August 9

It is not permissible to deliberately target non-combatants with a weapon of mass destruction. To do so is always, in all times and places, wrong and monstrous and forbidden.

That's not my rule. It existed for centuries before I was born and it will remain true long after I die. It has, over the centuries, been violated by nearly everyone who has had the power to do so, but none of those who violated it ever succeeded in refuting it. None of them ever made a convincing case that the rule they were breaking was not true. And like them, I cannot see how it affords much wiggle room or flexibility. (Double-effect, I suppose, will allow for a bit of fudging. But only a bit. And the principle of double-effect ultimately serves to reinforce the inviolability of the rule itself.)

This rule is a categorical statement, a solid thing that can be tripped over or smashed through or danced around, but never truthfully denied. It just is. It is something that is so.

As with all such categorical statements, of course, it is also possible to construct a scenario — hypothetical or horrifyingly actual — in which the monstrous, forbidden act appears to be the least horrible possible course of action.

It is not permissible to deliberately target non-combatants with a weapon of mass destruction. That is a categorical and undeniable rule, but it is not the only categorical and undeniable rule. And when two or more such rules come into conflict we humans may be faced with a lack of permissible options. Ethics professors are skilled at spinning out such scenarios, confronting their students with hypothetical conundrums that allow no pure course of action — no acceptable course of action.

History, too, has a way of creating such scenarios. I don't just mean the thousand everyday conflicts and conundrums that arise from life in our fallen world, but life-and-death decisions on a grand scale. Like a perverse ethics professor, history has a way of creating situations in which this or that unthinkable and impermissible act may seem to be the least monstrous of our sickeningly constricted options.

It may be that this was the case on August 6, 1945, and again on August 9, 1945, when the United States of America ended the war in the Pacific by deliberately targeting and killing 140,000 civilians in Hiroshima and then deliberately targeting and killing 80,000 civilians in Nagasaki.

Some think they know for sure that this was the case. Others think they know for sure that this was not the case. And many seem to relish the argument — agreeing as angrily as they disagree. But I do not know and I do not think that we can know what options did or did not appear available to President Truman and to the others who made and executed the decision to deliberately kill hundreds of thousands of civilians, terrorizing Imperial Japan into unconditional surrender.

And we don't need to know. That knowledge is only of interest if we are setting out to judge Truman and the others, to condemn or defend their decision. And I'm not interested in doing that. "What would you have done if you had been in their shoes?" people ask, and I can't fathom that. I can't get past the overwhelming gratitude that I have never been and the overwhelming hope that I will never be in such a situation, faced with such choices, or such a lack of choices, and forced or tempted or convinced to rely on that which ought never to be done.

So I am not interested in judging the actors. I am interested only in the act.

And the act was wrong. It was monstrous and impermissible. It is always impermissible to deliberately target non-combatants with a weapon of mass destruction. That is the rule, and the rule must be preserved long after the rule-breakers and everyone vehemently interested in condemning or defending them is dead.

But … but … but we just agreed there may have been no better choice, no decent choice, no choice not even worse. We just allowed that it may be the case that this was one of those scenarios when a monstrous evil was the least evil of several monstrously evil options.

That's the whole point. The least evil is still evil. The least monstrous is still monstrous.

When, as will happen, you are yourself forced to choose between two bad things, then choose the lesser of the evils and choose it boldly. That will be the right choice and, if circumstances are truly as circumscribed as you believe them to be, that will be the right thing to do in that situation.

But it still won't be a good thing. It isn't a good thing and cannot be made good.

When history perversely forces us to break the rules, then we must break the rules. Violate them. But we must not then pretend that this was not a violation. We must not say that the rule did not apply or that the rule does not exist or that there are no rules.

Broken rules must be mended. They must be rebuilt and reasserted with more vigor than before. This is why we say "never again," even though every time we say it we are soon proven wrong.

