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Happy Consequentialism Day!

Nagasaki.jpg

Perhaps you already observed it on Friday, since that was the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. But today, the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing, is an equally fitting date. Certainly the image above – the aftermath of Fat Man’s explosion over Nagasaki – is a fitting symbol for consequentialism. Perhaps consequentialist ethicists should consider putting it on the covers of their books, or wear little mushroom cloud pins when they meet up at philosophical conferences. For one thing, since the consequentialist case for the bombings – that they would save more lives than an invasion of Japan would – carried the day with the Truman administration (and with defenders of the bombings ever since), it may be the most consequential piece of consequentialist reasoning ever formulated. For another, the bombings give a pretty good idea of what a world consistently run on consequentialist principles might look like.

But don’t put the party hats on yet, because there’s one little hitch: Consequentialism is, as David Oderberg has put it, “downright false and dangerous, an evil doctrine that should be avoided by all right-thinking people.” And the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were, accordingly, as evil as consequentialism is. So, maybe Consequentialism Day is not a good idea after all, except perhaps as a reminder of the scale of evil that can be and has been done in the name of “good intentions” and “rationality.”

Jimmy Akin offers us a helpful reminder of why the bombings must be considered gravely immoral from the point of view of natural law theory and Catholic moral theology. It is only fair to acknowledge that many consequentialists would no doubt also condemn the bombings, arguing that better consequences would result overall and in the long run from respect for a rule that forbade such actions. Whatever. What matters is that any consequentialist must allow that it is at least in principle legitimate intentionally to kill the innocent for the sake of a “greater good.” And from the point of view of us reactionary, bigoted, unprogressive natural law theorists and Catholics, that is enough to make consequentialism a depraved doctrine. For it is never, never permissible to do what is intrinsically evil that good may come – not even if you’d feel much happier if you did it, not even if you’ve got some deeply ingrained tendency to want to do it, not even if it will shorten a war and save thousands of lives. Never.

As Akin makes clear, the point has nothing whatsoever to do with pacifism, with opposition to nuclear weapons per se, or with anti-Americanism. Indeed, most of the “sandal-wearing fruit juice drinkers” (to co-opt Orwell’s famous phrase) and “pasty-faced peace creeps” (to quote P. J. O’Rourke) who badmouth American foreign policy, and who seem to think no war is a just war, are wildly out of step with natural law theory on most other issues, and are generally wrong even about war and U.S. policy. But as they say, even a broken watch is right twice a day.

(See the Oderberg article linked to above for a brief popular overview of what is wrong with consequentialism. See Oderberg’s Moral Theory: A Non-Consequentialist Approach for a more thorough and academic treatment. And see Oderberg’s Applied Ethics: A Non-Consequentialist Approach for a serious, natural law theory treatment of just war theory and other life and death moral issues.)

Comments (280)

The U.S. sent a delegation to the commemoration ceremony (for the first time ever, I think). Gene Tibbets, son of the Enola Gay pilot, didn't like it. He said it looks like an unspoken apology. "We didn't slaughter the Japanese," he said, "we stopped the war."

It's no doubt hard for him to admit that we did both. He wants to preserve his father's memory in honor, of course, and that of his country.

With permission, I would like to reprent a discussion I had with a poster at Jimmy Akin's site, since it brings up some inportant points:

[Carl Hostetter]
I'd like to propose what I think is a much more apt analogy for consideration:

Imagine that there is an epidemic sweeping the world, which has already caused the death of hundreds of thousands and, based on history and epidemiology, is projected to cause the deaths of at least 1,000,000, and more likely twice that, over the course of the next year, and possibly untold millions more beyond that first year, if unchecked.

Now imagine that US researchers have produced an immunization to this disease, but that this immunization itself directly causes the death of some certain percentage of those that receive it, so that if the drug is deployed, it is expected to halt the epidemic but also to directly cause the deaths of 100,000 people in the first few days, and 100,000 more over subsequent years.

Now, let's say that the US government will, if it decides to make the drug available, warn everyone it can that it will cause many thousands of people to die, and leave to individuals the choice of receiving it or not. Of course, many children and dependents will naturally not in fact have a choice, as their parents and guardians will make the choice for them. And the US government knows that some other governments will not allow their citizens to have a choice in the matter (one way or the other), either through force or by deceit.

Would you say that the US government _must not_ make this drug available, per the dictum that "we may not do evil that good may come", since it projects that doing so will _directly_ cause the swift death of 100,000 people, and perhaps 100,000 more over the subsequent years, though it will (likely) save millions more lives over those same years? Should the US government instead suppress the drug, allow the epidemic to run its course, and hope that its epidemiology turns out not to accurately predict the disease's progression, so that in fact fewer than 200,000 more people die from it? And if it did make the drug available, with the intention of saving millions of lives, would you also say that it nonetheless _intended_ to cause the death of 200,000 as well, and thus did evil?

[The Chicken]
The deaths in the course of the vaccine are totally in God's hands and as such, the knowledge lies outside of the mind of man who will live and who will die. Not so with an atom bomb. It can't be used for anything else in this scenario but to kill and the leaders who dropped it knew that.

What they didn't know was the effects on large populations. Radiation, etc. was not understood at the time. It is possible that the people who argued for dropping the boms saw it as just a bigger better bomb.

Making the argument that this is a war crime is a bit of historical retrojecting of modern understanding. Today, we know that if one were to drop a bomb, it would be a war crime. Back then, it may not have been clearly unserstood. Where there is a defect in knowldege, the culpability is mitigated.

By the way, what is the threshold of a war crime: 1 kiloton, 100 kiloton?

The Chiken

"For one thing, since the consequentialist case for the bombings – that they would save more lives than an invasion of Japan would – carried the day with the Truman administration (and with defenders of the bombings ever since), it may be the most consequential piece of consequentialist reasoning ever formulated. For another, the bombings give a pretty good idea of what a world consistently run on consequentialist principles might look like."

I can't tell if you are serious or if you are just "funning" here. According to a standard version of consequentialism, an action is right iff its outcome contains more intrinsic value than the outcome of any alternative performable action. Do _you_ think that dropping the bombs passes this test? If not, the example really tells us nothing about consequentialism. Is it fair to say that since you are offering this as a counterexample to consequentialism, you _do_ think that there was no performable alternative course of action that did not involve the use of atomic weapons at least as good as the action actually performed? I'd be surprised if you thought that dropping the bombs was the best that could have been done.

Maybe your point is this. Consequentialism is bad because some people in power who don't know what consequentialism is tried their hands at consequentialist reasoning and did poorly. They brought about bad outcomes that they shouldn't have brought about and so (delicious irony) used consequentialist thinking in just the way that the consequentialist says not to. Still, the thing should come with a warning label!

Of course, you could say that about just about any moral doctrine or theory. Doctrine of double effect reasoning is abused, so boo the DDE!

Following up on Clayton: Hey, this is fun! Didn't the Nazis sometimes base really bad things on some very poor examples of natural law reasoning? Maybe natural law theorists should wear swastikas at their meetings?

I'm not a consequentialist. Just another guy who's wary of judging moral theories on the basis of misuses of them.

What matters is that any consequentialist must allow that it is at least in principle legitimate intentionally to kill the innocent for the sake of a “greater good.”

Let's say for a minute that Iraq's army was mobilizing a large number of tanks throughout Baghdad in anticipation of our invasion. Many of them are parked near offices and schools. Is it wrong for the US Air Force to pound their armor back into the stone age as our forces are pulling into sight of Baghdad?

I ask because those air strikes would almost certainly entail a certain level of civilian casualties that could be easily foreseen.

Keith, the point here is that this is not a misapplication of consequentialism. That is, it has not here been misused.

"For another, the bombings give a pretty good idea of what a world consistently run on consequentialist principles might look like."

I find it disturbing that so much discussion of consequentialism hinges on violations of rights, as if, were we all consequentialists, we'd be most concerned about finding opportunities to kill some to aid others (rather than, say, alleviating world poverty).

I'd imagine that a world consistently run on consequentialist principles would involve all of us committing ourselves to rules that, when followed by everyone, would have the best consequences. You might think this would involve a lot of nuclear war, but I don't. I'm guessing it would involve a lot less poverty, exploitation of animals, and decisions that jeopardize humanity's future. Call me crazy.

Clayton didn't read the post. Ed actually has a line anticipating Clayton's response.

You have to wonder whether Littlejohn and Leiter (who linked here) weren't mercilessly taunted on the playground. For some reason, the Leitervolk just love to beat up on this blog. The little conservative nerdlingers just want to go their own way, you know? But for whatever reason, wannabe-elites like Leiter and Littlejohn just won't stop engaging in crude attacks and then patting each other on the back for doing so.

The sad thing is that Ed's posts all too often end up being as much about Brian Leiter and Co. as about Thomas Aquinas.

Octagon said:
"But for whatever reason, wannabe-elites like Leiter and Littlejohn just won't stop engaging in crude attacks and then patting each other on the back for doing so."

I fail to see anything in Clayton's response nor Leiter's link that could be considered a "crude attack."

If a thoughtful response counts as "crude" then I suppose Clayton is the Conan the Barbarian of philosophical blog posts.

Octagon, that has not been at all true recently. Leiter & Co. deserve all the neglect we can give them.

By the way, I thought leftists were against the use of the atomic bomb. One would think this would be a rare moment of agreement between anti-nuclear members of the left and the non-consequentialist conservatives.

In the paragraph that begins "Jimmy Akin offers ...," Ed acknowledges that many consequentialists would condemn the bombings; he doesn't contest their right to do so; but he "whatever"s that, telling us what "really matters." So he there seems to be conceding that approving the actual bombings may be a misapplication of consequentialism. But in the first paragraph, he seems to be trying to pin (both figuratively and literally!) Nagasaki on consequentialists, nonetheless.

That consequentialism issues wrong verdicts about some possible cases, of course, is a legitimate line of criticism of consequentialism, often legitimately pressed by discussing fictional examples about which the relevant facts are stipulated. Once you start imagining what’s needed to really get a positive verdict out of consequentialism, the wrongness of the action can start to get less apparent. Exactly what you have to do to the example depends on the exact version of consequentialism you’re targeting. Just about any philosopher (even non-ethicists) has been down this argumentative path. Not being a consequentialist, I usually end up with a case where the verdicts of forms of consequentialism under discussion differ from how I judge the case, but the judgments here are less clear than they are about simpler cases. At this point, of course, we’re MILES away from “Consequentialists heart Nagasaki!”

Trying to pin Nagasaki (as opposed to a made-up variation on it) on consequentialism is what I’m questioning. Like Clayton, I'm not sure whether & to what extent Ed is just "funnin" us there.

For another, the bombings give a pretty good idea of what a world consistently run on consequentialist principles might look like.

Have you considered the possibility that one of the consequences of the bombings was that the world didn’t end up looking like that?

Btw, I reject the opinion that nuking a city necessarily involves the intention to kill innocents. Neither did Truman suggest this in his arguments for the action. Therefore, he was not being, formally at least, a consequentialist in this case.

I don't think Truman was consciously seeking to answer this question correctly, but given the experience in the war to date (especially in light of the horrifying civilian suicides witnessed, by American soldiers and Marines on Saipan and Okinawa), I believe he did: "How do we kill the fewest Japs?"

Btw, I reject the opinion that nuking a city necessarily involves the intention to kill innocents.

Well, technically, you intend to kill them as collateral damage inherently caused by using a nuclear weapon to destroy a militarized city.

The bigger problem with Ed's argument is that the same argument he uses against nuclear weapons could be applied to any form of ordnance. If the Air Force incidentally levels several city blocks while attacking a column of tanks rolling through a city, they are open to similar criticism because they knew in advance that civilians would get killed by the bombs they were dropping on the tanks. Therefore, a more left-wing version of Ed could argue that they "intended" to kill those civilians as a side effect of attacking the enemy combatants.

The flipside of this kind of consequentialism is the evil of using human shields. I agree with Ed's post, but Mike T raises a good point. In a world of asymmetric warfare and terrorists increasingly willing to use human shields, how do you prosecute combat within a just war framework? If your enemy is at all moral, the best body armor would be Baby Bjorns with infant occupants. It seems that, in such an environment, there is no good solution: either (a) avoid civilian casualties to the point of risking defeat, or (b) commit an evil act.

And another thing, the crew members of the Enola Gay and the other men involved in the mission were good soldiers and good patriots. They did their duty, and they did it well. I salute them, and I thank them -- as I write from the only State in the Union that still celebrates VJ Day today, Rhode Island.

j. christian says:

It seems that, in such an environment, there is no good solution: either (a) avoid civilian casualties to the point of risking defeat, or (b) commit an evil act.

Or c) the problem set before us is a philosopher's trick.

Clayton and Keith,

Of course I'm "funnin'" you, at least to the extent that I am well aware that most actual, real-life, contemporary consequentialist ethicists would in fact disapprove of the bombings. You know, like I actually said in the post, if you'd read it.

But what people actually believe isn't always consistent with their principles; and their principles aren't always as good as they think they are. In this case what matters are the questions:

1. Is a consequentialist case against the bombings, argued from the POV of whatever your favorite brand of consequentialism is, in fact stronger than a consequentialist case for them? Maybe, though I doubt it. Certainly it's risible merely to dismiss a consequentialist case in favor as an "abuse." Why is it an "abuse" rather than merely an alternative possible application of consequentialism?

No need to stay for an answer, since we already know what it is: Even to acknowledge that a strong consequentialist case for the bombings might be made is an embarrassment to consequentialism, hence it must be dismissed as an "abuse" of the theory, etc.

But as I also made clear in the post, adjudicating that debate is also not what I was interested in. The focus was rather on:

2. Is a consequentialist approach to the question good even in principle? And the point of the post was to emphasize that whether or not this or that consequentialist approves of the actual policy, the intentional slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent people is something he has to say might be legitimate under certain abstract theoretical circumstances. Yes, yes, he's going to insist that it's so unlikely in practice ever to be a serious option that for practical purposes we can ignore it. I doubt this is really the case, but let that pass. The point is that, like Anscombe, I regard the very notion that it might be OK even in theory intentionally to kill an innocent person to be depraved in itself.

"But Ed, you gave no argument for this Anscombean claim." Well, no, I didn't. But since when does every blog post on an issue have to contain an argument to convince those who are on the other side of the issue? Sometimes you just want to call attention to something in a punchy way both for like-minded and some on-the-fence readers, as an illustration of certain ideas you are known either to advocate or object to. Kind of like Leiter does in 99.99% of his posts on politics and current affairs.

Dr. Feser, surely an argument for the bombing could be made using casuistry? A fine Catholic tradition, is it not?

If your enemy is at all moral, the best body armor would be Baby Bjorns with infant occupants.

I recall Zippy calling such a claim absurd. At any rate, I don't think it takes much imagination to imagine the Japanese Imperial Army rounding up Chinese and Korean infants to use as human shields if they knew our forces had such high standards regarding innocent lives.

Hey Ed,
I read the post. I just re-read it. I think now you must be "funnin'" us again. Maybe you can point to the line where you say that you don't actually think consequentialism implies that it was right to use the bomb. I don't doubt that you speak the truth when you say, "I am well aware that most actual, real-life, contemporary consequentialist ethicists would in fact disapprove of the bombings." Isn't that just a non-denial denial. My initial worry was about your take on the implications of consequentialism (a view), not your take on the accepted views of consequentialists (people).

Dear Lydia,
I'm surprised to see you in the discussion thread. Who is keeping the lookout for those crazy Muslims and their Sharia Law? Anyway, just wanted to say that you really got us this time. Everyone who thinks Ed is wrong about the implications of consequentialism just loves nukes.

Mike T, my recollection is that Zippy said that if the enemy starts going into battle having every soldier wearing a baby in a backpack, we might be in trouble, but that fortunately, they don't.

Clayton,

Of course philosophers should always honor the distinction between the implications of an abstract doctrine (the -ism) and what actual proponents of the doctrine have held (the -ist). But to honor that distinction too much would be to trivialize the point. Here's a version of consequentialism: consequentialism + a theory of value in which a world in which no Japanese cities are nuked is lexically ordered in value above a world in which some Japanese city is nuked. And, voila, consequentialism is shown to be compatible with the rejection of the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But since it obviously dully apparent that consequentialism is compatible with withholding endorsement of that bombing in this sense, it is not much of a charitable read to appeal to that sense in criticizing Ed.

Perhaps Ed had in mind the following qualifier, which folks often have in mind in philosophical discussions: 'extant or plausible, easily-worked-out versions of.' The charge, then, is that extant or plausible, easily-worked-out versions of consequentialism endorse the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki or at least leave that endorsement open subject to working out the empirical details.

"You know, like I actually said in the post, if you'd read it."

Umm, Ed: I actually wrote that you said this.

"According to a standard version of consequentialism, an action is right iff its outcome contains more intrinsic value than the outcome of any alternative performable action."

How can a consquentialist speak of something having an intrinsic value? If a particular outcome is intrinsically better than another, doesn't that mean that you are evaluating the outcome on some moral theory other than consequentialism? If consequences determine morality than how can anything be called good in itself; I thought the theory of consequentialism says that the rightness of actions is determined by consequences.

Also, how does this not become an infinite regress? Without some standard of goodness independent of consequences, consequentialism seems unable to ever actually call anything good. Some action should be done because it has good or desirable consequences, but why are those consequences good or desirable? Won't it have to be because of their consequences, which must be considered good and desirable because of their consequence ad infinitum?

Clayton,

As I keep saying, my beef in the post is specifically with the idea that it might at least in principle be OK intentionally to kill an innocent person, or even lots of innocent people. Everything else is secondary, which is why I don't address it in any detail.

...that was part of what was making it hard to tell just where you were funnin' us.

"Dear Lydia,
I'm surprised to see you in the discussion thread. Who is keeping the lookout for those crazy Muslims and their Sharia Law? "

ZING!

Yes, you're right Keith, sorry. I should have aimed my comments more precisely either at you or at Clayton, rather than lumping you together.

So maybe I've got it now, but I should check: You do really mean to be pinning Nagasaki on consequentialists, but that's only a secondary point?

Call me naive, but I wouldn't feel very comforted if someone I loved was incinerated at Nagasaki and I were told, "I condemn that act, but only because as a matter of contingent fact the consequences didn't justify it. If they had, I would endorse it. It's not like it was _absolutely_ wrong."

Keith,

I am pinning Nagasaki on the claim that it can in principle be morally legitimate intentionally to kill innocent people, even lots of them. And I am pinning it on consequentialism insofar as consequentialism entails that claim.

Ed,
Just to be clear, you started off by saying that it was consequentialist thinking that led to an actual bombing but now concede that under the actual circumstances this conclusion was arrived at because people failed to reason to a conclusion that consequentialism deems correct. Correct? Correct me if I'm wrong (or, try to correct me if I'm not, as seems to be the practice around here), but your alternative to the view that "justifies" the indiscriminate killing of innocents is a view on which it would be wrong to intentionally inflict the most minor of harms to keep the sky from falling. Is consequentialism crazy? Maybe, but so is your view if your view entails that it is wrong to intentionally inflict one paper cut to save us all from an eternity of suffering.

E.R.,
Consequentialism is a view about the relation between the good and the right. Goodness makes for rightness, basically. In and of itself, it tells us nothing about what has intrinsic value, only how the rightness of an act depends upon the total intrinsic value realized by it when compared to the total intrinsic value that could have been realized by the performable alternatives.

OK, I think I get it now -- though I don't approve of such pinnings, when they're done to theories I reject, like consequentialism, any more than when it's done to views like divine command theory (to which my relation is very complicated), important versions of which also make it in principle possible for it to be good to directly kill lots of innocents.

"According to a standard version of consequentialism, an action is right iff its outcome contains more intrinsic value than the outcome of any alternative performable action. Do _you_ think that dropping the bombs passes this test?"

It's difficult to answer that question, since there is no agreement on what counts as the outcome (e.g., does it mean the immediate consequences or the long-term consequences in terms of how it shapes our character, habits, future generations, etc.) or what counts as intrinsic value, or whether the justification of the act is to be measured by what the actors believed at the time rather than what was in fact true. (What I mean by that is that Truman, given consequentialism, may have been justified, given what he knew at the time, but perhaps we know things today that he didn't or couldn't know that shows it was not justified).

In any event, suppose that intrinsic value means aggregate human happiness and that Truman knew (in the strongest sense possible) that if the war did not end soon there would be less human happiness if the bombs were not dropped. Given the standard version, it seems that the bombing passes the test.

And what determines total intrinsic value?

"In any event, suppose that intrinsic value means aggregate human happiness and that Truman knew (in the strongest sense possible) that if the war did not end soon there would be less human happiness if the bombs were not dropped. Given the standard version, it seems that the bombing passes the test."

An absurd supposition, like many freshmen undergraduate objections to consequentialism e.g. "if slavery [or any intuitively wrong thing you can think of] produces net happiness then consequentialism says it's right!" (See RM Hare "What is Wrong with Slavery?")

Making the argument that this is a war crime is a bit of historical retrojecting of modern understanding. Today, we know that if one were to drop a bomb, it would be a war crime. Back then, it may not have been clearly unserstood. Where there is a defect in knowldege, the culpability is mitigated.

Elizabeth Anscombe's Mr. Truman's degree dates from 1958. Michael Dummett, in his autobiographical chapter here, says he and a Catholic friend made up their minds to resign their commission in disgust, after news of the bombing reached them, but before the Nagasaki bomb. They sought advice from Franciscans and were told to expect the Pope to declare that Catholics could no longer serve in an army that did such things.

their commission in disgust, after news of the bombing reached them, but before the Nagasaki bomb.

should be:

their commissions in disgust, after news of the first bombing reached them...

Clayton Littlejohn is here. Perhaps you will soon be treated to the airy commentary of the marvelously aerodynamic Alistair Norcross. Or, better yet, the philosopher-king Brian Leiter will treat you to a terse, dyspeptic rant, provided he is not too busy shaking down goats for bridge tolls and/or swinging from the ropes of the belfry.

On second thought, "the marvelously aerodynamic" and (especially) "provided he is not too busy shaking down goats for bridge tolls and/or swinging from the ropes of the belfry" are below the belt and should be removed from my comment, if it is left standing at all. Mea culpa.

Some guy named "John" writes:

An absurd supposition, like many freshmen undergraduate objections to consequentialism e.g. "if slavery [or any intuitively wrong thing you can think of] produces net happiness then consequentialism says it's right!" (See RM Hare "What is Wrong with Slavery?")"

Sheesh! I wasn't arguing for anything. I was trying to better understand what Ed was saying and thinking out loud about it.

Having said that, read me carefully, I narrow the conditions, and given them, it seems right to say that Truman would have a point. But that's not a reason to reject consequentialism as a moral theory (and I never said it was). It could be that there are several versions of consequentialism by which one can judge Truman as wrong, or perhaps the conditions I assume were not in fact the case.

Read with care. It's good for your soul (assuming you believe you have one).

The issue for Truman and the Joint Chiefs was unlikely to have been Consequentialism--I doubt that they had such airy ideas in mind. I think their concern was akin to that of a person whose house/town was invaded by an enemy who had killed Grandma and brother Lou. As a result, the goal was to make sure that the attacker not only stopped attacking, but also could never recover to attack again. In such a circumstance, the use of the bomb doesn't look much different from firebombing Dresden or Tokyo, so the debate over their use is truly academic.

Ed, can you help me understand what Clayton is saying? For example, I can't follow this at all: Consequentialism is a view about the relation between the good and the right. Goodness makes for rightness, basically. In and of itself, it tells us nothing about what has intrinsic value, only how the rightness of an act depends upon the total intrinsic value realized by it when compared to the total intrinsic value that could have been realized by the performable alternatives.

Also, is the general criticism that consequentialism, rightly exercised, will not justify slaughtering the innocent to a good end? Under any circumstance, or just in this particular case? Is there a further claim that you don't really understand consequentialism? However many versions there are, I would think the common name implies a good deal of common ground.

Mike T.

Well, technically, you intend to kill them as collateral damage inherently caused by using a nuclear weapon to destroy a militarized city.

Mike, I believe I have tried to explain this to you before, but here goes again:

If I go out to my mailbox during a rainstorm, I intend to get my mail, and I also intend to get wet. However, I intend the one in a different sense from how I intend the other. I intend to get my mail in a true, unqualified sense; and I intend to get wet in merely a certain, qualified sense. Only the former sense determines the object of the act. The U.S. military, on the other hand, intended the death of innocents in the latter sense.

Cirdan:

They sought advice from Franciscans and were told to expect the Pope to declare that Catholics could no longer serve in an army that did such things.

Yeah, we’re still waiting for that declaration.

Actually (this in response to "Califury"), I'm pretty sure that some kind of consequentialist reason was given. Even C.S. Lewis got in on the act: At his church, the vicar prayed that the allies might be forgiven for dropping the bomb. Lewis commiserated with him on the assumption that someone higher up had dictated the prayer. The vicar made it clear that it was his own initiative. Lewis told this story to a friend in a letter and said that if it was true (as he had heard) that the Japanese were going to slaughter all the Europeans in Japan if invaded, then he did not consider the matter so clear. So obviously these sorts of justifications were going around.

I once was a consequentialist, but gave it up once I realized it just wasn't working for me.

Okay, Frank, I'm stealing that. :-)

"For it is never, never permissible to do what is intrinsically evil that good may come--not even if you'd feel much happier if you did it, not even if you've got some deeply ingrained tendency to want to do it, not even if it will shorten a war and save thousands of lives. Never."

How, by this logic, should we have ended World War II?

In the specific situation that obtained in the summer of 1945, there was literally no military option we could have pursued that would not have been "gravely immoral" according to Akin--which he defines as "inflicting massive damage on the Japanese population." Atomic bombs would inflict massive damage on the Japanese population; conventional bombing would inflict massive damage on the Japanese population; blockade would inflict massive damage on the Japanese population; invasion would inflict massive damage on the Japanese population.

What were we supposed to do, exactly, that would be "morally permissible"?

We invade Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and... then what?

JP --

Not being an historian with expertise on the Pacific War, I will not offer an opinion about the situation in 1945. However I do know that the military was not agreed that the atomic bomb or a bloody invasion were the only options. Some of these names may ring a bell:


"During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of 'face'. The Secretary was deeply perturbed by my attitude..."

"...the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing."

-General Dwight Eisenhower

"It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons.

"The lethal possibilities of atomic warfare in the future are frightening. My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children."

- Admiral William Leahy, Admiral of the 1st Fleet, Chief of Staff to Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman


"When I asked General MacArthur about the decision to drop the bomb, I was surprised to learn he had not even been consulted. What, I asked, would his advice have been? He replied that he saw no military justification for the dropping of the bomb. The war might have ended weeks earlier, he said, if the United States had agreed, as it later did anyway, to the retention of the institution of the emperor."

-- Norman Cousins on General Douglas MacArthur

Also, I think you are missing the point of Jimmy and Ed's argument that the problem is in the directness of the action. It is one thing to enforce a blockade to prevent the Japanese military from operating, even if that stops supplies getting to civilians. It is quite another to stand an noncombatant civilian against a wall and shoot him in the head -- or to drop a bomb on his head, which is morally the same thing. The question isn't whether noncombatants suffer. Of course they will, it is war. The question is whether they suffer because we deliberately and directly target them.

Say that moral theory X and moral theory Y are verdictively coextensive if they return the same verdicts (concerning permissibility/impermissibility) in all possible cases. Then it's trivial that there are consequentialist moral theories that are verdictively coextensive with non-consequentialist moral (including purely deontological) moral theories. So Edward Feser, as a mere matter of logic, has utterly failed to impungn consequentialism here. On logical grounds alone, this post is an epic fail.

For the record (since I suspect some people here would rather assess the content of my comment on the basis of, or in light of, other things I believe), I'm not a pure consequentialist. In many (indeed almost all--if not all--actual) cases, I take the consequences of actions to be utterly irrelevant to determining the permissibility/impermissibility of actions. And I think the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were wildly immoral, and will be deemed morally unjustified and impermissible according to any plausible moral theory. Hope that helps.

To those who are confused about consequentialism:
As Clayton said, consequentialism is a view about the relation between goodness and rightness. So (very roughly, I am tired), the consequentialist says that whatever action will maximize the good and minimize the bad is right. That is what consequentialists have in common.
Where they differ is on their theory of the good. You may be a hedonist, you may have some kind of objective list of things which are intrinsically valuable. Hell, you could even be a shoe consequentialist, saying that whatever action brought about the existence of the most pairs of shoes is right.
In sum, yes, there is such thing as intrinsic value for consequentialists.

Apologies if I got anything mistaken--correct me if you'd like (and I don't mean that sarcastically.)

Clayton wrote:

Correct me if I'm wrong ... but your alternative to the view that "justifies" the indiscriminate killing of innocents is a view on which it would be wrong to intentionally inflict the most minor of harms to keep the sky from falling. Is consequentialism crazy? Maybe, but so is your view if your view entails that it is wrong to intentionally inflict one paper cut to save us all from an eternity of suffering.

Doug Portmore raised a similar objection in the combox to the cross-post over at my own blog. (His example, inspired by another commenter's remark, was telling a lie to avoid a nuclear holocaust.) My reply to Doug (which applies also to Clayton) is here:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/08/happy-consequentialism-day.html?showComment=1281415970461#c7508817664650775125

Keith,

You say you "don't approve of such pinnings," but I'm not clear what is objectionable in what I said. (What I said in my explanation to you of what I was getting at, that is; I realize a consequentialist is going to object to the snarky tone of the original post.)

In other words, what is wrong with saying "Look guys, your position would even imply that Nagasaki might at least in principle be justifiable"? A consequentialist could always say "Well I know that sounds bad, but it isn't really, because here's why that could never happen in practice etc."

What would be objectionable is if I said "Consequentialist moral theorists in fact tend to approve of Nagasaki," since that isn't true. But that is not what I said.

I also don't think it would be objectionable if I said "Consequentialism, when consistently developed in it most plausible form, would in fact lead to the conclusion that Nagasaki was justifiable." Most consequentialists would no doubt strongly disagree with that claim, and who knows, let's suppose for the sake of argument that they could make a strong case. I still don't see why the claim itelf is somehow out of bounds; it is certainly at least debatable.

