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January 24, 2014

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"to kinda ascertain, scientifically, what might happen."

I think I just dropped a small [redacted] comment into the spamory hole.

nv, you did and it has been rescued. Thanks for your patience and participation!

Thompson wrote:

"I can't stand in judgement of that type of decision."

Sure you can.

Our conclusions ultimately converge on the decision to drop the bombs, I expect, but Harry Truman had a sign on his desk: "The Buck Stops Here".

Which I take to mean that he made and took full responsibility for the final military decision to preserve your freedom to stand in judgement of his leadership and all civilian and military leadership to follow, and he might privately throw in a "Shut up!" over a martini with Bess if she asked him what he really thinks of history's judgment, but go ahead, take your best shot.

It's the Internet for crying out loud, the biggest advance in collective standing-in-judgment judgmental nuking in history.


would you have been all "Oh, sneaky! I'm upset that you did that, but we had it coming for invading you!", or would you have been screaming bloody murder about cowardly, murderous acts of terrorism?

Two false choices. I would see it as a response to the invasion that was focused on legitimate military targets. But, nice try on the mind-reading.


I don't know how many times this will need said, but jus ad bellum does not jus in bello make.

Ok, last time. There are very few hard and fast rules on war fighting. Other than biologicals and chemicals, nothing you listed was an actual blanket prohibition, because each is riddled with subjective exceptions, perceptions ("I'm sorry, I thought the village *was* defended."), in's and out's. You may see clarity, I see mush (not unlike a lot of other laws).

And the mush I see allows for a moral calculus in determining how war is waged. For example, if a belligerent did not destroy crops and lay waste to the countryside, as act of restraint, if I were opposed to that belligerent, I would order similar self-imposed limits even though the opposite would be within the rules of war.

And, BTW, nothing you quote is conceptually all that sophisticated. It is simply a subset of the general class of 'use of deadly force' jurisprudence that has developed over centuries.

If an opposing belligerent takes the slightest pretext to impose civilian casualties, and if replying in kind or even drastically escalating *as a means of forcing moderation* seems advisable, my moral calculus would come into play in making that analysis.

You might call this an aspect of proportionality, but that is just a label. Figuring out that wars should be fought within limits, and that the conduct of the belligerents can define the limits was not a huge intellectual leap, even for someone who doesn't do what you do daily.


McK, please stop.

Gladly. I'm done.

Count:

""spectacular" was NOT cleek's word"

I didn't say it was. It's actually in the document he quoted, as well as the additional material you provided.

I simply said that I didn't think his phrasing was an entirely accurate portrayal.

The rest of your post kinda of hinges on that ?misunderstanding?

Count:

"Sure you can."

Fine. I could. I am capable of judging things arbitrarily.

I can not do it with any level of reasonableness, and, therefore, I choose not to.

My hinges are loose.

There are three different things that should not be confused
1) Was the decision the 'correct' one?
2) Were the reasons given the real reasons or were they totally or in part a pretext?
3) Were the reasons right or wrong?
Each point can and should be discussed separately

My own subjective answers:
1) probably yes
2) mixed reasons and only some were admitted publically
3) At least partially wrong

In other words, I think it was a legitimate decision in that situation and probably saved more people longterm (by making a nuclear war visibly unacceptable morally) but a number of the decision-makers were dishonest about their reasons and some of those reasons were not legitimate but despicable. If I believed in the heaven/hell paradigma, I'd say some of them went down for it while others got a pass depending on the personal reasons that let them vote pro nuking.

I'm still not entirely sure whether what's a issue here is:

a. Are there really fncked up circumstances under which targeting civilians is the best possible action, or not?

or

b. Did we not do such a thing, at least not on purpose, or did we?

My not-at-all-authoritative opinion is that we did purposely target civilians, but that doing so was at least arguably the best thing under the circumstances.

There was no "good" choice morally, but that's no reason to pretend we did something other than what we did when we picked the least sh1tty thing to do.

(I have to say, it seems icky to think that I believe reasonable people can disagree on whether or not we should have, say, killed lots of children. I'm just not smart enough to find a logical way of avoiding that.)

Determination not to target civilians requires distinguishing between the government of the country which attacked you and the people of that country. Which requires more sensitivity to how, specifically, the rest of the world differs from us. Not exactly Americans' strong suit.

Maybe I should add that I'm referring specifically to dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I'm pretty sure that we've targeted civilians when it wasn't the least-bad thing we possibly could have done, among many other not-least-bad things we've done.

To repeat my quote from cleek's link, the three general criteria for picking an a-bombing site were "the following qualification: (1) they be important targets in a large urban area of more than three miles in diameter, (2) they be capable of being damaged effectively by a blast, and (3) they are unlikely to be attacked by next August."

So, "important targets" but not so important that they have already been targeted, and indeed wouldn't be targeted for around three months (at least). And "in a large urban area." Why is this necessary, if not to specifically target civilians?

Three items here: army depot, port of embarkation and urban industrial area--all three are bona fide military targets.

oh for chrissakes. you're arguing against the people who made the actual decision. they are talking about maximum psychological impact, they are talking about showing what 'the gadget' could do. they weren't trying to degrade military capabilities. they were making a statement. it's the same statement they were making with the firebombing, but on a far far bigger scale.

they actually wrote:
"any small and strictly military objective should be located in a much larger area subject to blast damage".

ie. if you can find some military targets, make sure there's lots of other stuff around them that will be destroyed, too - don't waste the bomb on some isolated military targets - they wanted to make it count.

the entire city of Hiroshima wasn't a military target. their own words make that clear. what they set out to destroy, which included, along with the many tens thousands of dead civilians and their city, was a strategic target. it was one that would convince Japan and the rest of the world that we meant business. it was not a military target: it was a city full of people. not soldiers. it wasn't a barracks. it was a city the size of Buffalo, NY.

But I don't think "killing as many people as possible, in as spectacular a fashion as possible" is a particularly accurate portrayal of the decision to deploy nuclear weapons at Hiroshima.

read the document.

McK:
But, nice try on the mind-reading.

Glad I could return the favor.

And, BTW, nothing you quote is conceptually all that sophisticated. It is simply a subset of the general class of 'use of deadly force' jurisprudence that has developed over centuries.

Wow, really? Common law nations derived law from existing legal traditions?!?!? Will wonders never cease?

(Though I'd add that an awful damned lot of conceptually sophisticated laws can be dismissed as simple by performing straightforward, uninformed readings of them w/o considering how they're interpreted and used. Look at e.g. most of the Constitution.)

Other than biologicals and chemicals, nothing you listed was an actual blanket prohibition, because each is riddled with subjective exceptions, perceptions ("I'm sorry, I thought the village *was* defended."), in's and out's.

Chem/Bio has ins and outs too; so does that mean there's no blanket prohibition on that either because they specify what is and is not considered a chemical weapon in this context? Also: by your, um, interesting assertion above, the fact that MISTAKES can happen means there are no hard-and-fast rules?!?!? Fascinating.

I omitted them as beside-the-point, but had you examined the linked FM there's also prohibitions on assorted other arms judged to cause "unnecessary suffering" (e.g., dum-dum rounds), and every time the DoD pushes out a new weapon, there is a legal review to make sure said system complies. Hmm. How are these not blanket proscriptions? Please tell me it's because there's exceptions, ins and outs, etc.; it's so cute to hear a profession that defining what exactly is proscribed means that said defined item isn't really being proscribed. Should I infer that only vague, broad, ambiguous, and conspicuously uninterpreted definitions are actually hard-and-fast, black-and-white blanket definitions? I'm having trouble reaching any other conclusion, though that seems like it'd invite all kinds of criticisms involving them being too subjective and subject to perception...

I also omitted, because again it seemed redundant, a pretty well-and-clear straightforward prohibition on poison. I'm curious how that's not "really" a blanket prohibition.

And there are other straight-up prohibitions, too. Multiple classes of perfidy are out, though perhaps it being narrowly defined means you'd say "no it isn't, there's exceptions and interpretations!" (or perhaps you wouldn't; I'll try to leave the Carnac penalties for you).

