Monday, January 3, 2011

Unconditional surrender

In response to my post on Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, a reader asks: “How did Zamperini feel about us dropping the big one on Hiroshima? (All broken up about it, I'm sure.)” The question arises, of course, because in an earlier post I expressed the view that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were immoral. So, did the brutality inflicted by the Japanese on POWs like Louis Zamperini justify the use of the bomb? The short answer is: No, of course not. First of all, the atomic bombs were not dropped for the purpose of liberating POWs, but rather for the purpose of frightening the Japanese into surrendering. The liberation of the POWs was a happy side effect, but it is irrelevant to evaluating the motives of those who made the decision to drop the bombs. Second, even if liberating the POWs had been the motivation, it wouldn’t have mattered, because it is intrinsically gravely immoral intentionally to massacre civilians, whatever the reason one is doing it. We may not do evil that good may come of it. (The reader in question knows and agrees with this principle of natural law. Why he and others who agree with it persist in giving consequentialist arguments in defense of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I have no idea.)

So, that’s the short answer. But the question deserves a longer answer, and mine would emphasize the following points.

First, whatever one thinks of the atomic bombings, there can be no question of moral equivalence between the Allied and Axis powers. The Japanese empire of the World War II era was an evil empire and the American empire (if one wants to call it that) was not and is not. In particular, while war crimes were committed by individual American soldiers and by some American officials during World War II, they were the exception to the rule. By contrast, war crimes – such as the mass slaughter and rape of civilians, and the torture, enslavement and mass murder of POWs – were the standard practice of the Japanese empire.

Second, and for that reason, Japanese militarism was a grave evil which needed to be destroyed. It is hard to see how that could have been accomplished without the Allied policy of demanding unconditional surrender from the Japanese. Hence while some critics of the atomic bombings are also critical of the policy of unconditional surrender, it seems to me there was good reason for it. Nor does it seem plausible to hold that Japanese resistance was significantly increased by the policy. As anyone familiar with the history of the war in the Pacific knows, the tenacious “to the death” attitude of the Japanese soldier was a deeply ingrained feature of Japanese military culture, and would have been a factor whether or not the Allies had ever demanded unconditional surrender. Indeed, it was a deeply ingrained feature of Japanese culture in general. And so it is no doubt true that destroying Japanese militarism would have required an extremely bloody invasion.

Third, for that reason it is probably true that the atomic bombings saved many lives, both Allied and Japanese, that would have been lost in an invasion. It is also probably true that it saved the lives of POWs like Zamperini. Given Japan’s wicked “kill-all” policy of massacring POWs before they could be liberated – which had been carried out already many times in other parts of Japan’s empire – it is likely that only the abrupt end to the war the shock of the bombings made possible could have prevented the implementation of that policy in the home islands. Critics of the bombings should not pretend otherwise: If they hold (as they should) that we should never do what is intrinsically evil, regardless of the consequences, then they should admit that Hiroshima and Nagasaki force them to put their money where their mouths are, if any real-world example does. (That is not to say that there wasn’t a third option, such as an exhibition bombing or dropping the atomic bomb on an unambiguously military target. But it is at least debatable whether that would have had the same psychological effect.)

Fourth, Zamperini, like most POWs, does seem to think that the bombings saved their lives, and seems also to approve of the bombings. At the same time, Zamperini is not at all glib about this. As Hillenbrand’s book makes clear, Zamperini and other POWs, though they suffered unimaginably under the Japanese, nevertheless found themselves deeply moved upon their liberation by the condition of the Japanese civilian population – by the starvation and disease the population was enduring by war’s end, and by the flattened city after flattened city the POWs saw on their exit from the camps. The POWs were glad to be liberated; they knew that many Japanese supported what their military had been doing (though as Hillenbrand recounts, there were also Japanese soldiers and civilians who did not approve, and who showed kindness to the POWs); and they seem generally to have judged that the bombings were justified. But their attitude was not in general one of vengeance-seeking, either toward the Japanese population in general or even toward their captors. As Hillenbrand recounts, after Allied supplies started to reach the camp Zamperini was in, the POWs shared them with Japanese civilians in the surrounding town. In general, they showed no interest in lynching the guards who had been so cruel to them, and even immediately forgave many of them. They were also evidently troubled by the fact that so many Japanese cities had been razed to the ground. In short, Zamperini and the other men who actually suffered in the POW camps were not as bloodthirsty as the reader who asked about Zamperini’s opinion of Hiroshima assumes they were (or as the reader himself evidently is).

Fifth, while I believe the atomic bombings were immoral, I do not presume to judge the POWs or other American soldiers who think otherwise. I believe they are very gravely mistaken, but I certainly do not believe that they are in general motivated by cruelty, or malice, or an evil ideology comparable to Nazism, communism, Japanese militarism, Ba’athism, or jihadism. As I have indicated, while American policy is sometimes flawed and while isolated war crimes have sometimes been committed in its execution, it is not in general intrinsically evil, as the policies of America's enemies in recent history – Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, Soviet Russia and other communist states, Saddam’s Iraq, and Al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist organizations – have been. Those who badmouth the United States and her military while ignoring, minimizing, excusing, or “understanding” the crimes of her enemies deserve only contempt.

Sixth, the case at hand illustrates as vividly as possible that it can be hard to do the right thing, so hard that even otherwise decent men can get themselves to believe that it should not be done. To be sure, it is not quite as hard as people often pretend it is, once we get clear on exactly what the opposite course of action entails. Suppose that for some reason the war could have been ended earlier, and the lives of hundreds of thousands saved, only by torturing and killing a certain four-year-old child in front of his parents. I think even Henry Stimson and Harry Truman, not to mention the tough guys who haunt blog comboxes, would have balked. It is easier to murder the innocent when we think of them in terms of collectivist abstractions – say, by talking vaguely about what “the Japanese” did and what “they” therefore deserve, as opposed to speaking more accurately of what certain specific Japanese military and governmental personnel did and what they deserve, which has very different implications. It is also easier to approve of murdering the innocent when one doesn’t have to do it oneself. If those who approve of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were to describe the acts in question honestly and with precision – as acts of intentionally killing innocent civilians for the sake of terrorizing the survivors into surrendering – and then to imagine themselves behind the bombsight, maybe they would find it much easier to do the right thing and refrain from bombing, whatever the consequences.

Still, even when one is crystal clear about what the right thing to do is, it can be difficult to do it when the costs are high enough. This, as J. Budziszewski argued several years ago in an important article on natural law theory, is why revealed theology is indispensable to practical moral life. The natural law demands our unconditional surrender to its directives, but it does not guarantee that the suffering we sometimes endure for the sake of doing what is right will be compensated. For that reason, it can sometimes seem onerous, even crushing. It is immeasurably easier to do what is right when we know that the Lawgiver Himself will reward us for doing so – but this we can know, or can know clearly anyway, only through divine revelation rather than mere philosophy.

91 comments:

BenYachov said...

If the Japanese had some weird science fiction super-weapon hidden in either Hiroshima or Nagasaki that could wipe out everyone in America and could only be effectively destroyed by an Atomic Bombing then it would have been moral to do so & the civilian deaths would have been collateral damage.

But of course it didn't go down that way.

So yeh the Atomic Bombings where clearly immoral. We should have dropped them on pure military targets.

It might have had the same effect.

BenYachov said...

OTOH Japanese Leadership could have in a fit of mega-nihilism chosen to keep fighting and dare the USA to commit mass genocide via Atomic Bombing? We just lucked out.

Crude said...

Suppose that for some reason the war could have been ended earlier, and the lives of hundreds of thousands saved, only by torturing and killing a certain four-year-old child in front of his parents. I think even Henry Stimson and Harry Truman, not to mention the tough guys who haunt blog comboxes, would have balked.