Because next time we're going to need that rule more than ever. And there will be a next time. There have already been many next times — many next times in which the rule has been honored and many next times in which the rule has been broken yet again.

We live in a time shaped, in part, by mad dreamers who believe they are not restrained by any such rules. All of our ancestors lived in such times as well, and so in all likelihood will our descendants. But the rules remain. And one of those rules is this: It is not permissible to deliberately target non-combatants with a weapon of mass destruction.

Whether or not it was forced to do so by grim circumstance, America broke that rule on August 6 and August 9, 1945. America therefore has a particular duty to mend what was broken. Never again.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Pius Thicknesse

    Can we have a TF writeup soon? :O I’d love to get back to laughing at Rayford’s and Buck’s small-minded pompous-assery.

  • otrame

    A combination of “there but for the grace of God” and “do not ask for whom the bell tolls”. I remember a bit from a story I read: after a character makes a choice that sacrifices one person in order to save many others, he confronts a friend, “Don’t you dare tell me it was the right thing to do.” and his friend says, “It was the wrong thing to do. But it had to be done anyway.”
    That does not mean that I think those two bombings were the wrong thing that had to be done anyway (though I suspect that that is what Truman thought). Instead, I think, like Fred, that I am very grateful that I have never had to make such a decision. As he said, when the choice you have is between two evils, the only thing you can do is evil.

  • Jeff

    [[It means that a pacifist will allow someone weaker to be hurt if the only other choice is to commit an act of violence. I think the goodness of that position is, at best, far less clear.]]
    Many years ago, Joan Baez wrote a defense of “pure pacifism” that has rarely been equaled. I’m too tired right now to Google, but it’s well worth the search and the read — it’s no longer than TWWAFO for example. :-)

  • K. Chen

    “I did the necessary thing. That is not always the same as the right thing.” (Babylon 5 – The Quality of Mercy)

  • http://profile.typepad.com/mcfuckingduff Mcfuckingduff

    I can’t believe that nobody has pointed out that the bombs might have been the “end” of WWII, transforming the fearsome hordes of bloodthirsty Japanese into a pacifistic nation virtually overnight (why, yes, I suspect that there may be some propaganda involved in the construction of that narrative, why do you ask?), but it was the opening salvo of the Cold War, a long series of proxy conflicts between warring empires, during which time the USA increasingly chose to be on the wrong side.
    Arguing that it was a good thing because it avoided all that pain and death and suffering doesn’t seem to make as much sense in that context.

  • Tom

    There is one, terrifying, implication of the atomic bombings of Japan that I wonder about sometimes, and which never seems to get considered. It does not, I think, have any direct bearing on the excusability of the bombings and those who caused them, but it could have colossal historical import, and perhaps others might be interested.
    Suppose WWII had ended conventionally, and the atomic bombs, though developed, were not deployed. We can assume, I suppose, a much increased Allied death toll in taking Japan over a longer period, say another year or so; that Japan would ultimately have been defeated I think we can take as a given by that point, but I reckon the USA-USSR relationship wouldn’t have been much different in the following decades.
    This would mean that the superpowers would have entered what would, in our history, become the Cold War without ever having seen the full effects of atomic weapons on a real, populated target. Though it might have taken them a bit longer, lacking the shock value of seeing them used in anger, I’m pretty damn sure the Soviets would still have obtained their own nukes not long after the Americans; even before they were actually used, most of the scientists behind the Manhattan project were pretty well aware that they were creating something really, really horrible, so the motive for leaking secrets is still there, and the Soviet scientists might still have figured it out on their own.
    The interesting and really disquieting question is, how do the odds of a full, mutually annihilatory exchange between two nuclear-armed belligerent superpowers change if nobody has ever actually seen the full horror of a nuclear attack on a city, and its aftermath, in that brief period when only one world power is equipped with nukes and can therefore drop them without fear of triggering an exchange? Might the sabre-rattling idiots on both sides of the Cold War have felt just sufficiently less restraint to go ahead and use the ghastly things, had that been the case?