And very much to the point, intentional targeting of civilian targets is explicitly prohibited. No subjective exceptions, perceptions, ins and outs. Not unless you want to return to the realm of your earlier claim in re: mistakes, such that if it's possible for someone to (willfully or otherwise) misclassify someone as a non-civilian, there's not REALLY a proscription against attacking them. In which case you're not far from an argument that theft isn't really prohibited by the law, because there can exist no blanket prohibition of it without subjective exceptions, perceptions ("I'm sorry, I thought they *gave* me their car."), ins and outs. The fact that the law allows for someone to lend their car doesn't mean it's not prohibiting theft.

McKinney, seriously, you led in arguing that "military necessity" and "proportionality" were insidious pretexts used politically by people without skin in the game to criticize those who did have it after-the-fact, which, again, is a novel POV. You've backpeddled forward from there with authoritative blanket claim after authoritative blanket claim that don't correspond to the living practice of the law of war (with a generous side of barbs, self-righteousness condescension, and mindreading that certainly contributed to the escalating deterioration of my tone, but that I hadn't previously called you out on). Your final word on the subject was "You may see clarity, I see mush (not unlike a lot of other laws)" - it's telling. Leaving aside truly mushy laws, the laws that seem the mushiest are the ones where one isn't familiar with the common understanding of them - and law of war is bad about this because of how much is dragged in alongside conventional LoW by customary law of war. But that to one side, terms of art are terms of art. That someone wants to see mush doesn't make e.g. the distinction between larceny and wrongful appropriation a meaningless mush of "ins and outs" - it means that those who work with this crap have an understanding of what it conventionally means. You know this, I know this. And yeah, the fact that it's not spelled out in excruciating detail means sometimes you'll have slimy weasels (cf. John Woo) who will carve new "understandings" out of "mush" by ignoring conventional ones. That doesn't mean there wasn't a hard and fast definition. It means they ignored it and found a justification for their preferred interpretation. And then managed to avoid blinking if they got called out on it. The fact that something is not explicitly spelled out to the nth degree such that it can be readily and unambiguously interpreted by a person not familiar with it doesn't mean it's "mush" - especially when faced with someone given to calling anything that does try to be more explicit a meaningless mess of exceptions and "ins and outs".

BLUF, legal strictures exist in the United States on use of military force. The DoD is aware of these, and takes them into consideration in creating its rules, regulations, and suchlike. I think they should continue to do so (if anything, more strictly), you appear to think their doing so is "morally and practically wrong", possibly even at the level they're doing now, but certainly at the level some nations' readings of our treaty obligations would entail. Fine. As neither one of us are in a position to make our wishes come true, we can leave it at that.

And "in a large urban area."

Yeah, if you have a weapon that makes a really large explosion, it's kind of a waste to use it on a solitary facility in the middle of nowhere. Big explosion; you want a big target.

Not really revelationary, I think.

Which isn't to say that there haven't been any good points made here, because saying that would be the opposite of truth.

"My sense is that any and everybody, when the shooting starts, plays by the principal rule of expediency, and justifies their actions after the fact. So, why limit it to Westerners?"

First, if you're tired of arguing and feel outnumbered, feel free to ignore my comment. I never have enjoyed arguing in threads where I'm outnumbered and don't imagine you care for it much either.

Anyway, my point is not that Westerners are worse than other people--my point is that Westerners are much the same as other people. i'm trying to undercut the claim that terrorism as used by others is a tactic we would never stoop to using.

I do think we've gotten less brutal in our tactics in recent decades, partly from public pressure, and more precise technology, but also because we realize carpet-bombing doesn't win guerilla wars unless one is willing to destroy the country and call that a victory. Even the Bush Administration realized it couldn't dump millions of tons of bombs on Iraq and Afghanistan, though we did dump millions of tons of bombs and artillery shells on South Vietnam a few decades earlier. Consequently the number of civilians killed by American forces in Afghanistan was far less than in Vietnam (this is probably also true in Iraq, but there's such a wide range of death toll estimates the argument is fuzzier). But if we were in a situation where it was "kill enemy civilians or be conquered", we'd kill enemy civilians and in large numbers if it was deemed necessary. I think we also still target civilians, but in plausibly deniable ways--for instance, with the targeting of civilian infrastructure in the Gulf War, with the idea that postwar sanctions would prevent or hamper repair and give us leverage. The idea is to cause civilian suffering and deaths, but all the time one could just blame it all on Saddam. We would never accept this for one moment if Arab countries could somehow impose such a policy on Israel, let alone ourselves. We'd call it for what it was, an attack on civilians.

"read the document."

I did, and I'm still not summarizing it as "killing as many people as possible, in as spectacular a fashion as possible" but YMMV.

"don't waste the bomb on some isolated military targets"

Because that would have basically the same effect as a demo...potentially none at all.

There are lots of things they could have done with a nuke, including nothing. Every single option they had involved unknown numbers civilian and military casualties.

Other interpretations of the document:

Sundance Kid: I can't swim.

Butch Cassidy: Can't swim? Hell, the fall alone is going to kill you.

Or:

There will be some people who are going to get .... and we use this term delicately ... hurt.

Make it look like an accident. It hadda be done.

Or:

A single death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic. Anything in between, not so much either way.

This has been a crackerjack thread. Except for the debate between McTX and Nombrilisme Vide (who, by the way, has my current favorite blogging handle), it's not so much an argument about the what and the how, but a disagreement about how to word the press release.

This link is pretty concise regarding the thinking about using nuclear weapons going on in the Roosevelt/Truman administrations at the time:

http://www.mphpa.org/classic/LC/decision_to_drop.htm

I've skimmed it. Will read more closely later after I finish an amazing history of the events leading up to the Civil War and the war itself: "Battle Cry Of Freedom" by James McPherson.

Had nuclear weapons existed at the time, I think I know which side would have used them first.

There are lots of things they could have done with a nuke, including nothing. Every single option they had involved unknown numbers civilian and military casualties.

they could've dropped it on whatever large group of Japanese ships they could find. they could have dropped it on any number of island outposts. they could have dropped it on a port. Hiroshima had a big port; the bomb was targeted in the middle of the city, not on the port. the document tells us why.

they dropped it in the middle of a city of 300,000 because it would make a psychological impact. and the reason it made such a psychological impact was because it killed so many civilians in such a dramatic fashion.

and while the exact number of civilian casualties was unknown, it was guaranteed to be as large as possible because they dropped it in the middle of a city of 300,000, and not on a strictly military target. and it was intentional.

OK, cleek, let's try a little thought exercise. Suppose that the nukes had not been dropped, or only dropped on a group of ships out in the ocean where nobody much was around to see them. What would have been the course of the war?

Well, on the evidence at the time, the Japanese would not have surrendered any time soon. There would have been an invasion of the home islands, starting with naval bombardments and featuring hundreds of thousands of Allied troops storming beaches on one island after another. And resisted, not only by the Japanese Army but by the general civilian population as well.

How many casualties (Japanese and American) would have resulted? Take a wild guess . . . or consult the estimates made at the time for Operation Downfall. Hint: if you come up with any number under 100,000, just for Allied casualties, you aren't even close.

What would have been the course of the war?

we don't know. we can't know.

we do know what actually happened and we know why it happened. and we also know that the claim that the allies didn't target civilians is not true. they did.

i said above that there was justification for the bombing (to bring an end to the war). that doesn't change the fact that the targets were chosen in order to maximize the damage and psychological impact on the Japanese civilian population, because they were.

