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How Can We Condemn Boston Murders but Excuse U.S. Bombing of Civilians?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Ever since the Boston Marathon bombings Monday, something has been bothering me. I’ve tried to put it out of my mind, but I can’t. So, perhaps unwisely, I’m going to write about it.

We Americans are justifiably outraged at the attacks in Boston, which killed three innocent people and injured many more. But over the past 12 years our own nation has killed and maimed thousands of innocent people while carrying out military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Estimates of war casualties are notoriously unreliable and should always be viewed with skepticism. But according to the reputable group Iraq Body Count, between 2003 and 2011 U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq killed 14,906 civilians, including at least 1,201 children.

Such killings continue. On April 8, The New York Times reported that an American airstrike in Afghanistan killed at least 10 children and wounded at least five women. The incident was not even major news; it ran not on the front page of the Times but on page eight, because incidents like these are common. How can we condemn the killings in Boston but excuse the killing of civilians by our soldiers in war zones?

One obvious response is that, unlike the Boston bombers, the U.S. pilots did not want to harm civilians. Their target was a Taliban commander. The U.S. military prefers not to kill civilians and often apologizes when it does. Intention matters, morally and legally; intention is what distinguishes murder from manslaughter. But if you keep doing something over and over again, at some point apologizing and saying you didn’t mean it becomes meaningless. Doesn’t it?

The U.S. clearly has a double standard for judging killing of civilians, but it’s not just that we value American lives more than non-American lives. Let’s say the second Boston bomber, who is reportedly from Chechnya, holes up in a house with civilians, including some of his family members. Will law-enforcement agents call in an airstrike to blow up the Bomber along with everyone else in the house? Of course not. The agents will do all they can to protect the lives of the civilians in the building—and even the life of the Bomber!

Police will try to capture alive the Bomber so he can be tried. If he cannot afford a lawyer, the U.S. will give him one. Even mass murderers receive all the benefits of our legal system, which shows what a great civilization, in the best sense of the word, we are. (For the purposes of this essay, I’m going to ignore our unjust detainment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay as an aberration.)

But consider this irony: We treat child killers here in the U.S. with more care than we treat children in Afghanistan and other war zones. We excuse the killing of civilians by U.S. troops by saying that in war bad things happen–as if war is like a plague or natural disaster, for which we are not responsible. Killing innocent people is inexcusable, whether they live in Boston or in Afghanistan. Terrorists and criminals and deranged maniacs kill civilians. A civilized nation doesn’t. Or shouldn’t. Ever.

Postscript: Some commenters below raise reasonable objections to my criticism of U.S. military actions, which often kill civilians. I am not a total pacifist, and I do not advocate unilateral U.S. disarmament. I accept that in some cases violence is morally justified to prevent greater violence. But the U.S. is now employing military violence and the threat thereof in ways that are immoral. I present ideas about the justified use of force in past posts on just-war theory, on U.S. drone strikes (see here, here and here) and in my book The End of War. My basic argument is that when contemplating the use of lethal force, we should consider whether our actions will perpetuate war and militarism or help us transcend them. We have a moral obligation to seek the end of war, once and for all.

Post-postscript: Susan Quinlan, an Oakland-based peace activist, recently sent me an email that raises a serious objection to an assumption I make above. Our exchange follows:

“Dear John, I agree that the hypocrisy of lamenting the deaths in Boston while ignoring the far greater destruction inflicted by the U.S. in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. deserves our attention. Having recently read a very thought provoking article that takes a different approach to the same issue, I feel inspired to challenge you on an area where I believe you could strengthen your argument. Your claim that U.S. law enforcement does all it can to protect innocent (and innocent until proven guilty) civilians struck me as untrue. ‘Will law-enforcement agents call in an airstrike to blow up the Bomber along with everyone else in the house? Of course not. The agents will do all they can to protect the lives of the civilians in the building—and even the life of the Bomber!’ I want to remind you of the bombing of the MOVE household (and surrounding neighborhood) in Philadelphia in 1985, or the hundreds (thousands?) of people—usually young people of color— who have been killed by police with relative impunity. Aiyana Jones, Oscar Grant, Allan Blueford, Kimani Gray, to name a few. [See]. I urge you to read Mia McKenzie’s article and consider how your article might be edited to acknowledge the experiences of people of color in this country. [See]

Susan Quinlan, BAY-Peace: Better Alternatives for Youth

Horgan: “Susan, you’re right. I’m talking about an ideal of U.S. law enforcement that is too often not met, especially when it comes to people of color. But most Americans were horrified by the MOVE bombing, which was a rare event, whereas few care about U.S. military bombing of civilians overseas, which is routine.”

Quinlan: “Yes the MOVE bombing was uniquely horrifying, but police violence is an every day part of life in this country—at least in communities of color. I’ll bet most high school students in any inner city today could name at least one unarmed person killed by the police. It’s hard to write for a national audience because our nation is so divided in this type of experience. However, even though your point was to shed light on the international abuse of civilians (something we all need to be reminded of!), McKenzie makes a clear case for the damage that is done when those of us who are less vulnerable to domestic abuse ignore the issue.”

Photo of Afghan children allegedly killed in U.S. air strike: Associated Press/Naimatullah Karyab.

John Horgan About the Author: Every week, hockey-playing science writer John Horgan takes a puckish, provocative look at breaking science. A teacher at Stevens Institute of Technology, Horgan is the author of four books, including The End of Science (Addison Wesley, 1996) and The End of War (McSweeney's, 2012). Follow on Twitter @Horganism.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. spartyb 5:30 pm 04/19/2013

    i get the sense that the author doesn’t appreciate the incredible lengths that all of our armed services take to prevent the killing of non-combatants. it seems that a common misunderstanding exists (among media types)as i see this type of story all too frequently.

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  2. 2. cryofpaine 6:00 pm 04/19/2013

    While it doesn’t necessarily justify it, there is a clear difference. We are at war with Afghanistan, and are targeting military targets. With the bomber, he isn’t a representative of any country or government, there has been no formal declaration of war, and the bombing wasn’t against a military target. I agree that it’s often semantics. An innocent life is an innocent life, and “casualty of war” doesn’t do much to comfort the husbands and wives and children and parents who have lost loved ones. Each innocent killed means that there may be one more person with the motivation to hate us and keep the war going.

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  3. 3. rshoff 7:02 pm 04/19/2013

    How do you justify it? You don’t. But that is what war is. War is not a game. It is a horrendously horrible scenario that rips the lives and souls from untold numbers of humanity. So the difference between bombing enemy territory and a bombing in our own country is defined by the concept of ‘war’. The question that has to be asked is whether war is just. And it could be argued both ways. We would have to keep an open mind to participate in that discussion, which I doubt is possible.

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  4. 4. Acoyauh2 7:08 pm 04/19/2013

    “the incredible lengths that all of our armed services take to prevent the killing of non-combatants” would be credible if actions were taken to reduce and eventually end the casualties. The ongoing rate of innocent deaths just cries out that not nearly enough care is put into it. Or none at all.

    Without in nay way justifying terrorism, it is obvious why such operations serve more to create enemies of the US than to defeat them. But then again, war is very good buisness for America, and good business overrides all else here, right?

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  5. 5. N a g n o s t i c 7:12 pm 04/19/2013

    Might makes right. Didn’t you get the memo?

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  6. 6. syzygyygyzys 7:50 pm 04/19/2013

    Ultimately the savages will lose.

    On a plane going somewhere years ago during one of the Somali famines, I sat next to a university professor. The famine came up in our conversation. I told him that I thought their practice of having the men eat first, then the women, then the children by age (I think I have that correct.) was a bad idea. He told me (with arrogance derived from incontrovertibly superior knowledge) that he had been to Somalia and that we should NOT consider our culture superior to theirs.

    I let him bask in his condescension for a moment. Then I said, “If you starve the youngest children first, doesn’t that weaken their mental and physical potential? Doesn’t that make them as a people less likely to flourish? Their religion trumps the scientific method. (Ask them, ‘If you thrown a stone in the air will it fall?’ They will answer, ‘If Allah wills it.’) That seems like a problem to me.” I told him otherwise I didn’t see one religion as superior to another. There are probably better examples, but you get the idea.

    Given what has happened in Boston in the name of their religion which intentionally targeted innocents, I find it surprising you see collateral casualties from our attempts at self-preservation as equivalent.

    Mr. Horgan, we are not the savages.

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  7. 7. syzygyygyzys 7:53 pm 04/19/2013

    Everyone cries for the children.

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  8. 8. N a g n o s t i c 9:01 pm 04/19/2013

    Oh well, maybe I can try to answer “How Can We Condemn Boston Murders But Excuse U.S. Bombing of Civilians?”

    For starters, the Boston civilians were primary targets. Civilians killed by US bombs are done so unintentionally.
    So, the question is one of apples and oranges, typically asked by bleeding heart blame US Firsters.

    Second, who is excusing collateral deaths by US bombs?
    As far as I know, nobody. So, your question has a straw-man aspect.

