Moral Relativism Is Not What Conservatives Think It Is

The always interesting Rad Geek has a great metaethical post on why, far from being a case of moral relativism, identifying mass murder of U.S. citizens with mass murder of Japanese citizens as morally equivalent is actually a rejection of moral relativism, an identification "that moral principles be applied universally, rather than applied ad hoc depending on your relationship to the agent being judged."

Someone should really revoke my consequentialist card for agreeing with Rad Geek's post. I've always felt uncomfortable defending Truman's nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki while at the same time claiming that there is something distinctively evil about the tactics of those like Bin Laden. I guess I'll have to either reject consequentialism or reject the view that there is something distinctively evil about terrorism. I think I'll have an easier time rejecting the latter.

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Joe, here are my thoughts

Joe, here are my thoughts about your replies. (You can go here to see everything in context.)

1.a. I don't know how to evaluate proportionality. Perhaps an empathetic decision-maker might make a seat-of-the-pants judgment that "enough is enough" or "the particular objective isn't worth the cost in human life." Do you have a more precise metric in mind?

1.b. See previous comment.

1.c. It would always be a judgment call. I suppose there are many libertarians (not to mention pacifists) who would rule out any deliberate infliction of casualties, even under the circumstances I've outlined.

3.a. Assume this situation: Country B is developing a devasting weapon that, if used, would kill half of Country A's inhabitants. There is no way to defend against the weapon if Country B decides to use it. Country B hasn't said that it would use the weapon, but the mere existence of the weapon poses a grave threat to Country A's citizens. Country B has demonstrated through its past behavior that it is unreceptive to pleas, negotiations, and offers of economic "assistance" (i.e., bribes). The only way to ensure that Country B won't use the weapon when it's built is to destroy the weapon in a pre-emptive attack, while the weapon is still under development. Country B has deliberately placed the development site so that a pre-emptive attack would result in the deaths of one-half of Country B's citizens. What would you do? I know what I'd do, given my opening statements about Country A and Country B: I'd launch the pre-emptive attack, as long as it had a reasonable chance of success (say 50%) and as long as I had the wherewithal to launch at least one more equally potent attack.

3.b. See previous comment.

This usually takes the form

This usually takes the form of apple and oranges comparisons such as “Well, how can you Americans be so indignant about up about the Nazi’s taking over Poland, Ha!, the Americans took over the Indian’s land.” You can play that game ad nauseaum. On that basis we had no moral right to oppose the Nazi’s. So then they invade a lot of other countries and you have WWII.

Well, actually on the basis that it's wrong to kill people and take their stuff, neither Hitler nor Americans had the right to invade and take over other people's lands--sounds like a moral basis to oppose the Nazis to me.

Joe, Thanks for the thorough

Joe,

Thanks for the thorough and thoughful reply. There are a few points on which I'd like to comment. I hope to do so tomorrow.

The question about Hiroshima

The question about Hiroshima is
(1) were the target not military enough? After all, the invasion of Okinawa did show that a lot of the *population* would die in "heroic" resistance rather than surrender. And Hiroshima was were the invasion was slated.
(2) did it actually help stop the war and make for fewer overall casualties?

I didn't study the history in enough detail to know the answer, but the rabid "antinuke" movement has failed to convince me -- because it never addressed the real questions.

In comparison,
(1) 9/11 was not a military target at all, it had no military purpose whatsoever.
(2) 9/11 did not stop the war, make for fewer overall casualties, or otherwise advance the cause of civilization (whether you consider civilization as "Islam" or "the Occident").

But I guess that Bin Laden, who considers any miscreant an enemy as such, will think that both (1) legitimacy of the target and (2) efficiency of the means to his greater goal are achieved. Which leads us to both agree on one thing: it is ultimately the end that defines the Evil. Bin Laden is evil not because he uses evil means to his ends, but because he has evil ends that justify the means he uses.

It has always been civilization against barbarianism. And the champions of civilization are not quite near perfection. But they needn't be. They only need be better than the alternative. Bush or Bin Laden? Truman or Hirohito? Easy choice.

What is more disturbing about 9/11 is those conspiracy theorist friends who say it was done by the CIA, with the islamists serving as scapegoats for more than they were actually able to do -- with passive complicity. Now *that* would be evil.

Tom, Wow, great set of

Tom,

Wow, great set of questions. I doubt seriously that I can do justice to all of them in this sort of forum. Indeed, much of what I will say here isn’t all that original to me; others have staked out much of this ground far better than I can. Still, here goes.

