Morality And Real War

By sideways | Related entries in Foreign Policy, History, Military, The War On Terrorism

Hiroshima

I need someone to explain something to me. It’s a moral question, so naturally I need help.

Sixty five years ago we fought a war with Japan following their attack on Pearl Harbor. Within a matter of a few months we were burning down Japanese cities. The Japanese of that era favored wood construction and we dropped incendiary bombs. Later, when the technology became available, we dropped atomic bombs.

You can argue one way or the other whether there were significant, legitimate military targets in each and every case, but let’s take it as granted that there were. Nevertheless, incendiaries in packed cities full of wood houses, I think we knew what would result. I think we knew the firestorms might suck the oxygen from the lungs of children as well as adults, women as well as men, opponents and supporters of the regime alike.

Fair enough so far?

Question: were we right or wrong to do it?

Don’t try to fall back on “war of necessity.” That’s a bullshit distinction. After we had pushed the Japanese back past Midway they ceased being an active threat to the US. We could quite easily, and at far less cost in lives and cash, have instituted a regime of containment. We could have said, “You guys stay on that side of the Pacific, we’ll stay over here and build a huge Navy, and what goes on between you and the Chinese, or you and various French colonies, is your business.”

We didn’t do that. We chased the Japanese all the way back to Japan, burned their country down around their ears, occupied them, put an American general in charge as a demi-god, wrote them a constitution and put a gun to their heads and said, “sign here.”

Were we right or wrong to do it?

Well, it worked out pretty well, didn’t it? Not so well for the people who died, not so well for the people who were burned, but in the grand geopolitical scheme of things, pretty well.

I’m not much of a moralist, I tend to be a pragmatist. And I’m enough of a chauvinist to conclude that in a straight-up choice I’ll value an American life more highly than someone else’s. But I’m not pushing the ends-justify-the-means argument as true in every situation. I’m asking if it was right or wrong to burn Japan in view of their attack, in view of the continuing pillage they’d have inflicted on Asia, and yes, as an element of the equation, the fact that it seems to have worked.

And I’m asking for a reason. Because any time I suggest that we might have to consider a similar form of warfare in dealing with Islamic extremism, Islamofascism, jihadism, call it what you like, I get shocked looks and cries of anguish.

We have two ideas at cross-purposes: First, that we are all in terrible danger, it’s a war for survival, we’re losing, help, help us please God. Second: we’re doing all we can, we can do no more.

Well, we’re clearly not doing all we can, which is what I’d think we’d be doing if we really believed we were in a war for survival. Cry havoc and let slip the puppies of war? I wonder whether we have taken real war off the table. I want to know whether real war is even an option any more. Not saying let’s do it tomorrow, not arguing it’s usefulness in this situation, I’m asking what arrows we have in our quiver.

So, going back to burning down Japan. Setting aside the strategic advisability of it for the moment, setting aside whether it would work, we can debate that another time, could we burn down Islamabad or Tehran or Mecca? Could we in theory? Could we do it and feel okay about it 65 years later? Or are we now evolved past the point where we have the stomach for terrible deeds in defense of our nation?

Is the western way of war, war of annihilation, still on the table? Or not? If not, why do we sttill own thousands of nuclear warheads?

If your answer is no, we don’t do that anymore: were we right or wrong to do it 65 years ago? If wrong, what changed in 65 years? Explain, because as a moral question, setting aside strategy, I don’t get it.

(cross-posted from Sideways Mencken.)


This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 30th, 2006 and is filed under Foreign Policy, History, Military, The War On Terrorism. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

34 Responses to “Morality And Real War”

  1. griftdrift Says:

    Here’s the problem with the comparison and the problem with all the fashionable WWII analogies of late. No matter how much it is spun, we do not face a monolithic enemy ala Nazi Germany or Ubernationalist Japan. We face a segmented, dispersed, at times near invisible enemy. We face sunnis, shia, wahabist and many other “flavors”. Old war strategies simply will not work. This is not a matter of being a pacifist or lack of will or appeasement. This is simply the reality of the situation.

