The March Philosophy Book of the Month is Final Notice by Van Fleisher. Discuss Final Notice now.

The April Philosophy Book of the Month is The Unbound Soul by Richard L. Haight. Discuss The Unbound Soul Now

The May Philosophy Book of the Month is Misreading Judas by Robert Wahler.

Military Commander Decision - Protect the civilians at the lives of your soldiers?

Discuss morality and ethics in this message board.
Featured Article: Philosophical Analysis of Abortion, The Right to Life, and Murder
Post Reply
User avatar
EthicsQuestions
New Trial Member
Posts: 7
Joined: June 10th, 2019, 2:44 am

Military Commander Decision - Protect the civilians at the lives of your soldiers?

Post by EthicsQuestions » June 12th, 2019, 6:48 am

Hi guys,

Two Military Officers are trying to decide on the best course of action to repulse an impending attack. Both officers have extensive training in Ethics.

The two military officers are part of a force deployed a foreign land.

A large force of 500 enemy soldiers have surrounded a infantry company of 90 soldiers. One of the officers wants to use artillery fire to break up the attack before it arrives. However, the enemy is moving through a populated township. The officers know that there are people in the town who have not evacuated - but they do not know how many people. If artillery is used, civilians will die - it could be 10 civilians, or 50, or 100. Nobody knows how many civilians are still present.

The other Military officer argues that the potential loss of civilian life is completely unacceptable. The attack must be allowed to occur. In all likelihood this will result in the loss of all 90 of the soldiers.

1. Should the civilian lives be considered more valuable than the soldiers lives?
2. Does not knowing the amount of civilians present (and having no way to even estimate them) justify the Commander in taking a course of action that assumes minimal civilian causalities when there is no basis for this assumption?
3. Would it be wrong for the commander to make a baseless assumption that civilian casualties will be high, when there is a known value (90 soldiers) of lives at stake?
4. Should the commander ignore considerations regarding the number of civilians at risk because he is not able to quantify the information.

1. From the commanders perspective his soldiers are also civilians of his own nation. The civilians in the town are from the same nation as the enemy soldiers. Should this 'degrade' their value? If citizenship should not matter, than should the military commander consider the lives of the enemy soldiers just as much as his own soldiers? Why should the soldiers from one side be considered more important than the soldiers of the other side if not for their citizenship? In which case the answer seems a lot more straight forward (don't resist the enemy - maximum casualties = 90).

2. This one seems hard to me - except when you tie it in with question 3. I don't think the commander should assume higher casualties among civilians any more than he should assume his bed has a snake in it - it could have a snake in it, but should the commander call a snake handler every night before bed to 'remove' the snake that might be there? If the commander should not assume high civilian casualties, his alternative option is to assume lower casualties. You might say that the commander should check that there is no snake before going to bed. But in this situation the commander cannot check the town for civilians and because of the need to remain hidden from the enemy the commander cannot use any lights to check that the bed is safe. I imagine most people will readily get in bed (risking their own life if there is a snake) without checking it first. If you are prepared to risk your own life (with the snake) on the basis of an unknown, is it not at least acceptable (from a Kantian Categorical Imperative perspective) to apply the maxim of " it is okay to take risks with lives when the degree of risk to that life is unknown"?

3. See 2.

4. I have no idea. But keen to hear other thoughts.

User avatar
Mark1955
Posts: 569
Joined: July 21st, 2015, 4:02 am
Favorite Philosopher: David Hume
Location: Nottingham, England.

Re: Military Commander Decision - Protect the civilians at the lives of your soldiers?

Post by Mark1955 » June 13th, 2019, 12:03 pm

Reelvant ponits for your appreciation
1. You're in the military to die so that others don't have to.
2. Civilians are protected by the Geneva convention.
3. The offiers in question shouldn't have set up a defensive position so stupidly so they didn't have clear killing zones for the artillery to fire into.

What the miilitary should do and what they do do aren't always the same, but the above should provide the DS solution.
If you think you know the answer you probably don't understand the question.

User avatar
LuckyR
Moderator
Posts: 3409
Joined: January 18th, 2015, 1:16 am

Re: Military Commander Decision - Protect the civilians at the lives of your soldiers?

Post by LuckyR » June 14th, 2019, 1:03 am

A couple of things: in most historical conflicts, the number of civilian casualties routinely outnumbered that of soldiers. The enemy soldier's decision to attack under the cover of civilians is prohibited as an example of the human shield concept.

Fire away, would be the typical response.
"As usual... it depends."

User avatar
EthicsQuestions
New Trial Member
Posts: 7
Joined: June 10th, 2019, 2:44 am

Re: Military Commander Decision - Protect the civilians at the lives of your soldiers?

