How Much Is An Innocent Life Worth?

This is HumanityWhat is an acceptable ratio of death between the enemy and an innocent civilian? Is it 4 to 1? Is it 2 to 1? Are you willing to kill one innocent life to be able to kill 4 of the enemy? Are you willing to kill one innocent life to kill 2 of the enemy? How far are you willing to go to defend freedom? Would you offer your own life so that 2 or maybe 4 of the enemy may be killed? I want to know.

Today in Afghanistan the United States military launched air strikes in the village of Azizi in Kandahar that killed 60 suspected Taliban militants and 16 innocent civilians. One report puts the estimated number of civilians killed as high as 35. The lower number puts the ratio of Taliban to civilians killed at 4 to 1.

The Associated Press quotes eyewitnesses as saying the suspected Taliban militants ran into peoples’ homes to seek shelter from US bombing of their positions in a nearby madrassa:

Many of the wounded sought treatment at Kandahar city’s Mirwaise Hospital. One man with blood smeared over his clothes and turban said insurgents had been hiding in an Islamic religious school, or madrassa, in the village after fierce fighting in recent days.

"Helicopters bombed the madrassa and some of the Taliban ran from there and into people’s homes. Then those homes were bombed," said Haji Ikhlaf, 40. "I saw 35 to 40 dead Taliban and around 50 dead or wounded civilians."

Another survivor from the village, Zurmina Bibi, who was cradling her wounded 8-month-old baby, said about 10 people were killed in her home, including three or four children.

"There were dead people everywhere," she said, crying.

Reuters quotes the Governor of Kandahar, Khalid Assadullah, as follows:

Khalid said the 16 civilians had been killed in air strikes after Taliban took up positions in their houses.

"The Taliban used people’s houses as their trenches. They were killed in the bombardment," he said.

Some of wounded civilians were brought to Kandahar’s main hospital.

A wounded boy, Daad Mohammad, said all seven members of his family were killed.

"They are all dead," he told Reuters from his hospital bed.

MSNBC quotes the Governor of Kandahar:

"These sort of accidents happen during fighting, especially when the Taliban are hiding in homes," he told reporters. "I urge people not to give shelter to the Taliban."

The Associated Press quotes a US military spokesman:

U.S. military spokesman Col. Tom Collins said the coalition forces targeted a Taliban compound and "we’re certain we hit the right target."

"It’s common that the enemy fights in close to civilians as a means to protect its own forces," he added.

The latest fighting is part of the heavy fighting that has broken out in recent weeks as a result of the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Despite 4 years of American military dominance and American reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, the Taliban have not been defeated. In fact, the Taliban are increasingly seen as the protectors of Afghanistan against foreign occupation. Jim Maceda of NBC News reported just last week:

The Taliban’s comeback is not only on the battlefield, but, increasingly, in the hearts and minds of Afghans. Why?

Analysts say the democratic values embodied by Afghan President Hamid Karzai haven’t caught on.

"In a lot of parts of the country, nothing really has changed from a few years ago," says Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch.

Despite some $12 billion in aid and the loss of more than 220 U.S. soldiers, many Afghan men in the street want the Taliban back.

Increasingly, the Taliban is seen here as a protector of Islamic values against the invasion of Western ways.

Kabul is now dotted with luxury hotels and malls, and Afghans say they like their higher salaries, but not the crime and prostitution that are also on the rise.

"We need the Taliban," one Afghan man says. "Otherwise Westerners and foreigners will corrupt our religion."

The battle with the Taliban in Afghanistan is more about hearts and minds than military engagements. In that battle we are losing, perhaps we have already lost. We have installed ruthless warlords as Governors in provinces all over Afghanistan. We cannot engage in the same heavy handed tactics as these thugs. They may not value human life but we must. Every time we bomb a village and kill innocent civilians, we are creating more enemies. The people of Afghanistan do not have the luxury of choosing between a grand idea of Liberty and the darkness of the Taliban. From their perspective the choice boils down to who will keep them safe. If the Americans will indiscriminately bomb their villages to try to kill a few Taliban, the choice for the Afghan man or a woman becomes rather clear. When an errant American bomb destroys an Afghan family, the surviving members will not be worshipping Americans as their saviors. They will instead look to the Taliban to offer them protection. This very need for protection is what led to the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan in the mid 1990s. Hearts and minds are won by offering security and stability not by offering Democracy at the point of the gun.

