Saturday, August 07, 2010

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Attends Ceremonies at Hiroshima Memorial;
Some American Conservatives Accuse Obama of Apologizing for Bombing

Of course everything Obama does is wrong...even the stuff he doesn't do. Sending John Roos to this ceremony is alleged to be an "unsaid apology" by Paul Tibbets's son. (Other relevant links: SLMeFi)

As is so often the case, it looks like Obama is getting this one exactly right: send a representative, but do not apologize. The atomic bombings of Japan were tragic, but not obviously unjustified. But then all the bombings of Japanese civilians (including the notorious incendiary raids) were awful. But then all the bombings of civilians in WWII were awful.

I've never been able to arrive at a settled opinion about the justification of the atomic bombings, and I suppose it's unlikely that I ever will. It's rather difficult to keep one's attention fixed against the backdrop of the fact that Japan started the war, committed unspeakable atrocities throughout, and refused to surrender when beaten. Something similar could be said about their reluctance to own up to their crimes in the intervening years. In short, their actions were so much more awful than ours that their efforts to lecture us on the crimes we allegedly committed in response to their crimes tend to push me in the opposite direction and make it rather difficult for me to maintain my tenuous grasp on objectivity.

But one thing we should all be able to agree on: the bombings were tragic.

Mourning their tragedy is not equivalent to accepting blame, nor concluding that they were not necessary.

41 Comments:

Anonymous Jimmy Doyle said...

It's rather difficult to keep one's attention fixed against the backdrop of the fact that Japan started the war, committed unspeakable atrocities throughout, and refused to surrender when beaten.

Here's a little exercise to keep your attention fixed: keep reminding yourself that the old, the infirm, the women, the children and the infants of Nagasaki and Hiroshima had nothing to do with starting the war, committing atrocities or refusing to surrender, but were deliberately incinerated, or condemned to a slow and agonising death, in their tens of thousands by those two allied attacks. Not that we should go around blaming anyone or anything.

11:26 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Well, those are just some of the things that partially constitute arguments against bombing.

My problem here, as is so often the case, is that it's really hard to focus clearly on our own possibly immoral acts when they pale in comparison to those of the other party--the very acts that provoked our possible over-reaction. It's rather like my reaction when Republicans point out Gore's occasional stretching of the truth in the 2000 election; against the backdrop of Bush's shredding of the truth, it's hard to aim the kind of disapprobation at Gore that I ought to.

It's hard to project ourselves back into a time when two evil, murderous empires (and their comic-relief sidekick) were trying to destroy us and take over the world, and hard to project ourselves into the mindset of those who had slogged through four years of the deadliest war in the history of humanity, only to then face the problem that one of the defeated parties--a party of dubious sanity, actually--refused to surrender. This was complicated by the fact that Japan had already provoked and orchestrated mass suicides in response to previous Allied invasions, and that some estimates of Allied casualties alone in Operation Olympic were upwards of 500,000. Add to this that Russia was poised to launch its own invasion which, if successful, could have actually made for even more suffering and death in Japan over the next 50 years than the bombings.

I'm not sure that I could have given the order to drop the bombs, but I'm not sure I'm willing to condemn those who did.

(Add to all of this that the bombings are, apparently, being singled out as some special or possibly even unique type of awfulness, which is not true.)

3:47 PM  
Anonymous The Dark Avenger said...

Here's a little exercise to keep your attention fixed: keep reminding yourself that the old, the infirm, the women, the children and the infants of Nagasaki and Hiroshima had nothing to do with starting the war, committing atrocities or refusing to surrender, but were deliberately incinerated, or condemned to a slow and agonising death, in their tens of thousands by those two allied attacks.

Here's another thing to keep in mind:

Thousands of civilian POWS from the Allied side like my then-eight years-old mother and her family were imprisoned across the vast territory that the Japanese still occupied at the time of the bombing, and the unconditional surrender engendered by the bomb might've been the factor that ensured that they survived the surrender process.

Also, look up the "Nanking massacres" and the "100 sword campaign", the Japanese waged savage warfare against defenseless civilians in China for years before the bombs were dropped.

6:53 PM  
Blogger Jim Bales said...

Mr. Doyle writes:
"[K]eep reminding yourself that the old, the infirm, the women, the children and the infants of Nagasaki and Hiroshima had nothing to do with starting the war, committing atrocities or refusing to surrender, but were deliberately incinerated, or condemned to a slow and agonising death, in their tens of thousands by those two allied attacks."

The atrocities committed upon the innocents of Hiroshima & Nagasaki (which one might define to include the troops of Japan's 2nd Army, headquartered in Hiroshima) are, IMHO, hard to distinguish from the atrocities committed by conventional bombing on those innocents in Tokyo, Osaka, Yokohama etc. (See the table at Wikipwdia for a small taste of the consequences of the non-atomic bombing of Japan.) Yet, we single out the atomic bombings and generally ignore the others. I believe we do so not for what the bombings did, but for the new era they introduced.

Does Mr. Doyle consider the atrocities experienced by hundreds of thousands Japanese, Chinese, American, and other allied troops in the course of combat to be as worthy of our concern as those experienced by the "old, inform, and women" of Hiroshima & Nagasaki? Does the fact that these men -- men who also "had nothing to do with starting the war, committing atrocities or refusing to surrender" -- wore uniforms somehow deprive them of innocence, even though they were (to a large degree) conscripted, and (without exception) subject to execution for failing to fight?

Does the fact that the atomic bombings undeniably ended the war, and thus saved thousands of American lives (assuming no invasion of Japan) or tens of thousands of American lives (assuming an invasion took place) mitigate their use in any way?

Does the fact that the atomic bombings undeniably ended the war, and thus prevented the US from bombing key elements of the Japanese transportation network -- a network that helped the occupiers stave off mass starvation of the Japanese -- in any way mitigate the their use?

Wars do not distinguish between the guilty and the innocent in their atrocities. Dropping the atomic bombs was undeniably an atrocity. It was, undeniably, the atrocity that ended the atrocities.

Best,
Jim Bales

10:39 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I'm sure Jimmy wouldn't deny Japanese atrocities--and we do have to keep in mind that the fact that our enemies commit atrocities do not ipso facto warrant us from doing so. Though, as DA and Jim point out, sometimes doing something terrible saves more innocent lives than it takes.

8:13 AM  
Anonymous Jimmy Doyle said...

As Winston says, I certainly wouldn't deny Japanese atrocities. That would be absurd; they are very well-documented. What I do deny is that Japanese atrocities are relevant to any justification (if there could be one, which I also deny) for the allies' massacre of hundreds of thousands of innocents (and I'm aware, also, that the Tokyo fire-bombing etc was even more murderous than the atomic strikes -- I can't see how this tells against my position). This is the logic of al-Qa'eda: 'They're killing our innocents in Palestine, so we'll kill their innocents in New York'. Incinerating the Japanese combatants' aged parents and small children wasn't something we did to the combatants -- it was something we did to their innocent parents and children.