  • wendy, in search of a clever sig line

    @ tacroy
    >>So really, why is it okay for God to have broken the rule? Or, if He didn’t actually break the rule, why is it okay for Him to tell us that He had broken the rule, and let us believe it until we realized that those events never actually happened?<<
    And where in the scripture does it say God is in any way subject to the same rules as people? "Vengeance is mine." There's bunches of examples where we're forbidden to do violent things, or deliver what we consider justice, because God has designated someone else to do it, or he'll do it himself, in the way he sees fit. Even if it's not quite the way we would have chosen.
    That's just one of the many many reasons the Israelites and their leaders *argued* with God, and tried to change his mind about things (sometimes it even worked).

  • Tempus, who is Waffle Iron Jim

    If doing the least evil thing is still evil, then the most good thing you can do is ensure you never have to make a moral decision. Withdraw from the world and all the people in it, for any authority- even moral authority- will lead to making least-bad decisions. The good is the enemy of the perfect, and you must be perfect.
    Not that I plan to take part in this discussion as I don’t have a dog in this fight one way or another and don’t have any insights or observations worth sharing here – my grandfather, a World War 2 vet, did pretty much just that.
    He divorced my grandmother, gave away practically everything he owned, and spent the last thirty years of his life living in a tarpaper shack in the middle of nowhere, growing his own food and hunting for what he couldn’t grow. He spoke with his own immediate family less than half a dozen times during that period. He refused to speak to anyone who wasn’t a blood relative at all. He died sitting at his table of untreated tuberculosis, alone.
    From what very little information I can gather, he apparently no longer wanted anything to do with a world where things like Auschwitz happened, or anyone who lived in it. Which may not be what you were getting at, but…yeah.

  • ajay

    The problem, specifically, with the United States is that it is a unique case in terms of historical understanding of war. Other than the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, every single war the US has fought against a foreign power was fought on someone else’s soil.
    Not unique at all. Consider Britain. The last time that a war against a foreign power was fought in Great Britain was probably the sixteenth century (if you count the wars between Scotland and England) or the thirteenth (if you don’t, you’re back to the Scots fighting the Norwegians at Largs). And, aside from anti-aircraft fire, coastal artillery and the occasional feisty downed Luftwaffe pilot who didn’t want to surrender, there hasn’t been serious ground combat in Great Britain for longer than the entire existence of the USA. (Battle of Culloden, 1746.)

  • Will Wildman

    Interesting points, ajay, but I kind of think the severe bombing in the Second World War counts, even if not many enemy soldiers officially set foot on the ground.

  • LE

    The problem, specifically, with the United States is that it is a unique case in terms of historical understanding of war. Other than the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, every single war the US has fought against a foreign power was fought on someone else’s soil.

    Someone may have brought this up before (too many active threads!) but the same could be said of Japan, pre-WWII. Internecine fighting, yes (tons o’that), but IIRC the closest thing they’d had to an invasion was threats by Western powers in the 19th century that forced them to be less isolationist. Before that we’re talking about the Mongols in the 13th century.
    The US is no longer as nakedly imperialist as Japan was, but it’s something to think about when we go throwing our weight around in other people’s countries.

  • Art

    I can’t believe that nobody has pointed out that the bombs might have been the “end” of WWII, transforming the fearsome hordes of bloodthirsty Japanese into a pacifistic nation virtually overnight (why, yes, I suspect that there may be some propaganda involved in the construction of that narrative, why do you ask?), but it was the opening salvo of the Cold War, a long series of proxy conflicts between warring empires, during which time the USA increasingly chose to be on the wrong side.