At least that seems to be a rather straightforward thing: Use one on a military target, preferably one within sight but not explosion range of a large population centre. And announce it in advance (though not with an exact time and place). When that warning shot had not shown the desired effect, the second (wasn't there one (unassembled) more in reserve?) could have been used on a city with the threat that there was more of that in stock.
One could argue in both directions. Iirc parts of the military did not care even after Nagasaki and would have fought on without the intervention of the emperor, so for them it would not have mattered what got hit by the first bomb. On the other hand news of an explosion next door (e.g. the harbour of Hiroshima instead of the city center) would be nearly as easy/difficult to suppress as one of it within a city.
The alternative could have been a city already target of a previous conventional attack and therefore with an already reduced population.
Psychology was one part but the test aspect should imo not be neglected. And for that an intact densely populated place was of course far more suitable.
Btw, what would have been the cost (in money and lives) to delay the invasion for 1-3 months (given that the conventional bombing campaign was going on all the time)?
How long would it have taken to get one or two more bombs ready? All these are additional fcators that should be included in the calculation.

I was just reading And the river flowed as a Raft of Corpses, which are the translated tanka of Tsutomu Yamaguchi, a survivor of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He was working for Mitsubishi on a short term assignment in Hiroshima and was just leaving Hiroshima to return to his home in Nagasaki on Aug 6th. After he and three other Mitsubishi employees crossed the city, witnessing the effects of the bomb, they were able to get on a refugee train to Nagasaki. He went to the Mitsubishi company hospital, was treated, and went back to his family, but after seeing them, he insisted on going to the head Mitsubishi office on Aug 9th to explain what had happened to him and to Hiroshima. His superiors and co-workers didn't believe him and he quotes one of them as saying "How could a single bomb destroy a city as huge as Hiroshima-You're an engineer, think about it. You've had a serious injury to your head. You're not thinking straight" Then, at 11:02 am, the second bomb was dropped and Yamaguchi went outside to be greeted by his second mushroom cloud.

Yamaguchi was also fired by Mitsubishi for not showing up to work.

Well thanks for yet another demonstration that American exceptionalism is alive and kicking. Let's hope with Hegel that the cognitive dissonances it causes will eventually lead to its implosion and make way for something more mature and humane.

But first the contradictions have to be heightened and that will not be pretty.

"His superiors and co-workers didn't believe him"

And this is an aspect of a why an isolated military target may not have worked. Or sinking a fleet (although Japan's navy was pretty badly damaged at this point). Or dropping it off the coast.

cleek,

I'm not trying to argue about whether or not the military knew they were killing civilians. Its pretty obvious they knew that upfront.

I'm saying the Hiroshima had military value, and like I told Hartmut upthread, maybe that's figleafy. I'm certainly not contesting that the entire city (including civilians) was the target.

What I'm saying bothers me is that I don't see other good options at that point. The more focused, more entirely military targets ran risk of having minimal effect, and being right where you were before deployment.

And you could make an argument that we shouldn't have dropped it at all. But that carries its own problems of extending the war, either by invasion or attrition, would potentially have larger civilian and military body counts.

What I dislike about your one line summary is that it dispenses with all those concerns and calculations. It disregards the ethical dilemma of a known evil versus a potentially much larger unknown evil.

It's an ethical dilemma for me, and I'm loathe to say it wasn't for any of the decision makers. I don't see a clear "right" answer, so I'm not going to sit in judgement of the people that made it.

That's all I'm saying. I'm trying very hard not to get pulled into the larger debate going on between NV, McK, you, and others.

Also, as a side note, isn't it a little ironic that a thread about "why there is no memorial of the firebombing of Tokyo" turned into a discussion on the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

thompson, I think you're having the wrong argument with cleek. He wrote this in his last comment (emphasis mine):

i said above that there was justification for the bombing (to bring an end to the war). that doesn't change the fact that the targets were chosen in order to maximize the damage and psychological impact on the Japanese civilian population, because they were.

The Count's link is pretty interesting.

Seems like, once it was confirmed that the bomb actually worked, they should have revisited their approach more than they did, since decisions were made based on the worry that the bomb might not work (in particular, warning the Japanese about it).

HSH:

Thanks, yes, that's part of what I was saying. I don't really have any disagreement with cleek, except maybe a minor one in that I don't like how he phrased something.

I ask myself, when I'm reading histories of warfare, what all the fighting and the killing and the body bags were for.

Now I know:

http://www.newyorker.com/humor/issuecartoons/2014/02/03/cartoons#slide=7

It's an ethical dilemma for me, and I'm loathe to say it wasn't for any of the decision makers. I don't see a clear "right" answer, so I'm not going to sit in judgement of the people that made it.

and i'm trying not to, either. i wasn't there. my perspective is not theirs.

but 'we' did what we did. let's own up to it.

Also, as a side note, isn't it a little ironic that a thread about "why there is no memorial of the firebombing of Tokyo" turned into a discussion on the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

yeah. (and the German civilians should get a solemn nod here, too. and the British.)

the a-bombs were just far more dramatic than the firebombings. so they clarify certain issues.

war is hell. things get out of hand. desperate times, etc. i get that. my real point here is that we really should admit that, despite the rhetoric and post-facto history-making, civilians really do end up on the target lists, eventually. we're not angels. we bring horror, if we think horror is called for.

Yes, that's the conventional wisdom.

I'm hoping you can expand on this a bit.

Sure. I have no doubt that Japanese industry was decentralized at the job-shop and small subcontractor level, so that every little machine shop, or small textile plant making uniforms, etc., which burned in an incinerated urban square mile after firebombing, did reflected a degradation of Japan's war-making ability.

But, I really don't think that's why LeMay targeted the cities for destruction the way he did. As with the dropping of the atomic bombs, I think the rationale for firebombing cities was a demonstration to the Japanese government and people that if they kept resisting we had the capability and the will to destroy Japan completely, i.e. to bomb them back into the stone age.

I see LeMay's decision to use the B-29 force the way he did after "daylight precision bombing" of Japan proved impractical--due to the jet-stream, wear and tear on the bomber force from sustained high altitude operations, fighter opposition, which did cause casualties, though nowhere on the German scale, etc.-- as a parallel to Truman's own decision "drop the bomb" when conventional bombing proved insufficiently persuasive.

In both cases the American war economy had devoted extraordinary resources to developing both the B-29 force and the A-Bomb. The temper of the times was such that there was no way any military leader in LeMay's or Truman's position could not have used these air weapons to the maximum extent possible.

As I see it, the prospect of a land invasion of Japan by Allied forces was simply unthinkable if it could be avoided by aerial assault, because of the enormous casualties our side would suffer. Nobody on our side wanted to go after Japan on land, and risk a nationwide fight on the model of Iwo Jima or Okinawa, if it could possibly be avoided.

That, plus inter-service rivalry, is why I think LeMay pursued the firebombing campaign the way he did. I view the "decentralized small machine shop" justification as window dressing for total war (even if there was truth in the assertion.)

In the context of 1945 the firebombing was understandable, though obviously horrible. That's my main point.

Thanks Redhand. I'm not sure if I agree with that 100%, I think the US was actually surprised at how resilient the Japanese were in terms of manufacturing (toward the end of the war, they were distilling airplane fuel from pine trees and sweet potatoes) Of course, that was also the case in North Korea and Vietnam as well, so it's not much of an excuse.

The Germans got their rocket fuel from potatoes too (and some plastics from milk for that matter. Coal to butter worked less well and got fed to concentration camp inmates with nasty results). The Americans may have been the only ones that had not to resort to this kind of improvisation due to shortage of critical resources. That may explain their surprise.

cleek:

sorry about that, I got hung up on a small bit of phrasing.

"but 'we' did what we did. let's own up to it."

I agree. I think we must carry the burden of everything done in our names, much of it evil, much of it necessary. But its something that we should hold on our conscience.

i wasn't there. my perspective is not theirs.

I wasn't there either, but I attempt to figure out what their perspective was, because they were involved in a war that brought the world from 50 to 80 million deaths. Civilians were estimated to have been more than half of that. The atom bombs killed fewer than 200,000. Counting is gruesome and ghoulish, but everybody knew that there with or without the bomb, there were going to be a lot more dead people, probably more than 200,000.

but 'we' did what we did. let's own up to it.