Mr Bales wrote:

Does the fact that the atomic bombings undeniably ended the war, and thus saved thousands of American lives (assuming no invasion of Japan) or tens of thousands of American lives (assuming an invasion took place) mitigate their use in any way?

No. The thing about the mass murder of innocents is that nothing mitigates it. In any case, although the bombings "undeniably ended the war," it is simply not undeniable (inasmuch as it has been denied by reputable historians) that there was no other viable scenario for ending it (involving eg not insisting on unconditional surrender, which gave the Japanese special difficulties having to do with their conception of their Emperor). But this is a side issue. (My father's brother was an RAF pilot killed in the Pacific the week before VJ day, by the way, and a second cousin on my mother's side died on Okinawa. I like to think that they would have refused to purchase their lives at the price of mass murder.)

Winston: I was taken aback by your assumption without argument, from the very start, of consequentialism. You wrote

Well, those are just some of the things that partially constitute arguments against bombing.

But if there are any acts at all that should never be done regardless of the consequences of not doing them -- any acts such that the necessity for refraining from them doesn't need any "argument" -- it is the mass incineration of innocents (including babies). So as soon as you start talking about "arguments" for and against doing that sort of thing you are presupposing that there is simply no limit to what might, in the appropriate context, be justified by hoped-for consequences. That's consequentialism.

I was also taken aback by this:

it's really hard to focus clearly on our own possibly immoral acts when they pale in comparison to those of the other party

possibly immoral??! pale in comparison??! WTF? "Okay, so we did incinerate hundreds of thousands of their elderly, infirm, women, children and infants and condemn many thousands more to a slow agonising death. But that's nothing compared to what they did to us!" I mean, just to check I've got your analogy right: Hiroshima and Nagasaki are supposed to correspond to "Gore's occasional stretching of the truth in the 2000 election," right?

I must say that I suspect there is an assumption at work here to the effect that the US simply couldn't be guilty of one of the worst war crimes ever.

2:35 PM  
Anonymous Jimmy Doyle said...

As Winston says, I certainly wouldn't deny Japanese atrocities. That would be absurd; they are very well-documented. What I do deny is that Japanese atrocities are relevant to any justification (if there could be one, which I also deny) for the allies' massacre of hundreds of thousands of innocents (and I'm aware, also, that the Tokyo fire-bombing etc was even more murderous than the atomic strikes -- I can't see how this tells against my position). This is the logic of al-Qa'eda: 'They're killing our innocents in Palestine, so we'll kill their innocents in New York'. Incinerating the Japanese combatants' aged parents and small children wasn't something we did to the combatants -- it was something we did to their innocent parents and children.

Mr Bales wrote:

Does the fact that the atomic bombings undeniably ended the war, and thus saved thousands of American lives (assuming no invasion of Japan) or tens of thousands of American lives (assuming an invasion took place) mitigate their use in any way?

No. The thing about the mass murder of innocents is that nothing mitigates it. In any case, although the bombings "undeniably ended the war," it is simply not undeniable (inasmuch as it has been denied by reputable historians) that there was no other viable scenario for ending it (involving eg not insisting on unconditional surrender, which gave the Japanese special difficulties having to do with their conception of their Emperor). But this is a side issue. (My father's brother was an RAF pilot killed in the Pacific the week before VJ day, by the way, and a second cousin on my mother's side died on Okinawa. I like to think that they would have refused to purchase their lives at the price of mass murder.)

2:36 PM  
Anonymous Jimmy Doyle said...

Winston: I was taken aback by your assumption without argument, from the very start, of consequentialism. You wrote

Well, those are just some of the things that partially constitute arguments against bombing.

But if there are any acts at all that should never be done regardless of the consequences of not doing them -- any acts such that the necessity for refraining from them doesn't need any "argument" -- it is the mass incineration of innocents (including babies). So as soon as you start talking about "arguments" for and against doing that sort of thing you are presupposing that there is simply no limit to what might, in the appropriate context, be justified by hoped-for consequences. That's consequentialism.

I was also taken aback by this:

it's really hard to focus clearly on our own possibly immoral acts when they pale in comparison to those of the other party

possibly immoral??! pale in comparison??! WTF? "Okay, so we did incinerate hundreds of thousands of their elderly, infirm, women, children and infants and condemn many thousands more to a slow agonising death. But that's nothing compared to what they did to us!" I mean, just to check I've got your analogy right: Hiroshima and Nagasaki are supposed to correspond to "Gore's occasional stretching of the truth in the 2000 election," right?

I must say that I suspect there is an assumption at work here to the effect that the US simply couldn't be guilty of one of the worst war crimes ever.

2:36 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

No time to think about these points carefully now, but:

Political action makes consequentialists of us all....

I don't consider myself a consequentialist...but I don't see how to think about such questions without weighing consequences fairly heavily...which, though, doesn't make one a consequentialist...

Of course no one here has said anything that even remotely suggests that they are assuming that the U.S. couldn't be guilty of the crime in question...so I'll just ignore that charge.

As I've said, I've never been able to figure this issue out, so I've never had a settled position on it. So it'll come as no surprise that it doesn't seem as clear to me as it does to you. To find oneself thrust into a decision-making position in a war like WWII is to find oneself forced to choose among actions that will more-or-less immediately lead to the death of innocents. Much of what you write above seems to border on ignoring that fact.

Of course the reasoning at issue resembles some of al Qaeda's reasoning in certain ways...that's a common enough point, and cause for concern. However it's probably worth remembering the following important facts: al Qaeda *wants* to kill innocents, including women and children, and would not choose another option even were it available. The U.S., on the other hand, would almost certainly have chosen another route had it been available.

You suggest giving up the demand of unconditional surrender. However (a) we, in effect did that, though in a covert, tricky way; and (b) we didn't simply and straight-forwardly give it up because we were worried that it would simply shift the burden of defeating Japan to future innocent people.

You know, we didn't simply decide to murder a bunch of Japanese civilians one day on a whim...

3:43 PM  
Blogger Jim Bales said...

Mr. Doyle responds to one of my questions with
The thing about the mass murder of innocents is that nothing mitigates it.

I agree. Why does Mr. Doyle exclude those in uniform from the status of "innocent"? Why does Mr. Doyle exclude from the status of "innocent" those Japanese civilians (and troops) incinerated in the US fire-bombings of their cities? Why does Mr. Doyle exclude from the status of "innocent" the Chinese and Korean citizens under Japanese occupation? Why does Mr. Doyle exclude from the status of "innocent" those civilian POWs held by the Japanese (as noted by DA)? Why does Mr. Doyle exclude from the status of "innocent" those working in armament factories (or farms) around the world supporting the war efforts who were injured or killed in industrial accidents? (One could add many more categories to this list.)