Post by EthicsQuestions » June 14th, 2019, 3:59 am

2. Civilians are protected by the Geneva convention.
I am still new to philosophy/Ethics, but it seems to me that this is a purely legal argument and not an ethical argument. So the civilians are protected by the law - are they protected by ethics also? Would you see an issue if the Geneva Convention did not exist?
3. The offiers in question shouldn't have set up a defensive position so stupidly so they didn't have clear killing zones for the artillery to fire into.
But that does not really relate to the ethical situation. You can call them tactically stupid, but I am not sure how it helps them deal with the situation they find themselves in. Just as an aside, you often find that decisions that are tactically bad or strategically good and vice versa. Specifically officers need to consider the strategic goals of winning hearts and minds (being close to civilians so you can get to know them and help them with their daily life - this is not always a good tactical decision) as well as the tactical situation (defensive positions on high ground don't really further the strategic goals of hearts and minds and getting amongst the civilians).
1. You're in the military to die so that others don't have to.
Why is this so? Would you still agree if the soldiers were conscripts? Letting your soldiers die does not seem like a good tactical decision. Also, even if I accept that a soldiers job is to die so that others don't - is it to die for their own citizens or any citizens in the world? In the scenario the citizens are of a different country.

I understand what is expected from a soldier - but I want to know if it is 'right'.
A couple of things: in most historical conflicts, the number of civilian casualties routinely outnumbered that of soldiers. The enemy soldier's decision to attack under the cover of civilians is prohibited as an example of the human shield concept.
I am curious about the ethical situation facing the two 'friendly' military officers - not whether what the enemy soldiers have done is prohibited or not. Even if certain actions by the friendly officers can be legally justified, this still does tell me whether the action would be morally/ethically correct.

Thanks to the both of you for your replies.

User avatar
h_k_s
Posts: 396
Joined: November 25th, 2018, 12:09 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Aristotle
Location: Rocky Mountains

Re: Military Commander Decision - Protect the civilians at the lives of your soldiers?

Post by h_k_s » June 14th, 2019, 5:38 am

EthicsQuestions wrote:
June 12th, 2019, 6:48 am
Hi guys,

Two Military Officers are trying to decide on the best course of action to repulse an impending attack. Both officers have extensive training in Ethics.

The two military officers are part of a force deployed a foreign land.

A large force of 500 enemy soldiers have surrounded a infantry company of 90 soldiers. One of the officers wants to use artillery fire to break up the attack before it arrives. However, the enemy is moving through a populated township. The officers know that there are people in the town who have not evacuated - but they do not know how many people. If artillery is used, civilians will die - it could be 10 civilians, or 50, or 100. Nobody knows how many civilians are still present.

The other Military officer argues that the potential loss of civilian life is completely unacceptable. The attack must be allowed to occur. In all likelihood this will result in the loss of all 90 of the soldiers.

1. Should the civilian lives be considered more valuable than the soldiers lives?
2. Does not knowing the amount of civilians present (and having no way to even estimate them) justify the Commander in taking a course of action that assumes minimal civilian causalities when there is no basis for this assumption?
3. Would it be wrong for the commander to make a baseless assumption that civilian casualties will be high, when there is a known value (90 soldiers) of lives at stake?
4. Should the commander ignore considerations regarding the number of civilians at risk because he is not able to quantify the information.

1. From the commanders perspective his soldiers are also civilians of his own nation. The civilians in the town are from the same nation as the enemy soldiers. Should this 'degrade' their value? If citizenship should not matter, than should the military commander consider the lives of the enemy soldiers just as much as his own soldiers? Why should the soldiers from one side be considered more important than the soldiers of the other side if not for their citizenship? In which case the answer seems a lot more straight forward (don't resist the enemy - maximum casualties = 90).

2. This one seems hard to me - except when you tie it in with question 3. I don't think the commander should assume higher casualties among civilians any more than he should assume his bed has a snake in it - it could have a snake in it, but should the commander call a snake handler every night before bed to 'remove' the snake that might be there? If the commander should not assume high civilian casualties, his alternative option is to assume lower casualties. You might say that the commander should check that there is no snake before going to bed. But in this situation the commander cannot check the town for civilians and because of the need to remain hidden from the enemy the commander cannot use any lights to check that the bed is safe. I imagine most people will readily get in bed (risking their own life if there is a snake) without checking it first. If you are prepared to risk your own life (with the snake) on the basis of an unknown, is it not at least acceptable (from a Kantian Categorical Imperative perspective) to apply the maxim of " it is okay to take risks with lives when the degree of risk to that life is unknown"?

