Why must civilians be protected at all costs?

Why should we take it at face value that civilians must be protected at all costs during war? What is the crucial difference between a man working in a munitions factory and an eighteen year old enlisted soldier? How is the munitions factory worker contributing any less to the war effort? Is he, in a way, not contributing more to the war effort in that his labour is allowing multiple units to remain in action?

Should the protection of civilians not be dependent on whether the war is a “total war”?

Is protecting civilians counter protective? If civilians were a valid target, would the public’s desire for war at large not be largely diminished?

Isn’t a munitions factory a legitimate military target? Perhaps you should select a different occupation for your hypothetical civilian worker for the purpose of this debate?

Well, any factory, then. Silk factories, coal mines, farms etc.

Who said civilians should be protected at all cost? Some would argue that instead of fighting wars as some kind of duel between uniformed armies, you create hardship and suffering for the civilian population so as to encourage them to petition their leaders to end the war.

That’s one of the reason we here in the West never seem to win insurgencies. Our leaders continue to want to fight them as if they can be won by raising the Iwo Jima flag in some glorious battlefield victory. They regard the enemy as “cowardly” or “deceitful” because they blend in with the population and leave booby traps instead of bravely facing down tanks and helicopters and armored soldiers.

Surely anyone who bemoans the number of civilian deaths in wars like the ones currently waging in Iraq and Afghanistan is implicitly implying that civilian deaths should be avoided at all costs?

My question is: when is it OK to target a civilian population and when is it not? Is it OK to target a civilian population who is actively supporting a war effort, and if not, why not?

Well, as a (retired) solider, I view myself as a protector of the weak. My training was to avoid civilian deaths and injuries. Besides, it is by destroying the enemy force that I gain victory. Generally targeting civilians is illegal, unwise and unnecessary.

I’ll give the easy answer: because most nations have signed an agreement specifying the rules for war, and that agreement includes language to the effect that civilian, i.e. non-combatants not in recognizable militia garb shall not be targets of a military operation.

And yeah, it’s a sticky question… Are the contractors who build the military bases valid targets? Even if its just a guy who paints the barracks so he can feed his wife and children? Hard to swallow, maybe, but I vote yes. He knew who he was working for, and could have sought employment elsewhere. It might have induced hardships, but we were never promised an easy life (were we?).

No. Violent conflict should not be inflicted upon those who are sitting on the sidelines, IMO.

Possibly, but this attitude would legitimize wholesale slaughter of ethnic, religious, tribal, etc. groups. I can’t imagine that anyone sane would argue that as a good thing. I certainly could not condone anything of the sort.

It is by destroying the enemy force’s ability to fight you gain victory. In modern war, command and control centers, like TV and radio stations, and munitions dumps and vehicle parks are top priorities. These may have civilians working at them, but they are legimate military targets.

Because killing innocent people is wrong.

Being in a country that is under attack is an insufficient reason to consider a person a hostile target. In most cases, people cannot simply leave, even if they oppose their country’s actions.

If you’re arguing that killing innocent people is moral because the ends justify the means, well, we need to debate at a much for fundamental level of ethics.

Oh, and its worth pointing out that they don’t need to be protected at all costs; I’m pretty sure no one argues that except for extreme pacificsts, since one way to protect civilians is to never go to war.

But if I work in a silk factory my contribution to the war effort is not sufficient to make me a hostile target.

And how do you define “innocent”? How is a man working in a job that facilitates the work of an army innocent?

But you haven’t answered the question. In which fundamental way is manufacturing silk to be used in parachutes less of a contribution to the war effort than being, for example, an officer co-ordinating an attack? Both jobs facilitate the offensive, do they not?

I know this. What I’m questioning is the reason why this particular law states what is states.

Who exactly is sitting on the sidelines? You seem to imply that a man who paints a barracks is a legitimate target, but then state people sitting on the sidelines should not be targetted.

I should note that I’m playing Devil’s Advocate, in case questions are asked about the motives of me starting this thread.

Because killing civilians is counter-productive. The pool of tomorrows soldiers is comprised of todays disgruntled citizens. By killing civilians, you are only ensuring that the enemy has a ready supply of new soldiers willing to fight.

This is a hugely valid point and one I came in here to make. If you kill a soldier, his younger sibling is pissed but knows the soldier was there to kill them as well. If you kill the soldier’s mother while she’s baking cookies the rage is much higher, and encourages the younger brother to enlist even more than his brother’s death.

I would also note that the guy working at the silk factory is there because he wants to put food on the table–and that is where he was able to find work. A person who enlists as a soldier is someone who is specifically willing to kill and die for whatever his nation is on about. (Of coure, drafted soldiers are a bit fishy there.)

If the guy is on the base, painting the barracks, and the base gets attacked, well, he knew the risks when he took the job.

If the guy is at home, watching TV, he is on the sidelines. He is not a soldier. He is a citizen who happens to paint barracks.

If you want to know the history of the Geneva Conventions just go read them.

Or was there a real debate in here that I missed?

If someone working at a silk factory is considered to be helping the war effort enough to make them a hostile target, is any civilian in an wartime country innocent? What possible job doesn’t, in some indirect way, contribute to the war effort?

Do you think the Iraqi insurgents are (from an Iraqi insurgent perspective) justified in targeting US financial districts because they indirectly support the war in Iraq?