This is a good point - that the feeling (intuition?) about what's right and wrong depends on how the subject is cast.

But what I really liked about this post...

Critics of the bombings should not pretend otherwise: If they hold (as they should) that we should never do what is intrinsically evil, regardless of the consequences, then they should admit that Hiroshima and Nagasaki force them to put their money where their mouths are, if any real-world example does.

..Is that. Too many people would prefer to wiggle and suggest that the bombings didn't in fact save many lives at all, and was a net loss. Being able to face the consequences of rejecting consequentialism (ha!) is admirable, I think. And one reason why you're swaying my view on this matter.

just thinking said...

Ed, I believe you are wrong big.

Sorry, but it is often necessary to fight fire with hotter fire. Ask Crude about the effects.

During the London bombings, had Churchill (a bold Druid, indeed) access to an A bomb, I’ll bet Berlin would look different today. Immoral?

Where is this natural law written? (Please, not on our hearts.) You refer to it as though it is concretely and unambiguously existent. Who wrote it, and whose interpretation of it needs to be the subject of a required course at West Point (or in Fordham’s espionage training program for that matter)?

Crude said...

Sorry, but it is often necessary to fight fire with hotter fire. Ask Crude about the effects.

You are hilarious for reasons you don't grok and may never, jt. Keep on barkin'. ;)

jt said...

OK

Now address my points.

George R. said...

The reader in question knows and agrees with this principle of natural law. Why he and others who agree with it persist in giving consequentialist arguments in defense of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I have no idea.

The reader in question has NEVER given consequentialist arguments in defense of the bombings, and I challenge you to produce one.

jt said...

George, what is your stance on the H/N bombings?

romishgraffiti said...

uppose that for some reason the war could have been ended earlier, and the lives of hundreds of thousands saved, only by torturing and killing a certain four-year-old child in front of his parents. I think even Henry Stimson and Harry Truman, not to mention the tough guys who haunt blog comboxes, would have balked. It is easier to murder the innocent when we think of them in terms of collectivist abstractions

Exactly. Or as I've heard it put: what is the difference between throwing 500 babies on a fire and dropping fire from airplanes on 500 babies? There is none.

jt said...

Would Churchill have been justified in dropping a nuke on Berlin to stop the London bombings?

jt said...

I meant to add this

*I've heard it put: what is the difference between throwing 500 babies on a fire and dropping fire from airplanes on 500 babies? There is none. *

There is, during wartime, a decision to be made: will it be their babies, or ours?

George R. said...

George, what is your stance on the H/N bombings?

Basing my opinion on sound Catholic and natural law principles, I believe that they were not manifestly immoral.

jt said...

I agree, but merely for pragmatic reasons - trying to secure victory.

We could really get controversial and talk about all the allied bombings of German cities.

Bishop Sheen did a broadcast showing the horrible stats of historically unprecedented civilian deaths during wars of the 20th century.

Thank God for our rational essence and how God-like it alone can make us. None of that affective stuff will do, 'ya know.

George R. said...

what is the difference between throwing 500 babies on a fire and dropping fire from airplanes on 500babies?

The difference, if you are capable of appreciating it, is that the former action involves a manifest intention to kill the babies (in the true and unqualified sense of the word "intention"), and the latter doesn't.

George R. said...

In short, Zamperini and the other men who actually suffered in the POW camps were not as bloodthirsty as the reader who asked about Zamperini’s opinion of Hiroshima assumes they were (or as the reader himself evidently is).

I was not suggesting that Zamperini was bloodthirsty. I was merely suggesting that he would not have condemned the bombings, and he evidently didn't. As for me, I guess that since I disagree with Elizabeth Anscombe, I must, therefore, love death and the idea of dead babies.

One Brow said...

Dr. Feser,

Thank you for the post.

I'm not sure I agree that dropping the bomb was more immoral than an invasion would have been.

For the poster who suggested a military target only, I don't think you'll find many military-only targets for an atmoic bomb in a country as densely populated as Japan.

M. Flood said...

JT,

"Would Churchill have been justified in dropping a nuke on Berlin to stop the London bombings?"

No, because that is the deliberate murder of civilians and innocents, something which is inherently wrong, towards an end. Just because it is Winston Churchill does not excuse him from the moral law.

The test is whether or not the act depends upon the evil to achieve its end, meaning it is intended or whether the evil is foreseeable but not intended.

An example: Two countries are at war, and one has an artillery battery over the border firing shells onto a civilian neighborhood. The artillery battery is located in a civilian neighborhood. The attacked country would be justified in attacking this position even though there is a substantial risk of civilian casualties, because the end sought, ending the artillery bombardment, is achieved by the destruction of the artillery battery. The civilian deaths are foreseeable, not intended. Further, this course of action is only acceptable if there is no other alternative to ending the threat that does not involve the risk of civilian death.

Your A-Bomb on Berlin scenario, on the other hand, is an example, as are the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where the deaths of civilians are directly intended as the means to the chosen end. That makes it morally impermissible. It is treating living human beings as akin to railroad tracks, factories, and fuel depots, as simply war materiel that can be destroyed in pursuit of victory.

As for who wrote the moral law and how we know it, but lie to ourselves about it, read the Budziszewski article Ed links to at the end of the article.

David said...

In what sense is the 18-year old draftee from Oklahoma less innocent than the Japanese civilian in Nagasaki, and therefore suitable cannon fodder for the purpose of maintaining the pristine consciences of A-bomb critics? The only difference between them is that the kid from Oklahoma was ordered by his government to put on a uniform and carry a gun, while the Japanese civilian wasn't. Or perhaps not even that, since the Japanese government had defense plans that involved every Japanese civilian as a potential combatant, not to mention the thousands working in war industries, or even in agriculture that supported the Japanese military.

How would one write the telegrams to the mothers of the thousands of dead draftees after the invasion of Japan? Maybe like this: We had a way to end the war, but chose instead to sacrifice your son so that innocent Japanese might live. You should be proud of your son, and may the appreciation of the exquisite moral sensitivity of our consciences console you.

jt said...

We certainly do place a higher dollar value on wartime civilian casualties than soldiers.

A corpse comes home for burial from the towers of 9/11 and the family gets a million dollars. A soldier comes for burial from an IED set off in Iraq - six thousand.

If your country engages in war, it owes it to its own to win as efficiently as possible, so as to suffer the least number of casualties.

David said...

jt, I agree. And remember that the current military is all-volunteer. Many of the guys hitting the beaches in 1945 were draftees. I don't see how drafting a kid off the farm somehow makes his life expendable in the cause of saving Japanese.

Josh said...

For my part George R, I'm curious to know what non-consequentialist Catholic objections there are to Prof. Feser's position...

Edward Feser said...

Surely those of you who disgree with me are aware that natural law theory makes a distinction between intentionally killing the innocent (always immoral, whatever the reason) and doing something which will have the death of innocents as an unintended byproduct (not always immoral). But if so, why do you ignore this distinction in your responses, thereby simply begging the question against the natural law theorist?

For example, sending a soldier onto a beach knowing (but not intending) that he might get killed is simply morally different from intentionally killing civilians for the purpose of terrorizing the survivors into surrendering.

The bizarre thing is that George knows and even agrees with this distinction and yet ignores it in this context. Yes, George, knowing that the bombing of a crucial enemy factory (say) might result in the deaths of infants is not necessarily morally comparable to throwing infants into the fire. But deliberately killing infants in order to scare the parents into surrendering is morally comparable. That's the point Catholic and other natural law oriented critics of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are making, and you should not ignore it.