I don't know anyone who denies it. Does anyone seriously deny that Truman or his advisors knew that these were cities which were occupied by civilians?

yeah. (and the German civilians should get a solemn nod here, too. and the British.)

Maybe a few other nods as well. In fact, look at the chart here entitled "Human losses of World War II by country". There are two columns for civilian deaths.

Finding the most effective way to stop the slaughter was the right thing to do. Owning up to it is not a problem for me.

I don't know anyone who denies it. Does anyone seriously deny that Truman or his advisors knew that these were cities which were occupied by civilians?

that's not my 'it'.

I don't know anyone who denies it. Does anyone seriously deny that Truman or his advisors knew that these were cities which were occupied by civilians?

No. But the issue on the thread was whether or not killing civilians was part of the strategy rather than an unavoidable side effect. Both Ugh and cleek provided evidence that it was, in fact, part of the decision to drop the bombs where they did.

It seems most of the commenters on the thread, including me, were okay with that under the circumstances (to the extent you can be "okay" with doing a really terrible thing, even though the alternatives were likely to lead to things even more terrible).

At least one commenter denied that killing civilians was even an integral part of the strategy, and that doing so was simply an unavoidable consequence of the only viable way of doing sufficient damage to militarily useful infrastructure.

Isn't it a distinction without a difference in a situation (such as that one) where it was obvious that civilians were going to die in large numbers either way? If they'd had an effective option that didn't include killing civilians, that would be a different matter.

Isn't it a distinction without a difference

No, it's not. It's a question of intent.

We need to bomb a particular place, unfortunately a lot of civilians will be killed.

We need to bomb a particular place and part of the reason for choosing that place is *because* a lot of civilians will be killed.

Could be the same result, however the intention is different.

We need to bomb a particular place and part of the reason for choosing that place is *because* a lot of civilians will be killed.

Again, that depends upon whether there was an option not to kill as many civilians. That was not an option. If the "spectacular" and frightening nature of the atomic bomb was intended to make people become quickly resigned to the fact that they would lose, and encourage them to surrender, that seems to me to be a legitimate goal, given that sparing civilians did not seem to be an option.

Also, I'm completely in favor of the concept of sparing civilians, and wouldn't be one to support ignoring that longstanding convention. However, to be realistic about it, human beings are all valuable, and many soldiers volunteer because they're either dutifully (or maybe zealously) representing their people (along with its cultural values) or because they were drafted.

The choices that seemed available justified making a dramatic case for ending the war quickly by instilling fear with a spectacular show of strength. Recognizing the tragedy of war and violence (including garden variety domestic violence) is an appropriate response. Judging harshly the morality of people who were trying to end the war, especially against a very brutal ideology that itself sought to exterminate people seems extremely inappropriate to me.

I have no doubt that had our adversaries developed that weapon, it would have been used against the Allied powers. I'm glad we didn't wait to see.


especially against a very brutal ideology that itself sought to exterminate people

Again, just for emphasis, genocide was on the to do list of the Axis powers, and in some cases was pretty well checked off. It had to stop.

Sure. But if we're going to talk about forseen-but-unintended consequences, that applies here too. We didn't enter the war to stop genocide.

We didn't enter the war to stop genocide.

By that time, we knew about it for sure. The truth validated a lot of people's preconceptions, and made victory all the more important.

(To clarify, my "sure" is agreeing with the immediately-preceding comment, not the preceding-but-one comment, which I can't agree with. Saying that there was no intent to kill multitudes of civilians because we had decided on a course of action that would require us to kill multitudes of civilians is kinda equivocating the intentionality of the act out of existence.)

Nom. v. your 8:35 makes no sense.

... the Japanese slaughtered as many as 30 million Filipinos, Malays, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Indonesians and Burmese, at least 23 million of them ethnic Chinese.

We definitely know that they weren't particularly concerned about civilians, and that losing the war was not an option.

Saying there was no intent to kill large quantities of civilians because we had decided on using a weapon in a psychological manner that could only be highly effective in that regard if it had high civilian casualties is pushing the intentionality to carry out the course of action up a level into the calculus that determined how the weapon would be best used. That means we can't just take said calculus as a given IOT say there was no intent, which is what your 7:10 appears to be doing. There was a decision to use the bombs in a manner deemed to be the most effective psychologically. Accordingly, there was a conscious decision to target civilians. That's all. Was it the best choice of a number of bad choices? Possibly. Perhaps even probably; the arguments for that are reasonably convincing. But it still was a conscious choice to target civilians, and there was definite intent that it be used in a manner that would assuredly cause mass civilian casualties. It was not foreseen-but-unintended. It was both foreseen and intended.

(If this seems at all like meaningless/confusing quibbling over nothing, I wouldn't dream of holding it against you. As a consequentialist, I've always found the doctrine of double effect to be both mildly incoherent and thoroughly repugnant.)

There was a decision to use the bombs in a manner deemed to be the most effective psychologically. Accordingly, there was a conscious decision to target civilians. That's all. Was it the best choice of a number of bad choices? Possibly.

"That's all" seems to contradict the possibility that it was "the best choice of a number of bad choices."

So, right, it does seem like a "meaningless/confusing quibbling over nothing." People live in the real world and make decisions according to their interests, but (we always hope) tempered by morality. This one seems like a no brainer to me. The rest of the Chalmers Johnson article that I linked to seems far more troubling and worthy of controversy.

"That's all" seems to contradict the possibility that it was "the best choice of a number of bad choices."

Well, no. Again, I'm trying to argue from an ethical standpoint I don't actually subscribe to, so please bear with me if I wax incoherent. It was the best choice for maximizing the possibility of minimizing overall civilian, but that doesn't mean it can still be considered a good choice. Ethical theories that would make such a distinction about intent can find themselves in situations where "you can't get there from here" - the only morally permissible choice, the only one untainted by evil could be viewed as using the bombs in a psychologically non-optimal manner (i.e., in a manner that did not assure mass civilian casualties would occur), per the calculus determining how the psychological impact would be maximized. Hence, if you subscribe to such theories, it's useful to make this distinction, as it admits that the people may have done something good (reduce overall civilian casualties), but they did so by bad means (intentionally ensuring mass civilian casualties). Per such an ethical outlook and calculus, at a minimum the first bomb should have been dropped in such a manner as to not ensure mass civilian casualties in order to have done something good by good means, even though the calculus of efficiency deemed this to be less likely to succeed in bringing about the good end of reduced overall civilian casualties. It would be more "moral" for the actor to refuse to use bad means even if it meant increasing the risk of the good end never being achieved.

(The appeal of such a moral outlook may seem irrational in this case, but it's far, far easier to see in more commonplace examples; e.g., a terrorist bombing targeting civilians vs. strategic bombing where it's "foreseen but not intended" that civilians die. One easy way to keep this more palatable judgement while not being forced to accept what might seem like an irrational one in the case of Little Boy was demonstrated upthread: refusing to admit that mass civilian casualties were ever intended, as opposed to merely foreseen.)

If the "spectacular" and frightening nature of the atomic bomb was intended to make people become quickly resigned to the fact that they would lose, and encourage them to surrender, that seems to me to be a legitimate goal, given that sparing civilians did not seem to be an option.

I don't think anyone is disputing this.

I don't want to speak for cleek, but if I understand his comments here correctly, his point is simply to point out that, for various reasons including those you name here, deliberately targeting civilians was part of the reason for choosing the nuclear strike targets.

That's not to argue that it wasn't the best possible choice, however regrettable, it's to counter McK's claims upthread.

cleek will (I hope) correct this if I'm mistaken.

I guess the concept of "targeting civilians" loses its meaning when there's no chance of sparing civilians.

sapient: "I guess the concept of "targeting civilians" loses its meaning when there's no chance of sparing civilians."

And you know this how?

"We didn't enter the war to stop genocide."

"By that time, we knew about it for sure. The truth validated a lot of people's preconceptions, and made victory all the more important."

This reminds me of the debate surrounding whether Lincoln entered the Civil War to vanquish slavery or preserve the Union.