    1) It wasn’t “overnight”. It took at least a decade or more of rebuilding before the cultural/political entity we think of as “modern Japan” truly existed in any recognizable state, and even then I would hardly claim that modern Japan is a perfectly nice and pacifistic entity. (But then I’m biased. Must be all that propaganda absorbed from things my family lived through.)
    2) If you think that the Cold War was somehow caused by Hiroshima and Nagasaki and that preventing Hiroshima and Nagasaki would have somehow prevented or even delayed/ameliorated the Cold War you’re fucking nuts. It’s only the Nuclear Weapons Are Absolutely Unique rhetoric that makes it make sense to call Hiroshima and Nagasaki the Cold War’s “opening salvo” in the first place. If anything the bombings were the reason Japan did *not* become the opening crucible of a direct confrontation between the Cold War powers. (I am also amazed by people who think the counterfactual of Japan pursuing a separate peace with Stalin and thus preventing the A-bombings by subsuming Japan into the Iron Curtain is a happy/nice/peaceful/preferable ending to the story. The ONLY WAY any of these endings are better endings to the story is if you’re so tunnel-visioned you think only the suffering of the specific people who got bombed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki counts.)

  • hapax

    The good is the enemy of the perfect, and you must be perfect.

    Why?
    I mean, that’s the whole POINT of the doctrine of Original Sin (or, if you prefer, the irrefutable assertion from observation that human beings inevitably screw up)
    Once you acknowledge the *impossibility* of perfection, you are freed from the *obligation* of perfection. You can then focus on doing the best you can.

  • Art

    And without absolute rules (“Here at the lines which one MUST NOT cross”) — which yes, are more honored in the breach than the observance* — where do we gain the standing to condemn our past mistakes and strive to do better?
    Again: Based on actual events and outcomes rather than on dipshit rules.
    Sorry, but I’m very prickly at the idea that — so sue me — my country, specifically, and my family, specifically, gets to be thrown under the bus because it would be better for the USA to keep its hands clean as much as possible than to get its hands dirty to prevent an objectively greater degree of suffering in the future.
    (Note that a ton of the arguments people are using here aren’t just about Hiroshima and Nagasaki — taken literally and consistently rather than painting them as a bizarrely prejudiced-against-nuclear-weapons-only stance they would’ve prevented the firebombing of the Home Islands at all in the first place, thus meaning that the USA presumably should’ve just blockaded Japan, been happy with the defense of their own territory, and accepted a “conditional” surrender that allowed Japan to continue visiting the abject horrors on their occupied territories that they already had been for almost a decade.)
    When it comes to “preventing past mistakes and striving to do better” I still bristle and chafe at the rhetoric being used here. If you transported me back in time to the 1940s and put the decision-making power in my hands I would gladly do everything Truman did over again. If you put my dad in that seat he would’ve gone further than Truman and A-bombed *Tokyo* — from my perspective bombing Hiroshima was an act of forebearance and tolerance, erring on the side of being humane to the Japanese and erring on the side of hope in the Japanese people’s humanity overcoming the monstrousness of their ideology.