1. a. Yes, provided that Country A doesn’t directly intend those casualties, that it takes pains to minimize such casualties, and that it ensures that said casualties are proportional to military gains.
1. b. Yes, but see 1a. for caveats.
1. c. Maybe. I think that there are two components to supreme emergency. One is that there must be an imminent danger of losing and the second is that losing must be catastrophically evil. Worldwide Stalinism probably would count. I’m not sure, from your quick description of Country B, that it really meets the second part of that criteron.
2. a. Yes. I’ve no objection to preemptive strikes, provided that it really is the case that Country B is about to attack. If you and I get into a fight, I see no reason that I’m obligated to wait for your first punch to land before I can defend myself. Once I see that you’re going to throw the punch, it’s okay if mine lands first. I can’t see why that ought not apply in war, as well.
2. b. Yes, again. It’s not the winning or losing or the casualties that matter here. It’s a question of aggression. The scenario you describe makes Country B the aggressor, regardless of who actually fires the first shot. That said, finding real cases of preemption isn’t easy to do. Israel in the Six Day’s War comes closest. (Or is it Seven? Hard to keep up with countries that keep winning wars in less than a week.)
3. a. Nope. Here’s the analogy I like to use in class. Suppose that you and I really don’t like each other. In fact, we really hate one another. As it happens, right now, I’m stronger than you and know a bit about fighting, so I’m not really in much danger from you in a fight. But now suppose that I see that you’ve taken out a gym membership and signed up for Kung Fu classes at the Y. Am I justified in beating you up now on the grounds that, in a few months, you might possibly decide to beat me up? The same has to hold true for nations, I think. The mere fact that Country B doesn’t like Country A and is arming itself doesn’t imply that Country A will actually attack Country B. After all, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. actively didn’t like one another and actively armed against one another without ever actually directly shooting at one another. Possibility of future attack doesn’t justify preventive war. Imminence of attack does. When Country B makes it clear that they actually mean to attack, then they’ve aggressed against Country A and war is justified.
3. b. Same as 3a.

You raise some tricky issues here, and it’s never clear-cut where the line is between 2 and 3, for instance. That often has to be worked out on a case-by-case basis.

Rad, Yes, point taken about

Rad,

Yes, point taken about the distinction between consequentialism and utilitarianism. I do have issues with Moore's ideal utilitarianism, as I think that, at the end of the day, it's not really consequentialism at all, but just intuitionism masquerading as something else. After all, once one has some set of completely incomparable goods, then one is immediately faced with the problem of trade-offs when those different goods conflict. If there is no common denominator for comparing different goods, then we are left with little more than just our intuitions about how to proceed. If, on the other hand, different values can be compared, then we can just ditch the different values and move directly to whatever the common factor is (i.e., we're back to something like utilitarianism).

You are right, though, that my line of argument can't really get to an _absolute_ prohibition on some type of action, a point which I acknowledge indirectly in admitting that I find Walzer's arguments about supreme emergency persuasive. I think, though, that you may be too quick to appeal to our intuitions. I suspect that most people would not actually say that incinerating innocent people is _always_ wrong. In real cases of supreme emergency (i.e., cases in which the _only_ way of preventing overwhelming evil is to kill innocents), I suspect that most people will come down on the side of killing innocents. This is just Tom Nagel's point in "War and Massacre" that, when the body count gets high enough, even absolutists become consequentialists.

I guess my point here is that I don't think that my position that killing innocents is something that requires an _extremely_ high burden of proof is really all that out of line with ordinary intuitions. Absolute prohibitions on certain types of actions, OTOH, does strike me as inconsistent with our moral intuitions. (Not that I think that our intuitions should always be that decisive; as a good utilitarian, I think that people have all sorts of incorrect moral intuitions about things like famine relief and eating meat, but those are topics for another day.)

Joe Miller to Micha: "Why

Joe Miller to Micha: "Why think that you need to have your consequentialist card revoked? There are good consequentialist reasons for thinking that there ought to be limits to the sorts of actions that are permitted in war. It just requires a move to indirect utilitarianism."

Joe explains the line of argument further below: "I would argue further that, because exceptions are so rare and because the opportunities for mistakes are so great, that it’s also utility-maximizing to disallow making exceptions. That will mean giving up on some opportunities to maximize utility by breaking rules, but that loss is outweighed by eliminating all of the incorrect rule-violations."

Well, this is one possible consequentialist ground for placing some means completely off-limits. I'm not sure it's the most convincing one, though: at best it seems to make a case for a rule of extreme caution, not a rule of absolute prohibition; if it really makes sense to say that utility could ever outweigh the disutility of nuclear massacres, and all actions should be judged by the balance of utility over disutility that they cause, then all these constraints seem to suggest is that you should demand that people very carefully demonstrate the alleged benefits of the nuclear massacre before you let the bombs drop. But that hardly captures the intuition that a lot of people want to capture -- that incinerating innocent people is categorically wrong, not just a policy that bears a very high burden of proof. Even if this objection is decisive, though, it doesn't actually mean the end of the game for consequentialism; it just means the end of the game for utilitarianism. But not all consequentialists are utilitarians; and if you think (as G. E. Moore, for example, did) that consequences like cruelty, enmity, ugliness, etc. are great positive evils in themselves, without any reference to their effects on anyone's utility or disutility, then you may have pretty strong grounds for condemning certain kinds of atrocities as evils in themselves (because they essentially involve some of these great evils) no matter what further effects they may have on things like pleasure-pain balances.

I'm sort of with you, Micha.

