Kamm versus Anscombe

by Chris Bertram on August 22, 2007

For the past week I’ve been crouching behind a bush, metaphorically speaking, waiting to ambush Oliver Kamm who was unwise enough to announce his intention to defend the use of the A-bomb at Hiroshima against its moral critics. Of course, I spent some of that time anticipating what Kamm might say and, it turns out, I anticipated wrongly. I had expected Kamm to concede, against people like Elizabeth Anscombe, that Hiroshima involved the murder of innocents, but then to argue that such murder was necessary. I’d then intended to invoke Orwell’s critique of Auden from Inside the Whale, a passage that contains inter alia, some acute comments on the Kamm mentality.

But I was wrong. It turns out that Kamm denies the claim that it was murder . The trouble is, he can’t bring himself to face the issue directly, and, despite quoting Anscombe in extenso, gives a seriously inaccurate account of her view.

Here’s Anscombe’s essay Mr Truman’s Degree , as quoted by Kamm:

For men to choose to kill the innocent as a means to their ends is always murder, and murder is one of the worst of human actions. So the prohibition on deliberately killing prisoners of war or the civilian population is not like the Queensbury Rules: its force does not depend on its promulgation as part of positive law, written down, agreed upon, and adhered to by the parties concerned. When I say that to choose to kill the innocent as a means to one’s ends is murder, I am saying what would generally be accepted as correct. But I shall be asked for my definition of “the innocent.” I will give it, but later. Here, it is not necessary; for with Hiroshima and Nagasaki we are not confronted with a borderline case. In the bombing of these cities it was certainly decided to kill the innocent as a means to an end. And a very large number of them, all at once, without warning, without the interstices of escape or the chance to take shelter, which existed even in the “area bombing” of the German cities.

But when Kamm speaks in propria persona he tells us that Anscombe’s view is that “it is always murder to kill the innocent” and that she asserts that there is “an absolute prohibition on the killing of innocents”. Did Kamm fail to notice that Anscombe’s sentence included the provision that it was always wrong for people to kill the innocent as a means to their ends? Perhaps he did. Did Kamm, perhaps, fail to read Anscombe’s essay in full? One suspects so, because if he had done so he might have noticed the following passage, which entails, no plainly states, that it is not “always murder to kill the innocent”:

Choosing to kill the innocent as a means to your ends is always murder. Naturally, killing the innocent as an end in itself is murder too; but that is no more than a possible future development for us:* [* This will seem a preposterous assertion; but we are certainly on the way, and I can think of no reasons for confidence that it will not happen.] in our part of the globe it is a practice that has so far been confined to the Nazis. I intend my formulation to be taken strictly; each term in it is necessary. For killing the innocent, even if you know as a matter of statistical certainty that the things you do involve it, is not necessarily murder. I mean that if you attack a lot of military targets, such as munitions factories and naval dockyards, as carefully as you can, you will be certain to kill a number of innocent people; but that is not murder. On the other hand, unscrupulousness in considering the possibilities turns it into murder.

Kamm, however, not only fails to notice this but invokes the following in supposed refutation of Anscombe:

The intentional killing of the innocent is presumptively but not in all cases wrong. Jonathan Glover, who shares Miss Anscombe’s conclusion though not her reasoning, provides an instructive historical counterexample: a wartime ferry from Norway bearing passengers but also quantities of heavy water essential for the construction of a German atomic bomb.

But this is very plausibly the kind of case that Anscombe had in mind in the the passage that undermines Kamm’s caricature of her view.

The simple fact about Hiroshima is that a very large number of people were deliberately killed in order to persuade a different group of people to come to a particular political decision: unconditional surrender. One can argue about whether it was necessary to act in this way in order to bring about that goal. One can also argue about whether that goal itself was morally justifiable or whether some cessation of hostilities that fell short of unconditional surrender should have been accepted if doing so would have brought peace at a much lower cost in lives. What one cannot, honestly, argue with is that Truman killed a very large number of innocents in order to pressure the Japanese government into taking the decision that it took. And that is murder.

Perhaps an example would help Kamm to understand this. Suppose that he, Oliver Kamm, were engaged in a seriously bad policy of some kind, a policy that, if continued would lead to many innocent people dying. And suppose that we had good reason to believe that we could persuade Kamm to abandon that policy by deliberately killing a sequence of innocent people. Would this be murder, despite its good consequences? You bet it would be. And I’m sure that Kamm is in no doubt on that matter himself. Kamm somehow cannot see the abstract, nameless and numberless dead as victims of murder. But they were human beings with lives to live just as much as those whom Kamm knows and cares about, and setting about their slaughter to persuade someone else to take a decision is murder, plain and simple.

[* I apologise for the use of three Latinisms in this post, but it seemed appropriate given the target, and it will no doubt give Kamm the opportunity to write a paragraph or six lecturing me on the correct usage of at least one of them.]

UPDATE: I have edited this post to remove an example that was, on reflection, needlessly offensive.

{ 151 comments }

1

MFB 08.22.07 at 9:57 am

Kamm-vs-straw-person-of-his-own-invention, shouldn’t it be?

Gosh, so he’s Martin Bell’s nephew. What a small, nepotistic world it is!

2

Sam C 08.22.07 at 10:03 am

I suppose it says something about me that I started to read this post as being about the distinguished moral philosopher Frances Kamm (author of Intricate Ethics), and that I was therefore very confused at her apparent sudden loss of everything that makes her distinguished. Seriously though, has Oliver Kamm not heard of the doctrine of double effect?

3

Anthony 08.22.07 at 10:17 am

Surely your example is more flawed than it is in bad taste?

¨Suppose that he, Oliver Kamm, were engaged in a seriously bad policy of some kind, a policy that, if continued would lead to many innocent people dying.¨

Shouldn’t it should read:

¨Suppose that he, Oliver Kamm and his friends and family, had already attacked my family and friends, taking over their houses killing and raping them in an unprovoked act of aggression. In order to ensure that he did not kill further innocents, I and my friends fought back. In the process of doing so we were losing more friends and family, as were Kamm and his friends and family.

Suppose that we had good reason to believe that we could persuade Kamm (the leadership) to abandon his war of aggression by demonstrated our ability to murder at will a sequence of innocent people he loved, perhaps including the relatives that he refers to repeatedly on his blog. We could start with his mother, the translator Anthea Bell, and, if that didn’t stop Oliver, we’d move on to his uncle, the former MP and journalist Martin Bell, and so on. Would this be murder, despite its net result of reducing deaths on both sides by creating a situation in which hostilities would end?

By the way, I’m not trying to make any argument here about ¨ends justifying the means¨, or giving my view on Hiroshima (which is different to that of Kamm’s), but merely trying to make your example more comparable to what you are debating.

4

abb1 08.22.07 at 10:28 am

As far as I’m concerned, dismissing the issue of the military/political goals of the bombings for the sake of a simple syllogism is not a good idea in this case.

If the bombings were absolutely the only way to save millions of lives to be lost during an absolutely necessary invasion – that’s one thing; in this case, I suspect, most people would intuitively feel that it was a justified action.

The problem is – it wasn’t anything like that. And this, I think, is the central issue here and it can’t be avoided.

5

Robert 08.22.07 at 10:29 am

What else is new? Oliver Kamm has an international reputation for being a pompous liar.

6

Chris Bertram 08.22.07 at 10:30 am

Anthony, despite your attempt to muddy the waters by introducing a ton of irrelevant detail, it remains the case in your example that _if_ it involves deliberately killing innocent people in order to persuade other people to come to a decision, then the act is murder.

(The muddying specifically involves your inclusion of “Oliver Kamm and his friends and family” in the perpetration of criminal acts of rape and murder. Since very many of the innocent dead at Hiroshima had not been involved in such acts, their innocence cannot be impugned on the basis that _other_ Japanese people did do those things.)

7

Darius Jedburgh 08.22.07 at 10:36 am

Anthony: Your version of the analogy may be more complete in its details, but (assuming that Anthea, Martin etc are all innocent in the relevant sense (roughly: not harming)) it’s all to no avail in respect of the main issue, for the answer to your final question would still be, “Yes, it would be murder, because it would be to kill innocents as a means to our purposes, and that’s murder.”

8

Martin GL 08.22.07 at 10:38 am

It should be said that the action against that ferry in Norway (the D/F Hydro) has been criticised repeatedly in Norwegian debates on war ethics. It has been argued that the ends didn’t justify the means (there were at least 14 civilian casualties). The opponents argue that the saboteurs did not have sufficient intelligence to know how little heavy water Norway had produced. Interestingly, when they raised parts of the wreckage recently, the heavy water barrels were found intact, still full of unpolluted heavy water.

Oh, and also, Norway sold heavy water to anyone with cash in the 1950’s. Among them, Israel, India and Romania. So the Hydro operation didn’t really act as a nuclear deterrent for long.

9

Anthony 08.22.07 at 10:43 am

Chris,

I was not trying to muddy the water. It is not an irrelevant detail that the allies were involved in a war in which Japan was the aggressor and had already been responsible for the deaths of innocents.

Look, you can’t muddy water that’s already been muddied.

I was attempting to inject into your analogy the fact this was a war between two states – not individuals, and that there was a utilitarian argument about the number of dead (on both sides civilian and military) that could be avoided by use of the bomb. It was not an attempt to hide the innocent.

Of course this makes it flawed in the way you suggest – but that’s because it was a crap analogy to make in the first place. You didn’t even have to create it to argue the point you are making – the actual facts of the case are easily debatable.

For the record, I agree that deliberate mass bombing of civilians is murder.

10

Anthony 08.22.07 at 10:45 am

Darius,

Correct. I find it surprising that Chris had to resort to such a weak analogy to attack Kamm on this point.

11

Ben Alpers 08.22.07 at 10:47 am

Two thoughts that are perhaps slightly OT…

First, the moral line that Anscombe seems concerned about was crossed well before Hiroshima with the fire bombing of Tokyo and various German cities (though the US, at least in Europe, kept up the fiction that it was engaged in precision bombing…the British were much more openly bombing civilians to achieve an end). The A-bomb is arguably itself be a water-muddying, extraneous detail in this conversation. If the issue is simply killing innocents as a means to an end, why not focus on the conventional fire bombing of Tokyo, which took more lives than the atomic bombings of either Hiroshima or Nagasaki?

Second, I think Anscombe is wrong about the Nazis. In what sense was the Holocaust (in the Nazi view) not killing as a means to an end? Presumably the Nazis took their own poisonous antisemitism seriously and believed that they were ridding the world of a menace. Killing innocents for its own sake would have to involve the shear sadistic pleasure of slaughter. Such killing takes place on a small scale in nearly in every war, but it’s hard to imagine this as a state policy.

12

Steven Poole 08.22.07 at 10:48 am

It’s also rather illuminating to compare Kamm’s claims as to what the current historical consensus is on Hiroshima with actual scholarly literature reviews, such as J. Samuel Walker’s “Recent Literature on Truman’s Atomic Bomb Decision: A Search for Middle Ground” (Diplomatic History Vol 29 No 2, April 2005). Quite some difference.

13

Ben Alpers 08.22.07 at 10:49 am

Ooops…there’s an extraneous “be” in there. That sentence should read: “The A-bomb is arguably itself a water-muddying, extraneous detail in this conversation.”

14

ajay 08.22.07 at 11:01 am

Re your point in #6: in what sense was the population of Hiroshima innocent? The Japanese Empire was engaged in total war. Hiroshima was a major industrial centre and shipping hub; it was very much part of the war effort. And in the event of CORONET and OLYMPIC going ahead, much of its adult population would have taken up arms against the invasion. Is there really such a thing as a completely innocent civilian population in a society with conscription and a total war economy?

Yes, the attack was conducted as a demonstration. But suppose this: that the first atomic bomb was dropped as a demonstration on a large concentration of Japanese troops in, say, Manchuria. This wouldn’t have affected the course of the Pacific War – the troops were in the wrong place and probably couldn’t be brought back fast enough. The intent would purely have been “Look, we can destroy your troops in vast numbers at will. Hadn’t you better surrender?”
Why exactly is this morally different? (We’ve already agreed that civilian collateral casualties are acceptable in, for example, bombing a naval dockyard.)

15

Chris Bertram 08.22.07 at 11:04 am

14: what, even small children?

People who ask, rhetorically, “Is there really such a thing as a completely innocent civilian population in a society with conscription and a total war economy?” should not be taken as serious interlocutors. (They are on a par with those who ask, knowingly, whether the victims of 9/11 were “really” innocent.)

16

Chris Bertram 08.22.07 at 11:08 am

(I should disclose that I’ve slightly edited the Kamm family paragraph, since I’d typed “murdering” as the characterization of what would be done to to Bells. I’m sure nobody was misled by this, but, given that I ask the question of whether it _is_ murder in the antepenultimate sentence of that paragraph, “deliberately killing” is needed earlier.)

Anthony – nice try.

17

novakant 08.22.07 at 11:09 am

I despise the deliberate killing of civilians as much as the next guy, but if one agrees with Chris Bertram’s argumentation, then the whole allied aerial bombing campaign against Germany was murder. This is argued by a few German historians, but I’d be surprised if that is the consensus view in the US/UK.

18

ajay 08.22.07 at 11:17 am

what, even small children?

No, not small children. (At least not those too young to gather chestnuts as feedstock for the production of synthetic aviation fuel for fighter aircraft and kamikaze attacks, as a lot of Japanese children were doing that year. Or those too young to be training with pole mines and bamboo spears.)

See Anscombe: “I mean that if you attack a lot of military targets, such as munitions factories and naval dockyards, as carefully as you can, you will be certain to kill a number of innocent people; but that is not murder.”

Certainly, if one were to bomb, say, an Army barracks, one might well kill children who were living on base with their parents. Presumably, also, it’s unacceptable to bomb a primary school simply because an Army officer happens to be giving a speech there that day. What’s the acceptable ratio?

19

Katherine 08.22.07 at 11:17 am

I think there are quite a few people in the UK who look somewhat askance at Bomber Harris and the blanket aerial bombing of German cities. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s a UK consensus, but it’s not just a few German historians who consider those actions controversial.

20

ajay 08.22.07 at 11:18 am

Oh, and re 16: I think your general air of Olympian disdain would come across better if you simply wrote

I IS SERIOUS AKADEMIK
THIS IS SERIOUS THRED

OMG U R WARD CHURCHIL! DO NOT WANT!

21

Anthony 08.22.07 at 11:23 am

Chris (16),

Cheers. I thought you were more of a football man though.