  • CaryB

    Not unique at all. Consider Britain. The last time that a war against a foreign power was fought in Great Britain was probably the sixteenth century (if you count the wars between Scotland and England) or the thirteenth (if you don’t, you’re back to the Scots fighting the Norwegians at Largs). And, aside from anti-aircraft fire, coastal artillery and the occasional feisty downed Luftwaffe pilot who didn’t want to surrender, there hasn’t been serious ground combat in Great Britain for longer than the entire existence of the USA. (Battle of Culloden, 1746.)
    True, but starting in 1939, ground war wasn’t the only sort of war. I’m pretty sure the Londoners during the Blitz felt pretty throughly at war.
    So after a week of Hiroshima and Omelas, heres the conclusion I’ve come too.
    It would be nice to live in a world where all our choices were between good and good, or even good and evil. But they aren’t. At all levels, from the international to the personal, they’re often choices between the bad and the less bad. Idealism is nice, but in the real world, you have to make these choices. And if you don’t want to go live in the tarpaper shack, or preach to the animals like St. Francis, you’re gonna have to get involved in the world. And getting involved in the world means sometimes you have to get a little dirty. That doesn’t give you an excuse to lie down and wallow in it, but you’re gonna get dirty. You’re gonna have to make choices. You’re gonna have to make choices like “Do I buy shoes that I can afford, or hope these old ones don’t fall apart and leave me shoeless until I can save up for some made in the US?” or “Do I vote for Obama, even though I know he won’t do anything about DADT, or do I vote for a third party that will never win?”
    Those are off the top of my head. I’m sure ya’ll can think of even better Devil’s bargins we have to make. And yes, we aren’t Paladins, and we get a little dirty, but..thats the cost of doing business. You keep as clean as you can. You don’t go looking for mud puddles. And when you have a chance to clean up, you do. You try and support teachers in Africa, and schoolkids in Compton, and you do what you can. Its a dirty old world, but its what we’ve got, and we’ve got to do the best we can with the tools we were given.
    Also, who else could really, really, really go for some pie right now? Not that its been a flamewar, but…sheesh. Hell of a week, huh?

  • ajay

    CaryB and others: well, come to that, I think that the US Civil War should count as “experience of war”! Just because it wasn’t against a foreign power shouldn’t matter in this context… it was against a power that was trying its hardest to become foreign. Not to mention all the various Indian Wars…

  • wendy, in search of a clever sig line

    Didn’t we have a few wars against Mexico? Not sure if that was before or after it became not part of Spain, but I’m pretty sure large parts of the Southwest came into our hands through other than peaceful means.
    Which doesn’t fit into the genetic memory of New Englanders, but plenty of Americans aren’t New Englanders.

  • hapax

    Sorry, but I’m very prickly at the idea that — so sue me — my country, specifically, and my family, specifically, gets to be thrown under the bus because it would be better for the USA to keep its hands clean as much as possible than to get its hands dirty to prevent an objectively greater degree of suffering in the future.
    Hmm. Once again, I admire the utilitarian ethic in theory, but *I* get a little prickly when it seems to be applied in a way that in practice (forgive me) privileges the decision-makers’ “country and family” — whether they are USian, Japanese, in occupied China, or wherever.
    After all, *I* have family members who fought for the Allies in the Pacific, including one who served on the USS Missouri and was buried with full military honors in Arlington. On the other hand, I have plenty of relatives buried in German military cemetaries as well. You know what they have in common? They are all DEAD.
    This is why I’d rather stick with “dipsh*t rules” than decisions made on “outcomes” susceptible to sentiment and bias. “Thou shalt not kill” is the one I’d really like us all to aim at, but if that’s too hard, I’m good with a subset like “Thou shalt not kill civilians” to get us on the way.

  • Lance

    I only stop by here occasionally, but I’d like to know what is going on here. Well thought out arguments, common sense, and wit. Are those combinations even allowed on the interwebs?

  • http://profile.typepad.com/mmy mmy

    @hapax: After all, *I* have family members who fought for the Allies in the Pacific, including one who served on the USS Missouri and was buried with full military honors in Arlington. On the other hand, I have plenty of relatives buried in German military cemetaries as well. You know what they have in common? They are all DEAD.
    My dad saw active duty in two foreign wars and has lots of friends/acquaintances buried in foreign soil (Canadians don’t always bring their dead back) — yet I know that he has lots of fellow feeling for the run of the mill soldier “on the other side.” Want to see him work up a head of steam? Get him talking about people “back home” “not on the line” who make decisions that end up costing the lives of tens of thousands of people, civilian and soldier alike.
    For example, there is still a lot of hard feelings (to say the least) about the Canadian losses at Dieppe* in WWII — an action that many Canadians felt would not have taken place had the Canadian troops not been seen as expendable colonials by certain powers that be.
    *For those who don’t know about Dieppe — it is a port town in France — the raid could be seen as a test run for what eventually became D-Day. August 19, 1942. 6103 soldiers in the attack of whom 4963 were Canadian. Of those Candians 907 died, 586 were wounded and 1874 taken prisoner. In some sectors of the landing force the casualty/death rate ran near 90%.
    And yup, I did grow up on a Canadian army base. And yup, I did go to university in Windsor Ontario where one of the parks, Dieppe Gardens, was given that name in memory of the members of the Essex-Kent Scottish Regiment who died at Dieppe.

