Ask the blogger


When I say that war crimes are an inevitable byproduct of war, am I trying to excuse the Bush Administration?

No. The point is that when you choose war, you choose war crimes--and that this is true regardless of why you are choosing the war. You may be going to war for reasons that even the staunchest of libertarians would support, like defending your territory from violent attack. Just the same, if the war grinds on for any length of time, you will get people violating the Geneva Conventions, doing obscene things to enemy soldiers (dead and alive), and launching attacks that would horrify the population if they were watching a third party do them. By the time you're a year or so into it, the public and the soldiers are reacting to the last attack and the mountain of dead, not to who started it. Dresden would have been unthinkable in 1939; by the time it happened, anything was justifiable if it saved Allied soldiers.

There are better and worse institutional safeguards against this sort of thing, and the most charitable thing you could possibly say about the Bush administration is that they seemed wholly indifferent to the need to maintain those safeguards. But this, too, has nothing to do with whether we were the aggressor; it's a matter of military culture and administrative decisionmaking.

Naturally, occupations breed certain sorts of transgressions, because the population is resistent. But occupation is hardly the sole province of the aggressor. It's certainly far from clear to me that our current occupation is producing more such incidents, or breakdowns in the justice system, than our occupation of Germany did.

The civil war is producing lots of war crimes committed by Iraqis and foreign terrorists on other Iraqis. But though I agree that we have responsibility for stupidly unleashing a civil war, you can't really categorize a suicide bomb in a market place as an American war crime.

Likewise, I am against the media management. But it's rather milder than what we've done in wars that were indisputably just.

The point is, these things are part of the cost of war, not of the cost of "wars started by the Bush administration" or "wars with bad motives" or "wars we don't like". Sometimes, they are a cost that is worth bearing. Often, they are not, and if I were to consider whether to support a future war, I would weigh them heavily. But they should be weighed even if you think the war is just and right, because they will happen.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Why Are Americans So Bad at Saving Money?

The US is particularly miserable at putting aside money for the future. Should we blame our paychecks or our psychology?

Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


The Death of Film

You'll never hear the whirring sound of a projector again.


How to Hunt With Poison Darts

A Borneo hunter explains one of his tribe's oldest customs: the art of the blowpipe


A Delightful, Pixar-Inspired Cartoon

An action figure and his reluctant sidekick trek across a kitchen in search of treasure.


I Am an Undocumented Immigrant

"I look like a typical young American."


Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion



More in Business

Just In