I'm sort of with you, Micha. From bin Laden's perspective, of course the ends justify the means. Perhaps I take a far more cynical view of the conflict between us and his ilk: what his kind wants is antithetical to what I want, ergo his side must either give up their goals, be neutralized, or die. Ideally with as few collateratal casualties as possible, but "few" does not mean "zero."

Also, consequentialism assumes that there's a set of values that you're measuring the consequences by. Bin Laden is evil by our standards because his values lead him to do things that harm our values, so what he does to achieve his values is a fortiori also evil to us (unless it inadvertantly furthers our own values). I don't know if this is relativism or not, but don't see any conflict with consequentialism here.

Alex, You asked me if the

Alex,

You asked me if the World Trade Center was a legitimate military target. I said it isn't. By the same token, neither were heavily populated Japanese cities legitimate military targets. Yet if you accept that the ends justify the means in the Japanese case, then, assuming you share Bin Laden's ends, the ends should justify the means in his case as well.

Dave, I wholeheartedly agree

Dave,

I wholeheartedly agree with your disgust at the cherry-picking school of history. In fact, the entire strategy is based on a fallacy (_tu quoque_ if you want to sound snobby). And you're right that entirely too many people (on all sides of the political spectrum) do exactly that.

As far as 'deliberately targeting civilians' I'll concede that killing civilians wasn't the _only_ goal in dropping bombs on Hiroshima (or on Dresden, for that matter). The pertinent question is whether it was _a_ goal. I think that it probably was, since, as several people on the other thread have pointed out, there were a number of purely military targets available, none of which were actually chosen.

Regarding which side erred more in bombing civilian targets, that's a tricky question. The Germans started the practice. There are those who argue that Churchill goaded the Germans into bombing London in order to keep them from bombing the RAF. I'm not enough of an historian to evaluate that claim. Churchill may have been that coldblooded. I just don't know.

For what it's worth, I don't actually object to all bombing of civilian populations. Walzer makes a nice argument for justifying British bombing of German cities in early 1941 before the U.S. got involved in the war. At the time, that was the only success that the British were having, and they were fighting the war pretty much on their own. Given the terrific evil of the Nazis and given that all that really stood in the way of a Nazi Europe, the Brits may have been justified under what Walzer dubs 'supreme emergency'. By the time of Dresden, though, supreme emergency no longer existed, so the targeting of civilians was once again immoral.

BTW, don't you think it's a bit of sophistry to say, "I know that I'm firebombing you in the middle of the night, and I know that my weapons will make it impossible for anything to survive, but really all I'm aiming at is your house"? Isn't this like bin Laden saying, "All I'm really aiming at are those ugly buildings in lower Manhattan"?

Tom, _Moral relativism from

Tom,

_Moral relativism from Micha Ghertner: “if you accept Bin Laden’s objectives.” But we don’t accept Bin Laden’s objectives, do we? Not all objectives are morally equal._

This is the same worry that Nicholas points out in another thread, namely, that there is a distinction between _jus ad bellum_ and _jus in bello_. Micha's point, I take it, is that the means that bin Laden used to achieve his ends are morally identical to the ends that Truman adopts to achieve his ends. This is not to say that those ends are morally equivalent, only that the actions taken in pursuit of those ends are morally equivalent.

Is your position that Truman's ends justify his means? That's a reasonable position to take, though it's one with which I disagree. Let me be clear here. I am a consequentialist, but an indirect one. I think that it makes sense to place certain kinds of actions off limits because those actions typically have horrifingly bad consequences. I would argue further that, because exceptions are so rare and because the opportunities for mistakes are so great, that it's also utility-maximizing to disallow making exceptions. That will mean giving up on some opportunities to maximize utility by breaking rules, but that loss is outweighed by eliminating all of the incorrect rule-violations.

Then why did you bring his

Then why did you bring his objectives up? Your two most recent comments here are completely at odds with each other - either the morality of the objective is germane to the morality of the act or it isn't. Your 9:50 comment fails the "if" test of your 9:06 comment.

I don't think you need to

I don't think you need to accept Bin Laden's objectives before you recognize the symmetry of the immoral tactics. Japanese civilians didn't threaten us; we had no moral right to murder them in self-defense.

Moral relativism from Micha

Moral relativism from Micha Ghertner: "if you accept Bin Laden’s objectives." But we don't accept Bin Laden's objectives, do we? Not all objectives are morally equal. Killing the infidel because he's an infidel is different than -- and inferior to -- defeating Japan because it posed a military threat to the U.S. By Micha's reasoning, unprovoked murder is no different than murder in self-defense.

Not at all, but if you

Not at all, but if you accept Bin Laden's objectives and believe that destroying the towers was the most cost-effective way of doing so (perhaps taking into account the number of lives that would be lost under alternative strategies), I don't see such a sharp distinction between that and what the U.S. government did to the Japanese.

Are you saying, then, that

Are you saying, then, that because bin Laden's military objective was terror, the World Trade Center was a legitimate military target?

There was absolutely no

There was absolutely no necessity to say that any Allied raid had killing civilians as its only purpose.

Bin Laden's murder of civilians wasn't his only purpose either; he also wanted to scare America into submission, make a symbolic attack against the foundations of the American system, etc.

