July 25, 2006

The "Proportionality" Fallacy

Hatched by Dafydd

I've been pondering and mulling for many days now the charge, absurd on its face, that Israel's response to the attacks by Hamas and Hezbollah is "disproportionate." What has puzzled me all this time is where the silly meme of "proportionality" came from in the first place.

I understand proportionality in, say, criminal sentencing: if a person stole some cash from the church poorbox, it's grossly disproportionate to punish him by cutting off his hand; the severity of the punishment vastly exceeds the mendacity of the crime.

And I understand proportionality in civil lawsuits: if a company produced a dangerously defective product, then tried to cover it up, and if a victim of that product is injured thereby... then it makes perfect sense for that victim not only to receive compensatory damages in the lawsuit (damages to make him whole again, or as much so as possible), but also punitive damages.

Even so, if the company has an annual income of $10 million, it's grossly disproportionate for a jury to award the victim $60 billion in punitive damages.

But how does any of this relate to warfare? The question has baffled me for a long time now, from even before the present ruckus in Lebanon and Gaza. How did a theory of criminal punishment get tacked onto the "law of war?"

And just now, the answer I'd been seeking struck me like a load of hay: those critics squealing about Israel's "disproportionate" response think war is how Israel "punishes" the Arabs.

All of a sudden, other paralogical incongruities fell into place: the Left believes war is not waged in order to gain national-security advantages for one's country; they see it entirely as an extension of the criminal justice system... a tit-for-tat revenge taken against countries that have criminally assaulted one's own. Thus, the Left cannot even understand the conservative argument that terrorism "cannot be defeated by a criminal-justice response but must be treated as an act of war."

To them, all war is a criminal-justice program. Why should the war on jihadi terrorism be any different?

And because they think war in general is a punitive action designed to punish transgressors, they also believe:

  • It's wrong to punish countries disproportionately to their "crimes," such as killing more of their soldiers than they killed of yours... it's too much "tat" in the tit-for-tat equation;
  • It's wrong to "collectively punish" the people living in the enemy nation by, e.g., dropping bombs;
  • In fact, killing enemy combatants is wrong in general, because we're against capital punishment;
  • It's wrong to "punish" a country for the actions of a terrorist group within that country;
  • It's horrifically wrong to "punish" a country before it has actually committed the crime or even taken steps to commit the crime (pre-emption); that would be the same as putting someone in prison because you thought he might commit a crime in the future;
  • It's wrong to go to war without first holding a criminal investigation and finding the enemy country guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the transgression;
  • Captured unlawful enemy combatants must be tried in civilian courts (presumably for "conspiracy") with all the protections afforded ordinary criminal defendants;
  • Captured unlawful enemy combatants may not be interrogated unless they have a lawyer present, and they cannot be interrogated at all if they "take the Fifth;"
  • Once combatants have "served their sentences," which must be "proportionate to the crime they committed," they must be released, even if there is a chance they will return to the front lines and "commit more crimes;" after all, they've paid their debt to society.

As suspicious as I am of any general "Theory of Everything," this revelation (well, to me, anyway) does seem to explain an awful lot about liberal squeamishness anent the Israeli war on Hezbollah, the American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and other attempts by the civilized world to defend itself against the forces of Islamist barbarity.

(It doesn't explain why liberals supported the carpet bombing of Serbs in Kosovo; but then, they also gave Bill Clinton a pass on a lot of other actual criminal behavior, too. To explain this, we must invoke a different thesis: the Theory of the Charmed Charmer, the lovable rogue who can do no wrong.)

It also explains why the American Left is increasingly bitter and hateful towards Israel: they look at Israel and they see a country that persistently violates the "liberal law of war" by treating warfare as if it were some means of defending the country from attack, instead of a police action.

Thus, to the liberal mind, Israel is like a "rogue cop" who commits serial acts of "police brutality." The Left's reflexive hatred of "the pigs" or "the Man" kicks in, and Ehud Olmert morphs into Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, with Lebanon as the new Democratic National Convention of 1968. "Israel is not there to cause disorder... Israel is there to preserve disorder!"

