Jonathan Edelstein, lawyer and US military veteran, writes Why international law matters.
there is an even more fundamental reason why international law matters. It is very rare for a military victory, no matter how decisive, to end the underlying conflict, and when the war is over, the issues will still have to be resolved and the conflicting parties rebuilt. Any measure that conserves human life and civilian infrastructure during the war will make those tasks that much easier, while scorched-earth warfare might win an immediate victory at the cost of making the underlying conflict more intractable. Israel, for instance, has won all its wars, some more decisively than others, but even its most spectacular military victories have failed to resolve the political conflicts that lie at their root. The ultimate solution has to be political, and in those cases where wars must be fought, it's important to fight them in a way that doesn't make reconstruction and mediation more difficult. That means doing everything possible to protect civilian life on the other side, and not damaging infrastructure in a way that might threaten the postwar stability of the opposing state. Israel clearly has the right to defend itself against Hizbullah's attacks, and it can be frustrating to follow the rules when the enemy doesn't acknowledge them. It can be difficult to hold back and be discriminating in the choice of targets when the enemy claims the right to attack civilian targets or even denies that there is such a thing as an Israeli civilian. Nevertheless, even aside from the fact that conserving human life is a moral good, following international humanitarian law and limiting the scope of warfare is critical if there is to be a hope of multilateral resolution and a postwar political settlement. The law is not meaningless either to the short-term realities of war or the politics of the underlying conflict, and the long-term dividends of conserving civilian life are much greater than the immediate costs.
The first of the blizzard of right wing commenters here during this crisis threw insults at me for being a terrible person, a pacifist, weak, etc. Jonathan's analysis seems right on to me. I am not against all military power. I just think that World Wars I and II taught us lessons about warfare that still apply. Remember the lessons we learned in school about wounded Germany after WW I rising up to become Hitler's Third Reich, and how the USA put in the Marshall Plan after WWII to rebuild Germany and all of Europe, to stave off more European wars? Simplistic, I know. But that's the principle applying here.
Yes, Dresden and Hiroshima and Nagasaki. No, I am not very hopeful. But it's the principle that matters. Thank you, Jonathan.