Also, George, you are the one who mockingly asked whether Zamperini was "broken up" about dropping "the big one" on Hiroshima. A reasonable person could surely read such a flippant remark as (a) implying a consequentialist argument to the effect that the liberation of men like Zamperini justified Hiroshima, and (b) evincing a bloodthirsty attitude toward the civilians of Hiroshima.

JT, yes, I think dropping an atomic bomb on Berlin for the purpose of terrorizing the population into surrendering would have been immoral. You need to ask?

Anyway, I must say I find it hard to have a discussion about these matters with a guy who endlessly blubbers about the sorry fate of this or that dog or goldfish but can't see anything morally problemtic about incinerating infants. Surreal.

jt said...

Ed

London civilians are being bombed, why can't Churchill drop a big one on Berlin if it will save Londoners in wartime.

In essence, he did this in Dresden and many others. So all the German cities the allies firebomber were immoral acts?

Where is this natural law written in concrete unambiguous lawlike language?

Please answer.

Don't worry about my dogs, they are my ultimate concern. You probably have some I don't give a damn about.

Edward Feser said...

JT,

Yes, any bombing which was done for the purpose of demoralizing the civilian population, rather than for the purpose of destroying significant military targets (with civilian casualties as an unintended byproduct) was gravely immoral. Whether the cities were in Germany or Japan is irrelevant. Again, you need to ask?

Re: where the natural law is "written," I assume you realize that natural law theorists do not claim that the natural law is literally a kind of legislative document that can be found in some natural archive somewhere (our brains or DNA, or whatever). So I'm not sure what the point of your question is, unless it is just to be cute. Anyway, what natural law theory does claim is that we have essences in the Aristotelian sense, that these essences determine what is good for us, that all of this can be known through reason rather than revelation, etc. Since I've spelled all this out in detail in many places (e.g. chapter 5 of my book Aquinas), I'll direct you there for further information if you are really interested.

George R. said...

For example, sending a soldier onto a beach knowing (but not intending) that he might get killed is simply morally different from intentionally killing civilians for the purpose of terrorizing the survivors into surrendering.

Ed, I’ll admit that “intentionally killing civilians for the purpose of terrorizing the survivors into surrendering” may have been Truman’s intention, in which case his action would have been immoral. But this (evil) intention does not necessarily belong to the matter of the act; you are just presuming to know what his intention was. In fact, his true purpose may have been only to destroy the power and prestige of two major Japanese cities in order to show the Japanese that all their power and prestige can be taken away from them, and he may have regretted the loss of innocent life as an unfortunate byproduct. In any case, I do not see how you can know for sure that he directly intended to kill innocent civilians rather than just seeing their deaths as an incidental, albeit forseeable, outcome .

David said...

Ed,

I think I understand the distinction you are making between intentionally killing the innocent and issuing orders which may have the unintended consequence of killing the innocent. But I'm not sure how easy it is to distinguish the innocent in the modern era of total war.

In total war, everything in the nation is consciously put in the service of military victory - especially in totalitarian countries like Nazi Germany and Japan. This isn't the fifth century, when the first a peasant might know of a war is when a barbarian or legionnaire shows up at his farm to kill/plunder. Such a peasant surely qualifies as innocent. World War II was a war between economies and was all about logistics. Unlike the fifth century farmer, the 20th century Japanese farmer/fisherman/factory worker self-consciously worked in the logistical chain supporting the army. This is true whether he worked in an explicitly military factory or not. A significant part of the propaganda effort in all countries (including ours) was urging the civilian support system to ever greater productive heights, because logistics was the decisive element in the war. It doesn't seem to me to be sound to label this support system "off limits" to military attack as "innocent", as though they were unaware a war was going on, or unaware of the total integrated nature of modern war and their role in it.

I'm not sure the atomic bombs terrorized anyone into surrendering. One thing that had already been amply demonstrated in the war was that aerial bombing does not terrorize civilians into surrender. If anything, it stiffens their resolve. The reason the Japanese gave for surrendering was that it became clear that we now possessed the power to obliterate them. In other words, it was clear that the total war would end in total destruction. Prior to that, the Japanese held some hope - through total mobilization - of staving of complete and utter defeat; and they were willing to sacrifice as many civilians as it might take as long as some hope of avoiding complete defeat remained. The A-bombs removed that hope, and thus ended the war.

If not the A-bombs, the war would have ended eventually in the same way, but with many more deaths: Only when the last vestige of hope of avoiding total defeat had been destroyed, and that would involve destroying the Japanese ability to resist - which meant destroying the logistical support system supporting the war, i.e. the civilian support structure.

By the way, General Sherman understood this in his March to the Sea. He had no time for "innocent" Southern Belles proclaiming the barbarity of the Yankees, after urging their suitors and brothers to fight for the cause. Sherman understood that in modern war - and the Civil War was the first modern war - the war ends when the other side's logistical support is destroyed... and that means making war on the civilian infrastructure.

David said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
jt said...

This Aristotelian essentialist natural law obviously allows equivocation on gigantic scales.

Similar to what George says, if there is any legitimate military target in Hiroshima, I bomb and say the civilion casualties were unfortunate and unintended. This is precisely what Churchill did with several dozed German cities. In Dresden, very few military targets were attacked.

If natural law is as universally applicable, non-doctrinal, and unambiguous as its adherents want the other 3/4 of the world to accept, I have to insist it show up somewhere other than an essence.

jt said...

David

I had missed what you 0double)posted. Very well said. I had not thought it that clearly.

*In total war, everything in the nation is consciously put in the service of military victory - especially in totalitarian countries like Nazi Germany and Japan.*

Taking a cue from John Searle's syudy habits, I am guessing reading a good history book on wars would help anybody doing metaphysics and metaethics.

One thing ironic is Ed's chastizing my buddy Hume for looking too proximately to the effect for its cause - Ed says you gotta zoom out. But he doesn't look at the big pic here in the case of 3 bombs on 2 cities.

As you said total modern war is far more complex than a medieval skirmish taken care of by a few lance-bearing knights on horses.

ichabod's cranium said...

yo JT!!!
With "essence" doesn't it really help make sense how things can be viewed as right and wrong?

When I think of morality as some abstract bar that people must raise up to it's really hard for me to make sense of morality. But, when I think of morality as how people should act based off of their essence then it clears up the ambiguity and makes that abstract more concrete.

When some theists speak of morality in the abstract I find it very unconvincing (that might be the wrong word). But the Thomist notion of humanity (humans) having a particular nature and how that nature is directed towards specific ends I can then start understanding why something could be viewed as right or wrong regarding moral choices/actions.

jt said...

Only two bombs were dropped on cities.

M. Flood said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
M. Flood said...

George R.,

In fact, his true purpose may have been only to destroy the power and prestige of two major Japanese cities in order to show the Japanese that all their power and prestige can be taken away from them, and he may have regretted the loss of innocent life as an unfortunate byproduct.

Why would it be necessary to destroy a city? The Fat Man or Little Boy bombs, dropped on Mount Fuji, possibly obliterating a large part and permanently defacing it, would seem to be sufficient enough for both demonstration and demoralization. Not to mention that any sane military or political leader, presented with such an undeniably awesome weapon, would have only surrender as a choice (that is, unless they possessed nuclear weapons of their own. The result would be achieved without undue loss of life. Radiation poisoning of those downwind would be a foreseeable but not intentional consequence. With this alternative the destruction of Nagasaki and Hiroshima seems excessive, excess being the feature of many evil acts, even those done towards good purposes.

JT,

If your country engages in war, it owes it to its own to win as efficiently as possible, so as to suffer the least number of casualties.

What then is prohibited? What if the most efficient means is total extermination? This is an option available to modern governments possessing weapons of mass destruction, particularly those like the United States and Russia that have them, as it were, forward deployed, ready for immediate action. Arguably it is the most efficient option, particularly if the enemy does not possess forces to respond in kind. What then could prohibit this option?