Arabs (and Persians, to the extent that liberals even know there is a difference) are the long-suffering poor who are always getting shafted by the Man; we need a healthy dose of "social justice," man, to redress the historical imbalances. Power to the people, man! Off the pigs! Free Mumia!

(In fact, wouldn't Arab suicide bombers be seen as heroic followers of Mumia Abu Jamal, giving their lives -- well, the real Mumia hasn't given it yet, alas -- to fight the inherent injustice of the Israeli neocon lobby establishment? Right on, man!)

I believe every Democratic candidate in 2006 and 2008 should be given a hot seat (I don't mean Old Sparky) and asked this question: if terrorists kill 3,000 Americans, how many terrorists will you allow us to kill before you decide our response is "disproportionate?"

Watch 'em squirm.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, July 25, 2006, at the time of 2:28 PM

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Tracked on July 25, 2006 2:51 PM


The following hissed in response by: mareseydoats

When I hear the word "proportionality" WWII springs to mind: apparently, our liberal "friends" believe more Americans should have died in that conflict. Military capability is inherently unfair and should be handicapped for reasons that escape me. Or perhaps, things need to be proportional based on the size of a country's population? In which case China owes the world a lot more corpses from WWII... a LOT more corpses.... and consistent with that type of reasoning, Israel needs to kill many, many more Muslims. Just to be fair, of course.

Proportional Response = Appeasement. Every time.

The following info is shamelessly copied from


World War II Casualties

Source: Phil's World War II Pages

Country Military Civilian Total
Soviet Union* 8,668,000 16,900,000 25,568,000
China 1,324,000 10,000,000 11,324,000
Germany 3,250,000 3,810,000 7,060,000
Poland 850,000 6,000,000 6,850,000
Japan 1,506,000 300,000 1,806,000
Yugoslavia 300,000 1,400,000 1,700,000
Rumania* 520,000 465,000 985,000
France* 340,000 470,000 810,000
Hungary* 750,000
Austria 380,000 145,000 525,000
Greece* 520,000
Italy 330,000 80,000 410,000
Czechoslovakia 400,000
Great Britain 326,000 62,000 388,000
USA 295,000 295,000
Holland 14,000 236,000 250,000
Belgium 10,000 75,000 85,000
Finland 79,000 79,000
Canada 42,000 42,000
India 36,000 *** 36,000
Australia 29,000 29,000
Spain** 12,000 10,000 22,000
Bulgaria 19,000 2,000 21,000
New Zealand 12,000 12,000
South Africa 9,000 9,000
Norway 5,000 5,000
Denmark 4,000 4,000

Total: c 61 million

The table above has been compiled from three sources:-

1. Alan Bullock - Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives pp987
2. The Times Atlas of the Second World War pp204,205
3. Richard Overy - Russia's War pp288
The highest estimate for each country was selected during compilation - in the case of ref.3 the figures for military deaths are given as recent official figures and the civilian deaths are those estimated from a 1996 study by B V Sokolov - although the author points out that an accurate figure is difficult to calculate.
*The figures for these countries were very different in the three sources

** The military deaths for Spain, a neutral country during the war, are attributed to volunteers in the Axis (4500) and Allied (7500) armies. According to source 2, above, 10,000 Spaniards died in concentration camps. These figures may be very inaccurate and may be reviewed later.

*** This table does not take into account the 3 million Indians who died due to famine in 1943.

The above hissed in response by: mareseydoats [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 25, 2006 2:58 PM

The following hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist

Great 'Stuff'!!!

So much for the infamous "All's fair in love and war." quote, huh.

Anyway, we disagree on Criminal Law needing proportionality in sentencing to or in it. We have laws against walking on the wrong side of a sidewalk...against walking on the grass...against rape...against cheating on taxes...against driving an auto too fast...against murder...against perjury...etc. We have so many Criminal Laws, that our Courts, Jails, and Prisons stay packed. Heck, we even have Civil Laws to backup the Criminal Laws!?! Karmic *HECK*, we have even came up with Laws on Warfare!?!

Basically, if a Law is soooooooo important that it is needed, then the sentence for Breaking that Law should be the same as for Breaking any other Law. Toss out the proportionality and disproportionate, and come up with one sentence.

