5/3/2011—But it wasn’t Osama Bin Laden. It was April 18, 1943 and the target was Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the architect of the attack on Pearl Harbor. This was a specific mission to kill Yamamoto, based on code breaking interceptions that gave detailed information about Yamamoto’s planned inspection of Japanese forces on the Solomon islands. Sixteen P-38 fighters flew the elaborately planned 1000 mile mission. Remarkably, only one plane and pilot were lost. Yamamoto and his staff were flying in two bombers accompanied by six fighter escorts. Both bombers were destroyed. The fighters arrived at the planned rendezvous point at almost exactly the moment Yamamoto’s group arrived. Any delays on either side would have frustrated the mission. It was an amazing achievement for the military authorized directly by the White House.
The point of this parallel is that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with killing an individual in war. We planned to kill Yamamoto in revenge for the attack on Pearl Harbor and we planned to kill Bin Laden for a similar reason. Indeed, there was less justification for our feelings against Yamamoto, since the Pearl Harbor attack was not really unforeseeable and was entirely a military operation.
Liberals like myself often emphasize the need for the rule of law in dealing with terrorists. This is certainly the preferred course in general. But Bin Laden’s actions against the United States were essentially continuing acts of warfare. There is not much difference between killing him and destroying an airfield used to bomb American territory.