    Third, the US is a sovereign nation of citizens, no matter how open to all comers you want it to be, you still have to be a citizen to vote and collect SS… well, maybe… at any rate, if we’re able to treat child-killers within our borders better than children in Timbuktu, so what of it? What is your point? Isn’t that a good thing?

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  9. 9. elderlybloke 11:44 pm 04/19/2013

    An unfortunate truth is that the killing of civilians-adult and children keep going on and on.

    No wonder the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan regard USA as the Enemy.

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  10. 10. Valley234 12:22 am 04/20/2013

    How terrible for the people where we kill. I wouldn’t blame them for hating us. They must feel that we don’t value their lives.

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  11. 11. phalaris 5:56 am 04/20/2013

    Horgan is no doubt aware of the rationale for western intervention in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Presumably he doesn’t agree with it.
    We also have to presume on his attitude to tipping acid over little girls who want to go to school.
    He would probably protest vehemently that he wants in no way to be an enabler of such acts.

    As someone who writes on anthropology we’d love to hear his take on the motivation of the perpetrators, or perhaps we wouldn’t: it’s all the west’s fault!

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  12. 12. outsidethebox 11:05 am 04/20/2013

    One word answer: intent.

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  13. 13. jimor 11:50 am 04/20/2013

    Aside from the obvious insensitive timing of Horgan’s post, the parallel he draws is unjust – and he knows it. He knows that Muslim fanatics target civilians exclusively. He knows no military in history has done more to avoid civilian casualties than ours currently is. He knows advances in military targeting technology have reduced vast numbers of innocents killed; he says as much in his book The End of War. He knows that fanatical Islam is waging a war against freedom and pluralism around the globe and this jihad has resulted in genocide, starvation and mutilation of only the innocent . And of course , he knows Al Qaeda has declared war on, and the destruction of, the US. So comparing the evil acts of the marathon massacre to tragically unintended casualties resulting from our war with Al Qaeda is unjust and unfair . Horgan should know better.

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  14. 14. taprit 3:47 pm 04/20/2013

    Dead is dead, regardless of the intent. Those who drop bombs, shoot, or pilot drones know full well that there will be collateral deaths. The consequences are the same. In Iraq and Afghanistan they live with and anticipate it 24/7/365.

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  15. 15. Bremsstrahlung 8:39 pm 04/20/2013

    The authors’ question, “How Can We Condemn Boston Murders But Excuse U.S. Bombing of Civilians?” is the ethical equivalent to “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7; ) Restating it in paragraph three “How can we condemn the killings in Boston but excuse the killing of civilians by our soldiers in war zones?”, he recasts it as a declarative in paragraph five, “The U.S. clearly has a double standard for judging killing of civilians.”

    In paragraph four he dismisses the US’s moral protection that the its harm is unintentional, while terrorists’ harm is intentional with “But if you keep doing something over and over again, at some point apologizing and saying you didn’t mean it becomes meaningless. Doesn’t it?” If the US’s apologizing is indeed meaningless, then it must be true in paragraph five, “The U.S. clearly has a double standard for judging killing of civilians.”

    As our military’s killing is the violent expression of the government we all elected, their culpability is our responsibility; the blood of those bombed children drips from our fingers. What can we do to fix this problem, which makes each of us as bad as any terrorist? He proposes an absolute as his final solution to his problem, “A civilized nation doesn’t [kill]. Or shouldn’t. Ever.”

    As he proposes an absolute to correct the problem, let’s see what the results might be.

    The principle way to achieve this ideal – to be, or become, a civilized nation – is to adopt military policies that preclude civilian casualties. Casualties – not deaths – for any casualty (being injured by flying glass from a window broken by the explosion of an American bomb being but one example), can led to a civilian death, and the author has proposed, “A civilized nation doesn’t. Or shouldn’t. Ever.” But removing all bombs, nuclear and conventional, from America’s arsenal is but the toe in the door, isn’t it? All lethal munitions, down to and including the small arms carried by America’s combat infantry (for ricochets kill, don’t they?), must be eliminated, as that is the only way to guarantee that no innocent children will ever again be killed by American soldiers, because if that ever happens, America stops being civilized – assuming that the author’s claim, “A civilized nation doesn’t. Or shouldn’t. Ever.” is true.

    One very plausible result of accepting the author’s proposal in re civilian deaths because, “A civilized nation doesn’t. Or shouldn’t. Ever.” is unilateral disarmament.

    If this is a reasonable, or even an arguable end point, as the above review suggests it may be, then one might inquire if unilateral disarmament in pursuit of “civilization through pacifism” is likely to produce the desired results.

    Assume, for the sake of argument, that the US does drop its double standard for judging killing of civilians, and assigns the same ethical or moral value to all civilians. Let us take as given, that between 2003 and 2011 U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq killed 14,906 civilians, including at least 1,201 children..

    What is the probability that an American unilateral disarmament will, between 2013 and 2021 lead to fewer civilian casualties than between 2003 and 2011? What is the probability that North Korea or Iran would use one or more of their nuclear weapons against a disarmed US during that period? Many people, although of course not all, would suggest that it is more likely that one or the other country would deploy at least one against the country – the U.S. – that each views as an enemy, if the U.S. would be bound by its commitment to be civilized to kill not even one civilian in any retaliation it might take against the attacking nation. The chance might be as high as one in twenty that between 2013 and 2021 either one or the other would use the nuclear weapons they currently or will possess as tools to advance their goals. While it is unlikely that both would do so, it is less unlikely that one would.

    Assume, again just for the sake of argument, that only one nuclear weapon is deployed against the U.S. Estimates of war casualties are notoriously unreliable and should always be viewed with skepticism, but according to the BBC, an organization generally regarded as reliable, the final death toll from the one nuclear weapon used on Hiroshima was calculated to be 135,000. ( )

    If these assumptions are reasonable, then adopting the author’s recommended Foreign Policy for a civilized nation would produce a one in ten chance that there would be more than 100,000 American civilian deaths between 2013 and 2021. A one in ten chance that the civilian death toll would be almost ten times higher than the current Foreign Policy, and the civilian death toll could be much, much greater, as this rough estimate presumes that only one nuclear weapon would be used against the U.S.

    This, in turn, leads me to question if the author’s claim about civilian deaths relative to civilized behavior is, in fact, as reasonable as it might initially seem to be.

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  16. 16. Jack Strocchi 11:24 pm 04/20/2013

    The Reverend Horgan sermonized:

    Killing innocent people is inexcusable, whether they live in Boston or in Afghanistan. Terrorists and criminals and deranged maniacs kill civilians. A civilized nation doesn’t. Or shouldn’t. Ever.

    This implies that Allied bomber pilots bombing Axis cities in WWII, which killed civilians, were on the same moral level as Osama Bin Laden. Only a moral cretin could believe such a calumny.

    To be charitable to Horgan, his intellectual error is common. War, organized violent conflict, should be regulated by morality: but it is Machiavellian, rather than Millian, utilitarianism. That is, the end is the greatest happiness for your side (the good guys) and this justifies proportionate means which means inflicting suffering on the other side (the bad guys). The violent means can be more extreme, depending on how bad the threat is from the bad guys.

    This justifies, in principle, area bombing (including the use of nukes) against totalitarian genocidal regimes of the Nazi-Nippon persuasion. It also justifies surgical strikes with smart weapons against lower grade terrorist psychopaths such as Al Quadea/Taliban, even where some civilians are “collateral damage”.

    The evidence shows that such drone strikes save more lives – both Allied soldiers and friendly civilians – than they slay. A recent Rand report shows that drone strikes are working to both defeat terrorists and save innocent civilian lives:

    identifies a negative correlation between drone strikes and militant violence inside Pakistan, indicating that the rate of violence has gone down as the rate of drone strikes has gone up…operatives of the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network reveal that drones have forced them into a “jungle existence” where they fear for the lives on a daily basis

    So those who oppose drone strikes are objectively supporting a policy whose consequence will be a much greater violent death toll for innocent people, including schoolgirls like Malala who was shot by the Taliban for protesting on behalf of womens rights. With friends like Horgan I doubt if the Malalas of this world need enemies.

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  17. 17. Jayjaykay100 4:11 am 04/21/2013

    The justification for War is tenuous at best IMHO. 9/11 seemed to spark the invasion in Iraq and Afghanistan.. what did Afghanistan have to do with 9/11? Remember the US backed the Mujahideen which is now know as the Taliban and the CIA and other western governments “liked” Saddam Hussein as he was Western friendly:
    There is no evidence that Iraq or Afghanistan had anything to do with 9/11, it seems the illegal invasion of these Countries is based on Imperialism and access to resource rather than a war on “terror”. Why was Saudi not invaded seeing it’s links with “Al Qaeda’s”leader? A fake war with a fake enemy to erode human rights across the world, in the US and Europe and make the 1% wealthier… Halliburton have done very well out of this continued global conflict, you can’t have a Military Industrial Complex without an enemy and war.. once the Soviet Union collapsed we needed some new enemies. Not saying the Taliban are a charamsmatic bunch as they are barbaric men as well but to support John Horgan’s article how can we get outraged about innocents being murdered in cold blood in Boston but not think about innocent people being murdered in Afghanistan and Iraq for no other reason that they were born in a Country that the West decided it wanted to invade illegally with some very sketchy evidence that they were some how involved in “terror”. It seems acceptable for Western violence to be doled out but not if it comes back the other way.

