Moral Relativism Redux

My co-blogger Micha linked to a post by Charles Johnson in response to the article by Jacob Lyles comparing Harry Truman to Osama Bin Laden in which Johnson argued that conservatives often use the term "moral relativism" incorrectly. Johnson argues that questions of moral value ought to be answered from a fixed frame of reference, and that deviation from this fixed frame is what moral relativism truly is. Thus, judging Harry Truman and Osama Bin Laden by the same frame of reference - carrying out mass killing of civilians - is principled ethical reasoning, not moral relativism.

I shall attempt a defense of the conservative argument. First, from Wikipedia:

Moral relativism is the position that moral propositions do not reflect absolute or universal truths. It not only holds that ethical judgments emerge from social customs and personal preferences, but also that there is no single standard by which to assess an ethical proposition's truth. Many relativists see moral values as applicable only within certain cultural boundaries. Some would even suggest that one person's ethical judgments or acts cannot be judged by another, though most relativists propound a more limited version of the theory.

Some moral relativists — for example, Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) — hold that a personal and subjective moral core lies at the foundation of our moral acts. They believe that public morality is a reflection of social convention, and that only personal, subjective morality is truly authentic.

Consider:

Case A: Smith lies to his wife while having an affair with another woman.

Case B: Jones lies to Nazis about Jews hidden in his attic.

While both cases above involve lying - the intentional deceit of another - most people would be understanding of Jones's actions and not Smith's. When conservatives make the claim of "moral relativism", they are saying that in comparing the cases above, to judge Smith and Jones as having the same degree of immorality, would be to falsely equalize the circumstances in which their acts of lying took place. It would be giving the same moral weight to Smith's innocent wife and Nazis. It would be to rank Smith's goals of infidelity alongside Jones's goals of protecting innocent lives. The "relativism" comes from a refusal to judge different circumstances and goals at different locations on an universal moral scale.

Just as most people empathize with Jones's act of lying based on his predicament, conservatives accept Truman's decision as a difficult yet ultimately necessary one to bring an end to the war and prevent greater suffering. The Japanese were engaged in a war of conquest and had started the war with the US by attacking Pearl Harbor. They had engaged in zealous defense at Okinawa a month earlier including kamikaze attacks. A land invasion would have cost hundreds of thousands of lives, if not more, on both sides. Emperor Hirohito was largely influenced by a group of military advisors who had no intention of surrendering without preserving the old imperialistic order. Up to 400,000 civilians a month were dying in other nations at the time under Japanese rule. The Japanese were carrying out war crimes against Chinese, Koreans, and Mongolians among others, including atrocities such as live vivisection. Truman's decision was intended to bring an end to the abhorrent condition of war and bring the process of negotiation of peace closer. The sooner that happened, the more lives would be saved, at the cost of the lives lost by the bombing.

On the other hand, Bin Laden objections are the presence of US troops in the Middle East, support for Israel, and the depraved American culture. His ultimate objective is to create an Islamic superstate to re-establish a Sharia law caliphate. His actions were intended to start a war, not end one.

Equalizing the actions of Bin Laden and Truman is moral relativism because it fails to acknowledge the circumstances surrounding their actions and the objectives they had in mind on a single standard of morality. Unless one is a moral absolutist, it's quite obvious that there are times, rare though they may be, when we would choose to do things that we ordinarily regard as immoral - such as lie - to prevent consequences that we find abhorrent. Even strict natural rights libertarians would choose to violate some rights when the negatives consquences of not doing so would be sufficiently large, such as in lifeboat situations. If we recognize that real-life moral dilemmas can be difficult, that there may not always be an obvious correct answer, and that ethics sometimes involves a palette composed solely of shades of gray, then it's clear that equating Truman's actions with those of Bin Laden is absurd.

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Jonathan Wilde puts forth the best defense of the way conservatives use the term moral relativism. Read it all.

There is a valid point such

There is a valid point such as concerning lying to your wife or lying to Nazis. The appropriate term to cover such factors is 'contextualism' rather than relativism.

That said, the rest of the article excusing killing a couple hundred thousand civilians are the same tired rationalizations we always hear. If saving lives by killing innocents was a valid argument (and there are several unfounded assumptions in the Hiroshima/Nagasaki argument even there), the US could have rounded up the population of Okinawa, and executed one person per minute til the Japanese agreed to surrender. More humane than dying from radiation poisoning, and maybe far less than 200,000 would have died. Barbaric? Absolutely. Terrorism? Unquestionably. But I see no way anyone who supports killing at least as many civilians via incindiary or nuclear aerial bombing could validly object.