  • Lori

    “Thou shalt not kill” is the one I’d really like us all to aim at, but if that’s too hard, I’m good with a subset like “Thou shalt not kill civilians” to get us on the way.

    I feel like we’re just going in circles now. The discussion has now ranged over so many threads and so many days that I’ve lost track of much of it, but I don’t recall anyone being pro-killing. The question is whether or not we’re supposed to be all and only about keeping our own hands “clean”? Because the issue we’ve been discussing is that sometimes “Thou shalt not kill any civilians” ends up equally “In order to adhere to that we’ll stand by and let the other guy kill way more civilians”. And as you note, those people will be DEAD.

  • Ursula L

    The question is whether or not we’re supposed to be all and only about keeping our own hands “clean”? Because the issue we’ve been discussing is that sometimes “Thou shalt not kill any civilians” ends up equally “In order to adhere to that we’ll stand by and let the other guy kill way more civilians”. And as you note, those people will be DEAD.
    Well, there are rules, or at least diplomatic/international customs that go to that issue.
    For example, there is a fairly strong tendency of international intervention to consider whether atrocities are internal to a nation, or if they involve multiple nations. That’s why there was a quick and powerful consensus about the first Gulf war, as it involved Iraq invading another nation, but much less international support for when the US invaded Iraq.
    This isn’t just a matter of not wanting to get involved in internal politics of other countries. It’s a recognition that escalating a crisis from being internal to one country to a crisis that involves multiple countries is apt to make the situation measurably worse.
    A recent international expectation, arising after the fall of imperialism and the disasters of WWII is “You Do Not Get To Invade and Annex Other Countries.” When Iraq invaded Kuwait, it violated that rule, and the result was near-universal opposition to Iraq and support for stopping Iraq. Unfortunately, the US interpreted this support as “When The US Says ‘Don’t Do That’ Every Other Nation Will Back Up The US.” And then the US was shocked at the lack of support when it invaded Iraq, violating the “You Do Not Get To Invade And Annex Other Countries” rule.
    Sadly, no one right now has the power to give the US firm instruction on the “You Do Not Get To Invade And Annex Other Countries” rule. Although the natural consequence of invasion “If You Invade and Occupy Another Country, The People There Will Be Mad At You” may do a little to drive the lesson home indirectly.

  • Art

    This is why I’d rather stick with “dipsh*t rules” than decisions made on “outcomes” susceptible to sentiment and bias. “Thou shalt not kill” is the one I’d really like us all to aim at, but if that’s too hard, I’m good with a subset like “Thou shalt not kill civilians” to get us on the way.

    I open myself freely to the accusation that I do in fact unfairly and immorally care more about the Chinese civilians who got invaded, their land seized, their cities occupied and all that shit — who happen to be related to me — than the Japanese civilians who supported and funded the effort to do so.
    That said, I challenge anyone to present to me a sound argument for why we should find an action that killed many Japanese civilians to be *more* immoral than letting Japanese troops continue butchering Chinese civilians, especially given that with the numbers involved this is basically saying that the hundreds of thousands who died at Hiroshima matter more than the millions dying under occupation — i.e. that Japanese civilians were worth *more*.
    In practice I am pretty damn certain this is because of US-centric tunnel vision where Americans labor under the presumption that the only part of the war that actually happened or is worth a damn is the part that directly involves them — and sure, if your internal narrative of the Pacific theater in WWII starts with Pearl Harbor and ends with Hiroshima and casts it as Japan pissing off the USA and the USA retaliating, Hiroshima looks like a pretty cut-and-dried case of pointless brutality.
    The only problem is that that story is total hogwash.

