As coalition forces have begun to invest Iraqi cities, we've been drawn into several streetfights. We're starting to see casualties now. The Iraqi forces have apparently abandoned the Geneva conventions that require soldiers to wear uniforms; of course, Iraq makes use of irregular, even sometimes tribal forces, to whom uniforms would be unknown.
We will see in the next few days, both in these cities and in Baghdad, whether our powerful sense of chivalry toward noncombatants can hold. In past confrontations, national armies have become increasingly brutal at just such moments. World War II saw even American GIs shelling villages if, when offered a chance to surrender, village occupants fired on them. Putting American fighting men at risk to protect noncombatants is going to prove increasingly unpopular as casualties mount.
It is, nevertheless, the right thing to do. The alternatives are indiscriminate destruction to pacify the city, or siege-style starvation of the inhabitants. It is a soldier's duty to peril his own life to protect the weak and the innocent. That is the core of Just War theory, of which we've heard so much just lately. To make that work we will need great courage and fortitude.
We will also need to enforce the laws of war on their violators. Courts martial must have the courage to administer to capital crimes capital punishment. Kindness to the cruel is cruelty to the kind. Applying a stern standard to violators, both coalition and Iraqi, is in the long run a kindness to noncombatants. It reinforces the laws of war among our own, but also among the vicious who respect no law but fear our power. Just as acts that weaken respect for these protocols are acts of cruelty to the weak, so acts that strengthen respect for the protocols are acts of support and protection.