The Sane World *BAFFLES* the Insane...so to speak.


The above hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 25, 2006 3:39 PM

The following hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist

During the Seige of Yorktown, the battle that won America its freedom from Britain...

Is that the same siege as the Siege of Yorktown??? The one where General Hillary Henry Clinton, commander of British forces in North America was involved???

the French troops that were fighting alongside the American troops lost twice as many men.

monkyboy...do you have a link for that statement? Humble me is having problems finding much on a death count, well, besides Nine Americans and 15 French died in this brief and heroic action.

The French have been paid back many...many...many times, and look at them now. What a waste of freedom, huh. The Socialist (AKA Fascist) State of France was so desperate for survival, some decades ago, that they had to welcome Muslims/Islamists into France as immigrants so that they could help pay for the retiring French. OOOPS!!!


The above hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 25, 2006 4:24 PM

The following hissed in response by: Bill Faith

Excellent, Dafydd! Best explanation I've ever seen. I excerpted and linked at Old War Dogs.

The above hissed in response by: Bill Faith [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 25, 2006 5:04 PM

The following hissed in response by: Big D


You got it. I've been having the same puzzlement for some time myself. Now I get it.

I'd add in the absurd requirement that war not create any civilian casualties. I mean, the police can't just shoot up a whole neighborhood going after one guy, right?

I wonder if we haven't created this problem ourselves. Korea was deemed a police action. Vietnam was...something else. Politicians have hesitated to call anything war for some time since it raises all sorts of alarm bells. I think liberals, with their limited knowledge and understanding of history, simply have no idea what war is anymore.

The above hissed in response by: Big D [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 25, 2006 5:56 PM

The following hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist

war[1, noun]

War can be a noun?!?!?!

The above hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 25, 2006 6:21 PM

The following hissed in response by: Bill Faith

I linked again, from Tony Blankley: Just another coincidence?. Between you and Tony, I'd say the problem's pretty well been defined. Now the question is what do we do about it?

The above hissed in response by: Bill Faith [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 26, 2006 1:29 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

Gentle Readers:

Hm... let's see if we can't figure this out.

In March, a very aggressive and belittling commenter, "Robert," appears and begins making a series of comments, each of which is insulting and argumentative rather than conversational or debating. Robert uses a yahoo.com account.

On May 20th, Monkyboy shows up for the first time, using a hotmail.com account.

On May 24th, Robert ceases posting.

Monkyboy posts from May 20th right up through July 26th -- not a word from Robert.

Monkyboy is banned on July 26th.

July 27th: Robert reappears after his two-month hiatus -- making a comment that reads almost exactly like a Monkyboy comment.

Coincidence? I don't think so.

Monkyboy's problem is that he cannot stop writing like Monkyboy, no matter what name he uses. He's tried before... but since that's his entire reason for posting comments, it wouldn't satisfy him even if he could sustain it.

He can get a thousand yahoo and hotmail accounts and post from libraries all across town, and he still cannot escape his inner Monkyboy. He's like the creepy guy wearing a leisure suit at the beach.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 27, 2006 1:40 PM

The following hissed in response by: cdquarles

ROFL. Sock puppetry strikes again.

Dafydd, I'm sure you're aware of the little kerfuffle at Patterico's Pontifications.

The above hissed in response by: cdquarles [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 27, 2006 8:58 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


More or less. I've read the posts, but I got a little lost in all the names.

I know that Larry Johnson is an ex-spook, the guy who casually remarked that terrorism was an overblown fear -- in July, 2001 -- and has been a darling of the elite media ever since. (I only know this from reading Power Line.)

And I know that Jason Leopold was the nitwit self-professed drug addict who ran a story at Truthout.org saying that Karl Rove had already been indicted, because that much I remember.

I haven't read the really long Patterico post with all the pictures yet, but I probably will late tonight. What really puzzles me is why anyone would do the whole sock-puppet thing... low self-esteem? Looking for validation?

My own ego is such that I only know those terms from reading about them in books!


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 27, 2006 10:49 PM

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