David,

You raise a very interesting point about the integrated nature of modern economies and total wars, but I do not believe this does away with the civilian/military distinction, but it is worthwhile discussing how. There is still a distinction between the persons in the civilian infrastructure and the material infrastructure itself (roads, bridges, factories, power plants, etcetera). Attacks can be made legitimately upon the latter, but not the former. The destruction of a bridge or a railroad prohibits supplies from reaching the front. It may also prohibit food shipments, which may cause civilian deaths. Those deaths, however, are foreseen but not intended.

BenYachov said...

Catholics I've known who have tried to justify the Atomic Bombing of Japan often try to claim it was done for the purpose of destroying the military infrastructure of Hiroshima or Nagasaki and the civilian deaths where nothing more than collateral damage.

I don't buy it. If you are a snipper standing on a school filled with children killing people on the streen. Morally speaking in regards to proportionality I should employ a police snipper to take you out if you are immediately a threat to life even if the Police Sharp Shooter might accidentally shoot a kid.

But there is no way I can firebomb the school with a bunker buster bomb incinerate the kids with the snipper and claim with a straight face I was merely trying to kill the snipper and the kids are collateral damage.

Thus I see no reason why the military infrastructure of the two cities could not have been destroyed by conventional bombing.

David said...

Flood,

I agree with you that there is a distinction between civilians and the infrastructure, and I even agree that civilians are not as "guilty" (so to speak) as rifle-carrying soldiers; I'm not even completely convinced that the atomic bombs should have been used.

What I object to is the facile identification of enemy "innocent", as though they are easily identified in modern war, and can readily serve in a syllogism that justifies the sacrifice of any number of American farmboys.

What Truman was after was the destruction of Japan's ability to resist; in modern total war, that means destroying the national economic infrastructure, including civilian homes (ala Sherman). I've reread some of the things Truman wrote, and I don't see him talking about killing civilians. He talks about destroying docks, factories, communications, etc. We could add homes to the list, and if Japanese civilians are in them, then they are foreseen but unintended victims.

jt said...

M Flood

*What then is prohibited? What if the most efficient means is total extermination?*

I alluded to Ed's natural law maybe needing to be a required course at West Point and also mused as to what influence it has on the indoctrination of future CIAers who study under the Jesuits at Fordham and Georgetown.

They are in the business of answering your questions efficiently with their version of natural law.

jt said...

And as for Ed's mandate that we zoom out to seek the cause of an effect:

War is hell. The goal of war is to win - all bad things that happen from battle to battle reflect varying degrees of unintended atrocity. Armchair quarterbacking aside, if you cannot deal with this, go neutral.

MMcCue said...

I have always believed that the bombing in question was immoral, but I have never found anyone with whom I discussed this problem, even good people, who would agree with me.

Thanks

Jinzang said...

It amazes me that people who will go on and on about Muslim terrorists, who kill civilians by car bombs and suicide bombs, see absolutely noting wrong with targeting civilians with bombs dropped from planes or with anti-personnel weapons such as cluster bombs.

TheOFloinn said...

Those who justify a direct attack on enemy civilians on the basis that the modern total economy makes the civilian part of the war effort should realize that that was part of the rationale of Islamist websites justifying 9/11. In a democracy, you see, the voters are just as responsible as their government and therefore as much a target.

Here is Truman's announcement:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Trumann_hiroshima.ogg
in which he refers to Hiroshima as "a military base."

I'm conflicted about the whole thing. My father heard the announcement of the bombing while on a troopship headed for Japan.

Edward Feser said...

George says:

In fact, his true purpose may have been only to destroy the power and prestige of two major Japanese cities in order to show the Japanese that all their power and prestige can be taken away from them, and he may have regretted the loss of innocent life as an unfortunate byproduct.

This is sheer sophistry. A Catholic woman who murders her husband might as well say "My true purpose was to be free to enter the convent, and I regret the loss of innocent life that was an unfortunate byproduct."

In both cases, the fallacy is in assuming that because the ultimate goal of your action is something per se morally acceptable, that the action itself is morally acceptable. That doesn't follow in the Hiroshima case any more than in the husband murdering case. The woman really only cares about entering the convent, and not about having a dead husband. All the same, she still intentionally kills the husband even if only as a means to this end. Similarly, even if the aim was to detroy Japanese prestige, and not dead civilians per se, the act was still an act of intentionally killing civilians even if only as a means to this end.

Give it up, George. There's no way in hell you can defend your position from a natural law point of view. And it's especially rich that someone who loves to play the "more traditionally Catholic than thou" game should so twist natural law theory and Catholic moral teaching to try to justify murdering civilians.

Brandon said...

Contrary to common belief, total war is not a new thing; not all wars are total wars, but many in the past three thousand years have been. It's not something fundamentally new. But a common mistake made about total war is the sense in which it is 'total'; it is total in that the belligerent power (i.e., the government) exercises its coercive sanctions in order to marshal all resources potentially at its disposal in order to overwhelm all capacity of the opponent to resist. The 'coercive' plays a big role, especially in totalitarian states; and we ignore it at our peril.

It also seems to me to be a mistake to assume, as some seem to have done here, that the 'innocence' involved in talking about killing innocents has 'guilt' without any qualification as its negative complement. The opposite of innocents in war are people who are able and trying to kill you, i.e., people who are responsible for a very specific class of acts. While for obvious reasons we don't always talk about innocent combatants, moral philosophers have always talked about cases of innocent combatants, soldiers hors de combat and the like. It is morally wrong deliberately to kill them, too, and for precisely the same reasons.

I confess that people's attitudes on this always mystifies me. I can understand underscoring how difficult war is and how it is understandable that people put into it will be faced with terrible choices, and that we therefore cannot always be as hard on them as we would on people doing something in peacetime in cold blood, because that's all true; but it always goes far beyond that, to outright justification. Now if there were some really good argument for it, maybe, but the arguments are always vague and handwaving. David's total war argument is pretty as much as good as the arguments get, and it, like all total war arguments for similar conclusions, is conveniently vague about the one and only step that matters: how we move rationally from the real conditions of total war, including the moral conditions of waging total war at all, to everyone being fair game -- without ever effectively saying that morality is expendable and that anything in war is justified as long as it conduces to winning. Because if one were to go so far as to claim that anything is justified in war, there is a name for that, and it is moral depravity. So what is this amazing line of reasoning that actually does the work of getting us from A to B without using morally depraved assumptions? It's always the one step missing.

jt said...

*Those who justify a direct attack on enemy civilians on the basis that the modern total economy makes the civilian part of the war effort should realize that that was part of the rationale of Islamist websites justifying 9/11. In a democracy, you see, the voters are just as responsible as their government and therefore as much a target.*

I think everyone is pretty well aware of this fact. The Dept of Homeland Security and massive security checkpoints and alerting citizens to be on guard. We may not like it, but we may just have to accept it. The state of Israel knows about it.

What bothers me is if sane governments we do not do something in North Korea first, a lot of South Koreans may suffer a Hiroshima of their own.

If you had evidence that we were hours away from a N Korean nuclear launch, would you prempt with your nuke?

Benny said...

No justification is sufficient to warrant intentionally killing civilians. When you say that we cannot claim the US to be an evil nation in comparison to Nazi Germany or WWII Japan is it due to the frequency of our war crime compared to theirs? Also, the people directly involved, how do you not hold them morally responsible? I do like your idea of a third option of a more direct bombing of military facilities, so often we create false dichotomies. When Truman ordered the dropping of the bomb he defied the judgement of his advisors including Eisenhower and several other Generals who were opposed to it. However, even if that were not the case it would still be morally wrong. I see this issue as part of the larger pro-life issue, life is sacred at all stages.

catholicofthule said...

