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://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com RodeoBob

    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.

    Horseshit. The term ‘weapon of mass destruction’ is both a modern creation and a meaningless bit of rhetoric. White phosphorus (horrible, horrible stuff) is not terrible ‘destructive’, and does not operate on a ‘mass’ scale, but nonetheless is outlawed for use against civilians by the Geneva conventions. Biological and chemical weapons are great boogeymen, but they have never managed the scale of destruction that carpet bombing has.
    Sorry, but I’m in a pretty grim headspace right now, so this may sound harsh:
    The inhibitions against the military killing civilians aren’t based on morality or ethics, they’re based on military strategy and tactics.
    YANATKC because it’s usually wasteful of your own limited military resources. Killing a trained, uniformed soldier undoes the work of dozens of civilians who fed him, trained him, clothed him and equipped him. Killing a civilian just kills one person.
    YANATKC because doing so breeds distrust and resentment among your enemies, which makes negotiating and enforcing peace more difficult. Enemy soldiers in defeat will surrender if they believe they will be shown mercy and compassion; they will fight to the death if they believe they will suffer torture, disgrace, or death.
    And because it’s based on logicistics and tactics, there will be times when the rule is violated to a tactical end. (terrorizing the Japanese into surrender, or Sherman burning Atlanta)
    YANATKC is an important rule not for generals or military leaders, but for presidents, kings, and non-military leaders! It’s a check against the “exterminate the brutes” mob-mentality; it’s a moral, ethical standard for those who lead our countries in peacetime, it’s a rule for those who don’t do the fighting or suffer the consequences.
    The bombing of London, the firebombing of Tokyo, the shelling of Falludja, all horrible acts against civilians, all violations of YANATKC. But what about the thirteen-year U.N. sactions against Iraq? The most conservative estimates lead to 10,000+ dead a year, with the dead being overwhelmingly civilians and disproportionately children. Somehow, that anniversary (they started 8/6/19990) isn’t as a good an example of YANATKC?
    You want a case to argue YANATKC, use the sanctions. Ordered by politicians as an alternative to war, they killed a lot of civilians in entirely predictable ways.
    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.
    MacArthur suggested using nuclear weapons against China during the Korean War. President Truman publicly fired MacArthur and rejected that suggestion. You don’t think that decision was drawn in part from ‘a particular duty to mend what was broken’?
    Dozens of U.S. atomic scientists worked to give the secrets of the atomic bomb to the Russians, not out of hatred for their country, but from a moral imperitive that saw a need for a balance of power. Don’t you think they risked death by hanging because they felt ‘a particular duty to mend what was broken’?
    I’m not sure it’s possible to look at the history of the Cold War, the endless 3rd world conflicts between proxies, and not see, writ large across those decisions: “Nuclear weapons? Never again”

  • http://www.bramblyhill.com Chuck — a real computer geek that’s married to a hot blonde but isn’t a spy on the side

    Back in the early 80s I worked at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation (as it was known then) where they made the plutonium for a significant fraction the nuclear devices in existance today. Just about everything that I had growing up, from the house that I lived in to my college education, was paid for by the nuclear weapons industry. I might be a little biased.
    One of the engineers that I worked with told me that in 1946 he was a young Marine training to be in the first wave of an invasion of Japan. According to him, the casualty estimate for the first wave was 100 percent. His best chance was that he would “only” be wounded during the landing.
    Given the life that he lead after WWII, his children and grandchildren, it’s understandable that he would think that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a Good Thing. He also believed that our nation needed nuclear weapons, and he spent his career working at Hanford to make sure that America had the best weapons we could.
    Because I grew up working with the people that helped make the most destructive weapons ever known my personal feelings are the war is always wrong. Sometimes necessary, but always wrong. I think that the use of nuclear weapons is a Bad Thing, indeed, an Evil Thing. But had I been 18 in 1946 instead of 1980, I might, like my engineer co-worker, believe that I owe my life to the a couple of bombs dropped on Japan. And I can’t bring myself to call his belief that those bombings were a Good Thing evil.

  • http://accidental-historian.blogspot.com Geds

    What about the fact that the Japanese High Command didn’t even CARE about Hiroshima? What about the fact that we effectively demonstrated that we could blow cities off of the map at WILL, with ONE BOMB and it still took the Emperor (effectively, in the Statist Shinto cult that pervaded the military, God Incarnate) to break the tie? You think we were just gonna pull the Missouri into Tokyo bay and have a chat?
    Even leaving aside the issue of getting them to chat, or them being willing to surrender at that point…which terms, exactly, would you be willing to take off the table? Which conditions do you sacrifice to get your non-nuclear peace?

    This, I think, is the point that’s always missed by they, “Well they would have just laid down their arms if we hadn’t insisted on that mean old unconditional surrender thing,” crowd. It wasn’t an issue of pride. It wasn’t an issue of bragging rights. It was an issue of making sure that the Japanese knew and admitted they were defeated so they didn’t try anything again a few years later.
    Consider two things:
    First, World War I ended with a negotiated truce at Versailles that then became the Versailles Treaty. Less than twenty years later Hitler rose to power on a platform of, “We could have won the Great War, but we weren’t allowed to because of internal sabotage. Now we’ve been humiliated, it’s time to strike back.”
    Second, during the American Civil War Ulysses S. Grant rose to popular fame due to the nickname “Unconditional Surrender.” He got that because when his enemies asked him for terms they were always, “You surrender or I’ll destroy you.” When Grant headed east his opponents knew they had two options: defeat Grant in the field or surrender unconditionally to him. This meant the war dragged on and an awful lot of people died, but in the end when the Union won, it won with no questions. Even so, there arose the “Lost Cause” myth and, to this day there are those who believe that “The South will rise again.” But the ones who actually believe it are a tiny fringe minority that’s safely ignored, even by folks who are prone to argue that it’s a-okay to wave the Confederate flag around because it’s a “symbol of a proud heritage” or whatever.
    What’s my point? The way wars end are just as important as the way they begin. Because the way a war ends often dictates whether or not there will be another war coming in the future. One of the key ways of creating a situation where there is no possibility of follow-up war is for one side to win so overwhelmingly that the other side is forced to acknowledge that it could not possibly win.
    Given that the Japanese military command was dominated by fanatics a negotiated peace would likely have simply set the stage for another ruinous war in the next generation. This was the twin lessons of the American Civil War and World War I brought home to end World War II. And it might not have been pretty, but it was certainly effective.
    Again, the entire point of attempting to learn from history is to actually, y’know, look at history and say, “What can we extrapolate based on what has happened?” Simply condemning an action because you don’t like it on a visceral or emotional level doesn’t cut the mustard. Saying, “Well we could have negotiated a peace,” without understanding what, exactly, that means doesn’t cut the mustard, either.

  • Ursula L

    YANATKC is an important rule not for generals or military leaders, but for presidents, kings, and non-military leaders!
    YANATKC is a rule for everyone. It’s the default state of human society – murder is illegal. Not just YANATKC, but YANATKH. (You Are Not Allowed To Kill Humans.)
    War is an exception to the basic rule of YANATKH. We give a particular subset of one population license to kill a particular subset of the “enemy” population. We call these subsets “soldiers.” But the permission to kill that is given to soldiers is narrow, not general.