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  18. 18. John Horgan in reply to John Horgan 7:50 am 04/21/2013

    The following comment is from a reader who wants to remain anonymous. John Horgan. “Unfortunately, I agree with your article in Scientific American. These have been my thoughts for several years. It is sad that the US has the finest military and chooses to use them in frivolously executed wars. On the one hand our soldiers, airmen, etc. do their best to not kill innocents; yet war being war, many innocents are killed and maimed. My guess is that it is much more than what you said in the article. It is more like hundreds of thousands combatants and a similar number of civilians that killed and maimed. It is a wonder that a so few foreigners are outraged enough to harm Americans at home. It is amazing that really there hasn’t been any real attacks here. Maybe with your science background you can explain that one. Also, perhaps you might explain why Americans are whining so much about this horror; yet, most gloated or chose to ignore when our bombs were dropped on foreign countries. For many foreigners, the Boston bombing experience has been the daily or weekly event. Well at least, when the military guys come home now-a-days, as compared to us Vietnam vets, there is a little celebration for them at the airport or base. But then they are forgotten and in a lot of ways quietly disparaged. Many will quietly suffer for decades uncared for by the public that uncaringly sent them to kill and maim people the public doesn’t know nor like. I purposely did not put this on your website; because this area is so conservative that I truly fear retaliation for these kind of comments. I don’t want my windows broken, car scratched, etc. etc. Sad. Feel free to post this; but, please do so without my name. Though being anonymous or having false names bothers me.

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  19. 19. John Horgan in reply to John Horgan 7:53 am 04/21/2013

    So because the Taliban commits atrocities that gives us the right to commit them? If you were one of my students, I’d give you a D.

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  20. 20. centromere 8:10 am 04/21/2013

    @ 17. Jayjaykay100 & 19. @19 Horgan

    “It seems acceptable for Western violence to be doled out but not if it comes back the other way.”
    “So because the Taliban commits atrocities that gives us the right to commit them?”

    Do you have any qualitative criticism of the posts by Bremsstrahlung or Strocchi, or have you elected to skip the hard parts of Ethics, have Faith in your Feelings, and go directly to where you conclude that you’re right and they’re wrong?

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  21. 21. FractalNumber 8:47 am 04/21/2013

    @20. centromere

    Rather than criticizing the posters for being non-responsive, why not focus on the substance? For example, @19, “So because the Taliban commits atrocities that gives us the right to commit them?” seems ripe for review.

    Is intention a necessary component of an atrocity? If so, then the inadvertent deaths due to American violence cannot correctly be described as atrocities, while those of the Taliban can. Don’t be distracted by incidentals.

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  22. 22. centromere 9:50 am 04/21/2013

    @21. FractalNumber

    Yours is a reasonable criticism, and a reasonable question.

    The issue of non-responsiveness is relevant, as it exemplifies the problem writ large in our Federal Government. It is because the Parties fail to respond to the valid criticism of each other that such cost cutting as does occur must be done with such crude tools as the sequester. Pretending that a different POV does not exist does not cause the differing POV to disappear; the discourtesy amplifies the disagreement.

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  23. 23. centromere 9:51 am 04/21/2013

    @21. FractalNumber

    Yes, evaluation of intent is necessary to distinguish an atrocity from an accident. If an actor consciously avoids doing harm then any harm done is incidental to and not the essence of the action.

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  24. 24. abolitionist 1:07 pm 04/21/2013

    @15 bremsstrahlung,

    So, Systems Analysis meets Philosophy, or How to Optimize Ethical Decisions? Very interesting. I have not seen that approach before. While I might quibble about some of your assumptions, not bad. Not bad at all.

    @21 fractalnumber,

    Yes, intention distinguishes an accident from an atrocity.

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  25. 25. rshoff 1:34 pm 04/21/2013

    John, war is horrible, but humanity can be horrible too. Sometimes we must do horrible things in our own defense. To defend ourselves, we must identify and target the enemy. As to whether that is done accurately or morally is another question. But life is rift with those questions. The very essence of life requires that we eat other life, and thereby destroy it. So, Do you want to survive? If so, you must be prepared for defense. My philosophy is that war should be avoided. Extremely avoided. It’s morally reprehensible to fight an unnecessary war. But once a war becomes necessary we must defend ourselves.

    I would agree with you that we’ve engaged in wars for little or no reason. That is true of all of humanity, btw. But I’m reluctant to say that we can live in a warless world. We can’t.

    So back to your question. The difference between civilian murders in our country and civilian collateral deaths during a war? War. That’s the difference.

    I think Nagnostic said it very well early on.

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  26. 26. Bremsstrahlung 2:01 pm 04/21/2013

    @24. abolitionist

    I’m glad you like it. I don’t take credit for it; I’m sure this technique has been round for many moons amongst the professionals. If you can get into PubMed, here’s a good intro as it applies to critical care Nursing ( ).

    Basically, before making a decision to perform procedure ‘X’, which has a probability P of success, and probability Q of Y noxious side effects, where P, Q, Y > 0, you should try, within the particular time constrains, to maximize P and minimize both Q and Y . Doing so my lead you to either change how the procedure is executed, or even to perform an alternative procedure.

    In the case before us, the noxious side effects of unilateral disarmament clearly outweigh the potential payoff, so calling the original goal into question. The trouble with attempting to achieve an ideal instead of an optimum is that the probability of success drops to zero as the distance to the goal approaches zero. While the optimal goal payoff will always be less than the ideal payoff, the probability of success is greater than zero.

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  27. 27. Knative 2:22 pm 04/21/2013

    If a country goes to war unnecessarily, then yes, I think that the “collateral damage” is on the same level as a terrorist committing acts of terrorism. Those people in Iraq were unnecessarily murdered. Their deaths were inevitable and the people in charge decided that their lives were not worth the value gained from going to war. Terrorism can be seen as a means to an end, although I don’t think it’s the case in Boston. I think it’s also important to point out that the United States is a country full of a lot of privileged wealthy people and the people making these decisions are mostly the super privileged whereas the “collateral damage” is usually people who are underprivileged. We’ve got the powerful killing the weak, and that should also factor in to how we approach this morally. Plus the people in charge are highly educated, and should have higher moral reasoning skills. They should have at least taken a course or two on ethics. People seem to be caught up in believing that the US is conducting foreign policy that benefits them. A lot of the stuff in trade agreements and whatnot actually doesn’t benefit most Americans. It benefits specific Americans at the detriment of a lot of Americans. Another problem is that even if the foreign policy does benefit most Americans, if it’s a benefit that is accrued at the cost of non-Americans, then that isn’t morally right. A person in Afghanistan should have the same rights as the person in the US. Finally, the United States is sometimes the bad guy in global affairs. Americans try and front like that’s not true, but it is true. I mean, just look at what the US did to Guatemala, we kind of helped to create a genocide there. So yeah, thousands dead, thousands maimed, millions displaced, in Iraq, is way worse than the four dead in the Boston Marathon. It even tops September 11th I think. If we lived in a just world, and didn’t kid ourselves, the people responsible for the war would be in prison right now, but that’s not ever going to happen.

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  28. 28. BookSpine 2:39 pm 04/21/2013

    Mr. Horgan,

    You seem to be redefining ‘atrocity’ to suit your purposes. If you consider how the word is commonly defined (

    “an extremely wicked or cruel act, typically one involving physical violence or injury:”

    We agree that the civilian casualties caused by both the U.S.-led coalition forces and the Taliban involve physical violence or injury. However, as the former invest considerable effort to avoid doing so, their actions cannot honestly be described as either ‘cruel’ or ‘wicked’, while both terms are applicable to actions of the Taliban and the Boston Marathon Bombers.

    I’m surprised to see you equate the two.

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  29. 29. JoeJeffrey 3:38 pm 04/21/2013

    You can’t get a coherent analysis of the morality of anything, whether killing a person or eating a bagel — without first establishing what the action is, most especially its significance (i.e., what you are doing by doing that). It is not the killing that is wrong per se, any more than walking is wrong per se; it’s what larger thing is being done. Deliberately killing civilians to achieve a political or military aim is not the moral equivalent of civilian casualties of a military strike against the enemy’s soldiers. Of course the logic can be abused, and the morally incompetent can always make excuses, but that does not alter the basic inequality. Any question about the morality of an **activity* — a physical process or result — should always be rejected as in ill-formed question. You have to know what action, including significance, is being asked about. Otherwise it’s like asking for a solution to two equations in three unknowns — it all depends on the missing equation.

