Blackadder’s Lair

The home of many a cunning plan

Sodom and Gomorrah and Collateral Damage

While Catholic moral theology forbids absolutely the direct or intentional killing of the innocent, it does not prohibit all actions that result in the deaths of innocents. Under the doctrine of the double effect (also known as the principle of side effects), an action resulting in the deaths of innocents may nevertheless be justifiable so long as those deaths are not intended either as a means or as an end, and as long as the good that results from this action outweighs the bad. For this reason, Catholic moralists have typically said that some level of collateral damage (that is, unintentional killing of the innocent) can be permissible in war.

Exactly how much collateral damage can be tolerated in a military action is, of course, no easy question. Judging the consequences of an action means speculating about the future, something we humans are not terribly good at. One cannot give a set number or ratio below which civilian casualties in a military operation are acceptable and above which it is not, as too much depends on the particular circumstances of the individual case. Certainly I thank God that I am not in the position of having to make such decisions, weighing the near certainly of a small number of civilian casualties against the probability or possibility of a much greater number of deaths. Nevertheless, as I consider things like the incident yesterday in Somalia, my mind cannot help but return to the story in Genesis of Abraham pleading with God to spare the innocent of Sodom and Gomorrah: Continue reading

March 3, 2008 Posted by | Double Effect, Just War, Scriptire | Leave a comment