  • Brett

    What’s my point? The way wars end are just as important as the way they begin. Because the way a war ends often dictates whether or not there will be another war coming in the future. One of the key ways of creating a situation where there is no possibility of follow-up war is for one side to win so overwhelmingly that the other side is forced to acknowledge that it could not possibly win.

    I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  • Ursula L

    One of the key ways of creating a situation where there is no possibility of follow-up war is for one side to win so overwhelmingly that the other side is forced to acknowledge that it could not possibly win.
    That addresses the problem of the losers starting a revenge-war.
    But what does it do to the victors, and the likelihood of the victors starting new wars? Because a new war started by the victors is just as much war as a new war started by the defeated.
    If you look at the US, since WWII, there has been a strong tendency to rush into wars, on the assumption that the US will win, and win easily and completely. There has also been a strong tendency to reject diplomacy and a tendency to expect “unconditional surrender” and general unconditional compliance with US whims.
    Most wars aren’t WWII, with one side that is clearly less-evil. And most diplomatic situations are not the lead up to WWII, where negotiation becomes appeasement leading to war.
    If anything, the idea of “unconditional surrender” has contributed considerably to the current problems in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the US went to war with the idea that wars should end with “unconditional surrender”, but no idea of what conditions the US wanted to get from the war.
    “Unconditional surrender” in the US Civil War involved considerable planning for Reconstruction. “Unconditional surrender” in WWII included extensive negotiation among the Allies about what conditions would be imposed after surrender.
    The victor thinking that they can get what they want, unconditionally, can lead to the victor being selfish, irresponsible and disorganized in the future. And that’s as potentially dangerous as the defeated wanting revenge.

  • Spearmint

    I see what you did there, cutting off the end of my line just to say that it was a justified bit of propaganda. Very nicely done. And nice work side-stepping the point.
    Er, Geds? I’m on your side of the argument. I think the Japanese inability to see that the inevitable evils of occupation paled before the evils of continued war is an indication of the deep-seated craziness in the Japanese government of the time, that put the US in a position of choosing between more fire-bombing, a siege or Hiroshima.
    I was agreeing with you.

  • http://rasgenproductions.leafo.net LORd

    Yes, we do need to be told that.
    Because at least in the US, there is heavy mythology about WWII being the “good war.” And the reasons that made WWII “good” have been dragged out for every subsequent conflict, even when it really doesn’t fit the facts. The ultimate failure of diplomacy in preventing WWII (“appeasement”) is used to dismiss diplomacy as a potential alternative to war and attempted diplomatic solutions as a necessary precondition to any justified war.

    Ohhh. Well if that is the case, I can definitely see where Fred is coming from. If the lesson people walked away from WW2 with was “negotiating and using less-than-total force with the forces of eeevil is useless”, then some corrections are definitely in order.

    “Everything worth saying has already been said. But nobody was listening, so we have to say it again.” — JMS

    I’m just making sure, here, so please don’t get mad but: you get that I was joking, right? I might have to adjust my usual levels of sarcasm for Slacktivist threads.

  • http://accidental-historian.blogspot.com Geds

    YANATKC is a rule for everyone. It’s the default state of human society – murder is illegal. Not just YANATKC, but YANATKH. (You Are Not Allowed To Kill Humans.)
    I would argue that this is not the default state of human society. We make murder illegal, but prosecute wars and engage in capital punishment. And that’s in the post-Enlightenment world and the post WWI and WWII world, where we’ve started to decide that, hey, maybe people should be allowed to live freely.
    But can we honestly say that human life has the same value in, say, a Muslim nation where honor killings are the norm? Could we honestly say that human life had the same value under Pol Pot or Stalin or Hitler? Could we say that human life had the same value in the Middle Ages where a poor peasant could be killed for attempting to hunt food on the King’s land to feed his starving family?
    Again, we look back to history in order to figure out what we did right and what we did wrong. One of the things we’ve decided, almost specifically in the developed parts of the world, is that the individual’s right to exist and to choose their own destiny is a Good Thing and something to be desired. We’ve decided this after seeing all of the barbaric cruelty that has followed humanity throughout history. But this is a relatively new innovation and it’s far from universal.
    Simply declaring it to be a universal constant in the human psyche and then judging everyone according to that standard is factually incorrect. And there’s no way around that particular bit of inconvenient truth. Declaring something to be the case does not make it reality.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p0120a5ebbae7970b Jon Maki

    I agree with Ursula: The Allies in WWII were not good. They were anti-evil. Too few people appreciate the distinction.
    Which, like many things here on Slacktivist, ties back in quite nicely with LB/TF. Namely, that the Tribulation Force – and, by extension, the authors for whom the TF’s members are stand-ins – is not Pro-Christ, but rather Anti-Anti-Christ.

  • Spearmint

    Not to mention selective infanticide, sacrificial killings to provide grave-companions, duels… the list of sanctioned deliberate civilian killings in human societies is endless even if you exclude war completely.
    Add in deaths from lack of health care, starvation, exposure, and other preventable causes, and I think we can safely conclude it’s generally accepted even in modern American society that it is okay to kill civilians or make policy decisions that will inevitably result in their deaths.

  • Ursula L

    Geds, I think I wasn’t clear.
    My point was that the default rule for organized societies is “You aren’t allowed to kill humans.” There are then various permissible exceptions to that rule within a given society. Capital punishment is one exception, self-defense another. In some societies, honor killings are an exception to the rule. In some societies, some humans are defined as “other” to whom the general rule does not apply. Soldiers fighting in wars are another exception to the general rule. Some exceptions you or I find acceptable, other exceptions we find morally reprehensible. But a society accepting morally reprehensible exceptions to the basic rule is not the same as that society not starting with the basic rule.
    But the basic rule remains as a surprisingly constant understanding of how human beings should behave, and how humans organize human interactions.

  • http://guy-who-reads.blogspot.com/ Mike Timonin

    Diplomatic history going back to 1648 (Treaty of Westphalia) has been more or less the history of trying to make YANATKH the law of the land, not exclusive of war. At periodic intervals since then, the “great powers” of their various days have sat down and tried to hammer out rules whereby wars could be fought. They boil down, ultimately, to two basic ideas. 1) enemy soldiers are humans just like allied soldiers, and should be treated as such. (So, no torturing captured soldiers, no forcing captured soldiers to fight against their friends, no denying medical treatment to wounded soldiers, no using weapons designed to maim rather than kill, no refusing to accept surrender, no killing after surrender has been taken…) 2) civilians are not soldiers, and thus YNATKC. (Or enslave them, or take their houses, or destroy their churches, or burn their art work, or destroy their crops…) These are considered to be the laws of war, the laws of peace, and, ultimately, the laws of humanity. Have these laws been violated? Yes, constantly. But just because laws are broken is no good reason to argue that the law should not exist.