  2. Paul Brinkley Says:

    The fact that people like Sideways keep agonizing over the actions of their country decades later indicates to me that, yes, we did the right thing.

    If the US is filled with people 100 years from now that openly inspect our national morality and love our nation at the same time, then we’re as healthy as ever.

  3. nykrindc Says:

    I think your question is answered by looking at the myriad of conventions passed following WWII. We passed many conventions on the treatment of prisoners, on the targeting of civilian areas, because having experienced that so recently, the generation that wrote them felt that no other generation should have to deal with such atrocities again. That is why we banned the use of so many weapons, including chemical, biological and others. Nukes weren’t banned due to the power configurations at that moment in time, and the emerging conflict of East v. West.

    Also, griftdrift has an excellent poing. The strategies we used against monolithic threats such as Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan (states) will not work against non-state actors such as al Qaeda, and other Jihadist groups. It is not one country, or a group of countries that we are fighting, but rather groups that in many cases are also fighting against their countries of origin. Were we to employ the tactics and strategies used against nation-states in WWII were the whole population was held responsible (a la Israel in Lebanon) all we would do is drive the population to support the Jihadists and their worldview of the emerging war between Islam and the West, thereby strengthening their position and weakening ours by giving the Jihadists more manpower and resources to fight against us. The conflict we are engaged in requires a basic counter-insurgency, counter-guerrilla where we seek to delegitimize our opponents and sideline them while addressing the grievances, real or perceived, of the populations which sprung them (draining the swamp). You kill the Jihadists, you prevent more from forming, delegitimize the ideology and win the war.

  4. DosPeros Says:

    Essentially, your query is regarding collective punishment. We punished all of Japan for the acts of relatively few Japenese. The Israelis punished and will continue to punish all of Lebanon for the acts of a few. Collective punishment may work in a grand enough scale, but it is horrorifically expensive.

    If you are interested read Judge Posner’s post on July 23, 2006 regarding the economics of collective punishment.
    http://www.becker-posner-blog.com/archives/2006/07/

  5. Walrus Says:

    I don’t see it as being a question of collective punishment at all. Not in the slightest. It is a question of weighing alternatives, none of them good. Do you kill the innocents of an evil regime (and the Japanese military regime qualifies) in order to bring it to its knees, or do you allow them to continue, and inflict their damage on other people’s innocents? There is no “right” answer, but sometimes the lesser of evils is the closest you can get to good.

    I’ve answered more fully at Sideways Mencken and on my own blog.

  6. DosPeros Says:

    kill the innocents of an evil regime…in order to bring it to its knees

    That would be the definition of “collective punishment” as I, Richard Posner and Gary Becker are using it.

  7. sleipner Says:

    I think one of the biggest differences between then and now, and between the presumed morality of our actions then and now is the advent of the media.

    Back in WW II, the media was highly controlled by the government (though some might argue the neocons are now controlling it now as well), and the concept of the “free media” was still in its infancy. In other words, publishing pictures of dead babies we had just firebombed was something that never happened, but we did see things saying that Germans put babies on spikes.

    In Vietnam, this changed completely, and people started to understand exactly how horrible the horror of war can be, and that WE were responsible for all those deaths.

    Now, with the media being so pervasive and the internet willing and able to bring out anything the media or the government wants to hide, atrocities are uncovered often days after they occur, and they cause a lot of negative publicity for almost any war anywhere.

    The comments above about non-state actors and such are quite valid, but I think the “shock and awe” war tactic is no longer a valuable strategy for war, as many countries and groups have learned the lesson of Vietnam – a small mobile guerilla force with low tech weaponry can relatively easily make life hell for a large highly trained army, and these forces gain converts by the thousands from perceived imperialist aggression.

  8. Walrus Says:

    DosPeros, I’ve read the pertinent articles at your link, but I’m still not convinced that it is quite the same thing. In your defense, ;o) I may have oversimplified my argument in attempting to keep it brief. I think that the term “collective punishment” would be more appropriate in the deliberate targetting of innocents, as opposed to the “collateral damage” that occurs when targetting infrastructure, for example. The distinction may be a fine one, but relevant nonetheless, I think.

