Friday, April 8, 2011

When You Accidentally Kill People, Say You're Sorry

I was a supporter of NATO airstrikes in Libya before this, and I'll continue to be one (I'm still thinking that lives saved because of intervention >> lives lost because of it). But bombing rebel-controlled tanks is a awful awful mistake, especially since they're a military resource in very short supply for the good guys, and our people should do better. I don't know a whole lot about the underlying situation, and how much NATO knew and could've known, so let me just turn this into a point about apologies, which I know something about. The following is completely wrong:
“I am not apologizing,” [British Rear Adm. Russell Harding] said. “The situation on the ground was and remains extremely fluid, and until yesterday we did not have information that (rebel) forces are using tanks.”
So. When I accidentally step on someone's foot, I apologize. When I'm on a subway car and it unpredictably shakes and I bump against somebody hard, I apologize. If I had false information and I acted on it and people I liked got bombed to death, I damn well would apologize.


Anonymous said...

If what NATO is saying here is that it does not believe it is at fault for bombing tanks when it had clearly explained to what it had been told was the rebel leadership that this was what it planned to do until further notice, then I am on board with NATO. This is what "oops" means when you have air support. If someone tells you "we can't coordinate air strikes with you because you lack expertise on calling them in, but we don't think we need to because only the enemy has heavy-duty hardware so we're just going to bomb all of it" and you start driving around in tanks, well, oops. Supposedly they have also fired rocket launchers towards their own people by holding them backwards. This is why we have a professional military.

If by "say you're sorry," you mean NATO should say "we deeply regret the loss of life and we will take every reasonable precaution to avoid such incidents in future" then they probably already did elsewhere in the statement.

Anonymous said...

And if your point is that nothing is lost by apologizing - hey, I'm assuming you've had the kind of job where your manager apologizes for your behavior to an irate customer despite the fact that you did nothing wrong and the customer is totally wrong. And I'm assuming you didn't enjoy it.
Feeling sorry that something happened and being sorry for doing it are not the same thing, and no one enjoys being on the receiving end of having those things confused.

Jonathan said...

There aren't any "good guys" in this civil war. It's broken down along tribal lines. The means morals have nothing to do with it.

Neil Sinhababu said...

So far I'm pretty impressed with the National Transitional Council -- the quasi-leadership on the rebel side. Their finance minister is awesome. I'm also encouraged by the pro-democracy noises coming from them, and they haven't engaged in wanton civilian massacres like Gadhafi has (killing thousands of demonstrators at once with artillery).

Of course, we don't know who will end up as the leaders of a potential new government -- these situations are tumultuous. But there are reasons for optimism.