  • CaryB

    YANATKC is a rule for everyone. It’s the default state of human society – murder is illegal. Not just YANATKC, but YANATKH. (You Are Not Allowed To Kill Humans.)
    I would agree with this. Human beings have a VERY big problem with killing other human beings, except when there is a strict social structure in place under which that killing becomes impossible. By violating the rules of that stricture, the person being killed has, in the mind of the killer, designated themselves to “other” status, and killing becomes acceptable.
    NOTE: This is NOT condoning those social structures. Honor killings in Muslim nations are BAD. However, because of the social structures in place, they are acceptable. If Muslim nations truely didn’t consider human lives to be worth as much, you wouldn’t have persecutions for murder. For an example of a society where killing a person was NOT seen this way, I’d say some of the old Norse societies fit, with the idea of Weregild, with every life being worth a certain amount of money. And even that fits within the same rubric.
    People who just kill someone without those strictures being in place often end up deeply screwed up- view the problems that people who kill in self-defense have. While those problems still exist with those who kill within those social structures, it is often less severe.
    All of which is a roundabout way of saying that I think “You Can’t Kill Humans” IS a basic human belief…but being human, we’ve created elaborate structures to get around that rule, by essentially designating the people we want to kill “less than human.” The reasoning we use varies, the justification varies, but the basic mechanism is the same.
    Another point I’d like to raise. When we discuss civilian casualties within Japan, we tend to ignore that this was a massively brainwashed population that was ready to take up literal bamboo spears and fight to the death. The question this raises in my mind, is when does brainwashing cross over from “innocent people being deluded” to those people bearing culpability for their own actions and beliefs, brainwashed or not. If what I said above is true, than for most people, “Thou Shalt Not Kill A Human” is a basic instinct. Essentially, to kill another person, we have to dehumanize them to a degree, placing them in the category of “killable,” which does not overlap with “human.” Essentially, we have to brainwash ourselves. This is the point of military basic training, for example.
    But at what point are we responsible for our own brainwashing? The soldiers of Japan were brainwashed to believe that all other races were beneath them, and that actions like the Rape of Nanking were justified and acceptable. Even encouraged. However, we still hold those soldier guilty for what they did. At what point does brainwashing cease to be the fault of the brainwasher, and the responsibility passes to the brainwashee?
    This maybe a more important and topical question than we realize: North Korea has a population even more brainwashed and militarized than Japan’s was in WWII. Should Kim Jong-Il start a war, I have no doubt that at least a majority of his people would come to his defense. At what point does their brainwashing take them over the bounderies of innocent civilians and into the realm of active combantents?

  • Tacroy

    I’d agree, if it wasn’t for the fact that Tacroy was clearly trolling. A little more subtlely than J, I’ll grant, but then J is a fairly extreme troll. Anyone who was actually interested in Fred’s (or even yours and my) answers to those questions wouldn’t have galumphed in here like that.

    No, I’m entirely interested in your answers to those questions – is it truly trolling to ask for clarification when you say one thing but as far as I know believe another?
    I mean, look: Fred leads his post saying “It is not permissible to deliberately target non-combatants with a weapon of mass destruction”.
    I read that and I think “what the heck? God does that several times in the Bible, which as a Christian Fred presumably believes in some degree”.
    So obviously, there’s an inconsistency here. Either God in the Bible was not “permitted” to have done so but did it anyway, or it’s not a rule in the first place.
    Of course, it’s a relatively well-established fact that those blatant exercises of divine power never actually happened (or at least, did not happen as written in the Bible). However, I would argue that this doesn’t matter. For generations, Christians have believed that God actually did those things as described, and didn’t necessarily think there was anything wrong with His actions – and thus, several generations of Christians thought that it was permissible to use weapons of mass destruction, which undermines your point when you’re saying using such weapons is not permissible.
    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?
    (also, I’m sure you’d be completely unsurprised by the fact that there are a great many Christians out there who don’t realize that things like Exodus never happened, and thus still think it’s totally okay to kill civilians as long as you’re God and it’s the Egyptian’s firstborn.)

  • Erl

    This post exists purely to present some Fred-love
    Fred, you cut right to the heart of ideas I had been tossing around but not bothering to say, and you did so with eloquence and grace.

  • http://accidental-historian.blogspot.com Geds

    Ursula: If you look at the US, since WWII, there has been a strong tendency to rush into wars, on the assumption that the US will win, and win easily and completely. There has also been a strong tendency to reject diplomacy and a tendency to expect “unconditional surrender” and general unconditional compliance with US whims.
    Sadly, that was the lesson that it looked like the US learned in Vietnam. Then it totally forgot the lessons with Operation Desert Storm (seriously, look at what happened between Vietnam and Desert Storm. The US was content to sit back and fight a war by proxy in Afghanistan and in places like Iraq and El Salvador, etc. The only actual military action it took was in Grenada, which wasn’t exactly, y’know, a threat). But Desert Storm was an extreme special case: public opinion was against Iraq basically everywhere in the world, the US had limited and easily achievable goals that stopped far short of invasion and long-term occupation. All it had to do was leverage complete military and technological advantage against an enemy that could not, for all intents and purposes, hope to win in order to force said enemy to vacate a friendly nation. So the neo-cons took that as a sign that, “Hey, we’re invincible again!” and they went off on their new international crusades.
    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. Relentless attention is paid to Pearl Harbor and 9/11 specifically because there has been no case where a foreign power was even in a position to hurt Americans on American soil than there, excepting events that have been mythologized all out of proportion.
    Oddly enough, this was the same situation that the Japanese brought in to WWII. After they opened their borders in the mid-1800s they brought war to others and constantly won. They fought on Korean soil and Chinese soil and destroyed the Russians at Port Arthur and the Battle of Tsushima. The people of Japan, then, didn’t know what it was like to feel threatened. That’s actually why the first US offensive action in the Pacific was the Doolittle Raid, an attack that was designed specifically to drop bombs on Tokyo as a message that said, “Hey, you’re not actually invulnerable.”
    With the end of WWII the United States effectively quashed any attitudes of invulnerability the Japanese might have entertained. The US then did, unfortunately, become capable of cloaking itself in the notion of invulnerability. And Vietnam wasn’t enough of an object lesson to be held permanently, since it happened far away and the US was able to say, “The South Vietnamese gave up, it wasn’t us.”
    The other problem, though, is that there’s an awful lot of insecurity in the United States’ attitudes about its own invulnerability. The country is more like a bully posturing to cover up its own perceived weaknesses than, say, a fighter who has nothing left to prove and just wants to live in peace. I read a story the other day about how the Chinese now have a missile that’s capable of threatening American aircraft carriers and it’s going to make it harder for the US to project its power near China. The article didn’t bother to ask the question, “Why would the US feel the need to project its power?” and simply pointed that out as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world that the US should be able to operate near China with impunity.
    And I think that’s the difference between, say, the US and Britain post-WWII. Britain won, but it exhausted itself doing so and when the Cold War wound down and Europe started looking to peace, Britain decided that it has had enough of war, too. There are those in the United States who have not had enough of war. And the reason is because the United States hasn’t felt what it’s like to be on the losing end, to feel threatened every day.
    That makes the United States dangerous. It keeps looking for enemies. And when you look for enemies, you tend to find them…
    Spearming: Er, Geds? I’m on your side of the argument.
    Speaking of…sorry. I stayed out of the four previous threads, so I’m not really sure who’s been arguing what.