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  30. 30. SilverTusk 4:35 pm 04/21/2013

    @17. Jayjaykay100 – ” 9/11 seemed to spark the invasion in Iraq and Afghanistan.. what did Afghanistan have to do with 9/11?”

    The FBI has identified the perpetrators of 9/11, and connected them to al-Qaeda

    al-Qaida is a terrorist organization founded by Osama bin Laden

    In 1996, Osama bin Laden moved to Afghanistan. When the Taliban came to power, bin Laden was able to forge an alliance between the Taliban and his al-Qaeda organization.

    The Taliban protected Al Qaeda and refused to arrest Osama bin Laden for his ordering of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

    Now that the facts of the matter have been listed with encyclopedic references, you are now unable to honestly express ignorance why the government that aided and abetted an organization which carried out a REAL terrorist attack was overthrown and replaced by a government that does not support terrorist organizations, that does not degrade women, or gratuitously destroy ancient monuments.

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  31. 31. marclevesque 6:41 pm 04/21/2013

    ? …

    John – Great comment by anonymous, thanks for including it.

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  32. 32. syzygyygyzys 7:06 pm 04/21/2013

    Mr. Horgan,

    This stuff about an “anonymous” commenter fearing harm from conservative wing nuts is just silliness. We WERE forming a mob to come break windows, scratch cars, TP the trees, and leave a burning bag of scat at the front door. But since you are on to us, we decided against it. Silliness.

    And just to what science background does anonymous refer. Hanging about with people educated in science doesn’t really count you know.

    I’ve never heard a vet refer to other vets as “military guys”?

    Analysis of your text and that of anonymous indicates there is a 67% probability that they represent the same writer. Though I have to admit, it was a fairly credible attempt.

    But don’t worry, I won’t tell you to go away with the threat that “I shall taunt you a second timea.” Please keep writing. It’s an entertainment.

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  33. 33. SilverTusk 7:16 pm 04/21/2013

    @17. Jayjaykay100

    “There is no evidence that Iraq or Afghanistan had anything to do with 9/11, “

    Afghanistan’s Taliban government a provided a safe haven for al-Qaeda.
    al-Qaeda was responsible for 9/11. Ref post #30.

    “it seems the illegal invasion of these Countries is based on Imperialism and access to resource rather than a war on “terror””

    Can you provide any evidence for this claim?

    “Why was Saudi not invaded seeing it’s links with “Al Qaeda’s”leader?”

    Saudi Arabia was Osama bin Laden’s enemy, and vice versa.
    What conceivable reason would there be to invade KSA “seeing it’s links with “Al Qaeda’s”leader?”?

    Have you no knowledge of modern history at all?

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  34. 34. justiceday 9:42 pm 04/21/2013

    The US is a do as I say not as I do country. We attack others regarding human rights but have no regard for them. The US military rapes and sexually assaults its own troops and citizens. They enlist criminals and force us to call them hero’s.
    Look at the guy in this site, drug conviction, rapist, and his political view is killing bodies, the marines promoted him knowing all of this.

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  35. 35. syzygyygyzys 10:09 pm 04/21/2013


    English is obviously not your first language. Why do you pretend to be an American?

    Link to this
  36. 36. Jack Strocchi 5:55 am 04/22/2013

    The Reverend Horgan @19 taps the blackboard testily:

    So because the Taliban commits atrocities that gives us the right to commit them? If you were one of my students, I’d give you a D.

    If unintentionally committing “atrocities” (collateral damage) causes a net reduction in human suffering – including the sufferings of our own servicemen and our allies in the war against terrorists & reactionary insurgents – then obviously, yes. Our “atrocities” are the lesser of two evils. Only someone who prefers a greater evil could oppose this, which person would be a moral cretin.

    Although using the language of liberal “rights” is particularly idiotic in this context. Its more a question of having sufficient grounds to use violence in pursuing a morally justifiable national interest.

    This is precisely the moral logic which justified Allied strategic bombing against Nazi & Nippon totalitarianism. Which ultimately helped us to win or at least shorten the war and therefore saved more lives than otherwise would be the case.

    Fortunately for global civilization Roosevelt and Churchill were not students being graded by Mr Horgan. Else wise the Nazis & Nippons would still be shoe horning millions into their death camps.

    Fact-free moralising is a recipe for moral posturing. The recent (Jan 13 2013) evidence, ( studiously ignored by Horgan, indicates drones actually save civilian lives. Just so he can’t plead ignorant in order to indulge his Pharasaic urges, I will quote in detail:

    This study analyzes how airstrikes by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) drones a ffect insurgent and terrorist behavior…by enabling both intelligence collection through overhead surveillance and direct targeting of suspected terrorists, drones reduce militant violence by increasing the costs of militant activities and creating an incentive for militants to lie low to avoid being targeted. We use geo-referenced data on U.S. drone strikes and militant attacks in northwestern Pakistan to test each theory’s implications. The results suggest that while overall levels of violence remain high in northwestern Pakistan and neighboring regions of Afghanistan, drone strikes are associated with decreases in the number and lethality of militant attacks in the areas where strikes are conducted. Overall, these results are robust to spatial analysis of the
    hypothesis that drone strikes in militant sanctuaries simply lead the militants to shift their operations elsewhere. Despite the moral and legal ambiguity
    of targeted killings, drone strikes do appear to curtail insurgent and terrorist violence in militant sanctuaries.

    So drone strikes against terrorists kill terrorists making it difficult for the dead terrorists to kill civilians. How counter-intuitive! Next we’ll be proving that water runs down hill.

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  37. 37. phalaris 11:09 am 04/22/2013

    If syzygyygyzys is correct at #31, that would be pretty monstrous, Horgan trying to smear those who don’t agree with him as likely to use criminal behaviour.
    Does one have to spell out all the intimidation and murder practised by those whose side he’s taking?

    Up till now I’ve tended to regard Horgan as well-meaning and honest, but misguided. Perhaps I’ve been too generous.

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  38. 38. jimdubyah 11:29 am 04/22/2013

    For the U.S., killing in the name of war is just an excuse. Sometimes we don’t even bother with the excuse, and kill civilians in countries we are not officially at war with. It is just “lipstick on the pig”. It is a lame attempt for us to justify our actions to ourselves and the rest of the world. The truth is, at least over the last 20 years or so, we go to war to rape the countries of their human and natural resources, and to provide a safe environment for our corporations. Is it any wonder we are attacked by terrorists?

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  39. 39. syzygyygyzys 12:03 pm 04/22/2013

    I’m prepared to believe Mr. Horgan’s intentions are good. Who among us can look at pictures of dead children without feeling deep sorrow? My guess is that he wants the killing to stop. We all do. If the followers of radical Islam cared as much for the children as Mr. Horgan does, many fewer children would die.

    Of course I can’t know his mind, but my guess is that he is using his tradecraft to try to influence voters. He actually has a point about how the current administration is waging war on radical Islam. Heavy reliance on drone strikes to kill al qaeda leadership and their ilk does result in higher civilian casualties. I don’t know anyone in special ops, but I know Americans. If it were up to the special ops types, I suspect they would rather put their own lives at risk with boots on the ground so fewer children would die. Taliban types seem to surround themselves with human shields. Who has the moral high ground?

    I submit that the current administration’s preference for drone strikes has a significant domestic political component. Obama’s plan to withdraw without regard to what follows when we leave seems to be the height of cynicism. Why have more of our military die for a more politically acceptable exit? If you won’t try to bring them out of the Stone Age, leave now!

    My objection is to the position that only the left cares about humanity and they alone have the answers. I’m prepared to believe Mr. Horgan’s heart is in the right place. I just question his understanding and tactics.

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  40. 40. syzygyygyzys 12:05 pm 04/22/2013

    By the way folks, jimdubyah and justiceday are the same individual.

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  41. 41. syzygyygyzys 12:09 pm 04/22/2013

    jimdubyah and justiceday,

    Peace be unto you.

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  42. 42. John Horgan in reply to John Horgan 12:23 pm 04/22/2013

    Thanks for link to RAND report. Interesting. Check out this NYU/Stanford report, which reaches different conclusion:

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  43. 43. John Horgan in reply to John Horgan 12:27 pm 04/22/2013

    I don’t delete even the most vicious idiotic comments, but if you don’t stop with your weird paranoid BS about other people pretending to be someone else I’m going to bar you from this site. Grow up or get lost.

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  44. 44. John Horgan in reply to John Horgan 12:30 pm 04/22/2013

    In case it wasn’t clear, I’m talking to syzygyygyzys.

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  45. 45. syzygyygyzys 2:50 pm 04/22/2013

    It’s your blog. Do as you like. I got this new software that I’m trying out and thought it was interesting. I actually don’t care how many user names someone has. I don’t see any conspiracy. I should have said there is a high probability those two posts came from the same person. I don’t know that for a fact. The folks at NSA will figure it if they care.

    It seems to me we actually are not that far apart on use of drones, though we may come to it from different directions.

