Saturday, August 13, 2005

Hiroshima and Nagasaki Continued

Rather than post an excruciatingly long reply as "comment 19" (or whatever) on my previous post, I'm posting what I also posted on my blog and xanga. I hope it's interesting, or at least provocative. This is probably my last post on the subject, at least for a while. I leave for school Sunday, and will be rather busy helping with orientation, starting a couple part time jobs, etc. Enjoy. =)



I didn't intend to post again about Hiroshima & Nagasaki; but because of both my strong beliefs about the issue and the surprising amount of response it generated, I've decided to post one more time. I'm going to do my best to lay out the problems that most of my readers seem to still struggle with and give what I believe to be the best answers. I admit that I am far from the "Answer Man" concerning this or any other topic; but hopefully I can generate more beneficial discussion and thought with my words.

First, let's discuss the argument that conventional war would have resulted in more total casualties (William, CJ, Matt and Arthenor all touched on this). This is an argument that I discussed previously. However, I believe it deserves more attention because (a) my arguments have apparently been unconvincing, and (b) though I disagree with the conclusions of the argument, I agree that it is a very popular and convincing line of argumentation.

In response to it, I would first like to refer you back to some analysis I made earlier, which attacks one of the implicit premises of the argument above. Essentially, the argument is a utilitarian claim: If Action X will result in less harm than [not Action X], then Action X is justified. In other words, one should evaluate the "rightness" of the nuclear bombings by an ends-based utilitarion criterion.

Unfortunately, while my readers make some really compelling claims as to why a continuation of conventional war would have caused more deaths in the long run, they seem to mostly miss (or implicitly reject, perhaps) my deontological claim that the action is still wrong. In my last post, I talked about the perverse situations that can result from an ends-based mindset, especially with regard to wartime analysis.

Arthenor's response is threefold. He argues first that the situations are "different" (in other words, that starting an unprovoked nuclear war is disanalogous to the nuclear bombings of WWII). My point was simply that if it could be argued that nuclear war is inevitable (or likely to happen sometime in the future), utilitarian reasoning could justify such heinous actions as beginning a nuclear omnicide.

He secondly questions my uncomfortability with making decisions based upon calculation of "likely body counts." I am certainly not rejecting this, which is made clear by my argument that to commit an act that casuses [bad things] is worse than to allow an act that results in [bad things]. Arthenor's response (and one I believe William gave) is that, barring the nuclear bombings, we would have instead invaded Japan, resulting in the killing of civilians anyway.

However, it is imperative to note that this argument creates a false dilemma. It assumes that there are only two possible options: (1) Drop [2] nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki or (2) Continue firebombing and invade Japan. Tony correctly points out that this argument leaves out other options--conditional surrender, for one. In fact, I would argue that there were options that would not have required the United States to take actions that would knowingly result in many civilian deaths.

Another major argument I would like to address is the idea that the United States was already killing innocent civilians through firebombing, etc. The argument more generally posits that the nuclear bombings were not uniquely morally reprehensible; that any ethical concerns against it could be equally applied to other tactics already being used by both sides in the war.

Well... sure. That simply means that the US did another bad thing, not that its other morally reprehensible actions somehow justify all of them. "Two wrongs don't make a right."

Moving on, Arthenor makes an interesting argument that there were really no innocent civilians. His argument is supported by a few claims: (1) Evaluate the act, not the intent (i.e. coercion is irrelevant for determining innocence or guilt); (2) Non-fighting civilians still contributed (sewing shirts for soldiers); (3) There is really no brightline for establishing complicity.

Regarding (1), my response is... well, he's simply wrong. If a man holds a gun to my head and forces me to hand him my brother's wallet, most moral and ethical systems would not hold me at fault, even though I technically had a choice ("Be an unwilling participant in theft or have your brains splattered all over the wall").

On his second argument, he makes a really dangerous slippery slope analogy. I think it's pretty clear that a 34-year-old woman, who sews a button onto a shirt that makes its way onto Hitler's body is not held morally responsible for the actions that Hitler takes. Now, I know that's not Arthenor's intended conclusion. His three arguments are simply fuel for his main conclusion, which is that since we cannot (a) flawlessly determine guilt or innocence or (b) save all innocent lives, our only option left is to "save as many as possible."