  • CaryB

    No, I’m entirely interested in your answers to those questions – is it truly trolling to ask for clarification when you say one thing but as far as I know believe another?
    It appears I was wrong. I withdraw the sarcasm and offer an apology. Oh, and to you, Pius. You were right, I was wrong.

  • Ursula L

    For an example of a society where killing a person was NOT seen this way, I’d say some of the old Norse societies fit, with the idea of Weregild, with every life being worth a certain amount of money. And even that fits within the same rubric.
    My understanding of Weregild was not that the killing was acceptable provided the killer could pay up the appropriate amount of money.
    Rather, it was based on the idea that killing was wrong, and the killer needed to be punished and to act to make right the situation as far as possible. Weregild was a fine, which when accepted by the victim’s family, ensured that there would not be a series of revenge and counter-revenge killings further disrupting the community’s peace and order.
    Weregild being a potential answer to “how do we keep one killing from turning into an ongoing blood feud?” and “how do we keep one violation of YANATKH from becoming a series of violations of YANATKH?” Capital punishment for murderers, a community-sanctioned and controlled killing, being another way to answer that question. Likewise imprisonment, taking away the killer’s freedom for a set period of time as punishment and control, and to give high emotions time to settle down. Other cultures have used exile of the killer, or fines paid to the community/state rather than the victim’s family as potential answers to those questions.

  • http://anton-p-nym.livejournal.com/ Anton P. Nym

    What is it about this article bringing up my pet peeves?
    Guys, honour-killing isn’t just a Muslim thing; singling them out for this paints the wrong picture. Hindus also have honour killings, and I’m afraid that a great many Christian countries either have or had until shockingly-recently such exemptions in their laws. (Many European countries had exemptions for “crimes of passion” that were effectively the same thing, for example.)
    But this his incredibly tangential to the main point, and I won’t belabour the issue and risk further derailing the conversation.
    – Steve

  • Ursula L

    Guys, honour-killing isn’t just a Muslim thing; singling them out for this paints the wrong picture. Hindus also have honour killings, and I’m afraid that a great many Christian countries either have or had until shockingly-recently such exemptions in their laws. (Many European countries had exemptions for “crimes of passion” that were effectively the same thing, for example.)
    A very good and true point.
    The US also has/had an understanding of “crimes of passion” that effectively permitted honor killings, as well as an understanding at the enforcement level that domestic violence was “private” and therefore not prosecuted in the same way that physical violence on a non-related person would be.

  • LE

    The only actual military action it took was in Grenada, which wasn’t exactly, y’know, a threat)

    Well there was also the invasion of Panama. Large portions of Panama City burned down, 20,000 people were displaced, an uncertain number of casualties…
    Just picking a nit. Carry on.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com RodeoBob

    YANATKC is a rule for everyone.

    Again, coming from a bleak place: Rules aren’t for everyone. Rules are for people who don’t know any better! “Don’t play with fire” is a rule for children who don’t understand what fire is or how it works. Once you’re old enough to understand how weight and momentum work, you don’t really need a rule that says “Don’t run with scissors”, because you understand why it’s a bad idea.
    Soldiers who fight in the field already know that an enemy who believes he will be treated humanely is more likely to surrender than one who expects death or torture. They don’t need rules against torture, they know why it’s bad. But the CIA interrogator never has to fight an enemy too scared to surrender, so he needs rules that say “don’t ever torture”.
    YANATKC is a rule for people who don’t know better, and in this category I’m putting pretty much everyone who doesn’t have a tactical view of war. For people that should know better, we have things like war crimes tribunals and court marshals.

    I mean, look: Fred leads his post saying “It is not permissible to deliberately target non-combatants with a weapon of mass destruction”.
    I read that and I think “what the heck? God does that several times in the Bible, which as a Christian Fred presumably believes in some degree”.

    Fred’s rule should probably be read as “It is not permissible for any human being to deliberately target…”
    God, by definition, plays by different rules. He’s, you know… God.
    When we level the accusation of “playing God”, we’re really saying that person is trying to exempt themselves from the division of “God’s Rules” and “Man’s Rules”. Typically, we see this charge in the biomedical field, where scientists are “creating new life”, or medical ethics issues like euthaniasia.
    OT God in particular is a good example of “Do as I say, not as I do”. Jesus, OTOH, was pretty consistent AFAIK.

  • not_scottbot

    So, to sum up, everyone who believes war is natural, unavoidable, or otherwise impossible to prevent, are the realists, and fully accept that it will never be possible for any society, at any time, not to be composed of people willing to commit mass murder?
    And not a single person who feels that it is possible for any of us, ever, to learn war no more?
    Let me quote from the original source of this series of posts (fully legally, I hasten to add) – ‘The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.’

  • http://accidental-historian.blogspot.com Geds

    LE: Well there was also the invasion of Panama.
    D’oh. I mostly remember that for stories of soldiers playing really loud rock music in the general direction of Manuel Noriega and tend to forget how they got close enough to do so…

  • not_scottbot

    Oops -
    ‘And not a single person who feels that it is possible for any of us, ever, to learn war no more? – without horrible consequences being an inevitable result.’

  • http://accidental-historian.blogspot.com Geds

    not_scottbot: So, to sum up, everyone who believes war is natural, unavoidable, or otherwise impossible to prevent, are the realists, and fully accept that it will never be possible for any society, at any time, not to be composed of people willing to commit mass murder?
    And not a single person who feels that it is possible for any of us, ever, to learn war no more?

    Yeah. That’s the entire point of my series of comments attempting to explain how we learn from history and later on seem to think that the hard-won lessons should just be taken as a given. Yeesh.
    We learn from history. Then we have a tendency to turn around and judge our ancestors based on the lessons that we have learned from history. You know, those lessons that we learned because they often did things that we don’t think are right. How do you learn from the mistakes you make in your own life, exactly? And how harshly do you judge yourself when you look back, think, “You know, I shouldn’t have done that, but I didn’t know any better at the time?”
    Humans tend to learn the lessons of history slowly, if at all. And they tend to overwhelmingly choose the wrong lessons to learn because they’re easy or convenient (“We lost that war because the Jew/liberals/impure people stopped us” is a much easier lesson to digest than, “We lost that war because we didn’t think it through enough and made an awful lot of mistakes, the foremost of which is, ‘Don’t choose so cavalierly to go to war.’”). Does this mean that we can’t learn that it’s best not to go to war? No. Does it mean we’re not likely to go to war? Probably. At least if we’re talking about the humans that we have all tended to know.
    Furthermore, I believe that I’ve argued that we have learned that wantonly bombing a city back to the stone age without any regard for the number of dead civilians as a result is a Bad Thing and decided that we shouldn’t do it any more. I believe that I’ve argued that we have learned that dropping nukes on an enemy just to make a point is a Bad Thing and we shouldn’t do that any more and, while we’re at it, maybe we shouldn’t be using nukes for anything.
    So the question is this: do I advocate ceasing war forever? Yes, I do. Do I believe it will happen any time soon? No.
    I believe that makes me a realist and I’ll take that badge with all due consideration.