  • Art

    “Thou shalt not kill” is the one I’d really like us all to aim at, but if that’s too hard, I’m good with a subset like “Thou shalt not kill civilians” to get us on the way.
    Y’know what? No. I don’t think *any* rule that says “One class of people is okay to kill and the other is not” is a good intermediate step toward living out a thou-shalt-not-kill prescription. *Any* such rule, even if that rule existed in the happy fantasyland that people who treat the soldier/civilian distinction as holy seem to live in (the one where all soldiers are happy, earnest volunteers who eagerly and knowingly put their lives on the line for a cause they truly believe in and completely voluntarily signed up for with zero duress), much less the real world.

  • Andrew Glasgow

    @Art

    Y’know what? No. I don’t think *any* rule that says “One class of people is okay to kill and the other is not” is a good intermediate step toward living out a thou-shalt-not-kill prescription. *Any* such rule, even if that rule existed in the happy fantasyland that people who treat the soldier/civilian distinction as holy seem to live in (the one where all soldiers are happy, earnest volunteers who eagerly and knowingly put their lives on the line for a cause they truly believe in and completely voluntarily signed up for with zero duress), much less the real world.

    Isn’t there always going to be this distinction, though? Even if the class you’re allowed to kill consists of “People who currently are or appear to be attempting to actively kill or cause you bodily harm in an immediate fashion” and may have 0 members at nearly all times.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/bolandm Bolandm

    Ok, not so long time reader, but generally agree with the postings even if i am a godless atheist.
    “Well, the US causalities in an invasion would have been almost entirely military, while the Japanese casualties from the bombs were largely civilian, with no discrimination between innocent civilians and civilians doing work to support the military effort.”
    This presupposes that the civilians are innocent. Bernhard Schlink’s work suggests that if the people who want to be relieved of the burdon of guilt for crimes must give up any connection to those who commited the said crimes – can anyone point to a Hiroshima mother who disavowed her son’s crimes in south east asia?
    If the mother wants to be associated with the son (even talking to him and hoping that he is surviving), then the mother is associated with the crimes of the son or that the son himself is complicit or implicit in supporting. If the son (or the organisation he is connected with – the Japanese Army) is a conducting criminal activities, the mother is supportive of those activities. If she wishes the company of a son who hasn’t paid the price for his crimes, then she is criminaly negligent (in the sense that she is ignoring) of the suffering that her son is inflicting on the persons of south east Asia.
    If on the other hand the son has committed no crimes, why did he not desert, return to Japan, then help his family escape from an area of legitimate millitary targetting (Hiroshima being a reasonably targetable industrial and millitary centre and Nagasaki being the home of the Mitsubishi warship yards among other enterprises). And if the mother is so inclined, if she is living at home and still part of the community, she is still part of the support network that is holding up the crimes of the Japanese millitary. If all of these criteria are met, then I suggest that the mother is akin to the c.20,000 or so civilian casualties of the Normandy campain – unfortunate side effects of conducting a war against an agressive and implacable foe.
    All of the above doesn’t mean that we should shrink away from our complicity in the crimes that are the killing of civilians in the time of war. It is thought that 70,000 French died securing the freedom of their homeland – around the same number killed at Nagasaki. Besides any argument that they were killed as side actions to the elimination of German soldiers, they were killed by allied shells in the pursuit of the defeat of a regime that was at war with the western allies – a worthy goal if ever there was one – but also one for which each citizen of each state that rose from that victory should dwel upon when we think of our freedoms, and those of the nations allied to ours.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/mmy mmy

    @Bolandm: but generally agree with the postings even if i am a godless atheist.
    oh, don’t worry, there are a lot of “godless atheists” here.