In short, why does Mr. Doyle hold that inflecting death, pain, suffering by A-bomb is subject to a different moral standard than all of the other methods by which war inflicts death, pain, and suffering? I would contend, in contrast, that the prime atrocity is war itself.

The fact remains that many, many innocents did die from America dropping the A-bomb, and many, many innocents would have died if we had not.

Mr. Doyle wrote:
"Here's a little exercise to keep your attention fixed: keep reminding yourself that the old, the infirm, the women, the children and the infants of Nagasaki and Hiroshima had nothing to do with starting the war, committing atrocities or refusing to surrender, but were deliberately incinerated, or condemned to a slow and agonising death, in their tens of thousands by those two allied attacks. Not that we should go around blaming anyone or anything.

The parallel exercise is also relevant:
"Here's a little exercise to keep your attention fixed: keep reminding yourself that the old, the infirm, the women, the children, the infants, the healthy young men and women, the healthy middle-aged men and women, the men and women in uniform and out, of
* Nagasaki and Hiroshima
* The USS Arizona and the rest of Pearl Harbor
* Nanking
* Korea
* Tokyo
* Singapore
* The Philippines
* Oregon
* IJN Soryu, Hiryu, Kaga, and Akagi
...

had (with rare exception) nothing to do with starting the war, committing atrocities or refusing to surrender, but were deliberately incinerated, shot, torn asunder, vaporized, drowned, stabbed, buried alive, or condemned to a slow and agonizing death, in their tens of thousands by the many, many attacks committed by Axis and Allied throughout the war. Not that we should go around blaming anyone or anything.


I see no rational basis to single out the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for moral outrage. War is the atrocity. The bombs were the atrocity that ended the atrocities. Perhaps a different set of atrocities might have ended the war with somewhat less loss of life, although that is far from clear. Had a different path been followed to end the war, perhaps we would be debating why we committed those alternative atrocities rather than dropping the A-bombs.

Best,
Jim Bales

6:43 PM  
Blogger Jim Bales said...

Mr. Doyle responds to one of my questions with
The thing about the mass murder of innocents is that nothing mitigates it.

I agree. Why does Mr. Doyle exclude those in uniform from the status of "innocent"? Why does Mr. Doyle exclude from the status of "innocent" those Japanese civilians (and troops) incinerated in the US fire-bombings of their cities? Why does Mr. Doyle exclude from the status of "innocent" the Chinese and Korean citizens under Japanese occupation? Why does Mr. Doyle exclude from the status of "innocent" those civilian POWs held by the Japanese (as noted by DA)? (One could add many more categories to this list.)

In short, why does Mr. Doyle hold that inflecting death, pain, suffering by A-bomb is subject to a different moral standard than all of the other methods by which war inflicts death, pain, and suffering? I would contend, in contrast, that the prime atrocity is war itself.

The fact remains that many, many innocents did die from America dropping the A-bomb, and many, many innocents would have died if we had not.

Mr. Doyle wrote:
"Here's a little exercise to keep your attention fixed: keep reminding yourself that the old, the infirm, the women, the children and the infants of Nagasaki and Hiroshima had nothing to do with starting the war, committing atrocities or refusing to surrender, but were deliberately incinerated, or condemned to a slow and agonising death, in their tens of thousands by those two allied attacks. Not that we should go around blaming anyone or anything.

The parallel exercise is also relevant:
"Here's a little exercise to keep your attention fixed: keep reminding yourself that the old, the infirm, the women, the children, the infants, the healthy young men and women, the healthy middle-aged men and women, the men and women in uniform and out, of
* Nagasaki and Hiroshima
* The USS Arizona and the rest of Pearl Harbor
* Nanking
* Korea
* Tokyo
* Singapore
* The Philippines
* Oregon
* IJN Soryu, Hiryu, Kaga, and Akagi
...

had (with rare exception) nothing to do with starting the war, committing atrocities or refusing to surrender, but were deliberately incinerated, shot, torn asunder, vaporized, drowned, stabbed, buried alive, or condemned to a slow and agonizing death, in their tens of thousands by the many, many attacks committed by Axis and Allied throughout the war. Not that we should go around blaming anyone or anything.


I see no rational basis to single out the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for moral outrage. War is the atrocity. The bombs were the atrocity that ended the atrocities. Perhaps a different set of atrocities might have ended the war with somewhat less loss of life, although that is far from clear. Had a different path been followed to end the war, perhaps we would be debating why we committed those alternative atrocities rather than dropping the A-bombs.

Best,
Jim Bales

8:18 PM  
Anonymous The Dark Avenger said...

jimmy doyle, it is a fact that there was a faction of the Japanese Imperial Army that didn't want to surrender even after Nagasaki, so to spin tales about Japan surrendering conditionally is interesting but not in touch with reality.

But this is a side issue. (My father's brother was an RAF pilot killed in the Pacific the week before VJ day, by the way, and a second cousin on my mother's side died on Okinawa. I like to think that they would have refused to purchase their lives at the price of mass murder.)

My grandfather wasn't of that opinion of his liberation from the "Chaipe Civilian Interment Camp", in fact he was in favor of the Japanese homeland being wiped clean of human life, except for the Ainu, perhaps.

Innocents always die in a war, that's a primary reason that it should be avoided unless it's absolutely necessary.

For every blameless 9 year old child killed by one of the two A-bombs there was a blameless 9 year-old on the other side who heard a Chinese guerrilla being tortured to death for sport by Japanese Imperial soldiers, (as happened to my mother) etc.

Even during the war, the urging of the Japanese military for civilians to kill themselves rather than risk capture by our forces as on Okinawa doesn't get talked much about, why is that?

9:18 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Maybe we should try to determine what we agree about.

My guess is that we all agree that:

1. The atom bombing was not different in kind from e.g. the fire-bombings of Tokyo.

2. In WWII, the Japanese were worse--much, much worse--than the Americans

I think Jimmy thinks that, despite 1 and 2, either:

a. Nothing can ever excuse the bombing of civilians

or

b. Though some such bombings might be excusable, nothing excuses the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

It seems to me that people tend to presuppose that the bombing of civilian population centers in WWII was permissible--a conclusion that I find it rather hard to accept. But, given that that's the conventional wisdom, and given that I'm not entirely convinced of my reasons for rejecting that claim, and given that the atom bombings were not different in kind, I tend to to defend those bombings.

In fact, I think that the atom bombings might be the easiest civilian bombings to defend, given that they, at least, were effective (and were likely to be effective) in achieving their purposes (i.e. forcing Japan to surrender), unlike most other bombings of population centers, which, though brutal, were largely ineffective.

9:40 PM  
Anonymous Jimmy Doyle said...

Mr Bales wrote

Why does Mr. Doyle exclude those in uniform from the status of "innocent"?