    When you say, “Grow up or get lost.” you display an anger I don’t have and don’t think I have shown. After reviewing my posts, I see no vicious comments. I have simply offered up my thoughts without claiming an exclusive understanding of the truth. I haven’t told anyone to grow up or get lost.

    I’m curious? Can you bar someone from the entire Sci Am Digital site because you disagree with them? I see commenters use profanity and level vicious attacks on the motivation, intellectual capacity, and maturity of others on the site (not so much on your blog posts). I have tried to offer up questions or things to consider.

    I don’t question your sincerity. If you read my previous post, you can see I was defending your motivation and in part agreeing with your position on drones. It’s true I have challenged you directly. I didn’t know that was against the rules.

    So, banish me if you wish. Trust that I will get over it … eventually (sob). Just be honest with yourself why you are doing it.

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  46. 46. syzygyygyzys 4:18 pm 04/22/2013

    I forgot to address the idiot part. I suppose it’s possible that I’m an idiot? But then idiots don’t know they are, do they? I’ll have to rely on others to make that judgment.

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  47. 47. centromere 5:49 pm 04/22/2013

    Mr. Horgan,

    Why are you unresponsive? Are you beyond reasonable debate? Clear, unambiguous criticism (some unnecessarily sharp) has identified several weaknesses in your position. Do you plan to concede the argument without defending your claim?

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  48. 48. LenkiMoonshine 5:56 pm 04/22/2013

    @37. phalaris

    Keep in mind that this blog is not about Science, it is about John’s political agenda.

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  49. 49. Richard Salisbury 4:06 am 04/23/2013

    My response to Mr. Horgan’s question: We can’t. There are many individuals in the US who are open-minded, peace-loving, generous, child-loving, etc. But on balance, as a nation, a collective, especially as represented by our government, we are none of these things. We are the Roman Empire of this era, imposing a Pox Americana [pun intended]. We dominate the world economically, have had (successful) imperial ambitions at least since Teddy Roosevelt, and are run more and more by our oligarchs. We don’t crucify tens of thousands of rebellious slaves as the Romans did, but we have a million times the military power they had, including a nuclear arsenal still many times larger than we need for any possible military objective, and large enough to represent, in a full-scale launch, at least as much damage, in the short term, as global warming. And I can’t agree w/ Mr. Strocchi that the Allied bombing of German and Japanese cities in WWII was anything but revenge for German bombing of the British Isles and other places in Europe–though it may’ve been rationalized a dozen ways. The bombing of Britain did not demoralize the Brits, and I’ve never read anything that led me to believe the Germans or Japanese were, collectively, demoralized by our bombing of cities; rather, in each case, resistance stiffened. And regarding Viet Nam, a war now almost generally regarded, even in the US, as unnecessary and, like our invasion of Iraq, based on deceit (e.g. the Tonkin Bay incident), we still often hear about the 55,000 members of our armed forces who died, and mourn them quite properly. But when do we ever hear mentioned the c. 1,000,000 Vietnamese we killed, or mourn them? Does not every human life, in principle, have the same value as every other?

    Yes, Mr. Horgan’s blog is about politics, not science. In making sound judgements we need to consider both–and even more, history. If Scientific American are tolerant enough to publish his blog, I’m willing to consider seriously what he says.

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  50. 50. LenkiMoonshine 6:16 am 04/23/2013

    My reading of the posts to this thread leads me to the conclusion that everyone who has posted to this thread has taken John’s opinions seriously. I think two of them have shown that John’s absolutist pacifism is wrong.

    That said, I think that John has overreacted and displayed a “might makes right” attitude in some of his responses, but as we have all likely read at one time or another, power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

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  51. 51. Moosehead 8:27 am 04/23/2013

    The bulk of these comments are appalling. Grasping at straws with a bunch of facts and figures that amount to gossamer, in the face of death and suffering, trying to justify the unjustifiable.

    There is no argument cerebral enough to condone the myriad deaths caused by the U.S., no fact compelling enough to justify the weight of the suffering it has on its hands.

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  52. 52. phalaris 10:53 am 04/23/2013

    Richard Salisbury #49

    Do you live in a Mickey Mouse world?

    The targeting of enemy cities before precision bombing was known was hitting their resources and tying down planes and guns which otherwise would have been deployed at the front. For much of the war this was the only way to help the Russians who were bearing the brunt. For every minute the war was shortened thousands of innocent and civilian lives were saved.
    Some gas chambers were working until shortly before the Russians arrived: some of them could hold 5000 people and kill them in minutes.

    I find your and Horgan’s posturing at the expense of innocent lives nauseating.

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  53. 53. syzygyygyzys 12:43 pm 04/23/2013


    While you make good arguments, it’s unclear they will consider them. Mr. Salisbury implies that he considers himself among the open-minded, peace-loving, generous, child-loving, trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind,
    obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. (That’s a bit sarcastic I know, but I’m feeling grumpy this morning.) The added implication is that only those in his camp have any of those attributes. The righteous are unlikely to be swayed by arguments presented by those of us they consider heathens.

    In the following I’m speculating from my own experience. Take it for what you may think it is worth. I make no claim that my understanding is superior to that of anyone else.

    Problem solving chemical processes requires an objective investigation of the reality at hand. I don’t know if that approach spills over into examination of other issues or not? It is something I try to do. I can report that it draws the ire of people on the right as well as the left. (I’m not implying that necessarily makes me correct.) My guess is that the best analysis of an issue requires in-depth, and truly objective research followed by application of logic. Many seem to adopt a position based on emotion with limited information and search for that which supports their initial position. At least in process problem solving, the latter approach yields poor results.

    So once you have someone’s attention (see the use of sarcasm above), volleys of invective back and forth probably don’t advance the conversation. The snarling just escalates. In my view that describes most of the comments over on the environmental blogs. I’m at a loss as to how to get past that here.

    If we can’t start by agreeing that there is a distinction between unintended civilian deaths in combat and the intentional murder of an 8 year-old boy and others, then it seems our conversation here is pointless. And, this topic is just a venue to express intractable political views.

    It is interesting that those on the left don’t lay the drone strikes at Obama’s door. They voted for him. His use of drones far exceeds that of the previous administration.

    (And thanks for the It’s a Small World earworm. Years ago our daughter had to go on that ride 6 times in a row. It’s a small world after all. Actually a good memory.)

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  54. 54. Bill_Crofut 4:09 pm 04/23/2013

    Re: “…[B]etween 2003 and 2011 U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq killed 14,906 civilians, including at least 1,201 children.”

    These deaths are a tragedy reflecting poorly on us as a nation. It brings to mind a question: How many innocent unborn children have been murdered in their mothers’ wombs in the U.S. between 2003 and 2011?

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  55. 55. franfran 4:17 pm 04/23/2013

    To read the comments on this blog is as scary as a bomb treat.
    Given the way people think in the US, most probably this is the last blog of John Horgan.

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  56. 56. Chryses 6:23 pm 04/23/2013

    franfran (55),

    “To read the comments on this blog is as scary as a bomb treat …”

    The only poster to make a threat in this thread was …. John Horgan at #19. Fancy that!

    “… Given the way people think in the US …”

    So in what way do you think people think in the US? This should be entertaining!

    “… most probably this is the last blog of John Horgan.”

    Could be, but I’ll bet it isn’t. :)

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  57. 57. centromere 7:04 pm 04/23/2013

    @53. Syzygyygyzys,

    “The righteous are unlikely to be swayed by arguments presented by those of us they consider heathens.” – This is the point I brought up earlier.

    Note that not only has Mr. Horgan attempted to redefine the meaning of words, then bellicose, finlly becoming non-responsive once his opinion was examined in some detail, but you’ll also note how his supporters have supported him:
    @4. Acoyauh2: The U.S. is bombing the civilians because, “war is very good buisness for America, and good business overrides all else here”
    @9. elderlybloke: No reason at all.
    @10. Valley234: No reason at all.
    @14. taprit: Intent is irrelevant.
    @17. Jayjaykay100: Completely ignorant of the subject material. (ref 30 & 33)
    @27. Knative: The U.S. is bombing the civilians because, America is bad.
    @31. marclevesque: No reason at all.
    @27. justiceday: The U.S. is bombing the civilians because, America is bad.
    @38. jimdubyah: The U.S. is bombing the civilians because, America is bad.
    @49. Richard Salisbury: The U.S. is bombing the civilians because, America is bad.
    @51. Moosehead: The U.S. is bombing the civilians because, America is bad.

    “If we can’t start by agreeing that there is a distinction between unintended civilian deaths in combat and the intentional murder of an 8 year-old boy and others, then it seems our conversation here is pointless. And, this topic is just a venue to express intractable political views.”

    This is one of the real negatives of this Brave New Electronic World. When opponents have no physical presence to expose, they need not act reasonably, and it is this unreasonableness that threatens liberal democracy, both here in the U.S and throughout the West. In the face of the inchoate rage posted in the above examples – but repeated constantly in venues that are entitled to be treated thoughtfully – the only alternative is the brutish, “I got more votes than you, so I’ll compel you to do as I wish”.

