August 20, 2020
By Dan Mahanty
So who is responsible for the duration of America’s forever wars?
In his recent brief for the Quincy Institute, non-resident fellow Samuel Moyn directs the spotlight in a counterintuitive, and discomfiting, direction — toward the members of civil society that advocate for limiting civilian suffering in war. By focusing on the way war is fought, he argues, organizations like mine (Center for Civilians in Conflict, or CIVIC) and advocates like me have displaced more important arguments, or even shifted the debate entirely, away from whether or not war should continue or if new wars should be fought in the first place.
Invited by Responsible Statecraft to respond, my first instinct, perhaps like the referee in “Who Killed Davey Moore,”was to provide a defense of the work organizations like mine do to limit harm to civilians in war; and a defense is certainly available. Our organization centers its mission on protecting civilians from harm in armed conflicts being fought now. The work is not a means to, and cannot await, some other maximal end; we are not strategizing on how best to use the fact of civilian death to achieve policy goals other than immediate relief for those who are currently suffering and those who might in the near future if no action is taken. It is not a junction along a longer, gradual pathway to abolition — it is an absolute claim for the rights and dignity of all civilians, who demand and deserve protection from war now and at all times.