Answer to Joe Miller- (see)

Answer to Joe Miller- (see) comments (Civilian Casualties, A Historical Case)I guess what I really object to is the finger pointing school of history where various people glean the record for “facts”, usually taken out of context which they then use to mislead the innocent, ignorant and score points in a debate which has nothing to do with the historical subject in question. This usually takes the form of apple and oranges comparisons such as “Well, how can you Americans be so indignant about up about the Nazi’s taking over Poland, Ha!, the Americans took over the Indian’s land.” You can play that game ad nauseaum. On that basis we had no moral right to oppose the Nazi’s. So then they invade a lot of other countries and you have WWII.

I agree that you should study history to understand the past and to improve the future, but I distrust this rhetorical device which can abused by dishonest or ignorant people. (Not you, I take your comments seriously.)

I disagree with the phrase “deliberately targeting civilians” which is such a loaded phrase. In fact when applied to WWII no such fine distinction is possible. As a matter of fact the only real restraint was based on tit for tat. No power used poison gas. All powers were furiously doing nuclear research and would have used the bomb. All sides used methods that killed a lot of civilians although the axis powers abused this more. There was absolutely no necessity to say that any Allied raid had killing civilians as its only purpose. Even the British “dehousing” of program in Germany (night bombing attacks) made more people homeless than killing them. Japan only surrendered when their economy was wrecked. Militarily, Japan still had millions of soldiers. The Germans and Japanese did partially evacuate their populations. The Americans did drop warning leaflets after the first A- bomb and so on and so on. If you believe dropping the A- bombs saved lives, as some do, I guess they could be considered moral consequentilists.

You could also stop

You could also stop defending the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and condemn both Truman and bin Laden's actions as distinctively evil--or is there a subtlety here I'm missing?

Micha, Why think that you

Micha,

Why think that you need to have your consequentialist card revoked? There are good consequentialist reasons for thinking that there ought to be limits to the sorts of actions that are permitted in war. It just requires a move to indirect utilitarianism. Richard Brandt rather famously defends such a position in "Utilitarianism and the Rules of War" which is from an early issue of _Philosophy and Public Affairs_ (and is anthologized in lots of places).

I think that Brandt's argument has problems, but nevertheless think that he's right in thinking that a consequentialist can place limits on war. There are a lot of good reasons for thinking that deliberately targeting noncombatants is likely, in general, to have pretty bad consequences and thus be off-limits.

As I mentioned in the

As I mentioned in the original post, I'm more interested in the meta-ethical issue here than the political one -- not because the political one isn't important, but rather because you need to be clear on what you're arguing over if the argument is going to make any sense. (So accusations that Jacob was indulging in "moral relativism" are misplaced, because what he was actually arguing was precisely the opposite. The actual disagreement was either (a) over the general ethical principles that he was employing, or (b) his understanding of the specific historical case to which he was applying those principles; pretending as if he were indulging in relativism, and giving up on objective ethical principles entirely, just clouds the issue in a particularly inane way.)

However, a couple of notes.

Faré: "(1) 9/11 was not a military target at all, it had no military purpose whatsoever."

You may be forgetting that there were actually two different targets attacked on September 11th. One, the World Trade Center, was clearly not a military target. Another, the Pentagon, clearly was a military target. (Also, of course, the attacks killed a few hundred civilians on the hijacked airplanes.) Complaints against the deliberate killing of civilians in the course of striking "non-military" targets apply to the attacks on the World Trade Center, but they don't apply to "9/11" in general. (Of course, there may be other reasons to condemn the attack on the Pentagon while not condemning the incineration of Hiroshima. But distinctions between "military" and "non-military" targets won't cut that ice.)

Dave: "I guess what I really object to is the finger pointing school of history where various people glean the record for 'facts', usually taken out of context which they then use to mislead the innocent, ignorant and score points in a debate which has nothing to do with the historical subject in question. This usually takes the form of apple and oranges comparisons such as 'Well, how can you Americans be so indignant about up about the Nazi's taking over Poland, Ha!, the Americans took over the Indian's land.' You can play that game ad nauseaum. On that basis we had no moral right to oppose the Nazi's."

I'm not sure at all why comparing Hitler's war of conquest, and willingness to engage in ethnic cleansing and genocide, to the American government's repeated wars of conquest, and willingness to engage repeatedly in ethnic cleansing and genocide against several different Indian nations over a period of a century or so, is an "apples and oranges comparison"--particularly when Hitler explicitly cited the treatment of Indians in the American West as a model for his own campaign for Lebensraum. But whether the comparison is a just one or an unjust one, I must say that I'm mystified by the claim that such comparisons issue in the claim that "we had no moral right to oppose the Nazis". According to whom? All that follows if the American government's treatment of Cherokees, Creeks, Sioux, Apache, etc. was morally comparable to Hitler's treatment of Jews, Poles, Czechs, Romani, etc., then you can't excuse one and condemn the other -- they have to either both be condemned or both be excused. It doesn't follow that the American government (far less individual American citizens) didn't have the right to condemn the Nazis, nor does it follow that they didn't have the right to use force to oppose them. It just means that if they are going to condemn them and advocate resistence, then they ought also condemn the American government's comparable actions, and to endorse the Indians' right to resist then. Consistency is the key here.