Because "innocent" in this context means (roughly) "not harming." Enemy combatants in uniform are trying to harm; therefore there is a self-defence justification for harming or if necessary killing them. (Here I simplify by ignoring the issue of whether the combatants are waging a just war or not, although that makes a difference too.)

Why does Mr. Doyle exclude from the status of "innocent" those Japanese civilians (and troops) incinerated in the US fire-bombings of their cities?

In the case of the civilians, I don't exclude them from the status of "innocent." As civilians, they are not harming; therefore they are in the relevant sense innocent. I have no idea why Mr Bales thinks that I think that the fire-bombing of civilians is any more permissible than dropping atom bombs on them. I was discussing Hiroshima and Nagasaki because Winston brought those attacks up. I didn't mention Alexander the Great's razing of Tyre, either; but, for the record, I think that was pretty bad too. As for the troops, I do exclude them from the status of "innocent"; see above.

Why does Mr. Doyle exclude from the status of "innocent" the Chinese and Korean citizens under Japanese occupation?

I don't.

Why does Mr. Doyle exclude from the status of "innocent" those civilian POWs held by the Japanese (as noted by DA)?

I don't. Nor do I exclude the military POWs held (and murdered in their thousands) by the Japanese since, as prisoners, they are no longer harming.

Why does Mr. Doyle exclude from the status of "innocent" those working in armament factories (or farms) around the world supporting the war efforts who were injured or killed in industrial accidents?

This is a bit trickier. It partly depends on what side they were on. I'd say munitions workers in a country waging an unjust war of aggression were fair game.

My views on these matters are not eccentric, inasmuch as they follow traditional just war theory pretty closely.

7:28 AM  
Anonymous Jimmy Doyle said...

Dark Avenger:

My grandfather ... was in favor of the Japanese homeland being wiped clean of human life, except for the Ainu, perhaps.

What is your purpose in reporting this view of your grandfather's? Is the fact that someone related to you was in favour of murdering millions of innocents supposed to have some bearing on whether it's OK to do so?

7:32 AM  
Anonymous Jimmy Doyle said...

Winston:

we didn't simply decide to murder a bunch of Japanese civilians one day on a whim

That's what makes it so ghastly! Someone who murdered that many innocents literally on a whim (ie with no purpose, not even sadistic satisfaction or "in order to be whimsical") would have to be insane to a degree that precluded real blame. But the allies murdered out of a means-end calculation: those hundreds of thousands of innocents died because those deaths were instrumental to further purposes the allies had (eg minimising their own military casualties, possibly send a message to the Russians). This kind of killing seems to me significantly worse than eg revenge killing, even if that is murder too. If we weren't regularly tempted to do despicable things, if it weren't regularly more convenient for us to do them, there wouldn't be any need for then to be strictly prohibited. Such prohibitions , although of course not always observed, were pretty much unanimously acknowledged in the monotheistic West until some time in the eighteenth century. Now they are generally ignored.

See Anscombe, "Modern Moral Philosophy" and "Mr Truman's Degree."

7:42 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

J,

I think DA's point was: against your hypothetical/wishful views about your relative's beliefs, he has the actual beliefs of actual relatives who were actually there.

Though he doesn't explicitly say the following, the above can be used as a premise in an argument I often think about:

I tend to be somewhat skeptical of moral judgments made by X about some situation, S, that X has never experienced, nor come close to experiencing. I know, for example, many effete pacifists who grew up in rich, enlightened families in rich, enlightened neighborhoods, and who have never had to face actual threats to their person, nor witness innocents being humiliated.

Similarly, one of the things of which I remind myself when I start sliding toward the *Hiroshima was impermissible* side is this: I do not know what it is like to have been in a life-or-death struggle with two insane, evil empires for four years, and to then face the threat of an even larger and more dangerous insane, evil empire.

This is not a mere psychological point. Rather, I wonder whether I'm not like the rich, pampered academician who argues that it would better for X to take a life-threatening beating than to use violence in self-defense: the only person who could think such a thing is someone who is so far removed from the facts as to be out of touch with the relevant parts of reality. Having no experience with such situations, he simply does not understand them.

That having been said, I should again make it clear that I don't have a settled position on this question, and have a lot of sympathy with what you say.

(Tho I think Anscombe's MMP is not a good paper.)

9:56 AM  
Anonymous The Dark Avenger said...

jimmy doyle, No!

My point was a little different, Winston, in that I might not be here if the bombs hadn't been dropped, so that the question for me and for CAN never be academic.

I have a cousin whose parents met each other in the same camp and married after the war. It isn't academic for her either.

I'm glad that the bomb was dropped.

If I believed in prayer I would pray for all the non-combatants in both cities and those who died in the Tokyo firebombings.

12:33 PM  
Blogger Jim Bales said...

Mr. Doyle starts by asserting that some of the victims in Hiroshima & Nagasaki "had nothing to do with starting the war, committing atrocities or refusing to surrender".

He then asserted that "The thing about the mass murder of innocents is that nothing mitigates it."

Now Mr. Doyle narrows his claim to stating that:
""innocent" in this context means (roughly) "not harming." Enemy combatants in uniform are trying to harm; therefore there is a self-defence justification for harming or if necessary killing them."

Somehow, Mr. Doyle believes that
i) conscripting young men,
ii) sending them through the intentional brain-washing of boot camp, and
iii) sending into combat with the warning that they can be summarily executed should they fail to fight,
somehow deprives them of innocence.

I consider it an atrocity.

I consider it a necessary atrocity in some circumstances, but the necessity does not reduce the atrocity.

I wonder if Mr. Doyle has read, for example:
The Real War by US Army veteran and U. Penn. Prof. Emeritus Paul Fussell, or E. B. Sledge's With The Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa", or Fussell's
Thank God for the Atomic Bomb.

Let us look at these in the next comment.

Best,
Jim Bales

11:39 PM  
Blogger Jim Bales said...

Let us look at what Fussell says about dropping the atomic bomb.

My source here is his essay "Thank God for the Atomic Bomb" (.pdf file).

Fussell includes the paragraphs:

John Kenneth Galbraith is persuaded that the Japanese would have surrendered surely by November without an invasion. He thinks the A-bombs were unnecessary and unjustified because the war was ending any way. The A-bombs meant, he says, "a difference, at most, of two or three weeks." But at the time, with no indication that surrender was on the way, the kamikazes were sinking American vessels, the Indianapolis was sunk (880 men killed), and Allied casualties were running to over 7,000 per week. "Two or three weeks," says Galbraith. Two weeks more means 14,000 more killed and wounded, three weeks more, 21,000. Those weeks mean the world if you're one of those thousands or related to one of them. During the time between the dropping of the Nagasaki bomb on August 9 and the actual surrender on the fifteenth, the war pursued its accustomed course: on the twelfth of August eight captured American fliers were executed (heads chopped off); the fifty-first United States submarine, Bonefish, was sunk (all aboard drowned); the destroyer Callaghan went down, the seventieth to be sunk, and the Destroyer Escort Underhill was lost. That's a bit 'of what happened in six days of the two or three weeks posited by Galbraith. What did he do in the war? He worked in the Office of Price Administration in Washington. I don't demand that he experience having his ass shot off. I merely note that he didn't.

