November 29, 2005

From the Robin Hood legends on up, moral ambiguity is one of the greatest weapons of any guerrilla opposition. By their very nature, guerrilla armies rely on the general citizenry to support them: perhaps by concealing their presence, perhaps by supplying food/shelter/information, perhaps by helping acquire arms, perhaps even by fighting. Such assistance is often deemed justifiable because the guerrillas are supposed to be fighting for what is "right" -- regardless of the law or who holds power.

To fight against a guerrilla army thus automatically places the fighter in the "wrong" regardless of specifics of actions done: simply by having made the choice to fight, and thus having stepped into the moral framework created by the guerrilla. The moment the guerrilla army is defined as something to be fought, the citizenry supporting it cannot but become acceptable targets. I leave aside for now whether it can ever be objectively "right" to target civilians, since the answer rests a good deal on whether war has rules, or should, or even can.

Which raises the question: is it ever possible to oppose a guerrilla army and retain the moral ground?

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