It’s Always Been Too Easy to Justify Civilian Casualties



In a recent post I asked how Boko Haram justified the depths of depravity to which it descends. It includes not only kidnapping schoolgirls, but mass-murdering civilians and perhaps even cannibalism. Its leader Abubakar Shekau’s reply, as reported by Adam Nossiter and David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times mirrors a justification sometimes used by other Islamist militants: “the sole purpose of its violence was to demonstrate the incapacity of the Nigerian state.”

Turns out that’s a time-(dis)honored tradition. I’m currently reading The Norman Conquest: The Battle of Hastings and the Fall of Anglo-Saxon England by Marc Morris (Pegasus Books, 2012). Due to lack of sources and the amount of time it covers, the book is predominantly just an accounting of events and it’s lacking in color. (Hey, today we can get plenty of that from the myriad movies and TV shows set in the British Isles’ past.) Nevertheless, The Norman Conquest is useful and for the reader to whom most of the material is new, such as myself, a revelation. In regards to civilian casualties, Morris writes (emphasis added):

Invading armies did not have supply lines stretching back to base; they lived off the land, seizing supplies from the inhabitants as they advanced. Inevitably this meant that many of those inhabitants were killed, but there was no law against that. On the contrary, harming non-combatants was an integral part of warfare, for it exposed the weakness of the enemy’s lordship, and showed that his protection was not worth having.

As with Islamist militants such as Boko Haram, the goal is delegitimizing a regime.