Likewise, the historian Michael Sherry, author of a recent book on the rise of the American bombing mystique, The Creation of Armageddon, argues that we didn't delay long (Page 19) enough between the test explosion in New Mexico and the mortal explosions in Japan. More delay would have made possible deeper moral considerations and perhaps laudable second thoughts and restraint. "The risks of delaying the bomb's use," he says, "would have been small – not the thousands of casualties expected of invasion but only a few days or weeks of relatively routine operations." While the mass murders represented by these "relatively routine operations" were enacting, Michael Sherry was safe at home. Indeed, when the bombs were dropped he was going on eight months old, in danger only of falling out of his pram. In speaking thus of Galbraith and Sherry, I'm aware of the offensive implications ad hominem. But what's at stake in an infantry assault is so entirely unthinkable to those without the experience of one, or several, or many, even if they possess very wide-ranging imaginations and warm sympathies, that experience is crucial in this case.

[Emphasis added]

So, what is at stake in an infantry assault?

The next comment will elaborate on that.

Best,
Jim Bales

11:43 PM  
Blogger Jim Bales said...

Here is some of what the "not-innocent" enemy combatants faced as they carried out their orders, under threat of summary execution if they failed to fight.

Source: Paul Fussell's The Real War.

You would expect frontline soldiers to be struck and hurt by bullets and shell fragments, but ... you would not expect them to be hurt, sometimes killed, by being struck by parts of their friends' bodies violently detached. If you asked a wounded soldier or Marine what hit him, you'd hardly be ready for the answer "My buddy's head," or his sergeant's heel or his hand, or a Japanese leg, complete with shoe and puttees, or the West Point ring on his captain's severed hand.

This is, IMHO, an atrocity. Mr. Doyle's opinion may differ.

Captain Peter Royle, a British artillery forward observer, was moving up a hill in a night attack in North Africa. "I was following about twenty paces behind," he wrote in a memoir,

'when there was a blinding flash a few yards in front of me. I had no idea what it was and fell flat on my face. I found out soon enough: a number of the infantry were carrying mines strapped to the small of their backs, ... a rifle or machine gun bullet had struck one, which had exploded, blowing the man into three pieces -- two legs and head and chest. His inside was strewn on the hillside and I crawled into it in the darkness.'


This is, IMHO, an atrocity. Mr. Doyle's opinion may differ.

At ... Tarawa Atoll ... [one man], badly wounded, climbed above the rising tide onto a pile of American bodies. Next afternoon he was found there, mad. ... Madness was likewise familiar in submarines, especially during depth-bomb attacks. One U.S. submariner reported that during the first months of the Pacific war such an attack sent three men "stark raving mad": they had to be handcuffed and tied to their bunks. Starvation and thirst among prisoners of the Japanese, and also among downed fliers adrift on rafts, drove many insane, and in addition to drinking their urine they tried to relieve their thirst by biting their comrades' jugular veins and sucking the blood.

These are, IMHO, atrocities. Mr. Doyle's opinion may differ.

And there is yet more.

Best,
Jim Bales

12:23 AM  
Blogger Jim Bales said...

I close this brief description of what the "non-innocent" men in uniform faced (while under threat of summary execution for failing to fight) with Fussell quoting E. B. Sledge's "With the Old Breed".

But for Sledge, the worst ... was a week-long stay in rain-soaked foxholes on a muddy ridge facing the Japanese, a site strewn with decomposing corpses turning various colors, nauseating with the stench of death, "an environment so degrading I believed we had been flung into hell's own cesspool." [T]here were no latrines and ... no moving in daylight, the men relieved themselves in their holes and flung the excrement out into the already foul mud. ... [T]he artillery shellings uncovered scores of half-buried Marine and Japanese bodies, making the position "a stinking compost pile."

"If a marine slipped and slid down the back slope of the muddy ridge, he was apt to reach the bottom vomiting. I saw more than one man lose his footing and slip and slide all the way to the bottom only to stand up horror-stricken as he watched in disbelief while fat maggots tumbled out of his muddy dungaree pockets, cartridge belt, legging lacings, and the like. . . ."

"It is too preposterous to think that men could actually live and fight for days and nights on end under such terrible conditions and not be driven insane. . . . To me the war was insanity."


Putting young men through this is, IMHO, an atrocity. Mr. Doyle may disagree.

Concluding thoughts follow.

Best,
Jim Bales

12:31 AM  
Blogger Jim Bales said...

The bombings were an atrocity, but they were not gratuitous (unlike, say Nanking). They were part and parcel of unrestricted submarine warfare and strategic bombing. They were an atrocity with a goal -- to destroy the means and the will of the Japanese people and leadership to continue with the war. They accomplished this goal through their atrocity.

I do not limit my pity for the old, the women, and the children. My pity includes all who suffered from all of the atrocities. Mr. Doyle's opinion may differ.

The Dark Avenger posts:
If I believed in prayer I would pray for all the non-combatants in both cities and those who died in the Tokyo firebombings.

DA, should you decide at some point to offer up prayers, I ask that you include in your prayers those young men who fought; who cowered; who offered up prayers and curses; who vomited and soiled themselves in their fear; who killed others up close or from far, along with those non-combatants in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Tokyo and Hamburg and Dresden and London and all other places bombed in that war and all others.

Let the veterans have the last word (for the dead have none). Quoting Fussell (.pdf):
Although still officially fit for combat, in the German war I had already been wounded in the back and the leg badly enough to be adjudged, after the war, 40 percent disabled. But even if my leg buckled and I fell to the ground whenever I jumped out of the back of a truck, and even if the very idea of more combat made me breathe in gasps and shake all over, my condition was held to be adequate for the next act. When the atom bombs were dropped and ... we learned to our astonishment that we would not be obliged in a few months to rush up the beaches near Tokyo assault-firing while being machine–gunned, mortared, and shelled, for all the practiced phlegm of our tough facades we broke down and cried with relief and joy. We were going to live. We were going to grow to adulthood after all. The killing was all going to be over, and peace was actually going to be the state of things. ...

Down on the ground the reaction of Sledge's marine buddies when they heard the news was more solemn and complicated. They heard about the end of the war "with quiet disbelief coupled with an indescribable sense of relief. We thought the Japanese would never surrender. Many refused to believe it. ... Sitting in stunned silence, we remembered our dead. So many dead. So many maimed. So many bright futures consigned to the ashes of the past. So many dreams lost in the madness that had engulfed us. Except for a few widely scattered shouts of joy, the survivors of the abyss sat hollow-eyed and silent, trying to comprehend a world without war."