  • rizzo

    And to make it all worse, Jerry died this day, man!

  • Lori

    Why is pacifism so hard to accept as the only solution to the reality that in war, civilians are always killed? What is it about Americans, especially, that they have such an abiding faith in bombing for peace? Especially on Christmas, as happened before I was 10 – what a present to show the world how the prince of peace loved all of us god fearing Americans more than anyone else on the other end of the B-52 bomb bay doors.
    And to be clear – I am not, in the end, a pacifist. I do think some people deserve death for their actions, which makes my respect for true pacifists (they are quite rare, actually – a good number of them spend a fair amount of time in jail, especially during a war) an acknowledgment of my own failings to live up to what I believe is a better way for people to live.

    Here’s the thing about pacifism. People talk about how wonderful it is and how admirable pacifists are and they point at people going to jail to protest wars or risking their lives to stand against some evil. And that’s great. The problem I have is that those admirable things are not the full picture of pacifism. True pacifism means not resorting to violence, ever. Which, as someone else pointed out, means that anyone who is willing to be violent without a sense of shame will go unchecked. 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.

    ‘And not a single person who feels that it is possible for any of us, ever, to learn war no more? – without horrible consequences being an inevitable result.’

    What do you mean any of us, ever? Of course there are individuals who will never go to war. They’re called pacifists and they exist. Eliminating war requires that everyone, everywhere agree on no more war. I think it’s a wonderful goal, but the available evidence suggests that it’s highly unlikely to happen. I think it’s still a goal worth pursuing if for no other reason than going toward it gets us to a better place. Still, don’t hold your breath waiting for war to be eliminated unless you really look good in blue.

  • Ursula L

    So, to sum up, everyone who believes war is natural, unavoidable, or otherwise impossible to prevent, are the realists, and fully accept that it will never be possible for any society, at any time, not to be composed of people willing to commit mass murder?
    And not a single person who feels that it is possible for any of us, ever, to learn war no more?

    I’m inclined that we can learn to make war no more, but that it will, by its nature, be a very slow and incremental process. And it will involve not merely learning not to make war, but learning to remember the lessons of past wars, and learning new diplomatic and problem solving skills, and working on improving society along many different goals and human needs, rather than just focusing on preventing war.
    But there is also measurable progress towards “making war no more.” For example, Europe has, since 1945 managed to re-organize itself so that the near-constant wars that plagued it for centuries have stopped. Specific triggers for wars, such as religious conflicts, have been adapted in ways that they no longer trigger war in much of Europe. Education, leisure, travel and shared cultural connections have all been used as tools towards avoiding war. Or, for another example, the US and Canada have developed a shared tradition of peace that allows for the boarder to be undefended and war between the two nations to be unimaginable.
    It takes time and skill, but it can be done.

  • Spearmint

    So, to sum up, everyone who believes war is natural, unavoidable, or otherwise impossible to prevent, are the realists, and fully accept that it will never be possible for any society, at any time, not to be composed of people willing to commit mass murder?
    It’s more that we don’t think it’s an evolutionarily stable strategy. It’s great if you have a planet of pacifists (ie., the EU), or if you are Charles Xavier and you can brainwash your enemies into not attacking you, or if your country is enclosed by an impenetrable force field. But in any situation where an foreign (or domestic!) army is physically capable of taking over, the Pacifist strategy is invasible by another strategy- let’s call it Nazi- that involves enslaving or murdering all the Pacifists and taking their stuff. So if you want to employ the Pacifist strategy, that’s a risk you have to be willing to run. And most people would rather commit mass murder than run that risk.
    As would I.

  • http://briervineyard.blogspot.com Kirala

    But there is also measurable progress towards “making war no more.” For example, Europe has, since 1945 managed to re-organize itself so that the near-constant wars that plagued it for centuries have stopped. Specific triggers for wars, such as religious conflicts, have been adapted in ways that they no longer trigger war in much of Europe. Education, leisure, travel and shared cultural connections have all been used as tools towards avoiding war. Or, for another example, the US and Canada have developed a shared tradition of peace that allows for the boarder to be undefended and war between the two nations to be unimaginable.
    It takes time and skill, but it can be done.

    But how much is education et al. really effective? Europe has had an extended period of peace before. Twice. And then tensions build and prosperity fades and a perfect storm brews. If the U.S. and Canada ever enter a real resource competition or a serious cultural barrier, their amicable relations might well deteriorate. Not to say we can’t learn from and improve on history, but it seems easy to mistake a lull for a peace and invite complacency.

  • Ursula L

    But how much is education et al. really effective? Europe has had an extended period of peace before. Twice.
    The Pax Romana was not particularly peaceful. The Roman Empire relied on a constant series of expansionist wars and plunder to maintain economic stability. And the Pax Britannica was not particularly peaceful, either. It included the expansion of European imperialism, as well a the Franco-Prussian wars.
    Post WWII Europe is an unusual case of a group of nations deliberately deciding, in the wake of a mutually devastating war, that they would no longer go to war, and then going to great efforts to arrange things so that war would not happen, and so that their interests were strongly tied to avoiding war, such as by fostering deep economic interdependence.

  • Ice9

    Dismissing the nuke decision as the “lesser of two evils” is disingenuous, and as far as evaluating that decision, useless. It’s appealing, since the discussion has morphed, in its halting, highly repetitive way, into a situation where various absolutes coexist and so the ‘rules’ are drained of all value except as words on a page.
    The decision to use the nukes wasn’t the “lesser of two” anything. Or, it was the outcome of a process of choosing the lesser of two evils over and over and over again, while thousands of other decisionmakers all of the world were making simultaneous parallel decisions. Each of these resulted in a roll of the military dice, some at good odds, some at lousy odds, but all in situations that were so packed with variables and unknowns that the notion of a ‘decision’ is laughable. The fog of war–this was a worldwide hurricane, but fog is local. This is especially true when we view any one of those decisions from the future, and when we view them in a context predicated on an absolute claim like “you may not target civilians.”
    So we can honestly accept that tenet, but by the time those decision chains play out anything is possible and much is at stake. I think of it as a March Madness bracket but with millions of events instead of 60 or so games. In this bracket there are longshots and pushes and they all accumulate and a drift begins early but every basket and whistle achieves a kind of irrelevance in the face of the overwhelming momentum toward victory or defeat. By the time the last matches are set, the lesser of two evils decision has been made so many times that the definition of evil isn’t just dusty or quaint–it’s an actual threat to your resolve to finish the process.
    You can try, but any effort to simplify the decision–offering alternatives to the nukes, waiting them out, or repeating commandments again and again–mires the thinker in a horrifying complexity of details. That’s good; it replicates the condition on the ground and gives the black/white moralist a dose of reality. It’s not that the lesson of Hiroshima isn’t accessible or is too complex for anybody but myself to understand; it’s the opposite: the lesson cannot be simplified, and an effort to simplify it, to analogize it, to create a useful three-paragraph juxtaposition to Omelas, etc. is nothing more than a prelude to repeating the process.
    I circle back to the premise–it’s wrong because of it’s wrongness–but I don’t call it evil. This isn’t because I fear being painted as evil, or even because I want to save evil for Pol Pot or somebody way worse. It’s because the notion of evil has no place in the process of making the ten thousandth ugly 52/48 decision in a global war that killed a hundred million people.
    I guess: the most important decision made by the bomber crews and their entire chain ofcommand that day was the hazy estimate of wind speed at 30,000 feet. Atomic bombs were new and scary but the jet stream was new and scary too and way more likely to matter.
    ice9a