But again, what I was focusing on is an even weaker claim than that, viz. that consequentialism entails that it is at least in principle possible that Nagasaki might be justifiable. (We could even very charitably go on to add, in order to soothe the consequentialist's fear of public embarrassment, that it is only a very very remote and abstract possibility. I don't think so, but let's give it to him for the sake of argument.) That much is just obviously true. Nor is it a trivial claim, since other moral theories do not have that implication. So, again, what's wrong with pointing this out?

Scott Hagaman,

"An epic fail." Wow, that sounds bad. But what exactly did I fail epically to accomplish? Presumably not "refuting consequentialism," since, as I have said, I was not trying to do that.

All I've said is that a consequentialist must allow that it is at least in principle permissible intentionally to kill large numbers of innocent people. I notice that no one here has denied that consequentialism entails this.

Nor have those critical of my post said "Yes, yes, of course that's what consequentialism entails, that's trivially true, everyone already knows it is true, why are you bothering about it?" So, apparently they don't think it's a trivial claim either.

So, it seems they don't deny that it is true, and don't deny that it is a non-trivial truth. Still, they seem very annoyed with me for saying it. Wonder why!

Well, MB, the fact is that Eisenhower was wrong, and the Japanese were NOT ready to surrender. They were ready to keep fighting -- and were making serious preparations to defend Kyushu that were completely inconsistent with willingness to surrender immediately. This is amply demonstrated from the records of Japanese policy discussions.

As for Leahy, many Navy guys were dismissive of the bomb right after the war, because the atomic bomb strengthened the argument that all the US needed was an Air Force, not a Navy. These views can be dismissed as the tendentious partisanship they are.

You may argue that an invasion was not "necessary", but it was scheduled for November 1945, and certainly would have occurred if Japan had not surrendered. You may or may not know that we planned to drop a number of atomic bombs on Kyushu to support this invasion.

"I think you are missing the point of Jimmy and Ed's argument that the problem is in the directness of the action. It is one thing to enforce a blockade to prevent the Japanese military from operating, even if that stops supplies getting to civilians. It is quite another to stand an noncombatant civilian against a wall and shoot him in the head -- or to drop a bomb on his head, which is morally the same thing. The question isn't whether noncombatants suffer. Of course they will, it is war. The question is whether they suffer because we deliberately and directly target them."

Let's leave aside the fact that we'd have kept doing massive conventional air attacks, which would undoubtedly have killed many civilians, even during a blockade, if we hadn't dropped the a-bombs. Morally, a blockade *directly* targets the civilian population. Indeed, the civilians will suffer *first*, because the iron law of military necessity is that when food is short, the military eats first, industrial workers second, then non-productive civilians last of all. The simple fact is that if we'd blockaded Japan, thousands and thousands of civilians would have died every month, and it is preposterous to claim we would have been less "directly" responsible for this than if we dropped a bomb on them.

In short, I reject the view that the relative "directness" of bombing makes it less morally permissible than a blockade.

I further reject the view that if we'd done "nothing" the Japanese would simply have quit. We did not plan to do nothing, and the Japanese would not simply have quit. We'd have poured on the conventional bombs and followed up with an invasion, and massive civilian deaths would have been the inevitable consequence of this.

Take it first that the only sorts of acts that humans can perform that are not somewhat depraved, if only in motive if not haply in effect, are those that find all their origination and character in God, so that the means of their actualization here below is by virtue of an immaculate saintly abnegation (the only certain example we have of any such immaculate conception being in the Marian “yes,” taken as the culmination of a whole and wholly immaculate career). Any act then that is less than immaculately selfless is, not only more or less depraved, but ipso facto also more or less self-interested. And to say that an act is self-interested is to say that it is undertaken in view of its consequences for parties other than God. It is consequentialist.

Thus consequentialism is emptied of insight. But so likewise is its critique. For there is nothing possible to humans as merely human, other than consequentialist acts: acts that are more or less evil, undertaken for what seem to be greater goods. No act is without cost; is, i.e., without some evil consequence, howsoever little that evil may be intended or even understood. So, the critique of consequentialism is bootless, there being no escape for any of us, in matters great or small, from the same formal predicament that Truman confronted over Hiroshima and Nagasaki: we must choose among evils, hoping to achieve some good. Even the principled refusal to treat persons as ends is tainted with consequentialist self-seeking, if only the seeking of intellectual and moral integrity, a sort of Pharisaism.

None of this is to excuse consequentialism, any more than it is to excuse creaturely sin. Sin is not justified by the fact that it is for us pervasively endemic. But we must at least account for that pervasion of sin. What I cannot do, given human depravity, is figure out how to help Truman, or myself, out of our consequentialist predicament, using only the powers of moral reasoning at my poor disposal. I cannot see how Truman can go through the process of making a real decision without considering the worldly consequences thereof, good and bad. I guess flipping a coin might work.

M. B., I would consult Alperovitz's "The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb" if you are interested in the history. The fact that the Japanese were doing X at time Y does little to distill the historical evidence that the administration's focus was on showing Russia they had a super-weapon and that we were willing to use it. Regardless, this wrinkle I'm adding, while historically serious, cannot matter to a consequentialist, because the motives of the bomb-droppers is irrelevant to consequentialism.

As for the overall argument presented int his thread, I think that the problem with the Hiroshima example is not that it exemplifies a similar situation that would be justified, but as Mill says about the "question of a pig satisfied being better than being Socrates dissatisfied," that it represents a false choice. A consequentialist will find it uncontroversial that there are cases where one might commit murder in order to save the lives of others. But the number of situations in which you can line up an amount of happiness that outweighs the benefits of deploying a nuclear weapon are difficult to imagine unless one engages in dishonest accounting about what the stakes are, particularly from the perspective of a consequentialist, who if a good consequentialist, will not have much cause to place value in the usual abstracts that people fill with "intrinsic meaning" in order to justify doing barbarous things while refusing to take consequences seriously.

Also, we should not forget that the consequentialist has an epistemic horse in this race as well. The consequentialist is an empiricist, there are no true statements that do not require methods of recorded experience except statements that include the predicate in the subject. ("All bachelors are unmarried.") Mill's argument in Utilitarianism is that our common understanding of justice derives from our experiences in trying to give each his due, and that we are driven to enforce this by a sense of community, a feeling of resentment, and a feeling of sympathy/empathy towards others. This is not a normative statement, this a is a view as to why we behave the way we do. So, for the consequentialist, there are no real alternatives, just good or bad consequentialism. The consequentialist would also add, I believe, that this account tells a nice story as to how bad consequentialism in the form of Hiroshima and Nagasaki happens. There is an empathy bias towards one's own people (especially after such a brutal conflict), a desire for retribution for said conflict, and fears that Russia and China will pose threats to the Western community of interests combined with the hope that using the atomic bomb would protect those vague (at the time) interests of the United States. That's what happened, not because it was right, but because that's what humans do.

Again to paraphrase Mill, there is no proof of the empiricist view of our world, there isn't proof on that level of any view of the world. The consequentialist simply offers empiricism as a tidy explanation that seems descriptively convincing and morally useful. The greatest consequentialists did nothing but describe ti as such and leave it for you to take it or leave it. I defer to their wisdom on such arguments. My hope was merely to explain the consequentialist argument in as strong a position that I could formulate for the purposes of this discussion.

"I once was a consequentialist, but gave it up once I realized it just wasn't working for me."


I gave up on natural law theory because it goes against nature. (wink)

Truman, and other American War Criminals, were interested in seeing just how much destruction the A-Bomb could cause and that is prolly why Hiroshima was chosen as a target - it was, essentially, a pristine target.

So what if it was not a military target but in fact a civilian target? Military schmilitary...whatever.

Oh, as to the situational ethicist, Mr Auster, and his repetitious claim the city was leafleted prior to the attack?

I don't think there is evidence of such a "Get out of Dodge" drop.

http://www.doug-long.com/letter.htm

(As to the selection of Nagasaki as a target, I am sure it was just a coincidence it was the Catholic center of Japan.)

I once was a consequentialist, but gave it up once I realized it just wasn't working for me.

Frank, You missed the really efficient way to say it:

I once was a consequentialist, but gave it up once I realized the consequences.

The Chicken

Ed,

You say,

All I've said is that a consequentialist must allow that it is at least in principle permissible intentionally to kill large numbers of innocent people. I notice that no one here has denied that consequentialism entails this.

Nor have those critical of my post said "Yes, yes, of course that's what consequentialism entails, that's trivially true, everyone already knows it is true, why are you bothering about it?" So, apparently they don't think it's a trivial claim either.

But Keith (@Aug 9th, 12:03 pm) does raise what amounts to this sort of objection and points out how difficult it is to flesh out the sort of case in which the consequentialist is committed to this result and how shifty our intuitions can be once the case is appropriately fleshed out (and, likewise, how common your sort of argumentative move is).

If the issue is Nagasaki it's just false that consequentialism has the consequence that it was permissible. If the issue is what consequentialism is in principle committed to then A) the point is pretty common from undergrad courses on up, B) the cases in which consequentialism has the supposedly problematic consequences are really hard to spell out in rich enough detail to elicit trustworthy intuitions, and C) the intuitions about such suitably spelled out cases, once it's granted that greater intrinsic value is created by the allegedly problematic act (as it must be for the case to be a suitable counterexample), are hardly rock-hard.

Killing innocents is not essentially evil.

Suppose a general is captured in battle and has a cyanide pill in his cheek. He knows that the enemy has a truth serum; he also knows the location of thousands of fellow soldiers and that disclosing this information would lead to hundreds of deaths. It seems to me eminently moral of the general to kill himself with the cyanide.

Suppose Tom and three others are captured by a serial killer. It has been noted than in previous killings the killer has always kept his word. The serial killer proposes the following dilemma: either the serial killer will shoot all 4 of them or Tom will shoot himself. It seems to me that Tom would be noble in shooting himself.

Does that make me a consequentialist? No - I am a Dancey-style particularist and thus am, in the best sense of the term, unprincipled. So these two cases don't commit me to approving the murder of one innocent to use his organs to save five others.

As far as the bombings go, if they truly saved more lives, I support them. How is a tax-paying civilian more innocent than a conscripted soldier? The only ones who should count are children.

"How is a tax-paying civilian more innocent than a conscripted soldier?"

Good point, Osama. Fire up the jets!

I support the September 11th bombings. Doesn't mean I don't oppose Muslim immigration to Europe, though.

Er, hijacking. I was confusing it with the earlier WTC bombings.

Ed: If all you did was say, "Here's an objection to consequentialism: It makes it in principle possible...," I'd have just thought you were raising a weak objection, and probably wouldn't have bothered to comment. What I was objecting to was laying the actual bombing at the door of a moral theory that (as you seem willing to grant, at least for the sake of argument) condemns it. "Laying it at the door" in a sense that would make it make sense to (half-jokingly) suggest consequentialists should celebrate the bombing or wear depictions of it on pins they wear at their meetings, etc. That a theory makes it in principle possible... strikes me as far too low a standard for laying at its door an action it would in fact condemn. If you think about it a bit, lots of moral theories (including some that some folks that hang around this blog probably like very much) meet that standard, but I wouldn't think it fair to suggest *they* start celebrating Nagasaki Day, wearing pins, etc.

[Without giving the backing argument--which I'm sure many can supply for themselves--a much better (note the comparative) case could be made, at least among those who take an inerrantist approach to the Old Testament scriptures, for claiming that a slaughtered Canaanite infant (or lots of them), perhaps impaled on the sword of an Israelite soldier, would be a fitting symbol for Divine Command theory ethics, and should perhaps be worn as pins at meetings of Divine Command theorists, etc. Better is still not good, though, and I don't recommend discussion of that theory to proceed in anything like that way. Of course, the problem of "What if God commands...?" is serious & should be discussed (& is often met by modifying the theory, just as sometimes happens with consequentialism, taken in an appropriately broad sense). And in that discussion, it can legitimately come up that God is depicted in scriptures as commanding various things. That's all ok. But suggestions that Divine Command theorists should wear the impaled infant pin would be very ill-advised, and would serve to debase rather than improve the discussion, in my view.]

Your first paragraph suggests Truman & Co. employed consequentialist thinking. & maybe that's part of your grounds for "pinning" the action on consequentialism: a combination of "that's the view that was used" plus "and it does make it in principle possible that...". But maybe not. Either way, we should reject that suggestion. They of course considered the consequences of their various options. Who doesn't, when making a big decision? But they did not employ anything like the historically important versions of the moral theory, consequentialism. What their thinking & motivations were is of course a matter of great controversy. But nobody seriously believes that they weighed the deaths of Japanese soldiers as heavily as that of American soldiers, or of Japanese civilians as American civilians (though by this point in the war, most American civilians were largely out of harm's way). (In fact, most would very much want their Commander-in-Chief *not* to so weigh things.) Why not? Well, to some extent (at least in the thinking of some), no doubt, simply because the Japanese weren't "ours," and to some extent due to backward-looking reasons--they attacked us--and maybe lots of other reasons mixed in. Whatever. But nobody seriously thinks it was only because, and only to the extent that, the continued survival of Americans would do more to raise improve the outcome for people generally.

Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn writes in his book Leftism Revisited that the Japanese asked for terms of surrender. The only reply from the US was Unconditional surrender meaning the occupation of their lands. (This was the same strategy used against Germany. British and US Governments purposely relayed that the only thing acceptable was unconditional surrender therefore causing many Germans to fight harder and not give up with others sitting on the fence to join the fight.)

The problem here is not consequentalism but the US had NO intention for anything but Unconditional surrender. The Atomic Bomb was meant for that!!! This is UnChristian and UnWestern. Never mind Natural Law, Unconditional surrender is unconsciounable! There was NO need to occupy Japan.

The problem is not the dropping of the bomb---it was the conditions that Socialist America demanded. That is the ethical problem here. The Atomic bomb was a tool to quarantee Unconditional Surrender and humilate the Japanese. Unconditional Surrender was necessary to occupy Japan, destroy traditional Japanese culture and transform it/Americanize it. On this basis is it evil. To Destroy Innocent people for the sake of Socialist globalist demands is utter evil.

Ed:
After reading Keith's last response to you, I believe that you have somewhat understated your objections against consequentialism. For it seems that not only might consequentialism provide us with the justification to nuke the Japanese, but it also apparently gives us the right to nuke ourselves, if "the total intrinsic value" could be enhanced by it.

Well there's consequences and there's alternate consequences. So at least for the bombing, but applicable elsewhere, we might ask what price the alternative.
But then we already had a good idea after Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
Was David Oderberg a marine?

It is a fact that there were senior Japanese military leaders who were against surrender AFTER the two bombs were dropped.
Would Mr Oderberg have led the first wave?
Ad hominem I know but getting your feet wet does give pause to the deepest reflections.

This post exposes the danger of fastening on a philosophical concept and riding it to the point of inanity, the either/or, all else excluded fallacy, just coined.
In any case whenever I think of the bomb I invariably think of Nanking & all those civilians buried alive, which also happened on the Bataan Death March, except there Americans were forced to bury other Americans alive.
Funny how you can let little things like that get in the way of your profoundest thoughts. Human weakness I guess.

the city was leafleted prior to the attack

Even if it were and even if the city were mostly empty, that still wouldn't make the bombing right according to Catholic teaching.

Keith,

You say (to paraphrase) that "consequentialism would in fact condemn the bombing of Nagasaki." That makes it sound like opposition to the bombing follows from consequentialism per se, either as a straightforward entailment or together with some uncontroversial further premises. But that just isn't true. What would be true is to say "Most consequentialist moral theorists today firmly believe that you can derive a condemnation of Nagasaki from an application of the most plausible version of consequentialism." That is a very different claim, and one that doesn't do the work I think you want done, viz. to make it somehow beyond the rhetorical pale to say things like "Consequentialism allows that it is at least in principle permissible intentionally to kill thousands of innocent people."

Perhaps you think that the case most consequentialist moral theorists would make is just so powerful and airtight that in practice we can treat consequentialism as if it ruled out Nagasaki even in principle. I find that dubious in the extreme, and the fact that not only Truman, but many very very clever people (e.g. the "military-industrial complex" intellectuals who put together the M.A.D. doctrine) took a more or less consequentialist position to entail the legitimacy in principle of mass slaughter is no small indication that such a claim would be implausible. Perhaps contemporary consequentialist moral theorists would say that these people were all in fact stupid, or somehow beholden to a massive misunderstanding of consequentialist theory, or would have thought otherwise if only they'd read such-and-such an article in last month's Philosophical Review, or whatever. I find that very hard to credit. It's more likely, it seems to me, that contemporary consequentialists are embarrassed by the fact that at least a prima facie case for the bombing could be made on consequentialist premises, and so would really like to believe that such a case would be so wildly implausible that we can dismiss it in practice as if it were an "anti-consequentialist" outcome (as you seem to be doing when you say that the theory in fact condemns the bombing). Hence they dramatically overstate the case vis-a-vis how a consequentialist would judge Nagasaki. Instead of saying "A consequentialist need not approve of Nagasaki" and resting content with that, they want to say "A consequentialist has to reject Nagasaki," a claim which I think is groundless.

As to debasing the discussion, when the consequentialist himself starts with the assumption that there is no action that is absolutely beyond the pale in principle, and when prominent consequentialists like Peter Singer go on to emphasize that what this entails is that we need to "unsanctify" human life, I fail to see what is out of bounds in saying "OK, then you have to allow that it is at least in principle OK intentionally to kill thousands of innocent people, as e.g. at Nagasaki." That's just a straightforward entailment of the theory, and a significant one. What's wrong with pointing that out? Surely it's relevant to evaluating the theory?

Notice, BTW, that when critics of my sort of view say "But your view entails that we could not intentionally kill even one innocent person to save millions and millions from a nuclear holocaust," the response I give, and that every other natural law theorist gives, is "Yes, damn right." We don't say, "Hey, come on now, that's debasing the discussion!" This is a significant disanalogy between the cases: Natural law theorists openly and even proudly embrace the "in principle" implications of their position, while consequentialists are ashamed of many of the "in principle" implications of theirs. So "Let's not debase the discussion" seems really to amount to "Let's not embarrass consequentialists."

Re: the biblical examples, this is a big topic all by itelf, and not really relevant to the discussion of consequentialsm vs. natural law (since a natural law theorist need not be a theist, and certainly need not accept the biblical stories as divinely revealed). But briefly, what I would say is the following:

1. The natural law has to do with our natural ends, not with the supernatural end that (from a Christian POV) God has, as a matter of grace rather than nature, raised us to.

2. Since the lower can be sacrificed for the sake of the higher, our natural ends can be sacrificed for the sake of our supernatural end.

3. Only God, the author of both ends, can in principle effect such a sacrifice, and only He has the right even to try to do so.

4. So while we could never take it upon ourselves intentionally to kill the innocent, God can do so as part of His intention to realize for us a supernatural end.

5. The people in the stories in question were acting as God's agents, carrying out a directly revealed divine order.

6. The case is therefore analogous to miracles: When we do science, we are describing the way the material world naturally tends to work, and we state scientific laws in a peremptory way, but this is perfectly compatible with saying "Of course, a divine suspension of the natural order may cause a different result." Similarly in ethics, when we state a moral absolute we are talking about the way things work in the natural course of things, short of a divine suspension of the natural course of things for the sake of a supernatural end.

7. So, the examples in question no more entail the wearing of impaled infant pins than a scientist who believes that miracles are at least in theory possible (as even an atheist scientist might) should for that reason be wearing a Resurrection pin.

8. Such divine suspensions of the ordinary moral course of things have not occurred since biblical times and cannot occur today (at least not from a Catholic POV, since Catholic doctrine holds that general, public divine revelations on matters of faith and morals of the sort that occurred in biblical times do not occur in the present, post-Pentecost age).

Again, none of this has to do with natural law theory per se, anyway, but only with theological ethics, which I have not been talking about. But I do think it is perfectly reasonable for a skeptic to ask "Wouldn't such a position allow that God might in theory command the killing of infants, etc.? And if so, how can you make that plausible?" The theological ethicist who believes the stories in question should just answer the question, rather than complain that the discussion has been debased. And the consequentialist should do the same vis-a-vis Nagasaki and the like.

I'm sick of hearing how we nuked those poor Japs in 1945. Their rotten empire was on a decades long rampage of barbaric conquest through out Asia. Then they made the mistake of bombing Pearl Harbour. That made America mad as hell, and we proceeded to whip their sorry butts until we dropped Fat Man and Little Boy on them. Before we turned Hiroshima and Nagasaki into mushroom salad, we warned both cities they were going to be hit five days in advance. Those people and their government refused to heed the warning twice in a row. Anybody who actually read any real history of the war knows the Japanese government was going to fight to the bitter end, even if it meant the death of most of the Japanese population. Our a-bombs helped them to shake their fanatical death wish, thus saving the lives of thousands on both sides of the conflict. The armchair philosophers like the ones mentioned in this posting and over at Akin and Shea's blog's IMHO probably never had to fight in a war against a fanatical enemy like the Japanese. People who have actually fought these fanatics will tell you there was no reasoning with them. It was kill or be killed. And if a Jap soldier thought he was going to be captured, many committed suicide to avoid being disgraced. Yep, as far as I'm concerned, Akin, Shea and others like them are totally detached from the real world of human behavior. These folks need to throw away their pre-conceived ideologies and see what it's like to deal with evil up close. I think a few months in the middle east being shot at by Muslim fanatics will give them the wisdom to understand why sometimes Hiroshimas and Nagasakis are needed.

Ed: You write:

the work I think you want done, viz. to make it somehow beyond the rhetorical pale to say things like "Consequentialism allows that it is at least in principle permissible intentionally to kill thousands of innocent people."

No, I've explicitly said such moves are fine. At the risk of quoting myself, I lead off my previous comment as follows:

Ed: If all you did was say, "Here's an objection to consequentialism: It makes it in principle possible...," I'd have just thought you were raising a weak objection, and probably wouldn't have bothered to comment. What I was objecting to was...

So, I didn't think that was beyond any rhetorical pale, though I also don't think in the end that the objection is very good.

Likewise, I think there are good ways to raise legitimate concerns about various theological systems of ethics, and when those concerns are raised, the proponents of the systems should address them rather than whining about the discussion being debased. In fact, even when the concerns are raised in a grandstanding way I don't like, the wise response probably still includes answering the good questions that are raised. But I do think suggesting that the theorists wear impaled baby pins, etc., would not be a good way to raise these concerns.

It was divine command theory I was using as my example. But I do appreciate the very thoughtful response you give to the problem of slaughter of the Canaanites (though I don't go for that kind of response myself).

Keith,

Yes, you're right that it was divine command theory specifically that you were addressing, and I should have been clearer about that. The complex issue of divine command theory is of course broader than, though related to, the question of what to say about the biblical exmaples you brought up. My response vis-a-vis the examples was intended in part to address other questions readers might raise about them. Anyway, what I said about what sort of rhetoric would be appropriate applies mutatis mutandis to divine command theory. It's perfectly appropriate to ask of a divine command theorist "But wouldn't your position imply that killing babies would be OK if God commanded it?" On that much I gather we are agreed.

As it happens, though, at least where a very extreme voluntarist Ockham-style approach to divine command theory is concerned, I'm not sure the "impaled baby pin" sort of rhetoric isn't appropriate, at least for snarky-blog-post purposes. But then, I am almost as hostile to Ockhamist views of that sort as I am to consequentialism!

Re: "I also don't think in the end that the objection is very good," again, it depends on what one supposes I was trying to do in the post in question. As I've said, I never expected that any consequentialist moral theorist would be moved an inch by it. To tell the truth, it didn't occur to me that a consequentialist moral theorist was likely even to read it. The point was, as I've said, rather to remind the many readers of this blog who are either already sympathetic to a natural law POV or at least on the fence, both of what consequentialism looks like from that POV, and of what Nagasaki looks like from that POV. And, I should add, to get, in the process, those conservative readers who have too lazily swallowed the usual justification of the bombings to consider that maybe they should not swallow it, given the natural law principles many of them are otherwise committed to.

Ed writes:
"OK, then you have to allow that it is at least in principle OK intentionally to kill thousands of innocent people, as e.g. at Nagasaki."

Ed, if someone denies that innocent people were intentionally killed at Nagasaki, in the true sense of the word "intention," how would you respond? I bring this up because I really don't think it's a good idea to accuse your own country of mass murder unless you're really sure you know what you're talking about. I know you're going to get all ticked off about what I'm suggesting, but I think it's important. I know you're not a pacifist wanker, but you're definitely fraternizing with them on this issue. That said, I have to admit it is a difficult case. Some fine theologians have taken your side. Nevertheless, it seems clear to me that it involves a slippery slope that would lead to a dangerous quietism with respect to national defense. But, again, the issue all hinges on whether or not there was a true intention to kill innocents, which has yet to be demonstrated.

George,

Could you clarify what you mean by "true sense of the word 'intention'"? Because if what you mean is that the people responsible weren't thinking "We want to kill some innocent people qua innocent" -- as if they would have been disapoointed had they found out in hindsight that no one in Nagasaki was a civilian -- then that is certainly true. But that's not good enough to make their act blameless from a natural law point of view. It's not enough merely not to intend to kill an innocent person qua innocent; one must also not intentionally kill someone one knows to be innocent, even if the reason you are killing him is not that he is innocent.

In the case in question, those responsible they knew that the people who would be killed were mostly civilians, knew that the target had no significant military value (certainly not proportionate to the gravity of the destruction to the civilian population), etc. and bombed anyway, because they wanted to scare the hell out of the Japanese and make them more willing to surrender, and knew that killing lots of civilians would do that. Hence they intentionally killed people they knew to be innocent, even if their innocence wasn't the reason they killed them.

Compare: If you're trying to get Al Capone to come out of his hideout, may you kill his mother and threaten to kill his other relatives if he doesn't comply? No you may not, and teh fact that you're not killing his mother because she is innocent is irrelevant. She is innocent, you know she is, and you would be killing her anyway for the sake of scaring capone. That's just flatly immoral, and I submit that Nagasaki was immoral in an analogous way.

BTW, I am not fraternizing with any pacifist wankers, quasi-pacifist wankers, or any other wankers for that matter. The wankers take the position on this that they do because they think that all killing is bad, or that all killing short of (say) repelling the Nazis crossing the border is bad, or that all killing of civilians is bad, or some such. I don't agree with any of that. There is nothing in principle wrong with bombing a city for the purpose, say, of destroying the great many enemy munitions factories you know are hidden there even though you know that lots of civilians will die as a byproduct, because your intention is not to kill the civilians but merely to destroy the war-making capacity of the enemy, which you know this action will do. Double effect applies in this case. But it doesn't apply in the case of Nagasaki, because that is not why it was bombed.

Many thousands of non-combatants died in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. No one doubts it. In order to avoid that consequence, we could have forgone the use of nuclear weapons. We could have opted instead for a full-scale invasion of the Japanese mainland, in which case countless thousands of non-combatants also would have died -- in my view, many, many thousands more than were lost by the tactic we chose. Mainland invasion also would have cost many thousands more military lives as well, on both sides, as the deadly slogs through south Pacific islands made perfectly clear. Truman's tactic saved lives, both military and civilian, it seems to me, and I applaud him for it. He did right to win the war and to save lives doing so.

Alternatively, in order to save lies, Truman could have foregone expansive victory and fought instead to a partial victory, or even a standoff, something like he did in Korea. But that would have cost -- and it still does cost (in North Korea and elsewhere) -- many noncombatant and combatant lives even decades later. Or we simply could have stopped fighting against Japan altogether, in which case the Japanese empire would have continued to kill unnumbered innocent persons. In other words, there was simply no course of action, whether you apply to it the consequentialist label or any other label, where noncombatants would not have died by the thousands or even millions -- none. Fighting for victory, or fighting for victory another way, or fighting for partial victory, or ceasing to fight altogether -- all would have led to the deaths of many, many noncombatants. In the face of such hard realities, Truman had as his goal the laudable objective of victory with minimal loss of life. He achieved that goal. God bless Harry. Nazism and Japanese imperialism are dead. Had he remained steadfast, Chinese communism might be dead as well. (God bless Harry too for rebuilding Europe and Japan.)

Given what could be known at the time, and given the divided opinions among his advisers, I don't think a better tactic than Truman's was possible, Feserist attempts at selectively applying medieval sophistry after the fact notwithstanding.

if someone denies that innocent people were intentionally killed at Nagasaki, in the true sense of the word "intention," how would you respond?

George has been doing this for a long time, Ed. He's deeply invested in the idea that if faced with a really bad situation, such as an inability to kill the bad guy without simultaneously wiping out scads of innocents, the word 'intention' must be made to change. Thus he says to himself, "I didn't want to do it, but I had to do it. The consequences of not doing it are intolerable." As a result, he didn't intend to kill the innocents - even though he knew as an absolute fact that that was exactly what he was going to do - but only the bad guy.

It reminds me of Anscombe's story of the priest who told some Catholic schoolboys that the civilians of Hiroshima were there by accident.

Hmm, well, Bill, in that case it will be interesting to hear what George thinks we should do in the example of Al Capone's mother that I gave. And what Bauman thinks, for that matter.

I assume Pius Xll condemned the bombing, no? I know the Sisters of Charity, guardians of my soul, critics of my penmanship,and flayers of my knuckles, never did. I do doubt that Sister Annunciata, under whose gaze we learned fear, harbored any misgivings.

One must have a moral base apart from the strictures of philosophical categories, the bindings, & sometimes guides, of the human mind.

On the other hand, how numerous were those soldiers & marines who paced and stomped around Ulithi and other staging grounds cursing consequentialism, places where disappointment reigned ? Were their lives a moral predicate ?

Edward Teller who is generally regarded as the "Father of the Atomic Bomb" (Hans Bethe said "After the H-bomb was made, reporters started to call Teller the father of the H-bomb. For the sake of history, I think it is more precise to say that Stanislaw Ulam is the father, because he provided the seed, and Teller is the mother, because he remained with the child. As for me, I guess I am the midwife.") claimed that he regretted the use of the first atomic bombs on civilian cities during World War II. He also stated that before the bombing of Hiroshima he lobbied Robert Oppenheimer (the head of the Manhattan Project) to use the weapons first in a "demonstration" which could be witnessed by the Japanese high-command, government and citizenry before using them on civilian populations. This would at least have given them the chance to surrender and at that point you could then rightfully claim that bombing this cities was the final option due to the Japaneses refusal to surrender.

Could you clarify what you mean by "true sense of the word 'intention'"?