  9. Glen Wishard Says:

    “… what goes on between you and the Chinese, or you and various French colonies, is your business.â€Â?

    Thank God we didn’t tell them that. The Imperial Japanese claimed to be the racial saviors of Asia, delivering the Asian peoples from white colonialism. Exactly as the Marxist revolutionaries of the next generation would claim. Japan was very well versed in Marxist theory and many Japanese officers were dedicated Marxists.

    Rather than saving anybody, of course, the Japanese enslaved every Asian they conquered and massacred Chinese, Filipinos, Vietnamese and Malays with incredible brutality. Again not unlike the Marxists who followed them.

    So giving Asia to Imperial Japan was not a sound moral alternative to bombs and would have cost many more lives than it saved.

    As for mass bombing Muslims, there is a major difference between the Islamic jihadists and the Japanese. The Japanese were an advanced, highly educated society. They had a tremendous industrial capacity (though much inferior to ours) and they were on the cutting edge of technology. Their military capacity was equal or superior to ours during the decisive year of 1942. They were capable of withstanding tremendous punishment, and that’s what it took to bring them down.

    Muslim military performance has been uniformly dismal since the great Saladin died. No conceivable combination of Muslim states could ever mobilize a military force that would match the West.

    Unfortunately militant Islam has very great diplomatic power, based on a combination of oil, bogus guilt over colonialism, anti-semitism, and European fecklessness. That’s what has to be demolished, not a bunch of cities.

  10. DosPeros Says:

    I can live with that distinction, Walrus. Regardless, the issue of cost/benefit as viewed through a moral prism is the issue. If we have to kill 500,000 Muslims, of which 2% are guilty of terrorism, in order to save 5,000 U.S. citizens — is the cost too high. It is a matter of drawing a line and saying “we can live with that”. Harry Truman did just that, like it or not. The problem with moral condemnation either way is that one is positing their own assumptions as truth, when in fact, it is speculation (some brighter than others of course).

    Example:

    After we had pushed the Japanese back past Midway they ceased being an active threat to the US. We could quite easily, and at far less cost in lives and cash, have instituted a regime of containment. We could have said, “You guys stay on that side of the Pacific, we’ll stay over here and build a huge Navy, and what goes on between you and the Chinese, or you and various French colonies, is your business.�

    I don’t think this was so self-evident at the time of dropping the nuclear bombs on Japan. (I don’t think it is quiet that self-evident now). But if it was, gosh, that makes us hardly better than the Nazis in our gorey willness to slaughter innocents, when the alternative is so readily available and cheap.

  11. Justin Gardner Says:

    What sleipner said.

    And by the way, great post Mike and it speaks directly to the idea of why we’re facing the current situation right now.

    My thought is that once we declared “war” on terrorism, we pretty much lost the war right there. Because when we elevated an idea to the status of a country and tried to fight a war that would only work in the 40s, it just didn’t work. Why? Because as Michael has pointed out, you’ve gotta put your foot on their necks and force them to be good. A new democracy is like a child and they’ll try every trick in the book to not follow the rules. But eventually, as most of us realize, if you follow the rules (and figure out the few you can ignore) the rewards are pretty damn incredible. And yes, the media is probably a big reason for us not being able to fight that type of war, but you can’t stop or control the media, nor do you want to. You must play with the hand you’re dealt and the administration has tried to game the system and is starting to see that strategy fail.

    Also as long as people can make little bombs, hop on subways and kill hundreds of people, there’s precious little we can do except try to keep it from happening. It’s tragic, but we need to be smart about our response.

    I feel that the way to fight terrorism is to stay hyper vigilant, keep tabs all known bad guys, protect the borders, develop technology to sniff for bombs in public places, shut down the money and pour hundreds of BILLIONS into coming up with alternative fuel sources so we can bankrupt these corrupt nations and force them to embrace captialism/equal rights or whither away and die. It’s always, always, always about the money and I hope whoever is running in 2008, on either side of the aisle, understands this. Otherwise, they will not get my vote.

    One last thing…the nuke question. This will be the next great question, because how can we honestly keep countries from getting this technology? The answer is pretty straightforward…we can’t. So we’re going to have to come up with better ideas than “This person can not have a nuke.” Any ideas?