It is only to the extent that genocide (that has changed somewhat since the mid-20th century, with dubious results) contributed to threatening our national self-interest that it was figured into the calculus (there's a reason why the adjective "cold-blooded" is used with the noun "calculus") of winning and ending the war, any war.

If we're talking about the European Holocaust, Americans at large had many preconceptions about Jews that didn't lend themselves to permitting Roosevelt to declare that we were fighting to free the Jews.

I'm ashamed to admit that I have relatives (now dead) who, despite their hatred for the Hun, thought, over drinks and loose conversation, that Hitler may have been on the right train track with is hatred toward the Jews.

As to the Japanese Holocaust throughout Asia, I don't believe that would have even been on the radar without Pearl Harbor, as Yamamoto knew.


"I don't think anybody is disputing this."

I certainly am. With that type of logic you can justify anything and the whole concept of jus in bello falls by the wayside.

I certainly am. With that type of logic you can justify anything and the whole concept of jus in bello falls by the wayside.

Actually, not. The "whole concept" of jus in bello has to be discussed case by case, as does most human behavior. Bright lines exist when there are clear choices.

As to the Japanese Holocaust throughout Asia, I don't believe that would have even been on the radar without Pearl Harbor, as Yamamoto knew.

Perhaps not. But by the time the nukes were detonated, "If you were a Nazi prisoner of war from Britain, America, Australia, New Zealand or Canada (but not Russia) you faced a 4 per cent chance of not surviving the war; the death rate for Allied POWs held by the Japanese was nearly 30 per cent."

Americans were quite well aware by 1945 that the Nazis were "not very nice", and that the Japanese were "not very nicer". But sure, they should have invited Japanese troops right into Washington.

"jus in bello" cannot be discarded at will on a "case by case" basis - the whole point of the concept is that there are taboos that cannot be broken: burning civilians alive to send a message would be one of those

Glad you think so novakant. You're sure to go to heaven for thinking that, while the Japanese hung people up by their tongues.

...and that's an absolute non sequitur.

I'm going to have to side with novokant here, albeit reluctantly. The pragmatist in me doesn't want to, but yeah. If you can make a hypothetical calculus stating that some random cruelty will ultimately bring about less overall suffering, you're well and good down the rabbit hole. If we can say that 500k+ civilians will die if a war continues, but if we take 500 enemy soldiers we've captured and flay them alive one by one on national television, and our moral calculus suggests this will end the war fast enough to bring about only 100k+ dead civilians, shouldn't we do that? What if we determine through our calculus that if we flay 500 captured civilians alive it'll end so fast only 10k+ will die? Isn't it a moral imperative that we (tragically) flay them?

The biggest problem with your assertion that we need to consider jus in bello principles to be rough but very flexible guidelines is, well... the people doing the ethical calculus aren't objective. They're going to have an easier time seeing harm to themselves or their peers than harm to faceless civilians. They're going to redistribute risk from themselves to said civilians. That's what happens when you pick and choose when to abide by jus in bello restrictions. It's human nature. It's way too easy to assume the course of action that'll result in the least harm to you will sync up with the least harm to your victims. It's even easier to justify it after the fact when you have the realization of your example hypothetical that did occur, and can dismiss all the possible alternatives you rejected as misguided, rosy-eyed, and naive.

To pour some extra oil on the fire, please look up the official WW2 policy about shooting hostages in case of attacks. On paper the US had the highest prescribed numbers by almost an order of magnitude.
In reality the threat was not carried out (at least not on a regular base) by the US (unlike the Nazis who often went beyond the prescription) but it is rather bloodchilling to see what some US bureaucrats came up with.
Btw, it saved at least one neck in Nuremberg (Dönitz*) in the only successful tu quoque defense.

*esp. concerning the Laconia and the Laertes case

Addendum: I assume a major reason for the disproportional threats was the Werwolf propaganda that created the false belief that the US occupation forces would be threatened by huge numbers of fanatic nazis attacking from within the civilian population. Unlike Afghanistan or Iraq today the Werwolf threat turned out to be mostly empty (and most victims were Germans not US soldiers). Let's better not think about what would have happened, if that would not have been the case.

Coming a bit late to this, but I too am a little surprised by the lack of discussion of the firebombings (as opposed to the atomic bombs).

Certainly in terms of lives lost, they were substantially more destructive - a single night's fireraid on Tokyo killed at least 100,000, and quite possibly many times that number:
http://www.japanfocus.org/-Mark-Selden/2414

LeMay had no qualms whatsoever about targeting civilians, and to argue otherwise is ridiculous:
"There are no innocent civilians. It is their government and you are fighting a people, you are not trying to fight an armed force anymore. So it doesn't bother me so much to be killing the so-called innocent bystanders."
• Sherry, Michael (September 10, 1989). The Rise of American Air Power: The Creation of Armageddon, p. 287 (from "LeMay's interview with Sherry," interview "after the war," p. 408 n. 108). Yale University Press. ISBN-13: 978-0300044140.

One of the reasons Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen as targets for the A bomb was that they were among the few undamaged cities of any size left to bomb in Japan. A firestorm was one of the desired effects of their bombing, and would have been greatly diminished in a previously bombed target.

Given the abandonment of any significant moral restrictions on inflicting mass killing through bombing, in that respect the decision to drop the atomic bombs did not represent a significant change in policy.
Indeed, given the clear psychological blow of the Hiroshima bomb, which was war ending, that raid was arguably better justified than those preceding it.

Nagasaki to my mind cannot be justified at all. It is pretty clear that the war would have ended without it, and all the excuses for not issuing a warning prior to Hiroshima (they wouldn't have believed us; we didn't know if it would work etc) no longer applied.

As for describing either of them as "legitimate military targets", I call utter BS.
Japan was completely finished militarily. It had neither air, nor sea power remaining to it.
The US had the power to blockade, and militarily neither raid was of any significance - unless you count civilians as a military target.

I guess the concept of "targeting civilians" loses its meaning when there's no chance of sparing civilians.

An interesting question, I guess.

Kill them now in a big fireball, or one by one in a land invasion?

In any case, it would appear from the documents cited by cleek that among the reasons Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen was a desire to enhance the psychological effect of using the atomic bomb by killing a lot of people - civilians - with it.

That extremely narrow point is the beginning and end of what I have to say on the topic.

Good call on their part to not vaporize Kyoto. Aside from the bad PR, it may well have made the Japanese to decide to fight to the last man woman or child rather than surrender, ever.

For me a big part of the issue is American exceptionalism--there's always some reason why moral absolutes that apply to other people don't apply to us. The other problem is the slippery slope argument--one point the torture defenders made a few years ago was that if we could kill civilians, why couldn't we torture captured terrorists? And if some of the captured "terrorists" turn out to be innocent, then, hey, it's collateral damage. I was glad so many people (and to some extent on all parts of the political spectrum) stuck to the moral absolute position on torture, but I admit to being a little puzzled by it. Still, it was a case where I was in favor of inconsistency--at least one form of barbarism is still thought to be inexcusable even when Americans do it. When the Iraq war started I took for granted that there would be torture and assumed it would be a story for the back pages and fringe lefty magazines--it wasn't. Of course, it's not entirely a happy ending--torture, it seems, is just one of those unfortunate policy choices, kinda shameful, but we're moving on. Still, better than I would have predicted.

Also, the bombing of civilian targets in WWII set a precedent in moral reasoning I think we've been following ever since. We target civilians, argue that we're putting pressure on a government (by targeting civilians) and deny that we're targeting civilians. We quite possibly killed more North Korean civilians with bombs than Germans and Japanese put together and I've never seen anyone give any sort of plausible justification for it, in part because almost no one ever talks about it at all. We support dictators and death squads when it is supposedly the lesser of two evils, we impose sanctions whenever we feel like it, and I think it's all a lot easier to do because of the WWII precedent.

And then when other people target civilians, all of a sudden it's the absolute worst thing anyone could do, utterly inexcusable, barbaric, and so forth. They might actually be living under occupation or in their minds retaliating for violence against their civilians and it doesn't matter. When they do it it's terrorism, wrong by definition.