I’ll repeat the example that I gave Mike T. above:
If I go out to my mailbox during a rainstorm, I intend to get my mail, and I also intend to get wet. However, I intend the one in a different sense from how I intend the other. I intend to get my mail in a true, unqualified sense; and I intend to get wet in merely a certain, qualified sense. Only the former sense determines the object of the act. The U.S. military, on the other hand, intended the death of innocents in the latter sense.

But you yourself admit this very same distinction when you write:

Because if what you mean is that the people responsible weren't thinking "We want to kill some innocent people qua innocent" -- as if they would have been disapoointed had they found out in hindsight that no one in Nagasaki was a civilian -- then that is certainly true.

Right. Just as I would not be disappointed if I didn’t get wet going out for my mail. However, they would have been disappointed if the city were not destroyed, because this was their intention in the true sense of the word. Now if you wanted to make both senses of the word “intention” to have the same moral relevance, you would thereby invalidate all moral arguments from the principle of double effect. But PDE is valid. Therefore, the distinction holds.

Btw, you can't kill Capone's mother. That would be murder.

George,

Yes, but the bottom line is that:

(a) they intended to kill the civilians, and

(b) they knew that the civilians were innocent.

From a natural law point of view that suffices to make them guilty of serious immorality. And it doesn't matter that they would not have been disappointed if it had turned out that everyone in the city was not a civilian after all.

The case is relevantly parallel to the Capone case. If I shoot Capone's mother in the circumstances described, then even if I would not be disappointed if it turned out after the fact that it was not really Capone's mother but rather some other gangster in drag, that wouldn't affect my moral culpability at all. I would still be guilty of intentionally killing someone I believed to be innocent.

Did they intend to kill the innocent in the same sense that I intended to get my mail or in the sense that I intended to get wet?

Doesn't matter. They knew they were innocent, and they intended to kill them anyway. End of story.

(BTW, I think it's a stretch to say you "intend" to get wet; presumably you just know that you will in fact get wet, which is different. But again, it doesn't matter for the purpose at hand.)

I think it's a stretch to say you "intend" to get wet; presumably you just know that you will in fact get wet, which is different.

Right. Just as they just knew that innocents were going to be killed; it was not their true intention. You keep making my point for me.

"Just as they just knew that innocents were going to be killed; it was not their true intention."

George, I think you might be conflating end goal or result with intentions. You seem to be saying that killing innocent people wasn't the end goal of the bombing of Nagasaki, therefore they didn't really *intend* to kill them. But I think this is false. Just because killing innocent Japanese civilians may not have been their end goal, that doesn't mean that they didn't intend to kill them. When you say "true intention" you really mean the end goal. If I perform action X (the bombing of Nagasaki) with the belief that result Y will occur (innocent people will die) hoping that end result Z will occur (the Japanese will surrender) I still *intended* that Y happens, even though it may not be the final result I'm hoping for. Even though the final goal wasn't the killing of innocent people (or "true intention," as you say) the intent was still there, which I think is what Ed is saying.

"He also stated that before the bombing of Hiroshima he lobbied Robert Oppenheimer (the head of the Manhattan Project) to use the weapons first in a "demonstration" which could be witnessed by the Japanese high-command, government and citizenry before using them on civilian populations. This would at least have given them the chance to surrender and at that point you could then rightfully claim that bombing this cities was the final option due to the Japaneses refusal to surrender."

You don't give up half your nuclear arsenal in a mere demonstration you hope will evoke surrender. Showing off, so to speak, wouldn't have caused the Japanese to surrender. Devastation, not demonstration, was required. Serial defeats at the hands of the Allied forces in the south Pacific didn't persuade them. It seems unlikely any mere demonstration would have. If you don't speak the language of your enemy, they won't hear you. Mere demonstration was not the language of the Japanese empire.

Were there any paths of victory (whether partial or plenary victory) open to us in WWII that did not ential the loss of thousands of innocent lives? It appears not. Were there any paths even of our surrender that did not entail the loss of thousands of innocent lives? It appears not. Could we get Capone without killing his mother? We did.

Yes, George, if you were absolutely determined to retrieve your mail in the rain, then you intended to get wet. I know you didn't want to get wet, but since you just had to go out in the rain, you intended to get wet every bit as much as you intended to get the mail; since one act could not be accomplished without the other, the two are inextricable. Of course, you might have waited till the rain stopped, but, oh, by then someone might have stolen your mail.

...you would thereby invalidate all moral arguments from the principle of double effect.

Hang on, I'm channeling Zippy. Here he is: the principle of double effect doesn't apply if the act you're contemplating is intrinsically evil, such as slaughtering the innocent (unlike getting wet for which no one will accuse you of anything other than impatience; in other words, Ed's Capone analogy was better).

Right. Just as they just knew that innocents were going to be killed; it was not their true intention. You keep making my point for me.

George, that is sheer sophistry. They were trying to kill people, and they knew the people in question were innocent. That they had a larger goal in mind in doing so doesn't change the fact that trying to kill the people in question was their immediate goal. By contrast, in your scenario you are not trying to get wet; it just happens while you are trying to do something else.

By your "reasoning" someone could justify getting an abortion by saying "I don't intend for the fetus to die; I just want not to be pregnant, and unfortunately killing the fetus is the only way to accomplish that." The fact that such a person ultimately just wants not to be pregnant and would be happy to accomplish that through some other means if it were possible doesn't change the fact that the means she has actually chosen involves intentionally killing the fetus.

Your problem is that you mistakenly think that "intentionally doing x" means "having x as one's ultimate goal in carrying out a certain action." But that is not what it means, certainly not in the context of natural law theory or Catholic moral theology.

Edward Feser wrote: "1. The natural law has to do with our natural ends, not with the supernatural end that (from a Christian POV) God has, as a matter of grace rather than nature, raised us to... while we could never take it upon ourselves intentionally to kill the innocent, God can do so as part of His intention to realize for us a supernatural end...5. The people in the stories in question were acting as God's agents, carrying out a directly revealed divine order...7. So, the examples in question no more entail the wearing of impaled infant pins than a scientist who believes that miracles are at least in theory possible (as even an atheist scientist might) should for that reason be wearing a Resurrection pin."

OK. So, the attrocities (slaughter of innocent men, women, infants and animals; destruction of entire cities; etc.) that are endorsed and indeed required by God in the Old Testament are not immoral on your Christian morality, because God is presumed to have had some (albeit mysterious) supernatural reasons for endorsing these otherwise highly immoral acts, and we can't judge him by the same moral standards that apply to humans.

That being the case, I think I have a pin idea that better represents your Christian morality: in the foreground, soldiers are "killing everything that breathes" in a city they are burning down, and joyously impaling infants on swords. And in the background, God's hand is reaching down from the heavens with a 'thumbs up' sign, and a heavenly word-bubble is descending from the clouds saying "Awesome!". That about sums it up, based on what you're saying. Are you happier with that one?

Yeah, that's really wicked cool, Justin, thanks.

Want to not cop out, Edward Feser? Or were you really serious? And you can also expect a response to your reply to myself in a day or two.... or whenever I get around to responding to someone who thinks it's wrong to lie to a known serial killer who asks where your wife is so he can murder her. Really?


All of which shows me the total and utter uselessness of Catholic philosophy as it is practised now when it comes to matters concerning war, because in the end it degenerates to the following question: Suppose if possible there were only a single innocent in Hiroshima and everyone else an agent of Tojo, would it then be permissible to drop the atom bomb? No, says the Anscombe acolytes, one can't do evil so that good can come of it. Yes say the cynical consequentialists, it is meet that one man dies for the salvation of many. The whole argument is designed for paralysis and statis. I'm sure glad that none of the Popes who launched and sustained the Crusades or the agents of the Reconquista sought sage advice from current philosophers.

As for Dr Teller, if he were so sure that hard men such as Anami and Tojo would have been impressed by a show off Kyushu, (to begin with the Americans had only two bombs) why then did he continue with his own work on the H-Bomb ? Surely Stalin would have been scared witless on 6th August. Scientists and generals are not above giving needling comments when it not their ox that is being gored.

By demonstration he did not necessarily mean wasting the bomb. A demonstration could include attacking a military or government stronghold, which wouldn't have involved the direct targeting of civilians.


What if the demo bomb turned out to be a dud? That was a real possibilty, Truman would have looked like a fool after threathening to rain death and destruction from the skies.

Teller could have been sick of the moral preening that Oppenheimer was indulging in after the bombs were dropped, when Oppenheimer was indeed by all accounts a gung-ho administrator in driving the development of the bombs. Being a man with a vinegarish turn, Teller quite possibly was indicating to the said Oppenheimer that the time for showing moral qualms was before the bombs were dropped and not after.
Incidentally it is a lie (asserted by none here) that the atom bombs were part of a racist plan to destroy Japan. The bombs were meant for Nazi Germany, quite a few scientists quit when Germany surrendered.

Ed,

Simple question: how does a modern military conduct operations in or near an urban area without risking "serious immorality" given the likelihood that its weapons will cause foreseeable civilian casualties? If you need an example, then here's one: if the Iraqi Army were holed up in Baghdad with several armor divisions, artillery, etc., how would the US Army take the city without compromising itself according to your view of natural law.

Ivan,


Suppose if possible there were only a single innocent in Hiroshima and everyone else an agent of Tojo, would it then be permissible to drop the atom bomb? No, says the Anscombe acolytes, one can't do evil so that good can come of it. Yes say the cynical consequentialists, it is meet that one man dies for the salvation of many.

I know too little about Anscombe, but I see nothing in the comments of E. Feser indicating that he would judge the bombing immoral.
To my mind, your choice of a completely inapplicable analogy shows that you don’t understand his position. You are confusing collateral nd unpreventable, with planned and calculated.

So let me change the analogy. Suppose that Hiroshima was empty of people save a single (and innocent) individual. And suppose that he was a person deeply loved, revered and admired in Japan and his violent death would convince the Japanese that their gods abandoned them and thus end the Japanese will to continue fighting.
If Hiroshima were bombed to attain the capitulation of Japan THROUGH the death of that person that would be an act of consequentialism and as far a I understand E. Feser he would think it immoral.

But let’s say Hiroshima was inhabited by two persons: one completely innocent and one whose continuing living were crucial for Japan’s ability to wage war. Again, if I understand E. Feser correctly, the bombing of Hiroshima although causing death of the innocent half of Hiroshima’s population would be morally justifiable because it was designed to kill someone directly involved in Japan’s war against America.

Yes say the cynical consequentialists, it is meet that one man dies for the salvation of many.

Well, I am not sure. True, his death resulted in saving lives of many. But he did not die FOR salvation of many. That would involve his wanting to die (for the salvation of many). He was sacrificed against his will. A completely different story.

Now would I, being an US marine under the Japanese fire, argue with those who planned and carried out the sacrificial offering? Honestly, I don’t know.

Mike,

Not to answer for Ed, but first of all: you don't glass the city with a nuke. Judicious use of precision aerial munitions is a good start. Contra Ivan, Catholic Just War doctrine doesn't say you can't attack military targets in a city because one civilian is there and might get killed, it says you can't deliberately target the civilians (which, to our shame, is what we did in Japan).

Mike T,

If I'm correct, I think they consider there to me a major difference between deliberately targeting civilians and civilians as collateral damage. I think that's what this problem comes down to more than anything.

Consequentialism depends on intention - the intent to peform or not perform an act based on the goodness of the outcome regardless of the means.

Speaking as a scientist with an interest in history, there are some facts that may weigh on the judgment that Truman made a consequentialist choice:

1. Even up until the first bomb was exploded at Almagordo, no one knew what the effects would be. There were some scientists who were afraid that the bomb would blow the atmosphere off of the earth, killing all life. Enrico Fermi, using dimensional analysis, made a correct estimate to within 10%. Today, problems where the solution is guessed at making reasonable approximations (such as how many tv sets there are in the United States) are called Fermi Problems, in his honor.

2. Truman assumed office on Apr. 12, 1945. Wikipedia comments:

Truman had been vice president for only 82 days when President Roosevelt died, April 12, 1945. He had had very little meaningful communication with Roosevelt about world affairs or domestic politics after being sworn in as vice president, and was completely uninformed about major initiatives relating to the successful prosecution of the war—including, notably, the top secret Manhattan Project, which was about to test the world's first atomic bomb.[86]

3. The first test was on July 15, 1945, only 22 days before the first bomb was dropped.

4. When Truman was originally informed about the bomb, he could not have been given very complete information, because we didn't have very complete information. The first test was still three months away. He may or may not have had the bomb described as anything other than a superbomb, like a gigantic blockbuster.

5. The effects of radiation were alomst completely unknown. The effects of the bombing at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not known until after the war. The reports of the effects of radiation would filter in after that.

6. The bomb used at Hiroshima was a Uranium contact bomb. The one used at Nagasaki was a Plutonium implosion bomb. These are two different systems. Uranium is a typical dirty bomb, giving off radioactive particulate matter. Plutonium is more of a direct explosion.

7. Given all of these factors, it is possible that Truman did not, in fact, realize that this bomb was different both in size and kind from previous bombs. Truman was prosecuting a war and perhaps he saw no difference between 1000 tons of conventional bombs ina carpet bombing of a city and one bomb thatwould do the same thing all at once.

Making the charge of consequentialism in dropping the bomb depends on knowing the mind of some of the people involved in a way that history does not now know. We now know that any use of atomic weapons is immoral, but back then, given the limited knowledge, perceptions were certainly not so clear cut. Anscombe called Truman a war criminal after the fact, not before he dropped the bomb. Indeed, how could she have known about the bomb? Her argument, it seems to me, is a form of retrojection from the present to the past, even if it happens to be right (which is questionable). To sustain a charge of consequentialism, she (and the presenters, here) would have had to have known the mind of Truman on the day the bomb was dropped. I contend that this is still not as clear as it should be and the argument for consequentialism in this case are contingent on those facts.

The Chicken

Aaron K.:

When you say "true intention" you really mean the end goal.

No I don’t. When I say “true intention” I mean either the end goal OR the means to that end, which are nothing more than ends subordinated to the end goal. My thesis is that the planners of Nagasaki neither intended to kill innocents as an end goal nor as a means to that end.

Ed Feser:

Your problem is that you mistakenly think that "intentionally doing x" means "having x as one's ultimate goal in carrying out a certain action."

No, that’s not my problem at all. See my response to Aaron.


Bill Luse:

Yes, George, if you were absolutely determined to retrieve your mail in the rain, then you intended to get wet. I know you didn't want to get wet, but since you just had to go out in the rain, you intended to get wet every bit as much as you intended to get the mail;

Really? Not according to Ed Feser. He writes above:
"I think it's a stretch to say you "intend" to get wet; presumably you just know that you will in fact get wet, which is different."

Maybe you two should work that out between yourselves.


Hang on, I'm channeling Zippy. Here he is: the principle of double effect doesn't apply if the act you're contemplating is intrinsically evil, such as slaughtering the innocent

Might I suggest channeling someone who actually understands the principle of double effect?

Ed Feser:

By your "reasoning" someone could justify getting an abortion by saying "I don't intend for the fetus to die; I just want not to be pregnant, and unfortunately killing the fetus is the only way to accomplish that."

You’re right. Someone could argue that they don’t directly intend to kill the fetus, but only to remove the fetus from the womb in order to end the pregnancy. In that case, only removing the fetus (means) and ending the pregnancy (end goal) would be directly intended. However, if they intended to remove the fetus by means of a method that directly killed him, that would involve directly intending to kill the fetus. But it still remains that abortion does not necessarily involve directly killing the fetus.

HOWEVER, abortion is an act that is wicked per se, not only because it results in the death of the fetus. Therefore, it can never be justified on the grounds that it does not necessarily involve the direct intention to kill the fetus. Destroying a city of the enemy, on the other hand, is not evil per se. Therefore, it may be justified according to the principle of double effect.

I posted that the Japanese did ask for Surrender. The following commenters did not notice or did not read. The Masked Chicken even comes out with this statement:

Making the charge of consequentialism in dropping the bomb depends on knowing the mind of some of the people involved in a way that history does not now know. We now know that any use of atomic weapons is immoral, but back then, given the limited knowledge, perceptions were certainly not so clear cut.

"Knowing the mind"???? The Japanese asked for surrender, yet

Anybody who actually read any real history of the war knows the Japanese government was going to fight to the bitter end, even if it meant the death of most of the Japanese population." by steve dalton

Really? Is this the case?

In Leftism Revisted (page 492, #1181), Erik von Kuenhelt-Leddihn, a Catholic Aristocrat, writes: The argument that the bomb was really humane because it shorted the war is worthless: JAPAN HAD TWICE---via the Vatican and Moscow---desperately tried to get humanly acceptable armistice conditions. All they received was the nefarious UnConditional Surrender formula".

The Phantom Blogger writes: This would at least have given them the chance to surrender and at that point you could then rightfully claim that bombing this cities was the final option due to the Japaneses refusal to surrender.

First one has got to understand the circumstances and there is NO understanding that. The Moral question is not "Drop" or "Not Drop", the question is the refusal of the US to negotiate and make acceptable terms. Dropping the Bombs is a moot question! The Ethics and Morality exist FIRST in the Unconditional surrender formula! Not in the Bomb. The Bomb is the consequence of the Unconditional surrender formula and the Need of the US to Occupy Japan!!!

The Masked Chicken comes to the heart of this question the "Knowing of the minds of the participants"! What occassioned the need to drop when the US Government KNEW that Japan offered to surrender!!! That is the question, gentleman.

And I don't understand for the life of me why following people still continue in the same thread AND refuse to accept knowledge that changes the whole parameters of this discussion! Is there willful ignorance out there? We don't want to read or understand history?

If I'm correct, I think they consider there to me a major difference between deliberately targeting civilians and civilians as collateral damage. I think that's what this problem comes down to more than anything.

The reason I bring this up is that a number of the Catholics posting on here have argued "intent" in ways that imply that if you were to target a tank column moving through a neighborhood, you would have "intended" those civilians deaths as a consequence since you knew that the bombs would likely blow up the civilian buildings in the area. Where does the "intent" line get drawn here? If a soldier is pinned down by a sniper shooting from an active hospital, and all he has that can guarantee his safety is a RPG, can he blast that part of the hospital with the RPG (even while knowing in advance that his actions will likely directly result in civilian deaths)?

If 200 combatants are moving in a crowd of 500 people in a 3rd world market, is it acceptable for a gunship to open up with its chain guns and rockets? Is the pilot intending to cause those deaths for a greater good, or are those deaths a simple fact of the tragedy of people being in the wrong place at the wrong time in a war zone?

How about this one...

Would it have been immoral for the Navy to carpet bomb the areas where the militias were operating in the Battle of Mogadishu to help the Rangers retreat? Our side reported that women and children frequently helped attack US troops. Would the Navy have been in the wrong for disregarding civilian casualties in such a case in order to protect our troops?

WLindsayWheeler,

I did see you make this point, but everyone else carried on as if it was wrong and that there wasn't evidence to back it up (I think it was because you did not provide direct evidence, just an instantiated claim of a historian/philosopher). So I answered in relation to there point that the Japanese wouldn't have surrendered without the dropping of the bomb, and tried to show that bombing civilians was not necessarily the only option available to them.

Also to The Masked Chicken the fact the Truman would be willing to drop a Bomb which effects he did not (or the scientists involved in the Manhattan Project did not) understand, does suggest irresponsibility on his behalf.

And I'd also add that the response to the question about blockades is less than useful. It seems that it's ok to blockade a country if, in our hearts, we are targeting their government, but wrong if, in our hearts, we are targeting their government indirectly through its people. If North Korea could no longer produce food, the US Navy was blockading its ports and sunk a shipment of food, would that not kill civilians once the effect propagates down the causality chain? (or would we get off the hook because it didn't have a pure cause-effect relationship?)

That should be substantiated rather than instantiated.


T Hanski, Chris M thanks for clarifying matters.

The problem is not consequentalism or the Natural Law. The Problem is Virtue---or the lack of it anywhere in America.

Virtue literally means "To be a Man". The First virtue is Andrea, Manliness. Virtues arose out of Aristocracy and Warrior cultures. It is a Warrior thing. Virtue is not a democratic value or of capitalism.

Warriors in the West do not target civilians. The Spartans when they defeated the enemy, would only pursue for a short way to make sure defeat was a fact and stopped. Unlike the Hebrews in the Bible that continued for days running down a defeated foe and slaying everything or capturing a town and putting everything to the sword. The Eastern Way of War is different from the Western Way of War.

If the Americans wanted to invade Japan---they should have done it the right way and invaded. They knew beforehand that they didn't want to do that. They Knew that there was going to be heavy casualties and town by town, street by street fighting. They knew this all beforehand. Yet, these same Americans persisted in the fake idea of Invasion and found a way around it by dropping the Atom Bomb.

This is called cognitive dissonance. Where you seek something impossible and yet still want it. A warrior meets another warrior on the battlefield. A warrior doesn't sneak around and club his defenseless family. That is not a warrior with manliness, but a coward. To have a bomb do what you are supposed to do.

If the cost of invasion was too high, it is Responsible to seek terms. That is the Right thing to do; the virtuous thing to do. But no, The Americans would not consider anything else but stay the course of impossibility and that is what necessitated the dropping of the bomb. The supposedly consequentialism of this decision to drop the bomb is made by effeminacy, by cowardice, by seeking the impossible, by a General Will that would NOT recognize its limitations.

If you can not go "a mano-a mano" with the other, then you have NO business going to war or make war. If the Americans would not invade due to the high cost, then it was the responsibility, the warrior thing, to accept surrender terms with the Japanese and negotiate. The Americans wanted Unconditional surrender. That in itself is immoral. And in the light of the Americans unwillingness to face the enemy face to face, in this light it becomes unvirtuous, unmanly, irresponsible, and cowardly to continue the strategy of unconditional surrender and invasion. This is duplicitous conduct by Americans. To Demand Invasion and occupation of another country---and know that they didn't want to do it and could not! By some estimates it would have cost upwards of 500,000 lives and maybe more of a year.

Let's throw in the firebombing of Dresden and Tokyo for good measure as well where American Mustangs machinegunned fleeing Germans from Dresden. The problem is not the Natural Law, consequentialism or no consequentualism, it is a problem of Virtue. A warrior attacks another warrior. It is beneath the Western warrior code to attack non-combatants.

hey Ivan,
I'm glad we agree.
Thank you
Cheers,
T.H.

"Knowing the mind"???? The Japanese asked for surrender, yet

Obviously, I was referring to Truman and his advisers, not the Japanese.

Also to The Masked Chicken the fact the Truman would be willing to drop a Bomb which effects he did not (or the scientists involved in the Manhattan Project did not) understand, does suggest irresponsibility on his behalf.

Perhaps. How much data one feels one needs in order to make a decision depends on the structure of events. Sometimes, it is difficult to know that one doesn't know enough to do what one does. I am not saying that is the case, here. Truman should have waited longer to get more facts about the bomb, but if he saw the bomb as nothing more than a bigger, stronger, faster conventional weapon, then he might not have known he didn't understand the ramifications. All I am saying is that any charges labeled at Truman must be judged in the light of his understanding and human limitations as it relates to temperament, understanding of the science, newness in office, the desire to make a good impression, etc. Could he have been a consequentialist, sure. He might also have been just too green to make a decent decision and was trigger-happy. I am just urging caution in judging the man. Consequentialism is a personal stance. Since I do not know the person, I can only guess at his motivations. God knows for sure and will judge rightly.

The Chicken

Ivan

We didn't start the War with Japan and no 'warrior ethic' can enjoin draftees to invade rather than drop the Big One on a nation of hardened fanatics.

In fact we DID do the manly warrior tactic, giving fair warning to both cities, the only time in history.

In all the above discussion everybody keeps assiduously ignoring the planeloads of leaflets dropped on both cities by unescorted planes, days before.

All we did was nuke two cities that could just as well been evacuated beforehand.
We would have been quite satisfied both times at destroying an empty city.

This was quite unlike the rest of the war, when we did bomb civilians, and I condemn that as much as you do.

But every death at Nagasaki was by choice of those who stayed when they should have departed as soon as they heard about Hiroshima.
All we did was torch a pair of firetraps that could just as easily been empty.

If we had been morally pure and virtuous in our war conduct then those two cities would be the only ones to have been bombed at all.

In a link above provided by "I am not Spartacus" it states:

'In yet another label, the Smithsonian asserts as fact that "Special leaflets were then dropped on Japanese cities three days before a bombing raid to warn civilians to evacuate." The very next sentence refers to the bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, implying that the civilian inhabitants of Hiroshima were given a warning. In fact, no evidence has ever been uncovered that leaflets warning of atomic attack were dropped on Hiroshima. Indeed, the decision of the Interim Committee was "that we could not give the Japanese any warning."

I've seen this stated before in other places, so it would appear to be true. It seems to be accepted that we didn't leaflet Hiroshima, but we did leaflet Nagasaki.

But every death at Nagasaki was by choice of those who stayed when they should have departed as soon as they heard about Hiroshima.

Did everyone hear about Hiroshima?

The Chicken

In fact we DID do the manly warrior tactic, giving fair warning to both cities, the only time in history.

Warnings of impending doom have been given many times before in history, usually as a precursor to demanding surrender (Thermopylae comes to mind). It is not an unheard of occurrence.

And how fair is a warning if the claims seem rather less than credible? Who before 9/11 took Bin Laden's warnings of destruction to America all that seriously?

We dropped some leaflets that said get out (in three days, no less) or we will destroy your city with a weapon never seen before blahblahblah - sounds worse than a B grade Sci Fi Flick - how seriously were they supposed to take this, how did they know it was not propaganda (and how prepared are you today, much less in 1945, to pack up and leave for ever in three days?).

The "warning" smacks of a cheap attempt at cya.

By the way, are there any copies or exmples of this leaflet? What exactly did they say?

Did they intend to kill the innocent in the same sense that I intended to get my mail or in the sense that I intended to get wet?

You never intended to get wet. That was just a collateral occurrence to you walking over to the mailbox. If it had not been raining, you could have achieved your objective of getting the mail just as well (probably better).

Here, to end the war, they intended to create such devastation to instill fear that would cause surrender. If no portion of the population had been killed, it would not have had the same impact in instilling the fear.

They intended to kill the innocent in the sense that you intend to get wet when you jump in the pool to cool off. Getting wet is the means you use to cool off. Killing the innocents (via dropping the bomb to terrorize) is the means used to end the war.

It was said: "We didn't start the War with Japan..."

Really?

As an American Researcher has said, "America is the seat of world revolution". The American Revolution fueled the French Revolution. In the book, Liberty or Equality by Erik von Kuenhelt-Leddihn, which should be standard reading by every single Catholic and others, Woodrow Wilson wanted to join WWI in order to further the transformation of the modern world. Von Kuenhelt-Leddihn points out that after the war, Woodrow Wilson demanded the abolishing of all the monarchies of Europe; the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and the 24 monarchies and principalities of Germany. From their Woodrow Wilson, with the help of Colonel House, pushed his globalist agenda of the League of Nations. This was important.

Come to WWII, the same thing. Franklin Delano Roosevelt wanted to re-establish the League of Nations with this war. He had to get in. Japan did NOT start the War! First WWI was started by Anarchists to destroy Europe. Second, WWII was a continuation of WWI; the Leftist agenda of Destruction in order to build the NWO. FDR wanted War!

John V. Denson reviews the book The Pearl Harbor Myth: Rethinking the Unthinkable by George Victor at LewRockwell.com. He writes: Roosevelt wanted to get into the European War but he had been unsuccessful in provoking Germany; therefore, he considered the sacrifice of Pearl Harbor and the Philippines as the best way to get into the European War through the back door of Japan.

Not only does this author propose that FDR knew of the Pearl Harbor attack (Why were none of the aircraft carriers in the harbor?), but that Roosevelt did anything he could to antagonize the Japanese. At WWI the Japanese were our faithful allies. Starting in the twenties, the Americans and the American State Department did everything possible to purposely antagonize the Japanese.

The Japanese started the war????

How about Goaded? Is it moral to goad a person, nation into war? How about Goaded into attacking first? There is evil in high places. America is not innocent. It is the perpetrator. It instigated it and then feigned victomhood and then had the gall to drop atomic bombs on innocent civilians?

FDR wanted to advance into the NWO. In order to get into the war in Germany---it was necessary to have Japan attack.

And now what was the purpose of the Unconditional surrender of the Americans????

I ask you all. What was it? What did the Americans accomplish in WWI? The Destruction of all monarchies. The purpose of the Unconditional Surrender was to get rid of the Japanese Emperor! and to transform that society!

To sit there and take some moral or ethical arguments out a sitution where you think all parties and situations are on equal footing or that all parties are innocent, with no prior baggage, no hidden agendas, are all blank slates is just foolhardy. You can not talk of morals and ethics when the parties or one party involved are morally bankrupt and downright evil. There is not an "equal playing field". There never was. The talk of consequentalism is all false and just empty air for it presupposes that the American decision to drop is written on a blank slate but in reality the American decision was just part and parcel of a larger global strategic ideological strategy of re-engineering. This re-engineering demolishes any grounds to speak morally or ethically on any action decided by government agents. America is the seat of world revolution so morality or ethics do not figure in. It is of no consequence. What matters, just like all leftist policies, is action; action towards progress. Ideology is all. Ideology demolishes morality and ethics. Ideology bulldozes over this silly stupid quizzling system of morality or ethics. Getting rid of Monarchy and Empires is what matters. To hell with your natural law, morality and ethics. It is silly to talk morality and natural law in the midst of ideology; they don't matter.

Devastation, not demonstration, was required.

Exactly. That's why they intended to kill the innocents. They wanted to show the Japanese what's what. The means they chose was to decimate two of their civilian populations.

And seriously, 3 days warning (for Nagasaki, 0 for Hiroshima), and they expected them to petition the Emperor, have him acquiesse to total surrender, and convince his generals, and then sue for peace IN 3 STINKING DAYS?!?!? IN 1945!!! - no "email" campaigns, most of the communications infrastructure had been bombed repeatedly, and they seriously expected 3 days to be sufficient.

Are you freaking kidding me? DO you realize how ridiculous and asinine that sounds?!?

Hell, we can't even accomplish anything regarding our Emperor Obama in three months, let alone 3 days, and we are light years ahead of 1945 war torn Japan wrt communications capabilities.

The more I think about this ridiculous "leaflet" argument, the more it infuriates me.