  • Saffi

    Fred: 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.
    I agree totally. I have no problem conceding that point, so long as its understood that we broke that rule on many other days during WWII as well. (Just because I’ve argued that using The Bomb was the least destructive option doesn’t mean I don’t recognize that killing civilians is Wrong.)
    (I’d also insist that it be recognized that this concession by no means puts the US in anywhere near the same level as the Axis powers in terms of evils committed. I would have thought it was obvious, but I’ve met people who needed it spelled out.)
    Fred (cont.): America therefore has a particular duty to mend what was broken.
    And here’s where we disagree. The use of the nukes (as opposed to TNT) was not the cause of the evil, any more than putting heretics to the stake (as opposed to crucifying them) is evil because it’s wrong to burn people. Killing people for heresy is wrong, period. And the killing of civilians (which was the inevitable collateral result of aerial bombing a city) is evil, whether with conventional bombs or nuclear. Using of nukes today would compound the evil of their initial destructiveness by the fact that a single strike is easily also the First Strike in a nuclear exchange (i.e. the End of Civilization as We Knew It), and therefore many multitudes of degrees of riskiness greater. “Depraved indifference” to the danger created doesn’t even begin to describe it. But that danger didn’t exist in 1945.
    If America has any particular duty to mend the understanding of YNATKC that is greater than or qualitatively different from that of other countries, it’s because we continue to be so powerful and wealthy. (The Ben Parker Imperative.) Not because of any special guilt acquired over Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
    obsolete_scottbot: What is it about Americans, especially, that they have such an abiding faith in bombing for peace?
    Bombs are cheaper than infantry, and easier to portray to a complacent media machine in terms of wiz-bang likeness to videogames than in terms of the human beings they will make bloody and icky. Plus it’s easier to convince an electorate to go to war* if it only means forking over money (which they’re already used to being screwed out of), as opposed to the sacrifice of a family member.
    (* And I use “Go to war” as an abbreviation for “acquiesce to an executive decision to use military force that has no real Congressional oversight because the Prez didn’t use the W-word.”)
    George: The war was basically over by this point and the idea that the Japanese would never have surrendered without being bombed is a racist, orientalist stereotype based more on hollywood depictions of Japanese samurai than fact…
    Sigh. Nice straw man you got there. NO ONE argues that “the Japanese” would never surrender short of being nuked because of idiotic visions of then entire country as full of cartoon samurai. The argument is that individual Japanese soldiers had generally proven so tough and averse to surrender, and that the government of Japan had proven so blind and stubborn in its refusal to concede its hopeless position, that IN COMPARISON to the total casualties and damages estimated to result from invading Japan, nuking two cities was judged as the LESS destructive.
    George (cont.): The use of nuclear weapons was largely a symbolic event, sending the message to the Soviet Union and the rest of the world: ‘we are big and powerful and we can wipe out all human life if we want to’. To defend such atrocities as the decision of a man trapped in an ethical dilemma is truly perverse.

    I am NOT going to repeat the argument that I and so many people made in the Aug. 7 thread. Instead, I will just assert that we proved this statement to be WRONG WRONG WRONG on many, many levels. Using nukes instead of TNT was not only defensible, but it was the correct choice to make. The only perversity going on is the retreat to the “nukes therefore bad!” assertion-without-support that this argument always degenerates into.
    If you want to dispute the fact that your assertion is flatly wrong, please cite, in the many paragraphs of explanation that many people wrote in that other thread, where we all missed the same thing and got the same incorrect conclusion. (I’m not trying to be snotty, and I will grant other people the chance to argue their position. I’m just tired of repeating the same explanation over and over and over and over.)
    Mike Timonin: I think the bombing of Nagasaki, in terms of the surrender of Japan, was probably superfluous.
    Mike, I disagree with the above, but thanks for recognizing in the rest of your comment that this is not as simple as some people prefer to assert it is. As to arguing why Nagasaki was seen as necessary in addition to Hiroshima, I admit that the case is weaker, but given what the US knew at the time, it can still be successfully defended. IMO, a number of posts in the August 7 thread did just that.

    Spearmint: Well, technically the occupation forces did rape a bunch of women, so they weren’t totally wrong about this.

    OTOH it was probably preferable to having your face melted off by an atomic bomb.
    And on the third hand, the melting of one single face off is probably preferable to five faces melted in a conventional fire, plus three deaths from starvation, plus twelve additional cities flattened, plus seven quadriplegics, plus four double amputees, plus two blinded and/or brain damaged children, plus eighteen cases of typhoid (six fatal) in an epidemic the likes of which East Asia has never seen.
    Geds: In World War II the Germans and Japanese indiscriminately slaughtered civilians, but we’re okay with that because they were the bad guys. In World War II the Americans and British indiscriminately slaughtered civilians …and we’re not okay with that because they were the good guys.
    I think instead of “OK with that” you mean “but we’re not shocked by that”? Because otherwise someone will no doubt open a whole new distracting side discussion.
    ___________________________
    Froborr: I think the point is more, “We have engaged in evil in the past. It would be good to remember that, and be on guard against engaging in evil in the future.”
    Carsonist Why is killing X people with a “weapon of mass destruction” worse than killing X people with regular weapons? Why is Hiroshima worse than Dresden?

    It could have been a necessary evil, even a justified evil, but it remains evil.