3. See 2.

4. I have no idea. But keen to hear other thoughts.
There is no such thing as command by committee.

Only one military officer is ever in command and it would be his/her decision alone.

User avatar
h_k_s
Posts: 396
Joined: November 25th, 2018, 12:09 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Aristotle
Location: Rocky Mountains

Re: Military Commander Decision - Protect the civilians at the lives of your soldiers?

Post by h_k_s » June 14th, 2019, 5:42 am

LuckyR wrote:
June 14th, 2019, 1:03 am
A couple of things: in most historical conflicts, the number of civilian casualties routinely outnumbered that of soldiers. The enemy soldier's decision to attack under the cover of civilians is prohibited as an example of the human shield concept.

Fire away, would be the typical response.
Insurgents are fond of using civilians as human shields. Happens all the time in Arabia all over now. And in Africa. And in Southwest Asia. And formerly in Southeast Asia. During WW2 it happened in France, Germany, and Italy too. During the Russian Revolution of 1917 it happened there. It may be morally wrong, but as Aristotle pointed out to King Alexander, there are no morals in warfare.

User avatar
h_k_s
Posts: 396
Joined: November 25th, 2018, 12:09 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Aristotle
Location: Rocky Mountains

Re: Military Commander Decision - Protect the civilians at the lives of your soldiers?

Post by h_k_s » June 14th, 2019, 5:49 am

Mark1955 wrote:
June 13th, 2019, 12:03 pm
Reelvant ponits for your appreciation
1. You're in the military to die so that others don't have to.
2. Civilians are protected by the Geneva convention.
3. The offiers in question shouldn't have set up a defensive position so stupidly so they didn't have clear killing zones for the artillery to fire into.

What the miilitary should do and what they do do aren't always the same, but the above should provide the DS solution.
The Japanese and Germans of WW2 and North Koreans of the Korean War/Conflict were fond of killing civilians, as I recall from history (both were before I was born). The North Koreans got away with it since there was no final resolution to that war/conflict. The Japanese and Germans who were caught were tried and executed at war's end.

The brutality of the WW2 Japanese and Germans is unmatched anywhere in past history. In the case of the Japanese it was racial. In the case of the Germans it was ethnic. More recently there was ethnic genocide in Southeastern Europe as well, and many of these perpetrators were caught, tried, and executed.

User avatar
h_k_s
Posts: 396
Joined: November 25th, 2018, 12:09 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Aristotle
Location: Rocky Mountains

Re: Military Commander Decision - Protect the civilians at the lives of your soldiers?

Post by h_k_s » June 14th, 2019, 5:51 am

EthicsQuestions wrote:
June 12th, 2019, 6:48 am
Hi guys,

Two Military Officers are trying to decide on the best course of action to repulse an impending attack. Both officers have extensive training in Ethics.

The two military officers are part of a force deployed a foreign land.

A large force of 500 enemy soldiers have surrounded a infantry company of 90 soldiers. One of the officers wants to use artillery fire to break up the attack before it arrives. However, the enemy is moving through a populated township. The officers know that there are people in the town who have not evacuated - but they do not know how many people. If artillery is used, civilians will die - it could be 10 civilians, or 50, or 100. Nobody knows how many civilians are still present.

The other Military officer argues that the potential loss of civilian life is completely unacceptable. The attack must be allowed to occur. In all likelihood this will result in the loss of all 90 of the soldiers.

1. Should the civilian lives be considered more valuable than the soldiers lives?
2. Does not knowing the amount of civilians present (and having no way to even estimate them) justify the Commander in taking a course of action that assumes minimal civilian causalities when there is no basis for this assumption?
3. Would it be wrong for the commander to make a baseless assumption that civilian casualties will be high, when there is a known value (90 soldiers) of lives at stake?
4. Should the commander ignore considerations regarding the number of civilians at risk because he is not able to quantify the information.

1. From the commanders perspective his soldiers are also civilians of his own nation. The civilians in the town are from the same nation as the enemy soldiers. Should this 'degrade' their value? If citizenship should not matter, than should the military commander consider the lives of the enemy soldiers just as much as his own soldiers? Why should the soldiers from one side be considered more important than the soldiers of the other side if not for their citizenship? In which case the answer seems a lot more straight forward (don't resist the enemy - maximum casualties = 90).

2. This one seems hard to me - except when you tie it in with question 3. I don't think the commander should assume higher casualties among civilians any more than he should assume his bed has a snake in it - it could have a snake in it, but should the commander call a snake handler every night before bed to 'remove' the snake that might be there? If the commander should not assume high civilian casualties, his alternative option is to assume lower casualties. You might say that the commander should check that there is no snake before going to bed. But in this situation the commander cannot check the town for civilians and because of the need to remain hidden from the enemy the commander cannot use any lights to check that the bed is safe. I imagine most people will readily get in bed (risking their own life if there is a snake) without checking it first. If you are prepared to risk your own life (with the snake) on the basis of an unknown, is it not at least acceptable (from a Kantian Categorical Imperative perspective) to apply the maxim of " it is okay to take risks with lives when the degree of risk to that life is unknown"?

