Is there any moral difference between deliberately bombing civilian residential neighborhoods and aiming for nearby military targets and missing, with the result that civilian neighborhoods are bombed instead? In my opinion the difference is as slim as cigarette paper. Zig Zag at that. If warriors are reckless about civilian casualties, if they just don’t care, they are every bit as guilty as those who deliberately bomb them.
I will give a prosaic example. Let us say that a seller of a house who lies about the condition of a house to the buyer, says that the house does not contain dangerous mould when he or she knows there is mould. That is considered fraud and the seller is liable for fraud. If the seller innocently says the house does not contain mould, because he honestly believes that, and it does contain mould, the seller is usually not liable. The seller is not liable for the misstatement if the seller believed the statement was true, but the buyer is entitled to rescind the deal if the buyer chooses to do that. But if the seller does not know if the house contains dangerous mould, but still says anyway to the buyer that there is none, then the seller is reckless about he truth of the statement and is treated exactly as if he or she knew the truth and lied. In such a case the seller is considered fraudulent because the seller did not did not care about whether the statement was true or not. The reckless seller is considered as fraudulent as if the seller deliberately lied. I think it is the same with bombing. If soldiers just don’t care if civilians are hurt by bombs or not, they should be treated just as if they deliberately targeted civilians. The actions are morally equivalent.
This has happened more than once in the Syrian war by both sides. The Americans did it and so did the Syrians. I do not accept the argument, used by President Assad in Syria and implicitly endorsed by some members of the United States forces that they could do ‘whatever it takes’ to win. Their position is that at all costs, they must win.” That is the attitude that leads to the reckless endangerment of civilian lives. That is the attitude, whether demonstrated by Americans or Syrians that is morally repugnant. There must be limits to a just war. “At all costs” is not good enough. Just because one is engaged in war does not entitle one to do anything at all to win.
I think many countries have forgotten this. I think the Americans and North Vietnamese both forgot this in the Vietnam War. That stained both sides to the conflict. As is so often the case, it is rare when one side is all right and the other all wrong. Of course, both sides always forget this, thinking truth and beauty is on their side and moral turpitude on the other.