck about civilians' welfare, something that cannot be assumed in all cases.
Thus, the difference between
... a sanctioned military act which results in the fore-known deaths of innocents and a non-sanctioned, terrorist, act which results in the same ...
is the existence - or even intelligence suggesting the existence - of a legitimate military target.
Let us assume, just for the sake of argument, that our board game creator believes either that a) the Twin Towers represented a legitimate military target for ... um.... the Taliban? - OK maybe he doesn't believe this - or b) that there were no legitimate military targets in Fallujah. We are already in total moonbat territory here, but even with this assumption, there are still crucial differences between our two cases, differences which I submit are not
"mere sophistry".
If we take him at his word, that word being "sanctioned", then we have an accountable, elected politician or senior officer who can be identified and hauled over the coals. Further, where the second case would be an act of terrorism, the first would be a war crime. There are mechanisms for dealing with war crimes and chains of command that allow the decisions to be traced and individuals prosecuted. These mechanisms act as a strong disincentive for individuals to commit the crimes in the first place - even in the heat of battle and despite the hideous pressure under which our troops operate. Dealing with terrorism is, well, a little trickier. Maybe that's the whole point of the board game, let alone the "war on terror".
P-G Verdict: This would appear to be moral equivalence. My manifesto is pretty clear on the sentence to be handed down here. I am willing to hear a plea bargain though. A complimentary copy of the game might persuade me of the merit of the accused's legal argument...


Pete in Dunbar said...

That's a lot of effort to go to just to blag a free copy of the game.

james higham said...

...These mechanisms act as a strong disincentive for individuals to commit the crimes in the first place...

Really, P-G? You don't think that perhaps the war criminal might not give a tinker's cuss about any possible and deferred ramifications?

Unless he were to be refused his complimentary copy of the game, of course.

Bag said...

This is all of course if you believe that the geneva convention applies to these guys. I don't see them as combatants in a war between countries but instead as common criminals. No different from the IRA back in the last century. (Makes it sound so long ago)

It's just a game this guy is selling. The guy can, at the moment, have his own opinions on what are criminal acts by a state or individuals. Same as we all do. I consider Blair a war criminal but I consider the terrorists to be common criminals. Just an opinion. Therefor the criminal see the twin towers as a legitimate target where a countries leaders would see a missile site more appropriate.

These guys just want to spread fear. Blowing a few tanks, soldiers or military sites ain't going to do it.

The Pedant-General in Ordinary said...


Welcome back. I don't think so - the game looks pretty good: a sort of "Diplomacy" for our day.


I must admit that the balaclava with "evil" written on it is definitely going to be next year's "must have" item. Shades of Jennifer Government I fear.

I digress. As regards disincentives, perhaps I should clarify. Disincentives are not the only mechanism in the case of properly constituted armed forces. There is also the chain of command and the integrity of each of the officers in that chain. In order for an illegal order to be ACTUALLY executed, it must be passed on by each officer in between its inception by the "top brass" and the grunts at the bottom.

Equally, the lower down the chain of command the illegal order arises, the smaller the capacity for large scale damage.

In the case of HM Armed Forces, that goes right down to the level of the 22 year old Leuitenant commanding a platoon. Faced with an illegal order (e.g. "wipe out that village"), you are drilled from the word go to refuse and, if such refusal is not accepted, to resign your commission on the spot.


"These guys just want to spread fear. " The creators of the game? Wow.


"This is all of course if you believe that the geneva convention applies to these guys."

Nope I don't either.

"Therefor the criminal see the twin towers as a legitimate target"

You miss the point here: it is precisely BECAUSE they see the Twin Towers as a legitimate target that we brand them criminals.

It is your choice of target that determines whether you are a criminal or not.

xaonupi: When the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the People's Republic of China gets married.

Anonymous said...


Could I pick just one section of your dialog to make an opposing comment on - 'It is party A's responsibility to ensure that it does not endanger civilians in the area in which it operates. If party B attacks and civilians die, the blame lies squarely with party A' - Would this then mean that the French Resistance of WWII have to accept a degree of responsibility for the innocents killed, as a direct result, by the Nazis as they attempted to root out these sometimes militant civilians?

Methods differ between the two parallels, I agree, but we are talking about an age were the Technology of today just was not around and I feel that this 'modernisation' accounts for these differences

Once mans civilian freedom fighter is another mans cowardly terrorist - the only real difference is that 'we are on the opposite side to these tactics this time around' and thus view them as a horrific tool of war ... ?

The Pedant-General in Ordinary said...


A very warm welcome to Infinitives Unsplit. You might want to toddle along to blogger and go and get yourself some pseudonymous login or other. It helps us to welcome you back again. Especially when you clearly have some pithiness to make us all sit up and listen.

The French Resistance... Hmm...

To be honest, the answer is "yes". The general principle holds.

Let's look at a few examples: fierce small arms firefight between pocket of resistance in a farm house and German troops.

If German platoon leader stormed the house and slaughtered all the occupants with small arms fire, he would be to blame. Direct and deliberate aim of small fire on something/someone that is not a legitimate military target.

Or let's imagine German troops pinned down and can't get close enough to storm the house. If platoon leader orders all the outbuildings to be flattened by the artillery barrage, then resistance would not be to blame for deaths in the outbuildings.

If platoon leader subsequently rounds up all the nearby villagers, puts them up against a wall and shoots them, resistance is not to blame.

But if the German platoon leader calls in some mortar fire or a salvo from an 88 or something to hit the house they are trying to assault and a Housewife or child dies in that barrage, then yes the resistance would be to blame for the deaths. They brought fire onto the house. They failed to separate themselves from the civilians they were trying to protect. No blame should be attached to the German platoon leader for calling in the barrage.

That is very much the point of the Geneva conventions. A form of these conventions was in force during WWII. Indeed the Japanese were held in contempt after the war precisely for their failure to observe these conventions, especially in regard to their treatment of PoWs.

The reason that we treat irregular forces as cowardly is because the use of civilian clothing, the failure to distinguish themselves from civilians, the failure to put themselves at greater risk necessarily puts genuine civilians at greater risk. They steal the protection of civilians for themselves. This is cowardly. To attempt to give the reward of abbrogation of blame for this behaviour is distinctly foolhardy. No good will come of it.