22

Ben Alpers 08.22.07 at 11:28 am

#17: That’s why I suggested talking about Tokyo, Dresden, and Hamburg instead of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If the issue is simply the deliberate targeting of civilians as a means to an end, then these are harder and more interesting cases.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki come with the peculiar horror of atomic weaponry and also raise questions about their necessity for achieving the end in question (i.e. immediate Japanese surrender). Both these issues seem, from the Anscombe perspective, pretty morally irrelevant.

#18: I believe that Anscombe is not arguing in terms of ratios but in terms of intent. In her view, dropping a bomb on a city in order to terrorize a country into submission is wrong; attacking a strictly military target in a manner that might incidentally kill innocent civilians is not. This is still the case if the first attack happens to overwhelmingly kill soldiers marching through the city in question, while the second attack slaughters many more civilians than military personnel. As someone says above, this is all about the Thomistic doctrine of double effect, which I’ve always felt relies on a rather evasive notion of intent. In what sense does one not intend all foreseeable effects of one’s actions?

23

Lake 08.22.07 at 11:35 am

22: Certain consequences of your actions might not form a part of your wider strategy. That seems to be Anscombe’s criterion. I agree, put like that it sounds a bit rubbish.

24

ejh 08.22.07 at 11:36 am

Isn’t it important here, re: Kamm anyway, that he’s basically made a living condemning other people for holding (or, sometimes, supposedly holding) precisely the sort of views – it is all right to kill civilians in pursuit of a larger goal – that he proposes here?

25

bi 08.22.07 at 11:44 am

ajay:

Aye, Sir. This is a very serious thread. This is a thread where we take a movie loosely based upon a comic which is an artistic rendition of a fantasized legend of a battle (read: _300_), and treat it as a metaphor of reality.

And of course, The Enemies(tm) are orcs. Or elephants. That’s all we need to know.

26

Sam C 08.22.07 at 11:45 am

The point Kamm seems to have missed, and which I think is being obscured in this discussion, is that for Anscombe, no balance of consequences could justify murder. The numbers don’t count at all. What matters is the distinction between killing innocents as a means to some end (which is murder), and killing innocents as a forseen but unavoidable side-effect of the right action (which is not murder). So, for instance, Ajay’s question about the acceptable ratio of innocents to combatants doesn’t have any purchase on Anscombe’s argument. I don’t intend to support Anscombe, just to note that this is what’s at stake.

27

Sam C 08.22.07 at 11:47 am

(I wrote 26 while 22 onwards were being posted, hence it’s belatedness. Never mind.)

28

Donald Johnson 08.22.07 at 12:31 pm

“No, not small children. (At least not those too young to gather chestnuts as feedstock for the production of synthetic aviation fuel for fighter aircraft and kamikaze attacks, as a lot of Japanese children were doing that year. Or those too young to be training with pole mines and bamboo spears.)”

I’m trying to figure out if this is supposed to be a serious point. Are we seriously going to argue about whether child laborers doing war work are legitimate military targets?

Okay, if the discussion is now about when we can legitimately kill children, I’d say it’s when one of the little tykes is holding an automatic weapon and spraying bullets at people and there’s no other reasonable way to get the thing out of his hands.

But it might be better to leave this thread in disgust.

29

John Emerson 08.22.07 at 12:59 pm

Link-whoring: Wittgenstein, Hartshorne, and Russell on nuclear war.

Kamm also rejected my argument that Orwell renounced his early use of the smear that pacifists are “objective fascists”, though he seems to have taken that piece down: This bears careful reading. It does not say what critics of Kelly claim, for Orwell at no point resiles from his belief that pacifism is helpful to fascism, still less recants his 1942 article. Rather, he introduces a qualification to his position, by allowing that the distinction between motive and outcome does matter, and that overlooking that distinction has the undesirable consequence of making it more difficult to predict how pacifists will in fact behave.

30

duncan 08.22.07 at 1:11 pm

Re #22 “In what sense does one not intend all foreseeable effects of one’s actions?”

In the normal sense of the word “intend” surely. Some foreseeable effects of one’s actions are neither one’s goal nor a means to one’s goal. If I fry food I can foresee that my clothes will get splashed with oil, but I do not intend to spoil my clothes in this way.

Anscombe’s view is that the distinction between intended and merely foreseen effects is morally significant. But she does not think that whatever is merely foreseen is necessarily OK. If the foreseen effects are bad enough then I should not take that course of action. The numbers are relevant in this sense, although I don’t know how one would decide in every case what was the right course of action. I shouldn’t think there is a specifiable “acceptable ratio” of innocents to non-innocents.

31

Wallenstein 08.22.07 at 1:12 pm

Slightly OT, but surely the discussion around the atomic bomb and the “innocence” or otherwise of a general population is becoming increasingly meaningless?

The debate is framed around outdated notions of war theory… i.e. that a war consists of two or more organised armies (who are “fair game”) and a civilian population (who are “innocent”)… a kind of “chess board” approach to warfare.

As the USA / UK are discovering to their cost in Iraq and Afghanistan this neat distinction is no longer viable. The guerilla tactics of e.g. Iraqi and Afghani fighters, and the lack of a formal state against whom a state of war can be declared, lead to increasingly “asymetic” battlefields.

Our forces are still bound by the outdated notions advanced by proponents of classic Just War theory – the Doctrine of Double-Effect, for example – which are neither accepted nor followed by guerilla armies.

Double Effect suggests a moral case for bombing an ammo dump that happens to be near a school, even if the school will be damaged. But when the school itself becomes the ammo dump, a different moral consideration is required.

Palestinian tower blocks hide Hamas rocket-launchers; Chechen schools are used as barracks / ammo dumps; an Iraqi insurgent is a fighter one minute, then the local baker the next.

So to blithely dismiss the argument that civilians are not by definition “innocent” in a war theatre shows a worrying lack of understanding of how a modern battlefield operates.

32

John Emerson 08.22.07 at 1:13 pm

My own understanding is that states are autonomous and extra-moral (amoral), and that for states everyone whatsoever is fair game. Citizens or subjects of states may think that the state expresses their will, but this is only true insofar as the citizens accept and endorse whatever the state has already decided to do.

Somewhere in “1984”, the representative of The Party explains that it would be right to murder a small child if the benevolent Party needs that done. This is claimed as an example of the evils of fascism and communism, but it applies equally to patriotism and national loyalty. The formal possibility exists for a soldier to disobey orders which clearly violate ethical principles (and the rules of war), but there are lots of reasons why this can rarely happen.

33

ejh 08.22.07 at 1:31 pm

Our forces are still bound by the outdated notions advanced by proponents of classic Just War theory – the Doctrine of Double-Effect, for example – which are neither accepted nor followed by guerilla armies.

Really? Western forces used to lay off civilian populations when fighting guerillas? When did this happen?

34

Ben Alpers 08.22.07 at 1:37 pm

#30: I suppose I don’t see the moral significance of intent in that sense.

Let’s say I’m wearing an expensive item of clothing that I borrowed from a friend. If I fry food while wearing it, I know I’ll ruin it. How would I be less morally responsible for ruining it if I fry food, knowing I’ll ruin it, but with no particular intent to do so, than I would be if, out of spite, I fried food with the specific intent of ruining the shirt?

“Intent” in this sense comes pretty close to “desire,” and the doctrine of double effect seems like a kind of get-out-of-jail free card that allows my moral responsibility to stop where my desire ends, rather than continuing to encompass absolutely foreseeable effects of my behavior that I happen not to independently want.

But I’m (probably obviously) no moral philosopher…

35

Wallenstein 08.22.07 at 1:46 pm

Really? Western forces used to lay off civilian populations when fighting guerillas? When did this happen?
The shooting of, for example, Vietnamese civilians was not officially sanctioned policy by the US Military or Govt.

Obviously some troops did attack civilians. However, this does not mean it was officially approved – even if the orders might have come down the chain of command, they were not part of the stated aims and conduct of the war.

And your point actually further highlights the limitations of classic Just War theories outside of pre-1950 battlefields – the Viet Cong used all sorts of different people to carry out and support anti-US operations, blurring the distinction between fighers and non-combatants .

This moves away from the core point about Hiroshima, where there was a clearly delineated Japanese army and a non-combatant civilian population, but for the debate to be at all relevent (rather than just an intellectual exercise) it must be acknowledged that the distinction between “soldier” and “civilian” is not as clear as some posters might like to think.

36

ejh 08.22.07 at 1:51 pm

even if the orders might have come down the chain of command, they were not part of the stated aims and conduct of the war.

Well they wouldn’t be, would they?

37

abb1 08.22.07 at 1:58 pm

‘Intent’ comes pretty close to ‘bullshit’ when the actors whose intents we examine are either our nation’s revered freedom-loving leaders or our nation’s inhuman bloodthirsty enemies. In the latter case, even their children are clearly evildoers.

38

Chris Bertram 08.22.07 at 2:08 pm

abb1, alpers and others ….

However cynical you may be about claims of intent from political leaders, it would be hard to convict Anscombe of such “bullshit”. She plainly _does not_ say that it is ok to kill civilians as “collateral damage” just so long as you are aiming at a military target. Rather she says that it is not murder to attack a military target in the knowledge that you will also kill civilians, but that doing so becomes murder if you are “unscrupulous in considering the possibilities”.

You really do need to read the whole thing. Anscombe did not see “double effect” as a “get out of jail free” card that politicians and military commanders could wave about just as it suited them.

39

Lake 08.22.07 at 2:09 pm

Ben: Anscombe isn’t excusing any and all deaths that occur as a side-effect to the pursuit of some ulterior goal. She’s giving a partial definition of “murder”. Murder, of course, “is one of the worst of human actions”, and is therefore presumably never warranted. That doesn’t mean that all non-murderous killings are permitted.

Since Anscombe’s position seems to be that Hiroshima etc. did involve murder, it would have been slightly off-point for her to give an account of the circumstances under which non-murderous killing may be excused. But I suppose she must have had some such conditions, or wished she did.

This said, it may be that her specification of the meaning of “murder” doesn’t sort with legal or folk usage, and it may be that she makes more of her distinction that it deserves.

40

Lake 08.22.07 at 2:10 pm

Oh, snap.

41

Hogan 08.22.07 at 2:23 pm

Let’s say I’m wearing an expensive item of clothing that I borrowed from a friend. If I fry food while wearing it, I know I’ll ruin it. How would I be less morally responsible for ruining it if I fry food, knowing I’ll ruin it, but with no particular intent to do so, than I would be if, out of spite, I fried food with the specific intent of ruining the shirt?

One clue might be whether you took reasonable steps to prevent the oil from spattering the shirt (e.g., wearing an apron). Anscombe notes that one distinction between the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the bombings of German cities is that in the German case, civilians had an opportunity to take shelter before the fewmets hit the windmill. That seems morally significant to me, and separate from the difference between A-bombs and what we used to call conventional weapons.

42

Slocum 08.22.07 at 2:27 pm

With respect to civilian city bombing in WWII (not specifically the Atomic bombs), surely the nature of the conflict matters very much — that it was global war that killed on the order of 70 million people total and that was generally viewed (on both sides) as fight to the end. And one where the Axis powers genuinely were seeking global domination (and of very worst kind).

Would it have been more just to have taken the Japanese mainland by force rather than bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki? No — not even in terms of Japanese civilian casualties which would likely would have been higher in an invasion.

Would it have been better to negotiate a peace that left the emperor and imperial government in power? Well, if so, at what point would this negotiated peace have been most just? It seems very likely the Japanese might have been willing to negotiate a cessation of hostilities well before Hiroshima. If a negotiated peace could have been achieved even, say, just after the battle of Midway, leaving the Japanese ‘Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere’ intact, would that have been just given the lives that would have been saved by ending the war in the Pacific years earlier?

And what about in Europe? Tens of thousands would have been saved by a negotiated peace following D-Day. And even more would have been saved by a settlement after Germans were routed at Stalingrad. Would such treaties (that saved hundreds of thousands of lives — perhaps millions — but left Hitler’s regime in power) have been more just?

43

ajay 08.22.07 at 2:46 pm

The simple fact about Hiroshima is that a very large number of people were deliberately killed in order to persuade a different group of people to come to a particular political decision: unconditional surrender.

That could also be said about, say, the Battle of the Meuse Valley. Battles in general can be described as “killing lots of people in order to persuade other people to surrender [or retreat]”. You don’t just keep killing until the other side is wiped out (unless, ironically, you’re fighting WW2 Japanese).

And if you’re talking about conscript armies, then I really can’t see the moral distinction between them and civilians, except that conscripts tend to have certain physical characteristics (age, physical health) that not all civilians share.

44

duncan 08.22.07 at 2:53 pm

#34: Sometimes negligence is culpable, but there are such things as innocent oversights and mistakes. Anscombe wants to allow for this kind of distinction (which she sees consequentialism as denying). The doctrine of double effect is not, as Chris Bertram rightly points out, a get out of jail free card.

I think she does allow that some collateral damage can be “OK”, but Chris’s point (I take it) is that she doesn’t say that all collateral damage is necessarily OK just because it is (“only”) collateral damage.

As I recall, her account of the doctrine of double effect is roughly this: it can be OK to do something that you foresee will cause the death of an innocent person as long as neither your means nor your end is something forbidden (e.g. murder), and as long as the probable good results outweigh the probable bad ones.

45

Chris Bertram 08.22.07 at 2:54 pm

Slocum, you seem to think that asking rhetorical questions about whether more good than harm comes from the deliberate incineration of innocents somehow constitutes a response to the question of whether such killing in pursuit of one’s aims amounts to murder. It doesn’t.

Ajay: Since Anscombe addresses the moral distinction question directly in her essay, I can only conclude that you haven’t followed the links and done the reading but feel entitled to sound off anyway.

46

Antti Nannimus 08.22.07 at 2:55 pm

Hi,

To the survivors, I suppose there is some importance in the semantic distinction between killing and murder, but it’s mostly important only for the perpetrators and their apologists for their self-justification. For the victims, it is a distinction without a difference, and it is poppycock.

Have a nice day!
Antti

47

502servererror 08.22.07 at 2:58 pm

The crucial detail that you are arguing on does not hold very well. The post seems to hinge on a very arbitrary definition of “means.” It goes something like follows:

If agent A brings about state S1 in order that state S2 will be realized; and in state S1, entity E has been P’ed; and agent A does not believe that there exist analogous and (to A) preferable S2′ (at other times and places) which could have been brought about by an S1′ in which E’ is not P’ed; then A has P’ed E as a means to an end.