Plus everyone can use the "lesser of two evils" argument. I mentioned Assad and Syria upthread--you can find people (not me) who think Assad's bombardment of Syrian towns is excusable because the opposition is in part composed of Al Qaeda. Well, why not? If the fanatics won the Alawites and the Christians and any Syrian who wasn't a Sunni fundamentalist would be in real trouble. The argument for Assad being ruthless because Al Qaeda extremists are a large portion of the rebel movement seems at least as strong as any argument Americans could give for our acts.

"But sure, they should have invited Japanese troops right into Washington."

1. Ack!

2. Leading up to the Civil War and well into it, Lincoln's position was that the Southern states could maintain their holocaust of slavery, as long as slavery was not exported to the territories and the Union remained intact, this latter stipulation being the bigger fish he chose to fry.

3. Without the provocation of Pearl Harbor, and the invasion of the American colony, the Philippines, Roosevelt was not about to enter another theater of war based solely on Japanese atrocities in Asia alone. U.S. economic necessity (trade and natural resource flows interrupted from the Pacific, etc) may have ultimately forced his hand and led to war, but American public opinion was not interested in saving millions of Chinese and southeast Asians from Japanese savagery as the sole or primary reason to declare war.

Same with the Jews in Europe.

The Lend-Lease Act came well after the commencement of the Battle of Britain and Churchill had to plead for the U.S. to enter the war, despite Roosevelt being fully aware of Hitler's murderous anti-Semitism throughout the 1930s.

This is not to say that Roosevelt and the American government were not aware or didn't care about, or wouldn't have eventually moved because of the European Holocaust and Japanese slaughter of civilians in Asia, it is to assert that cold-blooded military and economic necessity in the service of America's national self-interest was foremost in guiding their strategies, not man's inhumanity to man.

Why? Mostly because American public opinion had to be swayed and to justify the loss of blood and treasure.

So, yes Pearl Harbor convinced the American public that the Japanese were about to enter Washington, as you put it, and the imminent invasion of England (this simplifies considerably, natch) convinced the American people that Germany and Italy were going to sail up the Potomac, and the rest is history.

Similarly, the decisions to firebomb Dresden and Tokyo and to nuke Hiroshima and Nagasaki were cold-blooded strategic military decisions made for the furtherance of American interests (ending the war and avoiding even worse carnage) and catastrophic civilian deaths and casualties were a bullet point far down the list of caveats in situation rooms at the time.

By the way, Fort Sumter during the Civil War was the flashpoint that threw northern public opinion Lincoln's way, but it was the very early threat of the enemy, the Confederacy, entering Washington D.C. that galvanized public opinion in favor of all-out war.

Again, a simplification of a complex dynamic, but more in answer to "inviting Japanese troops right into Washington", so what's a guy supposed to do?

Now, of course, we allow these same people (Confederate rubes) to holler and tweet at the President from the Congressional gallery during the SOTU, but I haven't been able to galvanize American public opinion to kick their asses militarily, so I guess we have to live with it.

Also, the bombing of civilian targets in WWII set a precedent in moral reasoning I think we've been following ever since.

If I'm not mistaken, prohibitions against targeting civilians in wartime was a fairly recent concept as of WWII.

There was some international law or conventions governing warfare prior to WWII, but I'm not it included an explicit prohibition on targeting civilians.

Geneva IV does contain that, but it dates from after WWII.

I'm not sure the targeting of civilians in WWII represents a precedent. Historically, it is probably closer to the norm.

Folks with a deeper understanding of the law of war may wish to weigh in to correct my understanding of the history.

Eh, has somebody here heard of the obscure set of conventions named after the Hague that the US signed on to at least for the 1907 edition?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hague_Conventions_%281899_and_1907%29
The 1899 edition even included a ban on aerial bombardment but it was limited to 5 years (and thus expired at some date during the Russian-Japanese War).
Of course such an ancient piece of paper (was paper even invented yet?) had no bearing on WW1 let alone WW2 (although some prehistory nerds tried to make a point but got as usual ignored).

Hague 1899 and 1907 appear to prohibit attacks on undefended towns and cities, but I don't see a prohibition on targeting civilian populations per se.

So, civilians living in a town or city that is defended in some way would appear to be fair game. As of 1907, anyway.

I might be misunderstanding the language of the convention.

Also, in case it's not clear, I'm not arguing for the goodness or morality of targeting civilians.

I was only pointing out that the concept of NOT targeting civilians (if avoidable) was not as new as some seem to imply or assume and even had a rudimentary legal form (open to interpretation of course). It was not a complete legal tabula rasa.
Despite the slight snark I did not intend to imply that you (or anyone else here) favored the opinion that targeting civilians was moral because it was not explicitly banned in all circumstances (or that even no law or construct was conceived before the WW2 atrocities thus making them kosher morally by definition).

Donald:

You brought up torture and why that bright line remains even though there isn't really a bright line on targeting civilians.

I have a few thoughts (but I'm not an ethicist or otherwise qualified to answer).

The two things that strike me as different are (1) a fairly large cultural distinction between torture and death, and (2) an analogy to a thermodynamic critical point (bear with me, I'm an engineer).

The first is pretty simple. We as a society, are far more willing to kill then we are to torture. I have no idea why that is, but its true. You can euthanize an animal in a shelter, but you can't torture them. A pet gets wounded and you can't afford to pay the vet bill? The merciful thing to do is to kill them. Animals, except for some hunting regulations and endangered species, you can kill but you can not torture. With humans, we still have executions, but we go to fairly extreme lengths to minimize pain and agony.

The second relies on the concept of a critical point, which is a pressure and temperature above which there is no distinction between a liquid and a gas. Up until that point, there is a bright line...something is either a liquid or a gas. Afterwards, its a supercritical fluid, and might be more gas like or more fluid like depending on the specifics, but there is no longer a clear boundary.

More simply, and less engineeringly, put: I think all rules and bright lines break down at some point. Some people would disagree with that, there are some lines you never cross, and I respect that. But I don't share it.

The firebombings and the nukes were part of a large, vicious war. Civilian and military causalities were high and would get higher as the war went on. The death toll could have easily trended to 10 million Japanese causalities with an invasion. To me, they were past the critical point. There's no longer a bright line, and the ethics get horrible.

Torture? I don't see that. Notoriously unreliable (and horrible) method used against an incredibly weak enemy that got really lucky once? This wasn't existential. It might have been a wakeup call to secure cockpit doors and not cooperate with hijackers. It might have been a wakeup call for intelligence and LE agencies to coordinate better. But we were left with a slim chance that maybe torture might ward off another once in a few decades attack? That's not an ethical dilemma to me, its just barbaric.

But again, not an ethicist. So take it for what its worth.

This is not to say that Roosevelt and the American government were not aware or didn't care about, or wouldn't have eventually moved because of the European Holocaust...

The evidence tends to go against this:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jan_Karski
"...Karski personally met with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the Oval Office, telling him about the situation in Poland and becoming the first eyewitness to tell him about the Jewish Holocaust. During their meeting Roosevelt asked about the condition of horses in Poland. Roosevelt did not ask one question about the Jews..."

The failure of the Allies to take any action was public knowledge at the time:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bermuda_Conference
“To 5,000,000 Jews in the Nazi Death-Trap Bermuda was a Cruel Mockery,” New York Times, 04 May 1943

As a note, the NYT headline was an advert purchased by Jewish interest.

Not saying it was incorrect.

Nigel:

Thanks for the links.

I was aware that was probably the case, but I was throwing a bone to sapient, the point being that even if the U.S. and Allies had cared about and believed reports like Karski's, it would not have shifted their actions and military strategy in the context of American interests.

I notice from your link that Karski briefed Felix Frankfurter as well on the same trip and the latter said he couldn't and thus didn't believe it, which says something about my point regarding the futility of using the gathering Holocaust as a lever to sway American public opinion in favor of outright American military involvement.

Frankfurter even.