Thank you for another great post, Dr. Feser!

George R. said...

C’mon, Ed. How stupid do you think I am? What do you think, I don’t know that means are intended just as much as ends? Haven’t I already admitted that if the civilian deaths were intended as means, then the bombing was immoral? My thesis, however, is that it is not manifestly obvious that the civilian deaths were intended either as means or ends. Now you may reject that thesis as being wrong, insane, or even wicked – but I see no reason why you should refuse to recognize that it is, in fact, my thesis.

romishgraffiti said...

Thanks Brandon. I don't see an extra sentence at the end of CCC 2312 that says "unless it's total war, then all bets are off". :)

David said...

Brandon,

Whether modern total war is nothing new is a large topic. I think it is new because the ancient world simply did not have the prerequisites, both conceptual and technological, to make it happen. For example, modern propaganda - an essential element of total mobilization - requires modern rapid and mass communication to be effective, as well as the psychological insight to see the potential of such technology. The fifth century peasant on his farm simply could not be bombarded daily with leaflets, loudspeakers, radio broadcasts and newsreels, nor did any would-be mobilizer have the communications infrastructure necessary to coordinate a continent-wide propaganda campaign. But this is something about which I think we will have to agree to disagree, since it is a big topic.

Probably the best way for the a-bomb critics to make their case would be for them to detail the morally correct alternative to the atomic bombs for ending the war. Part of my reason for supporting the a-bombs is that I don't know of any morally pure way to end the war; in war, everyone gets dirty to one degree or another.

So I accept the criticism that there is not an airtight moral case for the a-bombs that would leave the a-bomb advocate with a pristine conscience. This is not a justification of anything goes; it is only a recognition that war generally involves a choice between bad alternatives. Just exactly what was the morally correct way to end the war? Details matter.

jt said...

Details matter. Not against a sacrosanct speculative metaphysical theory.

George R. said...

Furthermore, I’d like to know the moral difference between a president dropping a bomb that he knows will directly cause the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians and a president launching an invasion that he knows will directly cause the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians -- because, frankly, I don’t see any difference at all.

This is one of the reasons I’m opposed to the demonizing of the bombings. It gives ammunition to those who wish to condemn all offensive warfare.

Brandon said...

David,

It's a serious error in moral philosophy to think that there is always such a thing as "the morally correct way" to do something. This flattens moral thought in truly ridiculous and artificial ways. On occasion the real moral options can be narrowed to one; on occasion you can have, through previously immoral choices, painted yourself into a corner in which, whatever you do, you will do something moral; on other occasions there will be many different things to do.

Despite your claim about details, I see no details whatsoever backing your claim that "everyone gets dirty" in war -- which is false, but even if it were true is not relevant to this subject. The number of people who were involved in the decision and execution of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was only a tiny fraction of the war effort, and so when we are talking about the morality of it we are talking about whether what they did was moral and, in a more extended way, whether we ourselves in assessing it will do so in a moral way. That is, what is looked at is (1) whether those of Truman's advisors who advised dropping the bombs were giving moral counsel; (2) whether Truman's decision was a moral decision to make; (3) whether those executing the decision were acting morally given what they actually knew and what they actually did. That is all.

When military strategists are planning things, they may often talk loosely about a plan 'to end the war', but it is, in fact, only a loose way of talking, precisely the sort of talk that glosses over endless details. Ending wars is not a human action: there are so many variables outside of human control that particular decisions can no more "end wars" than they can do anything similarly massive, e.g., preserve democracy or establish liberty. What is in human power in the midst of a war is not the capacity to "end the war" but things like surrendering and fighting, which may be chosen because they increase the likelihood of the war coming to an end, and may in fact end up being causal factors in the war coming to an end. There are things that can be done that one could rationally hope will contribute to the war's ending and others that one can't rationally hope will do so. But it is the first and worst military mistake to assume that anyone has that much control over the situation in war.

Thus the question of the "the moral way to end the war" is not even on the table. Thinking we really have such power would be hubris; it is at best a figure of speech. The only relevant question on the table is the question of moral decisions determining strategy in fighting the Japanese or similar enemies, because those were the only decisions actually being made, and were the only decisions that actually could be made at the time.

And in any case, the primary aim even in war cannot be to end the war, however high that aim may be, but to act in a way that, given the circumstances, is at least consistent with justice. To say anything else is to say nothing other than that in war might takes precedence over right.

David said...

George R,

I think the difference the a-bomb critics would say is that in the invasion, civilians would not be directly targeted but would only die as collateral damage when we were shooting at the Japanese army. This is the foreseen vs. intended distinction.

But I think this would be a distinction without a difference in fact, which is why details matter. Were we to conduct an amphibious invasion of Hiroshima, for example, the invasion would be preceded by a massive naval/air bombardment of the city, inevitably killing thousands of civilians. We killed a lot of French civilians,for example, in the pre-DDay bombardment and also thousands on Okinawa. I don't see the moral distinction between this pre-invasion bombardment and simply dropping an A-bomb on the city. In fact, why not just call the A-bomb drop a pre-invasion bombardment?

David said...

Brandon,

I'll rephrase the question: How would you recommend Truman pursue the war consistent with the principles of justice?

David

Brandon said...

How would you recommend Truman pursue the war consistent with the principles of justice?

Not use the a-bomb against Hiroshima and Nagasaki but, assuming that it involved no atrocities, follow the advice of his generals once that option was off the table. Was that really such a very unanticipatable answer?

Brandon said...

I don't see the moral distinction between this pre-invasion bombardment and simply dropping an A-bomb on the city.

That's because you're stating it in explicitly consequentialist terms rather than in terms of the character of what you are doing. But this is absurd. There are completely just actions that can be undertaken even knowing that tens of thousands of civilians will die -- for instance, going to war against an unjustly invading power. So are we now to argue that going to war at all is just like dropping an atomic bomb on a city? This is, I suppose, precisely what George R is arguing: but it's an argument that goes through only if the consequentialist approach to assessing moral character is right.

David said...

Brandon,

The advice of the generals was to conduct an invasion of Japan like the invasions of Iwo Jima, Okinawa, etc. Since you say you would follow the advice of the generals, I assume you agree to the details of their plans.

The invasion of Japan would be preceded by a huge naval/air bombardment, killing many thousands of civilians. Hiroshima, for example, is a coastal city and a possible target of invasion. We would have bombarded it with battleships and B-29's. What is the moral distinction you see between that pre-invasion bombardment and dropping A-bombs on the city?

David said...

Brandon,

Our posts are crossing. I'm not being consequentialist. The intended end in both cases is the same: Blow up the city.

By the way, I can't find anywhere Truman saying that he was targeting civilians. He says he was targeting factories, docks, communications, etc. In other words, he was blowing up the city, just like we would do in a pre-invasion bombardment.

George R. said...

I think the difference the a-bomb critics would say is that in the invasion, civilians would not be directly targeted but would only die as collateral damage when we were shooting at the Japanese army. This is the foreseen vs. intended distinction.

David, you're wrong. The only reason why a president would launch an invasion in which he knows that thousands of women and children would die is because he WANTS them to die. Why else would he launch the invasion? He wants the landscape strewn with dead babies and mutilated women in order that the enemy will see what bad asses we are and surrender. No? You don't think we can impute this intention to him? OK, then maybe, just maybe, we can't impute this intention to a president who drops the bomb on a city either.

Btw, you're arguments are immoral and consequentialist. They will never persuade anyone who knows our actions ought to be directed by moral principles.

David said...

George R,

I agree with you about imputing intentions... somehow it is taken as given that Truman intended to kill civilians, but I can't find him saying this anywhere. He talks about blowing up infrastructure.