This (or similar) seems to me to be the only conception of means in which you can say that killing passengers on a boat with war material, or killing the workers in an arms factory, is *not* killing as a means to an end, while something like Hiroshima is. It is unclear to me that any normative conclusions follow from this definition of “as a means to an end”, as the key stipulation (that A be able to imagine a parallel situation in which he could accomplish something similar by a slightly different route) is totally extraneous to moral considerations. (While we’re at it, going through a few examples has convinced me that it doesn’t work well with our normal ideas about tools being means to an end, but that isn’t horribly important.)

48

Thomas 08.22.07 at 3:01 pm

One aspect to consider is that the nuclear bombs were to a considerable extent technology tests, not means to win the war. The targets were chosen not for their military significance but because they had not been bombed before so it would be possible to identify the damage by the bombs. The second bomb was intended for Kokura, and could have been dropped there, but haze from a nearby burning city made observation of the effects hard, so the secondary target of Nagasaki was picked. It is really ironic that the Americans dropped their bomb more or less on top of the largest Cathedral in Japan, killing mostly Christian Japanese.

The best analogy IMHO is the attack on Guernica, another “technology demonstration” on a largely civilian target.

49

Bloix 08.22.07 at 3:04 pm

The problem here is that we are imagining a sort of natural law in which there is a category of event – “murder” – that exists, fully formed, outside of human history. Then, all we need to do is to examine a given behavior, compare it to the definition of our category, and decide whether the behavior falls within it or outside. We can argue over the borders of the category, but we take the existence of the category for granted.

But this is a mistake. “Murder” is not a category that exists outside of human experience. It is a creation of human experience. Its borders are set by history and law. It is not a moral category.

It is certainly arguable that the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was immoral. But framing the issue in terms of whether those responsible are guilty of murder does not illuminate the debate.

50

Sam C 08.22.07 at 3:07 pm

Antti – it’s also important for thinking about what we should do, given that we often can’t avoid causing harm one way or another.

51

Sam C 08.22.07 at 3:13 pm

Bloix – I’m a bit confused by your claim that categories whose boundaries are set by ‘history and law’ aren’t moral categories. Why aren’t they? And what are moral categories, in that case?

52

Ben Alpers 08.22.07 at 3:24 pm

This….

It may be impossible to take the thing (or people) you want to destroy as your target; it may be possible to attack it only by taking as the object of your attack what includes large numbers of innocent people. Then you cannot very well say they died by accident. Here, your action is murder.

…seems, indeed, to absolve Anscombe of my prior get-out-of-jail free accusation.

I continue to feel that the distinction she attempts to draw between Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on the one hand, and the fire bombing of Japanese and German cities by conventional weapons is, by her own lights, an empty one.

As noted above she writes:

In the bombing of [Hiroshima and Nagasaki] it was certainly decided to kill the innocent as a means to an end. And a very large number of them, all at once, without warning, without the interstices of escape or the chance to take shelter, which existed even in the “area bombing” of the German cities.

So what? Is it morally better to murder people with a sword than a submachine gun, because a higher percentage of people might escape with their lives? Certainly, it’s better from the point of view of those who escaped (though people escaped Hiroshima and Nagasaki, of course). But is Anscombe really suggesting that the dead of Hamburg, Dresden, and Tokyo were less the victims of murder (again, by her definition) because they had a more sporting chance to hide?

I actually think that there’s a good case to be made that the moral (and international legal) acceptance of strategic bombing against civilian populations (roundly condemned just a few years earlier when the Germans did it at Guernica) was a mistake. But I have a hard time drawing a bright line between the bombing of Tokyo or Hamburg and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

More importantly for this discussion, though Anscombe seems to want to draw such a line, I don’t see how she does this. If one had a different view of the morality of bombing all the considerations about the state of the overall conflict that Anscombe discusses might make a difference. But how do they make any difference if one’s belief is that killing innocents as a means to an end is always murder?

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Bloix 08.22.07 at 3:50 pm

Sam C – as the philosophers here will see, I’m no philosopher – but morality, as I understand it, implies a standard of behavior that is true for all people at all times. If slavery is immoral, it was as immoral in Roman times or during in the antibellum South as it is today. We are willing to say that our understanding of morality is correct, and their understanding was incorrect.

But murder is an entirely different type of concept. It is a legal concept with the following meaning: a person whose behavior transgresses certain defined standards may be punished by the state in certain defined ways. So, if in a given society (ancient Rome, say) a head of household had the legal right to kill a slave, that killing was not murder. We might today call it murder, but that is metaphor, no more.

In the case of Truman, I think there is no question at all that what he did was not murder as that term had meaning, in history and law, at that time. We can debate whether it was immoral, but to say that it is murder is to argue by metaphor.

54

ajay 08.22.07 at 4:08 pm

since Anscombe addresses the moral distinction question directly in her essay,

She does – the “sleeping camp” question – but I don’t agree with her analysis. Or, rather, I don’t think it applies in this case. I don’t think that all possible Japanese military targets in August 1945 were “nocent”, and I’m not sure I agree that Hiroshima was “innocent” either.

Her argument is that soldiers are not innocent (ie harmless) because of what they are, rather than what they do. But in my example of using the bomb as a demonstration against a Japanese military unit in Manchuria (or if you prefer, a bypassed island garrison on New Britain or somewhere like that) there is no possible way that the troops could be brought into combat against the US on the Home Islands. In a practical sense, these soldiers are “innocent” (sensu Anscombe) with respect to the US.

In fact, they’re more innocent than much of the population of Hiroshima, who would have been participating in war production in August 1945, and could have joined the civilian militia in the event of an invasion. Hiroshima itself was a “sleeping camp” – it was also an active arsenal and production centre.

I can only conclude that you haven’t followed the links and done the reading but feel entitled to sound off anyway.

You know what the trouble with this blog is? Too many ghastly little people who don’t realize just how insignificant they are compared to Chris Bertram. I think there really should be some sort of quality control procedure.

55

robertdfeinman 08.22.07 at 4:17 pm

There are three issues being conflated here:
1. Military necessity

2. The other side did it too (or the Allies did it elsewhere)

3. Morality

The issue of military necessity in any battle is always open to never ending debate. In the case of Japan there seem to be strong arguments that it didn’t apply, but the issue is still so touchy in the US that even the Smithsonian gets into trouble when it even raises the question.

The second point is a variation of “two wrongs don’t make a right”. Still true.

As for the morality argument, one really needs to go back the issues of the “good war”. Naturally both sides see themselves as being on the good side. Appeals to international law or the rules of law are just ways to cover up the fact that killing others is always a crime. In some societies even self-defense isn’t accepted as a valid argument.

Finally I’d like to introduce the psychological argument.
I recommend reading the book “Hiroshima in America: Fifty Years of Denial” by psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton. He goes into the pressures applied to Truman to use the bomb and the defensive mechanisms those in the military at the time have used since to square things with their consciences.

56

abb1 08.22.07 at 4:19 pm

The number One Enemy of the People said:

…Evidently, a crucial case is omitted, which is far more depraved than massacring civilians intentionally. Namely, knowing that you are massacring them but not doing so intentionally because you don’t regard them as worthy of concern. That is, you don’t even care enough about them to intend to kill them. Thus when I walk down the street, if I stop to think about it I know I’ll probably kill lots of ants, but I don’t intend to kill them, because in my mind they do not even rise to the level where it matters.

So, maybe it’s not murder after all, but ‘involuntary manslaughter’, as someone suggested in the comment thread.

57

tolkein 08.22.07 at 4:21 pm

The point is that Truman used a demonstration to get the Japanese to surrender. I think Kamm is right in saying that the second (Nagasaki) bomb was critical in persuading the Japanese Imperial Cabinet to agree to surrender. Nobody (really) disagrees with the contention that an assault on Japan would have been a bloodbath and therefore that the surrender following Nagasaki saved far more lives, mostly Japanese, than were killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But what if the Japanese had called the US bluff and held out for better terms, thinking that fear of an assault on Japan would have been too daunting to the US? I think the second bomb was the last. How many demonstration killings would have been justified under Kamm’s morality? Tokyo and Osaka as well? Maybe Kyoto? And whose feet could responsibility for those deaths have been laid? The argument against Hiroshima and Nagasaki (and probably Hamburg, even though I think that in general the air war against Germany was critical in placing a ceiling on Germany’s mobilisation of resources, and diverted scarce air fighting capabilities from the Eastern Front to the defence of the Reich)is that this was a deliberate mass killing of non combatants without warning, just as a demonstration. It is no different to seizing as hostages a serial killer’s 4 young children and threatening to kill them 1 by 1 until the serial killer surrenders. The serial killer surrenders after the first 2 are killed in front of his eyes. No matter the greater good (the serial killer surrenders, future victims saved) we would all agree, with Miss Anscombe, that the killing of the children was murder. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were no different. Why doesn’t Kamm see this?

58

Lake 08.22.07 at 4:22 pm

Bloix: not sure. The word “murder” predates most of the legal framework from which, by your account, its content derives. Someone could probably put up decent arguments for thinking it has a legitimate folk meaning independent of any specific legal context. Folk usage might then tie it to some universal moral prohibition, supposing there are such things.

59

Sam C 08.22.07 at 4:46 pm

Bloix – Anscombe is surely just using ‘murder’ to mean ‘morally impermissible killing’. The work is done by her argument about which killings are morally impermissible. And this is a pretty normal mode of argument: trying to reposition how a moral/legal term is used, drawing on and extending its authority. Consider the slogan ‘meat is murder’: it would be silly to respond to someone using it by asking them to name the statute they’re referring to. What they’re claiming is ‘meat-eating is morally impermissible in the same way that killing humans is, regardless of what the law says’. Similarly, Anscombe is not making a dubious empirical claim about law or history. She’s identifying, exactly, ‘a standard of behavior that is true for all people at all times’: the moral impermissibility of killing people as a means to an end (even a very good end).

60

SG 08.22.07 at 5:02 pm

I’m visiting Hiroshima again on Friday to meet my partner. One of the great things about Hiroshima (not really so great, when you think about it) is that it is one of the few places in the developed world where you can really take in what total war means. You inevitably visit the “genbaku domu”, the city hall office whose ruins have been preserved, where everyone inside was burnt alive. It’s pretty much the only building that was left standing within 500m of the bomb. Standing at the main tram stop, you look down and find yourself reading a little sign, which shows you a picture of the main department store a day after the bombing. In the museum they have the steps from a bank, which until 10 years ago were still there, in front of the bank, the person’s shadow still burnt on them. And right next to them is a schoolgirl’s shredded uniform, horribly real because the little dangly thing is sticking out of the pocket, just like all the schoolgirls carry today.

I had my last birthday party in the peace park, and banged my head on the peace bell while I was hunting frogs. Three days earlier 10,000 people were watching lanterns float down the river in memory of the dead. I wonder if the people who think it was okay to do this thing really do make a serious effort to understand what, actually, was done.

61

novakant 08.22.07 at 5:09 pm

It might be considered bad taste thus to invoke Kamm’s family.

erm, yes, and it’s also totally unnecessary; in the same vein one could fantasize about ripping out the vital organs of the wife of a utilitarian, or raping and slaughtering the family members of a pacifist in front of his eyes – but thankfully most people are able to discuss utilitarianism and pacifism without resorting to such tactics

62

Shelby 08.22.07 at 5:35 pm

Chris Bertram’s premise rests heavily on the idea of killing innocents in order “to persuade someone else to take a decision”. Query: When does one kill someone in order to persuade that person to make a decision?

This is not a pedantic or snide question. What is the significance of “someone else” in your argument, Chris? Logically, it can’t be that killing members of Group A to persuade other members of Group A is fine, but doing so to persuade members of Group B is not. You state:
The simple fact about Hiroshima is that a very large number of people were deliberately killed in order to persuade a different group of people to come to a particular political decision

Thus, you assert that those who were killed were “a different group of people” from the decision-makers. In most senses of “group of people” I think this is wrong; both the decision-makers and the targets were “civilians” in a highly militarized society engaged in total war. A truly military target, such as a navy port, might be a “different group of people” from the decision-makers.

In any case, please clarify what you mean by your groupings of people, and the significance of those groupings for your argument.

63

Anderson 08.22.07 at 6:03 pm

(1) The notion that the A-bombings were *primarily* “technology tests” is just silly. The U.S. didn’t know just what the bombs would do, but they knew it would be bad, and they *meant* for it to be bad. I believe Thomas will find that aerial reconnaissance was used after conventional-bombing attacks to gauge the damage.

(2) Anscombe does not win points for pretending that carpet bombing was different because Germans could seek shelter. How many of them were asphyxiated or incinerated in those very shelters during the firestorms?

(3) Re: 17, it is AMAZING that smart people still think that carpet bombing wasn’t terrorism. It was EXPRESSLY intended to “break the population’s morale” … i.e., terrorism.

64

Matt Weiner 08.22.07 at 6:15 pm

It doesn’t seem to me that Anscombe is saying that the area bombings were definitely acceptable, only that they are closer to being a borderline case than the atomic bombings, which are definitely not even borderline cases. (They lack even second- or third-order vagueness.) Earlier in the essay she describes the adoption of area bombing as “the great change.” So I think it’s unfair to say that she’s excusing area bombing.

In any case, it doesn’t make any difference to her arguments against the use of nuclear weapons that they also apply to carpet bombing.

I’m also fairly flabbergasted that people are arguing that no one in Japan should have counted as innocent. Even Alan Dershowitz allows that the targets of his favorite bombs lie along a continuum of civilianity, though he does share the goal of total indifference to civilian deaths.

65

Anderson 08.22.07 at 6:28 pm

In most senses of “group of people” I think this is wrong; both the decision-makers and the targets were “civilians” in a highly militarized society engaged in total war.

Oh, pooh. Small children? The decrepit aged? Women who didn’t even have the vote?

That makes about as much sense as the WTC’s having been a legitimate target for al-Qaeda. It also flies in the face of our express purpose: to horrify the Japanese into surrendering. We didn’t give a damn about the war industries of Hiroshima, as evidenced by the fact that Hiroshima was still there.

66

mpowell 08.22.07 at 6:37 pm

I am very curious about part of Anscombe’s argument, and I am hoping that someone can provide some insight here.