Now you might object they're not really comparable. Fine, but then you ought to give an argument for why they're not really comparable. Knocking down a strawman position that allegedly undermines just condemnation of, or forcible resistence to, Nazism, or Islamist terrorism, or whatever it is you happen to be concerned with at the moment, is just a distraction from the real argument.

Tom: "Not all objectives are morally equal. Killing the infidel because he’s an infidel is different than -- and inferior to -- defeating Japan because it posed a military threat to the U.S."

(1) Tokyo was firebombed in March, 1945 and Hiroshima and Nagasaki were incinerated in August of the same year. Do you seriously intend to claim that Japan posed a substantial military threat to the United States in March - August 1945? If so, what in the world do you think they were about to do? If not, why do you claim that the "objective" of the bombings was to defeat a military threat to the U.S.?

(2) Micha actually nowhere claimed that all objectives are morally equal. (Even if he did, that would not be moral relativism either; it would be moral nihilism. Relativists don't claim that no objective is better than any other; what they claim is that the question of whether one objective is morally better than another always has to be answered relative to someone's frame of reference, and that the correct judgments can differ for different people.) All he claimed is that Truman and bin Laden are in the same moral position as far as means are concerned: if noble ends could justify Truman's means (whether or not Truman's ends actually were noble), then noble ends could just as easily justify bin Laden's means (whether or not bin Laden's ends actually were noble). And if the ends couldn't justify bin Laden's means, then they couldn't justify Truman's either. The point of raising this point is that a lot of people think that no possible end, no matter how noble or ignoble, could justify bin Laden's means. But if they want to say that, they had better be willing to say the same thing about Truman too -- and accept the logical consequences that follow.

The limit on wartime

The limit on wartime violence as it is understood by most international relations theorists (ugly political realists on their home turf) is that nothing should ever be done in wartime which can preclude the satisfactory negotiation of peace. Military actions should be calculated to bring an end to violence and a return to diplomacy.

In this sense, dropping the big one on a city could be considered decidedly un-evil. Because the deaths are so instantaneous and person-to-person cruelty is kept to a minimum, the enemy is brought to the negotiating table totally defeated by not irreconcilably outraged.

Taking a city and killing all the men, women, and children with bayonets, for instance, is likely to inspire hatred and resentment on a much larger scale.

By contrast, acts of terrorism are not aimed at bringing about peace but at riling up hatred and militancy on all sides. They are actually intended to start wars and not to end them - essentially to make peace impossible. The nihilism and spite inherent in such acts are the basis for a distinction between terrorism and calculated acts of war, at least when war is not aimed at complete annihilation of the opponent.

Joe (and anyone else who

Joe (and anyone else who wants to take a whack at this),

I know that life's not black & white, but a black & white case may help us to clarify the principles that we're trying to apply to rather messy "real world" situations. Consider this hypothetical:

1. In Country A (just as in Country B), the armed forces are controlled by the state. (I don't want to get off onto the tangent of whether war is more or less likely if defense is provided by private agencies.)

2. The only restriction on the liberty of Country A's citizens is that they must pay taxes to support their armed forces. Country B's citizens own no property; their jobs are dictated by the state; their income is dictated by the state; and all aspects of their lives are regimented by state decrees.

3. Though Country A's armed forces are underwritten by taxes, the members of the armed forces are volunteers. The members of Country B's armed forces are conscripts, and Country B's armed forces are, in effect, supplied and equipped by slave labor.

4. Country A would liberate Country B's citizens, if it could. Country B would subjugate or kill Country A's citizens, if it could.

What say you, then, to these questions:

1. If Country B attacks Country A, what limits (if any) would you place on the measures Country A might take in its defense? Specifically:

a. Are civilian casualties in Country B acceptable at all?

b. Are civilian casualties in Country B acceptable if they're the result of mistakes on Country A's part or the unavoidable result of Country A's attacks on Country B's armed forces and infrastructure?

c. Is the deliberate infliction by Country A of civilian casualties in Country B acceptable as long as Country A's leaders reasonably believe that the infliction of those casualties -- and nothing else -- will bring about the defeat of Country B? (Assume, here, that Country A's leaders try to inflict only the number of casualties deemed necessary to the objective.)

(Assume, for purposes of the next 2 questions, that Country A inflicts casualties on Country B's civilians only to the extent that those casualties are the result of mistakes or unavoidable collateral damage.)

2. Should Country A attack Country B if Country A concludes (rightly or wrongly, but in good faith) that Country B is about to attack, and if Country B strikes first it is likely to:

a. win a quick victory and subjugate Country A?

b. inflict heavy casualties on Country A's citizens?

3. Should Country A attack Country B if Country A concludes (rightly or wrongly, but in good faith) that Country B is developing the wherewithal to attack, and if Country B strikes first it is likely to

a. win a quick victory and subjugate Country A?

b. inflict heavy casualties on Country A's citizens?