    Oh…one last last thing. To answer your question Michael, yes, it was the right thing to do to impose democracy on Japan, but not it was wrong to drop the bomb. I recently watched “Why We Fight” and I agree with Eisenhower that the bomb should not have been used because it simply wasn’t needed.

    Again, great post.

  12. probligo Says:

    There is something that no one has mentioned, and which I think an imperative to the question. It is this -

    Would the bombing of Tokyo, the firestorm bombing, still be considered moral had the Allies not defeated Japan.

    The parallel, the equivalent -

    Do you believe the German carpet-bombing of London and the East End inparticular was a legitimate war action?

    For surely the truth is that the morality of military action depends entirely upon who won rather than the means by which the win was attained?

  13. Jimmy the Dhimmi Says:

    so we can bankrupt these corrupt nations and force them to embrace captialism/equal rights or whither away and die.

    1) No nation full of millions of people will simply wither away and die, unless you plan on starving them to death (we sort of tried that with Iraq for 12 years). What is most important is that all of these corrupt nations must somehow change so as to persecute terror instead of supporting it.

    how can we honestly keep countries from getting this technology? The answer is pretty straightforward…we can’t. So we’re going to have to come up with better ideas than “This person can not have a nuke.� Any ideas?

    2) Do what was said in (1) above first, so that every Islamic nation becomes like Nuclear Britain. Radical Muslims in its midst, yet constantly persecuted with the full power of government.

    A geopolitical paradigm shift is required very soon in the middle east, before every terror state gets nukes. Bush decided Iraq would be where we drive the stake first, and if all the western countries stop whining about 2003 justifications and “root causes” of terror, and instead get behind the current effort, it may very well work.

  14. Lemming Herder Says:

    This has got to be one of the most interesting posts I’ve seen.

    My two cents…

    We responded to a direct act of war from a sovereign nation who made a decision to initiate war as a nation.

    The difference in what is going on today is that we are fighting a war against a nation that did not attack us, in the hopes of killing an idea, which is not connected to any particular regime but rather to a religion and a way of life.

    Apples do not equal oranges.

    A more pertinent question for today would be, Are we justified in waging war on a nation where we knew (not, of they have WMD knew but really knew) Osama was hiding?

    If I trusted our government, and I am finding that harder and harder to do as we go along, and believed not that Osama was hiding in the country but that the nation’s leaders had chosen to give him sanctuary then I believe military action might be permissible. But that is because, effectively, bin Laden declared war on the U.S. and a nation that is sheltering him would be considered a hostile nation. That is why I supported the attack on Afghanistan.

    Iraq didn’t do diddly though.

    Posted by the Lemming Herder from Don’t Be A Lemming!

  15. JLA Says:

    Interesting thread. I notice that despite your request to “Set aside the strategic advisability of it for the moment,” most respondents come back to questions of practicality. This is because the distinction you pose between morality and practicality is a false one. While some idealists might refuse to destroy a city to save the whole Earth, most of us would engage in the kind of cost-benefit analysis that Dos Peros suggests. This, of course, immediately brings issues of practicality back to the table.
    Some nits:
    Paul Brinkley’s argument is basically unsound. He suggests that the existence if a healthy democracy at this date somehow proves that a specific action in the past was morally acceptable. Of course, this line of reasoning retroactively validates every action in the past. Does the comparative health of German democracy justify National Socialism?

    Glen Wishard’s argument is sound and his history accurate, except for the statement “Muslim military performance has been uniformly dismal since the great Saladin died.” Timur Leng, Selim Yavuz, Bayezid II, Babur etc. etc. might beg to differ. This mistake is not very important in this context, however, and does not detract from the basic point.

    Probligo’s argument reflects a level of relativism which essentially rejects the notion of morality, even of the meta-ethical variety. For must of us, Nazi Germany and Britain were not equivalent actors.