One aspect of Anscombe’s position is that bombing a military target where civilian casualties are expected is justified in the right circumstances. But at the same time, bombing just a civilian population to achieve a political goal is not justified.

It seems there is a counter-argument here. Bombing a military target is not justified by itself. It is justified by the political goal of winning the war. So the goal in both bombings is the same. If the number of innocent casualties are the same, why are the two acts morally different? It is very odd to me that the mechanism of achieving your end political goal plays a role here, when the cost is the same. What would Ascombe’s response to this line of argument be?

This is where I think Ascombe’s approach runs into danger by not sufficiently considering the degree of the civilian casualties and the effectiveness of a military action. At some fundamental level, the balance between those seems to be the most important factor. If we move from the fundamental to the practical we have to consider that there is a lot of uncertainty in both, and especially in the effectiveness aspect. And this may lead to additional rules about justified killing which reflect the uncertainty that decision-makers must acknowledge. So perhaps that is why bombing of civilians is unjustified- it may not be effective at reaching the desired politcial goal. But this argument still stems from a balance between the undesirability of the means and the desirability of the ends. At least this is my view.

67

mpowell 08.22.07 at 6:46 pm

I notice that tolkien has already party addressed the question I asked. The proper comparison with respect to the serial killer example is to ask: what if we could kill the serial killer but those two children would die as collateral damage? Is that more justified than the approach given by tolkien, if guaranteed to be successful? Is this lack of guarantee the difference? Or is it really just the mechanism of persuasion that matters? I would normally consider the means to the end as the human cost in innocent lives. But this argument would require that means also take into account the method by which they were lost. This is very curious b/c it seems to justify a case where a greater loss of innocent human lives is lost, just as long as the method is less repugnant.

68

Shelby 08.22.07 at 6:48 pm

Anderson,

The point is that Chris’s argument treats the entire population of both cities as “a group” distinct from the country’s decision-makers. Neither city was populated entirely, or even primarily, by children and the aged. I’m just trying to get some clarity on Chris’s “groups” and what they mean within his argument, not to justify either position in the larger argument.

69

Bruce Webb 08.22.07 at 6:53 pm

Well in my view war itself is organized murder, bounded by rules that may or may not have been observed in the breach. Which is to say that Truman did commit murder but thought it justified on a pragmatic greatest good basis.

Because what is pretty clear to most is that murder or not, war crime or not, Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought a quick and desired result in ways that fire bombing Dresden didn’t. Strategic bombing is not evil because it kills people as such, it is generally evil because except in the most extraordinary cases it is ineffective, particularly against civilian targets, it just kills people without accomplishing anything. The Blitz did not break the will of the British people and night bombing German cities did not create the level of terror anticipated, as such they were pragmatic failures. Try to weigh any particular act of war as moral or immoral or as criminal murder outside a pragmatic framework seems relatively useless. You have to start with the premise “War is not good for little girls and other living things” and aim to minimize the loss of life.

The real war criminals are those who frame events in ways that make wars inevitable. After that it is all murder until the war ends.

70

abb1 08.22.07 at 7:03 pm

Shelby, what about his example where someone’s killing members of your family to convince you do something; does it make the ‘group’ thing more clear? Yes, you and your family are in the same group in a sense, but it doesn’t seem to make them responsible for you refusing to pay your gambling debts (or whatever). In terms of responsibility for your debts they are in a different group.

71

Scratch 08.22.07 at 7:12 pm

Regarding soldier’s lives as of less consequence than those of civilians is thrillingly charmless and, as far as I can see above, requires no explanation at all.

If one were to look for a silver lining to total war one could say at least it’s tendency to do harm beyond the battlefield has transformed the white feather distributing classes into keen exponents of peaceful co-existence.

I bet that’s saved a life or two.

72

abb1 08.22.07 at 7:38 pm

@66
It is very odd to me that the mechanism of achieving your end political goal plays a role here, when the cost is the same. What would Ascombe’s response to this line of argument be?

I still haven’t read her piece (and probably won’t), but it’s not gonna stop me, of course. Suppose I win 1000 of your dollars playing poker. Now suppose I steal 1000 of your dollars. Same goal, same cost, different mechanism.

Bombing a military target is not justified by itself. It is justified by the political goal of winning the war. So the goal in both bombings is the same. If the number of innocent casualties are the same, why are the two acts morally different?

Because she apparently stakes everything on the intent. If you wanted to kill all those people at the military target, then you’re guilty, if not – you’re in the clear. Which I think is a bit silly, because ‘intent’ is not easily discernable, it’s all too abstract, hypothetical.

73

Bruce Webb 08.22.07 at 7:46 pm

“But murder is an entirely different type of concept. It is a legal concept with the following meaning: a person whose behavior transgresses certain defined standards may be punished by the state in certain defined ways.”

The notion of murder as being a crime against the state developed rather late, at least in Northern Europe, in part because the state developed late. Instead it was a tort against the victims kin and in some cases the lord or king. Death whether deliberate or accidental demanded compensation and failing that vengence. Now secret killings, the original definition of murder, were different but really added up to criminal fraud, a killer attempting to avoid responsibility for his act. It was the introduction of Roman and Canon Law that made murder a crime against the state by the former and a matter of moral guilt by the latter. It is only after the spread of concepts drawn from those bodies of law that resulted in the quandry we are faced with today, the pragmatic got commingled with the moral and so created the dilemmas here. For our remote ancestors (mine anyway) mass murder was only a crime if you didn’t get away clean, if you wiped out the whole kinship group there was no one to claim compensation and pursue vengence. Notions of innocence and guilt rarely entered the equation.

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Anderson 08.22.07 at 8:12 pm

The point is that Chris’s argument treats the entire population of both cities as “a group” distinct from the country’s decision-makers.

But how is that incorrect? Whether we *agree* with the decision-makers is irrelevant.

Is the American population “as a group” distinct from the Bush administration? Just the 51% who re-elected Bush? Are there smart bombs that smart?

In short, with apologies for the intemperate tone of my last comment, the issue of the degree of distinction b/t group and leaders is not especially practical, that I can see.

75

Shelby 08.22.07 at 8:29 pm

Look, Chris was the one who predicated his argument on the existence of these distinct groups, and the moral implications of killing people in one group to affect the decisions of those in another group. He nowhere explains why the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are a completely separate group from those making high-level policy decisions in Japan.

Perhaps more important, that argument is circular. By definition I cannot cause someone to make a different decision if I’ve already killed them.

76

Anderson 08.22.07 at 8:43 pm

He nowhere explains why the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are a completely separate group from those making high-level policy decisions in Japan.

Because they *are*, just like residents of my town are a completely separate group from those making high-level policy decisions in Washington? If you’re arguing for something other than the literal here, then I think maybe the burden’s on you, not on Chris?

I see the circularity perhaps if we *collapse* the distinction, tho I think it’s fallacious — I can kill half a group to persuade the other half. But obviously, it *was* possible to persuade the decision-makers by killing the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Which is a good thing, because I’d hate for the Japanese surrender to be retroactively invalidated on logical grounds.

77

Dan Hardie 08.22.07 at 8:52 pm

I speak as someone who has started a large number of entirely pointless comments thread rows, and who made at least one grossly unpleasant and stupid remark about Maria Farrell (for which, belatedly, I apologise):

It is quite vicious to concoct rhetoric alluding to the deaths of (specifically named) real members of a real family and I cannot see any way in which it might be necessary.

78

Matt Weiner 08.22.07 at 8:56 pm

I don’t think Chris’s argument depends on being able to delineate the two separate groups. Rather, the point is that the American armed forces (and the Allies in the case of the carpet bombings) intentionally killed a very large number of civilians in order to persuade the governments of the country to surrender. The most important contrast is with a legitimate military operation that foreseeably kills civilians, like Kamm’s heavy-water case; in that case the civilian deaths are not the point of the operation, but with the atomic and carpet bombings civilian deaths were the point; if they had not killed many civilians, they would’ve been considered failures from the military point of view.

So in order to refute Chris’s argument—to argue what he says you cannot honestly argue—you have to argue that the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki don’t largely count as innocents and civilians. You seem to think that as members of “a highly militarized society engaged in total war” the Japanese weren’t entitled to be considered as civilians. I find that disturbing.

79

Matt Weiner 08.22.07 at 8:57 pm

My 8:56 comment is addressed to Shelby’s 8:29.

80

Anthony 08.22.07 at 9:45 pm

It isn’t necessary Dan. It’s a cheap shot. That Chris spent a week in a bush planning this attack, and this is the best he could come up with, speaks volumes.

Kamm makes his argument for what I consider a bad position well. In contrast, Bertam makes his argument for a good position badly.

On this issue I stand more on the Bertram side, but if I was more concerned with standing on the side who won in a debate I’d pick Kamm any day.

81

Bloix 08.22.07 at 9:49 pm

#55 says, “killing others is always a crime.” Well, no, it isn’t. You and I don’t get say what a crime is. The state does. And what the state criminalizes has very little to do with what you or I as an individual believe is moral or immoral. When you say, “X is a crime” when what you mean is, “X is wrong,” you’re using heightened rhetoric but you’re not advancing the discussion at all.

#59 – But “meat is murder” is precisely the sort of “argument by metaphor” that I’m talking about. Killing animals for food has never been considered murder in any culture, and PETA doesn’t advocate life terms in prison for all the butchers and chefs of the world. Use of the word “murder” is a rhetorical device designed to shock a passive audience into active engagement. Which is fine. But it’s not intended to advance a logical argument, and it doesn’t – not in that context and not in this one.

82

Anderson 08.22.07 at 10:16 pm

You seem to think that as members of “a highly militarized society engaged in total war” the Japanese weren’t entitled to be considered as civilians. I find that disturbing.

Rightly so, but of course Shelby isn’t making that up; you will find few defenses of carpet bombing that don’t make that argument regarding civilian populations in “the era of total war.”

83

Chris Bertram 08.22.07 at 10:36 pm

no. 79: Well cheap shot it may be. But I can’t see that there’s a debate here. We are 80+ comments into the thread and no-one has argued that I am wrong about the key question: namely, that Kamm completely and demonstrably mischaracterized Anscombe’s argument. For me, this is the central point, especially since Kamm makes so much of the failure of others (e.g. Johann Hari) to read others carefully.

84

rilkefan 08.22.07 at 11:26 pm

82- I think you’re obliged to present your case to Kamm without stooping to the abhorrent tactic of bringing in his family. It’s horribly ironic to me that you see this as “necessary” in a post on this subject. Here you compound the error by saying, Well, maybe I did something immoral, but my point holds.

85

Keith M Ellis 08.22.07 at 11:43 pm

“Would it have been more just to have taken the Japanese mainland by force rather than bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki? No.”

On the other hand, yes. I think you have confused your casual pronouncements with Truth.

Once the phenomenon of the firestorm was understood, intentionally created, and used against a primarily civilian population, the Allies had moved from war to murder. They did this in Germany and then again, on a larger scale, in Tokyo. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki capped off these war crimes.

They were war crimes, and would have been universally recognized as such had the victors not had the opportunity to unilaterally excuse themselves. This in no way lessens the severity of the war crimes committed by either Germany or Japan during WWII. But the decision to wage war directly on large civilian populations is an example of becoming much more like one’s enemy in the attempt to defeat one’s enemy.

It’s a pity that so few of us in the US will even attempt to recognize this moral truth while most trot out the same, tired justifications as if (per above) they are obvious and incontrovertible.

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Keith M Ellis 08.22.07 at 11:48 pm

“I think you’re obliged to present your case to Kamm without stooping to the abhorrent tactic of bringing in his family.”

Sometimes it is not only not “abhorrent”, but is truly morally necessary to make a moral argument in personal terms. Of all the abstractions that are bandied about with far, far too little awareness of their implications, the invocation of the “innocent and guilty”, with regard to deserving death, ranks highly. It is as correct to invoke Bertram’s family as it is Kamm’s. As it is mine. Should my sister be sacrificed in the cause of preventing official US barbarity? I should ask this question of myself whenever I advocate that someone else’s sister be similarly sacrificed.

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novakant 08.22.07 at 11:59 pm

namely, that Kamm completely and demonstrably mischaracterized Anscombe’s argument.

That is correct, but so do you, when you are making it seem as if Anscombe made a consistent case arguing against Truman while allowing for the necessary lesser evils that come with warfare. Anscombe simply doesn’t present a clear cut argument, instead she wrestles with the problem rather unsuccessfully and the result is very muddled. This is due both to the problem being very difficult and Anscombe being a child of her time.

88

TheIrie 08.23.07 at 12:15 am

“The simple fact about Hiroshima is that a very large number of people were deliberately killed in order to persuade a different group of people to come to a particular political decision: unconditional surrender.”

As well as murder, this is a textbook example of terrorism, as defined by the US Department of Defense: “the unlawful use of — or threatened use of — force or violence against individuals or property to coerce or intimidate governments or societies, often to achieve political, religious, or ideological objectives.”

So, Kamm is in fact advocating terrorism. Aren’t we at war with that particular concept? Does that make Kamm the enemy?

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grackle 08.23.07 at 1:05 am

“Anscombe simply doesn’t present a clear cut argument, instead she wrestles with the problem rather unsuccessfully and the result is very muddled.” Indeed. I confess that I could only read through the whole of the damned thing by imagining it as a dialogue between John Cleese and Eric Idle. I further confess that this entire topic has been better handled as a Monte Python skit. This is one of those subjects wherein all sides (and just how many are there represented here?) might as well be talking into the wind. Believers of all sorts, not to be disuaded from their beliefs.

I myself was charmed by Anscombe’s dismissal of pacifism – but maybe it was a dead parrot I saw her flogging.

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bad Jim 08.23.07 at 2:54 am

The survey conducted after the war concluded that the Allies’ strategic bombing of Germany was largely ineffective. It’s my impression that the same was true for the conventional bombing of Japanese cities. The atomic bombs do however seem to have brought the war to an abrupt end, so it might be argued that they were less evil than the other cities’ incineration.

The use of aerial bombing in residential areas by NATO in Afghanistan and the coalition forces in Iraq may further instances of a tactic whose efficacy is as dubious as its legality.

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SG 08.23.07 at 4:07 am

bad jim, I read a recent book about Dresden which argued (persuasively I thought) that the strategic bombing was more successful than those surveys let on. It argued for example that huge amounts of the ordnance industry which would have been devoted to blowing up Russians was instead turned to largely useless flak guns, and also that huge amounts of time and effort was spent distributing production across the country. Some stupendous number of slaves – 70,000, I recall – was wasted on simply rebuilding the buna plant, when they might otherwise have been used on fortifications. Also the book argued that tactical bombers essentially ceased production in 1944, and that this helped the Russians a lot.

