June 8, 2016

Anscombe's Moral Reasoning

I have received several extensive, intelligent, and interesting comments on my prior post on "The Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki," partaking of the reasoning of Fr. Miscamble and GEM Anscombe, who (I think it is safe to say) have opposite views of the use of the "Bomb."

Perhaps the most difficult part of any dialogue, but also the most necessary, is attempting to truly understand what one's interlocutor is arguing.  This is what I attempted in my first post, when compiling a (hopefully accurate) summation of both Miscamble and Anscombe. I shall attempt to do the same herein.

However, before I do so, I would like to outline my concern with why I am undertaking these discussions. My point is, (a close) secondarily, to deal with the question of whether or not the Bomb should have been used. However, primarily, I am now about the question of whether we can formulate any principles of future action, and upon what grounds. In other words, faced with a situation similar to that of that facing the Allies, what morals would guide our action?

Commentator TomD has provided the most extensive discussion. TomD seems sensitive to the issues Anscombe raises. To sum up Tom's various arguments, as I understand them (and I hope he will visit, and correct, if I misunderstand any part):
The use of the atomic bomb was the least evil of the alternatives open to the Allies in the Pacific War. Given the predations of the Japanese upon other Asian countries (which might not have ceased with anything other than unconditional surrender, and the many lives (estimated to be between 1 million and 10 million combined deaths) an invasion would cost, the Bomb was the least evil means to end the Pacific War. In terms of  a utilitarian calculus (purely descriptive, in this instance), the Bomb would cost the fewest lives and bring the war to the fastest end. In this case, the Allies had no moral options open, so while use of the Bomb was immoral, it was the least evil option for the Allies.
My concern, as stated above, is to consider the matter from the time of the decision, rather than the after effects. It seems to me that stating that the bomb was the least evil of all the options presumes, of course, that one could predict that the Bomb would indeed end the war. In other words, post hoc consideration of all of the options can view the Bomb as the least evil because it apparently worked. And yet, I submit that the Bomb was far from guaranteed to end the war.

And therein lies my problem with end-means justifications - where the end achieved justifies the means used to reach it. Saying the Bomb was the least evil depends on taking into effect what happened after it was used (Aside: I intend "the Bomb" to refer to here to both bombs used). At the time the Bomb was dropped, however, the United States had already been engaged in a lengthier bombing campaign of other cities in Japan, particularly using incendiary bombs.

For instance, in March 9-10, 1945, the United States firebombed Tokyo, with over 300 B-29s, destroying 16 square miles of the city, and estimating 100,000 people killed and 100,000 more injured, or higher. On March 12, the US did the same with Nagoya, destroying 1 square mile. In Osaka, 8 square miles on March 13. If the numbers here are accurate, over 300,000 people died (counting 120,000 from the Bomb) - and other sources think the numbers were higher. If nearly 180,000 people or more were killed in horrific incendiary raids, after which Japan was determined to continue, there was certainly no guarantee that the Bomb would produce any different results.

The point here is not to argue that the utilitarian calculus in this instance was unjustified. Current opponents of the decision to use the Bomb are, in many cases, engaged in arguing using utilitarian reasoning to argue that the decision was unjustified. Rather, it is to illustrate the dangers of attempting to predict the rightness of an action based upon predicted consequences, over which no human has control, rather than judgment by the inherent question of the action itself.

As a thought experiment, let us posit that we are faced with a similar decision - whether to continue a difficult (endless?) war, or to end it more quickly. In order to attempt to bring about the end of the war through total victory / the enemy's unconditional surrender, we have the option of deploying a terrifying weapon against noncombatants, which may force the end of the war (or may not). What decisions must be made in order to justify the use of the weapon? It seems to me that some or all of the following must be applicable:
  • In War, the lives of noncombatants in the enemy country are forfeit, and may be treated instrumentally, either absolutely, or if the stakes are high enough.
  • If one or more of the following is true, the stakes are high enough:
    • War by other means would prove much more costly in lives lost;
    • War by other means would take too long;
    • The Enemy deserves to be destroyed due to its own actions;
Are there any other arguments which could or should be considered at the time we are deciding to use the Bomb or not? If not, I am curious what reasoning would underlie one or all of these. I am particularly interested in the question of the status of the lives of noncombatants. I suppose this question falls under that of the theory of war in some fashion. When war is declared against a country, is it against the government? Against the populace? Against parts of the populace?

I think we can stipulate that destroying the other country's ability to aggress (military bases, military vehicles, factories) is a legitimate goal of war. Similarly, targeting non-surrendering troops (as well as surrendering, under very limited circumstances) is acceptable. Where the question comes in is whether civilians may be targeted deliberately to achieve some end. And if so, when? 

No comments:

Post a Comment