Shorter Jonathan Wilde: when

Shorter Jonathan Wilde: when making ethical judgements, you have to consider both the inputs and outputs.

And Aaron, don't be ridiculous. The reason the atomic bomb worked where that idea wouldn't is because shooting everyone in Okinawa one by one would do nothing to change the dynamics of the war. You can only do your idea once, but when an A-bomb you can threaten to do it again and again.

"real-life moral dilemmas

"real-life moral dilemmas can be difficult, that there may not always be an obvious correct answer, and that ethics sometimes involves a palette composed solely of shades of gray"

That sounds like a fairly clear statement of moral relativism.

"Case A: Smith lies to his wife while having an affair with another woman.

Case B: Jones lies to Nazis about Jews hidden in his attic."

It is a mistake to think that it is lying per se that is the moral point at issue in the above examples.

Paul is dead right. "we

Paul is dead right.

"we ordinarily regard as immoral - such as lie - to prevent consequences that we find abhorrent"

Lying is not "ordinarily" immoral, no more than killing is immoral. Lying to the Nazis is eminently "moral." Killing a mass murderer who is about to kill again is moral.

When people say "lying" is immoral, they actually mean "deceiving the innocent" is immoral. This is not moral relativism, whether moral relativism is good or bad.

And I think you're similarly misunderstanding the anti-Hiroshima-nuking argument. It's not against bombing, or nuclear weapons, or that it was used to end the war. It's against the choice of target. While it's impossible to second guess 60 year old decisions, I advocate, just like some of the scientists who created the bomb, that demonstrating the weapon on a military target or a neutral demonstration site is superior to a civilian one. And would've achieve the same goals (end of the war, no invasion, the loss of life in occupied Japanese territory) without the massive civilian death.

Basically, it's really hard

Basically, it's really hard to say "sure, we could've been able to persuade Japan without nuking a few hundred thousand civilians" because of the vague nature of the situation, and the hazy nature of persuading the wartime Japanese government of anything. Even hindsight is not 20/20 and all that.

But I can say this: when there are 2 choices to make, and one of them has 120,000 less civilian deaths and is supported by many of the scientists who developed the weapon itself, I know which I vote for.

And, in my mind, the burden of proof isn't on the anti-nuke advocates -- it's on the pro-nuke side. If your choice involves killing 120,000 people, you have to be absolutely, 100% certain that it's the only choice. I don't believe that was the case.

The attempt to defend Truman

The attempt to defend Truman is not convincing. The hard truth is that he signed an order to intentionally slaughter tens and thousands of women, children, and other innocents. Moreover, having done it once it did it even more needlessly (even from the cost/benefit standpoint) at Nagasaki. His actions were terrorism pure and simple and nothing can justify them, whatever the "objectives" of the person ordering the action.

Also, the argument that Truman had only "two choices" does not hold water. Truman could have pursued negotiations for a conditional surrender by Japan which would have avoided both an invasion and the mass slaughter of innocents. He showed no interest in doing so or considering other possible alternatives.

Jonathan, what you are

Jonathan, what you are talking about might be called "situational relativism", that is, the idea that people find themselves in different situations. It is the opposite of the concept of "situational absolutism", which holds that the same situation applies universally and eternally.

A situational absolutist, if there are any, would have to agree that all lying is either moral or immoral in all situations (since there really is only one situation). And yes, your lying example above would challenge such a hypothetical person.

However it does not challenge either a moral relativist or a moral absolutist, so long as the moralist believes that different situations might have different moral meaning.

Where moral relativists and absolutists disagree is in applicability of that meaning to people other than the particular one making the moral judgement. A moral relativist would say that a different person in the exact same situation might have a different moral response. So in the same circumstances, it might be OK for me to lie to my wife, but not OK for you to lie to yours. It might be OK for me to kill 100000 innocent people, but not OK for you to do so. Perhaps more pointedly, it might be forbidden for individuals to steal, enslave, and take innocent life, but OK for the state to do so.

A moral absolutist denies that morality is relative; rather morality transcends the individual or group. If killing innocents is always wrong, it is wrong for you, wrong for me, wrong for Bin Laden, and wrong for Harry Truman. It is wrong for individuals, pairs, families, committees, religious organization and states, or even all of humanity.