    Jimmy the Dhimmi misses the point of Justin’s admirable post entirely, IMO. When Justin suggested that nations would “wither away and die,” I understood him to mean regimes (correct me if I am wrong). You suggest that “all of these corrupt nations must somehow change;” Justin is saying the same thing, but he is a little more specific about the “somehow.” This is not at all a trivial point. You claim that “if all the western countries stop whining about 2003 justifications and “root causesâ€Â? of terror, and instead get behind the current effort, it may very well work.” My question for you is, HOW will it work? Somehow?

  16. Lewis Says:

    Answer to your question – absolutely right to do it.

    Where I think you’re getting confused – we live in a way different time and culture. You’re thinking with your 21st century mind and life experience so no wonder you question the decision. There were at least a million American serviceman and their families who were more than pleased with that decision as it saved them from having to invade Japan and fight a conventional war for who knows how many more years. The terms for surrender were unconditional. Japan could have stopped the war but chose not to. Is that our fault? Maybe in today’s world it would be but not back then.

    In today’s America, it will take a nuke or other WMD mass murder in a major American city to get us to that level of resolve. I’m undecided if that’s a good thing. Restraint is always good but there’s a thin line between that and acting naive and stupid. Are we willing to risk the WMD while we wait for the Islamic states to grow up and act like adults?

    If we wait and the worst thing happens, whose fault is that? Will it be worth it such that 65 years from now people will think we were so wonderful for our patience and restraint or how we chose appeasement because we didn’t want any innocents to be killed? Or will they think we were idiots?

  17. Justin Gardner Says:

    JLA, exactly.

    And Jimmy…people aren’t going to stop whining about a war in which we’re being given platitudes instead of planning. Just in case you haven’t noticed, terrorism has grown since 9/11, not declined, so forgive us if we’re questioning The Bush Doctrine’s take of combating terrorism and its chances for effectiveness. I’m certainly not suggesting it’s responsible for the growth, but if it isn’t curbing it, should we keep doing the same thing? I think it’s become fairly obvious it’s flawed precisely because it’s 1940s era thinking, and we simply can’t get away with what we could back then.

    Again, it’s all about the money. We need their oil so we have to give them money and then they fund terrorism. And if we’re not giving them money, then another country is because, frankly, we tie up a lot of the oil in this country and other countries need it to compete so they have to do deals with states like Iran, etc. We keep focusing on cutting off a different one of the hydra’s many heads, when what we should be aiming for is the heart.

  18. Paul Brinkley Says:

    I don’t think my point was as unsound as JLA makes it out to be. But maybe a little.

    I sincerely believe our culture is blessed, in that it fosters such vibrant introspection on the part of every citizen. We feel as if we inherit the sins and fortunes of our national ancestors as no other nation does. Slavery? Us. Trail of tears? Us. Manifest Destiny? Us. Largest economy on the planet? All us. Every war, every invention, everything. We don’t seem to blame our governments as much as we could. We see ourselves as being in the driver’s seat.

    This means that any national action we take tends to be inspected by everyone with a political axe in excruciatingly detail. That inspection plays forward; we examine every future option in similar detail.

    The actual decisions are made by our delegates, not us, but they are still delegates we choose. A system like that is bound to make as right a decision as it can, nearly every time, and furthermore, is bound to learn from past bad decisions, provided it’s populace keeps its perspective.

  19. Paul Brinkley Says:

    Justin: I wouldn’t take that article as proof that terrorism has grown since 9/11.

    The biggest “gotcha” I see there is “[t]hirty new terrorist organizations have emerged since the September 11, 2001, attacks”. The rest is mainly just analysis of the threat.

    First of all, I’m not convinced that “emerged” means “come into being”. Given language I’ve read in similar reports, it could also mean “became known”. Some of those organizations may already have been around.

    Furthermore, it could well mean that the power of thirty terrorist organizations has grown – but I highly doubt that they grew faster than the power of existing terrorist organizations has declined.

    I’m more inclined to believe what I believed in 2001 – that this will be a decades-long struggle, against not so much an enemy, but a tactic, with which we are newly familar, and that we could be said to be still in the learning and planning stage.