The United States, with every civilian death, is creating more ill will toward itself in Afghanistan. As in Iraq, liberation has been morphing into heavy-handed occupation. Afghan nationalism that demands American withdrawal will be the result of this spin toward failure. In this environment the Taliban will find fertile ground to preach their brand of hate by offering, once again, security at the expense of liberty. The legacy of the American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan is becoming clear. The United States is creating the very extremism it tried to defeat when it invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. In the case of Iraq, the extremism was created as a consequence of American actions. In the case of Afghanistan, the extremism that crept into the shadows during the initial invasion has been given fertile soil as a result of American actions.

There must be a better way to fight extremism without creating more death and hate. Surely a 4-to-1 or 2-to-1 ratio of extremists to innocent civilians is not an acceptable mathematical formula for success in the War on Terror. Innocent life has value far greater than the term "collateral damage" suggests. So I ask again, how much is an innocent life worth?

This entry was posted in Afghanistan, Foreign Policy, Human Rights. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to How Much Is An Innocent Life Worth?

  1. TedB says:

    “…fertile ground to preach their brand of hate by offering, once again, security at the expense of liberty.”

    I read this sad post, but when I saw this line it struck me that the Afganis are seeing us for who we appear to be to them. Our current government leads us using fear tactics and hate of the “other”.

    We are asked to sacrifice our liberty in the name of security (illusory). As we give up our liberties, the terrorists win without a fight. We allow the terrorists to use fear against us to further their cause. What makes us different if not our freedom.

    If we can not speak and write without restraint, how, exactly, does that honor our proud history.

    When those who shine the light of public scrutiny on governmental misdeeds are threatened will jail and loss of employment, how does that benefit the public good?

    When we use extrordinary rendition and hold people without charge, seemingly forever, how is this an improvement over the gulags of the Soviet Union.

    The Bushco believes in creating its own reality. Quite the reality, would you not agree? My mother impressed on me at a young age that you reap exactly what you sow. We have sown fear, loathing, and war for more than 4 years, is it any surprise that we are now harvesting this bitter of fruit?

    The Afganis have lived war for over 30 years, why should we be surprised that when we do not provide real, tangible security to go with this shiny new democracy, democracy collapses to the armies promising safety and an end to daily death. Again, are we really surprised?

  2. Mash says:

    Ted, I decided to let that line hang on its own in the post. I paused when I realized that statement was applicable to what is happening here as well. It is the case General Hayden makes – that we must sacrifice liberty to achieve security. Well, Ben Franklin I’m sure is turning in his grave.

    Bush’s ideals of “freedom” and “democracy” ring hollow in light of what is happening in Iraq and Afghanistan, and indeed what is happening in the United States. :-l

  3. dude says:

    see, mash, you misunderstand. you have to read and listen in context. as in the ideal democracy in ancient greek, i am sure you remember from psc101, these freedoms ONLY apply to the rich elite landowning men, the “real” citizens, not the colonies, slaves, enemy fighters, or infact, the women or children.

    ONLY real citizens can vote, or enjoy the freedom that is, in fact, democracy.

    which if i recall my HS civics class, the US is not, it is a federation, not a democracy, ergo, the federal government. democratic ideals cannot exist in a system which is not set up to be democratic.

    although, i did goof around a lot in HS, so i might have been dreaming all this. it was tough being artistic.

  4. MrEMan says:


    this story broke my heart. The US is now so desperate that they will go to any length to “get their man” no matter where in the world. I doubt many of the civilians had much choice in this matter. A group of armed men come crashing through your door, and you’re sitting there, unarmed with your wife and kids by your side…what would you do? You’d let them in so they don’t kill your entire family….

  5. Mash says:

    MrEMan, this is the problem with the “us” and “them” foreign policy…the “them” is growing with every family that loses someone to “collateral damage”.

    dude, leave it to you to bring the Greeks into the discussion >-)

  6. MrEMan says:

    You mean as in a Greek Tragedy? Sorry ’bout that! We have made so many millions of new enemies over the past few years, it will take generations to right the wrongs we now see.

  7. MrEMan says:

    And could we not ask the question – Could you, or would you give your life so that 1 or 2 innocent people could LIVE? I dunno, just a thought. Sorry about the ever-changing gravatar, but I’m a Gemini…we get bored easily.

  8. Mash says:

    MrEMan, the last part of the comment was for “dude” (comment above yours :)) “dude” was recalling the heady days of his childhood in ancient Greece. :d

    By the way, I like the album on your new gravatar. Saw Rush last in 1985 in Long Island.