Your argument vis-a-vis nuclear war is a utilitarian one: that killing innocents sometimes results in higher utility. This may be true; note that its truth has nothing to do with moral absolutism. All it says is that in your moral system, killing innocents is not categorically denied.

What rankles conservatives about moral relativism is that they are hypocrits: they are moral relativists WRT state action (vs individual action), just like about everyone; yet they adamantly oppose moral relativism when it taken further in the direction of atomization. That is, they are attempting to hold a line, that while fairly bright, is nonetheless rather hard to defend. The two logical positions (as I see it, anyway) are either full relativism, where anything goes and power is all (the leftist view), or moral absolutism, which abolishes the State (the anarchist/libertarian position).

>supported by many of the

>supported by many of the scientists who developed the weapon itself

The fact they had the scientific expertise to develop the weapon doesn't automatically translate into the military expertise needed to evaluate the strategic effects of its use under various situations.

Excellent point Stormy. I

Excellent point Stormy. I believe that those that criticise the move to use the nuke (other than the Japanese) have no clue about the military situation at the time. The use of the atom bomb probably saved significantly more lives that it cost.

Ah Jonathan, you've fallen

Ah Jonathan, you've fallen into my trap.

Substitute "Iraq" for "Iran" in what I wrote, and see if you grasp my meaning more clearly.

I think the commenters above

I think the commenters above already made my point for me. Whether or not you believe Truman's decision was justified, or whether you believe the comparison between Truman and Bin Laden's acts is morally offensive, the simple fact remains: claiming these two acts are morally equivalent is in no way moral relativism. It may be morally offensive, mistaken, unjustified, etc. But Charles' point is only that whatever criticisms can be made of this comparison, it cannot be criticized as moral relativism.

"I’m not against excusing

"I’m not against excusing the killing of a couple hundred thousand civilians if the consequences of not doing so are sufficiently dire."

Jonathan, as long as you would hold this stance should one of those couple hundred thousand be a dear member of your family or another loved one then you may have some validity, but should you not then maintain this stance, you are a foul hypocrite and inconsistent in your philosophy

"It is a mistake to think

"It is a mistake to think that it is lying per se that is the moral point at issue in the above examples."

"It’s quite clearly not. I intended it that way."

Yes, and I'm pointing out that you are mistaken. As Brian says, lying is not, of itself, immoral. One is not looking here for 'context' but for a true account of morality.

I guess you weren't kidding

I guess you weren't kidding about the "semi-related" bit...

On a semi-related note, I'd

On a semi-related note, I'd like to give a woop woop to Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, pioneers of the early 80's synthpop revolution. Like most their music, their single "Enola Gay" was characterized by upbeat rhythms and happy-go-lucky melodies wrapped around dark subject matter. They peaked with "If you leave" in a perfect accompaniment to "Pretty in Pink". It was the climax of the movie as the storyline was brought together. OMD left their mark on the 80s.

I don’t think Joe meant to

I don’t think Joe meant to accuse you personally of nationalism Jonathan, merely to point out that it is a problematic way of thinking sometimes.

Well, I was referring to Jacob's original post, not Joe's comment. And I'm sure Jacob didn't mean to accuse me personally of nationalism.

I don't think Joe meant to

I don't think Joe meant to accuse you personally of nationalism Jonathan, merely to point out that it is a problematic way of thinking sometimes.

It isn’t about

It isn’t about us-Americans vs them-furriners; a mere role reversal with the teams changing uniforms at halftime. It’s about the context in which Truman’s and Bin Laden’s decisions took place.

I got the impression that was the main point–that we are too willing to excuse killing for political gain as long as our team is the one doing the killing.

That might have been his falsely-simplified view of the comparison, but it's clearly wrong. Those like me who find the comparison of Truman and Bin Laden absurd do so not because it was 'us' doing it instead of 'them'; anyone who reads this blog knows my general opinion of the US govt.

Leonard, You are asking for

Leonard,

You are asking for a utilitarian justification ("what good is") for a theory of just action? Seems to me you are basically insisting on utilitarianism.

However, let me suggest one way in which utilitarianism, or any kind of consequentialism, is unsatisfying as a guide to just action. That is, that consequentialism rates the morality of actions based on information that will only exist in the future - the actual consequences of the actions planned. Well, since we can’t know the future with certainty, this provides a grey area, wherein people make wrong actions based on incorrect ideas of the future. Given our ability at self-deception, this is a big problem.