May all of the victims rest in peace,
Jim Bales

12:43 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Wow, and I thought I'd read a lot about this stuff...

(Incidentally, _With the Old Breed_ is an amazing book.)

Your tacit argument here raises a question I've often wondered about, i.e.:

Why *are* soldiers treated differently than non-combatants? Most of them are not there willingly, most of them are barely more than kids themselves. Why shouldn't it simply be a question of minimizing death and suffering? In which case (in a just cause) it would be permissible to kill a smaller number of civilians in order to save a larger number of soldiers?

8:24 PM  
Anonymous Lewis Carroll said...

Winston,

This whole line of argument makes me wonder about your opinion (as well as those of the commenters here) of Michael Walzer's book JUST AND UNJUST WARS.

I haven't read his later, ARGUING ABOUT WAR, which I understand outlines his arguments against the Iraq War.

However, I did read J & UW, and found his thinking impressive, even though I didn't always agree with his conclusions. Apparently the Army holds it in high regard also, as it's required reading at West Point.

He made a lot of cogent points that I had never thought of before, such as:

-- Ceterus paribus, the *civilians* of a democracy are more fair game as military targets than those of a dictatorship, since they in some fashion partook in the decision to go to war, whereas the subjects of a despot have no choice. This point seems most valid to me when the democracy is the aggressor.

-- The justice of consequentialist aims, like say humanitarian intervention, can be cancelled out by failure to take adequate account of the unintended effects of war on those the intervention is designed to help; i.e. prudential negligence turns a just war into an unjust one (To me, this argument has great relevance to the Iraq War as a putative humanitarian war).

Anyway, just wondering if you had read it, and if so, what you thought.

12:22 AM  
Blogger Montag said...

sure you can say there is an entirely different evaluation process for actions undertaken once embroiled in a war like WWII, and accept the idea that "the bombing of civilian population centers in WWII was permissible ... given that that's the conventional wisdom." however, this approach ignores the reason WHY the nation was embroiled in the war in the first place, even before it fails to account for the plainly monstrous conventional wisdom that made killing vast numbers of civilians acceptable.

why did the US fully commit to WW2, beyond simply defending its territory from the Japanese attack? to impose freedom, as you noted in the Joe Klein post the other day ("IT IS PERFECTLY FINE TO IMPOSE FREEDOM BY FORCE. That's what we did in the Revolution. That's what we did in the Civil War. That's what we did in WWII.")? no. the war machine is a many headed beast with myriad objectives and motivations. and it is a machine fucking predicated on causing the death of innocents. telling people they are fighting for freedom (or even that their great nation is fighting/has fought for freedom in the past) is agitprop to generate support and recruit volunteers for the war machine's efforts, never the integral reason for waging war.

to quote commenter TGGP at this Unqualified Offerings post, "We fought in Europe for the House of Morgan. We fought in Asia for the House of Rockefeller. Even the Nazis justified invasions based on 'humanitarian' interventions. We laugh at such stuff on the part of our enemies but uncritically accept what we are taught in school about the 'good war', which resulted in worldwide American hegemony."

10:27 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

M,
Well, I have--to say the least--extremely strong doubts about the conventional wisdom, that strategic bombing of civilian population centers in WWII was permissible. However I tend to accept it for the purposes of discussions like this precisely because it IS the conventional wisdom, and I'm not sure I have reasons strong enough to undermine it.

As for TGGP--well, he's wrong IMHO. Or, rather: we fought (and fight) for many reasons. It's hard to say precisely how they are weighed in the public mind...if, indeed, there is any fact of that matter. But freedom and the right were and are some of the reasons. The very fact that the Bushies had to use (largely bogus) appeals to justice to motivate the country to fight shows that such reasons matter to us. As for WWII, there is no doubt that part of our motivation was to defeat tyranny; part was self-defense. The reasons/causes TGGP cites are, IMHO, largely paranoid delusions.

11:40 AM  
Blogger Jim Bales said...

Montag asks:
[W]hy did the US fully commit to WW2, beyond simply defending its territory from the Japanese attack?

I'm not certain what Montag is proposing for his preferred US strategy with respect to Japan.

I note that even at the end of the war, some US territory was still under Japanese rule (consider the Philippines).

I also note that, had the US, somehow, succeeded in negotiating an end to hostilities with Japan that returned all US territory to the US, we would have been left with another cold war situation with Imperial Japan taking the role of the USSR.

Now, it may be possible to make the case that such a negotiated settlement would have been a better long-term solution to "defending [US] territory from the Japanese attack" -- better than using the force of arms (and all of the atrocities and deaths that entails) to obtain the unconditional surrender of Japan. However, I have yet to see that case made.

Best,
Jim Bales

1:16 PM  
Anonymous Jimmy Doyle said...

I don't deny that those scenarios are horrific atrocities Mr Bales. The fact remains that if you harm or kill someone in self-defence it isn't murder. Unarmed elderly, infirm, women, children and infants are not a threat. There is no self-defence rationale for killing them. Killing them in the way they were killed at Nagasaki and Hiroshima was murder.

Winston:

no one here has said anything that even remotely suggests that they are assuming that the U.S. couldn't be guilty of the crime in question

I'm sorry if my speculation, that there was an (unconscious) assumption at work that the US simply couldn't be guilty of one of the worst war crimes ever, was uncharitable. But what you call "conventional wisdom" (that the bombings were justified) looks to me very much like a manifestation of (unconscious) US exceptionalism. I mean: are there any other cases of the cold-blooded murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent people in recorded history that you'd be remotely inclined to suggest might have been justified?

(I'm sure an ingenious and well-informed Stalinist would have plenty to say about the disasters averted by the liquidation of the kulaks.)

"Conventional wisdom" in these matters is worthless. As I mentioned, the idea that mass murder might be justified was until fairly recently regarded as a conceptual impossibility among Western ethicists. Besides, I imagine the conventional wisdom in Tokyo on the bombings may differ.

Off topic, but I just came across this in the first chapter of A N Prior's Formal Logic:

Frequent reference will also be made... to the nineteenth-century American logician Charles Sanders Peirce, whose writings are relatively unsystematic and often extremely difficult, but who perhaps had a keener eye for essentials than any other logician before or since (my emphasis).

Double-take alert: Prior is saying that Peirce was a greater logician than Aristotle or Frege! I thought you'd appreciate the endorsement, as Prior himself was a stone cold genius.

4:45 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Thx for the Prior quote--I agree that Prior is great. Peirce a greater logician than Frege? Yes. Greater than Aristotle? Wow...pretty amazing claim...


The question is: what do we get to use as premises in this argument? Now, though I tend to believe that strategic bombing of civilian population centers was not justified, (1) I seem to be in the minority there, and (2) the assumption that it *was* justified doesn't ordinarily seem to be questioned in these discussions. If the question were about the permissibility of carpet-bombing cities in general, I'd probably be on the other side.