    Sorry, this was an angry post. ~X( Too much needless death and suffering. The villagers of Afghanistan are modern day cannon fodder.

  9. MrEMan says:


    Sorry about that, was just reading along and I get called dude all the time by my friends…so naturally you must have been referring to me! But looking back, the Greek Tragedy thing still works for the story, no?

    I’ve seen Rush 10 times now, but I really like many of their album covers…three in one thread for you…enjoy…:)

  10. Krish says:


    I see Americans literally ‘bashing’ Bush…but as an outsider, I have only 1 thing to say. Terrorists have not been able to attack US even once after Sept 11. Even a small attack….they may fire at US troops in Iraq or Afghanistan..but Bush keeps Americans safe in America..whether Americans like that or not!


  11. dude says:

    sorry, but, what else was there then to say it was all greek to me.

    i have lived in various places in asia, west africa, western europe and the U.S., and everywhere, in various degrees, with various situations, the innocent always get cluster****ed, this is yet another example of it. those in power, ALWAYS justify their actions one way or another. and those who wish to be in power go along.

    it may seem often in my posts that i lack a certain level of seriousness, it is infact the opposite, there is too much seriousness in my profession and personal life to take what i read, and what has been going on for ages to be anything other than silly.

    i do not see a difference in this and some innocent diplomats wife being killed in pk while in church, or some old man getting killed while at friday prayers at the shiite mosque or.. well, you get the picture. and while petitions and emails and faxbombs are all great in making the sender/signer feel like they are doing something, it amounts to basically nothing.

    do better, next time, get everyone you know out to vote, so a national government has more than 51-54% mandate, strike where it is real effective, with your pocketbooks and voting feet.

    petitions dont do squat. sorry, lived in/thru too many coup de etats in different continents, bit jaded, glazy eyes, stuffed up brain…#:-s

  12. Mash says:

    dude, its all Greek to me too :-”

    And I know you are deadly serious – but I appreciate your levity also. Sometimes there is nothing left to do but laugh when the situation is so sickening.

    No doubt the innocent keep getting shafted. And I for one am getting people out to vote in November. Silence kills.

    I do disagree about petitions. And here’s why. The purpose of petititions is to make, in this case Mirza Tahir Hussain’s plight, the issue get news coverage. Musharraf has shown himself to make cosmetic changes when he gets bad press (if that cosmetic change is the saving of a life, I will take it). It has also proven to work in the past. It worked, as I’ve cited, in the cases of Mukhtar Mai and Abdul Rahman. It worked because the Bush Administration is caught up in its own rhetoric. In the case of Hussain, it is an Islamic court that sentenced Hussain. What better way for the Bush administration to show that our way of life is “superior” than to poo poo this verdict. In that I will happily take the assistance of this Administration if it will save this man’s life.

    Changing the world happens in big and small ways. While we are waiting for the big change to occur we have to also make the little changes happen.

    Despair can lead to silence. And Silence kills. We are going to shout not because it makes us feel better, we are going to shout because we want all to hear that there is injustice. If enough people join in the shouting the oppressor cannot succeed.

    Dictators and tyrants survive because the people have been beaten into submission, despair and above all acceptance. Once we give up our determinition that what we do or say can have impact, the only thing left to do is pack it all up and dig a nice warm grave.

    I am not prepared to do that yet.


  13. Krish says:

    Hey Mash,

    Writing and all this blurping makes no sense…ur simply sitting thousands of miles away and ‘expressing ur thoughts’ ..that’s nothing better than listening to mutterings of disguntled individuals!
    Do not mind..I do feel it that way…else try DOING sth on the ground…and let RESULTS speak. I’m not too sure that’s going to be as easy as writing here!

  14. Mash says:

    Krish, I am surpised you are wasting your time with reading this “writing and all blurping”. After all, you actively came to my site and read this post. No one forced you.

    Actually from where I sit you are the one sitting thousands of miles away. I happen to live in Washington which is exactly where the decisions are made. I intend to exercise, as dude points out, my rights as a citizen and vote. For those of us who believe that the power of the ballot is more powerful than the power of the bomb, we are doing something about it.