What I'm trying to get at is whether we should value non-aggression (which I take to be a means to liberty that's favored by certain libertarians) over liberty itself (the end upon which all libertarians agree). In light of that distinction, my answers are:

1. a. Yes
1. b. Yes
1. c Yes
2. a. Yes
2. b. Yes
3. a. Yes
3. b. Yes

Over to you.

I definitely remember that

I definitely remember that the Soviets did not pass the surrender terms to us. We did know of them through "Magic".

Had we accepted the terms that the Soviets did not pass to us we would have blown "Magic", which we were unwilling to do.

If you read the accounts of the Japanese discussions with the Emperor a large proportion (possibly a majority) wished to fight on. They hoped a bloody fight would gain them better terms. The Emperor made the decision unilaterally.

The Soviets did not pass on the terms because they wanted a piece of Japan and if they could get it a significant position in the occupation.

Joe, It has been a while

Joe,

It has been a while since I read that history and I am aware of the point you make.

My recollection is that (although I can't remember all the particulars) I thought the decision was a reasonable one.

I think the reason is that "Magic" was not showing that the Japanese were united in the desire to surrender. Even after the the bombs some Japanese planned to kill McArthur on the Missouri. Fortunately (for reasons I can't remember) the plot failed.

I do remember that the Japanese had been offering various terms all summer. None of which included unconditional (except for the emperor) surrender followed by occupation.

I just moved and my books on the subject are packed away still so I can't give you a definitive answer. But I definitely remember thinking the decision made sense.

BTW consensus was 1 million American casualties. 10 million Japanese. Even had they been 1/10th that the moral calculus was still correct.

Of course if I have erred in the above you will correct me.

Mr. Simon, I have actually

Mr. Simon,

I have actually read my history. I've read enough of it to know that Japan had contacted the Soviet Union to negotiate a surrender with the United States before the dropping of atomic weapons. The only concession for which Japan asked was that their emperor not be deposed. After dropping nuclear weapons, the U.S. accepted the surrender of Japan...with the caveat that the emperor not be deposed.

Maybe you're right that it would have required killing 11 million people to invade the Japanese islands, though none of the senior military people thought so at the time. The more important point is that invading the islands wasn't necessary, since _Japan was already willing to surrender_.

The either/or comparison you offer (kill 200,000 or 11 million) is a false dilemma. There were plenty of other options available, including simply accepting the surrender that we ended up accepting after killing an extra 200,000 innocent civilians.

And yes, they were innocent at that point. When a nation offers surrender and it is refused, the nation that continues the war is the aggressor. Had Americans invaded after turning down an offer of surrender, Japanese citizens would have been right to resist.

_Many Japanese believe that their total defeat was a blessing in the long run._

Again, the misses the point that the defeat of Japan after Hiroshima was exactly the same defeat that the Japanese were willing to concede before Hiroshima.

Rad Grrek, WW2 was in part a

Rad Grrek,

WW2 was in part a consequence of not fully defeating Germany in WW1.

So perhaps the calculation in WW2 (right or wrong) was to avoid repeating that mistake. We got to dictate the Japanese Constitution and their type of government. Something not possible without complete defeat.

Many Japanese believe that their total defeat was a blessing in the long run.

It is really necessary to go into the subject much deeper than high school history to get a feel for what the decision makers AT THE TIME were dealing with.

The question in 1945 was not was Japan a current threat. It was - will they be one in the future without complete defeat. Once you pay the price for a hot war it is good to finish the job. if you can.

Russia was not totally defeated and occupied at the end of the cold war. They are starting to revert to their old habits. Get it?

Rad Geek, America didn't

Rad Geek,

America didn't just kill Indians. For the most part we were in a continuous state of war with them. The fact that the Indians liked to kill civilians (which was reciprocated to some extent) ought to enter into the calculation.

Treaty breaking and various stupidites were done by both sides. Dan Yeargly (a college professor and a Comanche I believe) says the Americans won fair and square. He thinks it was a good outcome. Interestingly enough he wrote an opera about Jews. Says he feels a strong afinity to them.

I might add that the Comanche liked to attack and steal other Indian's property, such as their women.

The Indians were not Rouseau's nobel savages. They were savages. Towards each other when no other targets were available. So defeating them was a moral good. Even if the job was poorly done.

And yes. Hitler loved cowboys and Indians. He patterned his camps after the camps for Indians. "Arbeit macht frei" was a special touch of his own though.

Killing people and taking

Killing people and taking their stuff is wrong.

Which is why we are subjects of the Queen today.

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Look at the Tories vs the Revolutionaries in America during the Revolution. A lot of evil was done on both sides. The Tories felt so unwelcome post 1783 that a lot of them moved to Canada.

War is some evil shit. Some times you got to do it to prevent worse evil.

In fact Japanese civilians

In fact Japanese civilians did threaten us. Though "Magic" we learned that Japan was raising a civilian civil defence force which was going to resist invasion with pitchforks if necessary.

Estimates for a conventional military invasion of Japan were a million American casualties and 10 million Japanese casualties.

Read your history.

