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Michael Walzer on Proportionality

The scholar of just war theory explains that the term "disproportionate" has been mistakenly used by commentators discussing the Gaza war; they’ve got it backwards: How many civilian deaths are "not disproportionate to" the value of defeating the Nazis? Answer … Read More

By / January 9, 2009

The scholar of just war theory explains that the term "disproportionate" has been mistakenly used by commentators discussing the Gaza war; they’ve got it backwards:

How many civilian deaths are "not disproportionate to" the value of defeating the Nazis? Answer that question, put that way, and you are likely to justify too much–and that is the way proportionality arguments have worked over most of their history.

And:

So Israel’s Gaza war was called "disproportionate" on day one, before anyone knew very much about how many people had been killed or who they were. The standard proportionality argument, looking ahead as these arguments rightly do, would come from the other side. Before the six months of cease-fire (when the fire never ceased), Hamas had only primitive and home-made rockets that could hit nearby small towns in Israel. By the end of the six months, they had far more advanced rockets, no longer home-made, that can hit cities 30 or 40 kilometers away. Another six months of the same kind of cease-fire, which is what many nations at the UN demanded, and Hamas would have rockets capable of hitting Tel Aviv. And this is an organization explicitly committed to the destruction of Israel. How many civilian casualties are "not disproportionate to" the value of avoiding the rocketing of Tel Aviv? How many civilian casualties would America’s leaders think were "not disproportionate to" the value of avoiding the rocketing of New York?

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