For example, I may honestly believe that nuking Mecca would cause all the Muslims to knuckle under and stop terrorism, and cause democracy in the Middle East, and flowers to bloom there. So what’s a few thousand lives compared to the incalculable many lives that will otherwise be lost in the War on Terra? Thus we should nuke Mecca.

Note that from a natural-rights perspective, it is clear that nuking Mecca is wrong because killing innocents is wrong (not to mention property damage, injuries, etc.). From a consequentialist perspective, though, the only way for you to argue with me is to attempt to tell me that my prediction for the future is wrong. This is a much harder proposition.

I've got no problem with consequentialist arguments. Both natural rights arguments and consequentialist arguments in their limits lead to absurdities. That doesn't mean that both can't be used in the 'bulk of the bell curve'. I think that in wars, especially long drawn-out ones, it is nearly impossible to do ethical reasoning from a natural rights perspective, and that consequentialist arguments are more applicable.

Another example might be, that I believe we could invade Iran and overthrow the government quickly, and the people will love us for it, quickly establishing a democracy that will serve as a beacon to the Muslim world. What’s a war costing a few thousand lives as versus and endless war of terrorism?

Putting aside the "everyone will love 'us'" bit, which I don't really care about, what would be wrong with that? Perhaps it's not so clear with Iran, but say North Korea. What if it was possible to destroy Kim Il-Jung's regime at the cost of say 10,000 innocent lives? Wouldn't it be worth it to save perhaps millions of lives down the road, to free the hundreds of thousands of political prisoners, to end the hunger, the oppression, the terror, to raise the standard of living, to allow North Koreans to fulfill the potential shown by their cousins to the south?

In a civil society we

In a civil society we replace actual violence or threats of violence with law, imprisonment, etc. Thus a revenge killing would be wrong in this context. In Muslim society, say Saudi Arabia the rule of an eye for an eye is still considered valid, but not without state sanction, and a trial. Then the victim's relative would be allowed to participate in the execution if he wished.

If a nation is attacked it also may be expected to retaliate in some way. I think you can get into trouble with analogies between persons and nations. We don’t have a world government to mediate these disputes and most people don’t want that. If anyone mounts a nuclear attack against the U.S. they have to know that we aren’t bluffing about retaliation. Don’t vote for President Joe.

All, While I take the point

All,

While I take the point that my argument still is not congruent with "moral relativism" from the philosophical definition, I simply wanted to explain what conservatives mean by it. They're talking about different ends even if the means are similar.

Aaron, It is interesting to

Aaron,

It is interesting to see someone accept hands-on terrorism instead of just the tidier aerial bombardment. I regard your stance as frightening and arguing about it further likely futile for either of us, but I respect you in some odd way for your view at least being self-consistent.

I think you've misinterpreted what I wrote above. I simply stated that when the consequences of not carrying out an outwardly immoral action are severe enough, I would carry out that action.

I don't see how killing an Okinawan a day would accomplish the goal of bringing about peace quickly. As each day went by, another 10,000 noncombatants in occupied nations would be dying. The result of the daily killings would be to incite hatred among the everyday Joe Japanese, not engender surrender. I don't see how that's in any way comparable to using the nukes, other than the fact neither bring out the warm-and-fuzzies.

Ah I did brush over that

Ah I did brush over that point, you're right. Of course I was arguing that carrying out the threat is what's immoral. However, even then there is a certain coninuity between violence and the threat of violence (e.g. as between aiming a gun at someone, taking someone hostage with a gun, or implying you have a gun in your pocket). Ayn Rand best expressed it by saying you don't need to wait for someone to actually pull the trigger before you respond to them. But as you suggest I think in some scenarios the threats can be reconciled with an unwillingness to carry out those threats fully, immediately, and lethally.

Stefan, _Granting their

Stefan,

_Granting their legitimacy in arguendo, now imagine telling a Muslim extremist living next door (an unlikely scenario, I know) that if he kills your wife then you will retaliate by killing his wife. How is this just? How is this different in any essential way from what you’re proposing?_

Nice analogy. I have just one quibble. It's not clear to me that there is anything morally objectionable about telling the Muslim extremist that you'll kill his wife. It would, however, be immoral actually to carry out the threat. Similarly, the threat of nuclear retaliation is not obviously immoral. In fact, when both sides are rational players, MAD is a completely rational strategy, just simple game theory.

