Is National Self Defense a War Crime? Asks Alan Dershowitz in a op-ed in Canada’s National Post. The answer says Dershowitz is “yes” if you ask Louise Arbour, a former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and currently the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, for so long as national self defense entails the risk of inflicting collateral damage. Dershowitz rejects her position and goes on to argue that:
Democracies simply cannot protect their citizens against terrorist attacks of the kind launched by Hezbollah without some foreseeable risk to civilians. There cannot be any absolute prohibition against such self-defensive military actions so long as they are proportional to the dangers and reasonable efforts are made to minimize civilian casualties.
Barbour's thinking has set up a wholly secular equivalent of the Problem of Evil. If we remove the term "God" from the standard proposition and replace it with appropriately secular terms we have this restatement:
Barbour's Dilemma is the problem of reconciling the existence of oppressive regimes, genocide and mass slaughter in a world governed by a wholly benevolent, pacifistic, nonviolent and impotent United Nations.
If the United Nations is benevolent then it cannot tolerate the existence of a Rwanda, Congo, North Korea or a Darfur. But if it attempts to stop these atrocities then inevitably it must inflict some collateral damage which will cause some people to die and that, according to Barbour, is a War Crime. There is no way out of the paradox and the system is in logical self-contradiction. Unlike the real problem of evil, a theodicy is not allowed as a solution to Barbour's Dilemma.because in a secular context, no meta-solutions are allowed by invoking a God who can make amends for everything or whose true nature we cannot completely understand. Those transcendant quantities cannot exist in Barbour's secular universe. They might exist in a religious universe, but not in the United Nations'.
We can either solve Barbour's Dilemma and win philosophical immortality or accept there are some things we cannot completely understand; and simply give thanks for our daily bread and try to make our way as best we can to tomorrow. I vote for going on and letting the deadwood bury the deadwood.