John V. Denson reviews the book The Pearl Harbor Myth: Rethinking the Unthinkable by George Victor at LewRockwell.com. He writes: Roosevelt wanted to get into the European War but he had been unsuccessful in provoking Germany; therefore, he considered the sacrifice of Pearl Harbor and the Philippines as the best way to get into the European War through the back door of Japan.

Not only does this author propose that FDR knew of the Pearl Harbor attack (Why were none of the aircraft carriers in the harbor?), but that Roosevelt did anything he could to antagonize the Japanese. At WWI the Japanese were our faithful allies. Starting in the twenties, the Americans and the American State Department did everything possible to purposely antagonize the Japanese.

FDR and his administration did know about Pearl Harbour before it took place as there are intelligence reports that prove it, but nobody took them seriously at the time. But I don't accept this conspiracy theory pushed by Anti-War Libertarians, that these incidents were deliberate actions on behalf of the American government in order to invoke war. You should always be skeptical of the scholarship and analysis of the Lew Rockwell/Mises Institute bunch and the books they like or admire, in relation to war and historical events, that aren't about economics (sometimes you have to be careful with there economics and philosophy as well, but not to the same degree) as they seem to only like books that confirm there pre-conceived ideas and personal prejudices, rather than books that seek truth and objectivity in there analysis. They have been knowing to take things out of context deliberately.

"Exactly. That's why they intended to kill the innocents. They wanted to show the Japanese what's what. The means they chose was to decimate two of their civilian populations."

It was either that or kill even more civilians, even more Japanese soldiers and even more American soldiers in a full-scale invasion of the Japanese mainland. Victory could not have been gotten with less death than was inflicted. Given their devotion to the Emporer, the Japanese were not even remotely inclined to surrender. There was no reasonable prospect of victory at a lower price.

Or is it that you prefer we surrendered instead?

C matt: You never intended to get wet.

I maintain he intended to get wet as soon as he stepped into the rain but, yes, you're right that "getting wet" is not intrinsic to "getting the mail." He tried this analogy a long time ago on another thread and it's as stupid now as it was then. Getting wet has no moral content. It's a big nothing. Now if getting the mail meant something terrible would happen to someone else, at one and the same time, as a result of this single action, but getting the mail was so important that he had to permit the terrible thing, then he'd have an analogy. But no, he wants to equate getting wet with slaughtering innocents. It's stupid but he loves it.

Getting wet has no moral content.

It does if you are the Wicked Witch of the West...

The Chicken

It was either that or kill even more civilians, even more Japanese soldiers and even more American soldiers in a full-scale invasion of the Japanese mainland. Victory could not have been gotten with less death than was inflicted.

You know this, how? Even in this case, it gives the people on the ground a chance to repent. They may not, but in a slower-scale war many things could have happened. Suppose a plague broke out that was most contagious against Asians? Many things could have happened. There could have been earthquakes.

The Chicken

It was either that or kill even more civilians, even more Japanese soldiers and even more American soldiers in a full-scale invasion of the Japanese mainland. Victory could not have been gotten with less death than was inflicted.

It is this same thinking that is used to argue for population control. "We must control the population, because if we don't, even more horrible things will happen." It is really difficult to predict the future.

The Chicken


Bill I am not making the argument that the Americans should not have dropped the bomb. While there were many fighting men (such as the authour Paul Fussell) who were overjoyed to be spared the carnage, there would have been a similar number who through all their fears welcomed the prospect of taking the fight to the Japanese mainland to avenge their dead and indeed to show off their prowess. This includes hardened US veterans of the Pacific and the British Commonwealth forces fighting down in Burma. In French Indo-China, the Japanese commander was preparing a horrible end to the Frenchmen there. All of the French forces would have volunteered for Pacific service had that happened. And what about the Chinese forces, those practitioners of the 'human wave' tactic? The time for courtly jousts was well and truly over; Truman prevented the slaughter of millions of Japanese by dropping the bombs.

He tried this analogy a long time ago on another thread and it's as stupid now as it was then. . . It's stupid but he loves it.

Not only that, Bill, but get this: my mailbox is attached to my house! I don’t even have to go outside to get my mail; so I’d never have to get wet anyway. And even if my mailbox were down at the curb, during a rainstorm I’d just say, “Screw it. I’ll wait ‘til it stops raining. It’s probably just bills anyway.” So you see, Bill, my analogies are not just stupid, they’re also nothing but a tissue of lies. Hey, but what else do you expect from a guy who tries to defend mass murder?

Bill I am not making the argument that the Americans should not have dropped the bomb.

This appears to be addressed to me, but I have no idea why.


Sorry I should have spelled out "Bill Parkyn"

"Truman prevented the slaughter of millions of Japanese by dropping the bombs."

So what's the percentage of permissible killings of civilians in order to save a larger number of lives? Is it okay to kill 250,000 to save a couple million? Does ten percent cut it? If so, can that figure be extrapolated up or down, or is there some type of sliding scale?

For instance, could you kill 25 people to save 250? Seems a little harsh. How about killing a million to save 10 million?
Maybe we need some sort of "progessive" continuum like we have with taxes. The more lives you're saving the greater percentage of people you're allowed to kill.

Chicken,
No war ever was, and no war ever could be, won on the Anscombe basis. We know, indeed we know it as certain as we can know anything in the future, that if we go to war noncombatants will die. No matter how smart the smart bombs, no matter how precise the riflemen, noncombatants will die. If you wish to avoid the death of noncombatants, you cannot go to war at all -- in which case noncombatants will die at the hands of those we fail to defeat, like the Nazis, Fascists, Communists, and Jihadis -- not to mention the Japanese Empire.

In other words, if you wish to theorize for the real world, the fallen world that is, you must begin here: noncombatants will die no matter what you do or don't do.

Rob,
There's no calculus of percentage. First, you win the war. Second, you do it with the least possible loss of life that your limited powers of prediction permit.

Chicken, quoting me you say and then ask:

"It was either that or kill even more civilians, even more Japanese soldiers and even more American soldiers in a full-scale invasion of the Japanese mainland. Victory could not have been gotten with less death than was inflicted.

You know this, how?"

I told you exactly how this could be known: Judging from the colossal loss of life both sides endured as we fought our way from island to island in the south Pacific, we knew that any full scale invasion of the densely populated Japanese mainland would cost even more lives than if we did what what Truman chose and limited the devastation to one or two places. You don't get a culture that gives rise to the Kamikaze mentality to surrender without devastation. In a ground assault on Japan, that mentality will raise its deadly head all along the battle front, from young folks to old, both male and female, just as it does now with Jihadis. The foreseeable carnage of that approach to victory far surpasses what was expected from Truman's approach.

Furthermore, the supply line for the Allies, in the case of a full scale invasion of Japan, which would stretch both from Europe and the US to Japan, and was far too unwieldy, and therefore ineffective, to rely upon in a long term invasion, especially when the Japaneses supply line inside Japan was so very manageable. That enormous tactical advantage was not one we could give the Japanese, who were incredibly difficult to defeat even without that disadvantage. We tried it Korea, and it did not work.

First, you win the war. Second, you do it with the least possible loss of life that your limited powers of prediction permit.

How does that preclude using terrorism as a means to an end (assuming you believe that by terrorizing a populace you can win a war faster or with ultimately fewer casualties)? Would desecrating enemy dead or defiling their religious sites be acceptable if it resulted in a quicker victory via demoralizing their civilian populace? What about mass rapes or slaughtering their children? Is victory through fear acceptable through whatever means so long as it meets your two criteria (victory with least possible loss of life)? If not, how do we judge what means are acceptable?

Also, what would have occurred if the Japanese refused to surrender after Nagasaki? I ask this in seriousness since I honestly don't know what our contingency plans were. Invasion? Wait for more nukes to be built and keep dropping them? Blockade? Get the Soviets to jump in?

Also, I've read somewhere that the Japanese agreed to the unconditional surrender provided they could keep the office of the Emperor. The Allies disallowed that. Hence, they were willing to meet all the conditions except one, and we still bombed them.

Does anyone know if there is any truth to that? If there is, it smacks of great hubris on our part and is reminiscent of the German/Serbian situation at the start of WWI.

Michael says:

No war ever was, and no war ever could be, won on the Anscombe basis...

If you wish to avoid the death of noncombatants, you cannot go to war at all --

You are attacking a straw man. Neither Anscombe nor natural law theory say that killing non-combatants is inherently immoral. They say that the intentional killing of non-combatants is inherently immoral. If you need to bomb a city for the purpose of destroying munitions factories and you know that non-combatants will die as a side effect, then that is permissible under the principle of double effect. But that is not what happened at Nagasaki: There civilians were intentionally targeted.

First, it should be said that the death among civilians during war is an historical fact,e.g., woe to the city that thwarted Alexander's will. History may not forgive but it can instruct, it may even deflate pomposity.

Lest it be thought I wish to deprive any one here of parading their moral stature I will now provide our poseurs with a golden"two wrongs don't make a right" moment, without which no display of righteousness is complete.
It was both the Germans and Japanese who initiated mass war against civilians and if a moral claim is to be presented for not returning the favor, then issues of reciprocity are null. He who does not practice X may not claim X as a benefit or advantage, more so true in war, where it may be said absent any refutation that the stakes are both different and incalculably higher.
As posted above and suitably ignored, members of the Japanese General Staff favored continuing the war, after the two A Bombs were dropped. Something about Bushido I dare say. That is the sole reason the Emperor took matters into his hands and called for surrender.
Countless American and Allied lives were therefore spared, speaking of consequences.

PS on the issue of unconditional surrender, you may thank FDR for blabbing at, I think Tehran and setting what amounted to policy, one from which Germany arguably suffered more then Japan.
Bottom line and I hope the end; whatever you may wish for apropos of civilians in wartime, across the centuries, across Continents and weapons used, technologies and regimes, causes won or lost, it is a consistent truth that civilians die.

And in case no one mentioned it, may I throw in Afghanistan & something about revisiting Rules of Engagement. Why?
It's war, that's why.

If you need to bomb a city for the purpose of destroying munitions factories and you know that non-combatants will die as a side effect, then that is permissible under the principle of double effect.

That’s true. But you do realize, don’t you, that some of your fellow Anscombists, like Zippy and Bill Luse, would consider that intrinsically evil.

But that is not what happened at Nagasaki: There civilians were intentionally targeted.

How on earth do you know this? Why is it not (at least) possible that it was the superstructure of the city (along with its power and prestige) that was targeted; and the innocent civilians were, as in the former example, killed as a side effect?

"Neither Anscombe nor natural law theory say that killing non-combatants is inherently immoral. They say that the intentional killing of non-combatants is inherently immoral."

Yes, and why is this so hard for some folks to understand?

"that is not what happened at Nagasaki: There civilians were intentionally targeted"

Ditto Dresden and Hamburg, where residential areas were purposely bombed.

"It was both the Germans and Japanese who initiated mass war against civilians and if a moral claim is to be presented for not returning the favor, then issues of reciprocity are null."

Are you saying that since they did it first we were justified in using the same tactics in return against them? One would have hoped that chivalry wasn't entirely dead in the West by the 1940's.

"How on earth do you know this?"

Seems to me that if you drop a bomb on a city which you know will obliterate the whole place, civilian residents included, and your purpose is in fact to obliterate the city, which includes those residents, then you are targeting the civilians because your intent is to destroy the entire city, making no distinction between military and civilian targets.

How on earth do you know this?

Because those who dropped the bomb said as much?

Yes Rob G, that's what I am saying ,exactly, precisely, and a lot more if necessary, though I think I did throw a couple of extras in my post.
And since when Rob have I been guilty of equivocation or lack of clarity?

Does anyone know if there is any truth to that? If there is, it smacks of great hubris on our part and is reminiscent of the German/Serbian situation at the start of WWI.

Regardless of the bloviating by WLinsayWheeler, the Allies laid out the terms for Japan's surrender at Potsdam. Read the Wikipedia article. The disposition of the Emperor was not mentioned which meant it was open to negotiation. Every serious Japanese offer I've seen from the Japanese included items beyond keeping the Emperor. Even after the bombing of Nagasaki, the Japanese were still trying to get the Allies to commit to keeping the Emperor.

From the article:
By the time the meeting ended, the Big Six had split 3–3. Suzuki, Tōgō, and Admiral Yonai favored Tōgō's one additional condition to Potsdam, while Generals Anami, Umezu, and Admiral Toyoda insisted on three further terms that modified Potsdam: that Japan handle her own disarmament, that Japan deal with any Japanese war criminals, and that there be no occupation of Japan.

That is what we were facing in 1945. Obliterate two cities and get a split vote (and an attempted revolt to prevent the surrender). Yes, we could leave these people in charge.

Why is this hard? Dropping a giant ass bomb on a city full of civilians is a war crime. It's like a litmus test of savagery. Genghis Khan is kicking himself for not having thought of it.

Like the Japanese surrender article, nother article to read (and I am sure most have) is the Wikipedia article discussing the use of the Atomic Bomb.

What I find interesting in reading these articles and some of the the many links provided is Truman's bluff after dropping the first atom bomb:

"We are now prepared to obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city. We shall destroy their docks, their factories, and their communications. Let there be no mistake; we shall completely destroy Japan's power to make war. It was to spare the Japanese people from utter destruction that the ultimatum of July 26 was issued at Potsdam. Their leaders promptly rejected that ultimatum. If they do not now accept our terms they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth..."[75]

At first, some refused to believe the Americans had built an atomic bomb. The Japanese knew enough about the potential process to know how very difficult it was (the Japanese Army and Navy had their own independent atomic-bomb programs).[76] Admiral Soemu Toyoda, the Chief of the Naval General Staff, argued that even if the Americans had made one, they could not have many more.[77] American strategists, having anticipated a reaction like Toyoda's, planned to drop a second bomb shortly after the first, to convince the Japanese the US had a large supply.[61][78]

This is saber-rattling in the extreme. In fact, an American POW lied when questioned by the Japanese and said that the U. S. had 100 atom bombs. There were, at maximum, only two other bombs that could have been made by the end of September.

This being the case, the atomic bomb was not considered conventional weaponry in any sense of the word, but a special type of scare tactic. As such, I find it more likely that the use of atomic weaponry was intentional and that the presence of civilians were ignored.

I hate to say it, but I am coming to think that the use of the atomic bomb could not have been justified as a deterrent in the War, but a sort of bluff of a massive superiority that the United States did not have. It was a lie.

The Chicken

I hate to bring this up, but did Anscombe address whether Jehovah should be convicted for war crimes for what he instructed the Israelites to do to their neighbors, every man, woman, and child?

That’s true. But you do realize, don’t you, that some of your fellow Anscombists, like Zippy and Bill Luse, would consider that intrinsically evil.

I don't want to accuse you of telling intentional, intrinsically evil lies about others, George, but if you did tell such a lie, this would be one of them.

did Anscombe address whether Jehovah should be convicted for war crimes...?

I doubt she considered herself qualified to sit in judgement on the Almighty, but if you want to give it a shot, go ahead.


Rob G the more pertinent question is; how many deaths should be countenanced as a result of not using the bombs? What then is the threshold? 1 million? 5 million? The Allies at that stage of the war were in the Fall of Troy phase, they would have killed off all who resisted, their rage compounded by the futilty of Japanese resistance. Had young Japanese boys tried to get under Sherman tanks, no mercy would have been shown. Earlier in the battles for the German cities, American soldiers were especially shocked at the ferocity of the teenaged German soldiers after having tried to show them some leniency. Such tactical 'mistakes' would not be repeated.

How on earth do you know this? Why is it not (at least) possible that it was the superstructure of the city (along with its power and prestige) that was targeted; and the innocent civilians were, as in the former example, killed as a side effect?

I think you know better and are just posing this as sophistry. Next time I need to deal with a rat problem in your house, why shouldn't I just nuke the whole city in which you live? After all, I'm targeting the vermin in your house, the city being flattened is just a side effect, right? Or maybe demolition companies can start wrecking entire blocks to get the one building they need to demolish because it's a lot easier to just start blowing everything up than use precision blasting.

With a nuclear weapon, there is no possible way to argue that the US was NOT targeting the civilian population. The nature of the weapon itself PRECLUDES that. It is indiscriminate on a huge scale. No one in the decision making process to drop the bombs were under any illusion that this would cause massive civilian casualties.

Ivan,
You are right. That is exactly how wars in a fallen world are fought, and how they must be fought, if victory is to be gotten by either side, even if some otherwise intelligent and well-intentioned folks don't actually realize it. In their case, the fog of war is displaced by the fog of philosophers, who end up espousing positions contrary to the reported actions of Yahweh in the Old Testament and of Jesus at Armageddon. But that is often the consequence of autonomous human reason: opposition to God even when it is trying to be most moral, even when it flatters itself that it is Christian.

"I do what I see my Father do," Jesus says, and He sees that his Father is no Anscombian war theorist or practitioner. So He does what Anscombians condemn. So much the worse for them, not Him. (By the way, given Trinitarian truth, one cannot divorce the action of Yahweh in the OT from the action of the Son, as if He were somehow no part of it.)


Ed,
We know as certainly as we can know almost anything in the future that if we prosecute a war, especially in an urban setting, innocent folks are going to die. We know it. Before we drop one bomb, fire one rocket, or pull one trigger, we know innocents are going to die in the war. But we wage the war any way -- we go ahead with the plan -- even knowing full well that innocents will die. Are you saying that such a plan, which knows that innocents will die and which knowingly and willfully moves forward nevertheless, is acceptable to Anscombe? If it is, I take back my comment earlier in the thread about her and war. But if that scenario and procedure are not acceptable to her, then it was no straw woman.

I don't want to accuse you of telling intentional, intrinsically evil lies about others, George, but if you did tell such a lie, this would be one of them.

Well, as long as you don't call me a liar. . .

Hey, once we choose to have freeways thousands of people are going to die on them every year. We know that for an absolute fact. Therefore anything I do which has the same abstract consequence - thousands of people dying (though hey, the mix of who actually gets it, and when, and how, might be a little different) - is a morally acceptable means, as long as my end is really important. And just because I kill them on purpose that doesn't mean I intend to kill them: I only intend my ends, not my means. Anyway that's what Jehovah would do, and therefore what Jesus would do, so its fine for me to do it. Anyone who says otherwise just doesn't live in the real, fallen world, where it is sometimes necessary to do evil in order than good may come of it.

Don't you all get it?

The more I think about this ridiculous "leaflet" argument, the more it infuriates me.

Dear Mr. Matt. As I understand it, America leafleted 31 cities - but not Hiroshima before it was bombed.

I agree it is infuriating to consider that cascading a city with confusing confetti constitutes, as the protestants misconstrue it,a perpetual plenary Indulgence granted to America.

Maybe if the Japanese civilians had gotten out of Dodge - and by Dodge I mean the entire country of Japan - then they would not have been the means by which so many putative pacifists continue to badger poor America.

IOW, the innocent targeted civilian Japanese,even in death, continue to constitute an implacable enemy worthy of destruction.


Michael, please avoid taking the Lord's Name in vain.

Next time I need to deal with a rat problem in your house, why shouldn't I just nuke the whole city in which you live? After all, I'm targeting the vermin in your house, the city being flattened is just a side effect, right?

Right. The act itself, killing rats, is not evil, if that is indeed your intention. The means employed, however, nuking the city, are evil because they are disproportionate -- to say the least. In this case, the destruction of the city and the countless deaths would be side effects, and accidental to the act itself.

With a nuclear weapon, there is no possible way to argue that the US was NOT targeting the civilian population. The nature of the weapon itself PRECLUDES that. It is indiscriminate on a huge scale.

Non sequitur.

Since the weapon is “indiscriminate on a huge scale,” one would expect it to destroy some such things that were NOT targeted. If the weapon were discriminate, on the other hand, one might then have more reason to conclude that everything destroyed by it will have been targeted.

No one in the decision making process to drop the bombs were under any illusion that this would cause massive civilian casualties.
Who the heck is denying this?
Right. The act itself, killing rats, is not evil, if that is indeed your intention. The means employed, however, nuking the city, are evil because they are disproportionate -- to say the least. In this case, the destruction of the city and the countless deaths would be side effects, and accidental to the act itself.

Ok, so maybe we're talking past each other.. Do you agree that the use of a nuclear weapon to destroy a population center which, while having SOME valid military targets, is a disproportionate use of force because of its indiscriminate nature (regardless of whether one considers the civilian deaths accidental to the act)?

Michael,

I quote from Anscombe's essay "Mr. Truman's Degree":

For killing the innocent, even if you know as a matter of statistical certainty that the things you do involve it, is not necessarily murder. I mean that if you attack a lot of military targets, such as munitions factories and naval dockyards, as carefully as you can, you will be certain to kill a number of innocent people; but that is not murder.

This is, keep in mind, the very essay where she condemns the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The context of this remark is a passage where she emphasizes that it is the intentional killing of the innocent, either as an end in itself or as a means to some further end, that she condemns. Unintended but foreseen deaths are not at issue.

She also condemns pacifism in no uncertain terms, and one reason she does so is that she sees it as opening the way to an immoral attitude of: "War is evil, but since we must sometimes engage in it anyway, we might as go whole hog and do whatever is necessary." In Anscombe's view, waging war is not inherently evil; it can be just, and when it is it must be carried out in a just way.

It is always a good idea to know what an author has actually said on a subject before criticizing it.

"who end up espousing positions contrary to the reported actions of Yahweh in the Old Testament and of Jesus at Armageddon."

Key word there being reported. Actually, PURported might be a better choice.

Since Armageddon hasn't occurred we don't know what Jesus is going to do there. Likewise, it's pretty darned hubristic to equate Japanese enemies of America with end-times enemies of Christ (although many Republicans may have trouble making that distinction.)

BTW, I once heard Peter Kreeft say that you don't fumigate a rat-infested building if there's a chance that a child's inside. He wasn't speaking about this particular issue, but the same logic applies.

Do you agree that the use of a nuclear weapon to destroy a population center which, while having SOME valid military targets, is a disproportionate use of force because of its indiscriminate nature (regardless of whether one considers the civilian deaths accidental to the act)?

That depends on the circumstances.

Michael, George, etc. -- are you saying that the civilian deaths were foreseen, but not intended, or that they were intended, and justifiable?

Given George's sophistical use of "intention" earlier in this exchange, Rob, I take it he will claim, absurdly, that they were not intended. But since we are on the subject of Anscombe, it is worthwhile noting that she criticized that sort of sophistry in her article "War and Murder," which is available here:

http://philosophy.ucsd.edu/faculty/rarneson/Anscombe.pdf

See especially the section on double effect in the latter part of the article.

BTW, "Mr. Truman's Degree" is also available online, here:

http://www.anthonyflood.com/anscombetrumansdegree.htm

Both essays also show how absurd it is to try to pin any sort of squishy quasi-pacifist position on Anscombe, as Bauman has tried to do. Perhaps he is confusing her position with that of certain "new natural law" theorists of the Grisez-Finnis school who claim that it is always wrong intentionally to kill anyone, even in war and capital punishment (which is why they oppose the latter even in principle and seem to take a quasi-pacifist position vis-a-vis the former). But their novel position has nothing to do with traditional natural law theory, nothing to do with Catholic moral theology, and nothing to do with Anscombe.

There is also this old W4 post containing excerpts from War and Murder, in which she deals with what she calls 'double-think about double effect.'

Michael, George, etc. -- are you saying that the civilian deaths were foreseen, but not intended, or that they were intended, and justifiable?

I’m glad you asked, Rob. The innocent deaths were foreseen but not intended in the true sense of the word. IMO, this whole issue hinges on an equivocation with the word “intention.” Allow me to reintroduce an analogy I used above, which illustrates my position:

If I go out to my mailbox during a rainstorm, I intend to get my mail, and I also intend to get wet. However, I intend the one in a different sense from how I intend the other. I intend to get my mail in a true, unqualified sense; and I intend to get wet in merely a certain, qualified sense. Only the former sense determines the object of the act. The U.S. military, on the other hand, intended the death of innocents only in the latter sense.

Now if one denies that innocent deaths may licitly allowed in either sense, then the principle of double effect will also be disallowed.

But you might ask, "If we intended innocent deaths only in the latter sense, what did we intend in the true sense?" That's easy: the destruction of the city, along with its power and prestige.

Ed calls my distinguishing between the two senses of intention "sophistry." But above he says that the second sense is not really intention at all, which is precisely the point I was trying to make. But just ask yourself, Rob, isn't it somewhat more than plausible that Truman "intended" innocent deaths at Nagasaki only in the second sense of the word?

~~But just ask yourself, Rob, isn't it somewhat more than plausible that Truman "intended" innocent deaths at Nagasaki only in the second sense of the word?~~

I'm afraid I'd have to say no.

Try this analogy: Let's say there is a pesky squirrel who's been bothering your garden. One day you find his nest in a nearby tree. You get your 12-gauge and plan to let loose with both barrels on the nest in hopes of eliminating him. Now you happen to know that it is breeding season and that it is very likely, in fact almost certain, that there is a female squirrel and a litter of babies in the nest. You blast the nest with the intent of nailing the male, knowing full well that the blast will destroy the nest completely, killing everything in it. Now you may say all you want that you didn't intend to kill the female and the babies, that you intended only to kill the male. But in light of what you knew would happen, your intent in the sense you are describing it is ludicrous. Ed is right -- at that point it is simply sophistry, because you knew what the result would be of your action. Double-effect wouldn't apply because you're not indirectly causing the death of the mother and the babies--their deaths are not any less direct than that of the male.

Lessee,

1. True intention = Getting the mail, which = dropping the bomb (+ ending the war, you hope?).

2. Unintended intention = Getting wet, which = killing innocents by dropping the bomb which might end the war.

You can get the mail on a rainy day or a sunny day. If the latter, you don't get wet.

You can drop the bomb on a rainy day or a sunny day. Either way, the innocents are dead every time.

Conclusion: in your universe, it's always raining.

Ed,
I'd say that the death of noncombatants from Truman's decision were both foreseen and inevitable, if victory were to be gotten. I'd also call them intentional. I'd say that those deaths were not murder (murder being unjustified killing). I'd say as well that they were less in number than in any other realistic path to victory Truman had before him. If one wants, as Truman did, both victory and the fewest number of noncombatant (and fewest American combatant) deaths, then his action is justified (whether we call it consequentialism or something else).

By the way, I'd also say that, because he was Commander-in-Chief, Truman's foremost obligation in the pursuit of victory was to save American lives. His action did precisely that (as per Paul Fussell and his famous Thank God for the Atom Bomb).

Rob,
Perhaps that is one of the most important differences between us on this and other issues -- I seem to hold a higher view of Biblical inspiration than you do. So be it. But no matter what view one holds, it is clear that Yahweh is a warrior and that, given the Trinity, one ought not separate the Personal character and intentions behind Yahweh's actions from those of the Son. The Son Himself declares that He does what He sees his Father do and He says what He hears His Father say. The things to which He refers in those statements, of course, are in the OT, his Bible. His view of the OT narrative, by the way, seems to differ a good deal from yours. Both He and Paul seem to hold a view of inspiration that reaches down even to the exact words themselves, as many texts and allusions throughout the NT indicate. Neither of them would reduce the biblical narrative to mere "purporting." As Divine Savior and as Apostle to the Gentiles, respectively, both Jesus and Paul are reliable teachers of doctrine, on this point and others. Between your view of the OT narrative and theirs, and I have to side with them.

I like Rob G's analogy and would state that the ethical solution would be to forego the use of the 12 gauge in lieu of a nice scoped .22 varmint rifle. I'd suggest a similar approach in warfare is not only ethical, but corresponds to current US war doctrine (using precision munitions in lieu of carpet bombing cities to knock out AA radar emplacements in built up areas, etc).

Key word there being reported. Actually, PURported might be a better choice.

Since Armageddon hasn't occurred we don't know what Jesus is going to do there.

It was equally "purported" that Jesus rose from the dead for your sins. Yet you seem to have no problem in believing that. Why is that? Does it bother you to think that the same God who laid down His life for you ordered the genocide of certain tribes that were so debauched He could no longer suffer their existence?

I find this entire discussion historically illiterate and morally fatuous, if not obscene. Preening and posturing by people free to put their feet up on desk and ruminate with pure 20/20 hindsight amplified by an utter disregard for or ignorance of the facts. In fact, most of you seem to be utterly immune to factually based arguments. But I take comfort from the fact that none of you was, or ever will be, in the position to have to make such a difficult and morally weighty decision. And you all should be, too. Your scrupulousity will remain intact.

I find this entire discussion historically illiterate and morally fatuous, if not obscene.

Historically illiterate? How so? What is there about the history that you think we don't know that we should and how do you propose that we remedy that?

Morally fatuous? In what sense? The people here, while they may not agree all of the time, have spent years studying moral questions.

Preening and posturing by people free to put their feet up on desk and ruminate with pure 20/20 hindsight amplified by an utter disregard for or ignorance of the facts.

Disregard or ignorance of the facts? Which facts. One of my friends teaches tactics at the Command and Staff College in Virginia. That is where the officers go to learn their tactics. How much closer to the facts can you get? I can ask him what he thinks. He's a Ph.d military historian, by the way. Are you going to tell me he doesn't know how to make historical arguments? By the way, I'm a music historian. I suspect I know something about historical methodology, as well. I'm also a scientist, so I am fairly well qualified to comment on the science.

In fact, most of you seem to be utterly immune to factually based arguments.

Repeating yourself doesn't make it true. Again, do YOU have any FACTS to contribute to the argument or can you demonstrate where we have been remiss?

But I take comfort from the fact that none of you was, or ever will be, in the position to have to make such a difficult and morally weighty decision.

You have no idea what moral decisions some of us have had to make.

I think you think that this is a group of Ivory Tower put-your-feet-up-on-the-desk kind of people. Don't hang out around here, much, do you?

The Chicken

I think this is Stuart here:

http://www.potomacstrategies.com/StuartKoehl.html

STUART L. KOEHL

EDUCATION
BSFS, Georgetown University, 1979

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE

Twenty-one years of experience in analysis of US and foreign military systems, operational methods and policy. Specific areas of expertise include: comparative assessment of US and foreign strategy, doctrine, force structure and conventional weapons systems; missile and air defense systems; US and foreign strategic weapons systems and targeting policies; air warfare; command and control systems; logistic analysis; analysis of special operations requirements and techniques; training and development of training materials, and procurement policies.

So maybe he is taking this personally.

