KABUL, Afghanistan – A NATO airstrike killed at least 27 civilians in central Afghanistan, the third time a mistaken coalition strike has killed noncombatants since the start of a major offensive aimed at winning over the population.

The top NATO commander, U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, apologized to the Afghan president, NATO said.

The Afghanistan Council of Ministers strongly condemned the airstrike in Uruzgan province, calling it “unjustifiable.”

Touchy.

Will Bunch reminds us how far we have come:

Reagan would not have approved of drone-fired missile attacks aimed at killing terrorists; as president he several times rejected anti-terrorism operations for the sole reason that civilians would have been killed by collateral damage. In 1985, he surprised aides such as Pat Buchanan by ruling out a military response to a Beirut hijacking for fear of civilian casualties; Lou Cannon reported then in the Washington Post that Reagan said “retaliation in which innocent civilians are killed is ‘itself a terrorist act.’”

He got over it eventually, but nevermind.  Twenty-five years ago the right of the Republican party could consider this unthinkable; today, a liberal Democrat runs on a promise to bomb an ally and gets called a commie.  (He keeps his promises, too.)  There’s been a lot of bridge under the water since then, but still.

Objections tend to be consequentialist (if I am using that $5 word correctly) – killing civilians tends to make those civilians’ friends and relations not like us very much, impeding efforts which require their cooperation.  Or may even inspire failed attempts to terrorize someone.  Hence: bad.  All of which may be true, and understandable.  While I, in my telescopic benevolence, am a bit peeved when foreign civilians are blown up, my peevishness is tempered by the understanding that it’s all a big oopsie and everyone is certainly very sorry for any inconvenience; on the other hand, I can imagine that the people scraping the charred residue of their loved ones off the rocks might not take such a generous view.  It’s a bad way to make friends.  (The other half of this argument is that the goal is so worthwhile that all is forgiven, but that is usually taken as read.)

There’s another objection, more fundamental, and it goes like this: you shouldn’t kill people who haven’t done anything to you, because it isn’t nice.  It’s considered bad manners, under most circumstances, which is why, in our day-to-day lives, most of us go out of our way to avoid “collaterally damaging” those around us, to the point of almost never firing Hellfire missiles anywhere there is even a remote chance of incinerating a baby.  If one does happen to kill, say, 27 people one Sunday evening, one can expect to have to answer some fairly pointed questions, at least.  Now, we are at war, and the longer it lasts the more it consumes us, but perhaps we could at least retain some small connection to our fellow humans and acknowledge that this was a mistake made by someone in uniform, but this mistake was made possible by deliberate policy.  It doesn’t have to be a big song and dance, just something like “today we killed so-and-so, which we didn’t mean to do, but we did risk killing innocent civilians with our actions, which we feel is justified because so-and-so.  We think it is worth killing civilians for this reason.”  Acknowledgement, owning responsibility, that’s all.  And it doesn’t even have to be Obama or anyone important – even Joe Biden would probably be adequate.  He’s not doing anything.

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