I suppose from that point of view people might think firebombing was justified, since it might reduce the number of Russian soldiers who died bringing the war to a close. The author of the book I read certainly seemed to think that such a justification was valid.

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bad Jim 08.23.07 at 8:01 am

We’re veering off topic, but it’s gladdening to think that at least some bombing may have saved lives. That was a desperate struggle.

I’ve read that Hamburg and Dresden were essentially lucky accidents, that back then we didn’t know how to create a firestorm. Soon after, though, we had no difficulty delivering them across Japan. Maybe the B-29’s were that much better than the B-17’s.

Blowing up civilian populations doesn’t seem to work, though. Terrorism in general doesn’t work. Life goes on. Invading armies stay put. At home, the working class of the imperialist state sweeps up the broken glass and carries on.

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Chris Bertram 08.23.07 at 9:35 am

[As I mention in an update, I have edited the post to remove an example that was, on reflection, needlessly offensive.]

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ajay 08.23.07 at 9:48 am

55: “In some societies even self-defense isn’t accepted as a valid argument.”

Really? I’m surprised to hear that. Which ones? (Not calling you a liar; just interested.)

71: “If one were to look for a silver lining to total war one could say at least it’s tendency to do harm beyond the battlefield has transformed the white feather distributing classes into keen exponents of peaceful co-existence.”

Perhaps when the next great war comes we may see that sight unprecedented in all history, a jingo with a bullet hole in him. — George Orwell

I bet that’s saved a life or two.

95

Sam C 08.23.07 at 10:06 am

Bloix – two quick points, although we’re going a bit OT

1) perhaps ‘meat is murder’ was a bad example on my part, although I don’t actually see what’s wrong with ‘argument by metaphor’. That’s how lots of moral argument works: by expanding sympathy, marking ignored similarities, and shocking the imagination. ‘If you prick us do we not bleed?’ And plenty of cultures – high-caste Hindus, Jains, my family – do consider killing animals for food to be morally impermissible. They vary in how they try to enforce that prohibition, of course – but then that’s also true of how cultures enforce the prohibition on murder-in-your-sense. ‘Life terms in prison’ are a recent innovation.

2) Be that as it may, Anscombe is not arguing by metaphor. Like you, she believes that there are universal moral rules; one of them is the impermissibility of killing innocents as a means to any end. She chooses to label this kind of impermissible action ‘murder’, and explicitly distinguishes this moral point from any claim about history, culture or human law. As far as I can see, your disagreement with her is merely terminological: nothing interesting would change if you went through the article replacing ‘murder’ with ‘morally impermissible killing’.

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Chris Williams 08.23.07 at 10:20 am

Hamburg wasn’t “a lucky [for whom?] accident”. The bomb-load was designed to burn the city down. The Operation GOMORRAH (Bomber Command didn’t fuck around with PR-driven operation names) order is short and to the point. Here’s the last of the numbered paragraphs, quoted in full:

“5. Objective: To destroy HAMBURG.”

PS – The reason that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still standing in August 1945 is that they were on a list of targets being ‘saved’ for the a-bombs. The lucky cities on the list were Niigata and Kokura – the latter the primary target on Aug 9th.

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SG 08.23.07 at 12:38 pm

chris I think it was an unlucky accident, in that weather and visibility conspired to make the firebombing effective – several other cities had been bombed in the same way several times to little effect (these are more of the unsavoury facts I read in that Dresden book). But you are right, the objective was to firebomb Dresden and Hamburg, they knew how to, they designed the bombload to, and (this staggers me) somewhere in a basement in London some engineers got together to work out exactly how to do it best. badjim is wrong there I think, as he is also wrong to assume that this was an American effort – it wasn’t a case of b29s or b17s, but lancasters.

Success with firebombing in Japan was largely greater because European cities are stone, and Japanese cities at that time had much more wood – this too had nothing to do with improvements in bomb technology as far as I know. This is also possibly partly the reason that Hiroshima and Nagasaki looked so completely flat after the bomb.

charming matters for discussion, and further evidence of how much that one war debased us all. It’s interesting to note as well how the two symbolic depravities of the war – concentration camps and aerial bombing – were first developed by the British in the prior 50 years, fighting their own colonial battles in South Africa and Iraq.

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Bloix 08.23.07 at 1:27 pm

The point of war is to coerce or intimidate others. In the war against Japan, the goal was to coerce the leadership of the adversary to do surrender. It was necessary to kill many people to accomplish that goal. Pacifists believe that it’s always immoral to kill for a political goal and that therefore all war is immoral. I haven’t noticed much support for that view here.

Still, some people here think would have been morally fine to kill hundreds of thousands of Japanese conscript soldiers and many, many civilians, plus hundreds of thousands of American conscript soldiers, in an invasion of Japan — but that it was the height of immorality to kill a smaller but still very large number of civilians by bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This argument turns on a concept of innocence that I don’t accept. The goal was to to coerce the Japanese leadership to permit Allied military occupation of the islands. It was accomplished in a manner that resulted in fewer deaths and less destruction than the alternative. I don’t see why the civilian or military status of the dead matters. I understand the pathos of the schoolgirl’s uniform. I don’t think her life was more valuable than that of a soldier’s.

Now, you can argue that the goal was improper given the need to kill so many to accomplish it, and that the US should have been satisfied with pushing back Japan to the home islands. Or you can even argue that the US should not have responded to Pearl Harbor militarily at all. But I haven’t detected support for those views here. Does someone want to make the argument?

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Anderson 08.23.07 at 1:40 pm

It’s my impression that the same was true for the conventional bombing of Japanese cities.

Actually, Japan relied much more than Germany on “cottage industry,” with lots of production being done in people’s homes. Hence, burning down cities was more effective. I don’t think that excuses the bombing, far from it.

It argued for example that huge amounts of the ordnance industry which would have been devoted to blowing up Russians was instead turned to largely useless flak guns

One of the hoariest chestnuts of all. The Germans since Rommel had been using their 88mm AA

100

Anderson 08.23.07 at 1:44 pm

(Fuck, somehow hit POST by mistake. Continued:)

guns as anti-tank guns, and the argument is that carpet bombing deprived the Germans of guns that could’ve been used on the Eastern Front.

The fallacy is the assumption that it was either carpet bombing, or no bombing. Had we targeted industry with daylight precision bombing, would the Germans not have devoted AA resources to those facilities? Ditto for bridges & rail nexuses.

Leaving aside the morality of burning down a city full of women, children, and noncombatant males in order to divert a few hundred anti-tank guns.

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SG 08.23.07 at 2:04 pm

bloix, I think the problem with your argument is its assumption that occupying the home islands was necessary. If one assumes it was, then yes maybe the atomic bomb saved some lives. But I think that’s a big assumption. Japan was contained, had lost its navy and airforce and most of its productive capacity, was starving, and Russia was days away from entering the war. The reality was that a conditional surrender was going to happen, potentially without much more loss of life on the Allied side, depending on how recklessly the Russians pursued their side of the war. The issue then becomes, why press the unconditional and immediate surrender? If it can’t be shown to have been strictly necessary, then by the definition given, Hiroshima was murder (and Nagasaki? Well…)

I see your point about distinguishing between soldiers and civilians, particularly in countries like (say, ooh, let’s pick an example) America where civilians choose their leadership and generally support a cabinet war – or in cases like Germany where a lot of the civilians were happily taking land and businesses in occupied lands. But I think there is a pretty strong view amongst the Japanese at least that at the time they were under a military dictatorship. So maybe that increases the claim that the schoolgirl was, in fact, more innocent than an adult (if one assumes that soldiers in a military dictatorship benefit more from the dictatorship than civilians).

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SG 08.23.07 at 2:17 pm

Anderson, if I may continue this slightly OT argument about Dresden, which in any case I’m doing from memory of one book I read a while ago… the figures I recall for the effect of the bombing were quite striking – like, for example, that 25% of all ordnance was diverted to AA guns, and productive capacity was shifted around them. If one were to imagine that the Nazis were really low on artillery ordnance as a result, maybe they wouldn’t have levelled Warsaw, which would be a benefit right?

Also the claim made in the book (and I think directly based on Bomber Harris’ personal view) was that precision bombing had been tried (we’ve all seen dambusters!) and had failed dismally with a high cost in bomber crew. They therefore had to move to bombing industry, either large centres like the Buna plant where precision wasn’t important, or cities. As the war went on they also had an increasing focus on a few elements of those centres, and particularly important in April 1945 (or was it February? can’t recall…) was transport hubs between West and East, to prevent the Germans slowing the Russian advance. So yeah, they focussed on rail nexuses, but the sad reality is that rail nexuses (should that be nexi?) are always in cities.

(Also the Germans had devoted massive AA resources to their industries, so much so that daylight raids on them were suicidal, which is another reason they focussed on cities).

So I think maybe the effect of bombing the cities may have been greater than that original survey suggested; but even if it was, we still have to, as you say, leave aside the morality of burning down a city full of civilians in order to divert artillery (even if the quantity may have been large).

(I don’t support the firebombing campaigns, by the way, but if I understand this Anscombe, the military efficacy can be considered to outweigh the moral imperative…? So no matter how depraved the action, presumably we have to weigh its military efficacy before we judge whether it was right or wrong…?)

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Matt Weiner 08.23.07 at 2:19 pm

some people here think would have been morally fine to kill hundreds of thousands of Japanese conscript soldiers and many, many civilians, plus hundreds of thousands of American conscript soldiers, in an invasion of Japan—but that it was the height of immorality to kill a smaller but still very large number of civilians by bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Possibly, but this isn’t part of the original post (and not what I’m defending). Chris Bertram said:

One can argue about whether it was necessary to act in this way in order to bring about that goal. One can also argue about whether that goal itself was morally justifiable or whether some cessation of hostilities that fell short of unconditional surrender should have been accepted if doing so would have brought peace at a much lower cost in lives.

Which is to say that he’s not suggesting an answer to the question of whether an invasion would’ve been morally preferable to the atomic bomb. The only issue is whether there’s a significant difference between operations aimed at military targets and operations aimed at killing civilians. I think it’s important to preserve that distinction; the adoption of total war has not exactly been effective at reducing casualties, and I don’t know of any reliable statistics on how many of the non-combatants with bullet holes in them were jingos.

Also, like sg, I’ve never been quite sure why an invasion would’ve been necessary.

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Anderson 08.23.07 at 2:25 pm

Sg: 25% of all ordnance was diverted to AA guns

Dresden was leveled in, what, March 1945? I very much doubt that it suddenly impelled the Germans to take area bombing seriously; but of course I’d have to examine the book & its sources.

Also the Germans had devoted massive AA resources to their industries, so much so that daylight raids on them were suicidal.

Again, I’m skeptical — the Americans seem to have managed.

precision bombing had been tried (we’ve all seen dambusters!) and had failed dismally with a high cost in bomber crew

This is a truth that conceals much. The RAF was miserably unequipped for daylight bombing, because it had used the interwar to prepare for terror bombing. Then in 1939 it turned out the politicians had cold feet about terror bombing, precisely b/c they were frightened for London etc., and precision bombing was ordered, with terrible results.

Had the Brits set out to attempt precision bombing and developed a long-range fighter escort like the P-51, they would have had better luck. But they never succeeded at it because they never seriously tried.

Agreed that it would be silly to argue that the raids had no, or negligible, military effect. Sure they did. But proportional to the human cost? I think we agree that it wasn’t.

(I leave aside the Japanese theater as arguably different — the A-bombs at least brought a shockingly sudden end to the war, thus saving many lives in China & other Japanese-occupied territories.)

105

Anderson 08.23.07 at 2:29 pm

Also, like sg, I’ve never been quite sure why an invasion would’ve been necessary.

Blockade would’ve crushed Japan sooner or later, but it wasn’t as sexy to American military planners as hordes of Marines storming the beaches.

Of course, blockade would’ve starved to death many of the same sorts of people incinerated by the A-bombs. The Germans used to be vociferous about the wickedness of the Brits’ blockade in WW1, until greater atrocities made merely starving people to death seem quaint.

(Relying heavily on Richard Frank’s Downfall, which argues the thesis in my last comment about lives saved by the sudden end of the war. Nothing but the A-bombs was likely to push the Japanese to surrender right then, tho I personally would’ve let them chew on the Soviet threat for a while.)

106

ajay 08.23.07 at 2:30 pm

sg: It’s interesting to note as well how the two symbolic depravities of the war – concentration camps and aerial bombing – were first developed by the British in the prior 50 years, fighting their own colonial battles in South Africa and Iraq.

No: the first air raids on civilian targets were conducted by German Zeppelins in 1915 against Kings Lynn and Yarmouth in eastern England. The raids in Iraq you’re thinking about were post-Great War.
The first use of the phrase “concentration camp” was to describe Spanish internment centres for civilians in Cuba, before the outbreak of the Boer War.

It is AFAIK true that the planned invasions of Japan in late 1945 and 1946 would probably not have gone ahead, as the Japanese would have been starved out by then: the US submarine blockade was having much more of an effect than the Allies knew, and they had overestimated Japanese economic strength. (As well as underestimating troop strength on the Home Islands, to the point where it is very doubtful whether OLYMPIC or CORONET would have actually succeeded.)

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SG 08.23.07 at 2:46 pm

Thanks for that correction ajay, I didn’t know that.

Anderson, I hope I’ve made clear that I’m arguing poorly from memory, but I’m pretty confident from my memory that the Germans were taking area bombing very seriously by March 1945, and that the Americans were getting slaughtered in the air on daylight bombing raids over industry. Also, I don’t think the p51 or any other long distance fighter worked in raids into Eastern Germany until after Normandy, and the British had the mosquito which maybe had a similar range. There were certainly no fighters of any sort over Dresden (David Irving’s lies notwithstanding), so the suggestion that they could have developed the technology to support that attempt if they had tried earlier isn’t supported by the US experience.

Nonetheless, you’re probably right that the original after-war survey would have to have been considerably in error to conclude the raids were successful enough to justify; and even if in some nasty calculus they could have been concluded to have been beneficial, they were still barbaric and didn’t have to be done.

108

novakant 08.23.07 at 4:04 pm

I think this paper (pdf file), though only a bullet-point summary sums up the historical, legal and moral issues quite well.