I have been away and thus have not been posted a response. But let me attempt now:

Historically illiterate? How so?

By failing to take into account the actual (vs. hypothetical) situation at that time, including the technical limitations of aerial bombardment in World War II, the actual (vs. imputed) objectives of the strategic bombing offensive in Europe; the real reason for the fire bombing of Japanese cities; and the actual options available to the Allies in August 1945, and the consequences likely to result from each one, based purely on historical records (including the Japanese archives, U.S. communications intercept files, and detailed planning documents for Operation Downfall. Specific details of my critique can be found in my responses on the Mere Comments blog.

Morally fatuous? In what sense?

In the sense that you build sandcastles in the air and then think you have addressed a serious moral issue. But you haven't, because you have failed to suggest any realistic alternative to the use of the atomic bombs that would have ended the war with fewer innocent civilians killed. You don't seem very much concerned with the outcome, only with maintaining a veneer of moral scrupulousness. You don't mind how many die, as long as you can say, "Hey, we didn't intend their deaths, they were just an unfortunate consequence of a morally superior act". Also, you never manage to get around to grappling with how one could possibly apply "just war" theory to a modern, industrial war in which the entire civilian population has been mobilized to support the war effort.

Disregard or ignorance of the facts? Which facts. One of my friends teaches tactics at the Command and Staff College in Virginia. That is where the officers go to learn their tactics. How much closer to the facts can you get?

And I'm on the reading list there.

Repeating yourself doesn't make it true. Again, do YOU have any FACTS to contribute to the argument or can you demonstrate where we have been remiss?

As I deal with this issue on an almost annual basis now, how can I avoid repeating myself. You can find my detailed arguments in several places, if you bother to look. One of your friends had wit enough to find my (very out of date) resume on line--surely he could have googled "Stuart Koehl" and "Hiroshima" and come up with some good stuff.

I think you think that this is a group of Ivory Tower put-your-feet-up-on-the-desk kind of people. Don't hang out around here, much, do you?

Haven't seen anything that indicates otherwise.

Dear Stuart Koehl,

My apologies for coming off a bit self-righteous in my comments for which you responded, above. I appreciate your taking the time to respond (and I feel a bit embarrassed for not measuring my words more carefully).

The arguments in the many comments, above, has been primarily a moral one and not a tactical one. From the standpoint of winning the war in the shortest amount of time, no one is arguing that the atomic bomb was not the most efficient means. From the moral standpoint, however, it is more problematic. The discussion, here, has been focused on whether or not the action of dropping the bomb was a moral act. No matter how much it was desired to end the war quickly, there are moral consequences to any act and it is not simply the provenance of Command and Control tacticians to discuss these acts, but of philosophers and theologians as well, otherwise, we become a nation of brutes where nothing but might makes right. There are higher principles and eternal consequences involved in any act and they have a right to be debated. It is not simply a matter of judging actions by the facts on the ground. It is also a matter of the application of right reason to those facts in the moral sphere.

I have paid you the courtesy of going back to read at least portions of your many comments on military matters at Mere Comments and I agree with many of them. I have long had similar ideas about asymmetric warfare as you state in your comments on that blog.

That having been said, I do believe you were unjust in your criticisms of the people on this blog. For one thing, on Mere Comments, you made the remark:

That's going to be hard, because so many of the elites--academic, media, political and religious--disagree with every statement I've made above. And I think the answer to that is to engage them head on and call a spade a spade. It is assinine that there are feminists in America who believe that Christians are a greater threat to women because we oppose abortion, than are the Jihadists who would have them treated as chattel property.

If you click on the "About" link under the Byzantine Double Eagle, you will see virtually the same sentiment stated as the reason d'etre of this blog, so you certainly have sympathetic ears, here. I repeat, this is not (or I hope not) the stereotypical liberal group of elites that you decry and might find on some other blogs. People of a liberal bent do post here (it is a free country), but I think you will find that most of the blog writers and many of the blog posters share at least some of your sentiments and one can point to many such posts. To say otherwise would simply be rash.

The specific matter of this post was whether or not the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were acts of consequentialism. That certainly is a matter for theologians and philosophers as well as battle tacticians to debate, and just as you have expertise in military matters and many, here, do not, many of the poster, here have expertise in philosophical and moral matters and, quite frankly, you do not. This is not an either-or discussion, but hopefully a cooperative striving towards truth, if that is possible.

I hope I have been reasonable in my remarks to this point..

As to the issue at hand, I believe in doing due diligence in researching before I publish (which is why I publish so rarely) and I have tried to do due diligence in studying the relevant parts of WWII that pertain to the topic of this post and I have already found out many of the points you presented in your Mere Comments remarks. The other parts of WWII I do not have the time to study, relevant though they may be in establishing context. I am a trained historian, although not in military history, so I do know how to do the research (although understanding the specific military aspects would require subsequent, specialized training). I do not have access to many original documents and I am not interested in writing a dissertation on the dropping of the bombs, since it is not really necessary in accessing the topic of this post: were the bombing consequentialist acts. I think, unless there is strong evidence to the contrary, that the information available on-line is sufficient for the topic of this post.

Many people have expressed different opinions, some informed, some not so informed, as one would expect.

You wrote:

By failing to take into account the actual (vs. hypothetical) situation at that time, including the technical limitations of aerial bombardment in World War II, the actual (vs. imputed) objectives of the strategic bombing offensive in Europe; the real reason for the fire bombing of Japanese cities; and the actual options available to the Allies in August 1945, and the consequences likely to result from each one, based purely on historical records (including the Japanese archives, U.S. communications intercept files, and detailed planning documents for Operation Downfall. Specific details of my critique can be found in my responses on the Mere Comments blog.

I have done this research and I do have a fair idea of each of the points you made. I am also a scientist in the hard sciences, so I understand the science involved. The only question involved in answering the question of whether or not the droppings of the bombs were consequential acts hinges on the question of the direct intent to kill civilians. This can, obviously, involve many nuances. It does not hinge on whether or not dropping the bomb was the most efficient way to end the war. Thus, your assertion of moral fatuousness does not apply, since this is a moral matter and the major question can be answered fairly simply. Indeed, it does not involve hypotheticals, but the actual facts. I have no idea what you mean by people, here, using hypothetical facts, since, you, yourself, are simply relying on hypothetical projections for Operation Downfall. The plans really are a hypothetical scenario. We do not have God's contingent knowledge on it, mere human and things can change suddenly in war. Everyone who discusses this issue must have recourse to hypotheticals in discussing operations. As to the moral aspects, however, the situation is fairly simple: did Truman intend to kill innocent human beings? I realize he was not the sole planner of the event and that plans had been laid before he took office, but if the "Buck truly stopped, there," then as the man who couls have said yea or nay, his intent is paramount.

Thus, it is to Truman we must look to answer the question of the consequential nature of the act, not the planners, not the strategizers. It is not just a matter of what Truman knew, but what he intended. As I have argued, elsewhere (over at Jimmy Akin's blog), it is difficult to know what Truman intended, and so, I have tended to cut him some slack. He was new in office, may not have appreciated how different the atom bomb was from conventional fire bombing - and to say that they would have killed the same number of people is mere speculation, because if the U. S. had had ten bombs and exploded them all, they might just have ended life as we know it on this planet. Radiation, both hard and particulate were real dangers of these relatively crude bombs. Truman, it seems to me, based on his comments, did, in fact, intend to explode both bombs in a show of what we would call shock-and-awe, today. Some Japanese correctly guessed that we had no more bombs, but Truman wanted to make it seem as if we did. One captured U. S. airmen lied and claimed we had as many as 100 bombs and Truman, it seems deployed the second bomb so quickly in an attempt to make it seem as if we did. Even then, the Japanese might not have surrendered. The question becomes, was it Truman's intention to directly kill innocent civilians? I realize why the original four targets were chosen, but the leaflet dropping campaign was largely ineffective and the government had to have known it would be. Leaflets were common propaganda material. The effects after the Hiroshima blast were hard to guage and it would have taken scientists a while to figure out about radiation effects, etc. In fact, a thorough examination was not done until after the War by Allied scientists.

That is the central issue: Truman's intent, The evidence of others is only secondary. Do you know Truman's intent? I suppose no one does. We can only make reasonable arguments and leave the rest up to God.

In the sense that you build sandcastles in the air and then think you have addressed a serious moral issue. But you haven't, because you have failed to suggest any realistic alternative to the use of the atomic bombs that would have ended the war with fewer innocent civilians killed. You don't seem very much concerned with the outcome, only with maintaining a veneer of moral scrupulousness. You don't mind how many die, as long as you can say, "Hey, we didn't intend their deaths, they were just an unfortunate consequence of a morally superior act". Also, you never manage to get around to grappling with how one could possibly apply "just war" theory to a modern, industrial war in which the entire civilian population has been mobilized to support the war effort.

Realistic alternatives are irrelevant in deciding the consequential nature of the act that ACTUALLY was done. That is not the issue. In fact, consequentialism says specifically that the morality of an act is NOT judged by the consequences, alone. The first rule of moral theology is that one may not do evil that good may come from it. If you disagree, make a moral argument.

As to Just War Theory applied to modern situations, the rules were not derived from the Medieval Era, when wars were slow and surrender was gentlemanly. The rules were merely codified during that period. Just as one cannot say that algebra no longer applies because it was formulated during the thirteenth -century, Just War Theory really is based on Biblical principles and those are universal. Asymmetric wars are different in form, not function.

I realize you disagree with this. You wrote:

My main objection to just war "theory" is that it attempts to set up a coherent set of criteria for judging whether or not a war is just. This in turn requires the establishment or assumption of a definition of "war", as well as an attempt to anticipate a wide range of contingencies regarding the conduct of war. But the classic presentation of just war theory is entirely predicated on the concept of war as it existed in the Middle Ages, including the political context within which war is waged. The Latin Church didn't evolve just war theory in a vacuum, it was responding to very real pastoral concerns. Therefore, it tried to establish ground rules to mitigate the endemic nature of war and the untrammeled violence with which it was waged (mainly against non-combatants). Most of these assumptions ceased to hold with the rise of the nation state, and became totally irrelevant with the rise of the nation-in-arms. I have serious doubts about its applicability in the age of asymmetrical warfare. I also have serious problems with any moral theology that creates the impression that there are situations in which acts inherently sinful are absolved a priori by circumstances. Byzantine theology doesn't really have anything like that. Whether you break the window while innocently playing catch, or deliberately throw a rock through the window, the window got broken and has to be fixed. Killing exacts a price from the human person, and I don't see any way to make it less than it is. A eyes-open approach to the issue acknowledges the truth and is probably more congruent with the experiences of soldiers who actually have killed men in battle than one which excuses the act because it occurred within the context of a just war.

It is plain that you simply have a different view on such things as accident, intention, and inadvertance than most moral theologians in the Latin Church. Fine, but coming here and saying that the moral reasoning on this blog is, by and large, one of moral smugness and superiority is simply self-righteousness on your part. The Byzantine Church has its own moral theology, but it is not that much different, in general, that the Latin Church's and ultimately, we may have to agree to disagree on that issue for the time being.

I do appreciate your comments here and I value them as the opinion of an expert in one of the areas involved in the discussion. I do not think that anyone, here, has tried to be Triumphalistic, in wanting to carry Truman's head in parade, although in the heat of discussion we all have said things we regret. We are trying to discuss the matter and everyone here (including yourself) must be, to some extent, a student. I cannot speak for others, but where I have been less than humble in my statements or have made rash statements, I apologize. To many people on the Internet like to shoot from the hip. I have not tried to shoot from the hip, but if the gun has gone off before it had a chance to clear the holster, I apologize.

Nevertheless, the topic of this post was not, whether or not it was a good idea to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but whether or not is was a consequentialist act. That is the matter at hand and it takes many pieces of knowledge, both historical, military, and moral to answer that. That historians and some theologians are still divided shows how contentious the matter is and how difficult it is to resolve.

For my part, I will end with part of Pope Pius XII's Christmas address from 1942. It is well worth thinking about in any war:


What is this world war, with all its attendant circumstances, whether they be remote or proximate causes, its progress and material, legal and moral effects? What is it but the crumbling process, not expected, perhaps, by the thoughtless but seen and depreciated by those whose gaze penetrated into the realities of a social order which hid its mortal weakness and its unbridled lust for gain and power? That which in peace-time lay coiled up, broke loose at the outbreak of war in a sad succession of acts at variance with the human and Christian sense. International agreements to make war less inhuman by confining it to the combatants to regulate the procedure of occupation and imprisonment of the conquered remained in various places a dead letter. And who can see the end of this progressive demoralization of the people, who can wish to watch helplessly this disastrous progress? Should they not rather, over the ruins of a social order which has given such tragic proof of its ineptitude as a factor for the good of the people, gather together the hearts of all those who are magnanimous and upright, in the solemn vow not to rest until in all peoples and all nations of the earth a vast legion shall be formed of those handfuls of men who, bent on bringing back society to its center of gravity, which is the law of God, aspire to the service of the human person and of his common life ennobled in God.

Mankind owes that vow to the countless dead who lie buried on the field of battle: The sacrifice of their lives in the fulfillment of their duty is a holocaust offered for a new and better social order. Mankind owes that vow to the innumerable sorrowing host of mothers, widows and orphans who have seen the light, the solace and the support of their lives wrenched from them. Mankind owes that vow to those numberless exiles whom the hurricane of war has torn from their native land and scattered in the land of the stranger; who can make their own the lament of the Prophet: "Our inheritance is turned to aliens; our house to strangers." Mankind owes that vow to the hundreds of thousands of persons who, without any fault on their part, sometimes only because of their nationality or race, have been consigned to death or to a slow decline. Mankind owes that vow to the many thousands of non- combatants, women, children, sick and aged, from whom aerial war-fare -- whose horrors we have from the beginning frequently denounced -- has without discrimination or through inadequate precautions, taken life, goods, health, home, charitable refuge, or house of prayer. Mankind owes that vow to the flood of tears and bitterness, to the accumulation of sorrow and suffering, emanating from the murderous ruin of the dreadful conflict and crying to Heaven to send down the Holy Spirit to liberate the world from the inundation of violence and terror.

And where could you with greater assurance and trust and with more efficacious faith place this vow for the renewal of society than at the foot of the "Desired of all Nations" Who lies before us in the crib with all the charm of His sweet humanity as a Babe, but also in the dynamic attraction of His incipient mission as Redeemer?

The Chicken

Oh, also, in addition to being a poor, misguided academic, apparently, I can't spell very well, either. Sorry for the many spelling error, above.

Again, Mr. Koehl, believe me when I say that I do appreciate the services you have provided to this country and I do take your insights to heart.

The Chicken

The arguments in the many comments, above, has been primarily a moral one and not a tactical one. From the standpoint of winning the war in the shortest amount of time, no one is arguing that the atomic bomb was not the most efficient means. From the moral standpoint, however, it is more problematic.

As a Byzantine Catholic formed by Orthodox moral theology, I believe all war is sinful, and therefore all acts within war are, to a greater or lesser extent, immoral. As all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, all killing, no matter how necessary, destroys that image and defiles us as persons, to say nothing of all creation; sin has a cosmic dimension. As the canons of St. Basil the Great indicate, killing in war is murder, a proposition with which William Tecumseh Sherman (a general who preferred to burn farms, mills and railroads rather than kill young men on either side) would concur: "War is cruelty; you cannot refine it. The crueler it is, the faster it is over". Or, if you prefer your aphorisms with a Confederate flavor, try Nathan Bedford Forrest: "War means fighting, and fighting means killing".

In the Byzantine Orthodox Tradition, there is no such thing as "just war". Some wars may be necessary, to defend the country, or the Church, or the weak and innocent, but such wars are never "just", and the evil done therein is redeemed only by the peace that results. For the Byzantines, the object of war was always to win as quickly as possible with as little loss of human life (on both sides) as possible. I fully concur with that sentiment.

Now, within that context, I happen to view the use of the atomic bombs as being the most moral and humane way to end the war, given the circumstances and the options available at the time. Yes, some 70,000 people were killed at Hiroshima and 40,000 more at Nagasaki--which is still less than those who died in the conventional fire bombing of Tokyo several months earlier. That horrific act apparently was not sufficient to move the Japanese high command to surrender; neither was the first use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Only after the second bomb was employed did Hirohito finally intervene to end the carnage.

And it was carnage. From seventy years remove only those who were there (a dwindling remnant) and those who diligently study this history of war, can begin to explain. It is no exaggeration to say that an invasion of Japan would have resulted in at least half a million U.S. casualties (the estimate of the Army medical service, which had to do the logistic preparations to receive the dead and wounded) and upwards of three million Japanese casualties. Perhaps a fourth of the Americans would be dead, but upwards of 90% of the Japanese casualties would be killed. Most of them would be civilians, because Japan is a densely populated country, and the only available invasion routes were situated on the most populated areas. Adding to the horror, the Japanese military had organized all able-bodied civilians, men and women alike, into home defense units that were indoctrinated (as all Japanese were at the time) to fight to the death for the honor of the Emperor.

As I mentioned elsewhere, the Japanese weren't stupid, and deduced where we would land, and were rapidly reinforcing those points so that, on the day of the invasion, they would likely have outnumbered us on the beaches. Think about Omaha Beach raised to the third power. And we knew this was happening, because we could read Japanese codes. George C. Marshall was so horrified that, looking for an equalizer, he proposed using upwards of nine atomic bombs as tactical weapons against the Japanese beach defenses. Given the proximity of civilian population centers to the landing beaches, the direct civilian casualties would have dwarfed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The radioactive fallout would have contaminated huge swaths of Japanese territory, condemning hundreds of thousands of Japanese (not to mention tens of thousands of American troops, who would have landed on that radioactive wasteland just 72 hours after the bombings) to a slow, lingering death.

Make no mistake--an invasion of Japan would have been a hecatomb of unprecedented proportions.

So, what other options?

Blockade would have required the United States to secure Taiwan and possibly parts of the Korean Peninsula, with concomitant casualties to military and civilian personnel several times greater than the losses to both sides on Okinawa. Once established, the blockade would hermetically seal the Home Islands, preventing any and all supplies from getting in. No food, no fuel, nothing. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese would starve to death. The Japanese military had anticipated the problem, and had plans to eliminate "useless mouths"--the very young, the very old, the weak, the infirm, the ill (and all remaining Allied POWs, too). All remaining resources would be directed to the able bodied defenders, because in any siege, the soldiers starve last. Japan had enough food, fuel and munitions stockpiled to hold out until early 1947, by which time, millions of Japanese, mainly civilians, would have died of starvation and disease.

And while the blockade continued, Allied forces would continue to take casualties from conventional forces, as well as aerial and naval Kamikazes. If one looks at the casualties incurred by naval and air forces off Okinawa, and multiplies them four-fold, you get an idea of the casualties.

Do you honestly think that a war-weary United States, already financially strapped, would tolerate such a strategy? Invasion would have been preferable, even given the casualties--at least the war would end sooner, rather than later.

What of the Russians? They did reasonably well in Manchuria because most of the crack Kwantung Army had already been pulled back into Japan in anticipation of the Decisive Battle. They also managed to seize several of the Kurile Islands off the coast of Russia, treating these as glorified river crossings. But the USSR lacked the experience and the equipment to pull off a real amphibious assault on Hokkaido, and any attempt to do so was likely to fail. The Soviet Union, even more than the U.S. and Britain, was exhausted by the war. With more than 20 million dead fighting the Nazis, the Red Army was down to the OMLBs (Old Men and Little Boys)--there were no more reserves, there was no more fight left in them.

Also consider that while the U.S. was busy invading or blockading Japan, there was an entire Japanese army in China that was intact and still victorious. It would undoubtedly continued burning, looting, raping and killing its way through China until it could no longer do so. The Chinese would have been the ultimate victims of our failure to use the bomb.

So, what did the bomb do? It created options where none existed, on both sides. For the United States, it gave Harry Truman a viable alternative to invasion. For Hirohito, it provided an excuse to call off the Decisive Battle. To quote Paul Fussell, "Thank God for the Atomic Bomb".

So why do we agonize over the bomb so much?

Pictures. We have photos of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we have movies of the burned and scarred survivors, and we are moved to pity. We have no pictures of all the millions of Japanese who were spared because we had the moral courage to use the bomb. We have no pictures of the hundreds of thousands of American and British military personnel who likewise would live to raise families and lead peaceful lives.

But there is something morally repugnant about this endless moralizing every August sixth. First of all, it gives the Japanese a cheap and easy way of avoiding moral complicity for beginning the Pacific War and waging it in a particularly barbaric manner from start to finish. More Chinese were killed in Nanking by Japanese wielding bayonets than by all of the bombing of the Japanese home islands, both conventional and nuclear. If you want to talk about deliberate targeting of civilians, it does not get any more deliberate than thrusting a bayonet into the belly of a pregnant woman, or decapitating an old man just to test the edge of one's sword.

The Japanese, unlike the Germans, have never faced up to their own history, and Hiroshima allows them to wallow in self-pity and dress themselves in the mantle of victimhood. I won't stand for it. Furthermore, why should the people killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki be given some sort of privileged status almost bordering on martyrdom? It's not as though they were not an integral part of the Japanese war machine. The Japanese government saw to that by turning their living rooms into munitions factories, and by turning the entire population into an armed militia. The Japanese, and nobody else, are responsible for turning their cities into legitimate military targets. The Japanese, and no others, are responsible not only for starting the war, but for failing to end it long after any reasonable hope of success had vanished.

If anyone is responsible for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, if anyone should feel contrition, it is not us, but the Japanese, who really did bring it upon themselves.

With regard to nuclear weapons in the post war period, I think you can thank our bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for the fact that they were never used thereafter. Indeed, nuclear weapons kept the peace throughout the Cold War, and prevented it from going hot on several occasions. Nuclear weapons allowed the West to spend the bare minimum on defense while deterring the Soviet Union until it collapsed from the burden of trying to overcome the West with conventional arms. Israel's nuclear weapons undoubtedly prevented several additional wars in the Middle East. Nuclear weapons prevented a war between India and Pakistan during the past decade--and seem to have put both countries on the road towards, if not peace, then at least "peaceful coexistence". It is only when nuclear weapons are developed by or fall into the hands of "irrational actors" that they become truly dangerous, which is why we should not have allowed North Korea to get the capability, and cannot allow Iran to follow suit.

But, if you like, consider a world without nuclear weapons. I have. Back when Helen Caldicott wasn't the butt of bad jokes (do old peaceniks ever admit their mistakes?), I had buttons made up, which said:

Ban Nuclear Weapons
(Make the World Safe for Conventional War)

Alas, some bad ideas never die, and it seems I will have to get my buttons out of mothballs once more.

Great post by Stuart Koehl. It is especially important to understand that everyone in Japan had been drafted into the militia. Their slogan informs us of their attitude: "One Hundred Million Die Together".

In August, 1945, there were no civilians in Japan.

An argument which classifies infants as combatants has refuted itself.

Actually it's a terrible post by Mr. Koehl, who in his first few sentences betrays the pacifist sentiments that Anscombe condemned as having their part in such acts as Hiroshima: all killing is bad; therefore we might as well go the whole hog. A Christian theology that forbids fighting a just war isn't Christian at all.

Thanks for dropping in, Zippy. Not to mention women with sharpened bamboos, or whatever can be imagined they'd run up against. Boggles the mind.

Now, within that context, I happen to view the use of the atomic bombs as being the most moral and humane way to end the war, given the circumstances and the options available at the time.

It seems, then, the disagreement is not primarily military, but theological. If the Byzantine Church has no option for a Just War, then I suspect that is where the problem lies. The discussion, here, tacitly assumes the idea of a Just War and within that Just War (which the U. S. participation in WWII was most certainly just), some acts many not, themselves, of their nature, participate in that justice. They may serve an end, but still not be just. That is the basis of the error of consequentialism.

Given your assumptions, your argument for the bombing seem plausible; given the Latin Church's assumptions, it does not. Settle the theology of Just Wars and then we can discuss things on common terms. Until then, it looks like we must disagree about certain things.

The Chicken

"It seems, then, the disagreement is not primarily military, but theological. If the Byzantine Church has no option for a Just War, then I suspect that is where the problem lies."

and

"all killing is bad; therefore we might as well go the whole hog. A Christian theology that forbids fighting a just war isn't Christian at all."

The equation of the Christian East's not having a full-blown Just War doctrine with the notion that therefore when it comes to war "anything goes," would be Mr. Koehl's opinion. You'll find many Orthodox and Eastern Catholic scholars who'd beg to differ with the notion that Eastern Christianity has no problem with the idea of "total war." (And please Stuart, no nonsense about how "total war" is an inaccurate and meaningless term, etc., etc. We all know what is meant by it, and it's just obfuscation when its meaning is haggled over.)

"An argument which classifies infants as combatants has refuted itself."

Precisely. To paraphrase Wendell Berry, I don't want anyone killing any children on my behalf.


An argument which classifies infants as combatants has refuted itself.

A government which deliberately puts its military targets in positions that turn those infants into human shields is the one culpable for the blood of those infants.

Not to mention women with sharpened bamboos, or whatever can be imagined they'd run up against.

Are you implying that a woman wielding a sharpened bamboo staff at a US soldier has some sort of claim to civilian, non-combatant status in a war zone?

"A government which deliberately puts its military targets in positions that turn those infants into human shields is the one culpable for the blood of those infants."

Of course. It's common knowledge that the Japanese government always built its munitions factories right next to orphanages and elementary schools. Sheesh.

Of course. It's common knowledge that the Japanese government always built its munitions factories right next to orphanages and elementary schools. Sheesh.

Oh come on Rob, I know you have it in you to provide a snarkier response than that...

"Of course," it is common knowledge that building war production capabilities anywhere near civilian targets in an age of carpet bombing is practically inviting civilian deaths.

Then again, what would I expect from a site where most of the "conservatives" get upset over the Israelis playing hardball when Hamas fights from civilian areas? War is Hell, unless you are the modern US military and are so technically advanced and well-manned compared to your enemy that you never have to get down and dirty except on your terms.

"Oh come on Rob, I know you have it in you to provide a snarkier response than that..."

Yes, but I'm trying to be charitable.

Not to mention women with sharpened bamboos, or whatever can be imagined they'd run up against.

Never mess around with bamboo. It is as strong as steel, as sharp as volcanic glass, and as pliable as rubber. It is one of the strangest materials on the planet. I have no idea what this has to do with the discussion. I just thought I would throw that useless knowledge into the pot.

The Chicken

I tried to post something, but the posting mechanism held it over for review. It was on the material properties of bamboo! Surely, bamboo is not politically incorrect or offensive.?!

The Chicken

I know, I know -- anything is permissible if the Devil made me do it. The woman gave me the fruit, and the snake talked her into it.

Pass Pilate's washbasin, will you?

TMC, it's probably because you forgot to do the new "challenge question" (a little like Captcha, but not quite) at the bottom. It's been added as spam protection. I rescued your comment, though. It should be published above.

Rob has always refused to accept the nature of the Japanese regime, nor the facts concerning the structure of the Japanese defense industries in 1944-45. The key, and irrefutable facts are:

1. Japanese society was utterly militarized. Everyone and everything was dedicated to the war effort. To an extent that would have made Hitler drool with envy, Japanese subjects were indoctrinated from infancy in an imperial warrior cult for which death in the service of the emperor was the ultimate goal of life. Japanese boys began paramilitary training as soon as they entered school; Japanese girls were trained to support the warriors, though by 1944 they were also being trained as warriors themselves.

2. The Japanese government, like the Germans, dispersed their war industries in order to evade bombardment of large, centralized factories. Unlike the Germans, who set up smaller factories in the countryside or underground to produce subsystems which would then be transported to final assembly plants, the Japanese dispersed their industry into the cities themselves. Perhaps, given Japanese geography and relatively primitive infrastructure, this was inevitable. In essence, the Japanese would install one or two machine tools in residential buildings across a city. Each family was required to manufacture specific piece parts or components, which would then be assembled into subsystems in other home factories. Only at the very end would major subassemblies be transported to a central location for final assembly into an airplane, a machine gun, a rifle, a mortar, and so forth. By 1944, most Japanese munitions were being produced in this manner--which is one reason why, even when American B-29s were actually able to hit a factory with high-altitude bombing, the attacks had little effect on production.

3. To seriously impede Japanese production required attacks on the sources of piece parts and components. That meant attacks on cities. And Japanese cities were uniquely vulnerable to incendiary attacks. Moreover, machine tools are extremely hard to destroy. You either have to shatter them with extremely large high explosive bombs, or you have to warp them and destroy their temper by exposure to very high temperatures. Fire was the ideal way to achieve a legitimate military objective--the destruction of the Japanese war industry. When industry is dispersed across an urban area, massive destruction and civilian casualties are inevitable. Those who made the decision to put Japanese war production in Japanese living rooms knew what would happen, and they bear the responsibility for the resulting civilian deaths.

Rob refuses to recognize that every option pertaining to the end of the Pacific War would result in the death of innocent civilians. The only question is how many. I think I have show pretty conclusively that the atomic bombs were the option that caused the fewest civilian deaths. Rob seems to think other options would be preferable because they would not "deliberately" have targeted civilians. This reeks of scrupulousity: why is it wrong to flash fry a child in a nuclear explosion, but it is fine to condemn him to a slow and painful death from starvation and disease caused by a blockade? Is it that, technically, in a blockade we target nobody, and so our hands are clean--responsibility for the deaths of those who perish of hunger belongs to the Japanese government? But is it not also the responsibility of the Japanese government for continuing the war beyond the point where victory became impossible? Is it not the responsibility of the Japanese government for militarizing the civilian population, and placing it on the front lines by erasing the distinction between military and civilian areas? Rob's is an "out of sight, out of mind" approach.

Unless, of course, Rob thinks that doing nothing is a viable option. All other options--conventional bombing, nuclear bombing, blockade, invasion--all result in massive civilian casualties--anywhere from 110,000 for nuclear bombing, to three or four million for blockade or invasion. If we take Rob at face value, the only moral thing for the Allies to do was declare victory and go home. If, indeed, he would make this case, then there is no point in arguing further, because, well, "nothing is impossible to the man who won't listen to reason". We are dealing with fantasy, and not with reality.