Killing 200,000 with atomics to save 11 million (even if events had been kind and 1/10th that number become casualties) was a morally correct calculation in a war. The Japanese by the time of the dropping of the atomics were not eating well. Suppose an invasion had taken six months to subdue the Island vs 3 days with atomics. Even had the death tolls been equal a lot of suffering would be averted.

The Japanese were every bit as fanatical as the enemy we face today. The ubermench of the East.

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I kind of like Oriana Fallaci's description of our current enemies: Islamic Nazis. Their goal: kill all the Jews, world domination.

American goals in the war? Spread of self government. Now the goal might be suspect except that we have done it before.

Of course as a government project a lot of stupidity and unwarranted killing will take place. It still is better than the alternative.

War sucks. The Islamic Nazis declared war on us. We have returned the favor - however ineptly.

So in fact there has been a declaration of war even.

Our side so far has limited itself to a use of force declaration. Which is good. Civil liberties can be more severely restrained during an official war.

Goals matter as much as means. Compare how Japan treated its conquered territory vs what America did.

Rad Geek says: "So do you

Rad Geek says:

"So do you believe that it’s OK to incinerate half a million innocent civilians, in a country that no longer poses any military threat to you, if you can make improvements to their constitution by doing so?"

No Rad I do not.

I believe that it is the correct move if you estimate it will prevent the next worse war. That is a judgement call. I believe the judgement was correct. YMMV.

Unfortunately politics is unlike physics. It is path dependent and the experiments cannot be repeated. You must look to history as a guide. There will never be absolute proof.

Which is why at this time Libertarians are not fit to govern (more is the pity). Their reading of history and human nature is very narrow.

I was a hard core Lib once myself. Secty/Treas of our local group for three years. 9/11 washed the scales from my eyes.

In many ways Libertarianism is a lot like Communism. Dogma replaces thought. How do I know? I was a Communist many years before I became a Libertarian. The current arguments remind me of Stalinists vs the Trots on the correct application of Marxist Lenninist thought. Weeks of meetings would be devoted to such questions re: a particular subject.

In the real world principles can be a guide. They can never be absolute. When they are absolute thinking stops.

M. Simon: America didn't

M. Simon:

America didn't just kill Indians. For the most part we were in a continuous state of war with them. The fact that the Indians liked to kill civilians (which was reciprocated to some extent) ought to enter into the calculation. Treaty breaking and various stupidites were done by both sides.

This is absolute nonsense on several fronts.

"America" was not a "side" in any war; it is a pair of continents. Nor were "Indians" a "side" in any war; the word describes several different independent nations of people spread out across those two continents, who have and had a bewildering variety of cultures, religions, economic systems, languages, technological levels, political constitutions, etc. etc. etc. over the course of tens of thousands of years' worth of history, including nations that fought with white people and nations that allied with white people and nations that never met white people at all and nations that fought with or allied with each other. Talking about relations between "America" and its relations with "Indians" is precisely as historically enlightening as talking about relations between "Eurasia" and "Europeans." Which is to say, not at all. If you want to talk about something specific (like the ethnic cleansing-cum-genocide committed against the Cherokee in Georgia, or the wars fought against the Creek or Seminole, or the wars against the Plains Indians in the late 19th century), then we can do so. I think you'll find that each of these are quite different cases, and that some of them involved atrocities on both sides and others were little more than unilateral slaughter.

But the problem is that not only is this absolute nonsense, but also that the more specific cases you seem to want to refer to are one and all irrelevant to the point. There certainly were some wars with Indian nations in which atrocities were committed against white people by members of those nations. So what? The fact that atrocities are committed by both sides doesn't make atrocities by either side justifiable. This is part of the ethical point being made throughout this thread: wrong is wrong no matter who, or how many, are doing it.

M. Simon, again:

And yes. Hitler loved cowboys and Indians. He patterned his camps after the camps for Indians.

That's part of the reason why it's not an apples-and-oranges comparison.

M. Simon, again:

So perhaps the calculation in WW2 (right or wrong) was to avoid repeating that mistake. We got to dictate the Japanese Constitution and their type of government. Something not possible without complete defeat.

...

The question in 1945 was not was Japan a current threat. It was - will they be one in the future without complete defeat. Once you pay the price for a hot war it is good to finish the job. if you can.

So do you believe that it's OK to incinerate half a million innocent civilians, in a country that no longer poses any military threat to you, if you can make improvements to their constitution by doing so?

Can't you think of any way of averting future wars that doesn't involve the use of terror-bombing to kill hundreds of thousands of non-combatants?

Tom, Again, some really

Tom,

Again, some really great questions. I'm flattered at the reprint, too.

First, I agree with you that proportionality is tricky. There isn't any sort of magic formula for evaluating it. Indeed, it's the sort of thing that has really rather a lot of shades of gray. I suppose that the best we can do is to lay out clear cases of black (bombing a city because there is a single tank in the middle) and white (bombing Ft. Bragg even though civilians live there). How do we decide the middle cases? I don't know; it's going to depend a lot on the circumstances. Can someone nuke San Diego to get at the huge naval bases there? That looks like it might fail the proportionality test. The same thing, I think, is true of the air war against Kosovo: we did more damage to noncombatants than was really necessary; it was possible to have won the same victory with a ground invasion. More soldiers would have died, but fewer noncombatants likely would have died, as well. However callous it might sound to say this, the fact is that soldiers sign up to be killed. Noncombatants have not. So I think that, to a certain extent, it's appropriate to risk the lives of soldiers to protect noncombatants--even if the noncombatants are on the other side.