  20. jimf Says:

    I think we did the right hthing in WWII… but saying that, people’s perception of proper warfare has changed. In an all out war between two countries, all is fair IMHO. However, I do not believe we should intentionally target civilians as Hezbollah does… We need to primarily strike military and infrastructure targets…if anything to avoid wasting our weapons. I believe tactical nukes in the proper circumstances may be necessary…for example to eliminate hardened positions/bunkers etc.

    Jim

  21. DosPeros Says:

    Jim – I am in complete agreement. Our attitude towards civilian casualties in War World II was naturally and correctly less sensitive during war, because our bombs were “dumber.” We did not have the fully modern panoply of weapons like lazer guided, GPS programmed missiles of every size and flavor. We did not have the intelligence capabilities that we now have (satellites and unmanned aerial drones) to target the enemy and kill them with a scalpel rather than literally with an atomic bomb. Technology has increased our moral culpability. People who don’t understand that and stand in indignation do not do not understand the nature of war. The war on terror, particularly lends itself to this new mordern moral war landscape, because there are no giant armies awaiting on the unseen otherside of the hill. If it were President DosPeros, as we all know it damn well should be, 90% of military budget would be going to recruit math, computer science and engineer geeks, 10% would go to an elite death quad special forces army. Scale down Iraq to 10,000 special ops soldiers. Dump intelligence agents into the middle east like we did with communist groups here in the US during the 40′s, 50′s and 60′s. Find the terrorist, murder them, radical imans advocating violence, murder them, foreign intelligents agents (Pakistand, Iran, Syria), murder them — a systematically, unrelenting spree – until they are withered down to an endangered species. And then, like .12-gauging a Koala bear in the corner, finish the last ones off. That is the war on terror that we aren’t fighting and should be and at the end of the day, I don’t find it that much prettier than Hiroshima.

  22. BenG Says:

    Thanks for the substanitive debate for a change. One thing that may have changed since the ’40′s is simply the truth. Now I’m not naive enough to think they were all Humphrey Bogart or the Duke [Wayne] back then, but I know from my parents’ way of living that there was a better sense of the ‘Greater Good’, much less selfishness, and I think we were all Americans before we were Dems or Reps. [OK, so I'm a bit naive] They went to church but didn’t feel too special about it, it was just something you did. When their elected officials made important decissions you felt they did it, best they could, for all Americans, not just for the good of the party-it’s so rare to to see that anymore. The war on terrorism must be fought with subtley, stealth, patience, like Dos Perros suggests. Not like it is being handled now. We took a whole world of sympathitic support and turned it into this mess. Why? Does anybody know what an Islamic Fascist is?

  23. Justin Gardner Says:

    Does anybody know what an Islamic Fascist is?

    Some think they do…but is it all buzz words?

  24. probligo Says:

    “Probligo’s argument reflects a level of relativism which essentially rejects the notion of morality, even of the meta-ethical variety. For must of us, Nazi Germany and Britain were not equivalent actors.”

    Not at all JLA – the morality of history is created by the “winner”. That is the point you, and so very many others, have missed. Had the Allies not “won” in WW2, this world would be much different.

    Not better, just different.

    Justin – on the topic of buzz-words.

    I agree with the direction you are facing. It is a small part of the process of de-humanising an enemy.

    Memories of WW2 are still strong enough that “fascist” means much to the public psyche – as it should. Making the connection between that memory of the past and the politics of the present in one word is a powerful propaganda tool; one of the best.

  25. JLA Says:

    Paul,
    You have actually undermined your own original point, which was:

    “The fact that people like Sideways keep agonizing over the actions of their country decades later indicates to me that, yes, we did the right thing.”

    Now you say:
    “A system like [ours] is bound to make as right a decision as it can, nearly every time, and furthermore, is bound to learn from past bad decisions, provided it’s populace keeps its perspective.”

    The existence of “past bad decisions” contradicts your original assertion that our healthy democracy proves the morality of the WWII decisions, which could arguably be called “bad” (although not by me).

    Probiglio,
    You seem to have restated my point while claiming to refute it. If morality is created by the winner, is this not relativism?

    On fascism, I agree with you. In “Islamic fascists” it has lost all of its original sense and now means little more than “really really bad guys.”

  26. CaliBlogger Says:

    Sideways: thanks for the post, its led to a very interesting discussion.