But, if Rob does not think this is the case, then I think it behooves him to suggest an alternative course of action that would meet his moral criteria and bring the war to a successful conclusion. In fact, nobody here who objects to the atomic bomb attacks (or the conventional bombing of Japanese cities) has even attempted to say how he would end the war without incurring fewer civilian casualties than those inflicted by the atomic bombs. It's not a question one should beg, for without bringing the war to a just and successful conclusion, all the killing which had occurred to that point would be for naught. That's truly obscene.

Stuart, you believe that how one wins a war is an entirely secondary concern compared with the fact that one wins the war. Hence your defense of Sherman's March and other examples of 'total war.' (Although I wonder whether you'd defend Sherman and Sheridan in the way they prosecuted the Indian Wars?)

Following Fr. Schmemann, I believe that all human lives are infinitely valuable and thus equally valuable, and that it is therefore blasphemous to do some sort of calculus with them -- killing 200,000 in order to save 2.5 million or whatever. No doubt war is both sinful (in the sense that it's a manifestation of our fallenness) and tragic. It does no good, however, to attempt to lessen our responsibility for such actions by mental gyrations designed to make us feel better about ourselves.

Targeting civilians is wrong, pure and simple, and no amount of sophistry will convince me otherwise.

I also believe that all lives are infinitely valuable, which is why I do not believe wars can ever be just, or that killing in war is ever less than murder. It is precisely because all lives are infinitely valuable that they should be brought to a conclusion as quickly as possible with the least effusion of blood. To say that it is wrong to do the calculus is simply to make my point, because that calculus is the very essence of war--something with which I have come to terms, but which you refuse to acknowledge. All military decisions involve trading off how many get killed in order to accomplish a specific objective. To cite Clausewitz, "War is an act of violence by which we compel the enemy to obey our will".

We don't actually disagree on one thing--targeting civilians is wrong. We disagree on whether we should ever do it--it degrades us and pisses off the enemy, who fights all the harder. I would contend that in the strategic bombing campaign, civilians per se were never the target. In Europe, the U.S. tried to bomb factories and rail yards, but--as I have repeatedly tried to tell you--when the median error radius is 1000 meters under ideal conditions, and 2000+ meters under more normal circumstances, most of the bombs aimed at the factory will land on worker housing. As for the British, they never targeted civilians for the purpose of undermining morale or terrorizing the population. For the first three years of the war, they tried to hit precision targets by night, and succeeded in killing a few cows in the German countryside. When they switched to area bombing, it was for the purpose of "de-housing" industrial workers, on the theory that workers with no place to live will not show up for work. The theory was flawed, of course--but the British had no way of knowing that. The British never deliberately started a firestorm--the four that did happen--Rostock, Lubeck, Hamburg and Dresden--were accidents resulting from a unique combination of target density, construction methods, bombing accuracy and weather. In the end, both the British and the American bombing campaigns had the same effect. As an RAF pilot put it, "We area bombed area targets, and you area bombed precision targets". The only alternative would have been to do nothing, which means the war in Europe would have continued far beyond 1945, resulting in the deaths of many more civilians than were killed in the bombing. Wishful thinking does not change the calculus.

As for the bombing of Japan, as I noted, the Japanese made deliberate decisions that turned their entire population into legitimate military targets. Whether you care to admit it or not, there were no civilians in Japan by 1944. Our attempts to apply precision bombing tactics failed, and area bombing was the only remaining option. Again, the only alternative would have been to do nothing, until we reached the point of being able to blockade or invade the home islands. Without strategic bombing, the horrific casualty projections for Operation Downfall would have been much worse. Without strategic bombing, the blockade would have had to continue for two or more years--and millions of civilians would have died. Again, you cannot escape the calculus.

Nor can you evade moral responsibility by waving your hands around--every option targeted civilians. Blockade targeted civilians. Invasion targeted civilians. Modern industrial war invariably targets civilians because the modern nation-state has the power to mobilize its entire population and harness it to the war effort. The solider who carries the rifle and pulls the trigger is but the tip of a very long spear. He is nothing without the factory workers who make the gun and its ammunition, the farmers who grow the food the soldier eats, the miner who digs out the steel that makes the rifle and the coal that heats the furnace in which the steel is forged. Historian call it "the nation at war", something only the nation-state could create, and without a doubt the most horrendous phenomenon every conceived by man.

If you can figure out a way to wage that kind of a war "justly", let me know. I haven't found one, and I don't pretend that I can. I don't delude myself that there is some way to do this and keep the blood off our hands. So, our leaders, civil and military, have to do the calculus every day, determining who lives and who dies. And that's why we pray both for our leaders and for peace. And you should be grateful you can argue the matter as an abstraction or intellectual exercise, and never have to make such decisions for real.

Mike T - for the record, I, for one, do not get upset over the Israelis playing hardball when Hamas fights from civilian areas.

Are you implying that a woman wielding a sharpened bamboo staff at a US soldier has some sort of claim to civilian, non-combatant status in a war zone?

I'm implying that dropping a nuclear weapon on her is probably not a proportionate response.

Whether you care to admit it or not, there were no civilians in Japan by 1944.

Nor can you evade moral responsibility by waving your hands around--every option targeted civilians.

Aren't these two statements contradictory? Not trying to pick a fight, just trying to understand.

Aren't civilians those who are not actively engaged in materially supporting the war? What is the definition of a civilian? Can a baby be a combatant? He may be a shield, an object to be used, but does that make him a combatant any more than a piece of wood?

Could you guys define your terms?

The Chicken

One does not drop a nuclear weapon on a single enemy combatant. That said, dead is dead. I can go into detail about wound ballistics, blunt force trauma, burns, shock effects, and so on. It's not pretty. There are a million ugly ways to die in a war--fast and ugly, slow and ugly. Getting nuked is actually one of the better ways to go--you're dead before your nervous system can even register what's happening.

That said, a former Commandant of the Marine Corps once noted, "If they're shooting at me, it's high intensity". If Ninja Girl comes out of the woods with her bamboo pointy thing aimed at your belly, it's high intensity, and you'll use what you've got.

Proportionality in war does not mean tit for tat, or an eye for an eye. It means using what is proportional and appropriate for the objective. In the context of an existential conflict such as World War II, a war-ending nuclear weapon can be--was--entirely proportional. One can only judge proportion by looking at the payoff and the alternatives. In August 1945, that's what Harry Truman did.

Now, in the context of a counter-insurgency operation, a nuclear weapon--indeed, most use of heavy weapons--is not "proportional" and definitely inappropriate, since every time you inflict collateral damage--kill or wound the civilian population whose good will provides the leverage for victory--you hurt your own cause.

So, I would gather that U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine, being based on the principle of population protection and "heroic forebearance" would meet with your full approval. Indeed, heroic is the word, and it does bring a significant degree of nobility back into what had become a squalid and degrading undertaking.

For the record, I laid out what needed to be done in Iraq and Afghanistan as early as 2006--not because I'm some sort of military genius, but because counterinsurgency is well understood, and everybody with half a clue knew what needed to be done--but nobody had the cojones to say so, let alone do it. In war, moral courage means being willing to do what is nasty and unpopular, whether it means unleashing nuclear fury on Japanese cities, or insisting that U.S. soldiers and Marines not shoot back if there is even a remote chance of hurting civilians. It all depends on the circumstances, and what advances the mission.

Aren't civilians those who are not actively engaged in materially supporting the war? What is the definition of a civilian? Can a baby be a combatant? He may be a shield, an object to be used, but does that make him a combatant any more than a piece of wood?

To the Japanese military, even babies were part of the war effort--they were future soldiers. And the Japanese military considered them expendable. There are written plans in archives showing how the Japanese, in the event of an invasion or a blockade, were going to eliminate "useless mouths"--babies, old people, sick people, cripples, the feeble-minded--anyone who could not contribute to winning the "Decisive Battle".

All that aside, explain to me the moral difference between dropping a bomb on a city in which some portion of the population will be babies, and imposing a blockade on a country in which a certain portion of the population will be babies? Do you think that the Japanese military was going to say, "Whatever food we have left, let's save it for the children"? I already mentioned the "useless mouths". That's just the flip side of an old military truism--in any siege (and a blockade is just a large scale siege), the soldiers starve last.

So, on the one hand, drop the bomb on Hiroshima, kill a certain number of babies in an instant. Impose a blockade, kill a hundred times as many babies slowly through starvation and disease. Am I missing something?

And don't think invasion would have been a neat surgical operation, either. You may have seen old newsreels of Japanese mothers tossing their babies off the cliffs of Saipan (I know U.S. commanders saw it); do you think things would have been better on the Home Islands? Another military maxim is "to defend a city is equivalent to ordering its destruction". The Japanese would have fought for every last city and town block by block. Do you think the civilian population of those places would be immune to bullets, mortar bombs, artillery shells, hand grenades and flame throwers--the basic arsenal with which cities are taken?

But we are to believe it is moral to impose a blockade or mount an invasion, because we're not aiming at anyone "deliberately", while dropping the bomb on a city is immoral because we are aiming at someone "deliberately"? Sounds like casuistry to me, especially as any military professional would know the outcome of each course of action. Some of you could use ignorance as an excuse, but not them.

So, we come back to the big question: Do you allow your qualms about hurting civilians result in moral paralysis, under the cover of which, evil forces can act with impunity?

The problem is similar to the "Irrational Man Paradox": A guy goes up to two other men, and offers them $1000, provided they can agree on how to divide it. The first man says, "That's easy--we'll split it 50/50". The second man says, "No way--I want $900, and you can keep the last $100". "Wait a minute", says the first man, "That's not fair at all!" "So what?, says the second man. "Those are my terms, take it or leave it". The first man ponders, then concludes that the $100 is still "free money", whereas if he doesn't agree, they'll both get nothing. So he says, "Deal!". The paradox is this: the irrational man gets more than the rational one. His irrationality is rewarded by the rational man's rational response.

In war, it can be exactly the same way: the self-imposed restraints of the "rational" or "moral" side can often result in the victory of the "irrational" or "immoral" side--unless the moral actor sees through the charade.

Stuart, I hate to say this but your argumentation is reminiscent of the arguments of pro-choice Christians: isn't better to prevent a birth into, say a ghetto crack-house culture, than to allow that baby to be born to face untold suffering?

Well, no, because abortion is an inherent evil.

I say that the intentional targeting of civilians is an inherent evil of the same type.

"you should be grateful you can argue the matter as an abstraction or intellectual exercise, and never have to make such decisions for real."

Me too, just like I hope I never have to make a decision about the life or prenatal death of a crack baby. But that's a hypothetical based on emotion, and doesn't really pertain to the rightness or wrongness of the thing itself.


"Irrational Man Paradox":

Technically, not a paradox, just selfishness in negotiation.

The Chicken

Following Fr. Schmemann, I believe that all human lives are infinitely valuable and thus equally valuable, and that it is therefore blasphemous to do some sort of calculus with them -- killing 200,000 in order to save 2.5 million or whatever. No doubt war is both sinful (in the sense that it's a manifestation of our fallenness) and tragic. It does no good, however, to attempt to lessen our responsibility for such actions by mental gyrations designed to make us feel better about ourselves.

Targeting civilians is wrong, pure and simple, and no amount of sophistry will convince me otherwise.

You have also used words like "alleged" to describe God's involvement in the genocide of the peoples that occupied the promised land in Exodus. That makes your opinions suspect as you find it easier to accept the words of a philosopher than a prophet of God.

Civilians are quite legitimate targets when they aid the war effort. If I took one of the contracts I've seen to work in Iraq as a software developer, I would be a legitimate target for the insurgents. It would not be a war crime for them to kill me with an IED. Obviously most of the civilians killed by the nukes likely had no role in aiding the war effort at that time, but it is moronic to ascribe some sacred status to civilians. They are every bit as legitimate as uniformed soldiers when they take up arms or aid the war effort.

I suppose it upsets you that the Geneva Conventions allow for the summary execution of any civilian caught fighting out of uniform against a uniformed service...

As for me, I am ambivalent about the nuclear bombing of Japan because the Japanese had offered to surrender already on terms nearly identical to what we ended up accepting.

But we are to believe it is moral to impose a blockade or mount an invasion, because we're not aiming at anyone "deliberately", while dropping the bomb on a city is immoral because we are aiming at someone "deliberately"?

If the laws that God ordained in the Torah are any indication, then God does not see a difference between deliberately killing someone and passively killing someone through indirect means which one could avoid. For example, if you have an animal that you know has harmed someone in the past, and it then kills your neighbor, the penalty God gave to Moses for that was execution, as it was a form of murder.

"That makes your opinions suspect as you find it easier to accept the words of a philosopher than a prophet of God."

Fine by me. Go right on ahead and consider them suspect. I just happen to think that it's a possibility the ancient Israelites missed it in some ways about God's character.

"I suppose it upsets you that the Geneva Conventions allow for the summary execution of any civilian caught fighting out of uniform against a uniformed service"

No, because a civilian who is fighting is by definition no longer a non-combatant. We're talking about non-combatants here.

"it is moronic to ascribe some sacred status to civilians"

If I'm a moron, I'm in good company here. Dr. Feser, Zippy, Bill, St. Thomas Aquinas....

I just happen to think that it's a possibility the ancient Israelites missed it in some ways about God's character.

Then it is also possible the entire Torah is wrong, and on that basis, the Gospel as well since the Gospel and the Torah form two wings of the same bird.

If I'm a moron, I'm in good company here. Dr. Feser, Zippy, Bill, St. Thomas Aquinas....

Civilian != Non-combatant. It is an abuse of language to conflate them, just as it is an abuse to go from saying that a view is moronic to calling you a moron.

I'd also point out to you that if the US genuinely had reason to believe that the bulk of the civilian population was lining up to die for the emperor, that changes their status into a gray area. These are the things we likely will not know until God tells us the true history.

What condemns the US response, if anything, is the argument that the Japanese government was actually trying to surrender on terms nearly identical to what we ended up accepting, which calls into question how serious the Japanese government really was about militarizing the civilian population, and that, in turn, would severely deligitimize the classification of most of the able-bodied civilians into potential combatants.

"Civilian != Non-combatant. It is an abuse of language to conflate them"

I was under the impression that everyone here was talking about non-combatant civilians. My bad.

I was under the impression that everyone here was talking about non-combatant civilians. My bad.

There has been a lot of arguing back and forth that has confused my understanding of the definition of civilian used here (such as some of the responses to Stuart, which I may have skimmed a little too much). I will not argue that it is moral to nuke a city that is neither being mass mobilized for war nor is contributing mightily to a war effort. I will, however, stand by the US in that if US intelligence had credible reason to believe that a mass mobilization of able-bodied civilians was in effect, those same civilians had implicitly lost their non-combatant status. Simply remaining in the city is insufficient to change that, otherwise it would be considered murder to ambush enemy troops while they sleep in their barracks or camp.

IMO, what matters here is the evidence that Japan was suing for peace on reasonable terms. Therefore the bombing was immoral because even if Japan was mass mobilizing for self-defense, it was trying to exit the war.

If Japan had mobilized and really intended to not surrender, then the US would have been in a moral no man's land because it is nearly impossible to wage a conventional war against such an adversary without costing more lives than would be lost in a "shock and awe" campaign. At that point, since the population would be mostly combatants, the US would actually have to launch a horrific attack costing a lot of lives up front in a gamble to convince them to lay down their weapons.

Again, hypothetically speaking since the evidence seems to be mostly on the side of the Japanese actually wanting to surrender on terms we ended up agreeing to.

There is no evidence that the Japanese were endeavoring to surrender under the terms of the Potsdam Declaration. Right down to the day after Nagasaki, they were still temporizing. The power to end the war always rested with the Japanese government, as Hirohito's surrender declaration demonstrates. All they had to say was "We give", and it would have been over. Again, I encourage you to read Norman Polmar and Thomas Allen, Codename Downfall, and even more so D.M Giangreco's Hell to Pay, both of which make use of MAGIC communications intercepts and the Japanese military archives. Both also do the terrible calculus, for those who want to understand decision making in the real world, as opposed to the neat and orderly world of moral philosophy or theology. Clausewitz made a distinction between "war on paper" and "real war", which it would be could to remember when having discussions of this sort.

Stuart, I hate to say this but your argumentation is reminiscent of the arguments of pro-choice Christians: isn't better to prevent a birth into, say a ghetto crack-house culture, than to allow that baby to be born to face untold suffering?

I won't dignify that with a response. It's not the first time you have resorted to inapt analogies, though.

neat and orderly world of moral philosophy or theology.

Just a reminder, some philosophers made the ultimate sacrifice in WWII.

The Chicken

and theologians.

The Chicken

But they put their money where their mouths were. Not so much today.

"I won't dignify that with a response. It's not the first time you have resorted to inapt analogies, though."

I didn't say it was an analogy; I said the "argumentation was reminiscent."

You always did have a problem with nuance.

I say that the intentional targeting of civilians is an inherent evil of the same type.

While I agree with Rob about many things here, and agree that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were horrible, and I agree that intentional targeting of civilians can be an evil, I don't think it follows that doing so is inherent evil of the same type as abortion. The moral analysis is a little difficult, though, so I may have missed something, and I will look forward to correction.

In civil life, just between neighbors, it is an inherent evil to intentionally kill an innocent, someone you know is innocent. Directly willed and chosen abortion falls into this category.

In public life (i.e. the life of the state via government and officials acting on behalf of the community) it is wrong to intentionally wage an unjust war, for example, a war started merely to acquire new territory from a peaceful neighbor (see: Iraq taking from Kuwait). But once a just war has been declared and waged, the just nation is at war with the unjust nation. It is not merely the case that the just nation is at war with the soldiers of the unjust nation, they are at war with the entire unjust nation. (For help seeing this: when the just nation eventually wins, it is just and righteous for the losing unjust nation to have to pay a penalty - including in terms of money - even though that payment will land on the shoulders of many "innocent" civilians, including people who were not part of the war effort in any direct or specific sense - even people who publicly objected to the unjust war.) This is because the unjust nation is, as a whole, a common (or communal) party to its unjust act engendering the war.

In general, we have decided over the centuries that warfare directly attacking civilians is a bad way to go about warfare. It is bad because it tends to cause so much evil and destruction, and tends to result in such deep hatred of peoples, that no just peace can later be expected. And since a goal of just peace is almost always the sine-qua-non of just warfare, it is generally extremely difficult to justify acts that end up directly attacking civilians.

It can be especially difficult to separate out "innocent" non-combatant civilians from those civilians who are engaged (in some indirect fashion) in the war effort, when even farming becomes part of the war effort (excluding infants, of course, but not automatically excluding children, who might do recycle drives or bond drives for the war, and "war gardens"). But regardless of whether a civilian is or is not personally responsible for something that aids the war effort, all the civilians in the unjust state are corporately part of the unjust state's war. Because of this tie, it is impossible for a civilian to be wholly separated from being a target of the just nation's efforts to quell, subdue, and force surrender on the unjust nation.

Sometimes those efforts of the just nation might be limited to a leaflet bombing to convince enemy civilians to stop helping the war, etc. But it must be made clear that even the civilians in the unjust nation are "the enemy" of the just nation. As "the enemy", they are proper objects of legitimate, rational, proportionate

acts prosecuting the war.

It is a matter of prudence and statecraft, as well as warcraft, as to whether such proportionate acts can include a combat attack that includes enemy civilians as well as more natural military targets. I would suggest that an attack that includes civilians as targets cannot be ruled out in principle as wrong, in the same way that abortion is wrong inherently: in principle, the entire unjust nation is an object of the warfare waged by the just nation. In practice, most of the time, in most situations, intentionally targeting civilians cannot be justified in terms of making a just peace more possible. But that's a general principle.

Even if this is granted, it does not follow that Nagasaki was, or could be, morally justified. For one thing, the appearance that is that our effort to win the war was through exactly the means of terror that we think is evil in modern terrorists: did we terrorized them into submission through fear of annihilation of their civilian populations? This would be unjust as a method of warfare anyway.

Because an enemy soldier is acting in response to a corporate policy to wage an unjust war, he is a target in a different way from the guy down the street who is trying to kidnap my kid. I do not shoot the enemy soldier because he is personally evil - he may be simply following his orders in good faith. Nor is it true that I can shoot the enemy soldier simply when he is an immediate danger, like I do with the guy kidnapping a child: we think that surprise attacks at night on an enemy encampment is an excellent form of warfare, even though those guys have no weapons in the hands and cannot hurt me right now. The enemy soldier is a legitimate target because he is an organ of the state that is unjustly waging warfare on my country. But this reality is generically true of all the people in the enemy nation, not just the soldiers.

There is a like principle with targeting enemy leaders, especially "civilian" leaders. Modern theory usually says assassination of top leaders and politicians is forbidden. I submit that, to the extent this prohibition is valid, it is so not because such assassinations are inherently evil, but because such targeting may make a just peace less rather than more likely. The top people who decided to start an unjust war are, unlike the other civilians, in no way "innocent" civilians to begin with, so they cannot have any kind of "innocent civilian" defense. Still more: if it makes sense to target battlefield commanders to disorient the troops; and if it makes sense to extend the "battlefield" to target even higher-level generals to disorganize the entire army, then it must be still more legitimate to target the king or president who gives immoral orders to start or continue waging an unjust war, and thus disrupt the entire war effort - at least in principle, that is. In practice, though, it doesn't work out quite so simple, and thus there are practical constraints against assassination of leaders.

I didn't say it was an analogy; I said the "argumentation was reminiscent."

You always did have a problem with nuance.

My problem is with weaseliness, actually.

But your error is fundamental: those who claim abortion is preferable to condemning an unwanted child to a life of misery is entirely different from the situation of military planners weighing options for terminating the war with Japan.

In the case of the former, the proponent skips directly to the most radical and ultimate solution, and does not weigh any of the alternatives available, or the uncertainties involved with each. Thus, one could propose that the expectant mother could receive assistance and counseling which might cause her to reform her ways, and thus keep and raise her child as her own. Or, she could give the child up for adoption. In considering the fate of the child, the proponent takes a deterministic line which ignores the ability of people to transcend their upbringing and environment; there is no guarantee that the child will be beaten, abused or become a crack addict--these are presuppositions from baseless generalities. So, the proponent of the abortion option does not consider lesser alternatives or lesser evils, but cuts to the chase: killing the baby circumvents all other bad outcomes, even though these would give the unborn child the possibility of a long and happy life.

On the other hand, as I have demonstrated, U.S. military planners looked at all viable options (I hope you agree that simply declaring victory and going home was not viable) and continued to plan for all of them. Of these, using the bombs against Japanese cities appeared to be the least drastic action, the one which would in fact ensure the fewest innocent deaths. By creating a new option that obviated the need for either an invasion or a blockade, the bombs were equivalent in your analogy (it is an analogy, sorry) to putting the child up for adoption or placing the mother in a drug treatment program, as opposed to going straight to abortion. The bomb gave both Harry Truman and Hirohito a way out of a dilemma: if Japan did not surrender, and quickly, then invasion was inevitable (September 1945). Truman could not sit around waiting for the Japanese while countless Americans (and of course, Japanese) died every day. Hirohito, for his part, could not override the will of the Japanese military unless something occurred to make the "Decisive Battle" pointless.

The bombs did both: Truman had his way out of invasion, Hirohito had his way out of the Decisive Battle. And Japan, as a country and as a people, were given the possibility of a long and happy future. If there had been an invasion, if there had been a blockade, they would have been denied both. Those options were akin to abortion, because they entailed the death of an entire people. The bombs, on the other hand, were akin to a painful but necessary surgical procedure that ultimately saved the entire body from annihilation,

"The bombs, on the other hand, were akin to a painful but necessary surgical procedure that ultimately saved the entire body from annihilation."

Except that the parts being excised weren't expendable body parts but people, in many cases, children.

I think we're just going to have to agree to disagree here, Stuart.

Even if this is granted, it does not follow that Nagasaki was, or could be, morally justified. For one thing, the appearance that is that our effort to win the war was through exactly the means of terror that we think is evil in modern terrorists: did we terrorized them into submission through fear of annihilation of their civilian populations? This would be unjust as a method of warfare anyway
.

Appearances can be deceiving. The objective was not terror, since the critical decision making elite were (a) not targetable; and (b) not particularly prone to terror. That is, the Japanese military, already committed to fighting to the last man, woman and child, were resigned to death; death was part of the Bushido code by which they lived. So, the objective of the atomic bombings was to convince the Japanese leadership that the "Decisive Battle" would be futile--the existence of a weapon of unprecedented power absolved them from the need to fight to the death. That the bombs were seen as qualitatively different is demonstrated by the fact that the conventional firebombing of Japanese cities--objectively more devastating than either atomic bomb attack--did not incline the Japanese military towards surrender one iota. A single atomic bomb did not do so, either--to the Japanese military, there was always the chance it was a one-off deal, a fluke. But two atomic bombings within three days, together with the promise of more, was something they knew they could not counter. Resistance was futile, there was no glory in it, so when Hirohito ordered them to surrender, they (or most of them, anyway) complied.

Except that the parts being excised weren't expendable body parts but people, in many cases, children.

And your point? Children were going to die in any case. Would a blockade that killed a million children be preferable because, well, that was just a natural consequence of the blockade--we didn't deliberately target children. Would an invasion have been better than the bomb, even though millions of children would have died in the fighting, because, well, we weren't aiming at them? That's really weaselly--an inability or unwillingness to take moral responsibility for the consequences of one's actions

In any case, we weren't aiming at children at Hiroshima and Nagasaki--we were aiming at two Japanese cities housing military and industrial facilities distributed throughout the entire urban area. So, it's no different from the other two alternatives--or any viable alternative you can imagine--because we didn't deliberately encompass the death of children, but we did accept that children would die in the process of attacking two valid military targets.

Stuart has an important point that few in the Church have come to grips with. Blockades don't target children directly. But what actually happens in a severe blockade that really causes the enemy to reconsider is this: the enemy authorities gradually shift more and more (percentage-wise) of the dwindling resources to the fighting men, leaving the "innocent civilians" to scrounge on nothing. The first effect of the blockade is to cut off the civilians from the necessities of life. The only possible way you end up getting the fighting men severely affected is if you FIRST damage the survival of innocent civilians gravely indeed.

Of course there are other possibilities: the enemy could decide to stop the war, apologize, offer reparations, and treat for a just peace. But in reality, the expectation that the blockade will have an impact on the ability of the enemy to continue the war requires, in practice, that the blockade first damages the civilian population so severely that many, many thousands die. I would like to see someone explain how I can choose to enforce a blockade without targeting civilians.

Stuart, I have read authors whose understanding of Truman's and his military advisers' explicit intention was to induce a state of mind that was described in terms remarkably similar to what terrorists describe as their objective. I don't know if those authors were right. You suggest that they are not: the intention was to change the leaders' minds about a 'Decisive Battle'. I don't know which one is right. Do you have primary sources backing you up, or is your information from secondary and tertiary sources?

"Would a blockade that killed a million children be preferable because, well, that was just a natural consequence of the blockade--we didn't deliberately target children. Would an invasion have been better than the bomb, even though millions of children would have died in the fighting, because, well, we weren't aiming at them? That's really weaselly--an inability or unwillingness to take moral responsibility for the consequences of one's actions."

No, what it is is an attempt to differentiate between intended and unintended consequences. Truth be told, I wouldn't be keen on a blockade either.

In any case, your inability or unwillingness to grant such a distinction makes this a fruitless discussion, IMO.

Rob G, is it OK to kill an enemy soldier when his back is turned to you, and he doesn't know you are there? Why? The chivalry-minded French gentlemen of the 15th century didn't think so.

Is it OK to kill a soldier from 200 yards away, when he only has a sword? Why? The French chivalry of Agincourt didn't think this was moral.

Is it OK to kill a soldier when he is sleeping?

What about a soldier who has just been inducted into the army, and has not yet been trained?

What about a young man who has received his draft papers, and is reporting for duty?

What about the civilian bus driver whose job it is to drive these new soon-to-be inductees to their initial point of induction from the train station?

What about the civilian who farms to support the civilian bomb-makers in their jobs? What if only half of what he grows goes directly to the war effort, and the other half goes to women and children? What if 2/3 of those women and children are also supporting the war effort themselves?

It isn't that a soldier is in the army that makes him a legitimate target - the bomb-maker is also a legitimate target. It isn't that the entirety of a person's effort goes toward the war effort - even a soldier does some stuff for his own private interests. It isn't even that the primary product a person works to produce goes to the war effort and therefore he is personally responsible for supporting the war: the farmer has no choice as to how much of his produce goes to soldiers, and how much goes to civilians. Same with a steel worker. And a dynamite manufacturer.

Seems to me that once you accept that it isn't his being a direct, immediate threat, and that it isn't his personal responsibility for the unjust war that are the fundamental criteria which justify making an enemy a target, you are left with something more general: the enemy can be a legitimate target precisely because he is the enemy of your state (as long as there is a proportionate gain towards a just peace to be found in making him a target).

Stuart, do you know if the US military leaders looked for a specifically military target for Fat Boy, and simply couldn't find one? Was that the problem? I have never understood this, but maybe it has to do with the difference between the US and Japan. In the US, there are all sorts of military installations that are not adjacent to a city, and can be destroyed without killing 80,000 civilians. Is it the case that in Japan ALL of the existing military camps were in or adjacent to cities, so there was no such thing as a specifically military target? Seems unlikely, given the need for secrecy and security, but what do I know?

Or, was there a decision by the brass that wiping out a large military base would not have the same kind of impact on the Japanese authorities as to whether they could fight an ultimate 'Decisive Battle" that the impact of wiping out a city would have? If so, that sounds suspiciously like veering in the direction of a terror campaign, since the only difference between the two is the sheer homicidal effect.

Also, Nagasaki was the city in Japan with the largest concentration of Christians, which makes its targeting even more egregious.

Truth be told, I wouldn't be keen on a blockade either.

OK, so now we're going to invade Japan. Justify the deaths of a quarter of a million U.S. and Allied troops, the wounding of three quarters of a million more, and the deaths of several million Japanese--including a high percentage of innocent children. War is not neat. "Surgical" and "precision" are relative terms in warfare. Here is where the difference between "real war" and "war on paper" kick in--what seems simple and obvious in a book is extremely difficult in the field. "In war, only the simple succeeds, but even the simplest thing is extremely difficult", writes Clausewitz (who was not a theoretician, but a grizzled veteran of the Napoleonic wars). The phenomenon of "friction" dominates warfare, to an extent that those who have never experienced "real war" find difficult to understand. But friction, combined with the ability of the enemy to react in an intelligent way to foil one's plans mean that no war is "clean".