    A sad turn of events.

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  58. 58. toilone25 7:13 pm 04/23/2013

    One major difference is who chooses the battlefield. The terrorists choose to fight in the middle of their civilian population. The terrorists choose to hide as civilians and strike from behind their women and children. The terrorists want to incur civilian casualties on the innocent human shields they hide behind.

    Unfortunately, it is necessary to fight an enemy where they are striking from. There is legal theory of imputed intent and culpability. If a person, having no desire to injure anyone, decides to detonate a bomb in a crowd because that is where they are and they can just not bear to wait any longer to hear the boom, does that lack of intent to do injury absolve the bomber from culpability? Obviously it does not.

    I would posit that when a terrorists hides behind a human shield to launch their attack, the terrorist is responsible for unavoidable casualties among the innocents which incurred when soldiers are required to respond in defense.

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  59. 59. kebil 9:52 pm 04/23/2013

    Wow, the vitriol.

    Intention is important, but the bombing of Iraqi cities to kill the soldiers while “not intending” to kill civilians is disingenuous. Do you honestly mean to say that because the Americans did not “intend” to kill civilians it was okay to drop those bombs knowing that they would kill them anyways? And what about the American drone assassinations that kill more civilians than terrorists because it is not truly known if the people being targeted are even terrorists, all it takes is the hint of suspicion and it is okay for overseas assassinations to occur. What of the American helicopter pilots giggling in glee as they mercilessly killed Reuters reporters, laughing about the children of the man who stopped, on his way to work, to help the injured, as they shot and killed him and almost killed the children. “He should not have taken his children into a war zone” they said. We made their country into a war zone. The Iraqi people did nothing to American to deserve being invaded. The terrorist argument, their justification for attacking the US, is not a valid argument, and they are wrong for attacking America. America is wrong for attacking those who are innocent as well. If a country invades another country on empty grounds, then their intentions are far from justified and every death is a murder on their part.

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  60. 60. kebil 9:55 pm 04/23/2013

    And the terrorists were not from Iraq nor Afghanistan, although they had visited there and had operated out of there. They were Saudi’s largely. Why are we not invading the repressive Saudi regime. And if we invaded in the name of freedom, why do we not invade Syria. If we invaded Iraq because Saddam was a madman with WMD’s waiting to attack neighbouring countries, why do we not attack Israel (the country thought, by the majority of European countries, to be the biggest threat to peace in the middle east).

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  61. 61. syzygyygyzys 10:10 pm 04/23/2013

    And we should listen to the majority of the European countries because they are doing such a bang up job managing their own affairs. The Germans are leading them now and are none too happy about it.

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  62. 62. syzygyygyzys 10:10 pm 04/23/2013

    Just keep talking folks. You make my point for me.

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  63. 63. SilverTusk 10:25 pm 04/23/2013


    “Why are we not invading the repressive Saudi regime”

    Because the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was not the organization behind 9/11, al-Qaeda was, and the Taliban government of Afghanistan provided a safe haven for al-Qaeda, that’s why.

    “why do we not attack Israel (the country thought, by the majority of European countries, to be the biggest threat to peace in the middle east).”

    Because it is not the Foreign Policy of the U.S. to attack a second nation (Israel) just because a third nation thinks it is a threat to a fourth nation, that’s why. You wouldn’t happen to be in a position to substantiate that claim (the country thought, by the majority of European countries, to be the biggest threat to peace in the middle east), would you?

    Goodness me! You’re almost as uninformed as Jayjaykay100!

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  64. 64. Daniel35 10:32 pm 04/23/2013

    Americans may not “want” to harm women and children, but it begins to seem they don’t care a lot. We need to stop resisting formation of a meaningful world government and let them take over the job of policing the world.

    The Boston bombers seemed to by more amateur terrorists without a cause.

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  65. 65. syzygyygyzys 11:19 pm 04/23/2013

    One-Worlders now? It just keeps getting better and better.

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  66. 66. lazlo 8:07 am 04/24/2013

    Let us not forget how our country became the superpower it is. At the end of WWII we were the only surviving economy. This was accomplished by our obliterating the infrastructure of our then enemies. Along the way many civilians were killed, not intentionally but as a result of war which, by its nature,is horrific. The wars we have won were won by pounding the enemy into submission. They were not won by being nice, or worrying whether or not a a bomb might destroy a church or other religious structure…nor were they won via diplomacy which was viewed as a weakness. Now we are on e hand expected to have “neat” wars and to spend billions helping the innocents in enemy territory and when we get there we are attacked. And there appears to be less than zero accountability as to where the money goes. Any decent person bleeds for the children who are injured, but when they are used as shields, or raped, or the victims of acid attacks, or the victims of honor killings, I think we need to ask where is their country in protecting them? We are told not to interfere in the policies of other countries and I say, “fine”. To these countries I say stop asking for money, and food, and technology, and help every time a disaster strikes. Take care of yourselves, run, or ruin your own territory and stop blaming the US and Isreal for the Hell you have created on your own.

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  67. 67. davidkie 8:31 am 04/24/2013

    The drone strikes are an atrocity and clear abuse of human rights. USA is not engaged in open hostilities with Pakistan or Yemen. Mr. Horgans viewpoint is refreshing to read, but if popular opinion in the US mainstream is anythimng to go by, the propagandistic “greater good” idea excreted ny the corporate media seemd to be the prevailing ideology here.
    ““We’ve killed 4,700,” the Council for Foreign Relations says Sen. Graham told the crowd. “Sometimes you hit innocent people, and I hate that, but we’re at war, and we’ve taken out some very senior members of Al-Qaeda.” – Sen. Lindsey Graham.
    Again, the public is fed an array of falsehoods on the matter, review the actual stistics on drone strike efficiency;

    Unfortunately the actuality of the inhumanity and recklessness of Mr. Obama’s policy fails to receive any legal scrutiny from within congress and by the International community at large.
    -Some of the assassinations, such as that of, Mohammad, the younger brother of the leader of the Haqqani network, Badruddin, appear to have been simply errors, with the victims branded as terrorists only after the fact.-
    The citizens of America need to hold their elected leaders to account, regardless of how popular they are with Oprah Winfrey etc, this is not reality TV, its a dispicable reality.
    How recently did Mr. Obama legaize the potential use of drones agaisnt US citizens? (
    I hope it never happens, but the day this atrocity kills an innocent US civilian, or even a child, how big will the rhetoric then be about colateral damage and preemptive strikes saving lives?

    Think about this america next time you decide to wave your flags and cheer on the man who dances on democracy.
    I live and work in the Netherlands, there is a war crimes/human rights court here, Im sure room can be found for the man who has made a livid mockery out of the Nobel Peace Prize.

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  68. 68. davidkie 8:37 am 04/24/2013

    response to;
    66. lazlo
    8:07 am 04/24/2013
    Read your history. The US backed economic policies of the IMF/World bank have created many of the 3rd world issues that seem to ire you -refer to John Perkins,”Confessions of an economic Hitman” its a book, not a TV show, so maybe thats a bit much for you….
    As for WW2, how many US industries financed and traded with the Nazi’s?
    And post WW2, every war you have been involved in have been on the behalf of corporate interests, not democracy, humanitarianism or peace.

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  69. 69. adisciam 9:00 am 04/24/2013

    Killing innocents is horrible and should be avoided BUT do not make the classical mistake of confusing the issue with the intent.
    The terrorist intent is not only to murder innocents (everybody knows that) but to hide among innocents and use them as human shields (most people forget this).
    This is why when innocents are killed unintentionally by the security forces (army, police and such) their blood is on the terrorists hands and not on the shooter’s hands !

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  70. 70. davidkie 10:02 am 04/24/2013

    Oh my god, some of the Imperialist tripe here;
    69. adisciam , youre “blood on the hands” comment…how old are you???Are you even an adult?
    Top Tip, dont invade countries that have not committed an act of war against you (Iraq, Afghanistan – never any proof linking Taliban to connections with Al Queda. The only Government that has is the USA, your CIA created, trained and funded the entire fiasco). Also, dont orchestrate a war on terror and then fund the same groups in Lybia, Egypt and now Syria. Dont allow all foreign policy to revolve around the profit margins of transnational corporations and oil companies, etc. You might find there will be a lot less blood on all hands… concerned

    ** To 1. spartyb , The armed forces have taken zero lenghts to protect civilians, if they had, the civilain death toll would drop as armed forces learned from their previous errors.
    **To 15. Bremsstrahlung , The North Korea threat? Who sold them the facilities for creating nuclear weapons many years ago? Initial’s D. R. ?
    And why is it that N.K. wasnt embroiled in the same political and media hysteria for the nuclear threat as we have seen with Iran in the past 3 years? …
    **8 And to the “intent” arguement, we cannot establish anyones “intent” for any particaular outcome in military strikes or in recent attacks on US civialians…I think reckless disregard is teh focus, obviously held in abundance by the Pentagon Chicken Hawks.