    Some thoughts on the initial question of the “morality” of US targeting of civilian poulations in Japan (and Allied targeting in places like Dresden I would suppose) I think its helpful to view war as a tactic, a tool for the acheivement of some goal (many have also suggested that this is exactly how terrorism should be viewed as well).

    We fought WWII using the specific sort of tool known as “total war”, wherein we sought not just to win mere strategic geographical objectives, but to entirely eliminate our enemies’ capacity to wage, or even contemplate waging war. We were seeking to crush our enemies’ wills.

    Now total war is a terrible thing, a sloppy and dangerous tool indeed, which, once released, will neccesarily will inflict horrendous casualties on civilian populations.

    But if you accept that the defeat of the agressively militaristic and expansionist regimes of Hitler’s Germany and Hirohito’s Japan was an existential imperative for the Allies, and that the tool called total war was the only way to achieve this imperative, then its use was inevitable.

    Is the inevitable subject to “morality”? Can it be?

    I posit that moral considerations were on point only in the decision whether to wage this war, and this sort of war, or not.

    And it seems to me that this applies today, that the overarching moral decisions regarding are made (consciously or not) at the outset of a war.

    Whether to wage war at all. And if so how it should be waged.

    Which is one of the reasons our current adventure in Iraq so pisses me off.

    The decision to go to war is an enormously important moral decision.

    And in a democracy that aspires to morality (and makes rather a point of crowing about it) shouldn’t such a decision be made on the best available information?

    I, and I suspect many Americans feel they were mislead.

    That the administration purposefully exagerrated the immediate threat posed by Saddam’s Iraq.

    That the administration purposely conflated (Bush’s recent disingenuous denials not notwithstanding) Iraq with the attacks of 9/11.

    That the administration consistently low-balled the costs of this war, to our soldiers, to our treasury, and, ironically I suppose, to our moral standing in the world.

    And whether these last were done in good faith or not, I find it particularly galling that NONE of the leadership responsible have been held to account.

    I also find it extremely worrisome that, faced with electoral defeat, Republicans are ratcheting up their rhetoric by conflating our WWII and Cold War struggles, with our current need to defend ourselves against the tactic of terrorism.

    If such comparisons are being made disingenuosly (frankly my hope) then they are merely despicable.

    But if they are being made in earnest then our country is facing moral decisions akin to those which we faced at the outset of WWII.

    I hope the decisions we make are ones our children and grandchildren can live with.

  27. Son0ma Says:

    It’s true that WWII was a total war. Total in the sense that everything was at stake and to lose the war meant literally losing everything. It may also be useful to realize that we didn’t start off firebombing the Germans and the Japanese. That kind of intensive anti-civilian activity didn’t take place until later in the war (not until 1945 for Japan). Perhaps we should view it as an aspect of escalation, frustration, war fatigue, mourning over continued American losses, etc. because that’s what it was.

    Propaganda of the era tended to dehumanize the enemy – particularly the Japanese. Blatant racism was still very evident in the America of those times and the Japanese met all the qualifications to be bitterly hated and despised. Small wonder that our military leaders could make decisions that lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians as long as it fulfilled our objective to end the war as quickly as possible. I seriously doubt that there were many Americans at that time who felt a great deal of empathy for the Japanese dead – that empathy was reserved for the deaths of our own soldiers and there were plenty of those deaths to go around.

    In hindsight, here in the 21st Century it may be easy for us to condemn those actions as murderous and inhumane. Certainly and undeniably they were – but then such is the nature of total war.

    We may be in a total war with Muslim extremists at this time but they have not done us the favor of gathering within the borders of one single nation so that we might descend on them from the sky with firebombs or nuclear weapons. They are minorities hidden and intermingled with civilian populations of several nations around the world. They do not have well organized war machines like the Germans or the Japanese in WWII. They do not have millions of uniformed soldiers equipped with modern weaponry as did the soldiers of those nations way back then.

    Although some amongst us would like very much to include ALL Muslims as the target of our anti-terrorism efforts it simply is not the case. We are not threatened by all Muslims – only a few. However, what does appear to be the case is that too many amongst us still carry the bias and bigotry that helped our forefathers to justify the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.