But I must heartily disagree with his analysis. First, just because you can't save all (or most) innocent life or create a distinct brightline isn't a reason to completely disregard it. By this reasoning, since our legal system is imperfect and cannot perfectly distinguish the innocent from the guilty, I should ensure the safety of myself and my family and kill anyone I suspect is guilty (vigilante style, baby!). It's not a perfect analogy, but I think my point stands regardless. Applying it to the situation in Japan: If we can't perfectly determine the majority of Japanese citizens' innocence or guilt, we should not simply disregard it altogether.

Keep in mind that Arthenor's conclusion that "well, might as well save our own lives if we can't tell" falls short at the point where invasion or nuclear bombings are not the only two options.

There was a lot more I wanted to say, but I have to get up early tomorrow, and I don't want my post to get any longer. =P I'm guessing there's enough here to talk about anyway. =)

6 Comments:

Blogger Mark said...

The discussion about the atom bomb is fascinating. Personally, I feel Roosevelt's insistance on unconditional surrender forced the Allies to use a lot of unnecessary force and take a lot of unnecessary casualties, but that's just my opinion. Anyhow, could someone help out an ignorant newbie? I don't know how to post.

2:08 PM  
Blogger Tony said...

Well, since the comments haven't been lively on this post yet, I'll throw out one fairly minor objection I have.

First you say:

"Unfortunately, while my readers make some really compelling claims as to why a continuation of conventional war would have caused more deaths in the long run, they seem to mostly miss (or implicitly reject, perhaps) my deontological claim that the action is still wrong."

Then you say:

"In my last post, I talked about the perverse situations that can result from an ends-based mindset, especially with regard to wartime analysis."

This second quote isn't a deontological claim at all. You're objecting to the "perverse situations" that might be caused. This appears to be a utilitarian argument. If you're going to make a deontological argument you have to say "it's just wrong no matter the consequences," once you start referring to consequences you're taking the utilitarian/consequentialist stance.

Nothing profound here. I just like refuting deontological arguments, or showing that they're merely consequentialism in disguise.

7:49 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

I admit that I made a utilitarian argument, but that doesn't undercut my deontological stance at all.

For instance, if I said, "Murder is morally wrong from a deontological point of view, and it also causes XYZ bad consequences," all I'm doing is providing (a) a deontological claim and (b) a utilitarian benefit. I'm not saying that murder is wrong merely because XYZ occurs.

10:30 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

Steve, I find myself at issue with your posts. For one, you sometimes use clear-cut cases with which none would today disagree to conclude the truth of a proposition even as applied to cases from different times that were (and would still be today) far more nuanced and morally ambiguous.

Also, your statement, "if it could be argued that nuclear war is inevitable (or likely to happen sometime in the future), utilitarian reasoning could justify such heinous actions as beginning a nuclear omnicide," is neither here nor there. Deontological reasoning could get you there just as easily. It's the false assumption, not the calculus, that is the problem.

Maybe the difficulty between you and your disputants is part terminology, a difference in the nuance allowed into the definition of wrong, or the difference between "justification" and "excuse" as discussed by some philosophers of criminal law. Or perhaps some confusion about why you want to argue deontologically.

You placed your finger on a difficulty: "I can't imagine a world in which intentionally targeting 200,000 innocent civilians would be justifiable." That you can't imagine it doesn't mean such a world didn't exist in the 1940s; you have to argue that the facts did not make it so. But by saying that, you are either a) implicitly arguing via consequentialism, only to argue that you don't think it is ever justified--in this case, it would be wrong to cloak everything in high and mighty deontology rather than, e.g., some sort of rules utilitarianism; or b) arguing that deontological reasoning gives nonconsequentialist moral justifications for what would otherwise be immoral actions--in that case, at least for me, it's really hard to understand why, exactly, other than our own deeply rooted moral intuitions, such justifications exist.

Is there a "wrong" that you would excuse, such as in the famous ticking time bomb example. Or, regarding real property rights at common law, allowing trespass in cases of necessity (owner can't exclude, though he receive compensation). If there is something you would excuse, why cling to a doctrinaire view of "wrong" instead of adopting a more nuanced, if messier, view?

If you think there is an air-tight logical argument for deontological morality, individual and political, with rules having no exceptions, my ears are open. But I am with Holmes: "general principles do not decide concrete cases"; "a page of history is worth a volume of logic."

9:03 AM  
Blogger Tony said...

Steve-

What exactly is your deontological stance in this argument? And would you really support your stance without regard for consequences?

2:14 PM  
Blogger See Jay run said...

Wow. I just read this on August 27 so I suppose that it won't be revisited, but some really good stuff here guys.

11:06 AM  

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