If the Japanese population had decamped from the cities, with their factories, docks and communications facilities, and lived in tents on the slopes of Mt. Fuji, would Truman have bombed them? If we insist that Truman was targeting civilians, I think we must conclude that Truman would have shifted the target from Hiroshima to Mt. Fuji, which I submit is absurd.

jt said...

Is this argument against the bomb a purely Catholic thing - I mean what is the Church;s official stand, and perhaps what percentage of Catholics believe the bomb dropping was wrong.

I was brought up in a conservative community and region, and do not recall this Catholic hostility against the bombs.

Along those lines, what percentage of Catholic hierarchy believe ths natural law theory is proper metaphysics? I really am curious. Is it official dogma?

George R. said...

Well said, David. And I suggest that if we can reasonably avoid imputing evil intentions to Truman, we should -- lest we fall into the sin of rash suspicion.

Vincent Torley said...

Post #1

I've been following this debate with interest. I can speak from a different perspective than other contributors, because unlike the rest of you, I live and work in Japan. My wife is Japanese, and my mother-in-law lost four of her brothers and sisters in World War II, some in the bombings of Tokyo. It may surprise some of you to know that my wife actually believes that the bombing of Hiroshima was justified. For my part, I think it wasn't; however, my principal concern is to show that it isn't as black-and-white an issue as some people think.

Let me add that I've visited the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, as well as the Peace Memorial Museum. One thing that I was surprised to learn when I visited the museum was just how heavily involved Hiroshima was in the Japanese war effort, as an industrial and naval center, used by the military. Speaking of which, readers may not be aware that the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed about 10,000 Japanese troops.

Readers may also be unaware of the fact that during World War II, the Allies frequently airdropped leaflets on target cities, urging civilians to flee. Before the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the U.S. had previously dropped leaflets warning civilians of air raids on 35 Japanese cities, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki. You can read about this at http://www.damninteresting.com/ww2-america-warned-hiroshima-and-nagasaki-citizens and at the CIA Website, https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol46no3/article07.html .

But all of this doesn't address the ethics of using the atomic bomb in the first place. The relevant question is: what were President Truman's intentions? It's hard to say, of course, because politicians often lie. What we can discuss are his stated intentions. (More to follow.)

Vincent Torley said...

Hi everyone,

You can read the rest of my comments at http://www.angelfire.com/linux/vjtorley/hiroshima.html . I think it's easier on Ed than putting up six or seven posts, as I originally planned to do. I'd appreciate your comments.

jt said...

Got some knowledge on about natural law. Only one question need be asked when someone holds it out as definitive proof of the right/wrong character of an act.

Whose version of natural law are we agreeing to for groubd rules, and there sure are a lot to choose from, and, whose interpretation within the chosen version of natural law will ejudicate.

Upshot:"The sign of a natural law must be the universal respect in which it is held, for if there was anything that nature had truly commanded us to do, we would undoubtedly obey it universally: not only would every nation respect it, but every individual. Instead there is nothing in the world that is not subject to contradiction and dispute, nothing that is not rejected, not just by one nation, but by many; equally, there is nothing that is strange and (in the opinion of many) unnatural that is not approved in many countries, and authorized by their customs."

Say NO to dogmatic certitude.

BenYachov said...

Interesting post on your blog VJ.

Cheers man!

BenYachov said...

>Say NO to dogmatic certitude.

Good advice! I will start by saying no to the expression of certitude in bold letter above my words.;-)

jt said...

Thanks, Ben. That important constructive comment has completely altered what I said and think.

Now, could you try and address what else I said - could impact your ideas.

George R. said...

VJ,
Your wife’s views remind me of something I read from a speech by the then-mayor of Dresden on the 60th anniversary of the so-called fire-bombing: “We started the fire, which came back and consumed us.”

BenYachov said...

>Now, could you try and address what else I said - could impact your ideas.

I will think about it.

Brandon said...

Since you say you would follow the advice of the generals, I assume you agree to the details of their plans.

No. Despite the fact that you keep talking about details, you keep overlooking them when convenient for your argument. You asked, very clearly, what I would have recommended Truman to do to act in accordance with principles of justice: and Truman had a very specific job to do in the process. As President his role was to authorize and legitimate military actions as constitutional, legal, and consistent with human good as best he could determine it. And as far as I can tell, I would have advised Truman not to drop the bomb, to listen to his generals' advice about alternatives, to scrutinize their proposals to make sure as best he could that in authorizing them he would not be authorizing something as constitutional, legal, and consistent with human good that wasn't, and go with it. That's what a President has to do to act justly in war. And Truman's role in the whole matter was simply that: to act justly as President. It was his generals' role to come up with just proposals on the basis of their military expertise and to organize the means of executing any proposal the President authorized. And it was the role of the particular airmen, etc., to find just means to carry out the particular orders they were receiving. The differences in these roles are differences that matter, and you keep ignoring these details as if they didn't matter, as if (for instance) one can just slosh from the question of how one acts justly as a President in war to whether a general in proposing this or that specific proposal is proposing something just, and back again, without recognizing that there are different moral questions here.

The intended end in both cases is the same: Blow up the city.

I'm not sure I understand why you could be saying this except by treating consequences and ends as the same. Unless you've turned over the military to insane people, blowing up cities is not the intended end in an invasion scenario, although it may be a consequence of certain support actions in the invasion. It's certainly not the intended end of the decision to invade. And I cannot imagine any invasion scenario where the most rational thing even from a purely technical military perspective would be to "blow up the city". Even Shock-and-Awe tactics never have that goal; and it would usually be counter-productive. One does blow up infrastructure, of course; but one is always as selective as possible about that, and always subordinate to more important ends. Again, it is at most a loose figure of speech, precisely at a point where something more precise is needed.

On the intention question that has come up in several of the comments:

One should be careful of the temptation to over-psychologize the term and confuse it with motivation. If you have enough information to be able to tell whether something is accidental or not, you have enough information to say something about intentions.

jt said...

Motivation...intentionality...

Speaking as a non A/T, I do recall something Tom said on motivation: where any of the 4 cardinal virtues (fortitude, temperance, justice, prudence) or faith, hope, and charity are missing, you cannot have moral action.

I already commented how his natural law theory is nothing other than his philosophical/theological opinion, not a fact. But if you do choose to beat people over the head with it as was the thrust of this post, it is worth noting that going into a war, your motives and intentions will surely lack several of the 7 virtues, meaning the effect of going to war always has immoral causes. So why focus only on Japan?

MMcCue said...

my first ever comment came thru yesterday perfectisimo.

David said...

Brandon,

Well, yes, we can always retreat into abstractions and remain there. The advice to Truman is to scrutinize his generals' proposals and act in accordance with the principles of justice. This is simply advising someone not to sin. Perfectly sound, but not very helpful.

Unfortunately, Truman was not dealing in abstractions but in a decision involving a limited set of concrete alternatives. Frankly, I admire him for his determination to step up and take responsibility for so serious a decision. I think it is only fair to him to require that his critics deal in specific alternatives rather than abstractions. My admiration for him only increases when, still to this day, A-bomb critics refuse to propose concrete alternatives that might meet the standard of justice with which they condemn Truman. Instead, they retreat with the hedge that it is someone else's job to come up with such proposals, and only their job to shoot them down. Thank goodness Truman was better than this.

This will be my last post.... thank you for the discussion.

Duke of Earl said...

This is an interesting discussion, but I'm not sure what side to take.

Was using the atomic bombs immoral because civilian cities were targeted?

Possibly.

That's a different issue from whether or not the bombs should have been used.

Japan brought America into the war, Pearl Harbour and all that. In doing so they probably lost the war for the Axis powers.