3. See 2.

4. I have no idea. But keen to hear other thoughts.
During WW1 and WW2 when big armies last moved out in the open through built up areas, the built up areas got shelled into the Stone Age.

So what is your question again? And why are you asking it now, 75+ years later?

User avatar
EthicsQuestions
New Trial Member
Posts: 7
Joined: June 10th, 2019, 2:44 am

Re: Military Commander Decision - Protect the civilians at the lives of your soldiers?

Post by EthicsQuestions » June 14th, 2019, 6:00 am

There is no such thing as command by committee.
I am not proposing that this is "command by committee", I am proposing that two military officers are discussing what to do in a given situation. There is variations between countries, but it is not unusual that a company of soldiers would have more than one officer - for example platoon officers reporting to the company commander. In the United States the military decisions are made with input from subordinates.

This is actually a significant difference between Russian and American military decision making. Russian commanders make decisions with little or no input from their subordinate officers. The reason for this is that the Russians prefer adequate decisions that are made quickly. The United States prefers the best decisions possible - but these decisions take longer. The Russians are able to make more decisions in the time it takes for a US Commander to make one - and so in a war, the idea is that the US Commander would not be able to respond to the Russians actions fast enough.

I would actually say that in some countries there is a form of 'Command by Committee' with a group of officers coming up with a plan and then presenting the plan to their commander for approval.

User avatar
LuckyR
Moderator
Posts: 3409
Joined: January 18th, 2015, 1:16 am

Re: Military Commander Decision - Protect the civilians at the lives of your soldiers?

Post by LuckyR » June 15th, 2019, 1:15 am

h_k_s wrote:
June 14th, 2019, 5:42 am
LuckyR wrote:
June 14th, 2019, 1:03 am
A couple of things: in most historical conflicts, the number of civilian casualties routinely outnumbered that of soldiers. The enemy soldier's decision to attack under the cover of civilians is prohibited as an example of the human shield concept.

Fire away, would be the typical response.
Insurgents are fond of using civilians as human shields. Happens all the time in Arabia all over now. And in Africa. And in Southwest Asia. And formerly in Southeast Asia. During WW2 it happened in France, Germany, and Italy too. During the Russian Revolution of 1917 it happened there. It may be morally wrong, but as Aristotle pointed out to King Alexander, there are no morals in warfare.
Exactly my point, and this behavior despite the prohibitions is one of the major reasons that the attacking soldiers and their civilian shields would get shelled
"As usual... it depends."

User avatar
h_k_s
Posts: 396
Joined: November 25th, 2018, 12:09 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Aristotle
Location: Rocky Mountains

Re: Military Commander Decision - Protect the civilians at the lives of your soldiers?

Post by h_k_s » June 15th, 2019, 4:05 pm

In Afghanistan, the original mission was to get UBL and destroy the Taliban. Now the mission is simply to prop up the US-backed regime.

In Iraq the second time, the original mission was to capture the yellow cake. But there was no yellow cake. So they captured Saddam Hussein instead and hanged him. Now the mission is simply to prop up the US-backed regime.

In Iraq the first time, the original mission was to drive the Iraqi army out of Kuwait. I have friends who were in the tank corps of the 1st Marine Division who did precisely that. They butchered a lot of Iraqi soldiers. Civilian deaths by the US coalition were minimal. Most civilian deaths had been murders by the Iraqi army in Kuwait.

In Lebanon, the original mission was just to show the flag. I had friends who were killed at the Marine Barracks there. Both USMC colonels in charge of that expeditionary force were sacked, and the US withdrew.

In Viet Nam (classic original spelling -- two words -- means South Viet) the original mission was to prop up the US-backed regime. That did not go so well. Millions of civilians were killed by the USAF. Nothing can stop the US Air Force. Death from above. Eventually Nixon got peace with honor, was sacked, and G.Ford did not want to re-enter that conflict when the NVA rolled their tanks into Saigon. It was the first confirmed defeat of the US in a US theatre of war in history. Unless you count the War Of 1812. In which case it was the second US defeat.

Between Viet Nam and WW2, the USAF has probably killed more civilians than anyone else in history. But war is hell (W.T. Sherman).

U.S. Infantry on the ground rarely kills civilians. Occasionally at My Lai sure. But not otherwise.

Post Reply