Japan is a densely populated country. It is also very mountainous. There are few places where an invading army can land, and few routes that connect one with the others. Because these areas also offer the best communications routes for trade and straddle the fertile lowland plains, they are also where one finds the major cities and towns. A maxim of modern war says, "To defend a city is to order it destroyed". The Japanese military was going to fight for every inch of every city, as they did on Okinawa. Aside from the military mobilizing civilians to serve in suicidal militia units, any other civilians caught in the cities would become casualties from bombs, artillery shells, stray bullets, grenades, mortars, and flame throwers. Those who fled into the countryside would likely starve or die of disease.

Worse, though, as I have mentioned before, because there are few places to invade Japan, the Japanese were able to deduce where we would invade first Kyushu and then Honshu. The had already begun transferring units of the crack Kwantung Army from Manchuria to Japan (which is why the Soviet army had a walkover in Manchuria). They positioned these troops on and behind the very beaches where we had planned to land. We watched this buildup through photoreconnaissance, but even moreso through monitoring of Japanese radio communications. MacArthur's HQ had a very accurate order of battle for the Japanese on Kyushu and Honshu, and our planners anticipated that on X-Day the Japanese would actually outnumber our landing force. You should consider the havoc of Omaha Beach (take the first twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan, multiply the violence by two orders of magnitude, and then add the smell of blood, vomit, feces and burning vehicles), where we outnumbered the Germans by four-to-one. Imagine the situation if the Germans had, in fact, possessed numerical superiority.

Consider that George C. Marshall, in an attempt to redress the balance, ordered the Army to plan to drop nine atomic bombs on and immediately behind the beaches to destroy the fortifications. Of course, since the fortifications were in and around major cities and towns, you can imagine the effect that would have on all those innocent civilians. Also try to remember the U.S. troops, who would storm through that radioactive wasteland just 72 hours later. As I said, an invasion of Japan would have destroyed Japan as a nation, and probably reduced the Japanese people to a subsistence existence. In addition to the 3 million or so killed in the invasion, several million more would probably die from malnutrition and disease in the next several years (several hundred thousand Japanese did die from those causes in the year following the surrender).

So, is this really a more moral choice than dropping a bomb on two cities that, but for the nuclear target list, would have been subjected to devastating conventional bombing in any case? You can't argue that it's OK because "we weren't deliberately targeting civilians". Any competent military man knew what the outcome of either a blockade or an invasion would be for Japanese civilians. If nothing else, they had the evidence of recent operations from Saipan to Iwo Jima to Okinawa. So, I don't really see any moral distinction between conventional bombing, nuclear bombing, invasion or blockade. All will knowingly result in the deaths of innocent civilians, so the question then reverts to "how many" and "how long"?

You may find this repugnant. Frankly, I find it appalling, but then, that's war. And that's why I find Byzantine moral theology on the subject more honest than the formalized Western doctrine of just war. War is always unjust. War is always murder. War is always sinful (within the Byzantine understanding of the meaning of sin). There is no way to escape it, which is why war will always remain a necessary evil, and never a positive good in itself.

Also, Nagasaki was the city in Japan with the largest concentration of Christians, which makes its targeting even more egregious.

Sorry, but that's just a load of crap. Nagasaki was on the list because it was a major Japanese industrial center and port city, and because it had not yet been bombed--nothing more and nothing less (I once heard someone say, in all seriousness, that Nagasaki was targeted because Harry Truman was a Freemason--as though there was some great Masonic conspiracy in action).

Nobody gave the religious affiliation of the Japanese one bit of consideration, but if they did, what would it matter, after four years of obliterating cities full of at least nominally Christian civilians? Or does the rarity of Japanese Christians (perhaps no more than 10,000 in all of Japan) invoke some sort of "Endangered Species Act" in their regard? German Christians are a dime a dozen, but Japanese Christians, being scarce as hen's teeth, are deserving of special protection?

Besides, Japanese Christians were as much part of the war effort as their Buddhist and Shintoist countrymen.

Finally, Rob, you might want to read your history. Nagasaki was not the primary target on 9 August 1945. That honor would have gone to Nagoya (thus depriving you of this particular excuse for moral posturing), except that it was clouded over, and the rules of engagement demanded visual bombing. MAJ Charles Sweeney diverted to his alternate target, Kokura (home of the largest military arsenal in Japan), but also was obscured by clouds. Only then did he fly to Nagasaki, which was also overcast. The plane (which had a malfunction in its fuel system) was within a few minutes of having to fly to Iwo Jima because of fuel exhaustion, when the bombardier found a small hole in the clouds and made a hurried bomb run. The bomb landed about 800 meters from the intended aim point (and, since these were the best bombardiers in the U.S. Army Air Force, consider the standard for an average bombardier), which, together with the hilly terrain of the city (which shielded much of it from the blast wave) meant that the Nagasaki bomb caused only 40,000 casualties, vs. 70,000 for Hiroshima, despite the Nagasaki bomb being more powerful (19 vs. 13 kT) than the Hiroshima bomb.

So the bombing of Nagasaki was merely the result of circumstance--or, if you prefer, "divine intervention". Many things had to happen to make Nagasaki the second target. There had to be clouds over both Nagoya and Kokura. The pilot of Bock's car had to be both skillful enough to conserve his fuel, and brave enough to continue searching for a target after reaching the minimum safe level of fuel. There had to be a hole in the clouds over Nagasaki at just the right moment. All these things had to happen in just the right order for the bomb to be released over Nagasaki. That's a lot of improbabilities converging on a single point. Things like this tended to incline me towards theism and then Christianity. The study of history, I have found, is not conducive to atheism or even agnosticism.

Stuart, do you know if the US military leaders looked for a specifically military target for Fat Boy

See my post immediately above. In the spring of 1945, the Manhattan Project created a Targeting Committee, to identify suitable cities for nuclear attack. There were several criteria, including size (so that a miss would not land in the open countryside), military significance (industrial, transportation or troop concentrations were given priority), and whether the city had already been subjected to extensive conventional bombing (it was important that the damage from the bomb be distinct from any previous damage). The original list included Hiroshima, Nagoya, Kokura, Nagasaki and Kyoto--the last was eventually dropped at the insistence of Secretary of War Henry Stimson because of its cultural importance. Tokyo was not on the list because it had already been devastated by bombing. The Imperial Palace was not on the list because it was too small, and not specifically military.

The target for the Fat Boy was Nagoya. However, Nagoya was overcast, and bombing by radar was prohibited for nuclear strikes (we wanted both accuracy and the ability to make observations of the explosion). The secondary was Kokura, home of the massive Kokura Army Arsenal, but it was also overcast. Nagasaki was the last chance target, and when Bock's Car arrived over the city, it was also socked in. Just before they would have had to divert to Iwo Jima, the bombardier found a hole in clouds.

That's how Nagasaki became the target for the second bomb.

Or, was there a decision by the brass that wiping out a large military base would not have the same kind of impact on the Japanese authorities as to whether they could fight an ultimate 'Decisive Battle" that the impact of wiping out a city would have?

Japanese military bases were all collocated with cities. Hiroshima had an army headquarters and was base to an infantry division, an air wing and a number of naval units, in addition to being a transportation hub and industrial production center. Kokura was home to the largest military arsenal in Japan. Nagasaki was a major port, as was Nagoya; both were also military bases and industrial production centers. Nagasaki was a naval base.

Japan is a small, mountainous country. With little suitable land for major installations, these tended to be clustered in and around major cities, just as in Germany. The United States was rather unique in having a huge hinterland in which factories and indeed, whole industrial towns could rise overnight, far away from major population centers.

You suggest that they are not: the intention was to change the leaders' minds about a 'Decisive Battle'. I don't know which one is right. Do you have primary sources backing you up, or is your information from secondary and tertiary sources?

Most of the primary sources are referenced in Polmar and Allen, Codename Downfall; and in Giangreco, Hell to Pay, which I referenced before. These include extracts from Japanese archives and U.S. communications intercepts, as well as minutes of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Targeting Committee. The primary documents have never been collected in a single volume (it would be a good idea), and many of the Japanese documents have never been published in an English language edition.

"German Christians are a dime a dozen, but Japanese Christians, being scarce as hen's teeth, are deserving of special protection?"

Absolutely not. I'm just as much against the firebombings and saturation bombings of Dresden, Hamburg and other German cities as I am of the A-bomb drops.

"Only then did he fly to Nagasaki..."

Well, of course. He had to drop the goddam thing somewhere didn't he?

I'm quite in agreement with the Mennonite dictum that the world would be an infinitely better place if all Christians agreed to stop killing each other.

Absolutely not. I'm just as much against the firebombings and saturation bombings of Dresden, Hamburg and other German cities as I am of the A-bomb drops.

Rob, you have an annoying habit of ignoring inconvenient facts. Since, ca. 1939-1945, it was not possible to do anything other than "saturation bomb" (please don't toss around jargon you don't understand--it offends my professional sensibilities) cities, what would you have had Allied leaders do in its place? Please be specific, because you never say what you would have done instead. Or are you taking the Barack Obama defense--"It's above my pay grade"?

I'm quite in agreement with the Mennonite dictum that the world would be an infinitely better place if all Christians agreed to stop killing each other.

That's not much of a problem today. The issue is how to get non-Christians to stop killing Christians.

I'm quite in agreement with the Mennonite dictum that the world would be an infinitely better place if all Christians agreed to stop killing each other.

Why limit it to Christians? It would also be better if Muslims stopped killing Muslims (and Hindus, and Christians). And if Hindus stopped killing Hindus. And rapists stopped killing rapees.

Although there is a long tradition of absolute pacifism in the Church, it has always been small and not well-regarded tradition - it doesn't fit all that well with the totality of other doctrines. In particular, it does not seem to fit with the dictum that some people have a moral obligation to protect defenseless others from violence, including with violence if necessary. And in such case, the harm that comes to the unjust aggressor is laid at the feet of the aggressor himself.

Short of absolute pacifism, it seems difficult to draw a clear line in the sand between weapons which are capable of being used morally and those which (by their very nature) cannot be used morally: swords stay in the hand, spears may be thrown a couple of dozen feet, arrows may be shot a hundred yards, a catapult may throw rocks 400 yards, a cannon may shoot a mile, an artillery piece may extend the range 10 miles, and so on. At no point here is it clear that you have crossed a fundamental line. Yet in facing weapons like artillery, if all you can use is a weapon that you are virtually certain only kills the specific individuals you aimed at, you might as well surrender first, because you aren't going to win.

I have yet to see a serious argument (that does not spring from absolute pacifism) that analyses the use of bombs to say that they are simply immoral as a weapon. If they are not simply immoral, then a certain amount of collateral killing of civilians is morally permissible. The difficulty, then, is not that a bombing mission killed some, or many civilians, but rather whether the overall entire objective was a proportionate one for the evils caused (taking into account the likely civilians at risk).

I have no idea whether the Dresden bombing mission's objective seemed worth incidentally killing a portion of the city's population, but if the expected or foreseeable result was taking out 100,000 civilians, that seems very difficult to justify militarily. (It happened in Feb 1945, basically after we were already reasonably confident of victory.) The later popular literature suggests that there was no proportionate objective for a firestorm, which was intended. Some literature specifically suggests that it was intended precisely as a reprisal for such acts as the Coventry bombing. Revenge, not military strategy. But if this literature is wrong, then we need better facts.

"please don't toss around jargon you don't understand--it offends my professional sensibilities"

Perhaps that's your problem -- your profession has negatively impacted your sensibilities. Can't spend years justifying American agression and imperialism without it affecting you somehow.

In any case, don't be such a pedant. Almost 4,000 tons of explosives were dropped on Dresden, 9,000 on Hamburg. That, mon amie, is saturation.

"what would you have had Allied leaders do in its place? Please be specific, because you never say what you would have done instead. Or are you taking the Barack Obama defense--"It's above my pay grade"?

It's immaterial, actually, because often you don't know what you would do until you're in a given situation. But this does not mean that you don't know what you would not do. If I were starving I may or I may not steal a loaf of bread, or break into a 7-11 to do the same. I would not, however, kick a toddler in the head in order to swipe his Zwieback.

"Why limit it to Christians?"

I'm not limiting it to Christians. I'm saying it should start with Christians.

Here is an interesting point that I raised in another thread but no one responded:

While it may be possible to argue whether or not the two bombs ended World War II, there is another fact that is sometimes overlooked: the fact that Hirohito was a reasonable man. If a more bloodthirsty or insane emperor had been in power, he might not have been persuaded to end the War, even by the atom bombs, and the U. S. would then still have had to fight a ground war since we had no more atom bombs to drop (or at most two more in September). If anything, it was the combination of the atom bombs and a ability of Hirohito to understand what they meant that allowed the War to end. In a very human sense, we got a bit lucky. Other Japanese military leaders might have continued fighting (as evidenced by the attempted coup).

The Chicken

Perhaps that's your problem -- your profession has negatively impacted your sensibilities. Can't spend years justifying American agression and imperialism without it affecting you somehow.

Words have meanings. Yours don't, unfortunately.

In any case, don't be such a pedant. Almost 4,000 tons of explosives were dropped on Dresden, 9,000 on Hamburg. That, mon amie, is saturation.

Not really. Do the target area divided by tonnage. In any case, only about half of those bombs fell within 1000 meters of the aim point. And the explosive content of each bomb varies from one third to two thirds of its nominal weight. Most of the bombs were not high explosive, in any case, but incendiary clusters. High capacity bombs blow off roofs and shatter windows; incendiaries set fire to wooden structures and debris. Neither has much penetrative ability, so civilians in shelters in general were safe (as opposed, e.g., to when the U.S. did its "precision bombing" routine using 500- and 1000-lb. medium case bombs--which could penetrate deep into shelters. Given the general accuracy of precision bombing, half of all bombs aimed at a factory or railway yard or refinery were bound to hit civilian neighborhoods. On the other hand, unless a fire storm resulted, British incendiary bombing typically killed fewer civilians. And the British never deliberately tried to set fire storms, because they didn't understand the phenomenology. In other words, Lubeck, Rostock, Hamburg and Dresden were all flukes brought about by a convergence of circumstances over which the RAF had no control.

It's immaterial, actually, because often you don't know what you would do until you're in a given situation.

Cop out!

But this does not mean that you don't know what you would not do.

Ah, but the Allied leaders did know what they would not do--they would not let the Axis win.


the fact that Hirohito was a reasonable man

He was, by the light of his place and time, a reasonable man. Also a weak and diffident one. Hirohito was more deeply implicated in the Japanese war effort than either the Japanese or the Americans were willing to admit after 1945, and he basically saw his role as going along with what the government wanted. Since the government was run by the militarists, Hirohito became a rubber stamp for the militarists. With the capture of the Marianas in 1944, all the Japanese leadership recognized that the war was lost. The Tojo government fell, and Hirohito could have installed a peace government if he had been so inclined, but he was not, and the slaughter continued through the Philippines, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and, of course, the bombing of Japan. Hirohito had a second opportunity to end the war after the great fire raid on Tokyo. He even toured the city, after the manner of King George VI during the London Blitz, but again did nothing to stop the war.

It is not clear if his failure to act was due to his inclination to defer to the civil government, or from fear of what the militarists might do if he attempted to end the war unilaterally. Since the 1930s, Japan had been ridden with the phenomenon of gekkukjo, or "the oppression of the high by the low". Prime ministers, imperial advisors and others not in line with the war party had been ruthlessly assassinated (Yammamoto had been appointed commander of the Combined Fleet to get him out of Tokyo, where his life was in danger). By 1944-45, the lesson had been internalized. There were plenty of instances from Japanese history of warlords taking control of the Imperial person, rendering him a figurehead and ruling in his place (e.g., the Tokogawa Shogunate); this was a real possibility, and perhaps Hirohito felt the need to retain his freedom of action while waiting for a decisive opportunity.

Apparently the bombs provided that opportunity. Conventional bombing, even on the scale practiced by XXI Bomber Command was a known quantity. The military could pretend that they could defend against it, or at least make the U.S. pay a price for it. But to defend against a single bomber, carrying a single bomb, which could wipe out a city in an instant--that was something unprecedented, a quantum break with the past. Hirohito could--once the second bomb was dropped, proving the first was not a fluke--make the case for a fundamental paradigm shift. This was something new, against which Japan could not defend itself, therefore there was no honor in continuing the struggle. And that is, in fact, the excuse that Hirohito offered in his surrender message--though, in typical Japanese fashion, he spoke so elliptically ("the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage") and never used the word "surrender" ("ordered Our Government to communicate to the Governments of the United States, Great Britain, China and the Soviet Union that Our Empire accepts the provisions of their Joint Declaration.") that many Japanese actually believed Japan had won.

Whatever.

The bombs gave Hirohito a face-saving way of ending the war without provoking the military into staging a coup or waging a civil war. And the bombs ended the war so that Harry Truman would not have to implement Operation Downfall. And millions of people lived who otherwise would have died, and millions of their children and grandchildren are alive today who would never have been born.

"In other words, Lubeck, Rostock, Hamburg and Dresden were all flukes brought about by a convergence of circumstances over which the RAF had no control."

Convenient, that. I could buy it for one city, maybe two. But four? Got some property in Pomona you want to sell me too?

I have no idea whether the Dresden bombing mission's objective seemed worth incidentally killing a portion of the city's population, but if the expected or foreseeable result was taking out 100,000 civilians, that seems very difficult to justify militarily.

The figure of 100,000 casualties in Dresden originated with David Irving, revisionist historian, Nazi sympathizer and Holcaust denier. More reasonable estimates range from 25,000 (the official German government figure) to 40,000 dead. The reality is somewhere between those two extremes.

In 1945, Dresden was a major German communications hub, where rail and road lines came together, and from which German forces were being supplied on the Eastern Front. it also remained a major industrial center, with more than 100 defense factories and 50,000 workers. The bombing was undertaken at the insistence of Stalin, whose forces were preparing at that time for a major offensive that would bring them to the Oder River and thence to Berlin. As the Soviets advanced, they drove a horde of German refugees before them--word had gotten out that the Red Army was raping and murdering its way across Greater Germany in revenge for German atrocities in Russia. Many of these were now concentrated in Dresden, increasing the population by as many as 100,000 people.

Only one of the three raids of 14-15 February was directed against the city center. This was the RAF raid in which 772 aircraft delivered 1400 tons of HE bombs and 1200 tons of incendiaries. This is the raid that caused the firestorm, but as noted many times already, the British never aimed to start one, and had no idea how to go about it.

The other two raids were delivered in daylight by the U.S. Army Air Force against the rail yards, mainly using HE bombs. Ironically, as more refugees were probably trying to flee westward along the rail lines, they were in greater danger from the U.S. as opposed to RAF bombing. The RAF bombed the city in the manner it did because, by 1945, that was how the RAF bombed cities. They had demonstrated the capacity to hit point targets with accuracy equivalent to that of the U.S. Army Air Force (i.e., they could probably get their bombs within a kilometer of the target), but given the weather and the range to the target, Bomber Command felt that an area attack had a higher chance of success.

It happened in Feb 1945, basically after we were already reasonably confident of victory

One shouldn't say that with such assurance. We had believed the Germans were finished in October, 1944--but the German army pulled itself together and stopped us cold along the border. We thought the Germans were finished in December 1944, but got our asses kicked good and proper in the Battle of the Bulge (which only ended a week or so before the bombing of Dresden). One thing Allied commanders were not going to do in February 1945 was underestimate the German capacity for surprise recoveries (if they had pulled one off, and the war in Europe had continued into the summer of 1945, we would be talking about the immorality of dropping the A-Bombs on Berlin and Leipzig, but that's another story). So, no, in February 1945, we were hopeful of victory, but not taking anything for granted.

Stuart, I think you can see from my comments above that I am not trying to attack your whole point of view, I am trying to elicit information and make careful distinctions.

About Dresden, you say that the British did not deliberately set about to start a firestorm. I am not confident that the data supports this. If the first one surprised them, what about the second, third, and ummm, 4th?

Also, Air Marshall Arthur Harris says this in January 1945

Dresden, the seventh largest city in Germany and not much smaller than Manchester, is also far the largest unbombed built-up the enemy has got. In the midst of winter with refugees pouring westwards and troops to be rested, roofs are at a premium...The intentions of the attack are to hit the enemy where he will feel it most, behind an already partially collapsed front ... and incidentally to show the Russians when they arrive what Bomber Command can do

He suggested after the war that the effect of the firestorm was highly desired:

An attack on the night of February 13th-14th by just over 800 aircraft, bombing in two sections in order to get the night fighters dispersed and grounded before the second attack, was almost as overwhelming in its effect as the Battle of Hamburg, though the area of devastation -1600 acres - was considerably less; there was, it appears, a fire-typhoon, and the effect on German morale, not only in Dresden but in far distant parts of the country, was extremely serious.

The son of a Allied weatherman who attended the bombing briefing had this to say:

Normally, crews were given a strategic aiming point - anything from a major factory in the middle of nowhere to a small but significant railway junction within a built-up area. The smaller the aiming point and the heavier the concentration of housing around it, the greater would be the civilian casualties - but given that the strike was at a strategic aiming point those casualties could be justified...
Only at the Dresden briefing, my father told me, were the crews given no strategic aiming point. They were simply told that anywhere within the built-up area of the city would serve...
He felt that Dresden and its civilian population had been the prime target of the raid and that its destruction and their deaths served no strategic purpose, even in the widest terms; that this was a significant departure from accepting civilian deaths as a regrettable but inevitable consequence of the bomber war; and that he had been complicit in what was, at best, a very dubious operation.

Dresden was chosen because it was still mostly intact. This was important because only a highly built-up, concentrated amount of flammable material (i.e. large apartment buildings and tall office buildings) would create the effect needed. The targeting was not specific but general. The proximate effect of that was a firestorm. The strategic effect, the impact on morale, was apparently intended from the first. This effect was aimed at with 3 other bombings.

It may possibly be true that the planners did not expect a fire so intense that literally thousands of people would die from suffocation because of lack of oxygen, and many more thousands would be literally sucked into the vortex. It does not seem realistic to hold that the planners did not expect a very, very intense conflagration that would consume civilian sectors of the city indiscriminately along with specific military objectives.

Bowing out here now, but Tony just to let you know, I've been around this tree with Stuart several times before. Suffice to say that he believes that the only thing the U.S. military has ever done wrong is lose. Winning is the point, and it doesn't matter too much how you achieve it, so long as you do.

Peace out.

If saturation bombing is necessary to the point of being indiscriminate, how is the morality of its use any better than the use of landmines? The principle of double-effect can be "stretched" only so far.

He suggested after the war that the effect of the firestorm was highly desired:

Starting fires was always desired; that was how you destroyed worker housing. However, it was seldom achieved. In his post-war memoirs, Harris adopted an almost perverse tone of self-justification, probably stung by after-the-fact criticism of Dresden. Of all the wartime commanders, Harris was conspicuously left off post-war honors lists, and was never offered a peerage.

Dresden was not singled out because it was still intact. It was singled out because it was a major communications terminal, and because the Soviet Union asked that it be attacked (and other cities close to the Soviet front lines) at the Yalta Conference on 4 February 1945--less than ten days before the attack on Dresden. Other cities marked for attack in compliance with the Soviet request were Chemnitz (14/15 February) and Leipzig (by the USAAF), both of which were attacked in their turn in the same manner as Dresden--albeit no fire storms occurred.

If there was any intention to attack civilian morale, it certainly failed: German morale remained intact until the end.

The son of a Allied weatherman who attended the bombing briefing had this to say

Aside from being hearsay, the statement that a strategic aimpoint was always given is simply untrue, which can be seen by consulting the Bomber Command War Diaries compiled by Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt (Penguin, 1990). Take for example, this entry, chosen simply by opening the book at random:

9/10 March 1943 Munich

264 aircraft--142 Lancasters, 81 Halifaxes, 41 Stirlings. 8 aircraft--5 Lancasters, 2 Halifaxes, 1 Stirling--Lost; 3.0 percent of the force.

The wind caused this raid to be concentrated on the western half of Munich, rather than the city center [emphasis added], but much damage was caused. 291 buildings were destroyed, 660 severely damaged and 2134 less severely damaged. . .

In other words, most of the time, there was no strategic aimpoint other than the center of an urban area.

It does not seem realistic to hold that the planners did not expect a very, very intense conflagration that would consume civilian sectors of the city indiscriminately along with specific military objectives.

Except that the payload mix used by the RAF on Dresden was pretty much the same as for other urban targets, while the tonnage delivered was not particularly noteworthy (being situated in eastern Germany, Dresden was close to the edge of Lancaster range, and thus each aircraft flew with a reduced bomb load. Thus, during all of World War II, the RAF dropped on Dresden just 2,695 tons of bombs, most during the February 1945 attack. In comparison, Hamburg, which was pretty much destroyed in the 1943 fire bombing raid, received 22,583 tons of bombs. The death toll from the Dresden bombing was roughly 25,000, while the death toll at Hamburg was 50,000. Hamburg, a city 1.2 million people before the raid, received close to ten times the bomb load of Dresden, a city of 642,000. If the British wanted to raise a fire storm, they should have dropped more bombs, and focused more on incendiaries than HE.

As it is, the U.S., which bombed the rail yards on the outskirts of Dresden no fewer than five times from 14 March through 17 April 1945, actually dropped more tons of bombs on the city than the RAF--4039 tons vs. 2659 tons. It won't do to say the U.S. didn't aim at the city center--given the accuracy of U.S. strategic bombing, about half of the bombs dropped fell into the city proper.

In short, Dresden was not singled out, did not represent any change in RAF policy and was not the result of a diabolical plot to murder innocent civilians. It is remembered (while Chemnitz and myriad other cities attacked in the last months of World War II are not) because of Dresden's pre-war cultural significance and because, for one of just a handful of times in the entire war, the bombing resulted in a fire storm. That this happened close to the end of the war simply made it more memorable. And that Dresden fell into the Soviet zone of occupation ensured that the bombing would become a propaganda point in the Cold War (that Dresden was bombed at Soviet insistence was overlooked by Communist historians--as was the USSR's sordid history of atrocities committed between 1939-45). Finally, having Kurt Vonnegut immortalize the bombing is just one of those accidents of history that one could never invent.

Suffice to say that he believes that the only thing the U.S. military has ever done wrong is lose. Winning is the point, and it doesn't matter too much how you achieve it, so long as you do.

This just shows that Rob does not read all of what I write, or if he does, he is unable to keep his bias out of it.

Convenient, that. I could buy it for one city, maybe two. But four? Got some property in Pomona you want to sell me too?

If you want to play the game, Rob, you have to immerse yourself in the history, including the technology and the tactics--boring or irrelevant as those may seem when dealing with life and death issues on an airy-fairy level. The four fire storms must be put into the context of a bombing campaign that lasted for four years--from June 1940 to May 1945. In that time, several hundred German cities were attacked in thousands of raids involving close to 300,000 aircraft sorties. The cities of the Ruhr were bombed continuously throughout that period, and yet not one burned. From September 1943 through March 1944--half a year--Berlin was the focus of a concerted campaign by RAF Bomber Command, being attacked in major raids no fewer than 19 times involving 10,813 sorties. Of these, some 9,560 aircraft reached the target and dropped 33,930 tons of bombs--17,214 tons of high explosive, and 16,176 tons of incendiaries (a ratio not too different from that dropped on Dresden, Hamburg, Lubeck or Rostock). This represents only 3.5% of all the bombs dropped by Bomber Command on Germany. In the process, Bomber Command lost some 500 bombers, representing 7% of its total wartime losses; roughly 2700 aircrew were killed and another 1000 taken prisoner.

Despite this extraordinary level of effort--which almost broke Bomber Command--Berlin did not burn. Neither did most of the other cities bombed by the British. Only four fire storms in all of those missions. So the question is really, why didn't more cities burn?

As I said, the answer was a serendipitous convergence of circumstances. Most German industrial cities were constructed largely of brick and concrete; most had slate roofs. The cities that burned all had extensive medieval city centers, in which the buildings were of post-and-beam construction with wooden siding and wooden roofs--and thus were more prone to burn than more modern cities. Two of the four cities--Rostock and Lubeck--were relatively small Hanseatic ports (but still important naval and industrial centers), located on the coast, thus easy to find and to bomb accurately. Because of their small size, the attacks blanketed the entire urban area, and allowed massive fires to start. Hamburg was a large city with modern factory and port districts, but it also had a large wooden old city, and it was also located on the coast, making it easy to find. Dresden likewise had a wooden inner city, but was well inland. By 1945, however, night navigation had improved beyond all recognition, and the use of specialized pathfinder aircraft allowed the city to be located and marked with highly visible pyrotechnic devises called "Target Illuminators" (TIs). Finally, in all four cases, the weather served to turn large but otherwise normal fires into fire storms (which can best be described as "tornadoes of fire"). In the case of Lubeck, Rostock and Hamburg, the weather was warm and dry. In the case of Dresden, it was cold but also exceedingly dry. The lack of moisture in the wooden buildings caused them to burn all the hotter, pulling in air to feed the combustion and creating the kinds of cyclonic winds that proved so destructive (most of the dead asphyxiated, rather than succumbing to burns).

The British were puzzled by the effects of the first three fire storms, and were at first inclined to discount German reports of the phenomenon. By the time they understood what had happened at Lubeck, Rostock and Hamburg, they also realized that the phenomenon was neither predictable nor replicable. British bombing tactics and ordnance mixes were not altered to increase the chances of raising a fire storm, because they did not know how to do it. Rather, the tactics and ordnance mix they used habitually was intended mainly to destroy brick and concrete structures, and particularly to knock off their roofs, rendering them uninhabitable. The concentration tactics they employed were not intended to increase the chances of fire storms, but to decrease losses by swamping German flak and night fighter defenses (particularly the latter). Just as a herd of gazelles or a school of fish are relatively immune to predators (because only a few stragglers are exposed to attack), so the dense British bomber stream protected the bulk of the bombers, which could only be engaged one at a time by each night fighter station or radar-directed flak battery.

I am sorry I am boring you with facts, Rob, but while you are entitled to your opinion about the morality of British bombing, you are not entitled to your own facts about what they did, or how and why they did it that way.

If saturation bombing is necessary to the point of being indiscriminate, how is the morality of its use any better than the use of landmines? The principle of double-effect can be "stretched" only so far.