  • Ursula L

    This presupposes that the civilians are innocent.
    There are many, many civilians who can reasonably be presumed to be innocent. Newborn babies, small children. The developmentally disabled. The mentally ill, when their mental illness is such that they’d be found “not guilty by reason of insanity” should they commit a crime themself. People with mind-weakening diseases such as Alzheimer’s, who are too far advanced in the disease to understand the current political situation.
    By way of example, according to this chart from the US Census, http://www.census.gov/popest/national/asrh/NC-EST2009/NC-EST2009-01.xls as of July 1, 2009, the total US population was 307,006,550, and the population from birth to age 14 was 61,882,854. Which would make about 20% of the US population “innocent” merely by virtue of their age, with current demographics.
    I chose 14 as a cut off point because it worked with the data as presented, and also because, under 14, children can neither do much to contribute significantly to a war effort nor have the mental capacity to fully understand what they’re doing when they do contribute, so that their contributions should be considered coerced, rather than voluntary.
    Age demographics in Japan at that time may have been somewhat different, but they certainly weren’t few enough children that you could ignore the certain murder of innocents with any attack on a civilian location.
    Mental gymnastics about the potential contribution of civilians to war efforts simply don’t go far enough to justify making civilians targets in war. Because no matter how much you twist, a large proportion of civilians are children, and by definition, innocent.

  • http://isabelcooper.wordpress.com Izzy

    I’ve always wondered about “godless atheists”: to wit, are there any atheists who *aren’t* godless?

  • MercuryBlue

    Wasn’t one of the criticisms the Romans leveled against the Christians that Christians were atheists?

  • Robyrt

    “Godless atheists” is probably a corruption of “Godless heathens”, i.e. people who worship a non-god (which in the Abrahamic scheme = anything but God).

  • Ursula L

    Wasn’t one of the criticisms the Romans leveled against the Christians that Christians were atheists?
    Yes. Because rejecting all but one god is close enough to rejecting all gods as to make little difference in a culture where the norm is to believe in many gods, and to believe the gods of other cultures as real as yours, and appropriate to worship when you’re in those communities.
    It isn’t too different from the problem that Fred describes in “Insincere Bigotry.” Roman culture was based on a form of religious tolerance – the idea that all gods were real, and to be respected, and the Roman Emperor was part of that pantheon. When you have a form of religious toleration necessary for the functioning of your society, and you get a subset of the population that insists that their religion is right and everyone else is wrong, and that the whole society should function on the assumption that their religion is right, then you’ve got a serious social problem.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/starner David Starner

    If you say that combatants can be shot, but noncombatants are sacrosanct, then in WWII, where every side had a draft, you’re saying that the value of someone’s life was defined by a randomizer.

  • Jim from BC

     The Pig war, unless you count a pig as a non-combatant. Also he didn’t say no noncombatant casualties, he said no deliberate targeting of civilians with weapons of mass destruction.

  • Jim from BC

     It’s based on the Japanese military and diplomatic communications which the Americans were reading through ultra decrypts which showed that the Army and central government had no intention of surrendering and marginalized any who did, it’s also based on the fact that groups within the army attempted to over throw the government and continue the war after the Emperor’s surrender proclamation. Also whether the Japanese would have surrendered eventually is a moot point as hundreds of thousands of people were dying every two weeks, most of them Chinese, Japanese, or from other Japanese-occudpied regions of East Asia. Your statement here is completely baseless.

  • http://timpanogos.wordpress.com/ Ed Darrell

    Of course, the civilians were NOT the target.  “Collateral damage,” in modern parlance, but not the targets. 

    Then there is the question of whether it is permissible to take actions to reduce collateral damage, when that damage is human life.  A ground invasion of the main island would have produced upwards of 4 million civilian deaths, nearly 20 times the death toll of the two atomic bomb drops combined.  Does YNATKC mean we also cannot take action to reduce the number of civilians killed?


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