    Brett: That’s pretty much the definition of war.
    What these folks said.
    Although Carsonist, just to prevent accusations of “America-Hater!” from the right and “America is always wrong!” from the incredibly rare but inevitably quoted-by-the-right exception who lives down to the caracature, you might want to add to that list of bombed cities Canterbury, Warsaw, and Nanking.
    Ursula L: One side happened to be less-evil, and in the situation where extensive attempts at diplomatic solutions had failed, and war was an evil necessity to stop greater evil.
    No argument here, at all. I just get pissed off when I see the two sides being portrayed as equal in the evil means they used. I’ve been lectured to by a Japanese about the “singular abomination” of Hiroshima, and it turned out he had never even heard of the Rape of Nanking.
    ___________________________
    Pesterfield: Because an invasion was unnecessary even without the Bomb, give up the idea of unconditional surrender and negotiate.
    Please see my first comment, above, regarding my refusal to repeat conclusive arguments over and over in the face of argument-by-assertion. But to put it bluntly (for the third or fourth time in this thread, not to mention numerous examples in the last thread): No, invasion WAS necessary because the Allies didn’t feel like gearing up yet again for the same fight twenty years later, as their experience with conditional surrender in 1919 had shown them would be the likely case. See also the keywords: Korea, Manchukuo, Burma, ongoing starvation, continuing atrocities.
    ___________________________
    RodeoBob: MacArthur suggested using nuclear weapons against China during the Korean War. President Truman publicly fired MacArthur and rejected that suggestion. You don’t think that decision was drawn in part from ‘a particular duty to mend what was broken’?
    Not to nitpick, because I agree with most of your points, but the decision against using nukes in China was made for pragmatic reasons: Russia and China were close allies (at the time), the US didn’t want to start another global war, and if they did start WWIII, it would likely be a nuclear one. (Russia got the bomb in 1949.)
    MacArthur was fired because, when his (insane) suggestions were not followed, he retaliated by committing very public insubordination against his Commander-in-chief while forgetting that Truman was MacArthur’s boss and not the other way around.
    ___________________________
    Geds: …the American Civil War … the Confederate flag …
    Good second example – although, following the lead of the good folks at LGM, I prefer to call it the “War of Treason in Defense of Slavery” and refer to its flag as the “American Swastika.”
    Ursula L: “Unconditional surrender” in the US Civil War involved considerable planning for Reconstruction.
    This is a great argument for the requirement of unconditional surrender. In a devil’s bargain for the presidency in 1876, the Hayes administration withdrew the requirement for “unconditional” acceptance of Reconstruction, and the result was 100 more years of Jim Crow and pseudo-slavery.
    “Unconditional” surrender is not often attainable, but where it’s probably both attainable and necessary, it’s the rational goal.

  • Will Wildman

    Good second example – although, following the lead of the good folks at LGM, I prefer to call it the “War of Treason in Defense of Slavery” and refer to its flag as the “American Swastika.”

    I quite approve of your alternative war naming, but as was pointed out in another discussion recently, the swastika itself has a perfectly good and ancient history that it would be nice to reclaim from the Nazis. To use the traditional phrase, associating a symbol of life with a symbol of treason/slavery or genocide is an insult to swastikas everywhere. (I say this without rancour – I just find it amusing that for once “an insult to [X] everywhere” is literally accurate. Well – not the Nazi swastikas, I guess.)

  • Pesterfield

    First, World War I ended with a negotiated truce at Versailles that then became the Versailles Treaty. Less than twenty years later Hitler rose to power on a platform of, “We could have won the Great War, but we weren’t allowed to because of internal sabotage. Now we’ve been humiliated, it’s time to strike back.”
    P: I’d say dictated more than negotiated, after all what did Germany get out of it? They lost territory, got forbidden from joining with Austria, took full blame for the war, etc.
    Shouldn’t a negotiated peace have left everybody at least satisfied?

  • http://j.com/ Tonio

    I agree with most of what Fred is saying here, particularly that an immoral act cannot be a moral one even when the alternative is even more immoral. Here is my bone of contention:

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

    I don’t know if the two can be separated. I thought part of the point of judging the act was to determine culpability and accountability.

  • CaryB

    So, to sum up, everyone who believes war is natural, unavoidable, or otherwise impossible to prevent, are the realists, and fully accept that it will never be possible for any society, at any time, not to be composed of people willing to commit mass murder?
    Wars don’t happen because a bunch of people go “You know what I haven’t done in a long time? Killed a few million people!” They happen for a million reasons: religious, social, economic, racial and so on. Until those differences (or perceived differences) are eliminated, there will be war.
    But the end of war won’t be when everyone turns into Gandhi. The end of war will be when careful, well guarded men and women who feel safe in their strength say “Ok, we COULD do this, but we won’t.” If everyone lays down their weapons, everyone feels vulnerable. And the first ones to feel vulnerable and scared enough to pick their weapons back up will start the whole thing over, only worse, because now everyone feels betrayed.

  • http://j.com/ Tonio

    It is not permissible to deliberately target non-combatants with a weapon of mass destruction.

    I suspect that Fred is undermining his point by stating that as a rule instead of a principle. It sounds as if he’s proposing that we drill that constantly into soldiers’ heads to avoid as many civilian casualties as possible. But my limited reading about combat (from the relative safety of my armchair) suggests that such attempts at moral instruction would amount to nothing – the climate of constant danger seems to corrupt the human moral sense. I’m speaking from third- and fourth-hand knowledge and I would gladly defer to Slacktivistas who have actually seen combat. I hope my point is clear that the truly moral action would be to not subject people to combat in the first place.

  • http://j.com/ Tonio

    Shouldn’t a negotiated peace have left everybody at least satisfied?

    My understanding was that the British and French used Versailles to settle old scores – France had been defeated by a soon-to-be-united Germany less than half a century before. Most of the continent had been terrified by the rise of German military power. The irony is that their attempts to prevent a resurgence of that power had the opposite event. The European Allies were simply sowing dragon’s teeth.

  • hapax

    Wars don’t happen because a bunch of people go “You know what I haven’t done in a long time? Killed a few million people!”
    Err. Michael Ledeen may have been unique in his, um, candor when he said that “every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business,” but he was hardly alone in the sentiment — especially among the “bunch of people” who had the power to actually carry this out.
    Nobody’s claiming that eliminating war as an acceptable policy choice — even as a “lesser evil” would be EASY. Even I, as one of those wimpy suspect pacifists, doubt that it would be ATTAINABLE. (cf Luke 18:27)
    As such, maybe adopting as a principle YNATKC might be a good start — even if we, fallen creatures that we are, continue to find every possible way to weasel around “You” “not” “allowed” “kill” and “civilians.”
    Because, really, what is the alternative?

  • Lori

    Err. Michael Ledeen may have been unique in his, um, candor when he said that “every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business,” but he was hardly alone in the sentiment — especially among the “bunch of people” who had the power to actually carry this out.

    It’s not that Ledeen was being candid and other people lie about it. Ledeen really is much more of a tool than most people. There have certainly been times when the US has taken military action to prove a point, and so have plenty of other countries. For example, many proxy wars basically boil down to that. However, Ledeen’s quote was an expression of a particular kind of assholery that is far from universal, even in Washington. The man was at AEI for decades and now works at the BS-named Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He can give you insight into the mentality of Neocons, but that’s a far as it goes.