    What exactly is “blurping”? I am not exactly sure of what you mean. Please explain further. :-@

    I am also wondering what about this post you feel is a waste of time? Let me try this one on for size: Are you saying that you are for killing innocent civilians? I don’t know, I am just guessing – tell me what gets your panties in a bind about this post. :((

  15. TedB says:

    Mash posted a few weeks ago an interesting corollary to your idea about us being “safe”. I drove to work today and the terrorists did not attack us. Does it now follow that America is now safe because of my actions?

    This administrations actions against our ideals and traditions are doing more harm to America than the collective wet dreams of all the terrorists combined. Al Qida never dreamed we would accede to their desires and become like them – fearful of outside influences and ideas. Our actions speak loudly.

    When fear paralyzes us, they win. When we give up our freedoms, they win.

    To put it in gross percentage terms, 1/10,000% of Americans died on 9-11. Are these patriots lives so meaningless that we will sacrifice the soul of America for the slight decrease in our chance of dying? The odds of lightning striking me and my family twice is higher. Should I cower from the rain because lightning might develop? Do you hide at home because car accidents might happen on the way to work? Do you take medicine to prevent all illnesses from striking you dead?

    No you do not. A cold cost benefit analysis would disuade any rational person from taking any of these actions, yet we willing give up freedom because an irrational fear has paralysed us.

    To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson – The blood of patriots is nessessary to renew the spirit of democracy. Are our freedoms so valueless that we are no longer willing to sacrifice for them? How do we honor the fallen by giving up the freedoms they died for. When has there benn only one way to solve a problem.

    The current administration denies any possible solution other than their own. The definition of insanity is doing an action repeatly yet expecting different results. Take off the rose colored glasses and really look around. Is the world better off? Will more of exactly the same result in an improvement? Will decreasing our freedoms increase our freedoms?

    Think about it.


  16. Krish says:

    Hi Mash,

    I have a feeling you’ve got me wrong!
    What I meant was that ‘ACTIONS’ matter. I also hail from a democracy where one is fully entitled to voice ones opinions…ur point abt ballot over bomb..I agree with that. But what I meant was…IT SHOULD MAKE A DIFFERENCE!…ACTIONABLE difference. There are so many people who talk about this..but the very next day, its forgotten! Its back to a new topic.
    As for ur point — killings – Why on Earth will I ever be ‘for’ killing innocent way! I come from a civilised nation that respects humanity..but I find it disgusting to see people shouting over the rooftops expressing concern, sympathy and what not..and it ends there..and they feel happy, proud, and what not about it for the fact that they ‘SAID’ sth. This has become a NORM in a democracy.
    I’ll tell u what..even if I find an innocent ‘animal’..humans apart..I feel as strong and sad…and yes..I WILL and have gone out of my way to offer whatever I can…and will do.
    Your comments — panties bla bla..I actually didn’t expect that from a gentleman sitting in Washington thousands of miles away. If gentlemen there can get perturbed at the drop of a hat, ur going to be easy meat for people having negative intentions abt US and its people!
    But I’m not one to have such intentions..I want to see a stronger America myself…that’s the reason I have responded to this blog..coz America has taught gr8 things to this world like Democracy, freedom, market economy etc…and I appreciate that; I admire that. In fact, I am one among those who REGRET not having the opportunity to be part of that great American dream. You are fortunate..and I’m GLAD for you:-)
    Finally, the blurp should’ve read burp! Apologize for my miss!


  17. Mash says:

    Krish, well, at least you called me a “gentleman”, my wife would take issue with that characterization :d

    “panties in a bind” would be slang. I am not actually implying you are wearing panties and they are in a bind (not that there is anything wrong with that!) :-&

    I welcome you to read other posts on my blog and comment. I often respond to most comments. I also match civility with civility and snark with snark. I don’t censor anyone unless they advocate illegal activity.

    Actions without words are dangerous. I write on this blog with the hope that my posts cause people to think and perhaps then to act. I am not confined by this blog and you should not assume that me or those who comment on this blog do not act simply because they also write and talk. :”>

    One more thing, we love our smileys! <:-p

  18. Krish says:

    Hi TedB,

    It was indeed a valid point you raised when u talked abt the Bush Admn handling of policies. But then TedB, I’ll tell u what….one Administration inherits legacies from the previous ones. So its a continuous process. U can’t blame everything on one Admn.
    What I meant was..that as an outsider, I have observed that Pres Bush is ‘passionate’ and ‘determined’ to protect US and its citizens..whatever it takes. and I admire that. You won’t find too many ‘politicians’ like that!He was recently in our country..and we were impressed. He may fumble once in a while..but then hez human..after all. And being the Pres of USA..with expectations sky-high..its not easy TedB! And hez a family man too! Not some teeth-exhibiting Clinton who reinforced our notion that Americans are f*****s first…everything else later!
    But Bush has disproved that. I’m sure hez equally concerned abt ‘innocents’..and the Admn. must be doing its best to prevent incidents involving innocents.

