What’s not in dispute is that the hundreds of civilians who’ve been killed in the suburbs around Kyiv would be alive today but for the Russian invasion. No doubt some were collateral damage, though the Russians will call them human shields. Some will have been mistaken as combatants. And one or two might have been executed as collaborators. But that still leaves hundreds killed by Russian soldiers acting badly. And the question is, what should the rest of the world do about that?
The rest of the world didn’t do much about German or American or Serb or Hutu soldiers acting badly. So the question is, if the rest of the world had done something about German or American or Serb or Hutu soldiers acting badly, would these Russian soldiers have comported themselves slightly better?
Some people argue it’s wrong to punish a whole nation for the misdeeds of a few bad apples. Or that, given that bad apples are to be found pretty much everywhere in the world, to do so would be hypocritical. And besides, war goes with the territory of being human beings, and atrocities like Bucha go with the territory of war. In fact I’m on record rejecting the categorical immunity of non-combatants. So what’s the big deal?
Too quick. The immunity of non-combatants is a contingent rule or war. As are all rules of war. But that contingency invites the question, contingent on what? Terrorising the civilian population has a benefit. If it didn’t no one would bother. But it could have a cost, if but only if the rest of the world decided to impose one. But if these atrocities are to be discouraged, that cost has to trump that benefit.
The Bucha massacre, and massacres like it, have nothing to do with a few bad apples. They’re the product of bad political parenting. Bad parents needs to be penalised for the misbehaviour of their children. And that penalty has to be so dire that if need be – and we need that need to be – these mothers and fathers will eat their own young.
But, it’s been argued, the imposition of these penalties will cost us more than it will them. Then don’t do it. But then don’t complain about Bucha. You didn’t do anything about the Germans or the Americans or the Serbs or the Hutu. So rest easy. The Russians got your message.