    Times have changed – people have changed. We must adapt to those changes in order to fight this problem. Relying on our big hammer nukes to deal with a problem that requires surgical technique will not suffice – even if some amongst us would feel vindicated at the thought of using them to destroy those they feel are subhuman or racially inferior.

    We cannot use simple solutions to solve complex problems no matter how gratifying the thought might be.

  28. Son0ma Says:

    To put things in better perspective: We lost nearly three thousand cilivians when Al Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center on 9/11. Since entering the war in Iraq we’ve losted something in the neighborhood of another three thousand dead. Keeping in mind that

    Although ANY DEATH from terrorism is one death too many we are still a far cry from the death tolls of WWII. I have no doubt that the extreme level of carnage during the Second World War lead to decisions that were intended to bring an end to the conflict by any means possible. Horrific decisions were made in the midst of horrible times. Who are we to judge them in hindsight?

    How could we remotely consider, much less justify, using such massive and deadly retribution tactics with commensurate civilan casualties in response to such relatively modest losses?

    Being scared of what terrorists might do isn’t a good enough reason.
    ……………………………………………………………………..

    Actual stats:

    2,726 US civilian Dead from World Trade Center attack

    2,849 US Miliatary Dead in Iraq

    Total American deaths to date: 5575
    ————————————–

    World War II

    United States:

    407,300 Military Dead
    11,200 Civilian Dead

    Japan:

    2,000,000 Military Dead
    600,000 Civilian Dead

    By comparison:

    Soviet Union

    10,700,000 Military Dead
    11,500,000 Civilian Dead

    Germany

    5,500,000 Military Dead
    1,840,000 Civilian Dead

  29. Aziz Says:

    first of all i think it was necessery and on a long term realy good what the american’s did with hiroshima and nagasaki. Now dont get me wrong. I am 100% against the dead of all those women, man and childeren that died because of the atombom. But the japanese people where raised on a surtain way that if sometyhing shocking and scary like the atombom wouldnt have toke place then hoe would the future look like. But seriously what the japs did to the chinese back in 1937 in shanghai and nanking I personally thought it was much worse then the atomboms that america dropped. Now I am from Iraq, have lived there from 1986 till 97-98 and now in holland. Now last night i’ve been reading a book wich says that history repeats himself. And i think thats true only in different ways.

  30. Sarah Says:

    That was a powerful post! I lead me to have the same question you posed! SonOma’s reply was amazing! Thanks to you both for helping me put a few things into perspective.

  31. Nell Gumby Says:

    @Sideways

    I respect your patriotism. I feel your passion and confusion. But I think you’ve missed a valuable point in all this: The Japanese were bombing Darwin in the Northern Territories of Australia – and running amok in New Guinea and other southern Indonesian islands at the very time when you say that they were basically a ‘spent force’ after Midway.

    The fact is, the US had then – as it has today – a powerful military presense (in the form of spy bases, arms depots and naval stations) in Australia at that time.

    Would they just ignore the Jap threat in that part of the world just because the US mainland was no longer under threat? I don’t think so.

    The issue of “should the US have fire-bombed and later nuked Japanese cities”, in my view, is a very mute point. It was done. The Japs surrendered. Today, in 2012, Japan is a thriving economy and a key global trading partner.

    I say… end the confusion. Let it go. it’s “history”.

  32. Johan777 Says:

    @Nell Gumby

    I think it’s important to revisit and discuss historical atrocities such as these. Yes the Japanese were the aggressors, but the American plan was based on a number of assumptions. Most important was the assumption that Japan would surrender following the nuclear attacks. If Japan would not have surrendered there would have been either more nuclear attacks or the invasion of Japan. In my opinion it is reckless for a government to take this kind of action in the face of so much uncertainty.

  33. Angela Says:

    We may have been able to bring Japan to its knees by force, but winning over the populace wasn’t that difficult since many Japanese did not support their military’s actions, nor their ultimate goal.

  34. Angela Says:

    How do you fight a war thats moral and ethical? Who makes the rules anyway?

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