I knew I had to be missing something. From a reader (I assume Ramesh is selfishly hiding in the Monday editorial meeting):
You bring up a few good points, but your ending shows a fundamental mis-reading of Ramesh’s post. Look again at the first paragraph of Ramesh’s which you post. He states that more collateral damage (unintended but foreseeable civilian death incidental to destroying a military target) would be a big change…BUT that INTENTIONALLY targeting civilians (i.e. not collateral damage) would be an even bigger change, and a change in principle. Where then do you get “Can’t we be a little more tolerant of collateral damage while holding intact the moral opprobrium on the use of nukes?” from??? Its not about more or less collateral damage, its about collateral damage versus intentional targeting. Dresden and Hiroshima were not large scale collateral damage, they were different in kind, not just degree.
He is not arguing that killing more republican guards, or tolerating more collateral death by using bigger bombs etc on the baddies is bad, but rather that the arguments used to justify Hiroshima would equally justify intentionally targeting civilians in Iraq, so long as the practical concerns are met. Terror bombing, as the air war theorists themselves called it, could be used today. We could carpet bomb Sunni cities, because the insurgency is Sunni, but we don’t, primarily because whatever we may say in retrospect to justify the Hiroshima bombings, we don’t in practice really believe these things today.
Having smart bombs is not a new technological alternative to terror bombing, because the death of civilians is not an accidental byproduct of it, it is the whole purpose –so you increased technology argument is off too. A cop must choose to wound if he can, but in other circumstances may choose to kill if that’s his only feasible choice, but he never is allowed to kill the bad guy’s unarmed girlfriend to scare the bad guy into surrendering. Difference in kind, not just degree.