As I pointed out in a comment way upthread, I'm ashamed to admit that I have (had) relatives (no dead) who, if apprised of the treatment of Jews in Poland at the time would reply with a flippant, "Yes, yes, but what about the horses."

"now dead"

Russell--I'm not an expert on the history of the law of war, but my amateur impression is that there was a period running from roughly the 1700's up until the early 20th century when attacks on civilians were regarded as beyond the pale. Or rather, attacks on white civilians. Wars between Native Americans and European Americans had no rules, but in the Civil War most of the casualties were military. There were exceptions, of course, even in this period, when there were attacks on civilians. But during WWI there were some German air and sea attacks on British cities, tiny by later standards, but they were seen as shocking. The same for Guernica and other air attacks in Spain. I don't have a copy of John Toland's "The Rising Sun", but I think there and in other places there were descriptions of how attitudes towards civilian bombing changed--it was considered barbaric in the West before the war and during the war when the Germans did it, but when the British and Americans were able to do it to the Germans and Japanese it became heroic. (Though according to most of what I've read, the Americans did try to do "precision" daylight bombing in Europe and weren't trying to burn cities down, as the British did. In Japan the policy was different.)

My point was that every defense I've ever heard of some barbaric act of US foreign policy seems to echo WWII arguments. Every tinpot dictator that comes along has to be stopped because he's another Hitler, and every ruthless action we take is justified because it's the lesser of two evils and is necessary to save American lives. Just in the way we use Godwin's law to ridicule Hitler analogies, I wish people would just bracket WWII altogether as a special case and not think that because we did horrible things then that it has any bearing on other situations. (And that's not to say that all the horrible things we did then were necessarily justified, just that there's a better case to be made for them than for actions we've taken since.)

Thompson--I'm not actually arguing with you on the difference between WWII and the "war on terror". As I just said, I wish people would bracket off actions taken in WWII from the modern era. It's one reason I lost most of my original interest in arguing about the A-bombs and the Tokyo firebomb raid. Without endorsing them, I can see that the situation back then was horrible no matter what decision one made. I do find it ironic to hear Americans denounce terrorism, given our long history of attacking civilians or supporting others who do.

Hey Donald, thanks for your comments here.

I wish people would just bracket WWII altogether as a special case

In my mind, WWII is not a relevant point of comparison to the post-WWII world, because total war nowadays would last about a half hour, after which most folks on the planet would be dead, along with most other living things.

I, for one, welcome our new tardigrade overlords.

I, for one, welcome our new tardigrade overlords.

My money is on the very-deep-sea methane ecologies.

That said, the waterbears are seriously [email protected] critters.

Donald:

I wasn't trying to argue with you. Just offer some potential explanations re: torture vs. killing.

WoT vs. WWII, I agree, they are just completely different things.

russell:

"total war nowadays would last about a half hour"

It depends on the combatants. WWII had a number of weapons (chemical) that were generally considered off limits, if only out of fear of retaliation-in-kind. I don't think nukes are an absolute deterrence to a conventional total war.

I think the level of economic interdependence between superpowers is a substantial deterrence, however.

russell:
Hague 1899 and 1907 appear to prohibit attacks on undefended towns and cities, but I don't see a prohibition on targeting civilian populations per se.

My understanding is this is covered between the aforementioned prohibition on attacking undefended places and Article 46: "[In occupied territory f]amily honors and rights, individual lives and private property, as well as religious convictions and liberty, must be respected."

Aerial bombardment, however, complicates this, as it affords the opportunity to kill noncombatants without occupying their homeland, though the "undefended places" clause would be argued to still apply.

The real PITA with understanding this is that the Hague Convention is conventional law of war - it was attempting to codify customary law of war, but it would not perforce capture everything, especially "common sense" customary rules.

Donald Johnson:
Russell--I'm not an expert on the history of the law of war, but my amateur impression is that there was a period running from roughly the 1700's up until the early 20th century when attacks on civilians were regarded as beyond the pale. Or rather, attacks on white civilians.

This is pretty much in keeping with my amateur impression of the history of the law of war (I only had a professional impression from the Civil War on, and only a meaningful professional impression from the Hague Conventions on - and most of it is somewhat myopically focused on an American military PoV). I'm inclined to suspect (either from half-remembered scholarship, or from posterior-derived "reasoning") that increases in logistical sophistication helped with this - as an army became less required to live off the land, foraging and pillaging became more luxuries and less general necessities. Some of it also likely harkens to relatively recent conceptions of the profession of arms - outrages against civilians or prisoners being deemed prejudicial to good order and discipline within an army's own ranks.

thompson:
WWII had a number of weapons (chemical) that were generally considered off limits, if only out of fear of retaliation-in-kind.

Actually, no, not just fear of retaliation; they were outlawed by treaty for most of the belligerent states in WWII. There may have been an assumption that if things got bad enough that would be as effective as the prior outlawing in the Hague Convention, and there were reservations to the signatoures saying retaliation was fair game, but they were outlawed. Not in the US or Japan, mind you, as the Geneva Protocol went signed but unratified until the '70s in both countries. But for most of the belligerents, there was formal agreement not to use them.

NomVide:

Thanks for the clarification. I remember reading somewhere that the Nazi's considered using gas attacks at one point, but decided against it.

A poorly cited Wiki supports that view:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemical_warfare#The_causes_of_the_nonuse_of_poison_gas_in_World_War_II_by_Nazi_Germany

But that could very well be the fun result of:
http://xkcd.com/978/

Regardless, I don't have further evidence for that assertion and am fully willing to accept your obviously better educated opinion on such things.

It's tangential to my larger point, however. That is, I don't think the existence of nukes itself is a complete deterrent to a conventional total war.

In my mind, WWII is not a relevant point of comparison to the post-WWII world, because total war nowadays would last about a half hour, after which most folks on the planet would be dead, along with most other living things.

It may not be a relevant point of comparison with regard to military strategy, but it's an extremely important point of reference with regard to how the world works today. It's also useful to remember that belligerents can become dangerous if they aren't stopped early on. We take it for granted that it won't happen these days because we won't let it.

I don't think the US has always used its power wisely since WWII (although I'm not going to be beating my breast about its conduct during that war for the reasons I've already stated). But I'm very glad it has that power. I wouldn't want to see what WWII would have become if we hadn't won, and for quite a while it was very dicey.

"It may not be a relevant point of comparison with regard to military strategy, but it's an extremely important point of reference with regard to how the world works today."

Well, yes. If someone wants to argue the US into a stupid war like Vietnam or Iraq or use mass bombing of civilians in an otherwise arguably just war (Korea) or support brutal dictators as they slaughter their own dissidents (too many to list) or in some way do something guaranteed to kill innocents, it's usually done by saying we have to do these things or go down in history as Chamberlain reincarnated.

Well, Donald, although I agree that the Chamberlain comparison is overused, that wasn't my point.

Just as WWI reshaped the world, so did WWII. The US wasn't accustomed to its new role as superpower, and it stumbled along the way. At the same time, it really did represent a beacon for democracy to much of the world. You can deny this, or blame it on happy propaganda, but for many years, we were loved because we disposed of the powers that championed the ideologies of Hitler and Hirohito, and opposed the ideology of Stalin.

The generation that fought WWII aren't quite all dead (although my own parents are). Many of them came out of the war with extreme optimism about what a united United States can accomplish, and what government can do. I was infected by that optimism by my own parents, and I continue to carry it. I'm dismayed that so many people have a passion either for constant contrition (people on the left) or for distrust of government (libertarian right). We're failing to live up to our own promise because we don't expect it of ourselves anymore.

sapient, I think you may be on to something. The generation which won WW II was optimistic that we could accomplish anything we put our mind to. But starting with the generation which fought in Korea (draw) and Vietnam (loss), people had a very different view of the possible. People are molded by their experiences.

It does make me wonder how the generation which saw the defeat of the USSR will see the world....

even if the U.S. and Allies had cared about and believed reports like Karski's...

