Much ado has been made about my position on the morality of shooting down civilian airliners. Some commentators seem to think that because I am a priori wrong about shooting down airliners (they suppose), therefore the Hiroshima bombing was morally licit. Some others seem to think that because I am a priori wrong about airliners I am unpatriotic. In either case I think the nonsequitur is so obvious that commenting on it makes me embarrassed for my interlocutors.
I've already written a lot of comments on the matter in other peoples' posts, but I thought it might be useful to relate more succinctly (he hopes, as he begins writing the post) my position on shooting down airliners, despite the rather obvious fact that neither my patriotism nor the moral status of the Hiroshima bombing depends upon it.
Consider an innocent child, ensconced in a tube. The child is headed for certain and imminent death; a death as certain as any prediction of the future of empirical reality can be. Furthermore, if we simply allow matters to continue as they are, at least one additional person, another innocent in addition to the innocent child, will die.
The child is clearly innocent: the child is not choosing to behave in a way which attacks others. (The child is at this point likely not choosing anything at all, just as a man who is asleep isn't choosing anything, though at least the latter is capable of having chosen some attack which remains underway).
If our scenario is an ectopic pregnancy we have multiple options, not all of which are morally licit. If we simply crush the tube with the child in it, directly killing the child, then the child's remains will wash free of the fallopian tube and the mother will be saved. An additional good result is that the fertility of the mother is fully preserved. But this would be a direct abortion - albiet one undertaken under severe duress to save the life of the mother - and would therefore be morally illicit. We are morally prohibited from taking this specific action, no matter that we foresee (though we do not choose) that an additional innocent will die if we do nothing.
But we are not stuck with doing nothing. Indeed, there is a different procedure involving removing the tube intact which does not attack the child directly. It is different as a particular chosen behavior from the other procedure. The child will still die - that is, at this point as a technological matter we have no way of rescuing the child. (Lets stipulate this point, since I am not entirely convinced that it is true. Our obligation to attempt rescue ceases only once the child actually dies.) The overall this-worldly consequences of the salpingectomy are worse than the salpingotomy: the child is dead, and the mother loses half her fertility. But the teleological consequences are the difference between Heaven and Hell.
If the tube in question happens to be a Boeing 757 hurtling toward a building with an innocent person in it, our moral obligations are the same. We cannot licitly directly attack and kill the child by crushing or destroying her in our immediately chosen behavior. It is always immoral to directly kill the innocent in one's specific chosen behavior, independent of any other considerations.
However, again, it does not follow that because we may not directly kill the child that we may not do anything at all. We might attempt to disable the plane without directly killing the child. There are numerous ways to do so. It is arguable that shooting out the engines, even though it carries a risk of explosion, is one of them. The airplane will likely crash. (Though not necessarily: a pilot of a Bonanza was rendered unconscious by exhaust fumes in one accident of my acquaintance. His airplane eventually ran out of fuel and glided to a landing in a field of its own accord. Instead of waking up dead the pilot woke up with a big headache and quite a hangar story to tell). But whether we are deciding to kill the child or not in the actual behavior we choose makes all the moral difference in, well, eternity.
Some commentators, typically those who have never engaged with moral relativism seriously, seem to think that these distinctions - without which moral absolutism cannot be preserved, and without which every moral question becomes a question of situational ethics - are hairsplitting nonsense designed to make people feel good about themselves. Others recognize them as necessary in order to preserve moral absolutes; and some of those may further recognize moral absolutes as an indispensible attribute of Christendom.
But however you slice it, struggling with ectopic pregnancy as a moral conundrum doesn't excuse simply adverting to the idea that abortion is sometimes morally acceptable as long as someone argues that the stakes are high enough. And struggling with passenger airliners as a moral condundrum doesn't excuse simply adverting to the idea that incinerating cities of civilians is morally licit as long as someone argues that the stakes are high enough. No matter what one may claim to be at stake, one can (I say "can" here, not may, since I am invoking literal impossibility) never claim that it is licit to violate an absolute moral imperative and at the same time claim to be other than a moral relativist.