    I like the USA, it is a good country, with soem very good people. But you need to drop the arrogance, and the imperialistic attitude that you are juustified in these actions. You are not. Nor is morality automatically on your side. Thank god for Americans like the good author here, Ron Paul, Chomsky, Ventura many good people tainted by the idiocy of a media bloated mob.

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  71. 71. SilverTusk 2:29 pm 04/24/2013

    @67. Davidkie

    “its a book, not a TV show, so maybe thats a bit much for you….”

    Wow, the vitriol. Nice personal attack there.

    “post WW2, every war you have been involved in have been on the behalf of corporate interests, not democracy”

    North Korean forces invaded South Korea on 25 June 1950
    Read your history.

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  72. 72. SilverTusk 2:41 pm 04/24/2013

    @69. Davidkie

    “Afghanistan – never any proof linking Taliban to connections with Al Queda”

    In 1996, Osama bin Laden moved to Afghanistan. When the Taliban came to power, bin Laden was able to forge an alliance between the Taliban and his al-Qaeda organization.

    The Taliban protected al-Qaeda and refused to arrest Osama bin Laden for his ordering of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

    Now that the facts of the matter have been listed with encyclopedic references, you are now unable to honestly express ignorance why the government that aided and abetted an organization which carried out a REAL terrorist attack was overthrown and replaced with a government that does not support terrorist organizations, that does not degrade women, or gratuitously destroy ancient monuments.

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  73. 73. Bremsstrahlung 3:24 pm 04/24/2013

    @69. Davidkie

    “**To 15. Bremsstrahlung , The North Korea threat?”

    Yes, the North Korea threat, or perhaps threats. Should you be interested in assessing the probability that North Korea would use one or more of its known nuclear weapons on the U.S., you might begin by reading the material reported earlier this month by the
    New York Times ( )
    “We do not hide that a variety of satellites and long-range rockets which will be launched by the D.P.R.K. one after another and a nuclear test of higher level will target against the U.S., the sworn enemy of the Korean people,”
    CNN ( )

    As should be now be clear, North Korea has (ref here Korean War), does (see links above), and can reasonably be expected to remain a threat, not only to its immediate neighbors, but now also the U.S.

    Should the U.S. be foolish enough to comply with the author’s desire (to chase his mirage of a “civilized nation”), there is a significant probability that North Korea will use one or more of its known nuclear weapons on the U.S, and in so doing cause hundreds of thousands of American civilian casualties. North Korea will do so secure in the knowledge that the U.S., being a civilized nation, doesn’t engage in activities that would cause civilian deaths. Ever.

    As should be apparent to even the most obdurate, such a policy change brings with it a real probability of increasing, rather that decreasing, civilian casualties and deaths. Such a policy change would therefore be unethical and immoral.

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  74. 74. BookSpine 3:39 pm 04/24/2013


    “we cannot establish anyones “intent” for any particaular outcome in military strikes or in recent attacks on US civialians”

    What a silly thing to post! Of course we can. All action implies intent, at least among those who use English to communicate.

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  75. 75. BookSpine 3:50 pm 04/24/2013


    I noticed that you deleted the most recent post by Bremsstrahlung. It was just in front of my post, currently #71. Why did you do that?

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  76. 76. Bremsstrahlung 4:05 pm 04/24/2013

    @5. BookSpine

    I made the mistake of evaluating the likely results of following the author’s claim.

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  77. 77. franfran 4:11 pm 04/24/2013

    A couple of days ago I wrote that “reading the comments in the blog it was as scary as a bomb threat”. Someone responded critically as if this comment was itself a threat and now I find that my comment has been deleted, perhaps because it was found threatening.

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  78. 78. franfran 4:13 pm 04/24/2013

    Sorry, it is still there…

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  79. 79. Bremsstrahlung 4:22 pm 04/24/2013

    Lo! Mine has also had its Display flag reset to ‘Yes’! A Lazarus post – it lives!

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  80. 80. syzygyygyzys 4:31 pm 04/24/2013

    franfran, franfran, franfran,

    Mr. Horgan is the only one who can delete comments. If he had found it threatening it would have been removed “faster than a French border guard in sneakers with a coupon for free cigarettes”(1).

    (1) Referenced from an old Get Fuzzy comic strip.

    I’m pretty sure no one at all thought you were being threatening. You take care now.

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  81. 81. syzygyygyzys 5:05 pm 04/24/2013


    You could save yourself some time by just posting, “Ron Paul, Chomsky, Ventura”. Think of it as shorthand to tell us all we need to know about your opinions.

    Just trying to be helpful.

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  82. 82. EnkiDoo 12:37 am 04/25/2013

    Anyone who sends troops to a sovereign nation for no good reason other then they felt like it, are criminals. When a country does not have democracy itself, it can not force it on others. America is a bully nation, with the UK whispering in its ear. Violence will always beget violence. Fact. There is no war to end all wars, no “just one last bullet then it’s over”. This is reality, as long as you keep blowing people families up, they will hate you, and strive to hurt you back. The old money families love us to keep killing each other, as to them, we are usueless “feeders” and the Arabs are breeding to much for their liking. so, they pit us against each other. Everyone falls for it, apart from the 17 percent humans who’s brains cannot be bombazzled with bullshit. Killing is killing, invading is invading, no matter how you sugar coat it. Killing kids, is killing kids.

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  83. 83. Moosehead 3:18 am 04/25/2013

    Hear hear, EnkiDoo! Hear. Hear.

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  84. 84. davidkie 11:21 am 04/25/2013

    to Bookspine, thanks for the dictionary link, thats very clever of you. Is that all?

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  85. 85. davidkie 11:23 am 04/25/2013

    To 79. syzygyygyzys, I will post whatever I damn well please. The purpose of this kind of posting is to express ones opinions. I dont recall being warned with deletion at any point. Stay fuzzy in your comic strip.
    Pog ma Hon.

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  86. 86. davidkie 11:30 am 04/25/2013

    71. SilverTusk , the facts behind the Korean war have been in dispute for some time now with various historians making valid cases to the contrary of the mainstream version of events. History gets revised from time to time and falsehoods are overturned, but stay cosy with that one.If you feel that a war from the last century justifies a policy of continued international thuggery…well you can expect some vitriol. Murder is murder, no matter how self righteous the perpetrator feels.

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  87. 87. davidkie 11:42 am 04/25/2013

    Again, to Silver Tusk; for another look at the facts surrounding the Korean War and the role of the US, please refer to one of America’s most engaging historians, William Blumm, Founder of the Washington Free Press and noted author on US foreign policy;
    (Killing Hope, an entire chapter dedicated to the Korean War. Wikipedia is a good startimng point, but it has been provedn to be misguided from time to time.
    1986: The CIA: A Forgotten History (Zed Books) ISBN 0-86232-480-7
    2000: Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower (Common Courage Press) ISBN 1-56751-194-5
    2002: West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir (Soft Skull Press) ISBN 1-56751-306-9
    2003: Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, revised edition (Common Courage Press) ISBN 1-56751-252-6
    2004: Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire (Common Courage Press)
    2013: America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy – The Truth About US Foreign Policy and Everything Else (Zed Books) ISBN 1-78032-445-6

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  88. 88. davidkie 12:00 pm 04/25/2013

    52. phalaris , regarding the WW2 points about the precision bombing of German cities…the allied forces didnt have satellite guided systems, or smart missiles, or computer software etc…so its an ill comparison.
    Also, WW2 was 3/4 of a century ago. Its not all that valid as point of reference for justifying present day strikes on civilians.
    Not to mention Yemen or Pakistan havent invaded the USA, or Europe ..or anywhere, so why murder innocent civilians?

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  89. 89. davidkie 12:11 pm 04/25/2013

    Enkidoo and Moosehead…I like youre style. Keep it up.

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  90. 90. davidkie 12:14 pm 04/25/2013

    Oh and 72. BookSpine , I never said we intent cannot be implied, but thats different to establishing or proving intent, at least for those of us who really really do speak English.

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  91. 91. syzygyygyzys 12:29 pm 04/25/2013

    Okay, it’s possible that I misunderstood the purpose of the comment section. I was under the impression it was to discuss points raised in the author’s topic. By my read, many of the comments have lost all but the most tenuous connection to the topic, “How Can We Condemn Boston Murders but Excuse U.S. Bombing of Civilians?” Do you condemn the Boston murders?

    Coilin tells me that “póg mo thóin” is what they actually say. What a snappy rejoinder. I wish I could make compelling arguments like that. Maybe if I started drinking early in the day I could?

    If you could review your posts for syntax before you hit the Submit button, they might be a little easier to follow.

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  92. 92. Rockchips 2:34 pm 04/25/2013

    I thought this was a scientific publication??!!
    I can get comments like this on letters to the editor pages in local papers.
    What scientific field is the author an expert in?

