The US Military has a new tactic that they are using with there bomb-dropping drone airplanes. First, they will bomb a building, killing some and wounding others. Then the drones wait. When neighbors come to pull their friends and family out of the rubble, the drones drop another bomb, wounding and killing the rescuers. Then the drones wait. When the survivors manage to sort through the carnage and distant relatives come for the funeral, the drones drop another bomb, wounding and killing the mourners.
Each of these three bomb droppings makes sense. The first makes sense because dropping a bomb is a good way to kill a terrorist. It may kill people besides the terrorist, but if you are near a terrorist, then you are probably a terrorist, too.
The second bombing makes sense because if you are trying to help a terrorist, or someone who was near a terrorist when a bomb was dropped, then you must also be a terrorist, terrorist sympathizer, etc.
The third bombing makes the most sense of all, because not only will you kill any friends of the various terrorists that you have killed up to this point, but you will also kill their family members, who are most likely to become new terrorists now that their terrorist role models have been martyred.
Murray Rothbard, in War, Peace and the State, explains under what circumstances is acceptable to bomb buildings full of innocent people in order to defend yourself.
Jones finds that he or his property is being invaded, aggressed against, by Smith. It is legitimate for Jones, as we have seen, to repel this invasion by defensive violence of his own. But now we come to a more knotty question: is it within the right of Jones to commit violence against innocent third parties as a corollary to his legitimate defense against Smith? To the libertarian, the answer must be clearly, no. Remember that the rule prohibiting violence against the persons or property of innocent men is absolute: it holds regardless of the subjective motives for the aggression. It is wrong and criminal to violate the property or person of another, even if one is a Robin Hood, or starving, or is doing it to save one’s relatives, or is defending oneself against a third man’s attack. We may understand and sympathize with the motives in many of these cases and extreme situations. We may later mitigate the guilt if the criminal comes to trial for punishment, but we cannot evade the judgment that this aggression is still a criminal act, and one which the victim has every right to repel, by violence if necessary. In short, A aggresses against B because C is threatening, or aggressing against, A. We may understand C’s “higher” culpability in this whole procedure; but we must still label this aggression as a criminal act which B has the right to repel by violence.
To be more concrete, if Jones finds that his property is being stolen by Smith, he has the right to repel him and try to catch him; but he has no right to repel him by bombing a building and murdering innocent people or to catch him by spraying machine gun fire into an innocent crowd. If he does this, he is as much (or more of) a criminal aggressor as Smith is.
The Future of Freedom Foundation is putting on a lecture series discussing these ideas called , “The War on Terrorism, Civil Liberties, and the Constitution”. Ideas are presented from libertarian, progressive and conservative perspectives, so everyone should find something to relate to.
Americans sympathize with the loss of life outside of the their borders. They give generously when disasters strike anywhere around the world. Yet, there seems to be an exception for people who are killed by the US government. Maybe if people stop conflating the government with regular Americans, they will see that just because most Americans are good people does not mean that the government agents fighting around the world are the good guys.