However, the assumption of discussions like the one referenced in the OP seems to be that, while there's no problem with conventional bombing of cities, the atomic bombing was something else entirely. This, I believe is false. If we grant the permissibility of such conventional bombings, then we have to admit that the atom bombing was permissible.

I don't think that conventional wisdom is useless here...or we don't, at least, when it's the CW of historians and suchlike, which is what I'm referring to.

If I'm not mistaken, Rawls considers this question somewhere and concludes that the bombing of population centers in the European theater may have been justified, but that such bombings--especially ones later on, after Japan was largely whipped--were not. So he, at least (if I'm recalling correctly) thought it was closer call than you do.

Finally, let me point out that the original question was: should we apologize to Japan? The answer is still 'no' in my book. They're not (tacitly) asking for an apology for strategic bombing--probably because they did it, and worse. (At least we didn't spray plague-ridden fleas from the air, like they did...) They're (tacitly) asking for an apology specifically for the atom bombing. That's one of the reasons why I think we're operating under the assumption mentioned above.

5:39 AM  
Anonymous Jimmy Doyle said...

Totally agree that there's no ethically relevant distinction between conventional firebombing, eg of Tokyo, and the atomic raids. More were killed in Tokyo, so this would amount to thinking that there was something magically unethical about the atom bomb. The most that could be said in that direction would be that it's hard to imagine a legitimate military use for such a weapon (in its non-'tactical' form).

I would be very surprised if Rawls thought that the bombing of population centres was ever justified, so I'd appreciate a reference on that.

On the issue of apology, I don't really know what these apologies are supposed to mean (given the non-identity of apologiser and perpetrator, and of aplogisee and purported victim), so I don't have a view.

I especially don't see the relevance of the conventional wisdom of historians to the issue of the permissibility or otherwise of deliberate mass murder. To suppose that such murders could be justified by the truth of the sorts of counterfactual the historian is uniquely qualified to assess, is once again to assume consequentialism.

6:41 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I should emphasize again that I don't necessarily disagree with your position, Jimmy, as I don't know what to think here.

Coupla things:

1. I think all sorts of particularities about a situation can be relevant, and, despite having read a lot about WWII, I do not think that I know what it was like to be in that situation. This is not some generic, quasi-skeptical point, incidentally. This is why I weigh the collective judgment of those who where there, and of historians, heavily in this case. I disagree that CW is weightless here...though I agree that it has to be weighed judiciously.

2. I think that, given what I think I know about the situation (two evil empires trying to destroy democracy, a third spinning up it's tyranny drives), drastic measures were not necessarily out of the question.

3. Reasonable people who were in the situation apparently conclude that the strategic bombing of civilians was permissible (or, perhaps, obligatory) under the circumstances--circumstances, again, that they were in and intimately familiar with; circumstances that I know only from afar. Because I believe them to be generally reasonable, I give appreciable weight to their judgments.

A. I'm pretty sure, though I don't know the source, that Rawls himself says that such bombings might be justified in the face of (can't remember the exact phrase, though it doesn't matter) something like extraordinary threats, and I think he cites the Battle of Britain as a possible candidate for such a circumstance, but, I believe, denies it of late-war Japan.

B. Incidentally, Rawls himself was, apparently, a GI or Marine in the Pacific, and saw the aftermath of one of the bombings.

I don't think the apology is the most interesting issue here--it's just the one that started all this off.

2:19 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

LC,

I haven't read Just and Unjust wars since undergrad, but I remember and am inclined to agree with the point that citizens of democracies are more responsible for their countries' wars than citizens of dictatorships.

And I (perhaps like Jimmy), worry that this might make 9/11 less atrocious than our carpet bombing in WWII.

I don't remember Waltzer making that other point, but it seems clearly right, and I agree with you 100% about Iraq. Iraq should have been a moral slam-dunk; instead, we turned it into a close call. It's not at all clear that Iraq is better off now than it used to be, and that was a foreseeable consequence of having a shit plan for the post-war.

2:23 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I have resisted the urge to complicate matters...but I think the following argument against strategic bombing in WWII is important:

It was generally ineffective.

And, what's more, it helped keep us from using heavy and medium bombers for tactical bombing. The success of Operation Cobra shows, I think, the potential effectiveness of such bombing. There were many friendly-fire deaths, but if we'd stuck with it, the USAAF would have finally started following orders, and such deaths would have been decreased.

3:22 PM  
Blogger Jim Bales said...

Mr. Doyle posts:
I don't deny that those scenarios are horrific atrocities Mr Bales.

Those are not scenarios, Mr. Doyle, Those are actual atrocities that happened to real people. These atrocities happened to living, breathing men--each of whom was someone's brother or husband or father or son. I posted them to support my contention that war is an atrocity -- this statement is not hyperbole on my part.

As best I can tell, Mr. Doyle believes that there are two types of people during war. The "innocent" (which seems to mean most of those not in uniform) who cannot be morally be killed or injured and the "guilty" (i.e., those in uniform) whom it is moral to kill, maim, and torment as needed to prevent any one of the "innocent" from suffering.

I consider this strong of a distinction between soldiers and civilians to be immoral. I posted a few of the gruesome details of how men in uniform suffer atrocities that are unspeakable in polite company -- the atrocities that are part and parcel in war. I posted them to support my contentio that to allow a war to continue is to perpetrate atrocities. Mr. Doyle is comfortable labeling those atrocities as "moral", and dismissing the suffering of these men in uniform as "scenarios". I am not.

It is moral to end atrocities. It is moral to end suffering. I see no pat answer to the question:
"When it is moral to commit atrocities to end atrocities?"

Mr. Doyle sees a pat answer. Mr. Doyle believes that unspeakable atrocities may be morally committed upon any number of men or women in uniform, as long it saves one "innocent" from suffering. I disagree.

In war, soldiers suffer atrocities. Civilians suffer atrocities. The innocent suffer atrocities. The guilty suffer atrocities. War is the atrocity. Starting a war is, except in rare circumstances, an atrocity (and it is an atrocity we committed under Mr. Bush).

Once in a war, the best one can reasonably hope for is that combatants will make the best reasonable effort to minimize the injuries and deaths and suffering of civilians, and avoid causing gratuitous suffering. But, like it or not, in modern warfare, civilians are targets. All the more reason to avoid wars.

Finally, my apologies for any rambling or lack of focus in this post. It is late, and I had a full day today with the promise of another full day tomorrow. I did not have the time to edit as I normally would.

Best,
Jim Bales

11:05 PM  
Anonymous Jimmy Doyle said...

