Wass the USS Cole a Valid Target?

With the “bombing” of the USS Cole, terrorists are back in the paper everyday. All through the 80’s and 90’s every time there would be a terrorist attack they always describe the attack as a “cowardly terrorist attack.”

I can see it two ways. There are attacks against civilians, including women and children and then there are attacks against soldiers or gov’t facilities. Certainly I think that anyone who would bomb with the intent to harm civilians from afar was cowardly. However, I just don’t see the bombing of the Cole as cowardly.

A bunch of guys drive their boat right up to the Cole and attempt to sink her, at the cost of their own lives. These guys came very close to sinking a billion dollar American destroyer and killing hundreds of American sailors.

Since we are bombing the hell out of Iraq regularly, and have bombed many countries there in the recent past, I can see how certain countries there could see our military as a valid target. Certainly we don’t have the right to demand that everybody line their tanks up in the desert and let us bomb the hell out of them if they want to fight us.

Certainly no country is going to jump up and take credit for it, because then we would bomb the hell out of them. I know that the victors get to write history, but I am getting a little tired of being thrown this propaganda by our own media, day after day.

In the gun threads here on the SD you will always find reference to private ownership of firearms being essential to protecting us from a tyranical gov’t. The assumption being that if a police state happened here, people would independently form together and fight the gov’t through Guerrilla Warfare tactics. From what I have read, all military targets seem to be valid in most posters minds.

I submit that the attack on the USS Cole was a valid military action against the US. The attackers were not terrorists, but soldiers.

Having said that, I think as Americans, we need to identify the country responsible and blast them to bits. I just don’t want to call them terrorists as we do it.

wass = was
I really hate that.

Well, there’s at least one person who would agree with you: Phil Farrand, author of the Nitpicker’s Guide For Next Generation Trekkers. In his review of the episode “The High Ground,” Mr. Farrand has this to say:

I guess another difference between war and terrorism is what response is adequate.

If it is considered terrorism, you can only go against those directly responsible, hopefully to catch them and bring them to trial, or in the worst of cases to punish them without due process.

When ther is a state of war, the enemy is a whole nation and its army and you can bomb a military installation even if they did not do anything directly.

Personally, I would consider this an act of war in the sense that if we find out it was sponsored by some government, I would retaliate.

The problem is when you cannot identify those responsible.

In any case, I agree this is not the same as the OK bombing. A US navy ship would be a valid military target for an enemy at war. Whoever did it has declared war by doing it and I would give them something to be sorry for. But the idea that an enemy should not do this kind of stuff is silly.

I think the problem with terrorism is the difficulty in identifying the authors but if they are backed by some state, I would consider that equivalent to a (low-key) declaration of war and would consider retaliation legitimate.

If the attack was by Iraq (which it wasn’t) and if was in retaliation for our bombing thereof (which is wasn’t) then you might have a valid point. The Iraqis occ take potshots at our Aircraft, and even shot one down once, I beleive. We did not get all riled up. See, in those cases the attacks could be considered “guerrila warfare”.

Guerrila warfare is semi legit. But this was more of a terrorist action than guerrila warfare, and the attackers had no more beef against the US othere than we are the “Great satan”, and freinds of Isreal. True- the choice of a military target is far more moral than a civilain one, but since these folks have shown they have no compunction from hitting civilian targets- they just hit the Cole as it was all they had as a target.

Correct me if there’s news I’ve missed (entirely possible), but the attackers have not been identified yet, right? So how do you know this?

You have no idea who the people are, whether they do, in fact, attack civillian targets, and whether they had other optiongs. Now stop making things up…


It’s suspected that the attack was masterminded by Bin Laden. However, I think most of that blame has been laid because everyone in the States “knows” he’s “evil, horrible, deplorable, etc.”

  • at least according to what I’ve been taught.

Posing as noncombattants is not a legal “ruse de guerre”, even when you’re still preparing your attack. In other words, flying the Iraqi (or whatever) flag for the last 50 yards wouldn’t make the attack legal either.

But an American warship is a valid target for military attack by Iraqi combattants as long as there’s a state of war.

