Here are some links to webpages which contain either information or articles about civilian deaths and modern warfare. Most of the information focuses on the ongoing U.S. war with Iraq, but the statistics are fairly representative of modern war more generally. Consider, for instance, the following quote from The New York Times:
Civilians have borne the brunt of modern warfare, with 10 civilians dying for every soldier in wars fought since the mid-20th century, compared with 9 soldiers killed for every civilian in World War I, according to a 2001 study by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Whether we're talking about the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima (90,000-166,000 civilian deaths) and Nagasaki (60,000-80,000 civilian deaths) or the bombing of Dresden (25,000-50,000 civilian deaths), non-combatant causalties are a foreseable consequence of waging war in the machine age.
A key issue in the debate about the death of non-combatants is the doctrine of double effect. On this view, civilian deaths are morally lamentable but nevertheless acceptable so long as the following conditions are met:
- The act itself must be morally good--e.g., a "just war."
- The agent may not positively intend to kill civilians although he may foresee their deaths. However, if he could attain the good effect (e.g., winning the war) without killing innocents he should do so.
- The death of innocents cannot be used a means of obtaining the good results. Instead, the deaths must be foreseen but unintended side effects.
- The good effect must be sufficiently desirable to compensate for or offset the death of innocents.
Some questions to consider:
What do you think of the doctrine of double effect? What is required for a war to be just? Can a bad outcome be entirely foreseeable and yet unintended? Is it ever morally appropriate to target innocent civilians? Are all non-combatants innocent? Are all combatants appropriate targets?