Winst,

9/11 could only fail to be less atrocious than our (sc the allies') carpet bombing (sc of civilians) in WWII if all mass murders are equally bad regardless of the numbers involved. That condition has been defended (notably by Tuareg, "Should the Numbers Count?") but it's very controversial and I rather doubt that you believe it yourself, in which case I have no idea why you would doubt that 9/11 was less atrocious than our carpet bombing in WWII. If the numbers count at all, hundreds of thousands have to be worse than three thousand. There was no difference in the degree of innocence of the victims.

We have to distinguish the objective status (eg permissible or not) of the act from the culpability of the agent. None of the stuff you mention about "we don't know what it's like to face two evil empires" etc bears on whether mass murder is ever permissible. At most, that kind of duress might mitigate culpability, eg by contributing to circumstances of extreme temptation.

It's not at all clear that Iraq is better off now than it used to be

My sense is that anyone who knows much about Iraq pre-invasion and now would regard that as a colossal understatement, in that is isclear that Iraq is very much worse off now. (Just one relevant statistic: Number of suicide bombings that had ever been perpetrated in Iraq prior to the 2004 invasion: 0.)

4:41 AM  
Anonymous Jimmy Doyle said...

Please, Mr Bales.

Mr. Doyle believes that unspeakable atrocities may be morally committed upon any number of men or women in uniform, as long it saves one "innocent" from suffering.

Can you direct me to where I say this, or anything like it?

In referring to the situations you described as "scenarios" I did not mean to imply that they did not happen. How about "situations"? Is that OK? Or maybe "real-life historical situations, that actually happened, in real life"?

Not for the first time, you have completely misinterpreted my view. Nowhere do I say that it is permissible to inflict any atrocities whatsoever on people in uniform in wartime. (Nor do I say that they are necessarily "guilty" of anything. The relevant opposite of "innocent" in this context is "harming" or "threatening harm." The important point is not that combatants are in uniform, but that they are typically carrying weapons.) If I had suggested, anywhere, that there are no limits to what may be inflicted upon those in uniform, I would understand your outraged response. But I didn't. My point is simply that killing in self-defence is not murder. That does not mean that if someone is trying to kill you, you are entitled to do whatever you like to them.

7:08 AM  
Anonymous Jimmy Doyle said...

Winst:

Sorry, "Should the Numbers Count?" is a paper by a guy called Taurek, not "Tuareg"!

7:12 AM  
Anonymous The Dark Avenger said...

jim bales, I'm afraid you've demonstrated that you're as much in the dark about why i wrote what I did as when I related my grandfathers' views on the subject at hand.

It will always be a personal and familiar matter with me, as four cousins, my 3 now-dead siblings and myself probably wouldn't have been born if the bomb hadn't been dropped.

That's just one family, there are perhaps millions of people who could say the same thing based on a similar history if they had even one ancestor imprisoned or ready to fight in the planned invasion.

WS, it's to your credit that you understand, and that you realize it's not simple compared to, let's say a family where the worse thing about WWII was that Grandma could bake any birthday cakes because of the rationing then in effect.

As Faulkner said in a similar context:

The past is never dead. It's not even past.

10:58 AM  
Blogger Jim Bales said...

Mr. Doyle posts:

[quoting Bales] 'Mr. Doyle believes that unspeakable atrocities may be morally committed upon any number of men or women in uniform, as long it saves one "innocent" from suffering.'

[Mr. Doyle] "Can you direct me to where I say this, or anything like it?"


My apologies to Mr. Doyle. His contention was that
"The thing about the mass murder of innocents is that nothing mitigates it." The suffering of one innocent is not mass murder, so my original assertion was incorrect. Mea culpa!

Let me revise my statement to:
Mr. Doyle believes that unspeakable atrocities may be morally committed upon any number of men or women in uniform, as long it saves a sufficient number of "innocent" from being killed. ("Sufficent" here means a number large enough to meet Mr. Doyles definition of "mass murder".)

Mr. Doyle goes on:
"In referring to the situations you described as "scenarios" I did not mean to imply that they did not happen. How about "situations"? Is that OK? Or maybe "real-life historical situations, that actually happened, in real life"?"

Mr. Doyle and I have agreed that they are atrocities -- let us use that word.

Mr. Doyle's contention, as I understand it, is that the atrocities I described are moral, as they happened to combatants in uniform and occurred within the broadly accepted rules of warfare.

Not for the first time, you have completely misinterpreted my view. Nowhere do I say that it is permissible to inflict any atrocities whatsoever on people in uniform in wartime.

Mr. Doyle misinterprets my words:
Mr. Doyle believes that unspeakable atrocities may be morally committed upon any number of men or women in uniform ...

I did not wrote "any atrocity." I wrote "unspeakable atrocities." I listed representative unspeakable atrocities committed upon those in uniform during wartime. These atrocities are consistent with the rules of warfare, and thus (if I understand him correctly) are atrocities that Mr. Doyle considers to be moral examples of self-defense.

Perhaps Mr. Doyle objects to the my inference that he believes that there are circumstances in which such atrocities "may be morally committed upon any number of men or women in uniform."

My contention is that if Mr. Doyle truly believes that "The thing about the mass murder of innocents is that nothing mitigates it", then Mr. Doyle must believe that it is moral to commit the atrocities of war against an arbitrarily large number of people in uniform, so long as it saves (or will likely save) a sufficiently large number of civilians.

In contrast, I do not believe that it is moral to submit an unlimited number of men and women in uniform to unspeakable atrocities to save a limited number of civilians from suffering unspeakable atrocities.

Unlike Mr. Doyle, I do not have a pat answer to the question:
"When it is moral to commit atrocities to end atrocities?"

Mr. Doyle considers atrocities committed against an unlimited number of people in uniform to be moral so long as those atrocities prevent limited atrocities against people not in uniform. My dispute is with the "unlimited", which flows from the "nothing" in his assertion "The thing about the mass murder of innocents is that nothing mitigates it."

Best,
Jim Bales

11:42 AM  
Blogger Jim Bales said...

So, I visited Slacktivist and found that Fred Clark has (unsurprisingly) said what is essentially my position far better than I could about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki:
[T]he act was wrong. It was monstrous and impermissible. It is always impermissible to deliberately target non-combatants with a weapon of mass destruction. That is the rule, and the rule must be preserved long after the rule-breakers and everyone vehemently interested in condemning or defending them is dead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The bombings were atrocities, they were evil. They prevented what I believe to be were greater atrocities, greater evils.

It is easy to denounce the atrocity committed upon those civilians and soldiers in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What we more generally ignored is the myriad atrocities that war commits upon soldiers day in and day out. My goal in this debate has been to for those "routine" atrocities of war to be recognized and given their due consideration in the discussion.

(A second factor than has not been taken up here is the likelihood that, by preventing Japan's transportation network from being bombed into oblivion, the atomic-bomb-induced surrender prevented mass starvation of Japanese civilians in late 1945/early 1946.)

Best,
Jim Bales

3:23 PM  

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