Killing Civilians Is More Popular Than You’d Think–Especially Among Pundits

I came across this polling from Gallup (8/2/11) while I was looking to debunk the nutty idea that Muslim Americans never criticize terrorism.

As the Gallup poll shows, of all religious groups surveyed–including nonbelievers–Muslims are the least likely to say it’s OK to kill civilians:

Gallup polling on whether it's OK for individuals to kill civilians.

This is true whether the question is asked about individuals doing the killing or the government:

Gallup polling on whether it's OK for the military to kill civilians.

What stays with me about this polling, though, is not how unwilling Muslims are to kill civilians, but how eager everyone else is. Fifty-eight percent of both Protestants and Catholics say it’s “sometimes justified” for the military to “target and kill civilians.” And 64 percent of Mormons! Only Muslims and nonbelievers more often than not say it’s never OK.

And terrorism, which you think would poll down there with child abuse and animal cruelty, actually has a pretty solid following among Americans. More than one out of four Catholics and Protestants, and about one in five Jews, Mormons and nonbelievers say it’s “sometimes justified” for “an individual person or a small group of people” to go on a people hunt.

Where do people get ideas like this? I haven’t been to church in a while, but I don’t remember my Catholic priest telling me that what Jesus would do was carpet bomb. You’re also unlikely to hear a government official endorsing a policy of intentionally killing civilians. (Well, not usually.)

In corporate media, though, you do sometimes hear pundits professing that civilians ought to face the wrath of the United States. This was a common theme in Kosovo commentary. And even more widespread in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Beloved radio talker Paul Harvey used to wax nostalgic about American genocide, and wise man Ted Koppel urged nuclear retaliation against Iran for any act of nuclear terrorism–whether it came from Iran or not. Even discussing whether the U.S. was right to deliberately kill tens of thousands of civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is viewed in media circles as unpatriotic.

As for civilians doing the killing, you get a surprising amount of support for the idea for political killing from the media–from Fox News and other right-wing talk hosts, but also from the ultra-respectable Ted Koppel, who once mused on air that whether doctors who perform abortions should be murdered was a  “tough question.” The guest he was having the discussion with went on to do just that.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.