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Civilian deaths in the Mideast

July 25, 2006

Re " 'Civilian casualty'? That's a gray area," Opinion, July 22

I think Alan Dershowitz has fallen off the deep end of the "continuum of rationalization." Innocent people are innocent people; trying to differentiate degrees of morality is absurd (and dangerous). War is a horrific affair, and civilian casualties are its consequence. I support the Israeli military response in Lebanon, but I must also accept that civilians are dying as a result. The end may justify the means, but let's not attempt to shed ourselves of the moral responsibility.

HOWARD NATHANSON

Costa Mesa

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Dershowitz's radical call for a hierarchical labeling of civilian casualties by scale of culpability doesn't go far enough. Following his logic that degree of involvement should define levels of wartime "civilianality," how should citizens in democracies such as the United States be measured for valuing consumerism and unquestioned patriotism over unlimited, educated inquiry and participatory citizenship? Is there ever a moral civilian defense for those beliefs that justify self-survival without weighing justice at large? Historical hypocrisy is rooted in the sum total of individuals' sublimation, blind following and silence. But it is our leaders, from Hezbollah to Washington, who, in the name of religion and protectionism, steer the self-indulgent course.

CRYSTAL HAIDL

Manhattan Beach

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Dershowitz writes: "The Israeli army has given well-publicized notice to civilians to leave those areas of southern Lebanon that have been turned into war zones. Those who voluntarily remain behind have become complicit." That sounds fair enough, but there's a problem: Israel has blocked many roads in all directions, so thousands of civilians cannot leave southern Lebanon. So much for Israel trying to minimize the deaths of innocents.

EVAN ELLIOT

San Francisco

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"Every civilian death is a tragedy, but some are more tragic than others." Dershowitz will be living down this phrase for a long time.

ORMOND OTVOS

Richmond, Calif.

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