Now there is a difference between threatening retaliation and actually doing it. This poses some problems, because it will have to be the case that, if your threat is to do its job, the other player will have to be convinced that you'd carry out the threat. There's a certain tension inherent in the position, but I don't really see what makes the threat itself immoral.

Don’t forget the huge

Don’t forget the huge anti-American propaganda financed by the former Soviet Union and others which is still having the intended effect in some quarters. There was nothing cool and calm about the hysteria generated in some of the parties for their own political purposes especially the far left.

Ah, I was not aware of this hysteria. In any event, I'm mostly content with a dispassionate analysis of WWII-era military decisions on the anniversay of the A-bomb, not with advancing leftist anti-Americanism.

If President Stefan was told the N.Y. City or Washington had been nuked would it be moral to retaliate against the civilian population of the country of origin. If not should we tell the world about our moral position? If it was President Dave I’m afraid they would have a few smoking holes left of their country, thus they might not attack as readily.

Well morally I think this has some problems. For one, I don't even think there should be Presidents at all precisely because states and state war lead to a lot of strife and conflict. Granting their legitimacy in arguendo, now imagine telling a Muslim extremist living next door (an unlikely scenario, I know) that if he kills your wife then you will retaliate by killing his wife. How is this just? How is this different in any essential way from what you're proposing? I alluded above that I think one important lesson here is that people are far too willing to excuse criminal behavior when people from their own nation, race, etc are the ones doing it. The other lesson I drew is that without some kind of standard, some idea of justice, succumbing to blind rage makes us no better than the enemies we would oppose.

I would just point out that

I would just point out that it is not claimed that the men Harry Truman and Osama bin Laden are somehow morally the same in all respects, nor that an adulterer is morally the same as a heroic resistance fighter, but rather that insofar as both made a decision to slaughter innocents for political gains they are morally the same. Quite obviously, the political gains favored by Truman were much better than those currently favored by bin Laden. The point is that unless we hold to some kind of just standard our ability to criticize men like bin Laden for their heinous acts is significantly reduced. Joe Miller has it right: You can't condemn foreigners for doing bad and then excuse domestic citizens when they do bad.

That said, the rest of the

That said, the rest of the article excusing killing a couple hundred thousand civilians are the same tired rationalizations we always hear. If saving lives by killing innocents was a valid argument (and there are several unfounded assumptions in the Hiroshima/Nagasaki argument even there), the US could have rounded up the population of Okinawa, and executed one person per minute til the Japanese agreed to surrender. More humane than dying from radiation poisoning, and maybe far less than 200,000 would have died. Barbaric? Absolutely. Terrorism? Unquestionably.

I'm not against excusing the killing of a couple hundred thousand civilians if the consequences of not doing so are sufficiently dire.

It is a mistake to think

It is a mistake to think that it is lying per se that is the moral point at issue in the above examples.

It's quite clearly not. I intended it that way.

Lying is not

Lying is not “ordinarily” immoral, no more than killing is immoral. Lying to the Nazis is eminently “moral.” Killing a mass murderer who is about to kill again is moral.

When people say “lying” is immoral, they actually mean “deceiving the innocent” is immoral.

That's fine; it's the point I was trying to make. The original post made by Jacob Lyles essentially said that Truman = Bin Laden because both killed innocents. It failed to take into account any sort of context in which those killings took place.

I would just point out that

I would just point out that it is not claimed that the men Harry Truman and Osama bin Laden are somehow morally the same in all respects...

It certainly seemed like Jacob was making that claim.

... nor that an adulterer is morally the same as a heroic resistance fighter, but rather that insofar as both made a decision to slaughter innocents for political gains they are morally the same. Quite obviously, the political gains favored by Truman were much better than those currently favored by bin Laden. The point is that unless we hold to some kind of just standard our ability to criticize men like bin Laden for their heinous acts is significantly reduced.

But then the question arises - how useful is such a standard if it cannot suitably differentiate between Bin Laden and Truman? If libertarianism is merely "killing is bad" period full stop end of sentence, what good is libertarianism? Wouldn't a better "just standard" that you speak of involve looking at the context of people's actions?

Joe Miller has it right: You can’t condemn foreigners for doing bad and then excuse domestic citizens when they do bad.