S. Norman

Leaving aside the rather glaring fact we don’t know who did this, may I point out that if it was Bin Laden, he does in fact have a cassus belli against us, insofar as we have tried to kill him. Remember those little cruise missiles? Not that I’m justifying bin Laden’s presumed position against us or support the attack, but from a dispassionate standpoint, yeah its a legit target and yeah some folks have what we’d probably consider legit gripes against us if we were in their shoes. Now of course I feel we have an equally legit reason to stomp on the guys if and when we find them.

I’m a little surprised that some people agree. I guess I have been so Pro-American my whole life that it seemed a little treasonous to give the attackers any sense of legitamacy.
Well, I surfed around and found an editorial that looks at this from a similiar perspective:

Click for full article:



Actually DITWD, I think those examples would be text book cases of REGULAR warfare. Guerrila warfare is charachterizied by hit and run type attacks that leave you with nothing to attack in response.

Spiny Norman

Legal? I always found crap like this funny. It was like they loved gov’t soooo much they even decided to regulate war. :slight_smile: The fact of the matter is that “legality” is really a subjective set of rules written by the biggest guys around to help them stay that way.

Here are the rules as I see them:

Nobody but us can have weapons of mass destruction.
You have to “Declare” war and let us know before you attack.
We get a Veto on anything that the UN condemns.
Nobody else does.
If you want to attack our navy you need billion dollar warships, billion dollar subs or million dollar subs.

(c’mon, it really isn’t fair to sink our billion dollar destroyer with a 100 dollar dinghy.)
This attack really pisses me off, and I support bombing the hell out of whatever gov’t we can hold responsible. However, I do see this as legitamate warfare.

Well, I think there’s nothing ‘anti-American’ about recognizing and giving props to your attacker. It’s not like anyone who’s going to attack us particularly cares if we find their attack legit or not. I mean if I was in “their” position your opinion would mean jack to me – did our American patriots particularly care if the Brits thought they were all criminals? So it’s more a question of our own intellectual integrity.


Absolutely. Again, look at our Revolutionary War – the Brits had a rather similar opinion about many American tactics.

How do we know its a government? I think you’re putting the cart before the horse. Bombing a government with tenuous ties rather than digging deeper might be an easy way out, but it strikes me that these guys might just as well be non-governmental. Probably there were moles in the Yemani government. Should the poor bastards who weren’t moles get bombed?

Exactly correct.

Attacking a military target is a valid military act providing the laws of war are followed. Disguising oneself as a civilians (or more precisely, not clearly indicating one’s combatant status) is a war crime.

Freedom2: Contary to popular belief, there’s no requirement for a “declaration of war” anywhere in the Geneva Convention. “Declarations” of war have no international legal status, though they may have legal meaning to the countries issuing them.

The Geneva Conventions require strict adherence irrespective of the “declared” status of war:

Yes, there are accepted rules for war. For example, civilized nations would not torture POWs.

The problem with combatants disguising themselves as non-combatants is that it makes all non-combatants suspicious and legitimate targets. The reason not to do it is to protect your own people, not the enemy.

Though I’d have to say it worked pretty well for the Viet Cong…

What a load. How can anyone expect that there is some sort of international law? Yes there maybe something CALLED international law, but someone has to inforce it, and what happens if some country didn’t want to follow it? then what, you gonna bomb that country too?

Maybe it should be against the law to have better soilders too? Maybe the US should get rid of the Rangers and SEALs. It’s not fair to the other people to be able to fight better than them. I mean if some guy can jump from a plane and kill me a second after he hits the ground, I’m gonna kill him in the air, I don’t give a rats ass about no damn law. I’ll bomb any ship I see, any plane any damn thing to win.

When I took a class in Ireland on Modern Irish History the instructor gave an intersting definition of terrorisim. She said that ANY act of violence is terrorisim because it strikes terror into someone, even during war, ANY thing counts as terrorism. I kinda like that.

What a load. How can anyone expect that there is some sort of international law? Yes there maybe something CALLED international law, but someone has to inforce it, and what happens if some country didn’t want to follow it? then what, you gonna bomb that country too?

I guess you could ask the folks we hanged at the end of the Second World War how they feel about international law not being enforceable.

Of course, most people who break the Geneva Conventions don’t get punished; that said, civilized nations usually do follow the rules laid out in the Convention, as well as the International Law of the Sea and other international laws.

You can point out all the murderers who’ve never been caught, but consider this; the treatment of prisoners and the wounded since the adoption of the First Geneva Convention has, in many cases, improved dramatically. Many, many lives have been spared because nations felt obligated to meet their commitments according to Geneva.