109

Chris Williams 08.23.07 at 4:07 pm

“I don’t think the p51 or any other long distance fighter worked in raids into Eastern Germany until after Normandy,”

No. P51s could get to Berlin from the UK. To cut a long story short, the military effect of the combined bomber offensive was as follows:

1943: disperse industry, put 800,000 men and women into Luftwaffe flak units, divert expansion of plane manufacture into fighters.
1944 Jan-March: kill the Luftwaffe (P51s did this), cripple synthetic oil production.
[Overlord]
1944 Sept – Dec: less oil, yet fewer Luftwaffe pilots, massive transport damage.
1945 Jan – March: utter destruction of transport network, massive oil famine.

There was also the ongoing killing of hundreds of thousands.

On the minus side for the Allies, you need to count the 50,000 aircrew dead and missing of Bomber Command: educated, trained, motivated men who could have been used elsewhere. Given that the Battle of the Atlantic was won by 10 or so B24s, some Lancasters for Coastal Command might have had a disproportionate effect, ‘n all.

The above brutally-condensed summary refers to effectiveness: there’s another discussion relating to morality, of course. If you’ve got access to the RUSI journal, there’s a half-decent review in the Jan 2007 issue (by Andrew Brookes) of Friedrich’s _The Fire_, which is a good place to start.

110

mpowell 08.23.07 at 4:16 pm

Matt Weiner, but this is also a discussion about the validity of Anscombe’s position. Why is the distinction between civilian and conscripted military personel relevant? If the unconditional surrender of Japan was a moral political goal. If the two alternatives were an invasion or the bomb. Anscombe’s position seems to be that the bomb would be immoral and but a properly conducted invasion would be okay. Regardless of whether these conditions were actually true, we can hypothesize that they were and ask what implications it has for the argument. And I don’t see how an invasion with a hugely greater expected cost in human lives is more justified than the bomb in those circumstances.

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Chris Williams 08.23.07 at 4:19 pm

PS That pdf referred to at #108 above is very good, although when I gave a very similar lecture a few weeks ago, I also mentioned the British tradition of indirect war, the RAF’s terror bombing doctrine in 1918, and the very important precedent of the bombing of Warsaw in 1939, which I think needs to accompany or even replace the example of Rotterdam.

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Matt Weiner 08.23.07 at 4:50 pm

If the unconditional surrender of Japan was a moral political goal.

That’s not to be assumed; Anscombe says in her essay, “It was the insistence on unconditional surrender that was the root of all evil. The connection between such a demand and the need to use the most ferocious methods of warfare will be obvious. And in itself the proposal of an unlimited objective in war is stupid and barbarous.” And her specific claim about Japan, true or not, is that fewer people were killed by the atomic bombs than were killed by the invasion, but that this was only true because of “the fixation on unconditional surrender”; that is, if there wasn’t a demand for unconditional surrender then the alternative wouldn’t have been invasion.

I’m not saying she’s right on the history, but to say “Anscombe’s position seems to be that the bomb would be immoral and but a properly conducted invasion would be okay” is really to distort her views.

As for the distinction between civilians and conscripted military personnel, does anyone think that war can be made more humane by ignoring this distinction? Make your argument that in this case targeting civilians made sense—I’m not sure what I think—but don’t take the devil’s bargain of saying that there’s no difference between civilians and the military. That’s a license for unlimited atrocity.

113

Ralph Hitchens 08.23.07 at 4:54 pm

Wow, what a thread! Anderson, thanks for citing Richard Frank’s Downfall, IMO the definitive account of the end of the Pacific war and a book that makes a very strong case for the use of the atomic bombs. sg, after mid-1944 the American bomber crews were no longer “getting slaughtered” over Germany, as the introduction of long-range escort fighters (the P-51) in the late fall of 1943 had completely changed the balance. In early to mid-1944 the daylight bombing campaign effectively destroyed the Luftwaffe, and although the distributed German aircraft industry was able to keep production stats high (thereby fooling the Strategic Bombing Survey into giving the impression that the bombing campaign was a relative failure) but there were very few pilots and little aviation fuel. Flak continued to be a serious theat but overall losses declined steadily from the fall of 1944 until the end of the war. As for the area bombing conducted by the RAF, I think someone on CT a few months ago quoted “Bomber” Harris: “The aim of the Combined Bomber Offensive … should be unambiguously and publicly stated. That aim is the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers and the disruption of civilised community life throughout Germany. It should be emphasised that the destruction of houses, public utilities, transport and lives, the creation of a refugee problem on an unprecedented scale, and the breakdown of morale both at home and at the battle fronts by fear of extended and intensified bombing, are accepted and intended aims of our bombing policy. They are not by-products of attempts to hit factories.” I think Curtis LeMay could have said much the same thing about the B-29 campaign in the Pacific.

114

Anderson 08.23.07 at 5:02 pm

I think Curtis LeMay could have said much the same thing about the B-29 campaign in the Pacific.

Well, he famously did say he’d have been tried for war crimes if the U.S. had (somehow) lost, which is pretty much what Harris confessed to in the quote you give.

I confess to ignorance as to whether P-51s with drop-tanks could reach the easternmost nooks of Greater Germany.

Frank *does* make a good military case for use of the bombs, tho moral objections are still relevant. Frankly, at the point where you’re deliberating between (1) civilian and military deaths at the hands of the Japanese occupiers, (2) starvation deaths due to blockade, (3) civilian and military deaths after a pretty terrible invasion, and (4) A-bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki …

… I don’t think there’s a plausible moral code that really lets one of those choices stand out as unambiguously preferable.

Consider also what an occupation would’ve been like after doubling the number of American war dead in an invasion of the home islands. I doubt it would have gone as well as MacArthur’s did in the actual event. Is that a factor?

115

robertdfeinman 08.23.07 at 5:04 pm

There was some question about my claim that some societies don’t consider self defense as a justification.

There are two cases that I can mention. The first is the type of legal code which operates on the “eye for an eye” principle. The punishment is related to the injury not the motivation.

The other is where the recourse is in the form of compensation to the victim (or his family). Once again the motivation is not seen as relevant.

Using motivation as a defense is a fairly recent change in jurisprudence. Look it up.

There was also a quibble over my use of the word “crime” in relation to killing another. This is picking nits, societies have to go to great lengths to persuade people to become killers (they call them soldiers). It usually requires a sustained period of jingoism, propagandizing and appeals to nationalism or clan allegiance. It is also necessary to dehumanize one’s opponents in some fashion so that the crime won’t be considered for what it is.

That this brain washing is only partly successful can be seen from the number of psychologically damaged people who return from being soldiers.

If you want to call this “immoral” instead of a crime then suit yourself. The effect is the same.

116

rilkefan 08.23.07 at 9:11 pm

“UPDATE: I have edited this post to remove an example that was, on reflection, needlessly offensive.”

Appreciated, Chris.

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mpowell 08.23.07 at 10:08 pm

>If the unconditional surrender of Japan was a moral >political goal.

>That’s not to be assumed;

But Matt, you’re conflating two different arguments. Anscombe argues against the use of the bomb on two different counts. One is that unconditional surrender was a reasonable goal. But the second is that targetting civilians to achieve reasonable political goals in war is immoral. But if you assume the first claim holds, then nothing about the use of the bomb is relevant to the second argument. On the other hand, if the first claim is not true, the example of the bomb in WWII calls into question the validity of Anscombe’s second argument.

I think it would be a very unusual case were targetting civilians would be the most effective method of pursuing a morally justified victory in a war in terms of the cost in human life. This is why, as a pragmatic rule, civilians should not be targetted. But I don’t agree with the theoretical underpinnings that Anscombe tries to give for this general rule. In an unusual case, which the use of the bomb could be argued to be, it may have been the least deadly method of reaching the end result. Certainly in hindsight, the result of using the bomb and the occupation of Japan in the long term were greatly beneficial to us, to Japan and certainly to any formerly Japanese-occupied peoples. Perhaps there were less deadly ways of getting to this result. But they are certainly not obvious, in my opinion, and they do nothing for Anscombe’s underlying position- that directly targetting civilians is an unjustifiable evil regardless of the result.

118

engels 08.23.07 at 11:36 pm

Kamm versus Anscombe

“C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre.”

119

J Thomas 08.24.07 at 2:29 am

It is quite vicious to concoct rhetoric alluding to the deaths of (specifically named) real members of a real family and I cannot see any way in which it might be necessary.

I have trouble understanding this stand.

You’re debating when it’s acceptable to do mass killing. Given the importance of the topic, isn’t it justified to use any verbal attack that might reasonably lead to unconditional surrender by the enemy?

You’re talking as if there are rules of debate that are more important than winning. But suppose that you follow those rules and as a result the enemy convinces people who would reach the right conclusion if your argument was sufficiently vicious. Isn’t that far worse than breaking a few debate rules?

There can be civilised debates among friends over trivial issues, where maintaining the friendship is far more important than making your point. But when it’s a question of total debate then all moral qualms must be set aside. Debate is hell, and anything that speeds the enemy’s unconditional surrender is an improvement over letting it drag out at length.

120

abb1 08.24.07 at 8:27 am

J Thomas, but what about the children (rilkefan?) who might be reading this discussion? Surely they will be horribly traumatized…

121

Dave 08.24.07 at 8:36 am

@ no. 119: combien c’est amusant, and almost true. But when Sherman remarked that war is “all hell”, he was not being enthusiastic.

One need not believe that the A-bombs can be morally justified in a tea-parlour discussion to accept that, at the time, they were a means to close a conflict which was not begun by the Allies, and which *had* been begun by powers bent on the military domination, and subsequent enslavement, of populations on a scale not seen since the horrors of antiquity. Germany and Japan reaped a whirlwind, and for much of the last sixty years, the leaders and populations of those countries have had the decency to acknowledge that.

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Harald Korneliussen 08.24.07 at 10:45 am

This reminds me of Chris Lightfoot’s cute little images about various “moral defense” committees.

http://www.ex-parrot.com/~chris/moral.html

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J Thomas 08.24.07 at 6:09 pm

Dave, speaking seriously, war is a game. War is one of the special games where you can’t just decide not to play. Nations can agree to rules for playing the game, but they don’t have to.

Football is a game where there are referees to establish whether the rules have been broken and assign penalties. If winning was more important than the rules, if winning was more important than anything else, football players might occasionally go outside the boundaries of the playing field, they might sometimes go up in the stands and trample the spectators in their effort to move the ball forward. They don’t do that because football is only a game and winning is determined by the referees. The fans are outside the game. But without those rules the fans count as obstacles, and a fan who tries to trip a player or even tackle him, is choosing a role beyond obstacle.

It makes sense to agree to some rules for war. Some rules are positive-sum, both sides are better off even if one side benefits more.

Sometimes it makes sense to agree to rules but the communication breaks down and so the agreement breaks down. In the pacific war in WWII, our soldiers spread stories about japanese doing fake surrenders — they claimed wounded soldiers would have grenades they’d set off when americans tried to help them, or their retreating friends would booby-trap them. Some soldiers would try a fake surrender while their friends had an ambush set up around them. Etc. And so we got a consensus that we would not take prisoners. As a result we’d win an island and have lots of starving japanese guerrillas wandering around looking for a chance to kill americans before they died. It would probably have been better for us to let them surrender, though perhaps that would have led to logistics problems — maybe the strain of feeding them and supplying prison camps for them would have been more of a problem than it was to track them down and kill them.

We had a similar problem in fallujah. We’d had continual problems with snipers and IEDs and such before the final push, and our marines were disgusted. There were stories about iraqi insurgents using ambulances as transport, so we shot ambulance drivers. We had the place surrounded and we refused to let military-age males leave. Then we decided that anybody who hadn’t left was an insurgent. We destroyed insurgent medical centers. We mostly didn’t take prisoners. We shot prisoners after we did let them surrender. We used bake-and-shake. Etc. Once we decided that the enemy wasn’t playing by the rules, we didn’t either.

It makes a certain sense to do tit-for-tat. When the other side breaks the agreed rules, we do too. It makes sense to tell the other side what’s going on, that we have, say, 3 examples of them breaking rules so we’ll break the same rules 3 times. It makes less sense to say “They broke the rule once so from now on we’ll break it every time.” At least that makes less sense if the rule is good for your side too. It makes even less sense to say “They broke a rule so we’ll break all the rules.”

But then, we might want to try to make the rules a package deal. If they break the rule they most want to break, then we’ll break the rule we most want to break. Ideally rules of war are good for both sides. Ideally they result in the same side winning that would have won anyway, but quicker and with less damage to either side and fewer hard feelings. But pretty often rules favor one side. Rules about airstrikes favor the side that doesn’t have an airforce. Rules about poison gas favor the side that doesn’t have poison gas. So if the other side uses ambulances, something that wouldn’t help us at all to use, we might feel we should use airstrikes and bake-and-shake and maybe poison gas. They break the rule that helps them, we break the rules that help us.

It’s easy for rules of warfare to break down. When we’re the obviously stronger side it usually makes sense for us to go along with rules that are good for us even when they’re better for the enemy. But you can’t expect officers to follow those rules when it’s obviously to their advantage not to. So for example the israeli army is famous for breaking cease-fires. They get caught in situations where they’re supposed to agree to cease-fires when they’re winning but haven’t won everything yet. When a cease-fire results in fewer arab casualties but no fewer israeli casualties and in fact no advantage to israel at all, it’s silly to expect them to honor it. Similarly with any other rule of war.

We can talk about what rules armies ought to follow. That’s all fine, but when it gets down to waging war, soldiers will not follow somebody else’s rules when it means they’re more likely to die or to lose the war. So if you’re a moralist who wants extra rules, how are you going to enforce it? You and what army?

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Keely 08.24.07 at 6:23 pm

@121

Yes, Dave, this point seems to have been lost somewhat in the discussion. And to remind people what was at stake in 1939-45 (indeed, even before the official outbreak of war, considering what Japan was already doing in Korea and China, or what Germany was doing at home and in Czechoslovakia), is not ‘hindsight’. Hindsight is looking at 1945 through 2001 glasses and that view is distorted by what happened postwar. The Allies in 1945 were determined that Japan and Germany would not be left off lightly (would anything less than unconditional surrender have been sufficient for Germany?) and they were entirely right in that determination.