1. The term "saturation bombing" has no meaning and is primarily emotive and polemical. A more useful term is area bombing, as opposed to "precision" bombing, though, in the World War II that term was largely propagandistic as well. Area bombing refers to the targeting of a fairly large geographical region, typically an entire town or city. Precision bombing, on the other hand, was directed against a "point target"--a discrete object, whether a vehicle, a ship, a building or a group of buildings.

2. At the beginning of World War II, all the major combatants were committed to precision bombing, based on the pre-war theories of men like Giulio Douhet and Hugh Trenchard, who had postulated that attacks on enemy munitions plants and communications would cause the enemy war effort to collapse. Though pre-war politicians latched onto the idea of attacking enemy civilian morale by "terror attacks" (using poison gas, no less!), most military planners discounted this idea, both on moral grounds and because morale is something intangible and thus difficult to measure.

3. At the start of World War II, all bombing was "visual"--that is, the bombardier had to see the target from the air, and aimed the bombs through various types of bomb sights, some manual, others semi-automatic. The most famous and advanced bomb site of the time was the Norden Bomb Sight, which automatically input variables for altitude, speed, and wind velocities. While the first two were known, the last had to be estimated based on visual clues, and thus were dependent on the skill of the bombardier. Once the bombardier input these variables into the Norden sight, all he had to do was keep the cross hairs on the target; the bomb sight was connected to an autopilot that directed the bomber to the release point, at which time the bombs would be released. In theory, the Norden sight could place a bomb within two or three hundred meters of the aimpoint, under ideal conditions. Ideal conditions meant that the target was plainly visible, that there were no clouds or smoke to obscure the view, and that the aircraft was flying straight and level at the prescribed altitude and speed. In the real world, conditions were seldom ideal: Northern Europe is covered by clouds about 60% of the time (moreso in winter), targets were frequently obscured by dust and smoke as well. Finally, the enemy usually intervened to keep the plane from flying straight and level for very long. Flak and fighters also introduced a certain "pucker factor" into the equation--studies indicated that the mere presence of even light flak or fighter opposition degraded bomb accuracy by some 50%. So, throughout World War II, when the United States spoke of "precision bombing", what it really meant was a bomb aimed at a factory had a 50% chance of landing within 1000 meters of the factory--if there was good weather and not too much opposition. When either of those conditions pertained, accuracy degraded to about 2000 meters. If you overlay circles with a radius of 1000 and 2000 meters over factories on the outskirts of German industrial cities, you can begin to understand that most of the bombs were landing in residential districts anyway.

4. Real precision bombing--of the type we have come to expect with the advent of guided weapons--was possible only by highly trained elite squadrons flying at very low altitudes. By their nature, these kinds of attacks were only effective against very specific targets (e.g., busting French resistance fighters out of the Amiens prison by breaking down the walls with bombs dropped from below treetop height) and could not be repeated on a routine basis.

5. Early in the war, both the Germans and the British discovered that (contrary to pre-war theory) bombers could not attack defended targets unless defended by escorting fighters. As the British had to attack targets in Germany far beyond the range of their Spitfires and Hurricanes, daylight bombing--the only kind with any pretension to "precision" became impractical. The British, like the Germans in 1940, switched to night bombing.

6. But aerial navigation at night--a very inexact science in 1940--was almost impossible under wartime conditions. The cities were blacked out, radio beacons were off the air or jammed, landmarks were difficult to spot, and navigators were not very well trained. From 1940 to 1942, the RAF practiced what was called "Bombing on ETA"--that is, the navigator, using "dead reckoning" would provide the pilot with a course to fly, and after a certain period of time, deduced that the bomber was over the target, at which point the bombardier let fly. Crews went out, flew their missions, dropped their bombs and reported that the target had been hit. However, German newspapers reported very little damage being inflicted, and, lest it be dismissed as propaganda, the reports were backed up by neutral observers inside Germany itself.

7. In 1942, the Air Ministry became a bit suspicious, so they had a man named Butt conduct a study of bombing accuracy. He had the bright (literally) idea of putting a camera in the bomb bay of each bomber, and mixing in a photo flash bomb with the high explosive payload. When the bombs were dropped, the shutter on the camera opened, and when the photoflash bomb went off, the camera recorded a picture of the ground beneath the aircraft. After compiling a lot of these photos, Butt concluded that only 10% of all RAF bombers were dropping their bombs within five miles of their designated targets. On cloudy days, or around heavily defended areas like the Ruhr, the figure was just 3%. Most bombs were actually falling in the countryside, making holes in German fields and killing the odd cow. For the first three years of the war, the damage caused by British bombing was negligible.

8. After the Butt Report, the RAF began investing in radio navigation aids such as Gee and Oboe (don't ask) or in ground mapping radar (H2S). These made it easier for navigators to find their way into the general target area, as long as the target was within range of the system, or until the Germans developed countermeasures. Just how accurate these systems were depended a lot on operator proficiency, which, given the radical nature of the technology and the elementary training of aircrew, was marginal until well into 1944.

9. Because, even after the introduction of radio navigation systems, it was still impossible to consistently hit a factory, rail yard, refinery or other point targets, the British were in a quandry: bombing was the only way they could strike back directly against the Germans, an invasion of Europe being some years away. The Soviets were under pressure and screaming for the British to establish a second front. Civilian morale also depended on being able to hit back at the Germans. To resolve the problem, Churchill's science advisor, Lord Cherwell, developed the theory of "de-housing". He postulated that a German industrial worker bombed out of his house would be too busy looking for a place to live and trying to get food to show up at his job, and calculated how much German war production would be reduced for every 1000 workers "de-housed". In retrospect, it was a deeply flawed theory: the Nazis proved particularly adept at providing workers with temporary shelter, organizing food kitchens and suppressing defeatism. They also dispersed much of their industry into the countryside and moved workers out of the cities, too. But, as I said, the British had no way to know that.

10. The British therefore switched to night area bombing attacks to facilitate de-housing, not to kill or terrify civilians (though, of course, civilians would be killed regardless, and being under bombardment is inherently terrifying). The objective was to reduce German war production, not to provoke German civilians to rise up and overthrow Hitler. The British had been bombed; they knew bombing morale was a non-starter.

11. Over time, the British refined their techniques, got better navigation aids, created the Pathfinder Force and developed the ability to hit point targets at night under ideal conditions--generally meaning close to home and in good weather. The RAF attacked communications targets in France in the run-up to D-Day with considerable success, but when attempting similar "precision" attacks over Germany, results were spotty at best. One problem was the increasing effectiveness of German night defenses. By February 1944, Bomber Command losses over Germany had become prohibitively high, one reason why Harris acceded to attacks on "tactical" targets in France.

12. About the same time, the Air Staff, together with the USAAF, concluded that attacks on German oil and transportation targets would quickly reduced German military capabilities (for reasons I explained elsewhere in this thread). Harris was reluctant--he had heard similar promises before, and was leery of what he called "panacea targets", but in this case, the planners were right, and Harris agreed to attack these targets whenever possible.

13. Which is not to say these were "precision" attacks. Bomber Command remained very much a blunt instrument. When Harris agreed to attack an oil target, he didn't go after a specific synthetic oil plant, but rather flattened the city in which the plant was located. When he attacked a transportation target, he wasn't after a specific bridge or marshaling yard, but the city in which they were located. It's not clear he could do anything else, given the limitations of the technology at his disposal. For instance, Pathfinder Force might be able to find a point target, assuming very good navigation and clear weather, and it might be able to mark it accurately for the main force. But once the bombs began to fall, the TIs would become obscured, and bombing would become liable to "creep-back: i.e., rather than bombing the center of a burning area (presumably the spot marked by the Pathfinders), bombardiers anxious to get out of the danger zone would drop their bombs on the very edge of the fire. Subsequent bombardiers would do the same, and the mean point of impact would begin moving up the approach path of the bombers, until the bombs were falling over a very wide area. The Pathfinders could take this into account, and place their markers beyond the target, so that the creep-back would cover the target area. Also, sometimes the Germans would light decoy flares on the ground, or a crashed bomber would be mistaken for the target, so even under the best of circumstances, bombs would be falling all over the place.

14. When the weather was bad, the RAF would resort to blind bombing on radar or RF navigation signals--in which case, accuracy went entirely out the window. However, having dispatched several hundred bombers to attack a target, nobody was going to be bringing back live bombs.

15. Meanwhile, the USAAF was pursuing daylight bombing with its heavily armed B-17s and B-24s. These turned out not to be invincible, and suffered increasing losses through 1943, until, in October, more than 60 were destroyed on a single mission to Schweinfurt, the center of German ball bearing production (this was the second Schweinfurt raid--the first, back in August, also saw the loss of 60 bombers). After that, the U.S. stood down and switched to transportation targets in France. Throughout this period, the vaunted precision of the Norden bombsight proved greatly overstated. Typically, U.S. bombers could place their bombs in a 2000 meter circle, sometimes better, usually worse. Unless a target was some distance away from a built-up area (and few were), there was no way to avoid dropping a lot of bombs on civilians.

16. By early 1944, the introduction of the P-51 Mustang allowed the USAAF to escort its bombers all the way to Berlin and back, but accuracy did not improve much, due to a combination of bad weather (during which time, the U.S. used blind bombing, too) and fierce German flak. However, the switch to oil and transportation targets in the second half of 1944 did effectively dismantle German military production and seriously hamper Germany's military operations.

17. Despite not living up to the promise of the airpower theorists (bombing did not end the war without the need for an invasion of Europe), the combined bomber offensive did shorten the war significantly, for reasons I have already discussed in previous posts. In so doing, it shortened the war, and thus saved countless lives, both of Allied and German combatants as well as civilians of all nationalities. It may have been messy and ad hoc (the Bomber Barons were, after all, pioneering entirely new techniques), but it was both necessary and effective, and without it, the war probably would have continued into 1946--assuming that the Normandy Invasion could have succeeded in the face of a largely intact Luftwaffe and a German army not depleted of equipment both by the direct effects of bombing and the need to divert men and materiel into the air defense of the Reich.

18. A final note: one always makes war as one can, not as one should. It's easy to make abstract statements about what course of action could have been taken in a particular situation with the full benefit of hindsight and no responsibility for the outcome of one's decisions (the decisive flaw of non-consequentialism, in my opinion, together with its inherent egoism). The great immorality of World War II would have been to let the Axis win. If ever the end justified the means, that was the time. You may find it repugnant, but I don't think too many people who lived through it would agree with you.

"I am sorry I am boring you with facts, Rob, but while you are entitled to your opinion about the morality of British bombing, you are not entitled to your own facts about what they did, or how and why they did it that way."

Ah, the return to the old Koehl method of argumentation: saturation bomb your disputant with facts (which he is to assume to be true, since the sheer quantity of same precludes any real possibility of fact-checking), then be told that you don't know what the hell you're talking about because you don't have a command of all these "facts."

Lather, rinse, repeat.

This is the same mentality that says things like, "You can't really know what the New Testament means because you don't read Greek," then procedes to pile on with arcane discussions of First and Second Temple Judaism, and how knowledge of them is essential to understanding what Jesus really meant.

The promiscuous fact-flinger says "Trust me." Yeah, right. About as much as I trust the military and the government.


Ah, the return to the old Koehl method of argumentation: saturation bomb your disputant with facts (which he is to assume to be true, since the sheer quantity of same precludes any real possibility of fact-checking), then be told that you don't know what the hell you're talking about because you don't have a command of all these "facts."

Wallowing in your own ignorance, Rob, is not any particular virtue. Disregard for the facts in an argument because it interferes with the beauty of the theory, is the kind of thinking one expects of the secular ideologues. What you want is the right to spout your own half-baked ideas without having to defend them from the intrusions of reality. Fine and dandy. Don't do your homework. Don't be surprised when I mark down your assignment.

Another way to put it, Rob--one you might understand better: in World War II it required about 1000 bombs to hit a specific building. In Vietnam, it only required 100 bombs. By the time of Desert Storm, the number was down to 10. Today, we can destroy that that building with about 1.5 bombs.

So, what we did in World War II may appear to be "saturation", but in reality, that's what it took to do the job.

But then, you consider all bombing to be saturation bombing, if I can refer back your previous remarks on the war in Kosovo. You called that "saturation" bombing, too. So, in your mind, one raindrop doth a monsoon make?

By the way, employed according to the laws of land warfare, landmines are just as "moral" as any other weapon of war. The problem is one of employment: armies that observe the laws of land warfare record where they lay mines and mark minefields according to international convention. When the military situation allows, they defuse and remove the mines. Minefields are used to inhibit the movement of military forces, to conserve manpower and defend friendly positions, and to channel the enemy into preplanned killing zones. All of these are legitimate military objectives.

On the other hand, terrorists, insurgents and other unlawful combatants frequently employ landmines in a promiscuous manner with no other objective than to inflict casualties on passers-by without regard to their military status. Since the objective of the terrorist and insurgent is mainly to create terror and cause pain, they generally do not observe the distinction between combatants and non-combatants--which one reason they are regarded as unlawful combatants and not extended the privileges of the Geneva Convention.

"Wallowing in your own ignorance, Rob, is not any particular virtue."

I'd say it's more like floating calmly on a sea of unverifiable factoids.


So, what we did in World War II may appear to be "saturation", but in reality, that's what it took to do the job.

It is hard to judge things sometime in the proper historical context, but this seems like trying to do heart surgery with a sledge hammer. Obviously, the military knew their targeting systems were very crude (radar had scarely been invented and hardly perfected, although much of the work was done in England just prior to and during the war). They knew that they would have to bomb extended areas to make sure that a particular target were hit.

The question in terms of judging the moral permissiveness of this approach is whether or not the bombing runs were sufficiently controllable as to have any reasonable chance of avoiding injury to non-combatants. In certain cases, the answer would be, yes, such as when the factories were isolated from the genral population. In certain cases, I would be slightly more circumspect in making a judgment of permissiblity. If one is trying to kill a man, but uses a gun that is so badly targeted that one has to fire 20 rounds to kill him, the odds of other people getting killed is much higher.

Certainly, going into a situation knowing full well that one will kill non-combatants (and possibly more than the combatants) because of the crudeness of the methodology shows at least a possible disregard for or a sweeping aside of the lives of the non-combatants in favor of the objective being achieved. I suspect, however, that such issues were discussed when bombing sites were suggested.

One may argue that this sort of moral calculus hampers modern warfare when asymmetric tactics are being used, but I wonder what sort of calculus was used back in WWII. This is an area I have which no knowledge. Without extensive research I have no way of reconstructing the thought processes of the people involved in making the bombing decisions. I think it is relevant to a discussio n of the morality, however.

The Chicken

Since the objective of the terrorist and insurgent is mainly to create terror and cause pain, they generally do not observe the distinction between combatants and non-combatants...

Stuart, what part of a nuclear explosion do you believe observes this distinction? From the way you described it, there was a strategic military objective involved in choosing the target, but that doesn't change the terror and pain deliberately inflicted on non-combatants. Additionally, this line of reasoning would make the 9-11 attack on the Pentagon justified (but not the WTC), it is a military command center that only required intentionally eliminating some non-combatants in order to attack. Do you think hijacking civilian airplanes is a legitimate war tactic?

I'd say it's more like floating calmly on a sea of unverifiable factoids.
All of my factoids are verifiable. You will note that I give references. As the little voice said to Augustine, "Pick it up. Read it".
Stuart, what part of a nuclear explosion do you believe observes this distinction?

As I noted in discussing the selection of the targets for the first atomic bombs--and indeed, for strategic bombing generally in World War II--killing civilians per se was never put forward as an objective by the Allied air staffs at any time. Neither was creating terror to "attack civilian morale". The objective for bombing both German and Japanese cities in World War II was to undermine enemy war production, disrupt transportation, and deprive the enemy of critical resources. This was done with conventional munitions both in Europe and the Pacific. The atomic bombs did exactly the same thing, but with a much higher degree of efficiency: the damage that was inflicted by several hundred bombers over a period of hours could now be inflicted by one bomber in a matter of minutes.

Now, if you could find a city in Japan where there were no military targets, where none of the people were involved in the war effort, where everyone was an avowed pacifist, then obviously bombing such a target would be killing civilians for the sake of killing civilians. But dropping a bomb on a city that houses critical war production (in the case of Japan, distributed throughout residential neighborhoods in the form of "home factories"), military command centers, troop concentrations, arsenals, airfields and shipyards is quite another matter.

The solution to the problem lies not with those who use the bomb, but those who choose to put their civilian populations in harm's way. In which case, you basic problem is with the modern nation-state and the nature of industrial warfare.

One may argue that this sort of moral calculus hampers modern warfare when asymmetric tactics are being used, but I wonder what sort of calculus was used back in WWII. This is an area I have which no knowledge. Without extensive research I have no way of reconstructing the thought processes of the people involved in making the bombing decisions. I think it is relevant to a discussio n of the morality, however.

There are a number of excellent books dealing with the matter, ranging from the "official" histories (some surprisingly good and objective) to a number of more modern looks. If you want a bibliography, you can send me an e-mail at skoehl@cox.net.

"The solution to the problem lies not with those who use the bomb, but those who choose to put their civilian populations in harm's way.
In which case, you basic problem is with the modern nation-state and the nature of industrial warfare."

See? It's never our fault. It's those darned Germans and Japanese building their orphanages and elementary schools next to railroad stations and munitions factories! (or vice-versa)

Blame the Japs, blame the Gerries, blame the modern nation-state, blame the nature of industrial warfare. Just don't say that Uncle Sam ever did anything wrong.

Actually I do blame the nation-state for its adoption of industrial warfare, but this, of course cuts both ways: it indicts those "who choose to put their civilian populations in harm's way" but also those who choose to rain fire and metal from the skies on them regardless of those civilian populations. Goose, gander, etc.

To argue that the US and its allies somehow remained above the fray in all of this is to exhibit an appallingly smug superiority. It's like an alcoholic blaming everyone and everything for his problems except his drinking, then patting himself on the back for what a great guy he is.

See? It's never our fault. It's those darned Germans and Japanese building their orphanages and elementary schools next to railroad stations and munitions factories! (or vice-versa)

Backwards (as usual, Rob). It wasn't that they Japanese built orphanages and elementary schools next to rail stations and munitions factories, but rather that they turned every orphanage, elementary school, and family home into a munitions factory. When you make a whole city into a legitimate target, you bear the responsibility for any civilians injured when that target is attacked. The Germans did not do that, but they did harness the entire power of the state--including its entire population--to support its war of aggression and extermination.

it indicts those "who choose to put their civilian populations in harm's way" but also those who choose to rain fire and metal from the skies on them regardless of those civilian populations. Goose, gander, etc.

Moronic and morally perverse, Rob. You ignore the reality of the situation--which is defeat of a nation state at war requires cutting the sinews of war production. In World War II, that could only be done using aerial bombardment, which at the time had (as I related) no real capacity for the kind of precision you seem to be demanding. If I take your argument at face value, the Allies should have treated German cities as inviolable, because they had no way of discriminating between civilians (defined narrowly as those with no connection to the war effort) and combatants (defined as those who did, whether direct or indirect). This would, without a doubt, have allowed the Germans to win, or at best, made the Allied victory slower and much more expensive in lives and treasure. It would have solved one problem, though--one way or the other, no Jews would have been left to populate what is today called Israel.

As far as the Japanese go, since whole cities had been transformed into vast war production plants by dispersing factories into residential areas, the only way to attack industry was to attack individual homes. As we had no way to identify which homes had "innocent civilians" in them (in the case of Japan, only infants might really fall into that category), we would also have to foreswear bombing. Which also would have prolonged the war, resulting in the deaths not only of U.S. and Japanese soldiers, but also millions of Chinese civilians. And, when finally we would have to invade Japan, we would have had to kill millions of Japanese civilians in the fighting.

The nice thing about non-consequentialist ethics is it absolves you from the consequences of your moral choices. The evil thing about non-consequentialist ethics is it absolves you of the consequences of your moral choices. But hey, you get to preen, keep your hands clean, and look down on the grubby mortals who have to do the dirty work of this world.

You claim not to be a pacifist, but in effect you are, since you advocate fighting them under rules that can never be followed in real life. Well, maybe, just once, by the loser.

"What if they gave a war and nobody came?" The rhetorical question is simple enough to answer: the ones throwing the war would win, and enslave those who were too noble to show up. "What if they gave a way, and one side played by impossible rules?" Well, the side that did not feel bound by the rules would win, and enslave those who played by the rules.

A single weapon that annihilated a one mile radius, set fire to another three miles beyond that, killed 45,000 people instantly, and poisoned and later killed another 20-30,0000 others is automatically a terror attack. Otherwise, why even bother having the category of terror attacks?

"Moronic and morally perverse, Rob."

Only to a shill for the neo-con military-industrial complex. But then what should I expect from a military analyst who writes for The Weekly Standard?

~~This would, without a doubt, have allowed the Germans to win, or at best, made the Allied victory slower and much more expensive in lives and treasure. It would have solved one problem, though--one way or the other, no Jews would have been left to populate what is today called Israel.~~

and

~~As we had no way to identify which homes had "innocent civilians" in them (in the case of Japan, only infants might really fall into that category), we would also have to foreswear bombing. Which also would have prolonged the war, resulting in the deaths not only of U.S. and Japanese soldiers, but also millions of Chinese civilians. And, when finally we would have to invade Japan, we would have had to kill millions of Japanese civilians in the fighting.~~

So, what, you not only do defense analysis but a little prophecy on the side?

~~"What if they gave a war and one side played by impossible rules?" Well, the side that did not feel bound by the rules would win, and enslave those who played by the rules.~~

Better, I think, to go down with honor than to be remembered as a murderer or a tyrant. Then again, the winners write the history books, so that's not likely to happen. My bad.


Only to a shill for the neo-con military-industrial complex.

Game, set, match--I win. At least you managed to avoid calling me a Likudnik and carter member of Israel;s Amen Corner.

Better, I think, to go down with honor than to be remembered as a murderer or a tyrant.

Actually, you'll be remembered as a pathetic loser, if anyone remembers you at all. Who remembers the Carthaginians?

And, as I said, the fatal weakness of non-consequentialism is it allows you to ignore the consequences of your actions. So, you as an individual might enjoy going down with honor. You, as a leader of your country, would be cursed by your subjects or citizens and your memory erased because of your failure to live up to the fundamental responsibility of a leader--to ensure the safety and survival of his people. If you don't want to do it, then don't place yourself in the position of having to make life and death decisions. But do not then condemn those who do so because they must, by the nature of their positions, take such consequences into consideration.

I am sure there is a special circle of hell reserved for leaders who put their own reticence and moral scrupulousness ahead of the welfare of those over whom they are placed in authority. It is nothing less than a form of treason.

It is nothing less than a form of treason.

Coming from a potential war criminal, I'll take that as a compliment. Thanks.

Coming from a potential war criminal, I'll take that as a compliment. Thanks
.

You're welcome. Fatuousness on your part does not forward the discussion, however. So far, not even the inklings of a serious moral discussion have been advanced on your part--but then, as far as I can tell, non-consequentialism is not a serious moral doctrine.

Get that, Step 2? It's better to be a potential war criminal and a winner, than an honorable leader and a loser.

"At least you managed to avoid calling me a Likudnik and carter member of Israel;s Amen Corner"

One's attitude towards Israel is neither here nor there in this instance. The simple knee-jerk, indiscriminate support of the U.S. military is perfectly sufficient.

One's attitude towards Israel is neither here nor there in this instance. The simple knee-jerk, indiscriminate support of the U.S. military is perfectly sufficient.

I will reiterate:

So far, not even the inklings of a serious moral discussion have been advanced on your part.

Even your name-calling is becoming a bit formulaic. You should look up the "North Korean Insult Generator" on the web.

Now, want to make some substantive contributions, here?

"Even your name-calling is becoming a bit formulaic."

OK, so maybe "shill" was a tad uncharitable, but I don't recall any other name-calling.

"So far, not even the inklings of a serious moral discussion have been advanced on your part."

Says you. I apologize if the moral discourse doesn't rise to your standards, but I refuse to be lectured to on morality by someone who thinks total war is just peachy, provided it's we who wage it.

Rob G, I think the discussion is at an impasse, as first principles have been reached. Either one thinks consequentialism/proportionalism is right and judges all other moral systems accordingly, or doesn't. Having a discussion at that level is unlikely to yield any result.

You are correct, pb -- thanks for making the call. Sometimes we're too close to the roadblock to see it for what it is, I guess!

I'll bow out here and let Mr. Koehl have the last word if he wants it.

Fine. My initial impression have not been altered: few people here have any understanding of the underlying historical fact of the issue, and fewer still care, because their "non-consequentialist" outlook renders such mundane things irrelevant and unnecessary. Attempts to redirect the discussion to "first principles" are consistently rebuffed. Specifically, every time I ask the simple question, "If Hiroshima was immoral, what would be the moral alternative?", I get blown off. I suspect this is due, on the one hand, to an inability or unwillingness to actually grapple with concrete issues (consequentialism is nothing if not concrete), and on the other a tacit recognition of the weakness of non-consequential ethics.

At the end of the day, my interlocutors are reduced to calling me names. My attempts at informed discourse are dismissed as distractions and "meaningless factoids". My offer to provide references to those who wanted them have so far gone unanswered (even though I provided my personal e-mail for direct contacts), and, finally, I am condemned as a shill, a militarist, a war criminal and a "neo-con" (whatever that might be).

I will pose the challenge once more, and hope that someone will have both the intellect and the moral courage (and the necessary empathy) to put themselves in the position of Harry Truman, George Marshall, Curtis LeMay (and maybe Winston Churchill and Bomber Harris), and serious address the issue of what one would have done in their shoes, as national leaders with responsibility not only for their own lives and their own souls, but for the lives and souls of millions of people placed under their authority. I would like someone to answer, honestly, how one can make decisions simply on the basis of abstract principles, without considering the consequences, both intentional and unintentional. Because every action has consequences, and as Rob at least should understand, Byzantine-Orthodox moral theology says we are held accountable for these, both the intentions and the results, for acts of commission and for acts of omission.

Put another way, dropping the bomb on Hiroshima generated one set of consequences, for which those responsible will be held accountable. Not dropping the bomb on Hiroshima would have generated another set of consequences, for which those responsible would also have been held accountable. Who is to say whether one action or the other will be judged more harshly, unless one does indeed take into account the consequences?

Nobody has attempted to address these questions, and I get the impression that those who post here regularly are not interested in doing so, or having their assumptions challenged. So much better to live in an echo chamber, where everyone's opinions are validated and sense of rectitude amplified by several hundred dB.

That said, I found it a useful exercise for organizing my thoughts, and I hope some people, at least, found it informative and come away with a better appreciation of the complexity of the issues.

Stuart Koehl: Whatever tradition you accept may tolerate consequentialism, but the Catholic Church does not. (iirc, Rob G is Catholic, as well as many of the others writing on this thread.) Challenge their assumptions all you want, but they will not disagree with the Church.

Actually pb, I'm Orthodox and Stuart is Byz. Catholic. But I'm not aware that the East accepts consequentialism.

Rob G, thanks for the correction.

But I'm not aware that the East accepts consequentialism.

The entire principle of oikonomia means that it does. Consequentialism is at the heart of stewardship.

"The entire principle of oikonomia means that it does. Consequentialism is at the heart of stewardship."

That is not the consequentialism I'm speaking of. I'm thinking of that summed up by the dictum, "We must never do evil so that good may come." As far as I know, the use of oikonomia does not negate that principle, nor does the difference in understanding between E and W on the subject of sin, culpability, etc.

Now, Rob, you don't want to go to the mat over this. Let's take the most obvious example of oikonomia, which is remarriage.

All the Greek Fathers are in agreement that Christian marriage is a one-time-only, eternal sacrament. Remarriage was not even conducted by the Eastern Churches before the 9th century. Those who remarried after divorce, or even widowhood, were guilty of adultery. Yet St. Basil the Great said that, under certain circumstances, people should be allowed to remarry, particularly if they were young and had minor children. So, initially, the Church allowed people to marry for a second time through a civil ceremony, but imposed penalties upon them, identical to the penalties for adultery--prayer, fasting, and abstinence from communion (three years for a second marriage, five years for a third). in the 9th century, Emperor Leo VI (who, ironically, got into a fight with the Byzantine Church by wanting to marry for an unprecedented fourth time) turned over all aspects of marriage to the Church and abolished civil marriage entirely. Now forced to deal with the messy social consequences of marriage, including divorce, remarriage, child custody, property divisions, etc., the Church tried to preserve its fundamental doctrine of the indissoluability of marriage and its eternal sacramental character. It's at this point that the "rite of remarriage" was devised, with its penitential prayers, absence of crowning, and, of course, temporary excommunication.

Yet, for all that, from the theological and spiritual perspective, remarriage is still adultery. Adultery is still an objective evil and a sin--as Latin Catholics continually point out when discussion differences between Latin and Orthodox attitudes towards divorce (though, of course, they only recognize marriage as a life contract). So, the Orthodox Church, in the name of avoiding a greater evil (fornication, promiscuity, child abandonment, spiritual despair) allows the evil of adultery (objectively) through the principle of oikonomia, and then legitimizes it through the rite of remarriage, which combines the properties of a civil marriage with the reintegration of the sinners (i.e., those who remarry) into the Body of Christ.

Stuart, I must confess that in my almost 20 years involvement with Orthodoxy, I've never heard or read any Orthodox defense of consequentialist ethics. Not from my first pastor, Fr. Reardon, not from my current priest, nor from Fr. Hopko, whom I've heard speak many times, nor from Bishop Kallistos, etc. As far as I can tell, the East believes, no less than the West, that we are not to do evil so that good may come.

It does not seem to me to be the same thing to say, "We may allow this lesser evil in order to avoid an even greater one," and "We may perform an inherently evil act to avoid another inherently evil act, or to bring about a good."

As far as I can tell, the East believes, no less than the West, that we are not to do evil so that good may come.

I never said that--but you insist on interpreting what I said in that way.

"We may allow this lesser evil in order to avoid an even greater one,"

Well, there you have it--we bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so that an even greater evil (the invasion of Japan) could be avoided. We bombed German cities so an even greater evil--the triumph of Naziism--could be avoided.

You never understood that war is inherently evil, that nothing done in war can ever be described as "good", and that in war all choices are only between greater and lesser evils. Therefore, no war is ever just, but some wars are necessary as the lesser evil to avoid the greater evil.

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