We'd have to do a lot more than is possible here to cash out just what our criteria for proportionality would look like. I would submit, though, that the fact that proportionality isn't always easy to determine doesn't mean that it's not an important consideration.

I agree that there are a lot of libertarians and pacifists who would rule out any deliberate infliction of noncombatant casualties. There are lots of liberals who would agree, too. But I don't think that I defended _deliberate_ infliction of noncombatant casualties. The deliberate part is the destruction of legitimate targets. The noncombatant casualties are foreseen, but not intended. A good test for this is to ask whether one would still perform the action if it were possible to do so without killing any innocents. That's the big reason that I think Hiroshima fails the test. I strongly suspect that the answer there would have been no. In fact, it was possible to hit military targets with only minimal civilian casualties. That's not the option that was chosen.

As for your new scenario in 3, I have to say, I really don't know. I'd have to think about it more before I fully commit myself one way or the other. My off the cuff response is to say that in the case you describe, with a weapon so horribly destructive and unstoppable, one could make a good argument for the claim that the mere act of developing such a weapon is itself an act of aggression. Maybe that will strike some here as sophistry, and I'd want to think more about it.

Come to think of it, this is a nice topic for a paper. Wanna collaborate? :smile:

Rad Geek, Re: Indians. I

Rad Geek,

Re: Indians.

I think my view reflects the way Americans of the time saw the issues.

It was a clash of cultures. Tribal warrior vs. national/industrial/agricultural.

It is always about who can hold the land. The Indians couldn't. They could not develop the resources at their command. Their tribal ways limited the power they could develop.

And attacks by the warrior tribes poisoned the well against all tribes.

You might want to read what Bad Eagle has to say about the issues you bring up. He is an American Indian. In general his position on the Indian wars mirrors mine. It ought to. I learned from him.

War is one of the ways humans have of determining which cultures survive. It sucks. None the less it is the nature of the human beast.

You might find Its a Warrior Thing. You Wouldn't Understand interesting.

How a Comanche Indian Came to Write the First Opera About the Nazi Holocaust

What’s Up With White Women? answers more than a few of your questions.

It is sad to see Libertarianism infected with the multicultural disease. No surprise though. The Current Lib position on foreign policy is indistinguishable from the Communist position. The very thing I left the Communists for.

So now I am a man of no Party. I'm tired of dogma and cant. It is a dead end. I choose my positions based on current circumstances. All policies have defects. I will do the British thing. Muddle through. There are no perfect positions.

I think there are many

I think there are many thought provoking ideas being contributed in this thread.
It is basically a discussion of ethics, especially moral equivalence issues.

However, I don’t think people are studying their history books hard enough. I think some rather facile comparisons are being made I am finding that going back and looking at various documents concerning the decision to use the bomb that some advocates are guilty of a great deal of selectivity as to their facts. Every source I have read reflects a new light on this well studied and debated issue.
I have already pointed out that Japan had a nuclear program. Also Truman did not shoot from the hip. He commissioned an advisory committee which recommended using the bomb. On a personal level Truman was a former artilleryman in WWI and saw comrades die needlessly because of delays in finishing the war. Most scientists and government personnel as well as the vast majority of the American public was supportive of the use of the bomb. Most critics only voiced their complaints after the bombings. Some of the critics such as Mc Arthur and Le May later were later some of the worst nuclear cowboys. McAurthur wanted to nuke China when they attacked American troops in Korea. Le May wanted to knock out Russia before it was able get sufficient nukes to get us.
Most academics who have studied the question with the benefit of postwar data have concluded that Truman could have fairly easily won the war without using the bomb, but that he was motivated primarily by the belief that it would shorten the war and lessen casualties. In fact this happened. If there were any motivations such as impressing the Russians they were secondary. There was also a big struggle among the rulers of Japan about the surrender. Some authorities think that the A bombs gave Hirohito the final ammunition he needed to talk the military into a surrender with honor. There is much more but it wouldn’t fit on the page.
Finally, after looking at the whole picture I conclude that those who propose the moral equivalence of to Truman and Bin Laden guilty of gross simplification and misinterpretation. Show me Bin Ladin’s advisory committee, his strategic planning concerning the best way to end the war, the reports of his advisors struggling to find the best course. The only thing Bin Laden wanted was is to kill as many people as possible.And attacking the Pentegon in peacetime does not qualify as a millitary action. In fact there is no moral equivalence between these two men.

Joe, I just returned from an

Joe,

I just returned from an enjoyable 85th birthday dinner for my mother-in-law and read your most recent entry, in which you said "Come to think of it, this is a nice topic for a paper. Wanna collaborate?" Let's talk about it offline. My e-mail address is on my blog. I look forward to hearing from you.