  • hapax

    He can give you insight into the mentality of Neocons, but that’s a far as it goes.
    But when the Neocons are the ones in command of the military…
    Well, it was a really scary eight years, and we are still paying the price (as are people the world over, mostly in blood and limbs and…)

  • Art

    I don’t like this “rule” much at all. It seems almost to be acknowledging that it’s trying to do the impossible and create an absolutely unbreakable rule in a time when all rules are not only breakable but broken — that’s what a war is — by surrounding itself with qualifications.
    You’re not allowed to target civilians with a WMD? Well, what’s a weapon of “mass” destruction? Does that mean I *am* allowed to target a civilian with a rifle? Or a hand grenade? Or setting a house on fire?
    You’re not allowed to “deliberately” target civilians? Am I allowed to just be very careless around them, then? Or to be kind of sure there’s no civilians there but not double-check? Or to know that there are civilians there but dismiss that knowledge because I have a primary objective that’s more important than protecting those civilians?
    And finally, my biggest pet peeve: “Non-combatant”? Who’s a non-combatant? Someone not holding a weapon at that moment? Someone not wearing a uniform? Someone who voted for the war and supports the war effort with taxes and labor but is not technically enrolled in the armed forces? Someone who was enrolled in the armed forces against his will due to conscription and doesn’t really support the war in his heart but still carries his gun and follows his orders because if he doesn’t he’ll be shot for desertion?
    Who IS it “okay” to kill, Fred? Whose deaths ARE morally acceptable in a time of war? Which mother’s sons and sister’s brothers can we watch die in agony and feel good about it afterwards because what we did to them was acceptable according to the “rules of war”?
    Seriously, fuck this shit. WAR ITSELF is a bad thing, an “immoral” thing, a bad event that can never become a positively good event even when it is the best of all available options. It is NEVER good to kill ANYBODY, to forcibly, nonconsensually and irrevocably cut short the life of a living being with hopes, dreams, desires and a unique mind and heart with violence.
    But sometimes we have to do it. We had to do it all through the goddamn war, because that’s what a war is. We did it at D-Day, we did it at Iwo Jima, we did it at every single fucking battle we call “heroic”. And it was a horrific thing every time someone’s life was cut short and it DOES NOT FUCKING MATTER whether those people were wearing a uniform or not.
    But it was a thing we did, and we did with intention and resolve and even pride at a job well done, because we saved other lives by doing so.
    If you’re going to harp on about how we should still grieve about Hiroshima and cry “Never again” you damn well better say the same thing about D-Day. Because IT IS THE SAME THING. The details are different but I staunchly, fervently and vehemently disagree that the details are so different that they make Hiroshima into an occasion for wailing “Never again, never again!” and D-Day an occasion for toasting “May we see the like of such heroism again if ever called for”.
    Let’s hope that there really never is a war again. Do everything we can to make sure people don’t get killed again. And, because we are not stupid, know that there will be one again and when there is one we will have to do some bad shit but we will do whatever shit is necessary to MINIMIZE THE TOTAL SUFFERING, even if what we do has to break some bullshit categorical “rule” like “Don’t drop nukes on cities”.
    Because, frankly, if you think that Hiroshima somehow broke a fundamental “rule” in a way that the rest of everything that happened in the war did not, then I think you have all the moral sense of a five-year-old.

  • Art

    As such, maybe adopting as a principle YNATKC might be a good start — even if we, fallen creatures that we are, continue to find every possible way to weasel around “You” “not” “allowed” “kill” and “civilians.”
    Because, really, what is the alternative?

    The alternative is the utilitarian, consequentialist principle that in the event of a war we do whatever is necessary to try to end the war with the least total suffering possible.
    As opposed to making a list of rules that do all the work of weighing options for us and allow us to pursue options that objectively cause a great deal more suffering and harm that simply let us sleep better at night because we followed some dipshit rule. (And I honestly think that the alternatives presented in that last thread, and the blitheness with which people believed that OBVIOUSLY it would be better to accept a conditional surrender, impose a blockade on Japan, and let Japan’s occupying forces stay in China until the guerrillas finally got the gumption to force them out entirely is an illustration of how morally repulsive some people are willing to get in order to keep their hands superficially clean of blood.)

  • Lori

    But when the Neocons are the ones in command of the military…
    Well, it was a really scary eight years, and we are still paying the price (as are people the world over, mostly in blood and limbs and…)

    The Bush years were scary as hell, but they’re a really tiny percentage of even our short history so I think it’s important not to over-generalize. Also, I don’t think Ledeen’s comment was accurate even for the Bush White House. Bush’s reasons for invading Iraq were nutbar, but Ledeen’s was still reductive.

  • Art

    The war was basically over by this point and the idea that the Japanese would never have surrendered without being bombed is a racist, orientalist stereotype based more on hollywood depictions of Japanese samurai than fact.
    I want people who are not themselves Chinese, Korean or Filipino and therefore do not have secondhand family accounts of what was going on in the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere and furthermore have not extensively studied the subject of what was going on in occupied Japanese territory on the ground — especially if these people are white people who view all of history through a lens of White People Vs. Oppressed Minorities and therefore have a tendency, in thinking themselves “anti-racist”, to commit the incredibly racist act of making every single conflict be All About the Whiteys — to SHUT THE FUCK UP.
    I do not consider myself, my father, or most of my extended family to be racist against Asians or to only know anything about Asia, Asian culture or the social context of the Sino-Japanese War through racist Hollywood depictions of Japanese samurai. If anything my grandfather before he passed was rather better-informed from a firsthand perspective about what the war was like than anyone posting here is. And we all unanimously believe that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were absolutely necessary to prevent enormous crushing suffering that had already been going on for far too long.
    We could all be dead wrong, of course — being close to the subject is no guarantee of being right about it — but I wish people who constantly play the racism card on this subject would SHUT THE FUCK UP. Really, seriously, it makes me angry beyond belief. The ONLY people on the Allied side who think that the bombing of Hiroshima was entirely motivated by “racism” are white people with little personal stake in how the story of Japan’s imperial adventure played out. The ONLY people (in my experience) who think the “conditional surrender” that was on the table at the time — meaning a continued Japanese occupation of the Chinese mainland that could’ve only been ended, once the Allied cease-fire was in place, with slow, grueling, bloody, scorched-earth guerrilla warfare — would’ve caused less suffering than the bombing of Hiroshima are tunnel-visioned white people who think that the whole history of racism and imperialism is all about them and all about guilt-ridden white people vs. the entire monolithic rest of the world.
    It pisses me off to an immense degree and I really wish people would stop. The fact that these people think they’re being well-meaning and empathetic with Asians in general only rubs salt in the wound — try talking to an actual cross-section of East Asian immigrants of an older generation and then try to argue with me that “No, Japan was not about to surrender” is an opinion only held by racist white people who only saw the war through movies.

  • hapax

    The alternative is the utilitarian, consequentialist principle that in the event of a war we do whatever is necessary to try to end the war with the least total suffering possible.
    I don’t disagree with such ethics in principle. My concern is whenever we toss “rules”, and say “do as little harm AS POSSIBLE” — well, whatever is “possible” almost always turns out to be whatever is convenient to the people in power.
    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?
    *yes, I know that’s a perverse mangling of the original quote, but it does get the sense across

  • anonymous

    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.


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