WADR, this is clearly not the point. It isn't about us-Americans vs them-furriners; a mere role reversal with the teams changing uniforms at halftime. It's about the context in which Truman's and Bin Laden's decisions took place.

It isn’t about

It isn’t about us-Americans vs them-furriners; a mere role reversal with the teams changing uniforms at halftime. It’s about the context in which Truman’s and Bin Laden’s decisions took place.

I got the impression that was the main point--that we are too willing to excuse killing for political gain as long as our team is the one doing the killing.

If libertarianism is merely

If libertarianism is merely “killing is bad” period full stop end of sentence, what good is libertarianism?

You are asking for a utilitarian justification ("what good is") for a theory of just action? Seems to me you are basically insisting on utilitarianism.

However, let me suggest one way in which utilitarianism, or any kind of consequentialism, is unsatisfying as a guide to just action. That is, that consequentialism rates the morality of actions based on information that will only exist in the future - the actual consequences of the actions planned. Well, since we can't know the future with certainty, this provides a grey area, wherein people make wrong actions based on incorrect ideas of the future. Given our ability at self-deception, this is a big problem.

For example, I may honestly believe that nuking Mecca would cause all the Muslims to knuckle under and stop terrorism, and cause democracy in the Middle East, and flowers to bloom there. So what's a few thousand lives compared to the incalculable many lives that will otherwise be lost in the War on Terra? Thus we should nuke Mecca.

Note that from a natural-rights perspective, it is clear that nuking Mecca is wrong because killing innocents is wrong (not to mention property damage, injuries, etc.). From a consequentialist perspective, though, the only way for you to argue with me is to attempt to tell me that my prediction for the future is wrong. This is a much harder proposition.

Another example might be, that I believe we could invade Iran and overthrow the government quickly, and the people will love us for it, quickly establishing a democracy that will serve as a beacon to the Muslim world. What's a war costing a few thousand lives as versus and endless war of terrorism?

When the Allies firebombed Dresden, or nuked Hiroshima, they really didn't know what effects it would have. In both cases they though it would decrease the enemy "will to fight" in some general way, thereby shortening the war. Now, maybe they were right, maybe not. We are still arguing about that. We don't know with certainly, and cannot know, even now.

"That’s fine; it’s the

"That’s fine; it’s the point I was trying to make. The original post made by Jacob Lyles essentially said that Truman = Bin Laden because both killed innocents. It failed to take into account any sort of context in which those killings took place."

Okay, I think we both have a similar view on the morality. I don't know if I can compare Osama Bin Laden and Truman -- I only think that their defining historical acts were immoral. In Truman's case, his other goals (defeat of Japan, protection of America) were noble -- in Bin Laden's case, his other goals were not. Perhaps this makes Truman "less bad" than Bin Laden -- that's not my point. I am a moral absolutist, and to me, killing innocents is morally wrong -- therefore I must condemn Truman. I do not deny he had noble reasons, I merely argue that he came to the wrong conclusion. I deny the idea that the only alternative to the atom bombing of Hiroshima was an invasion, based on my knowledge of August 1945.

Moral condemnation's only impact on our behavior is how it guides our reaction to it. To merely say "Truman (or Bin Laden) is bad" is meaningless -- you have to advocate a punishment. And in both cases I would recommend that the punishment for their crimes be death -- as we would with any common murderer. The fact that Truman committed his crime in the pursuit of a noble goal may change how we feel about it, but it cannot change our punishment for it. Note that this applies to Roosevelt and Churchill as well, who both specifically ordered the targetting of civilian centers for saturation fire-bombing. It is civilized society's greatest strength that we condemn and punish those responsible for crimes, even those committed in defense of our cause. Witness the Israeli reaction to the terrorist murders committed recently -- they and their leaders immediately and unequivocally condemned those actions, despite the fact that many of them may agree with the goals desired by the killer.

"The fact they had the scientific expertise to develop the weapon doesn’t automatically translate into the military expertise needed to evaluate the strategic effects of its use under various situations."

You are correct -- I place more weight on the fact that their decision didn't involve mass slaughter than it was presented by scientists. But if you read the Franck report, you'll see that they were exceptionally prescient in the impact of nuclear weapons on the world. And, I including their opinions with weight because they were there, and I was not.

