Re: MD Understanding Quality And Power

From: Mark Steven Heyman (
Date: Fri Dec 17 2004 - 03:01:14 GMT

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    Hi Sam,

    On 17 Dec 2004 at 0:23, Sam Norton wrote:
    Your point is that, to paraphrase, if we gave the non-combatants on
    the opposing side the same value that we gave to loved ones on our
    own side, then the actions taken would change. The moral calculus of
    justification would be reset, so that what had been seen as
    'acceptable', was now seen as unacceptable.

    msh says:

    So, to get to a concrete historical example, the decision to drop the
    atomic bomb on Hiroshima was immoral because, even if we ignore (for
    the sake of argument) the great power issues like wanting to
    demonstrate US power to the Soviets, and accept the explanation that
    it was to save the lives of US servicemen by shortening the war, it
    proceeded on the basis that US servicemens lives were more considered
    of more value than (eg) the lives of women and children living in

    msh says:

    Assuming the overall cause of the war to be just, the just
    way to undertake that war would have been to proceed with the
    military invasion of Japan, at a (presumed) higher cost of US
    servicemens lives, but a (presumed) lower cost of Japanese non-
    combatant lives. Is that a fair characterisation?

    msh says:

    Now, I'd like to explore where your boundaries lie here. Let's
    consider a hypothetical target - a Nazi munitions factory in a German
    city in 1942. Firstly, would you accept this as a legitimate military
    target? (ie it's used for the war effort, even if the workers
    aren't killing people directly - and therefore, would you accept that
    the workers count as 'combatants'?)

    msh says:
    Yes. In my suggested moral calculus, anyone who willing and
    knowingly contributes to an immoral war effort is a de facto
    combatant, and may be treated as such. To illustrate, and at the
    risk of increasing my exposure, I would say that the 9/11 attack on
    the Pentagon was in some ways morally defensible, while the WTC
    attacks were not, at least not to the same clear extent.

    Secondly, in that factory, there are people who work there, but who
    are not producing munitions, eg secretaries or caretakers. Do these
    count as non-combatants?

    msh says:
    No, if they are knowingly and willingly contributing to the Nazi war
    effort, in ANY capacity, even mowing the lawn of a munitions factory,
    then they are de facto combatants and therefore, are legitimate

    If so, does the fact that they will inevitably be killed by a bombing
    attack on that factory render the action as a whole immoral in your

    msh says:
    No. See above.

    Thirdly, near the factory are residential areas. Because the
    targeting is not absolutely accurate some houses get bombed, and
    people wholly unconnected with the factory, including women and
    children, get killed. This is foreseeable, given the 'state of the
    art' at the time the decision is made to bomb the factory. Does this
    render the action as a whole immoral?

    msh says:
    Using my suggested moral calculus, this question can be answered by
    doing the hypothetical MY innocents for THEIR innocents substitution.
    If the men who order the bombing, as well as the men who actually
    drop the bombs, would be willing to so order and act EVEN IF their
    own families will be among the innocents killed, then I would say
    that bombing the munitions factory is morally justified and achieving
    a legitimate military goal. Otherwise, an alternate plan for
    destroying the factory must come into play, such as dropping in
    special forces to sabotage the plant, or simply sending in ground

    I've been trying to work out if your point is a different argument to
    the one saying about non-combatant immunity, ie that those who aren't
    involved in the fighting should be given privileged status and
    protected, which I agree with. Is it a different point, in your view?

    msh says:
    Not sure I'm understanding what you are asking. My position is that
    ALL non-combatants are of equal value. And that this fact can and
    should be used in determining the legitimacy of any military activity

    If it's the same point, then we can get stuck in to a debate about
    acceptable boundaries to military action. If it's a different point
    then I'm still getting my head around it and I'll need to think about
    it some more.

    msh says:
    Well, let's see what you say in response to the points I've made so
    far in this post.

    Let's come at this from a different direction, by drawing up four
    categories: Category A: a just cause, pursued justly Category B: a
    just cause, pursued unjustly Category C: an unjust cause, pursued
    justly Category D: an unjust cause, pursued unjustly

    An example of category A might be the Battle of Britain, ie the air
    war in 1940. The fighting was conducted almost exclusively by
    servicemen and was crucial for resisting an invasion of the UK by
    Nazi Germany.

    msh says:
    Ok. Got it, and agree.

    An example of Category B might be something like Hiroshima,
    or the allied bombing campaigns in WW2 more generally, in so far as
    they were indiscriminate between military targets and civilian

    msh says:
    Ok. Got it, and agree.

    An example of Category C might be the German invasion of
    France in 1940, which was a war of aggression, but one that was
    pursued with no especial atrocities.

    msh says:
    Here I would quibble. I would say any action furthering an unjust
    cause is itself unjust, atrocities or no. But I understand what you
    are saying.

    An example of Category D might be the German invasion of the Soviet
    Union in 1941, which was not only a war of aggression, but was also
    pursued from the beginning with violence towards the Slav population,
    eg in the Ukraine.

    msh says:
    Got it, and agree.

    What I am unclear about is whether we are arguing A vs C or B vs D,
    on this specific question. (In other words, I take your view of the
    Iraq invasion to be D, but when talking about the missile attack on
    Baghdad, I am unclear about whether you are arguing that this is an
    action which is unjust because the war as a whole is unjust, or
    whether it is unjust because it was not aimed at a legitimate
    military target, for the sake of argument the overall cause being
    assumed to be just).

    msh says:
    I see. No, in my view, the missile attack on Baghdad was both
    immoral and illegal, regardless of whether or not the invasion of
    Iraq itself was morally and legally justified. I believe I've
    successfully argued that the invasion was in violation of
    International Law, and was therefore illegal. I also believe the
    invasion was immoral, and will so argue, using my moral calculus.

    It does seem to me that, from what you've said so far, you'll say
    that the foreseeable killing of innocents in the 1942 German city
    renders that bombing attack immoral, because if we put US
    congressmen's families in those factory housing estates then the
    action would (probably) not be taken. Is that correct?

    msh says:

    If so, then I've got some further ways to explore this thread, but
    that's enough for now.

    msh says:
    Fair enough. Thanks for taking time with this. Even though, on the
    surface, it's just us working it out between ourselves, I think what
    we are discussing is really about discovering the common ground of

    Mark Steven Heyman (msh)
    InfoPro Consulting - The Professional Information Processors
    Custom Software Solutions for Windows, PDAs, and the Web Since 1983
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