National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Cover Story: At war
Issue Date:  April 4, 2003

Just war applies on battlefield, analyst says

In February, Maryann Cusimano-Love -- adviser to the U.S. bishops on Iraq, associate professor of politics at The Catholic University of America and fellow at the U.S. Naval Academy Ethics Center -- told 500 church social action workers (NCR, Feb. 21) that just war criteria are as relevant to the conduct of a war as they are in making the determination to begin hostilities.

Anticipating the outbreak of war, Cusimano-Love told the social action workers, “We must continue to raise our voices and focus our attention on [just war] criteria and restrictions in the use of force.”

Today, Cusimano-Love is doing just that.

Classic just war theory emphasizes two criteria once troops are in the field of battle: discrimination and proportionality. The latter refers to the targets of war: How well or badly are noncombatants protected from harm? Proportionality relates to the amount of force used to achieve an objective.

Speaking March 24, five days after the first U.S. air strikes hit Baghdad (and two days before an errant weapon reportedly killed more than a dozen Iraqis at a Baghdad market), Cusimano-Love described a mixed picture. On the positive side, the Iraqi government was reporting noncombatant deaths at “a fraction of what we had in the first Gulf War” for a comparable period, said Cusimano-Love.

“The good news is that the new technology that we have that was not available in the first Gulf War has been able to do a lot of discrimination in the bombing that has taken place,” said Cusimano-Love. “So even though Baghdad has been the recipient of a good deal of bombing over the last five days, it’s been almost all precision guided [smart] munitions.”

The bad news, said Cusimano-Love, is that at least 10 percent of the bombs dropped on Iraq are “dumb” -- guided by the skill of the pilot dropping the weapon, not, like their “smart” counterparts, by sensors that direct the weapon toward its intended target.

“The dumb munitions are primarily being used in close air support … when our troops get involved in a fire fight,” said Cusimano-Love. The major problem in terms of civilian causalities, she explained further, arises far after the dumb bombs, including cluster bombs, are dropped. “All the human rights groups -- the International Committee for the Red Cross, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International -- point out that a lot of civilians get killed by them because not all of them explode at the time [they are dropped]. They get covered by the desert sand and essentially become land mines.”

And what of “shock and awe,” the strategy employed by the United States in the early stages of the war?

“A lot of shock and awe is [based] on deterrence -- that by amassing such a clearly superior force you’ll encourage the defections and surrender of the other side -- and clearly that’s what U.S. forces are still hoping for.”

To the degree that the strategy “focuses on precision-guided and much more discriminatory weapons,” and specifically aims to minimize civilian causalities, it “could be a good thing,” said Cusimano-Love.

-- Joe Feuerherd

National Catholic Reporter, April 4, 2003

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