I know a great deal about the military situation of the time and I don't believe Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary. I may be wrong -- perhaps the one and only way to convince Japan to surrender was to kill so many civilians in such a dramatic way. But as one of the other commenters (Matt McIntosh) pointed out, it was the fact that the bomb changed the dynamics of war -- we could have easily killed many more with conventional weapons. If this is the "tipping point" that led to the surrender, why was the slaughter necessary? Surely a demonstration on the lines of the Franck Report would've worked, since everyone knew we could already slaughter civilians by the thousands?

The reason I believe that the atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was wrong has nothing to do with the fact that it was atomic. I am just as against the strategic conventional bombings of German and Japanese civilian targets. But the conventional bombings, which killed far more, failed to convince Germany or Japan to surrender -- it was the fact that the atomic bomb "changed the dynamic of war" that Japan surrendered. So if this was the true reason, why ALSO use it to kill civilians?

Both Truman and Bin Laden

Both Truman and Bin Laden appear to have believed that targetting innocent civilians was an acceptable means to achieve their ends. If you compare their ends to justify their means, as Mr Wilde appears to do in the name of contextualization, you are simply buying into the idea that killing civilans for political ends is OK as long as you approve of the ultimate goal. If this is your consistent moral position and you apply it universally, you are not a relativist, for what it is worth. If you regard killing civilians as immoral, however, and you give Truman a pass and condemn Bin Laden, you are a hypocrite, not a relativist.

Jonathan- It is interesting

Jonathan-

It is interesting to see someone accept hands-on terrorism instead of just the tidier aerial bombardment. I regard your stance as frightening and arguing about it further likely futile for either of us, but I respect you in some odd way for your view at least being self-consistent.

Matt-

Your arguments don't suffice to avoid the question of whether consequentialism would cover hands-on serial killing as well as it does death from above. Okinawa would have had at least the requisite 200,000 Japanese (nearly 1M actually) on it, so the execution tactic could have been employed for quite a while. However, the US was very slow at producing A-bombs and it's believed they didn't have another available on 8/10/45; A-bombs could be used again, but slowly and at great expense. A-bombs also had much sloppier granularity, killing people by 10s of thousands. If consequentialism can justify that in the name of saving lives, how could it not justify much finer grained 1-at-a-time killing that could mean far fewer 'waste' deaths?

"However, the US was very

"However, the US was very slow at producing A-bombs and it’s believed they didn’t have another available on 8/10/45;"

But the Japanese didn't know that, did they?

"A-bombs could be used again, but slowly and at great expense."

Greater expense than the alternative? Are you drunk? Bombs cost money, but their cost in American lives is typically zero. (No, that doesn't mean I believe American lives are more valuable in any ethical sense; it means from the bloody cost/benefit analysis of Truman's viewpoint, the bomb was the least cost solution.)

"A-bombs also had much sloppier granularity, killing people by 10s of thousands. If consequentialism can justify that in the name of saving lives, how could it not justify much finer grained 1-at-a-time killing that could mean far fewer ‘waste’ deaths?"

Because like I said, it wouldn't have worked. The waste deaths are a feature, not a bug. The two bombs certainly convinced the Japanese that America could have destroyed Japan utterly if they didn't surrender. Slowly killing all of Okinawa's population would not have accomplished this.

The trouble with many

The trouble with many arguments here is “presentism.”- the mistaken belief that you can retrospectively take a few superficial fact, many of them derived from events that occurred after the original event and apply them in today’s environment, then use them make moral judgments. I’m not saying this is totally invalid but you have to take pains to see things like they were originally seen, which is almost impossible. The less you know the easier it is to fall for distortions. Worse, people having an agenda can mislead the unwary. If all you know about history is what Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky said then of course you will have a certain Anti- American slant to your opinions.

You have to remember that all the decisions involved in the atomic bombings were made in the heat of a terrible conflict which was resulting in ever accelerating violence. Remember that the American death toll was accelerating the closer you got to Japan. Okinawa was the most deadly battle the Americans had fought against Japan. It made pretty good sense to the planners of the next stage that an invasion of mainland Japan would result in an even more fanatical defense. In fact this was exactly what the Imperial Army and Navy planned. Even though they knew they had lost the war their plan was to bleed the Americans till they asked for some vague negotiated settlement, no matter what the cost. Having had to fight WWII as the result of failures to entirely crush the enemy in WWI ,the surrender was non negotiable.Thus the consequences, whatever they were rest directly upon the rulers of Japan. The consequences of any other plan, whether more or less bloody and cruel than the one that was chosen will never be known. And that is the trouble with all this speculation.
What is clear was that everyone at the time except the Japanese that Americans and Asians who were dying in droves every day were tired fighting and dying in this war and those who wanted to keep fighting were asking for what ever they got. I still have a one-legged uncle who got his leg shot off by a Japanese machine gunner. Now that these people are dying out we can turn over the discussion to those who can discus it in a strictly artificial, abstract manner.