Would the Japanese have fought to the last man, woman and child?

They're a very proud people, and choosing death over dishonour has a long tradition there. I could see it happening.

Did the demonstration of nuclear weapons provide an incentive for later governments to leave the damn things in their launch tubes?

Perhaps.

Was it the best of a variety of bad choices?

Maybe.

I don't know. Even if it was immoral I think that I would have launched the bombs anyway.

A question was asked of me once.

"If your country was attacked, how many of the enemy nation would you kill in order to save your own?"

I didn't know the answer so they told me.

"If the answer is anything other than 'all of them' then you aren't qualified to lead a country."

As for the terrorists, remember there was no declared war against any Islamic state on 9/11. It was a Pearl Harbour.

jt said...

Well VJ, you said it all and you said it right. metaphysics and ethics should be off-limits to philosophy writers until one has seen 60 years or so.

Looking forward to Ed’s reply.

jt said...

On second thought, with John Searle in mind, perhaps philosophy writers ought to simply stop pretending to do anything but opining.

That said, U am interested in how this discussion has affected Ed's opinion on natural law and on bombs.

jt said...

I, not U

Brandon said...

David,

I answered your question with the only answer appropriate to it. If you want better answers, formulate better questions. This is the second time that your attempt to formulate a question to summarize the question has turned out to be vague and useless, which suggests very strongly that you have no real criticism against critics of the A-bomb here, but just a vague feeling with no substance to it. At least, that's as much as I can get from all the equivocations in them so far.

This can be made more precise. You say:

My admiration for him only increases when, still to this day, A-bomb critics refuse to propose concrete alternatives that might meet the standard of justice with which they condemn Truman.

But this is simply to miss the entire point of the criticism. The primary point of the criticism is not to "condemn Truman" or indeed to assign any sort of culpability but to assess an action morally. Because the action is cooperative, involving many people, the two detach from each other: when the action is morally assessed as culpable, it is still a question as to how culpable any particular person in the cooperative network is. By certain buck-stops-here assumptions people might well attribute primary responsibility to Truman, but the moral assessment of the action of dropping an atomic weapon on a city does not require doing so. Further, even if we do talk about specific responsibilities of particular people, Truman's role in the entire process was very specific, as I have already pointed out; whether or not Truman acted justly depends entirely on whether he fulfilled that specific role justly. You again keep sloshing around between what Truman's responsibility was and what the responsibility of other people cooperating in the action was, as if there were no difference; the only issues on the table that are relevant to whether Truman acted justly are (1) whether he took steps to avoid being negligent in his Constitutional and legal duties; (2) what he actually knew would be involved in dropping the bombs; (3) whether he acted according to conscience; (4) whether he properly listened to the advice of his generals in making his decision; and (5) whether, given the information he had, authorizing the bomb involved authorizing a military action that a reasonable person would recognize as being an act of, in Ed's words, "intentionally killing innocent civilians for the sake of terrorizing the survivors into surrendering" or something similar. The only alternatives on the table that are relevant to whether Truman acted justly on this point are: authorize dropping the bomb or don't authorize dropping the bomb. That's all. There's nothing abstract about it; it's just that the particular question you keep wanting to make this discussion about is not interesting. The action of dropping the bomb could be intrinsically immoral, Truman could have authorized it, and Truman could still turn out not to be culpable if (for instance) crucial information had been left out, or if some key point had been non-negligently overlooked, or anything like. The responsibility of Truman is not relevant to the moral assessment of the bombings (although the moral assessment of the bombings is one of the things relevant to question of the responsibility of Truman).

It gets very different when we recognize that the action being assessed is not the action "Harry Truman's decision to authorize the bombings" but "the whole cooperative action of bombing". The latter is a cooperative action, in the same sense that three men rowing a boat together are engaged in one action. And it is this cooperative action that Ed criticized in the post. None of your arguments so far have been relevant to this; they only look so because you keep equivocating among different moral questions.

jt said...

Ed

You can reply. Put your dissenters in their place and maintain you are right with further argument, or perhaps admit your position may not be so strong. In the spirit of dialog, how about a response?

Your blog should never become one-way, top-down. Tell me that's how you want it and I will grant you the pleasure of my leave.

Edward Feser said...

In the spirit of dialog, how about a response?

Your blog should never become one-way, top-down.

Tell you what, JT, you add another 12 hours to my day and I'll get to working on that response.

As it is, I barely have enough time to write regular blog posts, let alone respond to (or, I'm sorry to say, even read) every comment everyone makes. Most readers realize that when I do not respond to a comment, that's the reason.

I might add that it would increase the odds of my responding to your comments if you didn't post 10-15 of them a day...

Edward Feser said...

BTW, I want to thank TheOFloinn and Brandon for their comments on the "total war" idea. I did start to write up a comment on the subject, but it was intemperate enough that I decided to scrap it. I think they've said what needs to be said.

jt said...

Paragraph 2314 of the Catechism

"every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation."

I have been searching the web for a day, and cannot find where the Catholic Church issued its "firm and unequivocal condemnation: of Hirshima and Nagasaki.

If indeed there is none, then the Catholic natural law is not as binding as this blog post implies, and the atomic bombings are not condemnable acts.

Sorry, Ed, but no condemnation, no immoral act.

jt said...

C'mon Ed, the "I am too busy to address comments in my own blog is sooo often your ploy and it is very weak. Close the combox if it is so time consuming.

What about it?

No condemnation, no immorality?

David said...

JT: C'mon Ed, the "I am too busy to address comments in my own blog is sooo often your ploy and it is very weak.

How can it be weak? Are you paying the man for personal tutoring, JT? Or are you just being a jerk? That's not a rhetorical question, by the way; I want to know why you think you are owed a response whenever you snap your fingers. It is surely not a reasonable expectation. (Note that at this point, it would however be reasonable for Ed simply to bin any comment coming from you.)

I have been searching the web for a day, and cannot find where the Catholic Church issued its "firm and unequivocal condemnation: of Hirshima and Nagasaki.

In the Catechism, #2314. Considering you posted that in the preceding sentence, it makes one wonder whether you are taking any of this seriously.

David said...

I know Prof. Feser has too much time to kill and not enough ideas for articles, but after a shocking number of comments (here and in relation to lying) along the lines of, "OK, so it's wrong, but I'd do it anyway", I think a post discussing why it's wrong to do wrong things would not go amiss. (You'd think it would be self-evident, but apparently some people think it's all right as long as you go to confession after....)

I also wish to point out that reasonable men — even men who all subscribe to Natural Law — can disagree about specific cases. The principles of natural law are not (usually) logically deduced Principia Mathematica-style from first principles alone. Just War and other theories usually start from known or self-evident premises and extrapolate from them general rules. As indeed, do all men when formulating their moral codes. Yes, people's minds are corrupted by modernism; they are corrupted by the Fall; they make mistakes and rationalisations. Still, a great number of reasonable and trustworthy people do not think that using nuclear weapons as in WWII is necessarily immoral. Obviously, that doesn't mean they can't be wrong, but it makes it highly unlikely that they are trivially wrong.

Augustine never imagined bombers dropping nuclear weapons, nor bombers at all, nor bombs at all. It is reasonable to ask whether principles derived to deal with ancient or mediaeval experiences are applicable to modern warfare. The question is not whether the principles change — of course, true principles do not — but whether they got the principles quite right. (The ancients and Mediaevals thought space was Euclidean, not because they were bad at geometry but because they did not discover quite the right geometry.) The questions raised by the other David (not me) are very relevant: the modern citizen of a warring state is very different from an uninvolved, ignorant peasant. A bomb, or even a gun, is very different from a sword used in hand-to-hand combat. (Come to think of it, perhaps archery is the closest ancient equivalent to modern long-distance weaponry; did Augustine or Aquinas ever discuss the morality of such in relation to hitting innocent targets?)