  19. Krish says:

    Hi Mash,

    It was indeed ‘comforting’ reading ur response.:)
    And yes..I am still wondering how I happened to be part of a blog today….guess u managed to get me somehow..hats off
    I do not debate normally..but when its an American..I do chip in..coz I the end..we will be interesting and down2earth and youthly..the American spirit is just awesome..sad its not like that everywhere outside US!
    As for smileys..yes..they’re STIMULATING:d man!

  20. dude says:

    mash, sorry, i have signed countless petitions, line, i meant well, and talkig about it means well, and is action of sorts, some things one CANNOT fight, in all the years i have lived in the west, i have noticed a apathy towards non westerners, as if those lives areless meaningful, less valuable. 100,000 people can die in one month and it will be surpassed by the 2 headed dog who likes cats the next week. a few thousand can die, and we hear about it all th etime in the west.

    in the nonwestern world it self, the same apathy exists. buildings collapse in mecca, and people die, or a garment factory, or a launch capcises, or a inadequately built barrier gives way to mud or ocean..

    human malaise… some of us turn to the etheral and better our non-physical life. its not more now, its always been. some people who are optimistic and idealistic maybe ought to visit parts of africa, asia, m.e.,latin america. heck, visit your towns slums or inner city, if you dare.

    petitions are all good and well, but its real on the ground action that counts. was born a cynic, now converted to jaded.

  21. bharath says:

    Mash, I think you raise valid point. Given the world in which gansters can get together to inflict gross attrocities, it might be hard even for the police to draw a line on collateral damage except for “we won’t kill innocents when not in doubt”. Especially when gansters are not encountered in a war situation.

    Though between countries, I think the first and foremost is diplomacy and knowledge of the surroundings. It bothers me that the war in afghanistan is not preceeded by a coordinated help effort from neighboring countries. If US had made the effort of elliciting the help, would that not then have reduced the causalties? maybe. I don’t know.

    Certainly that would place it better within the ocnfines of international law than what it does now: chosen to flout it.

    People like Cheney, Gonzalez and that team is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

  22. Mash says:

    dude, I can’t say I disagree with you about how third world lives seem to count for less than an animals. I have seen it too often and of course I post about, as you know.

    We still have to talk about it though – even though we take action. Not talking about something makes it disappear into the shadows. Do I despair, yes. Do I try to act, yes.

    Sending email or letters is each person’s personal choice. If I didn’t believe it would make a difference in this case, I would not have advocated it. I, you, or anyone can’t save the whole world. However, that should not quiet us into inaction – when we fail to act, we lose. I am working with a few others offline to get this case some media attention. The problem is time is short – but I won’t stop trying. If I fail then with everyone else I have given up a few hours of my life – that is not much to lose. I am willing to hear a thousand I-told-you-so’s when I fail.

    I grew up in Bangladesh where I saw the rich treat the poor like dogs, I saw the Pakistanis kill us like we were animals. I vowed as a child that I would not accept it – I would not accept man’s inhumanity to man – never.

    This War on Terror is in some ways a “Clash of Civilizations”. It is a critical moment – on that President Bush and I agree. This will lead in one of two directions. It will either lead to a worldwide conflagration or the pendulum will swing the other way and it will lead to better understanding amongst peoples. I am in the “better understanding” camp. I may be on the losing side – and if I am, it won’t really matter, we will not be left with a world worth living in.

    So, as much as I may rant, underlying all my rants is a plea. And the plea is toward the better angels of our nature. I will leave you with a quote from Gandhi and a quote from RFK that I know you have heard:

    “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall – think of it, always.” Mahandas K. Gandhi

    It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” – Robert F. Kennedy

    These are not just quotations on a page – they are calls to action.

    (forgive me getting serious for a while…now back to your regularly scheduled program…)

  23. Thanks for that. I moved to England when I was really young, and I really want to rediscover my heritage. I’ve been trying out a lot of random greek recipes, and the best I’ve found yet is this greek recipe – it totally remind me of my childhood. I dont remember much of it except for the lovely smells and tasty food on every street.

Comments are closed.