I’m not saying this is

I’m not saying this is totally invalid but you have to take pains to see things like they were originally seen, which is almost impossible. The less you know the easier it is to fall for distortions.
...
You have to remember that all the decisions involved in the atomic bombings were made in the heat of a terrible conflict which was resulting in ever accelerating violence.

I think somebody pointed out that a cool, calm perspective in the future is precisely the time to analyze such situations so that our judgment is not clouded by heated emotion.

Having had to fight WWII as the result of failures to entirely crush the enemy in WWI ,the surrender was non negotiable.

It may have been moral to "crush" Japan, but I think you are not intepreting history correctly here. My understanding is that because we did crush the Germans in WWI that this led to fighting WWII (through the war reparations, unconditional surrender, the rise of Hitler, etc). For what it's worth, Japan has shown signs recently of reviving its imperialism of the past, so it's not so clear to me that "crushing" is always the best way to go at all.

"Japan has shown signs

"Japan has shown signs recently of reviving its imperialism of the past"

At the risk of sounding like a broken record (and a churlish one at that), are you drunk too? If turning their piddling army into something a slightly more respectable and getting into a few petty squabbles over tiny islands counts as "imperialistic" tendencies, then the word doesn't mean anything anymore.

Point taken. I was merely

Point taken. I was merely pointing out that given Japan's long history of expansionism, plus the fact they have been at war with most of their neighbors at one time or another gives those "petty squabbles" a decidedly darker tone.

If there is one moral

If there is one moral absolute, it's that one should always lie to one's wife about one's extramarital affairs.

Sounds Nietzschean, if I do say so myself.

1. I think somebody pointed

1. I think somebody pointed out that a cool, calm perspective in the future is precisely the time to analyze such situations so that our judgment is not clouded by heated emotion.- Stefan
I agree, but I think the incident along with others has been used by some people in an unfair “America Sucks campaign.” Don’t forget the huge anti-American propaganda financed by the former Soviet Union and others which is still having the intended effect in some quarters. There was nothing cool and calm about the hysteria generated in some of the parties for their own political purposes especially the far left. Is it any wonder that some of us don’t buy it and in fact resent it?
In fact we did think about Hiroshima and never used atomic weapons again. Here is a good question. What should the US do if we are attacked with atomic weapons? Before this discussion I would say “ Nuke em.” If President Stefan was told the N.Y. City or Washington had been nuked would it be moral to retaliate against the civilian population of the country of origin. If not should we tell the world about our moral position? If it was President Dave I'm afraid they would have a few smoking holes left of their country, thus they might not attack as readily.

However it is estimated that

However it is estimated that far more civilians would have died in any invasion of Japan. The comparision of OBM to Truman is breathtakingly moronic and should even be considered a rational debate. There is clearly no similarity between the two at all. :wall:

Substitute “Iraq” for

Substitute “Iraq” for “Iran” in what I wrote, and see if you grasp my meaning more clearly.

Wouldn't that give the sentence "Substitute “Iran” for “Iran” in what I wrote, and see if you grasp my meaning more clearly."?

Seriously Leonard, you need to drop it. Nobody knows what post you're talking about. :behead:

Jonathan, Substitute

Jonathan,

Substitute “Iraq” for “Iran” in what he wrote, and see if you grasp his meaning more clearly.

You already said that (in

You already said that (in the part I quoted). Repeating it doesn't help me see your trap.

Umm… what “trap” is

Umm… what “trap” is that?

Substitute “Iraq” for “Iran” in what I wrote, and see if you grasp my meaning more clearly.

Don't ask questions,

Don't ask questions, Jonathan! You'll just fall further in.

Ah Jonathan, you’ve fallen

Ah Jonathan, you’ve fallen into my trap.

Substitute “Iraq” for “Iran” in what I wrote, and see if you grasp my meaning more clearly.

Umm... what "trap" is that?