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When Human Shields Die

Posted on March 24 2011 1:57 pm
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When it comes to shields, nothing protects despots from democrats as effectively as the profusely-sweating human variety. The reason is obvious: democrats by definition believe in the sanctity of human life, while despots generally get where they are by mowing down all those who stand in their way.

They also like to place in their way all those who can come between them and enemy fire.

Thus, the use of non-combatants as shields in many countries that (in keeping with Tom Friedman’s unreliable panacea) don’t have Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises, becomes an effective weapon in the cause of inhibiting the ability to wage war by their democratic opposites – or those with ready access to the Colonel’s New $5 Everyday Meals.

Moreover, the despot’s fielding of human shields result in his earning propaganda points once leftist elements within the democrats’ free-speech-enjoying populace get into the act. These quickly don the bloodthirsty keffiyeh to protest what they promote as yet another massacre of innocents on the part of the West. Thus, people who boundlessly hate Israel any time a Gazan in a suspiciously lumpy frock gets a hard look from an IDF border guard, will at the same time have no problem with Hamas using that same geezer as outright human Kevlar.

By thus invoking it to mask cruelty, leftists use compassion in pretty much the same way that outfits like Hamas use innocent civilians.

But  none of this should be news to any reasonable – and reasonably aware — person.  Less likely to be understood is the fact that the unpleasant consequences of using human shields go well beyond loss of life on the part of the non-combatants themselves.  This is because once the contraceptive use of innocents in combat proves successful, not only does it allow the traders in human shielding go on to fight another day, it encourages the repeated use of non-combatants as defensive weapons of war.

This seems to place Western democracies at a insurmountable  disadvantage, leaving them no choice other than to harm innocent civilians or – as a consequence of leaving them unharmed – risk losing in battle (a third option – namely the adoption of the means that Israel has developed to spare the lives of enemy civilians while still winning at war  — is not necessarily transferable to other armies, only lessens the disadvantages they face, and fails to guarantee that they won’t be vilified as “murderers” anyway). However, there is a simple way to begin to redress the issue – one that starts with the proper ascription of blame:

Historically, human shields have fallen into types that are very different despite sharing the same classification. The first consist of voluntary human shields like those who came to Iraq from the West to place their bodies between Saddam’s anti-aircraft batteries and the stealth fighter jets that would otherwise take them out. As such people have the potential of being integral to the success of enemy warfare in the same way that, say, an underground missile silo would, they cannot be properly characterized as either innocent nor civilian. They function rather as an outwardly-passive shock troop – or a martyrdom-seeking militia whose chosen role is to exploit their enemy’s humanity to afford their Allah-invoking comrades the ability to return fire with impunity. As they seek martyrdom, so should they be helped to find it, and be taken out just as any barricade might. Voluntary human shields are effectively combatants – and the responsibility for their deaths lies with themselves.

However, while the notion that voluntary human shields are “direct participants in hostilities” reflects of the customary tenets of international humanitarian law; no treaty norm addresses the issue of an attacker’s obligations relative to their use.

A similar ambiguity attends the second category of human shields – namely those who are involuntarily forced into that condition. These are people worthy of all the protection denied them by those for whom they are forced to serve as fleshy armor. However, as deaths of involuntary human shields cannot always be avoided, it should be forthrightly proclaimed in law that the responsibility for their deaths lies with those who intentionally – and with monumental cruelty and cowardice — place them in harm’s way.

In a culture where total irrationality has come into fashion as a valid political stance, it may be naïve to hope that by enforcing the above perspective we might succeed in ending the slanders directed at democratic forces that, in fog of war, kill the innocents their despotic enemies place in the line of fire. But so long as we’re at it, let’s also hope that doing so will help undermine – and eventually do away with – the practice of using human shields altogether.

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