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  93. 93. abolitionist 5:53 pm 04/25/2013


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  94. 94. In-Tokyo 7:35 pm 04/25/2013

    @John Horgen

    Please think critically.

    The US military targets military targets hiding where they may be.

    Terrorists target civilians.

    In both cases civilians die and it is equally regrettable.

    The point is rather, were US senior military officials hiding in the crowd at the Boston marathon in order to enhance their safety.

    Yeah emotionally I do agree with you and at my mother’s funeral pointed out that the loss of life from US military actions is painful to people, as painful as our loss.

    Still, to hide behind women and children and put them at risk in order to protect your safety is a strategy the the US alone can not take the blame for.

    As a Buddhist it is clear to me that we should find a way to stop all killing. As a Buddhist it is also clear that the intent of any action is extremely important.

    In any case Mr Horgen, look at history the history of Buddhism in Afghanistan please. I think you don’t understand it in any meaningful way.

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  95. 95. BookSpine 8:12 pm 04/25/2013


    “to Bookspine, thanks for the dictionary link, thats very clever of you. Is that all?”

    That is all that was needed to show that you were mistaken.

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  96. 96. syzygyygyzys 8:29 pm 04/25/2013


    Thank you for your comment. It reminded me of this quote.

    “It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell.”

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  97. 97. SilverTusk 8:30 pm 04/25/2013

    @84. Davidkie

    “Wikipedia is a good startimng point, but it has been provedn to be misguided from time to time.”

    Wikipedia is, however correct in that North Korean forces invaded South Korea on 25 June 1950, and in so doing demonstrated that they’re a threat to other nations. It matters little how engaging you find the writing of William Blumm, or anyone else for that matter to be, if you, he, or anyone else claims that North Korean forces did NOT invade South Korea on 25 June 1950, you, he, or they would be equally wrong.

    That is why the vicarious pacifism of Mr. Hogan is a mistake; if an armed group attacks a group that doesn’t, or shouldn’t ever cause the death of a civilian, Evil will win over Good.

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  98. 98. Bremsstrahlung 8:38 pm 04/25/2013

    @80. EnkiDoo

    “Killing is killing, invading is invading, no matter how you sugar coat it. Killing kids, is killing kids.”

    Correct. So would you prefer more killing, as the author’s proposal would likely bring bout, or would you prefer less killing, as the current policy produces?

    Which would you choose?

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  99. 99. dmolineaux 11:58 am 04/26/2013

    Congratulations, John Horgan! So much of the “institutional” killing you describe is at the bidding of profit-driven corporations. It stands in the most stark contrast to the values on which our nation was conceived and dedicated.

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  100. 100. carbonunit1 6:48 pm 04/26/2013

    i am glad these critical posts have been aired,i have wanted to voice these concerns for some time,the usa has substained some casualties,shall we call them collateral,like the military does,but even these casualties pale into insignificense compared to the non combatants killed in cambodia,vietnamn,iraq,libya,afganistan,panama,etc etc etc,one bomb load in a b52 far exceeds anything that the USA have recieved,you could argue by way of repricosity.there was outrage about the boston bombs being loaded with shrapnel,but one bombload of a b52 carried thousands of anti personell bomblets filled with 60,000 individuall partickles including fibre glass so it wouldnt show up in xrays.still killing people today,not counting the terrible damage of agent orange,How long would western governments especially,usa if their arnament industries were run down,the whole ethos of america is love of military,a load of chestbeating patriotic bullshit,sir yes sir,that never questions what their government does in their name.

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  101. 101. TemporaryExpedient 10:03 pm 04/26/2013

    @96. dmolineaux

    “So much of the “institutional” killing you describe is at the bidding of profit-driven corporations.”

    What evidence can you provide to substantiate your claim?

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  102. 102. kienhua68 7:53 pm 05/3/2013

    You can not conduct a war within a populated area and expect no collateral damage. We went into these situations with no thought other than revenge. Now it becomes difficult to disengage from these failed endeavors. That any of it was worth the effort in lives and resources will be argued for a long time. We seem to have made more enemies instead of less. The end result of a decade of war is that we too now live with terror. Live with the knowledge we destroyed countless more lives than were taken on 9/11. Now this country is overrun with weapons as people become uncertain as to the future.

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  103. 103. Squish 10:38 am 05/6/2013

    I believe there is a natural distribution of values that people have informing their ethics (see Jonathan Haidt’s “Moral roots of liberals and conservatives’). This view is illuminating. As an example, while liberals see today’s problem with Iran as partly originating with the Anglo-American overthrow of a democratically-elected leader to pursue oil interests, conservatives see it as protecting morally superior American interests. Liberals are likely to counter that Americans cannot base immoral actions on intangible claims to moral superiority. Conservatives might counter that the military success of America’s actions make those actions de facto superior, even in the moral realm.

    Given the relative distance between the values espoused by either side – one side deferring to power, tradition and an acceptance that unfortunately bad things happen, and the other considering that morality should be applied equally to all people and dismissing the concept of good vs. evil as being propagandistic and unhelpful – perhaps it is best to approach the issue on a more shared playing field.

    First, of course the military has interests in fighting wars. Eisenhower warned about the military-industrial complex and their interest in dumbing-down America so they can operate with manufactured consent (such as the idea that Iraq assaulted America). It goes beyond ration how many more nuclear bombs will be made: the world can only be destroyed once, and our weapons surplus is a huge redundancy that could be spend on infrastructure. The industry itself then is open to moral scrutiny. It can be inferred that the industry wants discord, just as you can infer that McDonald’s wants people to buy their products. Obesity is a byproduct for one; killing for the other.

    In the case of war however, there are more nuanced variables. Oil is obviously one (current Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has been clear on the primacy of the energy motive; and Western private oil interests have indeed finally begun to profit). It is odd that some posters here think that the motivations behind the Iraq war could clearly include the capitalistic ones in regard to oil, but would not consider including military-industrial profit-making, as if it is only the military-industrial complex that does not lobby on K Street.

    Acknowledging the possibility that the war is partly fought for private profit, we should reconsider the tactics being used and question what the endgame really is. A tactic for continuous profit creation would be continuous war for the war industry; that would include a program of constant enemy production. Killing innocents is a good way to do so. Even if this is only a possibility, you cannot consider yourself a thinking person – liberal or conservative – without considering the motives of the most influential actors on this stage of war.

    As much as I laughed at the commentor who hypothesized about an America that would never kill an innocent starting tomorrow as a way of refuting Horgan’s position (quick, imagine an America that burns no carbon tomorrow! See, impossible, let’s not try!), I have seen lots of other strawman arguements here. I believe Horgan would endorse a reduction in killing foreign innocents as part of a wider military strategy in winding down the war and drawing fewer revenge-hungry terrorists to America. Arguing his case along these lines would also lose less of the audience who do not endorse bleeding-heart morality (and are incidentally statistically more likely to align with institutional Christianity).

    To all of the people who hang their hats on words like “war” and “intentionality” – let alone “good” and “evil” – I would say that semantics are misleading. Both sides use the same negative terminology to describe the other. Since McNamara US Forces have calculated acceptable rates of collateral damage in the same way car manufacturers calculate acceptable rates of mechanical failure. The terrorists were after 100% collateral damage; our forces have a small but agreed-upon number. If this number is too high, than I would expect a forever-war. If this number approached zero I would not.

    Keeping in mind the war managers that have to determine this difficult number and the complexities of national and private interests, my question would have been “What are the real goals of our military actions?”

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  104. 104. Chryses 9:31 pm 05/6/2013

    kienhua68 (99),

    “You can not conduct a war within a populated area and expect no collateral damage …”

    “… We went into these situations with no thought other than revenge …”
    Incorrect. Iraq was invaded to secure WMDs that turned out to not exist.

    Invasion of Afghanistan by the U.S. and its allies, was to dismantle Al-Qaeda, the Islamic terrorist organization led by Osama bin Laden and to remove from power the Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist regime led by Mullah Mohammed Omar, which at the time controlled 90% of Afghanistan and hosted Al-Qaeda leadership.

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  105. 105. striker2485 10:22 pm 05/29/2013

    I made an account just to comment to this article, and I will never revisit it. The author of this article and all who support him are simple fatuous imbeciles. You have no idea how it is to fight a war. You have no logical idea with the enemy the world is up against in terrorism. But WAIT! If x Country is attacked, who do they cry out to AMERICA. Oh yeah and let’s not support America, we will instead let them handle it how they see fit, provide no support and complain. I personally wish the U.S. would give the rest of the world the finger, protect ourselves, defend our borders, and the only international business being trade. Let the rest of these Peace banner waving idiots get killed off by radicalists, THEN let me read your article sir, THEN we will see how you feel about our “methods”. IT’S WAR IT HAPPENS,WE DID NOT START IT BUT WE WILL NOT STAND IDLY BY AND LET IT HAPPEN. More than I can say for anyone else. FREEDOM>PEACE a price has to be paid.

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