The argument is sometimes made that the A-bomb would never have been used in Europe (on racial grounds). A silly argument, IMO, in light of Hamburg and Dresden. And, unlike the Pacific Theatre, the bomb was neither ready nor needed in the European Theatre. Germany had long since been invaded –from east and west– and was probably more severely punished because of it, especially by Soviet forces. The evidence indicates that had the bomb not been used, Japan would not have surrendered save on what were –for the Allies– unacceptable conditions. The bomb improved those conditions (in the long run for the Japanese too) and surely saved hundreds of thousands of lives on both sides. That is a strange definition of murder.

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Keely 08.24.07 at 6:27 pm

… ‘let’ off lightly.

126

Anderson 08.24.07 at 8:01 pm

Goodness, we’re getting out of whack here. Sure, the racial arguments are stupid; the Bomb was expressly built to be used against Hitler, but the Germans surrendered before it was ready.

However, rationalizing the incineration of babies (to say nothing of the other civilians) as yielding good results … how different is that from the reasoning of the Germans or the Japanese?

There is a world of difference between conceding that the A-bombs might have been the least bad of many bad alternatives … and talking it up as a wonderful solution.

The civilized world before WW2 was generally agreed that terror bombing of civilians was a war crime. That didn’t suddenly stop being true because the Japanese government turned out to be vicious and its people loathe to surrender.

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engels 08.24.07 at 9:07 pm

(I’d better be clear that my comment above wasn’t addressed to the issue of the morality of America’s use of the atmoic bomb but was merely expressing an opinion that watching an unarmed man in the battle of wits like Herr Kamm flailing away vainly at a philosopher of Anscombe’s stature is rather a tragic spectacle.)

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Keely 08.24.07 at 9:28 pm

Here’s an argument with the shoe on the other foot. Ian Kershaw is speculating what would have happened if Stauffenberg had successfully killed Hitler:

…the war in Europe would have continued until Germany’s defeat or capitulation. This, though, would almost certainly have come much earlier with Hitler dead. Millions of lives and immense destruction would have been avoided had Stauffenberg been successful.

What about within Germany? Perversely, the chances of democracy being rapidly established might have been diminished rather than enhanced by a successful coup. There would certainly have been a new “stab-in-the-back” legend, of the sort that had bedevilled German democracy. And the leading figures in the anti-Hitler plot, divided among themselves apart from the need to be rid of Hitler and end the war, were not democrats. Some even wanted to hold on to Nazi territorial gains. A natural human reaction is to regret Stauffenberg’s failure to kill Hitler. But it was probably better that Germany’s defeat was total, and inflicted from outside, so that Germans, too, could see the full extent of the disaster which Nazism had inflicted upon their country, and on the world.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/men/article2315329.ece

So Kershaw is arguing that millions of lives and immense destruction could have been avoided (would the Germans have continued to keep the trains rolling to Auschwitz and Treblinka with Hitler gone?)… but the world is better because of it? Strange calculation.

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Anderson 08.24.07 at 9:43 pm

Kershaw’s book is interesting, but every damn chapter ends with a “well, it had to turn out like it did, and it was for the best really,” except of course for the last chapter, on the decision to implement the Final Solution.

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J Thomas 08.25.07 at 3:54 am

People argue about the nukes, but the bigger problem came earlier. As Keeley points out, the US public probably wouldn’t have allowed us to accept anything less than unconditional surrender, even though this resulted in hundreds of thousands or millions of extra deaths and might in a US invasion of japan resulted in over a million US casualties.

Compare our diplomacy there to a typical hostage situation that our police handle. The outcome is not particularly in doubt — the criminal will be captured or killed within a few days. Do they call in with bullhorns and demand unconditional surrender? No, they negotiate. They arrange to send in food. They offer to accept all but one of the hostages. They do whatever it takes to build up an attitude that they negotiate honestly, that whatever agreement they make they will keep. Because that’s how you get the crazy armed person out of the house and surrendered.

If we had announced that we didn’t require unconditional surrender, that the details could be negotiated, and we actually got the japanese negotiating a surrender, wouldn’t that have had a giant effect on the war? Perhaps in some cases there would be attempts to get japanese military victories to aid the surrender negotiations, but a whole lot of japanese soldiers would have wanted to wait for the surrender.

We could then negotiate some of the things we actually later agreed to after the unconditional surrender. No punishment of the families of war criminals. The emperor lives and keeps at least a ceremonial position. Strictly limited executions of high military officials.

Of course we wanted to kill the military men who planned Pearl Harbor etc. But how many deaths was it worth? How many extra months of war? They were totally opposed to surrender — as it was the emperor had to fool them into letting him announce a surrender — and there’s a strong chance they’d have been less opposed if it hadn’t looked like a death sentence for them personally.

We could have negotiated sending food shipments to japan while the negotiations were going on. They’d have been more desperate starving, but when we’re feeding them it both makes us look more trustworthy and it makes the surrender look more inevitable.

Similarly with the unsurrendered japanese soldiers we were fighting on various islands. We announce that the surrender negotiations with the japanese government are underway, and we offer to accept their wounded as POWs, and we offer to give them food, etc even before they surrender. As it was a lot of them believed (with reason) that they would be killed if they tried to surrender. When you’re going to die anyway, why not die with honor? But the more we treated them as less-than-enemies, the more they’d trust us, and the more they’d surrender to us. That would have been a better result than having to kill them. Easier.

It’s a lot easier to negotiate a conditional surrender. You don’t necessarily have to negotiate away that much. If the enemy is beaten, they know they’re beaten even if you give them some polite concessions. Insisting on unconditional surrender makes wars longer and bloodier, and the gains are intangible — things like perhaps preventing them from starting the next war. WWI shows us that the harsh approach didn’t work so well — quite likely WWII would have been smaller with fewer atrocities after a reasonable conditional surrender ending WWI.

Probably surrender negotiations don’t work for the USA because our public doesn’t like them. But they end wars. They prepare the way for peace after the wars. Police do it. They do constant negotiation with lone gunmen, they explain what he can expect after he surrenders — if it’s 12 to 20 years or what — and give him a clear idea about the alternative to dying where he stands. (Sometimes they lie about that, which I think is a mistake — it leaves the next guy trusting them less.) Even when they have him outnumbered 50 to 1 they don’t just say surrender, take it or leave it and then start shooting. They negotiate small things to give him confidence in the negotiation procedure, and they give him lots of chances to surrender with a clear idea what to expect.

The reason it took nukes to get japan to surrender is that we had already done almost everything in our power to make it hard for them to surrender.

131

sunsin 08.25.07 at 7:07 am

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a thread so detached from reality.

Have any of the commenters ever spoken to anyone who was in Japan at the end of the war? Yes, they would have fought. Yes, children too. My old Japanese lit professor, who was there, told us that his principal announced to the school in all seriousness that if the Americans were victorious, the girls would all be raped and the boys would all be castrated. He would have fought. He was eight years old at the time. Anyone who thinks the Japanese civilian population from top to bottom wouldn’t have fought is suffering from either sheer ignorance or a severe case of crano-rectal inversion.

There seems also to be an utter failure to understand the role of face in Japanese society, and the details of the kamikaze myth, which are critical in this context. One key reason that the Japanese would not have surrendered was that in medieval times, when the Mongols invaded, the Japanese forces had been thoroughly whipped and Japan lay open to invasion. Then the divine wind came and destroyed the invaders, at the very last minute, AFTER total military defeat.

A construct like that can only be destroyed by deployment of novel and overwhelming force in some way, so that surrender comes to seem acceptable. Say the Unspeakable served as an excuse for the Unthinkable (for the Japanese), if you wish. Mere blockade would not have done it, and neither would invasion until a late stage. Both of these “alternatives” would have resulted in millions of deaths, concentrated among… ta-da! women, children, and the old…. nations at war feed their soldiers first, did that escape your collective minds? Both alternatives would also have resulted in the deaths of all or nearly all Allied war prisoners held in Japan as well. You forgot that.

Another point you unaccountably neglected concerns the decision of a country to keep civilians in a military target. Why were there children in Hiroshima in the first place? Americans with no knowledge of history seem to think it was a lovely Eden devoted to the production of paper cranes. It wasn’t. It was devoted quite proudly to the business of death. My Chinese friends have reminded me that it had always been a center for Japanese aggression — the Imperial Court had camped out there in 1895, on the occasion of the first war of aggression against China. Many of the armies that attacked in SE Asia sailed from Hiroshima, and the population, which had not yet had time to thoroughly develop its pacifist sentiments, lined the docks to cheer them on their way. At the time of the bombing, Hiroshiam was an army headquarters, a military town through and through, garrisoned with a full division of troops, and very proud of its military heritage. Chinese, Koreans remember all this. Many of the ones alive during the war wish openly that America had dropped more bombs. Americans blatt along, divinely and windily ignorant.

So, if there are still children in a city that has been a military base for half a century, is that not the fault of the local government? Why didn’t they evacuate the city of civilians? There were genuinely non-military areas in Japan even at that time, which were never bombed; for instance, the ancient capital at Nara. If you keep kids inside a military base, a city full of troops that has been a base for half a century, YOU are responsible if they end up dead.

In a post on an ostensibly liberal website, it’s depressing to see people pontificating with NO knowledge of the cultures and peoples they purport to be discussing, and with a slender and confused idea of the history. No wonder so many Americans thought they could just waltz into an Arab country and rearrange the furniture exactly as they pleased.

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J Thomas 08.25.07 at 9:37 am

Sunsin, you are very certain in your opinions. I must respect the strength of your belief.

However, you are wrong. You don’t know what you are talking about.

While philosophically none of us can know what the world would be like if it was different, I can guess based on what actually did happen. We dropped two atomic bombs and the emperor told the japanese nation to surrender, and they surrendered. There were very very few incidents of violence by the japanese against the occupation army after the surrender. All the stories you tell were invalidated, because the emperor told his people to surrender.

What would have happened if we dropped the bombs and the emperor had not announced a surrender? Wouldn’t the japanese have attempted to evacuate their cities, and gone ahead sharpening their spears to repel an invasion? By what you say, very probably they would. The atomic bombs did less damage than some of our previous bombing missions; what was special about them was that they were each done with one bomb, plus of course the radioactivity. They did not stop the japanese resistance. What they did was give the emperor an occasion to surrender.

So when you guess at what would have happened otherwise, you are assuming that the emperor would not have surrendered. We could have had a long slow blocade that starved millions of people, or an invasion that killed tens of millions of fighting civilians, and the emperor would not have surrendered…. And how do you know what the emperor would have done? You can only assume it. One man, with human free will, and you assume you know what he would do.

No one can truly know what would have happened if the world had been different. However, we have some hints.


On June 22, the Emperor summoned the Big Six to a meeting. Unusually, he spoke first. “I desire that concrete plans to end the war, unhampered by existing policy, be speedily studied and that efforts made to implement them.”

Before the bombs, before the soviet invasion of manchuria, even before the Potsdam declaration, the emperor was trying to surrender and trying for something slightly better than an unconditional surrender. Should you be certain he would not have surrendered without the bombs?

If we had not dropped the nukes and not invaded immediately, but negotiated with japan a few things like the survival of the emperor, less than a full unconditional surrender but not much less, do you suppose he would have insisted on mass death instead?

On the other hand, while we knew all this we didn’t have the information coordinated. We knew that japan was trying to arrange a surrender but they weren’t specific in their offers. Hard to be sure which details were known, and how far those details had propagated inside the US government. Clearly we weren’t tracking very well since many of our official reactions came from mistranslation of a word in a japanese newspaper article describing their response to the Potsdam declaration. As so often happens we were going full-speed ahead with our own plans with no thought for modifying them from outside feedback. (The classic example of this was our nuclear program, where we started making bombs and didn’t stop until we had far more than we could find uses for. We’d set up a plan to make them but we had never decided how many we wanted, so we just kept going.)

Given the misinformation and opinions the US government had put together, it was reasonable for us to believe that a bloody invasion was necessary, and that nukes might let us avoid that invasion or else soften up the japanese prior to the invasion. It wasn’t an unreasonable choice, in context.

So if we did anything wrong it was in our failure to collect and interpret the information we needed. We ignored the data that would be useful to us, and we filtered the information we did notice through our own prejudices. And some of what we needed to know was simply unavailable. We know *now* that the japanese population was ready to surrender when the emperor told them to. But we didn’t know that then. They might have fought anyway.

That particular time our misunderstanding probably caused us to unnecessarily kill a lot of civilians. But the other choices looked worse. And maybe it was the best thing after all — it’s silly to be sure how the world would be if it was different.

Still, what we did wrong was to not pay attention. We thought we already knew the truth. We knew things, and what we knew wasn’t so. What consequences will there be the next time we do that?

133

J Thomas 08.25.07 at 9:38 am

Sorry, that link didn’t work.

link

134

engels 08.25.07 at 12:05 pm

Oooh “the role of face in Japanese society”, “the kamikaze myth [author’s italics]”, “the divine wind”, I think it might be… is it… yes, it’s that perennial internet phenomenon.. a rightwing cultural essentialist who thinks that knowing one or two words in a foreign language and a couple of commonly repeated Western canards about said country’s culture licenses him to bore everyone with his simplistic and offensive cliches about said people’s inscrutable and irrational ways.

135

J Thomas 08.25.07 at 8:16 pm

Engels, he does have a point. Different cultures aren’t the same and the things he brings up did have an effect.

Would you consider discussion about the place of the USA in the world that didn’t consider our eschatological religious groups, or our tendency to commit jihad based on our opinions about things our new enemies have done to third parties? We have a strong tendency not to do wars of choice, and so we have things like Gulf of Tonkin and 9/11 and UN resolutions to start our wars.

Note our strong tendency to support fellow democracies in trouble, as we have unconditionally supported israel — a fellow democracy in constant trouble — since 1967. Note that we gave only intangible aid to britain against argentina; they weren’t in trouble.

Our sense of exceptionalism is fundamental to understanding our foreign policy — we have a strong aversion to putting ourselves in the other guy’s place and seeing where he’s coming from. Instead we insist the other side is evil and accept nothing but unconditional surrender. So in vietnam we didn’t agree to peace negotiations until things got so bad we didn’t have much to negotiate with. We’d been hoping that after we trained the ARVN it would be strong enough to invade the north and perhaps result in an unconditional surrender….

It isn’t wrong to consider these elements of ‘national character’ or whatever they are. They do make a difference. And Sunsin might possibly have personal experience that leads him/her to give those items far too much weight. People tend to give far too much weight to their personal experience, and perhaps they ought to — it’s at least theirs, not filtered through somebody else.

The problem here comes from taking the valid cultural references and extrapolating them into the unknown with utter and complete certainty.