Hi Count. From what I've read, I'm pretty sure that the top Allied leadership knew pretty well that reports like Karski's were credible, since they were confirmed by intercepts of German signals.
(Frankfurter would not have been in that category.)

Of course maintaining the secret of GCHQ capabilities would have been seen as a far higher priority than confirming the German policy of extermination.

It is not a comfortable story.

If you haven't read it, I highly recommend Timothy Snyder's extraordinary book Bloodlands which describes the mass killing in Central Europe between Germany and Soviet Russia.

It may not be a relevant point of comparison with regard to military strategy

On the contrary the perceived success of the mass bombing campaigns meant the strategy continued on in Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Though I do not believe (and quite admittedly with the benefit of hindsight) that the extent and manner of the mass bombing of Japan is defensible morally, I acknowledge it is not an easy question. Japan was truly an evil empire, and the calculus of war is harsh. Proportionate or not, the bombing did end the war.

The mass bombings in Vietnam and Cambodia are to my mind quite simply unjustifiable, then or now.

I was aware that was probably the case, but I was throwing a bone to sapient, the point being that even if the U.S. and Allies had cared about and believed reports like Karski's, it would not have shifted their actions and military strategy in the context of American interests.

It sure would have been nice for Americans to have specifically championed the Jews and other victims of the Nazi Holocaust. Typically, Americans don't get exercised about the goings on of other countries until the situation represents an "existential threat". Just ask russell.

In this case, fighting the "existential threat" was further vindicated when we thought about the other monstrous stuff that was happening: the concentration camps, the killing fields, the rapes and slaughters. Kind of puts a whole new spin on "targeting civilians" - civilians targeted for no purpose whatsoever except for hate, genocide and massacre - not even arguably to win the war.

wj, I think the generational differences are subtle, but clear, between children of soldiers in WWII, and children of those who were just too young to fight (or maybe Korea veterans). I feel that difference very strongly among people that I know. The attitude of WWII veteran children is much more idealistic than their younger counterparts.

The mass bombings in Vietnam and Cambodia are to my mind quite simply unjustifiable, then or now.

Agreed. Sadly, the mass bombings became the new paradigm until it was rejected by popular demand.

I just checked out "Bloodlands" from the library the other day, along with Tony Judt's "Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945".

Both highly recommended by Ta-Nehesi Coates.

sapient: Yes, it would have been nice, but I wonder: if the Roosevelt had championed the Jewish plight by taking a declaration of war to Congress based on that evidence, I wonder if Congress would have gone along. I doubt very much the American people of that time would have been persuaded without overwhelming, graphic evidence and a clear and present danger to the United States.

As to all of that, I suppose we could exercise a suspension of post-judgement of these policy decisions like many of us have about military tactics against Japan regarding bombing areas of high civilian populations.

I'm with cleek pretty much. Before judgement can come, let's state plainly what we did and why.

As to Russell, he's right here. You ask him.

As to Russell, he's right here. You ask him.

He's answered in other threads. I'm too lazy to find them, but: russell? Hey, russell?

I agree, though, that it was true then that the Americans would probably have not gone along solely to save the Jews, homosexuals, gypsies and others, just as they would not go along now for purely humanitarian military efforts. This is not necessarily because they were anti-Semitic (although of course many, many were), but because we like to mind our own business unless there's a threat. We were also anti-immigration enough not to want the refugees. So, yeah - we could have, and should have done way more.

You know, it's not that I don't think a lot of our history is shameful, and I'm not against setting it out. Lynne Cheney wrote a children's book, rewriting history. That's not where I'm at. Obsessing over it is what I am troubled by. There's real heroism in our history, including the emancipation, fighting fascism, the civil rights movement, etc.

Mythology is helpful to human aspiration and movement forward. Acknowledging our sins, but dwelling on our potential seems like the right balance to me. Dwelling on our sins seems like self-flagellation. Fun for some, but not very inspiring for most.

And, yeah, Count, a good question for the audience: should we have intervened when we weren't threatened, solely to help the Jews (and others)? Because that same question presents itself quite often these days, and we usually find a way to just say no.

"The attitude of WWII veteran children is much more idealistic"

I think that word is often misused to mean "willing to use force in supposedly noble ways". And it was the idealistic WWII generation that plunged us into Vietnam. To some degree Iraq was supported by some Democrats who were inspired by the success as they saw it of the Kosovo intervention and of course some people were also claiming we'd remake postwar Iraq the way we did Japan. So successful interventions, whether on a gigantic scale like WWII (leaving aside why we got into it) or a small scale like Kosovo lead people to be overly optimistic about the likely efficacy of American force. And that's even before one adds in the hypocrisy and double standards that are never very far away when countries start using violence.

One can go too far in the pacifist direction too, of course, and that's why interventionists are always pointing to the 30's. But in the majority of cases the danger is going to be going too far in the other direction. "Idealism" has little to do with it.

I think that word is often misused to mean "willing to use force in supposedly noble ways". And it was the idealistic WWII generation that plunged us into Vietnam.

Your reading of my comment was flawed. "Idealism" is a term I used to describe the children of WWII parents, who opposed the Vietnam war. Not to interfere with the self-hating American.

I wonder if Congress would have gone along. I doubt very much the American people of that time would have been persuaded without overwhelming, graphic evidence and a clear and present danger to the United States.

Count, there certianly was no visible appitiate to actually get militarily involved in support of Britain or France. Not even when American ships were among those getting attacked in international waters in the Atlantic.

The only reason that the US Congress was moved to go to war was that we had been directly attacked. Nothing less was sufficient, in the days before we decided to be the world's policeman in charge of fixing everything.

"Idealism" is a term I used to describe the children of WWII parents, who opposed the Vietnam war. Not to interfere with the self-hating American."

I thought you were using the term in the usual foreign policy sense, where "idealists" favor sending in the military to stop this or that atrocity, while the "realists" favor only using force after cold calculations of American interests. Kissinger was the classic realist. (Though not all realists are bad people, any more than all idealists are delusional warmongers.) We self-hating Americans are left out in the cold in this classification scheme, which was perhaps devised by narcissistic Americans, if I may add to the taxonomy.

As for Vietnam, the people who saw how much good the US did in WWII in helping to defeat Germany and Japan (with the Soviets doing the bulk of the work in the case of Germany) seemed to see everything in terms of "Munich", though the fact that Democrats were accused of losing China didn't help matters. And I know some of the liberals who favored the Iraq War were in part motivated by liberal interventionist idealism, which they had seen at work in the 90's. Their thinking was that Kosovo was good, the lack of intervention in Rwanda bad, so hey, let's do some more good in Iraq.

Anyway, sapient, rather than go any deeper into one of our spats, I'm mostly interested in making a point--when the US is successful in some war, it seems to lead to hubris. It's not exactly an original observation. I know I've seen people link overconfidence in Vietnam to victory in WWII and liberals have said they supported Iraq because of Kosovo and our duty to overthrow Saddam. It wasn't just crazy neocons. That doesn't mean we were wrong to win WWII. I'm repeating myself, so I'll go to sleep now.

It may not be a relevant point of comparison with regard to military strategy

I was referring to the doctrine of waging total war, as ought to be evident from my comment.

Just ask russell.

Once again, I'm obliged to ask that you not cite things I say - often out of context and in inaccurate and misleading ways - to make a point *you* want to make.

Make your own point, and leave me out of it. And I will do the same for you.

If you can't do that, I will no longer engage in discussion with you, because I find it dead rude, and have asked you on a number of occasions to stop doing it.

Oddly, I have no issues like this, at all, with people here who are supposedly my opposites. Slarti, McK, Brett, Marty, any conservative or libertarian you care to name, I have no issue with, because they do not deliberately misconstrue things I say in order to use my words as a stalking horse to make their own points.

Only you.

So I'll ask you, once more and once more only, to knock it off.

Thanks.

I'm too lazy to find them, but: russell? Hey, russell?

If you're too lazy to go look, why the f**k should I help you out?

Do your own homework. That's what the rest of us do.

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