Donald Trump's pledge to kill the families of terrorists is barbaric.
Has this nation ever had a presidential candidate who advocated killing the families of people who harmed Americans — even, seemingly, when those families were U.S. citizens? Well, after Tuesday night it does.
When Donald Trump broached the idea earlier this month of killing terrorists' families, he was answering a question about how to handle Islamic State fighters who use civilians as human shields. "You have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families," he said.
Trump then explained his barbaric reply by claiming that the U.S. had to stop "fighting a very politically correct war" — as if the refusal to target the children of the enemy were a weak-kneed fetish and not a goal of civilized leaders literally for centuries.
The slaughter of civilians was widely understood to be wrong even throughout the Middle Ages, for example, however often the ethic might have been ignored.
And then there is the not-so-trivial-obstacle that targeting civilians is illegal under international law supported by the U.S.
At Tuesday's Republican debate, Trump was given a chance to clarify his stance on killing families. Rather than back away, he said, "I would be very, very firm with families. Frankly, that will make people think because they may not care much about their lives, but they do care, believe it or not, about their families' lives."
He didn't say he'd kill them, but he didn't say he wouldn't. And he went on to highlight the San Bernardino attack, claiming, "There were numerous people, including the mother, that knew what was going on. They saw a pipe bomb sitting all over the floor. They saw ammunition all over the place."
Now, anyone who "knew what was going on" and didn't report it is probably in deep trouble with authorities. But the idea that we should somehow be tougher on such people than California prosecutors is demagogic idiocy. And to their credit, both Jeb Bush and Rand Paul said as much.
"The idea that that is a solution to [terrorist attacks] is just — is just crazy," Bush said.
Paul was more eloquent, noting that "If you are going to kill the families of terrorists, realize that there's something called the Geneva Convention we're going to have to pull out of. It would defy every norm that is America. So when you ask yourself, whoever you are, that think you're going to support Donald Trump, think, do you believe in the Constitution?"
Usually when a candidate offers a judgment that is so harsh about a rival candidate, you can bet it's partly exaggeration. In Trump's case, unfortunately, it's not.