The purpose of international laws of war is not to make war “Fair.” War is inherently unfair, and the best warriors make it as unfair as possible. The purpose of the laws of war is to restrict war, as far as is possible, to the combatants. The Geneva Conventions, as you will note if you actually read them, don’t put any restrictions at all on methods of fighting war; they deal, entirely, with what sorts of people deserve protection from the violence of war; specifically,

  1. The wounded,
  2. Sailors lost at sea,
  3. Prisoners of war, and
  4. Civilians.

Sometimes the Convention has worked and saved lives; sometimes it has not. All in all, it’s better than if there was never an agreement.

Go right ahead. Shooting an enemy parachutist is perfectly okay, you know. An enemy paratrooper is a combatant and you’re well within your rights as a soldier to shoot him before he lands.

Go right ahead. Shooting an enemy parachutist is perfectly okay, you know. An enemy paratrooper is a combatant and you’re well within your rights as a soldier to shoot him before he lands.


Actually I seem to recall from jump school that the GC proscribes the shooting of paratroopers unless they are holding weapons (admittedly hard to determine at altitude and at night unless tracers are used).

You are supposed to wait until they land before killing them. Not that I or anyone else would, but you are supposed to.

Now, there are a lot of things we ignore from the Geneva Convention and this is one of them. You aren’t supposed to shoot people with certain kinds of gun either (guns above a certain caliber or ROF are intended for equpment. Anyone trained with heavy weapons will recognize the line about “I was aiming for his helmet/belt.” as both are equipment and thus ok to shoot at.).

As for the whole point of this thread. It is all based on certain assumptions. One of those being that our “enemy” thinks the way we think, uses the same standards to gauge target value that we do. The problem with this is that they do not.

A target’s validity is based on one thing and one thing only. “Is the potential for damage inflicted worth the loss that comes with success (expenditur in moneys and lives) and worth the risk of failure?”. Thats it. When our enemy choses to use our standars they do so only because it suits them. If they thought Chelsea Clinton’s dorm room had been of equal value to risk ratio or better then she would have been hit.

On the topic of “legal” attacks. Law exists in war so long as it is convenient to the warrior and not one moment longer. Torture is as valid as the information it yields and try telling otherwise to someone who really needs the information that a hostage has.

Anyone who thinks they are “civilized” because they handicap themselves has the potential to find out that they are capable of acts of Sadism that would normally make them vomit when the moment demands it or they wind up dead or costing lives.

That’s totally incorrect: I’m surprised your instructor would say that.

There is nothing in the GC against shooting enemy soldiers using parachutes as a means of transportation.

You may not, as a soldier, attack enemies who are using parachutes to escape damaged or destroyed aircraft. I think you’d agree it’s usually easy to tell the difference.

Protocol I of the Geneva Convention reads:

So airborne guys are basically screwed. :slight_smile:

I do not believe such rules are in the Geneva Conventions. They may be in other treaties, but as I mentioned before, this doesn’t really fall under the scope of the GC.

RickJay’s version is what I seem to remember from my time in the service: Airborne’s fair targets, folks bailing from busted planes aren’t.



On my very first tank gunnery, on the “Troop” engagement, I forgot to switch to COAX (machinegun)and blew away the entire troop berm with the main gun.

After a stern lecture on the importance of “switchology”, my Battalion Commander quipped about engaging troops with 105mm cannons being proscribed by the Geneva Convention.

Our Master Gunner (looking at the wrecked berm, destroyed target equipment and shredded troop targets) replied, “Sir, who the hell would be left to file a complaint?”


IIRC, Japan didn’t declare war against us until after the attack on Pearl Harbor, although I’d heard that that was actually due to an administrative/clerical error, not a deliberate act (the declaration, not the attack).

So expecting some third-world belligerent to actually type of a “Declaration Of War (SF-666)” before blowing up our stuff is kinda unrealistic.

And if they’re going to attack something, I’d rather they attack something that can fight back, instead of a park full of people, a schoolbus full of kids, etc,.

“Mostly Harmless :wally”

Breaking international law and terrorism are hardly the same things. The attack on Pearl Harbor may have been illegal, but was it terrorism? If today’s media had existed back then, they probably would have been whining about the “terrorist” attack. But it wasn’t really.