136

engels 08.25.07 at 8:56 pm

Obviously I didn’t deny that there are differences between national cultures which affect policy decisions. But anyone who drones on pseudo-authorititively about the role of face in Asian society, kamikazes, etc (anthropological “expertise” which may be gleaned from the Society and Culture section of the Lonely Planet) is imho a bullshitter. Moreover, the above post is very simplistic, relies on demeaning stereotypes and canards about the Japanese, reads like a piece of propaganda and is, frankly, pretty offensive. Also, statements like this one

If you keep kids inside a military base, a city full of troops that has been a base for half a century, YOU are responsible if they end up dead.

are highly offensive and are, in fact, in direct opposition to basic principles of humanitarian law, as expressed in the Geneva Conventions.

I choose not to argue with such people. (And the same can be said about many other comments on this rather depressing thread). YMMV.

137

engels 08.25.07 at 8:59 pm

To be clear, “the above post” refers to #131, not to your post.

138

Keely 08.26.07 at 5:00 pm

…a rightwing cultural essentialist who thinks that knowing one or two words in a foreign language and a couple of commonly repeated Western canards about said country’s culture licenses him to bore everyone with his simplistic and offensive cliches about said people’s inscrutable and irrational ways.

Now where did I read words like these before? Oh, yes…

Then it is war. ‘A ceaseless fight to the death’ with Slavdom, which betrays the Revolution, a battle of annihilation and ruthless terrorism — not in the interests of Germany but of the Revolution!

The next world war will cause not only reactionary classes and dynasties but also entire reactionary peoples to disappear from the earth. And that too would be progress.

Among all the nations and petty ethnic groups of Austria there are only three which have been the carriers of progress, which have played an active role in history and which still retain their vitality-the Germans, the Poles and the Magyars. For this reason they are now revolutionary. The chief mission of all the other races and peoples-large and small-is to perish in the revolutionary holocaust.

Author of the above? Friedrich Engels.

From his “Democratic Panslavism” and “Hungary and Panslavism”, as quoted by Diane Paul “ ‘In the Interests of Civilization’: Marxist Views of Race and Culture in the Nineteenth Century” Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 42, No. 1. (Jan. – Mar., 1981), pp. 115-138.

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engels 08.26.07 at 5:13 pm

Keely – I’m not Friedrich Engels.

140

engels 08.26.07 at 5:27 pm

Moreover Keely, I have to say that this is a serious and not to say painful topic–about the question of whether dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima can be morally justified–so if you really don’t have a more worthwhile contribution to that than to drone on in a vaguely ad hominem, and completely irrelevant, way, about the intellectual sins of Marxist founders, something which adds nothing to the discussion but is essentially just a form of personal abuse directed at me, then I think you should just bugger off.

141

Keely 08.26.07 at 6:32 pm

Dear Engels,

In fact it is you who are the latecomer to this thread and with a comment (#127) that added nothing to the discussion but a useless ad hominem about Mr. Kamm. A practice which you then repeated against another interlocutor in comments #134 and #136. So the sum of your contributions to this thread consists of insults to Mr. Kamm and two other entirely serious commenters. My citation of your homonym was meant to point this out. If you’ve made any argument that furthers our understanding of the ethics of dropping the atomic bomb in 1945, I must have missed it. Heed your own advice and bugger off.

142

engels 08.26.07 at 7:08 pm

Keely, describing someone’s comments as “cultural essentialism”, simplistic, and so on, is not ad hominem. Pointing out that Oliver Kamm not in the same league, philosophically, as GEM Anscombe is ad hominem, but it is legitimate. Bringing up, in response to a commenter who uses the screen name “engels”, racist things which Friedrich Engels wrote about the Slavs is not even ad hominem, it is just a pathetic attempt to derail the discussion and smear me, which is not called for by anything I have said here or by my views in general.

As I said above, I have been reluctant to enter seriously into this discussion as it became increasingly dominated by the kind of obnoxious idiots of whom you are an exemplar. Please bugger off and take your miserable apologetics for mass murder with you.

143

Keely 08.26.07 at 8:05 pm

Engels,

“Reluctant”? Obviously not enough. And next time try reading the words actually written (see, in particular, the conclusion of my comment #138) before slurring their author.

As for your screen name, it was you who chose it. In light of your pompous insults and gross mischaracterisations, it doesn’t seem at all inappropriate.

144

Keely 08.26.07 at 8:10 pm

That should refer to comment #128 (not 138).

145

Chris Bertram 08.26.07 at 8:11 pm

Keely – your presence here does nothing for the discussion – you are hereby banned from commenting on any CT posts of which I’m the author. Any comments from you will simply be deleted.

146

J Thomas 08.27.07 at 4:06 pm

Back on topic, I’ll summarise some of the above ideas and add my own.

The primary concern here wasn’t a-bombs but area bombing. If we had had agreements with the germans and the japanese not to bomb cities — we could attempt to bomb factories but not attempt to bomb whole cities at random — then we probably wouldn’t have had the mindset to nuke hiroshima. We would have gone ahead and made nukes in case the enemy made them and used them, but we wouldn’t have nuked cities by default. But we didn’t have that agreement.

We didn’t have the mindset to make that agreement. And that led us into tit-for-tat. I’m not a military historian, but the way I heard the story, in the battle for britain the nazis were making some serious gains in the air war — bombing airfields or something like that — and Churchill looked for a way to get Hitler to make a mistake. Churchill ordered citywide airstrikes on berlin — not attempting any particular military targets, just dumping bombs on the city. Hitler got mad and ordered area strikes on london, and he stopped the attacks which had been effective. And so he lost that air battle. And both sides felt like they needed to bomb enemy civilians to cheer up their own civilians who were upset about being bombed.

And so nukes looked like just the same thing, only easier to do. Our nukes at that time weren’t particularly worse than a successful firebombing attack, just much easier to deliver and more likely to be “successful”.

Then there’s the question why we had to invade if we didn’t use nukes. Why couldn’t we try some alternative? Even if a blockade didn’t work, we could try it for awhile before we started an attack that was estimated to cost us a million casualties. When I think about it, it looks like we didn’t have those choices available. Once we decided to schedule the attack on the home islands we couldn’t just delay it.

“Amateurs think about strategy, professionals do logistics.” The invasion demanded a gigantic supply effort, a careful balancing act. We had to move a tremendous number of men and gigantic amounts of material. It strained our shipping and our warehousing. And it was all planned with paper and typewriters. No computing capacity. Sliderules, not calculators. Anything that disrupted that planning would have ripple effects — maybe tidal wave effects. Put off the invasion for a month and you have to feed all the men who’re sitting at random places in the pipeline, and you have to move up food to replace what they eat, and the guys with the sliderules and typewriters have to reschedule on short notice.

Once the invasion is planned — say, six months of planning and at least six months of actually moving stuff around — then if the diplomats can delay the invasion by two months that’s worth a major battle for the japanese. Not only do they get 2 months to prepare their defenses, but our offense has been thoroughly disorganised.

Once we had half the supplies moving for the invasion, *we could not stop*. Only an actual surrender could justify the bedlam we’d get from delaying. Surrender negotiations that had not yet produced a surrender weren’t enough.

“Mercy is the ability to stop.” We couldn’t afford mercy.

The japanese surrender attempts were inside our OODA loop. We couldn’t pay attention to them because we couldn’t stop the invasion in time. Only the bomb could give us the distraction it took to stop the invasion and plan an occupation without the bloody invasion first.

Could we have gotten around that? Build more transport, more warehousing at every little island we stopped at, ship more reserves of all the supplies we might need…. Maybe we could have planned in a way that gave us more flexibility. It didn’t fit our mindset. We were dedicated to ending the war as quickly as possible. A tremendous number of people had their lives on hold, for the duration, and we wanted it over. So we scheduled the invasion about as early as we could, and we didn’t plan to leave a million men sitting for a few months waiting for the diplomats to dicker, before the negotiations broke down and they could get off of guam and okinawa etc and storm the beaches. Maybe it didn’t have to be that way. But it was almost inevitable that it would be that way.

This sort of thing is not unusual. The way I heard it, when WWI started everybody mobilised their troops. If the other guy attacks and your troops are still disorganised at home, you lose. But then the plan was to move the troops over the railroads, and there was no plan to have them sit in place waiting to move. They had to start moving. And from there — once the decision was made to mobilise the troops, there was no opportunity not to actually start fighting WWI.

After Saddam invaded kuwait, it took us a year to move all the men and supplies into position to attack. Saddam started talking like he was willing to negotiate, but it was too late. After we moved millions of tons of munitions in place we were not going to go home with those bombs unexploded.

Once Bush II had sufficient excuse to invade iraq, it took six months to move the supplies into place. Our logistics have improved a whole lot since WWII, when turkey decided at the last minute not to let us invade through their border, we moved the troops around with barely a hiccup. Saddam talked surrender and Bush wouldn’t let him. We were not going to leave those munitions unexploded.

It’s possible that lots of times, things that later look like moral choices were made earlier, when they looked like mere tactical or logistical choices with no moral dimension.

Imagine you’re in a bar, minding your own business, and somebody comes up and attacks you. You hit him in the head with a beer bottle. He doesn’t fall down so you hit him some more. Later the autopsy establishes that any one of your blows should have knocked him out, and you battered him to death without necessity. But you didn’t know that, in the heat of the moment all you noticed was that he was still standing and he looked like a threat. It wasn’t that you were some kind of monster who wanted to kill an unconscious man. Your moral choice was to defend yourself, and you didn’t notice when that slid into murder. It could happen to anybody.

Our choice to firebomb japanese cities wasn’t like that, it was something we grew into. early in the war when things looked bleak we got a burst of enthusiasm when we could make an ineffective air raid on tokyo. A few planes, bomb the city because they didn’t have the luxury to do something precise. We didn’t consider it immoral when it was our only way to strike back, and we didn’t change our minds later.

But our choice to invade japan despite the predicted horrible destruction when something else might have worked better, was that way. We had to make the plans early before we knew how it would be. Once we were underway we didn’t know how to stop the invasion without messing ourselves up.

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abb1 08.27.07 at 8:42 pm

According to your logic, J, it would’ve been much easier to invade than to drop the bomb and cancel the invasion. How do you cancel an invasion that’s already been planned?!! It’s unthinkable, isn’t it?

Also, I think they (not ‘we’, I don’t have anything to do with it) used area bombing simply because they could. There is no other reason. You need to make a distinction between politicians grandstanding (‘this is moral’/’that is immoral’) and politicians using the means they have to achieve objectives they desire. These are two completely different occasions that have nothing to do with each other. Or, rather, the former is an instance of the latter, but no more than that. Churchill advocated using poison gas in Iraq in the 1920s, for chrissake.

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abb1 08.27.07 at 8:56 pm

Oh, as usual I got carried away and forgot the main point.

I think the problem with your theory about the plans that are too difficult to cancel is that typically they develop all kinds of plans, logistics for any possible turn of events.

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J Thomas 08.27.07 at 9:34 pm

Abb1, they were willing to accept disrupting the plans given the bomb and the unconditional surrender, because they were sure they wouldn’t have to start them up again. Things got kind of disorganised but it was a happy disorganised. They wouldn’t have been willing to make the invasion a lot harder just to first get a few months to negotiate a surrender that might not go through.

And they didn’t do the sort of planning required to invade japan as a “just in case we need to someday” sort of thing. They can do a lot more of that now than they could then, but the claim is mostly for smokescreen purposes. Like, when they train people to do that sort of thing they surely give them exercises. “Plan an invasion of sweden given such-and-such assumptions.” “Plan an invasion of peru given such-and-such assumptions.” Etc. And of course they store the finished homework as if they might find it useful someday. And then when we’re actually planning an invasion of iran, say, and people find out, then they trot out that tired old claim. “Oh, we make all kinds of plans just in case, haha we have plans to invade sweden and peru, it doesn’t mean anything.” Except it does. I’ll put it this way, by the time they’ve shipped a million tons of munitions and gear to support a plan, that plan has become difficult to cancel and it’s very very different from the homework exercises.

You say they did area bombing just because they could. They could have bombed with nerve gas, and they didn’t. They felt it was better not to do that. Goering later claimed that we should have, that it would have ended the war sooner. (I don’t remember whether he said 6 months or a year sooner.) When germany got big oil shortages they switched a big part of their resupply effort to horses. All along the eastern front they confiscated whatever horses they could find. And they limped along that way. But they never got a workable gas mask for a horse. if we’d killed the horses the war would have been over sooner. However, we refused to take that step. We claim we didn’t use poison gas even against the japanese who couldn’t have retaliated. The japanese resuply system got so confused that their poison gas stocks were dispersed and partly forgotten. They trusted us not to use gas even though they couldn’t retaliate, and we didn’t.

I think part of the difference was that chemical agents got used in WWI and the memory was still fresh. Nobody wanted to go through that again. Effective area bombing was not yet available, and there was no consensus that it mustn’t be used. Then both sides did use it, and it would be hard to stop from there. And after the war the americans believed that nukes were our trump to stop the USSR, so we certainly weren’t willing to agree we’d stop doing area bombing at that point.

I’m not claiming that this sort of thing is moral. I’m saying that if you want to avoid it, you have to work things out so you don’t get stuck doing it. If you don’t want to eat pork brains, then don’t go off on a 3-day camping trip with no food except 9 cans of pork brains. Make your choices when they’re easy, not after you’re hungry and you’ve given yourself no good alternatives.

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abb1 08.28.07 at 5:53 am

You have a point with nerve gas. Why didn’t they use it? I don’t know, but I think there must be a logical explanation that Dr. Strangelove would understand, rather than “nobody wanted to go through that again”.

I seem to remember from Slaughterhouse-Five that Germans did carry gas masks around in Dresden, so apparently they fully expected it.

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abb1 08.28.07 at 6:55 am

Also, your ‘happy ending’ hypothesis seem to contradict your Saddam example: Saddam talked surrender – but the plans were already in place and they needed to spend the ammo. No, they don’t want just a happy ending, they want to achieve something and they do what they need to do to achieve it.

Also, I haven’t read all the comments here, but from what I did I didn’t see anything about the role of the Soviets. It’s fairly obvious that the bomb was used at least as much to impress Stalin as the emperor.

It’s not so obvious with area bombings in Europe, but it’s probably a part of the reason there as well. In Europe they wanted to move as far East as possible as quickly as possible to control more territory and leave less for the Soviets.

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