If a citizen who is contributing to the war-effort, and who is in some ways a (potential) reserve soldier, is still off-limits, or a solider who is in hospital, etc. then can you shoot at anyone who is not actively shooting back at you at that moment? Can you ever bomb a weapons factory? (Sure, a building is not a person, but there will always be someone present, some non-solider who is not firing at you; even at night there will surely be at least one security guard.) The answer to these questions is not at all obvious from the principles as stated.

Conventional bombing kills and terrorises civilians too; is the difference the number of civilians killed? Or how directly their deaths are intended? So that Hiroshima could be defended if the point was not to kill civilians. (Which may or may not have been the case historically.) (And as for Al Qaeda using the rationale of "enemy citizens", well, yeah, they do have somewhat of a point. But it's not like apart from that sticking point they had a just cause! And their "somewhat of a point" is much weaker than the WWII case, so it's entirely plausible that they lie on different sides of what's justified.)

Is it in fact possible to wage modern warfare morally? What if the enemy plants civilians all over the place, and announces the fact, etc., so as to paralyse a moral military? That is not a rhetorical question, mind you; if the conclusion is that surrender if the only moral option, then so be it. Doing the right thing is not always fun or easy, but it's always possible.

-David said...

I know Prof. Feser has too much time to kill and not enough ideas for articles, but after a shocking number of comments (here and in relation to lying) along the lines of, "OK, so it's wrong, but I'd do it anyway", I think a post discussing why it's wrong to do wrong things would not go amiss. (You'd think it would be self-evident, but apparently some people think it's all right as long as you go to confession after....)

I also wish to point out that reasonable men — even men who all subscribe to Natural Law — can disagree about specific cases. The principles of natural law are not (usually) logically deduced Principia Mathematica-style from first principles alone. Just War and other theories usually start from known or self-evident premises and extrapolate from them general rules. As indeed, do all men when formulating their moral codes. Yes, people's minds are corrupted by modernism; they are corrupted by the Fall; they make mistakes and rationalisations. Still, a great number of reasonable and trustworthy people do not think that using nuclear weapons as in WWII is necessarily immoral. Obviously, that doesn't mean they can't be wrong, but it makes it highly unlikely that they are trivially wrong.

Augustine never imagined bombers dropping nuclear weapons, nor bombers at all, nor bombs at all. It is reasonable to ask whether principles derived to deal with ancient or mediaeval experiences are applicable to modern warfare. The question is not whether the principles change — of course, true principles do not — but whether they got the principles quite right. (The ancients and Mediaevals thought space was Euclidean, not because they were bad at geometry but because they did not discover quite the right geometry.) The questions raised by the other David (not me) are very relevant: the modern citizen of a warring state is very different from an uninvolved, ignorant peasant. A bomb, or even a gun, is very different from a sword used in hand-to-hand combat. (Come to think of it, perhaps archery is the closest ancient equivalent to modern long-distance weaponry; did Augustine or Aquinas ever discuss the morality of such in relation to hitting innocent targets?)

[cont...]

–David said...

...
If a citizen who is contributing to the war-effort, and who is in some ways a (potential) reserve soldier, is still off-limits, or a solider who is in hospital, etc. then can you shoot at anyone who is not actively shooting back at you at that moment? Can you ever bomb a weapons factory? (Sure, a building is not a person, but there will always be someone present, some non-solider who is not firing at you; even at night there will surely be at least one security guard.) The answer to these questions is not at all obvious from the principles as stated.

Conventional bombing kills and terrorises civilians too; is the difference the number of civilians killed? Or how directly their deaths are intended? So that Hiroshima could be defended if the point was not to kill civilians. (Which may or may not have been the case historically.) (And as for Al Qaeda using the rationale of "enemy citizens", well, yeah, they do have somewhat of a point. But it's not like apart from that sticking point they had a just cause! And their "somewhat of a point" is much weaker than the WWII case, so it's entirely plausible that they lie on different sides of what's justified.)

Is it in fact possible to wage modern warfare morally? What if the enemy plants civilians all over the place, and announces the fact, etc., so as to paralyse a moral military? That is not a rhetorical question, mind you; if the conclusion is that surrender if the only moral option, then so be it. Doing the right thing is not always fun or easy, but it's always possible.

Edward Feser said...

Burl... Whoops! I mean JT,

It's that kind of jackassery that got you banned before (one of only two people I've ever banned) when you were posting under your older name. Since you've at least made an effort to be more reasonable while posting under this "Just Thinking/JT" moniker, I've cut you some slack. But if you're now reverting to your older ways, you are welcome to get lost again. Nor will you be allowed to stick around next time. (Here's a tip, though: It would help you to maintain the "Nobody here but us non-Burls" illusion if you didn't keep riffing on your obsessions -- Whitehead, animal rights, etc.)

As to my "ploy," I think I've only ever made reference to being too busy to answer every comment a few times -- to most people, it's blindingly obvious, and they don't need me to explain it to them. I only ever have to do so in response to people like you who get hung up on some pet issue and demand that I drop everything and address it right away. (Notice that there are lots of other folks whose comments I have not responded to, but who have not whined about it. I guess the squeaky wheel really does get the grease.)

As to your "point," if I understand correctly, your claim is that the Catholic view, if followed out consistently, would entail that if the Church does not explicitly condemn some specific action, then a Catholic ought not to regard it as immoral.

If that's it, it's a pretty good example of the sort of comment that's too stupid for me to respond to even if I did have time. But here goes anyway, just for you: Do you really think the Church teaches, or that any Catholic theologian has ever held, that we need not object to (say) Watergate, or Bernie Madoff's crimes, or Charles Manson's murders, unless the Church explicitly condemns these specific crimes, by name, in some official document?

Presumably not. So, why you think that a Catholic ought not to criticize Hiroshima unless the pope does so in a speech somewhere is beyond me. The truth is that the Church prefers as far as possible to confine herself to statements of general principle, and to let theologians, statesmen, churchmen and laymen to apply them to concrete circumstances. This is especially so where a number of empirical considerations are involved that require careful application of moral principle to contingent circumstances.

But then you've already made it blindingly obvious, in many of your other comments, that you do not understand Catholic theology and do not care to find out what it really says. If I had to correct your errors every time you made them, I'd be doing nothing else. You may have time to spend all day in comboxes, posting comment after comment. I don't, sorry.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

As I tried to post in a previous thread, after a season of conjecture, we now finally know what "JT" stands for: Just Trolling.

c matt said...

intentionally killing civilians for the purpose of terrorizing the survivors into surrendering

vs

to destroy the power and prestige of two major Japanese cities in order to show the Japanese that all their power and prestige can be taken away from them

OK, I am having a little difficulty in discerning the difference between these two. Wasn't the destruction of the prestige and power of the two Japanese cities precisely accomplished by the intentional killing of the civilians?

Someone mentioned would the bombs have been dropped if, for example, everyone had evacuated? And if not, that means the civilians were not targeted, ergo, not immoral. But does that alternate history make a difference? The fact is, the cities were populated and the bombs were dropped anyway. The prestige and power of the cities were detroyed precisely by obliterating their populations. The hypothesis that it may have been accomplished some other way if the opportunity presented (e.g., bombing an evacuated N/H) does not change the fact of what actually did happen.

c matt said...

Sorry, not "and if not" - I meant, "And if" - meaning, IF the bombs would have been dropped on an evacuated city.

Seems the "if evacuated" argument is like "if she were my wife" argument. That is, "If that woman I slept with were really my wife, I still would have slept with her" somehow means I did not commit adultery - the hypothetical situation I dream up does not change the fact of the actual situation which occurred.